Is this the way a Twain essay ends? One man says yes


WACO, Texas - A Baylor University professor has uncovered what he believes is a previously unknown section of a Mark Twain essay.

Joe Fulton, an associate professor in American literature, says the six-page manuscript appears to be the ending of an essay published after Twain's death titled "Corn-Pone Opinions."

An article on the discovery, including Fulton's revised version of the essay, will appear this spring in the journal, American Literary Realism.

Fulton says he found the manuscript during a recent visit to the Mark Twain Papers & Project, housed at the University of California at Berkeley. He says he was wrapping up research on a forthcoming book on Mark Twain and theology when he found a small bundle of papers in a dusty drawer.

"I was immediately suspicious when I noticed the title was not in Twain's handwriting and that the pages had been renumbered. It all seemed to suggest that someone had removed the pages from another document and tried to pass them off as a separate essay."

Fulton says as he read through the manuscript titled, "Moral and Intellectual Man," he realized it sounded similar to the theme of the Twain essay "Corn-Pone Opinions." Written in 1903, seven years before Twain's death, the essay was not published until 1923.

The published essay is a cynical look at the propensity Twain says people have toward conformity in social, religious and political realms. In the essay, through the voice of a slave he knew as a child, Twain says: "You tell me where a man gets his corn-pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."

Twain later elaborates: "a man is not independent, and cannot have views which might interfere with his bread and butter."

"It is a brilliant piece, but it always seemed incomplete to me," Fulton says of the published essay. "Twain said the article was about politics and religion, but the part about religion was missing," Fulton says. "Now we have the ending as Twain intended it, including discussions of Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism and Protestantism."

Fulton says looking at Twain's handwritten manuscript for the published essay, he realized the last sentence seemed to be incomplete, with no period.

Putting the two sets of manuscript side by side, he saw they were written with what appeared to be the same type of ink on the same paper. He says he then noticed where the published essay ends at page 15, the papers he recently found pick up the page count.

Fulton says someone apparently crossed out the page numbers on the unpublished section, and renumbered beginning at "1." While he says it's possible Twain had planned to split one part into a separate essay, a more likely explanation might be the alteration was made by Albert Paine, Twain's longtime editor and caretaker of his papers after the author's death.

Paine, using handwriting similar to Twain's, often liberally edited Twain manuscripts as if he were the author, reworking some before publishing, Fulton says.

Robert H. Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Papers & Project, confirms Paine often exercised a free hand when preparing works for publication.

"I think probably what happened, Paine came across these either already separated or he turned them into separate pieces," he says. "He did that a lot."

Hirst says for him, the jury remains out on whether the two manuscripts were originally one. While some physical evidence such as similar handwriting could suggest they were once one, he says ultimately the case will have to be made on how the content fits together.

Hirst says he will consult other editors at the project to decide whether the manuscripts should be stored together as one work or separately. He says he also encouraged Fulton to submit his ideas to other Twain scholars around the nation for peer review, then publish it in a journal for consideration.

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