Mark Twain’s question

I haven’t reread Justin Kaplan’s Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain since I first read it when it came out in paperback in 1968. Rereading it now, I am struck by how quotable Twain is even in his letters and stray comments. He never writes in shopworn phrases. As quoted by Kaplan, who quotes him a lot, Twain always finds a striking way to make his point. I want to fasten on one example here.

Having been subjected to a false charge of plagiarism from respectable literary quarters in 1871, Twain was beside himself with indignation. That he had been accused of plagiarizing Bret Harte compounded the offense; Harte’s sudden popularity made Twain think his own career had gone into permanent eclipse.

Firing off an angry denial to the magazine that had made the charge, Twain quickly thought better of it. He asked the magazine not to print it, but the issue with Twain’s denial had just been published along with an editorial apology headed “Mark Twain says he didn’t do it.”

Regretting his completely justified expression of anger, Twain apologized for “bombastic pow-wow” written in heat. He harshly recriminated himself: “Who would find out that I am a natural fool if I always kept cool and never let nature come to the surface?”

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