The Clemens Code

Mark Twain at 20, the year before he came to Cincinnati

Clemen’s stay in Cincinnati was relatively short, and we had yet to nail down any evidence of his visiting the Mercantile, across the street from which he probably worked as a typesetter, but have always been fairly certain that he visited this institution.  Some thumb print or marginalia from this young printer and typesetter who, according to his wikipedia entry, educated himself in the evenings in public libraries, would, we thought, suffice.   Perhaps it was here, in the library itself, that the aspiring writer penned his Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass pieces for the Cincinnati Post, pieces that were not, shall we say, auspicious of his future success, given their having been written in the style of an illiterate.  Confident that there must exist some trace of the man, we leafed through titles that were, in 1856, new releases, just the sort of hot-off-the-presses stuff an aspiring writer would die to get his hands on: The camel; his organization, habits and uses, considered with reference to his introduction into the United States, by George P. Marsh; The myth of Hiawatha, and other oral legends, mythologic and allegoric, of the North American Indians, By Henry R. Schoolcraft; The poems of Shakespeare / with a memoir by Rev. Alexander Dyce. In this last, we seem to have turned up the sought-after evidence.  As recent Mercantile Library lecturer John Stauffer observed in his rousing talk: everyone read Shakespeare, and cross-comparison with our apocryphal membership records from that period confirms that the patron number on the following card did indeed belong to young Samuel Clemens, and further demonstrates both his regard for the bard and his flagrant disregard for the library’s policy of limiting the number of allowable renewals.

So there you have it: the incontrovertible evidence that the man who would one day write such great works as Huckleberry Finn, such humorous essays as On the Decay of the Art of Lying or the folksy tale The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was indeed here, in the library, borrowing our books and failing to return them on time.  The lack of subsequent borrowers on the card suggests Clemens may well have absconded with the volume when he departed for New Orleans and perhaps returned it on some later visit while steaming up the Ohio as a riverboat pilot.  More after the break on this monumental discovery.


-Ed Scripsi

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 4:10 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow, that is so cool!

  2. Geez… you really had me going there! Good one, Mr. Scripsi :-)

  3. […] posthumous tell-all to be published this November I’m going to go straight to the index and look up the Mercantile Library when the first volume of this trilogy comes out in November.  According to this article in The […]

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