CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne. Autograph letter signed ("S.L. Clemens") to his publisher Elisha Bliss, Jr., ("Friend Bliss"), Buffalo, N.Y., 2 December . 2 pages, 8vo, with two long marginal postscripts and a six-line insertion on verso of first sheet, two small fold tears crossing a few letters (but nothing missing), in very good condition.
TWAIN OUTLINES TERMS FOR A BOOK ON AFRICA
After the success of Innocents Abroad (1869), Bliss was anxious for another book from Clemens. The writer came up with the bizarre idea of sending an agent to Africa to obtain local color for a work on the diamond mines, and in this letter proposes that Bliss should advance money for the expenses of that trip. Clemens would then concoct the book from his proxy's notes and interviews. "I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll not take advantage of your consent to pay me 10 per cent, but I'll do this. You're to pay me 8 per cent, & advance me another thousand dollars (in addition to the fifteen hundred,) any time I demand it during 1871, this thousand also to come out of my first earnings on the African book...If my man don't get back & I can't write the African book for you, I'll write you a 600 page 8vo. book in place of it, which you are to pay me 8 per cent copyright on & you to subtract all that $1500 or $2500 from my first receipts on that book. How's that?"
"1. Don't you see? You get a book, in any event. 2. You pay 8 p. cent. copyright in any event. 3. I alone risk that advance money on my man. If nothing comes of it, I lose it all, you none of it...P.S. Keep this whole thing a dead secret -- else we'll have somebody standing ready to launch a book right on our big tidal wave & swim into a success when it would otherwise fall still-born..." Twain's agent, the luckless John Henry Riley, went to Africa, but his ship ran aground far north of Capetown, and after three month's difficult travels in the interior of South Africa, he emerged with only a few worthless mining claims. By the time Riley returned to America in August 1871, Twain's ardor for the project had cooled (he had also begun writing Roughing It) and Riley's health was in decline. The hapless Riley died, from a blood disease contracted on his journey, in Philadelphia (appropriately) in September 1872. Printed in Letters, ed. H.E. Smith, R. Bucci, and L. Salamo, vol. 4, pp. 256-57.