Mother reading to child.

Twain’s Letter to Librarian

In 1905, “a conscientious and enthusiastic” young librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library ordered copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn transferred from the children’s section to the adult section. Another librarian employed there notified Twain of the decision, remarking that the objection to Huck stemmed from the character’s coarseness: “he was a deceitful boy who said ‘sweat’ when he should have said ‘perspiration.’ ”

Twain replied with characteristic sarcasm:

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 clean; 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 clean 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 Huck’s 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 Bible in the Children’s Department, won’t you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,
(Signed, S. L. Clemens)

June 23, 2024