Mark Twain on Tobacco, 1909

Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens as he was sans pen name) was about as big a fan of smoking as it’s possible to be. Starting his cigar habit at the startling age of 8, he once said that “If smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go.” He is said to have smoked incessantly, anything from 22 to 40 cigars per day, although he also declared that “I smoke in moderation. Only one cigar at a time.”

On one of his attempts to give up, he wrote,

“I pledged myself to smoke but one cigar a day. I kept the cigar waiting until bedtime, then I had a luxurious time with it. But desire persecuted me every day and all day long. I found myself hunting for larger cigars…within the month my cigar had grown to such proportions that I could have used it as a crutch.”

Which brings to mind the Camberwell Carrot of cigars.

The Camberwell Carrot, from Withnail and I

The Camberwell Carrot, from Withnail and I

So, this endorsement from Mark Twain for Players Navy Cut tobacco (in pipe form, this time) seems like it could be plausible. And yet….despite the fact that the man was hardly ever pictured not smoking, this didn’t sound quite right to me.

Nottingham Evening Post, 24th November 1909

Nottingham Evening Post, 24th November 1909

So I did a big of digging and I found that this advert was actually the subject of a threatened lawsuit from Clemens. It seems his private secretary Ralph Ashcroft, mentioned in the advert, arranged this campaign without his knowledge. Clemens wrote to his friend Elizabeth Wallace about this:

“In England Ashcroft committed a forgery in the second degree on me, and sold for £25 my name (and words which I would not have uttered for a hundred times the money.) Sh-! say nothing about it – we hope to catch him and shut him up in a British jail.”

Ashcroft managed the financial affairs for Clemens, cannily trademarking the name “Mark Twain” and setting up the Mark Twain Company. He was married to Isabel Lyons, Clemens’ secretary, but Clemens evidently ended up loathing them both. The spectre of this loathing has recently arose again with the publication of volumes 1-3 of his autobiography. Written in his final years, he decreed that it should not be published until 100 years after his death, and so in 2010 the first volume was released. Volume 3, published in 2015, contained what is known as the ”Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript”, denouncing both for what he considered to be their treachery. More here, and it’s just spurred me on to get going on his autobiog.

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