The “Expergation” Of Huckleberry Finn


In 1885, when Samuel L. Clemens' delightful daughter Susy was thirteen and he forty-nine, she secretly began a biography of her father, "Papa"—Mark Twain—soon discovered it, to his immense pleasure: when he himself wrote his biography, years later, he included passages from Susy's, leaving her "frequently desperate" spelling unaltered.  A new book by Edith Colgate Salsbury, Susy and Mark Twain, just published by Harper & Row, sets side by side many excerpts from the daughter's account and relevant remarks by the father in various works.  Here is what they had to say about the "expergation" of his books by his wife, Olivia.

Susy: Ever since papa and mama were married papa has written his books and then taken them to mama in manuscript, and she has expergated them. Papa read Huckleberry Finn to us in manuscript, just before it came out, and then he would leave parts of it with Mama to expergate, while he went off to the study to work, and sometimes Clara and I would be sitting with mama while she was looking the manuscript over, and I remember so well, with what pangs of regret we used to see her turn down the leaves of the pages, which meant that some delightfully terrible part must be scratched out. And I remember one part pertickularly which was perfectly fascinating it was so terrible, that Clara and I used to delight in and oh, with what despair we saw mama turn down the leaf on which it was written, we thought the book would almost be ruined without it. But we gradually came to think as mama did.

Sam: I remember the special case mentioned by Susy, and can see the group yet—two-thirds of it pleading for the life of the culprit sentence that was so fascinatingly dreadful, and the other third of it patiently explaining why the court could not grant the prayer of the pleaders; but I do not remember what the condemned phrase was. It had much company, and they all went to the gallows. . . .

For my own entertainment and to enjoy the protests of the children, I often abused my editor’s innocent confidence. I often interlarded remarks of a studied and felicitously atrocious character purposely to achieve the children’s brief delight and then see the remorseless pencil do its fatal work. I often joined my supplications to the children’s for mercy and strung the argument out and pretended to be in earnest. They were deceived and so was their mother. It was three against one and most unfair. But it was very delightful and I could not resist the temptation. Now and then we gained the victory and there was much rejoicing. Then I privately struck the passage out myself. It had served its purpose. It had furnished three of us with good entertainment, and in being removed from the book by me it was only suffering the fate originally intended for it.