By and by I shall take a boy of twelve and run him on through life (in the first person) but not Tom Sawyer--he would not be a good character for it.
I wish you would promise to read the MS of Tom Sawyer some time, and see if you don't really decide that I am right in closing with him as a boy- and point out the most glaring defects for me. It is a tremendous favor to ask, and I expect you to refuse and would be ashamed to expect you to do otherwise. But the thing has been so many months in my mind that it seems a relief to snake it out. I don't know any other person whose judgment I could venture to take fully and entirely. Don't hesitate about saying no, for I know how your time is taxed, and I would have honest need to blush if you said yes.
Osgood and I are "going for" the puppy G---- on infringement of trademark. To win one or two suits of this kind will set literary folks on a firmer bottom. I wish Osgood would sue for stealing Holmes's poem. Wouldn't it be gorgeous to sue R---- for petty larceny? I will promise to go into court and swear I think him capable of stealing pea-nuts from a blind pedlar. Yrs ever, CLEMENS.
Of course Howells promptly replied that he would read the story, adding: "You've no idea what I may ask you to do for me, some day. I'm sorry that you can't do it for the Atlantic, but I succumb. Perhaps you will do Boy No. 2 for us." Clemens, conscience- stricken, meantime, hastily put the MS. out of reach of temptation.
July 13, 1875 MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Just as soon as you consented I realized all the atrocity of my request, and straightway blushed and weakened. I telegraphed my theatrical agent to come here and carry off the MS and copy it.
But I will gladly send it to you if you will do as follows: dramatize it, if you perceive that you can, and take, for your remuneration, half of the first $6000 which I receive for its representation on the stage. You could alter the plot entirely, if you chose. I could help in the work, most cheerfully, after you had arranged the plot. I have my eye upon two young girls who can play "Tom" and "Huck." I believe a good deal of a drama can be made of it. Come--can't you tackle this in the odd hours of your vacation? or later, if you prefer?
I do wish you could come down once more before your holiday. I'd give anything! Yrs ever, MARK.
Howells wrote that he had no time for the dramatization and urged Clemens to undertake it himself. He was ready to read the story, whenever it should arrive. Clemens did not hurry, however, The publication of Tom Sawyer could wait. He already had a book in press--the volume of Sketches New and Old, which he had prepared for Bliss several years before.