Handwritten ‘Family Sketch’, written soon after the death of his daughter, goes on display as part of celebrations marking 100 years since the author’s death
Mark Twain fans across the world are ignoring the American writer’s 1896 dictum that “What ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Mere killing would be too light” and are marking the 100th anniversary of his death.
One of the highlights is an exhibition by Sotheby’s auction house in New York of an unpublished family sketch by Mark Twain that has gone on display as part of a collection of 200 personal letters, manuscripts and photographs going under the hammer on June 17. The 64-page, handwritten personal account, A Family Sketch, written shortly after Twain’s eldest daughter died of meningitis in 1896, is expected to sell for $120,000 to $180,000 (£78,000 to £116,000).
“A Family Sketch is certainly one of the gems of the Sotheby’s sale,” David Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Papers & Projects at the University of California at Berkeley, which has the largest repository of Twain material, told Associated Press. “Any Mark Twain archive or collector would be willing to go hungry for two or three years just in order to be able to buy it.”
It is described as an “intimate” account of Twain family life, including their relationship with their servants, and also features some recollections from Twain’s childhood.
Also in the sale is a nine-page letter that a love-struck Twain wrote to his future father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, in an effort to convince him of his suitability as a husband to Olivia Langdon.
“I am not hurrying my love — it is my love hurrying me …,” wrote Twain. “As to what I am going to be, henceforth, it is a thing which must be proven & established. I am upon the right path — I shall succeed, I hope. Men as lost as I, have found a Savior, & why not I?”
The letters, manuscripts and documents in the collection belonged to the late media executive James S Copley and could fetch $750,000 to $1.2m. The last auction of Twain memorabilia, in 2003, took $1.4m.
Elsewhere across the States, there is a 13-hour marathon-reading of short stories at UCLA, while PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has sponsored an exhibition at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, highlighting the writer’s opposition to vivisection. It includes a plaque with an excerpt from the 1899 letter Twain wrote to the London Anti-Vivisection Society saying:
“I believe I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.”
The celebrations form part of the Year of Twain in the town where Twain, or Samuel Clemens as he was known then, lived from 4 to 18. In a year that also features the 125th anniversary of the publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a highlight will be the Tom Sawyer Days with “whitewashing, frog-jumping and seed-spitting contests”.
Not to be outdone, other places where Twain lived are also getting in on the centenary action. Hartford Connecticut, where Twain lived for 17 years with his wife and daughters, and where A Family Sketch is based, has chosen The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as its Big Read community reading project. In Elmira, New York, where Twain died (with Halley’s comet in the skies, just as it had been when he was born), there will be a re-enactment of his funeral on Saturday with a “procession complete with horse-drawn carriages, trolleys and vintage cars”.