I just got an email from Benjamin Griffin, an Associate Editor with the Mark Twain Project. He’s told me that this report from The Guardian is not fundamentally misleading:
Scholars at the University of California, Berkeley have uncovered and authenticated a cache of stories written by Mark Twain when he was a 29-year-old newspaperman in San Francisco. Many of the stories are 150 years old.
Bob Hirst is editor of the UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain project, which unearthed the articles by combing through western newspaper archives and scrapbooks. The author’s characteristic style authenticated some of the unsigned letters.
I covered this story based on The Guardian’s report, and it turns out that we were both wrong.
Yes, there is a Mark Twain Project, and yes, they are digitizing his works. But no cache had been uncovered recently. Instead, the real story is far less glamorous.
According to Griffin, the detail about the “cache” being uncovered was fundamentally incorrect. “Identifying and recovering the print journalism of Mark Twain in this period is an ongoing process, not a single find.” he wrote in the email.
Griffin told me that the real story is that the Mark Twain Project is working on a new critical, annotated edition of Mark Twain’s works. This volume will be based on the articles Mark Twain wrote in San Francisco for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and it will also contain some articles written for other newspapers.
The book will be called San Francisco Writings, and it will be published by the University of California Press. No publication date has been set.
In short, this isn’t much of story here, and since the Project has published close to 30 volumes of Twain’s work since the late 1960s there is really no story here at all.
Here’s the body of the email:
Bob Hirst has forwarded your inquiry to me. I’m an editor here (in fact I’m working on the volume you’re talking about) and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about the Project.
Unfortunately some of the stories that are appearing this week are garbled. Especially, their headlines have been misleading. No “cache” or “trove,” as such, of anything, has been recently found.
The real situation is that the Mark Twain Project is preparing a critical, annotated edition of the articles (in journalistic terms of the period, “letters”) written by Mark Twain from San Francisco to the Virginia City (Nevada) Territorial Enterprise. The volume will also contain some articles written for other, mostly San Francisco, papers.
Identifying and recovering the print journalism of Mark Twain in this period is an ongoing process, not a single find. They are never extant as manuscript; they are found in library files of old newspapers. Some of these old newspapers are very rare. In our office we have the files of many researchers, some who devoted most of their lives to combing through old newspapers, long before digital archives.
The principal editor of the forthcoming volume is Rick Bucci, who lives in New York.
Of the articles he’s collected in this volume (San Francisco Writings), many have been published before in various collections; and much of the volume will indeed be “new” to most MT scholars and readers. Most have never been published before in reliable texts, with historical annotation to contextualize and explain them.
Sorry if the tone of this email is a bit sobering. It’s been our duty over the last few days to set the story straight — without, I hope, dampening anyone’s ardor for new and unfamiliar Mark Twain.
A publication date for San Francisco Writings has not yet been set. It’ll be published by Univ. of California Press, as the latest volume (of almost thirty published since the 1960s) in the Project’s complete edition.