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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Searching for Mark Twain's Illustrators

Alice asked if there was any notation of the artists in the Harper & Brothers editions of Mark Twain that I featured on FaceBook. The books, which are probably the equivalent to our modern mass-market editions have little documentation. However, researching the subject has been no end of amusement for me.
Barbara Schmidt notes the artists from the various volumes in her A History of and Guide to Uniform Editions of Mark Twain's Works. Most of the documentation here is for the earlier deluxe editions in red, Part One covers 1891-1920, Part Two has 1899-1920, while we have copies with cream boards with a small cameo of Twain embossed onto the front cover, which will be documented in Part Three, books after 1920.

In Life on the Mississippi, Harper & Brothers 1917, I discovered the photographer Napoleon Sarony, who photographed an estimated 20,000 celebrities of the day and perhaps 300,000 members of the general public, but it best known for his landmark 1883 lawsuit for photographers to claim original copyright of their photographs. The case was over a disputed photograph of Oscar Wilde, in which Burows-Giles Lithographic argued that Sarony had not invented Oscar Wilde and they should be able to use it in a department store ad. The courts agreed with Sarony's lawyers that the photographer was the author and inventor of the photograph.
In 1884, Sarony participated in a April Fool's prank on Twain inwhich 150 of Twain's friend wrote him requesting his autograph but neglecting to include a SASE for return. Sarony addressed his note to "My dear Clements".

Napoleon Sarony wore a Fez and "picturesque" clothing which must have been noticed even in New York city.
What is perhaps Sarony's best known photograph of Twain was most disliked by Twain. Writing in his own 1902 copy of a honorarium book presented by Harper & Brothers at his 67th birthday party,
of course they would frontispiece it with this damned old libel, which began as a libel when Sarony made it, in my fortieth year


The picture most likely was taken when Twain was 60. In 1905, he was still complaining about the photograph:
November 14, 1905.
Dear Mr. Row,

That alleged portrait has a private history. Sarony was as much of an enthusiast about wild animals as he was about photography; and when Du Chaillu brought the first Gorilla to this country in 1819 he came to me in a fever of excitement and asked me if my father was of record and authentic. I said he was; then Sarony, without any abatement of his excitement asked if my grandfather also was of record and authentic. I said he was. Then Sarony, with still rising excitement and with joy added to it, said he had found my great grandfather in the person of the gorilla and had recognized him at once by his resemblance to me. I was deeply hurt but did not reveal this, because I knew Sarony meant no offense for the gorilla had not done him any harm, and he was not a man who would say an unkind thing about a gorilla wantonly. I went with him to inspect the ancestor, and examined him from several points of view, without being able to detect anything more than a passing resemblance. "Wait," said Sarony with strong confidence, "let me show you." He borrowed my overcoat and put it on the gorilla. The result was surprising. I saw that the gorilla while not looking distinctly like me was exactly what my great grandfather would have looked like if I had had one. Sarony photographed the creature in that overcoat, and spread the picture about the world. It has remained spread about the world ever since. It turns up every week in some newspaper somewhere or other. It is not my favorite, but to my exasperation it is everybody else's. Do you think you could get it suppressed for me? I will pay the limit.

Sincerely yours, S. L. Clemens.


I'll continue my research tomorrow. I doubt I'll find the artists from these books, but I am sure I'll find something utterly fascinating.

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