Editorial: Giving a Hand to Mr. Twain

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Thousands of Mark Twain's original letters.

Manuscripts. Sketchbooks and photographs. Together, they make up a collection once deemed the "jewel" of UC Berkeley. As the largest archive of Mark Twain writings anywhere, it could be called the closest thing the university has to a Gutenberg Bible.

This is the sort of project that needs to be funded institutionally because it cannot support itself. It doesn't rake in money. But it is, or should be, precious to the university.

Five editors pour over the Twain originals, preparing them for publication by ensuring utmost faith to every word set down by one of the most important American writers. Most the editors have been at this project for 30 years.

They work with such meticulousness that they only publish scholarly editions of Twain's work about once every one and a half years. Though some of the editions, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have sold copies into the tens of thousands, the market for these new editions is small.

The funds from the National Endowment of the Humanities that used to float the project have shrunk this year because the endowment's budget has fallen on hard times. Now perpetual fundraising for printing and salaries dogs the project and its editors. These scholars shouldn't have to look under couches for loose change.

The university already pays the head editor, Robert Hirst, as well as his assistant. Considering that this is, or was, the so-called "jewel" of the university,

shouldn't there at least be a more substantial university publicity effort on behalf of the project? A campaign asking alumni and other donors to provide funding seems the least the university can do for a project that yields such pride.


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