1885 MARK TWAIN (S.L.CLEMENS) ALS - THE BECKY LETTER

Sam Clemens writes a Revealing note to his Childhood Friend Becky Pavey a Touching Personal Note where He Laments the Constraints of his Life that prevent him from doing as he Would rather than as he Must.

   

An intimate letter that will enlighten current Twain Scholars. Here is the Becky of Twain's youth, quite probably a part of the composite figure of Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer. Here Sam lets his hair down with his old friend Becky to regret that his life does not permit the reunion of old acquaintances and a chance to again scamper with memories by the Mighty Mississippi River near Hannibal and chase little girls with Pigtails.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)
pen name - Mark Twain


Biographical Note on Samuel L. Clemens - "Mark Twain"

As humorist, narrator, and social observer, Twain is unsurpassed in American literature. His novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a masterpiece of humor, characterization, and realism, has been called the first and best modern American novel. Clemens used many figures from his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri as characters in his sketches, speeches and novels, perhaps most notably in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These characters were often composites drawn from several childhood friends and acquaintances. We know that growing up, Clemens’ favorite sweetheart was Laura Hawkins, a neighbor in Hannibal, and most likely a part of the composite that went into Becky Thatcher, but only part. Who else is Becky Thatcher?

Some Twain scholars have suggested Becky Pavey. The evidence supporting this is strong, and this letter adds to it. When the Clemens family first moved to Hannibal they stayed at the Pavey Hotel. Clemens mentions a Pavey family of Hannibal in his autobiography, and in his "Villagers" sketch he writes, “The Pavey's. Aunt P protects a daughter. ‘Pigtail Done!’ BECKY. Came up from St. Louis a sweet and pretty young thing - caused many heartbreaks.” We also know that after his first trip to New York City, where he saw the Crystal Palace and the World’s Fair, Clemens returned to St. Louis to work for the Evening News. During his 1854-55 stay in St. Louis, the 20 year old Clemens boarded with a Pavey family, probably related to the Hannibal Pavey’s, and undoubtedly the same one mentioned in the "Villagers" sketch as being from there (thus possibly renewing his acquaintance with Becky and her pigtails).
 

Handwritten 1 page Letter – Signed and Dated: January 9, 1885
Text as Follows:


My Dear Becky -

I shall certainly not fail to come if I get the time, but the chances are many against me, for I am not often able to do as I would but as I must.  Still, I shall hope.  I was very glad indeed to hear from you.

Your old friend

Sincerely 

S. L. Clemens.

What was going on in Twain’s life just then so that he was, “not often able to do as I would but as I must”? Well, in the December 1884 Century Magazine there appeared a chapter from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "The Grangerford-Shepherdson Feud," a piece of writing which Edmund Clarence Stedman, Brander Matthews, and others promptly ranked as among Mark Twain's very best. This was followed, in the January 1885 issue, by "King Sollermun," a chapter which in its way delighted quite as many readers and the success of the new book was accounted certain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was officially published in England and America in December 1884, but the book was not in the canvassers' hands for delivery until February. By this time the orders were approximately for forty thousand copies, a number which increased to fifty thousand a few weeks later. Upon hearing from his publisher of the fantastic subscriptions, Clemens wrote to him on March 16th: "Your news is splendid. Huck certainly is a success."

Thus, at the time he wrote this letter, Clemens was anxiously awaiting the public verdict on what was to become his greatest and most famous book. Yet he took a moment to contact the “Becky” of his youth, who “came up from St. Louis a sweet and pretty young thing - caused many heartbreaks”, who he had likely boarded with as a young man, and who, in all likelihood, lent at least her name, if not also her pigtails, to the formulation of Mark Twain's "Becky Thatcher".

Document Specifications:
Very Fine Document on Batonne Laid Watermarked Paper, Handwritten and signed in pencil by "S. L. Clemens" and dated Jan. 9, 1885. One page with writing on both sides.  Front has Clemens' hand written (ALS - Autographed Letter Signed) note and unusual sign-off as "Your old friend, S. L. Clemens."  Page measures approximately 5 1/2w x 8 7/8h inches (140 x 225 mm). On the verso folio (reverse side) is a note written and signed by recipient Rebecca Pavey Boas dated: April 14th, 1917 S. L. (Saint Louis?). She writes,
"It was with sincere regret that my childhood friend Samuel Clemens did not dine with us. Rebecca Pavey Boas." A parenthetical note (”Becky” in Tom Sawyer) has been added by another hand. Three horizontal original file folds with several light paper adhesions, none affecting the signature. Taking these factors into consideration, the possibility that Becky Pavey lent her name and some of her attributes to the character of Becky Thatcher is extremely high, making this an important letter
.


verso folio - the reverse side

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