"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!"
The line originally read, "Where can that boy be, I wonder?" However, in the original handwritten manuscript of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Mark Twain crossed it out and substituted the folksier, more pungent phrase as one of many final changes and deletions before he sent it off to the printer.
Today--Mark Twain's 147th birthday--the Georgetown University Library, which has had the "Sawyer" manuscript since 1934, puts it on public display in the fifth-floor special collections room, where it will remain through Dec. 30 along with copies of a handsome, two-volume photographic reproduction just published by the library and University Publications of America.
An examination of the manuscript shows that Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, dropped eight pages -- probably thrown away and lost forever -- in an apparent effort to get more quickly to Tom's electrifying first sight of Becky Thatcher, the "lovely little blue-eyed creature with yellow hair plaited into two long tails." At this, Twain wrote, our "hero fell without firing a shot."
Later, after many skirmishes with Becky, Tom finally wins her heart by shouting "I done it!" just as schoolmaster Dobbins is about to discover Becky accidentally tore the picture of a naked human in his anatomy book. Twain made no later manuscript changes in this scene: his strong scrawl races along excitedly, then abruptly contracts as if, having captured a perfect moment, he took a breather before continuing work.
University librarian Joseph E. Jeffs said the "Sawyer" manuscript, roughly 875 small letter-size pages covered in Twain's highly legible scrawl and with surprisingly few changes and deletions, is "one of the few major 19th-century literary manuscripts that have survived . . .
"From the 19th century on back . . . they didn't think in terms of keeping them. When the books came out, they were discarded. The heirs didn't keep them. Correspondence and letters tended to be saved more . . . That started to change in this century, when American libraries began to collect manuscripts."
Jeffs said there remain in existence some original manuscripts of Melville, Hawthorne, Washington Irving and others. The "Sawyer" manuscript, which is complete and virtually flawless, is insured for $1.5 million. The two-volume photographic reproduction, which contains a scholarly introduction by Prof. Paul Baender of the University of Iowa, was printed in a limited edition of 1,000 copies at $120 per set.
The manuscript survived after the book was published in 1876, according to Baender's introduction, because Twain's publisher, Elisha Bliss, gave it to his son Walter; later, when Walter died, Nicholas F. Brady, a utilities magnate who loved the book and who had once lived across the street from Twain on Fifth Avenue in New York, bought it at a private estate sale. After Brady's death in 1930, his widow gave the book to Georgetown University.
"Like most great writers, Twain started with Chapter 1, Page 1," said George M. Barringer, Georgetown's special collections librarian, in a preview for the press last week. "It's common letter paper, good writing paper. The only deterioration is the adhesive used to glue the original pages onto larger sheets caused some discoloration . . . Don't handle it!"
Barringer himself, however, flipped casually through the pages of the manuscript, proving it remains sturdy. It was Barringer who took the manuscript to Ann Arbor, Mich., placing it in the overhead rack of the airliner, and watched over it while the printer photocopied each page. "You're talking to a guy who only read the book once when he was 8 or 9," he said. "The next time I read it, I'm going to read it from this manuscript."
The manuscript brings pleasant shocks of recognition, and the effect is heightened because you can see where Twain tinkered to tighten a paragraph or bring off a scene, as in the above example, which opens the book. While the author styled "Tom Sawyer" the simple story of a boy, it has burrowed deep into our consciousness, becoming one of the great allegories of American life:
Enterprising Tom turns whitewashing a fence into sport and inveigles his hapless companions into doing it for him, teams up with ragged Huck for a romantic life of "piracy," saves straw-haired Becky from death in McDougal's cave, brings to justice the murderous Injun Joe, finds the box of gold and becomes rich, and even talks Huck into tackling the civilized life with the widow Douglas.
Most of the changes that Twain makes seem minor, but they add to the tone of the book, enriching its texture, sharpening its humor, enhancing its perfect, dusty sense of reality.
Originally, to cite one of the simplest examples, Twain had Peter the cat spring "a couple of feet in the air" after Tom gives him Pain Killer, but this is later changed to "a couple of yards into the air." In the church scene where the "pirates" attend their own funeral, the minister originally sermonized on the "brave, generous natures" of the departed boys, later changed to "sweet, generous natures."
Some of these small changes carry a powerful wallop. After Tom wins a Bible (really, he bought the tickets for it without memorizing the requisite verses), he is asked in front of a distinguished audience to name the first two disciples. Of course he doesn't know their names; and, pressed, blurts out, "DAVID AND GOLIATH!" Twain's original ending to that episode was, "Let us draw the curtain of charity over the sad scene," which he changed to the more understated and funny, "Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene."
There are more extensive changes in which Twain appears to be struggling to control complex material. In the back-and-forth of the struggle between Tom and Becky before they are reconciled, for example, Twain often crossed out material, or readjusted it, in order to get back on track the delicate psychological nuances. In Chapter 3, Twain deletes half a page specifically describing Tom's antics intended to impress Becky, contenting himself to write simply that Tom began to "show off in all sorts of absurd boyish ways . . . " Cutting this material brings the reader more quickly to the powerful image of Tom picking up with his toes the pansy Becky has tossed to him.
In that terrible scene in Chapter 29 when Injun Joe creeps through the night toward the Widow Douglas' house with plans to "slit her nostrils . . . notch her ears like a sow's!" Twain inserted these more graphic phrases after crossing out the original "take her nose off -- and her ears!" And Twain also later inserted Injun Joe's impassioned speech explaining why he was going to do this: because the widow's late husband "had me horsewhipped! -- horsewhipped in front of the jail . . . with all the town looking on! HORSEWHIPPED! -- do you understand?"
The manuscript also has notes scribbled here and there in the margins, many of them indicating where illustrations should be placed. Other notes are revealing in literary ways. Twain, in a note to himself at the top of the first page of the manuscript, contemplated a broad scope for the book that would take Tom to "age 37 to 40," when he would return from adventures in many lands to meet as grown-ups people he had known as children.
In another note on page 23 of the manuscript, Twain reminds himself of "the splendid jewelry that illuminated the trees on the morning of Jan. 9, '73" -- a reference to a snowstorm that, scribbled on such an early page of the manuscript, enabled biographers to guess roughly when Twain started working on the manuscript.
According to Jeffs, the Georgetown University librarian, such changes and notes in original manuscripts like that of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," which give us clues on how writers write, are enormously important. "It's the grist for the academic mill," he said.