Mark Twain Lists His Favorite Books For Children - And Himself

January 20, 1887

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Mark Twain Lists His Favorite Books For Children - And Himself
Autograph Letter Signed
3 pages | SMC 1688

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      Background

      It’s noble to teach oneself, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) once remarked, but still nobler to teach others - and less trouble. Accordingly, here Twain takes it easy on himself and suggests what other people ought to read - and names, in the process, a dozen of his favorite books.

      Macaulay; Plutarch; Grant's Memoirs; Crusoe; Arabian Nights; Gulliver...for the girl..out Crusoe and substituting Tennyson. When one is going to choose twelve authors, for better for worse, forsaking fathers & mothers to cling unto them & unto them alone, until death shall them part, there is an awfulness about the responsibility that makes marriage with one mere individual & divorcible woman a sacrament sodden with levity by comparison. In my list I know I should put Shakspeare; & Browning; & Carlyle (French Revolution only); Sir Thomas Malory (King Arthur); Parkman's Histories (a hundred of them if there were so many); Arabian Nights; Johnson (Boswell's), because I like to see that complacent old gasometer listen to himself talk; Jowett's Plato; & "B.B." (a book which I wrote some years ago, not for publication but just for my own private reading...) 

      Twain liked to say, truthfully, that his own schooling took place between the ages of 5 and 13, and consisted mostly of his “playing hookey & getting licked for it.” He also liked to say, untruthfully, that he wasn’t a bookish man. But the fact was that Twain was and had been, since boyhood, an avid reader. As much as he teased about education – God, for instance, only created idiots as practice for School Boards - he deeply valued learning. Supposing is good, he wrote in his autobiography, but finding out is better.


       Autograph Letter Signed (“S.L. Clemens”), 3 pages, octavo, Hartford, January 20, 1887. To the Rev. C. D. Crane. With autograph envelope.
       
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      Hartford, Jan. 20/87.

      Dear Sir :
                                                                           
      I am just starting away from home, & have no time to think the questions over & properly consider my answers;  but ^I take a shot on the wing at the matter, as follows:

      1. Macaulay ; 
          Plutarch ; 
          Grant's Memoirs ; 
          Crusoe ; 
          Arabian Nights ; 
          Gulliver.

      = 2. The same for the girl, after striking out out Crusoe & substituting Tennyson.

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      Page 2 transcript
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      I can't answer No. 3 in this sudden way.  When one is going to choose twelve authors, for better for worse, forsaking father & mother to cling unto them ^& unto them alone, until 
      death shall them part, there is an awfulness about the responsibility that makes marriage with one mere individual & divorcible woman a sacrament sodden with levity by comparison. 

      In my list I know I should put Shakspeare [sic] ; & Browning ; & Carlyle (French Revolution only) ; Sir Thomas Malory (King Arthur); Parkman's Histories (a hundred of them if there 

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      were so many) ; [text is crossed out] Arabian Nights ; Johnson (Boswell's), because I like to see that complacent old gasometer listen to himself talk ; Jowett's Plato ; & "B. B." (a book which I wrote some years ago, not for publication but just for my own private reading.)


      I should be sure of these ; & I could add the other three, -- but I should want to hold the opportunity open a few years, so as to make no mistake.

      Truly Yours

      S L CLEMENS

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      Page 4 transcript

      Return to S. L. CLEMENS,
      HARTFORD, Conn.,
      If not delivered within 5 days.



      Rev. C. D. Crane
      New Castle 
      Maine