CLEMENS, SAMUEL LANGHORNE ("Mark Twain"). Autograph manuscript signed ("Mark Twain") of his poem "The Derelict," n.p., n.d. [c. 1890--1894]. 6 pages, 8vo, paper watermarked "Joynson Superfine," pages numbered 1-5 by Clemens and written on rectos only in purple ink, with an additional note added later in a darker ink on the verso of page 1, text with several deletions and emendations, one in the darker ink, a four-line footnote at bottom of page 1 deleted in pencil.
"THE DERELICT," AN EIGHT-STANZA POEM BY CLEMENS
One of Clemens's few essays at verse, dated 1894 by Merle Johnson, but perhaps of slightly earlier vintage. The manuscript appears to have been intended as a fair copy, and was probably preceded by earlier drafts. Then, at a later date, in a brown-black ink, Clemens made three small emendations in the poem and added a prefatory note to follow the title: "Almshouse Attendant: 'Consider, Sir! in a time long past, the fame of his great services filled the world; now he lies dying here friendless, forlorn & forgotten, & mutters his reproaches with unconscious lips.'" In the margin, Clemens indicates it should be printed in small type. In the poem, an old warship recalls its thirty years noble service, how it was then relegated to a merchant vessel, then to a low freight-carrier and finally "foundered in a happy gale, And derelict became."
The first stanza reads: "You sneer, you ships that pass me by, Your snow-pure canvass towering proud! You traders base! -- why, once such fry Paid reverence, when like a cloud Storm-swept I drove along, My Admiral at post, his pennion blue Faint in the wilderness of sky, my long Yards bristling with my gallant crew, My ports flung wide, my guns displayed, My tall spars hid in bellying sail! --You struck your topsails, then, and made Obeisance -- now your manners fail." The concluding stanza reads: "The years they come & the years they go, As I drift on the lonely sea, Reckning no more than the winds that blow, What is in store for me; For my shames are over, my soul at peace, At peace from loaathsome strife, And I wait in patience for my release From the insult of this world's life."
Jervis Langdon, Clemens's nephew, in a privately-printed reminiscence of his uncle, gives an account of the poem and the present manuscript: "I remember the day the manuscript was rediscovered. During the last visit of Mr. and Mrs. Clemens to Quarry Farm, I chanced to walk in there one afternoon when this old forgotten manuscript had quite suddenly turned up. My aunt [Livy Clemens] asked my uncle to read it to me, and a vivid picture remains of the man walking the floor with his swinging, crouching step, one hand holding the paper, the other gesturing, or rumpling up his mass of wavy white hair...." (Samuel Langhorne Clemens: Some Reminiscences and Some Excerpts From Letters and Unpublished Manuscripts, [Elmira, N.Y.: privately published], n.d., pp.22-24). Langdon gives the text (with small differences) of seven of the poem's eight stanzas, omitting the final stanza for unknown reasons, and the pencil-deleted footnote, referring to the line: "You struck your topsails then," which Clemens explains: "A century or two ago vessels of all nations had to strike topsails to British men-of-war in English waters." Partially published in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography, New York, 1912, pp.1499-1500