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).
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
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
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
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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