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Twain's Typewriter

June 02, 1985

I enjoyed the Scientific View piece by Betty Ann Kevles on word processors and their antiquated predecessors, the common typewriters ("Word Machines: A Century Ago Twain Had the Write Idea," May 15). Yet I question her statement that Mark Twain submitted the manuscript of "Tom Sawyer" "typed and double-spaced." In the Heritage Press edition of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," copyright in 1936, a preface by John T. Winterich states that the original manuscript "was in Mark Twain's own hand."

This, he writes, "was subsequently copied by amanuenses and heavily revised by the author . . . this draft became the actual printer's copy."

He continues: "There was a third (copy), in part at least. Late in 1874 Mark bought a typewriter. It cost him $125. It was an elementary instrument, printing only bald, serifless, inelegant capitals, but it was the joy of its owner's eye and heart. Some of 'Tom Sawyer' appears to have been jammed through the bowels of this complicated and primitive device, but none of the result seems to have come down to posterity."

Mark Twain, he says, eventually submitted the Tom Sawyer manuscript to William Dean Howells: "Mark wanted Howells to read the manuscript--probably the fair copy and not the typescript."

He (Mark Twain) added: "I perhaps made a mistake in not writing it in the first person. . . ."

It was indeed a mistake--the sequel, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," written in first person, has been hailed as the greatest novel of all time.

I personally have stayed away from word processors, preferring to hammer out my stuff on an old Model 5 Underwood like we used in the city room of the late Los Angeles Daily News, where I worked as a reporter.

I have since written and had published 36 books and hundreds of magazine pieces, both on the old Model 5 and, recently on this Smith-Corona electric machine I bought a couple of years ago. It has nice Xs to correct errors with, so who needs a word processor?



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