Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade).

"Taking the pledge will not make bad liquor good, but it will improve it": The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; inscribed by Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade).

TWAIN, Mark. [Samuel L. Clemens].


Item Number: 123083

New York: Charles L. Webster and Company, 1886.

Early printing of Twain’s masterpiece, inscribed by Mark Twain. Octavo, bound in half buckram by Roycroft with paper labels to the spine, tissue-guarded frontispiece photogravure plate of Gerhardt’s bust of Clemens, one hundred and seventy-four illustrations by E. W. Kemble. Presentation copy, inscribed by the author on the title page, “To Mr. Garth W. Cate: Taking the pledge will not make bad liquor good, but it will improve it. Truly Yours, Mark Twain, Nov. 25/06.” With a lengthy letter of provenance dated October 14, 1964 and signed by the recipient which reads in part, “Dear Mr. Jacobs, If I had been younger and could have carried out a study of some of Mark Twain’s motives and acts, I never would have parted with my cherished old copy of the first printing of Huckleberry Finn. This was the first book given to me by my father… In 1906-1907 I was a lecture manager for Elbert Hubbard, the Sage of East Aurora, whose quasi-socialist group The Roycrofters was quite famous as an arts and crafts enter at East Aurora, New York. By that time the HUCK FINN was loose in its covers… Elbert Hubbard saw the book on my desk when I brought it in to have it rebound in the Roycroft Bindery. Said he, “No author could resist seeing such a well worn volume testifying to the delight it had given many readers. Why don’t you send it down to Mark Twain and ask him to inscribed it. I’ll sign and send Mark a few of my own books along with it, thus salting the mine for you.” So I sent HUCK back to its spiritual father, and when it returned I was somewhat shocked, having been sent to a temperance Sunday School by a whiskey fearing mother, to find that he had inscribed it “To Mr. Garth W. Cate – Taking the pledge will not make bad liquor good, but will improve it.” (Incidentally it was several years after that before I took my first drink. I am an abstainer today). Later on I was to marry a Christian Science practitioner, and when she saw this inscription she exclaimed: Why, that is the most immoral thing I ever saw! How could a great author send such a sentiment to a young man?” A careful search of Mark Twain’s writings revealed that he had a deep-seated lifetime aversion for pledges, especially when they had been obtained under pressure from those of an older generation. It seems when Mark was a boy in his early teens, his mother and aunt talked and pressured him into signing a pledge not to touch alcohol in any from. Later he was to refer to this as “A ball and chain clanking behind him down the years of time.” He hated such restrictions, especially when thrust upon him while immature.” In very good condition. With the original publisher’s decorated green cloth cover bound in and three rare portraits of Twain tipped in. With two further letters of provenance and several period Twain-related clippings adhered to several pages. Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box. An exceptional presentation copy with noted provenance.

Written over an eight-year period, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was controversial from the outset, attacked by critics for its crudeness, coarseness and vulgarity. Upon issue of the American edition in 1885, several libraries, including the Concord and Brooklyn Public Libraries, banned it from their shelves. Twain later remarked to his editor, "Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as 'trash and only suitable for the slums.' This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!" The book nevertheless emerged as one of the defining novels of American literature, prompting Hemingway to declare: "All modern literature comes from one book by Mark Twain. It's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing since."

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