Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Howard Pyle Misses the Mark?

The latest incarnation of the Autobiography of Mark Twain has been getting a lot of press. I don’t hold out much hope that Samuel L. Clemens’s “private” thoughts on Howard Pyle will be revealed therein or in subsequent volumes. In fact, I doubt that his thoughts would prove much different than the comments he made directly to Pyle or to his publisher. And even though they had many mutual friends and acquaintances (W. D. Howells and Albert Bigelow Paine, in particular), the two probably didn’t linger long enough in each other’s company for Clemens to form an opinion of Pyle the man.

As yet, I can only place these two in the same room at the same time at Mark Twain’s 67th birthday party hosted by George Harvey. Subsequently, Pyle was invited to the 70th birthday - Harvey’s even larger publicity stunt, held on December 5, 1905 - but he couldn’t attend. In sending his regrets to Clemens, Pyle wrote that “it is not often that a fellow craftsman can have it to say that in nearly half a century of work he should never have written any words that were not pure, and kind, and free of malice toward any of his fellow-creatures.”

Reviews of the autobiography, however, make Pyle sound pretty naive - or just hyperbolic and polite. In Slate, for instance, Judith Shulevitz says,
...this volume is punctuated by uncomic riffs - I believe they are meant to be funny - that quickly degenerate into furious rants, usually about former business partners who had grievously cheated Twain. The unvarnished truth about Twain/Clemens turns out to be his unvarnished rage.

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