In 1882 Mark Twain and Joe Twichell visited their friend Lieut. Wood at West Point, where they learned that Wood, as Adjutant, had under his control a small printing establishment. On Mark’s return to Hartford, Wood received a letter asking if he would do Mark a great favor by printing something he had written, which he did not care to entrust to the ordinary printer. Wood replied that he would be glad to oblige. On April 3, 1882, Mark sent the manuscript:
“I enclose the original of 1603 [sic] as you suggest. I am afraid there are errors in it, also, heedlessness in antiquated spelling—e’s stuck on often at end of words where they are not strickly necessary, etc..... I would go through the manuscript but I am too much driven just now, and it is not important anyway. I wish you would do me the kindness to make any and all corrections that suggest themselves to you.
“S. L. Clemens.”
Charles Erskine Scott Wood recalled in a foreword, which he wrote for the limited edition of 1601 issued by the Grabhorn Press, how he felt when he first saw the original manuscript. “When I read it,” writes Wood, “I felt that the character of it would be carried a little better by a printing which pretended to the eye that it was contemporaneous with the pretended ‘conversation.’
“I wrote Mark that for literary effect I thought there should be a species of forgery, though of course there was no effort to actually deceive a scholar. Mark answered that I might do as I liked;—that his only object was to secure a number of copies, as the demand for it was becoming burdensome, but he would be very grateful for any interest I brought to the doing.
“Well, Tucker [foreman of the printing shop] and I soaked some handmade linen paper in weak coffee, put it as a wet bundle into a warm room to mildew, dried it to a dampness approved by Tucker and he printed the ‘copy’ on a hand press. I had special punches cut for such Elizabethan abbreviations as the a, e, o and u, when followed by m or n—and for the (commonly and stupidly pronounced ye).
“The only editing I did was as to the spelling and a few old English words introduced. The spelling, if I remember correctly, is mine, but the text is exactly as written by Mark. I wrote asking his view of making the spelling of the period and he was enthusiastic—telling me to do whatever I thought best and he was greatly pleased with the result.”
Thus was printed in a de luxe edition of fifty copies the most curious masterpiece of American humor, at one of America’s most dignified institutions, the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“1601 was so be-praised by the archaeological scholars of a quarter of a century ago,” wrote Clemens in his letter to Charles Orr, “that I was rather inordinately vain of it. At that time it had been privately printed in several countries, among them Japan. A sumptuous edition on large paper, rough-edged, was made by Lieut. C. E. S. Wood at West Point —an edition of 50 copies—and distributed among popes and kings and such people. In England copies of that issue were worth twenty guineas when I was there six years ago, and none to be had.”