Are you in Cleveland for all this week? If you will say yes by return mail, I have a masterpiece to submit to your consideration which is only in my hands for a few days.
Yours, very much worritted by the depravity of Christendom,
The second letter discloses Hay’s own high opinion of the effort and his deep concern for its safety.
My dear Gunn:
Here it is. It was written by Mark Twain in a serious effort to bring back our literature and philosophy to the sober and chaste Elizabethan standard. But the taste of the present day is too corrupt for anything so classic. He has not yet been able even to find a publisher. The Globe has not yet recovered from Downey’s inroad, and they won’t touch it.
I send it to you as one of the few lingering relics of that race of appreciative critics, who know a good thing when they see it.
Read it with reverence and gratitude and send it back to me; for Mark is impatient to see once more his wandering offspring.
In his third letter one can almost hear Hay’s chuckle in the certainty that his diplomatic, if somewhat wicked, suggestion would bear fruit.
sp; Washington, D. C.
July 7, 1880
My dear Gunn:
I have your letter, and the proposition which you make to pull a few proofs of the masterpiece is highly attractive, and of course highly immoral. I cannot properly consent to it, and I am afraid the great many would think I was taking an unfair advantage of his confidence. Please send back the document as soon as you can, and if, in spite of my prohibition, you take these proofs, save me one.
Thus was this Elizabethan dialogue poured into the moulds of cold type. According to Merle Johnson, Mark Twain’s bibliographer, it was issued in pamphlet form, without wrappers or covers; there were 8 pages of text and the pamphlet measured 7 by 8 1/2 inches. Only four copies are believed to have been printed, one for Hay, one for Gunn, and two for Twain.
“In the matter of humor,” wrote Clemens, referring to Hay’s delicious notes, “what an unsurpassable touch John Hay had!”
The first printing of 1601 in actual book form was “Donne at ye Academie Press,” in 1882, West Point, New York, under the supervision of Lieut. C. E. S. Wood, then adjutant of the U. S. Military Academy.