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Mark Twain > Life On The Mississippi > Chapter 47

Life On The Mississippi

Chapter 47

                     Uncle Remus and Mr. Cable

MR. JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS ('Uncle Remus') was to arrive from Atlanta
at seven o'clock Sunday morning; so we got up and received him.
We were able to detect him among the crowd of arrivals at
the hotel-counter by his correspondence with a description
of him which had been furnished us from a trustworthy source.
He was said to be undersized, red-haired, and somewhat freckled.
He was the only man in the party whose outside tallied with this
bill of particulars. He was said to be very shy. He is a shy man.
Of this there is no doubt. It may not show on the surface,
but the shyness is there. After days of intimacy one wonders
to see that it is still in about as strong force as ever.
There is a fine and beautiful nature hidden behind it, as all know
who have read the Uncle Remus book; and a fine genius, too, as all know
by the same sign. I seem to be talking quite freely about this neighbor;
but in talking to the public I am but talking to his personal friends,
and these things are permissible among friends.

He deeply disappointed a number of children who had flocked
eagerly to Mr. Cable's house to get a glimpse of the illustrious
sage and oracle of the nation's nurseries. They said--

'Why, he 's white! '

They were grieved about it. So, to console them, the book was brought,
that they might hear Uncle Remus's Tar-Baby story from the lips of Uncle
Remus himself--or what, in their outraged eyes, was left of him.
But it turned out that he had never read aloud to people, and was too shy
to venture the attempt now. Mr. Cable and I read from books of ours,
to show him what an easy trick it was; but his immortal shyness was
proof against even this sagacious strategy, so we had to read about
Brer Rabbit ourselves.

Mr. Harris ought to be able to read the negro dialect better
than anybody else, for in the matter of writing it he is the only
master the country has produced. Mr. Cable is the only master
in the writing of French dialects that the country has produced;
and he reads them in perfection. It was a great treat to hear him
read about Jean-ah Poquelin, and about Innerarity and his famous
'pigshoo' representing 'Louisihanna RIF-fusing to Hanter the Union,'
along with passages of nicely-shaded German dialect from a novel
which was still in manuscript.

It came out in conversation, that in two different instances
Mr. Cable got into grotesque trouble by using, in his books,
next-to-impossible French names which nevertheless happened
to be borne by living and sensitive citizens of New Orleans.
His names were either inventions or were borrowed from
the ancient and obsolete past, I do not now remember which;
but at any rate living bearers of them turned up, and were
a good deal hurt at having attention directed to themselves
and their affairs in so excessively public a manner.

Mr. Warner and I had an experience of the same sort when we wrote the book
called 'The Gilded Age.' There is a character in it called 'Sellers.'
I do not remember what his first name was, in the beginning;
but anyway, Mr. Warner did not like it, and wanted it improved.
He asked me if I was able to imagine a person named 'Eschol Sellers.'
Of course I said I could not, without stimulants. He said that away
out West, once, he had met, and contemplated, and actually shaken
hands with a man bearing that impossible name--'Eschol Sellers.'
He added--

'It was twenty years ago; his name has probably carried him off
before this; and if it hasn't, he will never see the book anyhow.
We will confiscate his name. The name you are using is common,
and therefore dangerous; there are probably a thousand Sellerses
bearing it, and the whole horde will come after us; but Eschol
Sellers is a safe name--it is a rock.'

So we borrowed that name; and when the book had been out about a week,
one of the stateliest and handsomest and most aristocratic looking
white men that ever lived, called around, with the most formidable
libel suit in his pocket that ever--well, in brief, we got his
permission to suppress an edition of ten milliontaken from memory, and probably incorrect. Think it was more.]>
copies of the book and change that name to 'Mulberry Sellers'
in future editions.

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