FASCINATING 1874 SIGNED AUTOGRAPH LETTER WRITTEN BY MARK TWAIN TO AMERICAN PUBLISHING COMPANY PRESIDENT ELISHA BLISS REFERRING HIM TO LOUISE CHANDLER MOULTON, WHO HAD BEEN SEEKING A PUBLISHER FOR HER BOOK, SOME WOMEN'S HEARTS; DISCUSSING OTHER BOOKS CURRENTLY IN PUBLICATION; AND EXPRESSING HIS HOPE FOR A 200-NIGHT RUN OF "THE GILDED AGE" IN NEW YORK
TWAIN, Mark. Autograph letter signed. [Hartford, Connecticut], October 21, 1874. Single sheet of unlined paper, measuring 4-1/2 by 7 inches; pp. 2. Floated, matted and framed with a portrait and facsimile of recto for display, entire piece measures 23 by 14 inches. $7500.
Original 1874 signed autograph letter written entirely in Mark Twain's hand to American Publishing Company President Elisha Bliss suggesting Louise Chandler Moulton's Some Women's Hearts for publication despite reservations about the content; wishing Bliss success with the publication of Howell's and Harte's upcoming books; and expressing hope that his play ("The Gilded Age") would run for 200 nights in New York.
The letter, with a notation reading "Oct. 21 74" in an unknown hand, otherwise written entirely in Mark Twain's hand, reads: "Oct. 21. Friend Bill: Mrs. Moulton is a pleasant body & one you might write directly to, or go & see her, if you prefer. If there's nothing in it, there's no harm done. I would like to see them all quit the "trade"—still, if they prefer to stick to the "trade" nobody is much damaged by themselves. I hope you will see a pile of Howells's book when it comes out.—& Harte's. The effect will be good. Mrs. Moulton is still stringing out her summer at Pomfret, Conn. We are going to try to make the play run 200 night in New York. Yrs Mark."
This letter has substantial context. Roughly a week before Twain sent the letter in question, on October 12, 1874, Louise Chandler Moulton, a friend and occasional visitor to the Twain home, approached Twain, asking him for help getting a book of stories like The Gilded Age published. She sent him her book, Some Women's Stories and asked him to "flatter [her] by sometime idling away a half hour over it." She then described the sort of collection she thought she could write and asked if Twain could intercede with Elisha Bliss. Her goal, evidently, was to abandon the traditional model of publication due to low returns and make more money via subscription. Twain proved quite receptive and read Some Women's Stories immediately. On October 13, 1874, he wrote back, in part: "Your dainty volume came last night & Mrs. Clemens read 'Brains' to me while I smoked—& I was glad she read instead of I, because I was so touched my voice would have done me treachery, & I find it necessary to be manly & ferocious in order to maintain a proper discipline in this family."
Thus, this letter to American Publishing Company President Elisha Bliss is the culmination of a plan formed between Moulton and Twain one week prior. Twain, having already cautioned Moulton that they should not seem over-anxious, instead tries to maintain some leverage over Bliss. The "trade" in Twain's letter to Bliss evidently refers to conventional publishing, thus implying that Bliss would simply be offering Moulton the proper path by transitioning her over to subscription. Twain quickly remarks on two other successful authors—Bret Harte [The Poetical Works, 1874] and William Dean Howells [A Foregone Conclusion, 1874]—perhaps to subtly link Moulton to them. Twain ends the letter by mentioning Moulton again and also by mentioning his own play, adapted from The Gilded Age, and his hopes that it would run for 200 nights. In the end, the play ran nearly four months, but was quickly reborn as a national tour. "[T]he play must have exceeded Twain's expectations—it toured consistently for 12 years and brought him royalties in excess of $100,000 during its time on the road. 'The daily reports of the profits arrived in Hartford around dinnertime, and Howells recalled that Clemens would spring to his feet, fling his napkin on his chair, and in "wild triumph" read aloud the "gay figures"' (Kaplan, 180)" (The Mark Twain House & Museum).
A bit of toning, foldines and a few expert repairs to splits along folds, signature quite legible. Extremely good condition.