An important publishing event of 1899 was the issue by the American Publishing Company of Mark Twain’s “Complete Works in Uniform Edition.” Clemens had looked forward to the day when this should be done, perhaps feeling that an assembling of his literary family in symmetrical dress constituted a sort of official recognition of his authorship. Brander Matthews was selected to write the Introduction and prepared a fine “Biographical Criticism,” which pleased Clemens, though perhaps he did not entirely agree with its views. Himself of a different cast of mind, he nevertheless admired Matthews.
Writing to Twichell he said:
When you say, “I like Brander Matthews, he impresses me as a man of parts & power,” I back you, right up to the hub—I feel the same way. And when you say he has earned your gratitude for cuffing me for my crimes against the Leather-stockings & the Vicar I ain’t making any objection. Dern your gratitude!
His article is as sound as a nut. Brander knows literature & loves it; he can talk about it & keep his temper; he can state his case so lucidly & so fairly & so forcibly that you have to agree with him even when you don’t agree with him; & he can discover & praise such merits as a book has even when they are merely half a dozen diamonds scattered through an acre of mud. And so he has a right to be a critic.
To detail just the opposite of the above invoice is to describe me. I haven’t any right to criticize books, & I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; & therefore I have to stop every time I begin.’—[Once at a dinner given to Matthews, Mark Twain made a speech which consisted almost entirely of intonations of the name “Brander Matthews” to express various shades of human emotion. It would be hopeless, of course, to attempt to convey in print any idea of this effort, which, by those who heard it, is said to have been a masterpiece of vocalization.]
Clemens also introduced the “Uniform Edition” with an Author’s Preface, the jurisdiction of which, he said, was “restricted to furnishing reasons for the publication of the collection as a whole.”
This is not easy to do. Aside from the ordinary commercial reasons I find none that I can offer with dignity: I cannot say without immodesty that the books have merit; I cannot say without immodesty that the public want a “Uniform Edition”; I cannot say without immodesty that a “Uniform Edition” will turn the nation toward high ideals & elevated thought; I cannot say without immodesty that a “Uniform Edition” will eradicate crime, though I think it will. I find no reason that I can offer without immodesty except the rather poor one that I should like to see a “Uniform Edition” myself. It is nothing; a cat could say it about her kittens. Still, I believe I will stand upon that. I have to have a Preface & a reason, by law of custom, & the reason which I am putting forward is at least without offense.