Donated letter defines Twain's tie to newspaper


By MARGIE CLARK Of the Courier-Post

A piece of history was donated to the Mark Twain Museum, Saturday, Nov. 3, when the descendants of W.H. Powell, editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 1907, presented a letter written by Mark Twain to the newspaper in that same year.

"The Mark Twain Museum is proud to announce that it has received a Mark Twain letter with Hannibal connections," said Henry Sweets, museum curator. "The letter stayed with the Powell family through the years and was presented by Powell's granddaughter, Nancy Saxhaug, Grand Rapids, Minn., and her daughter, Susie Loeffler."

William Hall Powell came to Hannibal as the editor of the Courier-Post in February of 1907, at the time Lee Syndicate purchased the paper. He served as editor for two years, leaving to go to the Des Moines Register-Leader, according to Sweets.

"Apparently Powell wrote to Mark Twain inquiring about his experiences at the Hannibal Courier during the 1840s," said Sweets. "Mark Twain responded in December. This is Twain's own statement of his beginnings as a 'printer's devil,' under Joseph A. Ament in the second-story shop on North Main street, 86 years ago in the spring of 1849. This differs somewhat from other data that he became a printer's apprentice immediately after his father's death in 1847."

The letter was postmarked Dec. 3, 1907, New York, N.Y.

It reads: "To The Editor of the Courier-Post."

Dear Sir:

"Next spring it will be 59 years since I became an apprentice in the Courier office under Joseph P. Arment, along with William T. League, Wales McCormick and a Palmyra lad named Russell Dick Rutter. Two of the group still survive: Viz, the Courier and the undersigned. Surreptitiously and uninvited, I helped to edit the paper when no one was watching; therefore I was a journalist. I have never been wholly disconnected from journalism since; therefore, by my guess, I am dean of the trade in America.

"I hope the Courier will long survive me and remain always prosperous."

There was an additional paragraph that was written but crossed out.

"I cannot lawfully say anything in print outside the Harper publications. In as much as the Harpers have the right to fine me $500 every time I infringe the agreement, I hope you will keep this present infringement of it as private as you can in these circumstances, for these be hard times, dear Sir."

Truly yours, Mark Twain

Sweets discovered the letter was actually published in the Courier-Post in 1908 with the crossed out part omitted.

In 1935, Hannibal celebrated the centennial of Mark Twain's birth, according to Sweets. A special edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post on March 6, 1935, had a supplement filled with Mark Twain stories. This letter was reproduced in print, coming from a photo static copy sent by Powell's widow.

Part of the caption under the letter read:

"Here is Mark Twain's own statement of his beginnings in the world of journalism and literature on the old Hannibal Courier, predecessor of the Courier-Post."

The letter was presented to Sweets in the museum's Interpretative Center. The letter will be displayed as part of the Mark Twain exhibit on the second floor of the Museum Gallery.

"I think Mrs. Saxhaug realized the letter needed to be in a safe place and made more public," said sweets. "With its ties to Hannibal and the Courier-Post, the Mark Twain Museum seemed the obvious place for people to see it."

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