'Huck Finn' manuscript rediscovered Buffalo library likely to get document back

February 14, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — HOLLYWOOD -- A priceless "Huckleberry Finn" manuscript discovered stashed away in a librarian's attic here appears destined for the Buffalo public library in New York to which Mark Twain first donated it more than a century ago.

Sotheby's of New York, in formally announcing the rare find yesterday, said that there were no plans to auction the manuscript, and the Hollywood librarian who made the discovery said that she probably would return the handwritten papers to Buffalo.

The move apparently defuses a brewing dispute over the rightful ownership of the manuscript, found in a musty old trunk where it had been stored for at least 30 years.

The discovery sent excited tremors through the American literary world. Scholars said that the manuscript would shed important light on Twain's thoughts and intentions as he wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," published in 1884 and widely considered to be his masterpiece and one of the greatest works of American fiction.

The manuscript is a handwritten copy of the first half of the Huck Finn novel, believed to have been written by Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, between 1876 and 1880. It was found by a librarian who is the granddaughter of James Fraser Gluck, a Buffalo lawyer who corresponded with Twain in the 1880s and who was a pioneer collector of Twain's and other writings.

The manuscript is actually a stack of 665 pages, white writing paper with faint blue rules filled with the penmanship of Mark Twain. Part is written in black ink, and a later part in purple ink. There are scores of revisions made in Twain's own hand, reflecting his thinking process as he crafted the Mississippi River tale.

The papers had apparently been headed for an auction in June, but questions about their true ownership arose this week and --ed any plans for a sale.

The chairman of the board of trustees at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in New York notified Sotheby's early this week that the library considered itself entitled to the papers.

The basis of the claim is that Gluck solicited the manuscript from

Twain in 1885, saying that it would form part of a collection at the Buffalo library. A letter exists showing the library confirming receipt of the manuscript in 1887.

Gluck, a civic leader in Buffalo and major benefactor of the public library, wrote Twain to solicit copies of his original manuscripts for the library's collection. Twain obliged, sending the second half of the "Huckleberry Finn" copy to Gluck. It has been displayed at the Buffalo library ever since.

At the time, Twain had misplaced the first half of "Huck Finn" and believed that it had been destroyed after being sent to the printers. Two years later, he found the copy and evidently dispatched it to Gluck for the library. A letter shows the library confirming its receipt.

But the document vanished and has been considered lost all these years, until last fall.

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