Magazine article Humanities

Bantering with a Brooklyn Librarian

Magazine article Humanities

Bantering with a Brooklyn Librarian

Article excerpt

For years following the publication of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemens would correspond with any and all who had something to say about the book In 1905 and 1906, Clemens exchanged the following letters with Asa Don Dickinson, who prevailed upon Clemens for help in arguing that Huck be allowed a place in the children's rooms of Brooklyn's libraries.

SHEEPSHEAD BAY BRANCH BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY 1657 SHORE ROAD BROOKLYN - NEW YORK, Nov. 19th, '05

Dear Sir:

I happened to be present the other day at a meeting of the children's librarians of the Brooklyn Public Library. In the course of the meeting it was stated that copies of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" were to be found in some of the children's rooms of the system. The Sup@t of the Children's Dep't-a conscientious and enthusiastic young woman-was greatly shocked to hear this, and at once ordered that they

be transferred to the adults' department. Upon this I shamefacedly confessed to having read "Huckleberry Finn" aloud to my defenseless blind people, without regard to their age, color, or previous condition of servitude. I also reminded them of Brander Matthews's opinion of the book, and stated the fact that I knew it almost at heart, having got more pleasure from it than from any book I have ever read, and reading is the greatest pleasure I have in life. My warm defense elicited some further discussion and criticism, from which I gather that the prevailing opinion of Huck was that he was a deceitful boy who said "sweat" when he should have said "perspiration." The upshot of the matter was that there is to be further consideration of these books at a meeting early in January which I am especially invited to attend. Seeing you the other night at the performance of "Peter Pan" the thought came to me that you (who know Huck as well as I-you can't know him better or love him more-) might be willing to give me a word or two to say in witness of his good character though he "warn't no more quality than a mud cat."

I would ask as a favor that you regard this communication as confidential, whether you find time to reply to it or not; for I am loath for obvious reasons to bring the institution from which I draw my salary into ridicule, contempt or reproach.

Yours very respectfully,

ASA DON DICKINSON.

(In charge Department for the Blind and Sheepshead Bay Branch, Brooklyn Public Library.)

November 21, 1905

Dear Sir:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed dean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a dean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady-she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Hucks character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood.

If there is an unexpurgated in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship? …

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