13 May 2013

The Mysterious Stranger: The Forgotten Version

I’ve written elsewhere (Dubious Documents: The Case of Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger) about the editorial chicanery involved in the original publication of Mark Twain’s The Chronicle of Young Satan under the title The Mysterious Stranger and the baleful effect it has had on the interpretation of these texts. What’s bugging me today, however, is another annoyance. I see the Wikipedia article on the story repeats a mistake that others (some of whom should know better) have made, in that it states there were three manuscript attempts at the story. According to the piece the three were (1) The Chronicle of Young Satan Schoolhouse Hill, and (3) No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger. (I also find it annoying that the author says the “first substantial version is commonly referred to as The Chronicle of Young Satan”, in that it is commonly referred to by that title because that is the title Mark Twain gave it.) But actually there were four “substantial” versions of the story. The missing version here is Mark Twain’s very first attempt at the tale, title unknown, but referred to as the Pre-Eseldorf version by John Tuckey and as the St. Petersburg Fragment by William M. Gibson. It is listed as Version A and described on pp. 4-5 of the original publication by the University of California Press in 1969.

Mark Twain, as was his wont, destroyed much of the manuscript, and we probably wouldn’t even know it had existed if he hadn’t reused some of the pages in The Chronicle of Young Satan. Nineteen pages survive, altered and refitted to serve the purposes of the new story. The original story was set (apparently) in St. Petersburg, the fictional town in which Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the slave Jim lived. The first surviving page (12) starts in the middle of a speech by Satan telling the three boys who are the main characters to “Sit still and say nothing.” The narrator (whom we later learn is named George) continues:
We looked up and saw Mr. Black approaching through the black walnuts. We three were sitting together in the grass, and Satan sat in front of us in the path. Mr. Black came slowly along with his head down, thinking, and stopped within a couple of yards of us and took off his hat and got his silk handkerchief out of it, and stood there mopping his face and looking as if he were going to speak to us, but he didn’t. Presently he muttered, “I can’t think what brought me here; it seems as if I were in my study a minute ago—but I suppose I have been dreaming along for half an hour and have come all this stretch without noticing; I can’t account for it; but it is no matter, it is pleasant out, to-day.” Then he went mumbling along to himself and walked
We will soon learn that Mr. Black is a former Presbyterian minster now fallen on hard times since he became a Universalist, and that the three boys are George (the narrator), Pole, and Huck. (George is referred to as Tom Sawyer in the notes.) After a gap of several pages, the narrative resumes with a connected sequence that takes us to the end of chapter 1 and through the beginning of chapter 2. In it Satan speaks disparagingly of mankind and its possession of the moral sense, promises to return, and vanishes like a soap bubble. Mr. Black returns, observing that he has lost his wallet, and while it only contains four dollars, that is the only money he has. The boys offer to look for it, but Mr. Black finds it almost immediately, but it turns out to be stuffed with money, over a thousand dollars. The boys realize that Satan is responsible for this, but are forced to remain silent; they urge Mr. Black to take the money. Mr. Black says that some enemy might be responsible, but Huck tells him, “Mr. Black, you haven't a real enemy in the village—nor Margaret, either. And not even a half-enemy that’s rich enough to chance eleven hundred dollars at one dash to do you a mean turn. I’ll ask you if that’s so, or not?” The boys sign a paper attesting to the way that Mr. Black found the money.

Chapter 2 begins with an account of the improvement in Mr. Black’s fortunes:
It made immense talk next day, when Mr. Black paid off his mortgage in gold and bought nine hundred dollars worth of ten percent county scrip and deposited it in the bank; and lots of people called at the house to congratulate, and a heap of cool old friends warmed up and got friendly again; and Margaret was invited to a picnic, and the piano scholars that had deserted her began to book for lessons again.

And there was no mystery; the old gentleman told the whole circumstance just as it happened, and said he could not account for it, only it was the plain hand of Providence, so far as he could see; though the Presbyterians didn't take any stock in that, a body couldn't expect it. One or two said it looked more like the hand of Satan; and you know that seemed a surprisingly good guess for ignorant people like that. Some came privately and tried to get us boys to come out and “tell the truth;” and on honor promised they wouldn’t ever tell, but only wanted to know for their own satisfaction, because the whole thing was so curious. They even wanted to buy the secret, and pay money for it; and if we could have invented something that would answer—however, we couldn't; we hadn’t the ingenuity, so we had to let the chance go by, and it was a pity.
The boys are afraid that the gold will turn to dirt, like fairy gold, but it doesn’t, and they seek out Mr. Black to ask him about the moral sense that Satan had denigrated. This essentially brings us to the end of the surviving sequence.

There is a single isolated page further on, which reads:
through the garden, there was Tom Andrews sitting there waiting, for it was getting toward the edge of the evening, and he would be asking Margaret to take a walk along the river with him when Peggy was done making the piano sorry the peace hadn’t been signed before the Battle came off. He was a young lawyer, and talented; and he had had a good practice and a thriving one, but it was all gone, now. Drink—that was his trouble. He got a start at it and it beat him. He was seedy, now, and he was always so prim and gentlemanlike in those other days; and proud, too, for he was of good Kentucky stock; and back of that, Virginian — F. F. V., in fact. He had been courting Mar-
Where the story went after that, if anywhere, is impossible to say on the available evidence, but several things jump out. Mr. Black, whose unfortunate change in theology proved so costly to him, is clearly another caricature of Mark Twain’s brother Orion Clemens; when he metamorphoses into Father Peter (in Young Satan) the connection is less obvious, though Father Peter may still have had universalist tendencies:
But the Bishop suspended him for talking around in conversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to save all his poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but there was never any absolute proof that Father Peter said it …
And there is no sign of the villainous Father Adolf, inspired by an Austrian politician Mark Twain loathed, Dr. Karl Lueger. When Mark Twain adapted Huck’s claim that Mr. Black had not a real enemy in the village, he had to add the key phrase “with the exception of Father Adolf” to fit the new situation.

So, then, I guess the question is, why has the notion that there were only three versions of the tale taken such root? The answer is more or less obvious: the first version was not printed as such in the definitive 1969 edition put out by the University of California press. It is there, after a fashion, in that it can be reconstructed by carefully going through the textual commentary on The Chronicle of Young Satan and noting the MS alterations (which is how I arrived at the description given above), but that is not entirely satisfactory. I suppose the fact that the MS has not survived independently may have influenced the editor, but if it had been up to me, I would have preferred that the few pages it would have cost to present it had been used for that purpose.

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