Mark Twain Tribute Fetches $242,000 at NYC Auction
This April 19, 2010 file photo shows pages from Mark Twain's "A Family Sketch," in New York. The never published tribute to a daughter who inspired two of his stories and died at 24 after contracting spinal meningitis, is scheduled to be sold by Sotheby's
June 18, 2010
NEW YORK – Mark Twain’s never published “A Family Sketch” – a tribute to his daughter who died at 24 after contracting spinal meningitis – sold at auction Thursday for $242,500, far outpacing pre-sale estimates.
The document was a tribute to Olivia “Susy” Clemens, who inspired two of his stories.
The sale price surpassed the original estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. Sotheby’s did not identify the buyer.
The 64-page, handwritten document was among a trove of 200 Twain letters, manuscripts and photographs.
“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,” Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Papers & Projects at the University of California at Berkeley, said in a recent interview. The university holds the largest repository of Twain material.
Hirst called it a “very intimate family record, with all of the charm both of Clemens himself,” his family and household servants. Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
“She was a magazine of feelings, & they were of all kinds & of all shades of force,” Twain wrote of Susy in the sketch shortly after her death in 1896. She was also the inspiration for his “Joan of Arc” and “A Horse’s Tale.”
“In all things she was intense: in her this characteristic was not a mere glow, dispensing warmth, but a consuming fire,” he wrote.
The writer, a native of Hannibal, Mo., known for his curmudgeonly wit and storytelling, was also a prolific letter-writer. Twain biographer Michael Shelden said about 15,000 of his missives are known to exist.
This photo shows a bronze bust of Samuel L. Clemens in old age, in New York. The bust of the writer who was known as Mark Twain, is scheduled to be sold by Sotheby's auction house in New York on Thursday, June 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
The total collection, which sold for more than $2.2 million – more than the auction house estimate of $750,000 to $1.2 million, belonged to the late media executive James S. Copley, whose library of other literary and historic manuscripts also were being sold.
The University of California, which controls the copyright on “A Family Sketch” and virtually everything else by Mark Twain that is still protected by copyright, is editing and publishing Twain’s uncensored autobiography in its entirety for the first time. The first of three volumes will be released by the UC Press in November, on the 175th anniversary of his birth.
“A Family Sketch” will not be included in the three-volume set because it is not part of what Twain designed as his autobiography, Hirst said. Instead, the university plans to publish the work – either from the original or copies it owns – in a series called “Jumping Frogs,” he said.
“A Family Sketch” also provides a glimpse into Twain’s childhood in a passage in which he describes shooting a bird as a prank.
“It toppled from its perch & came floating down limp & forlorn & fell at my feet, its song quenched and its inoffending life extinguished … I had destroyed it wantonly, & I felt all that an assassin feels, of grief & remorse when his deed comes home to him & he wishes he could undo it.”
The last large collection of Twain material at auction was in 2003, also at Sotheby’s. It contained memorabilia and souvenirs and sold for $1.4 million.
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