Mark Twain Wrote the First Book Ever Written With a Typewriter


My Pen­guin Clas­sics copy of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mis­sis­sip­pi sits alone atop an over­full shelf. There is a book­mark on page 204, exact­ly halfway through, torn from an in-flight duty-free catalog—whiskey and fan­cy pens. It tells me “hey, you for­got to fin­ish this, you [var­i­ous obscen­i­ties].” And I shrug. What can I say? I went to grad school, where I learned to read ten books at once and nev­er fin­ish one. Good thing Mark Twain didn’t write that way, or we might not have Life on the Mis­sis­sip­pi.

Twain was a dili­gent and con­sci­en­tious writer with a mem­o­ry like a bear trap, or at least that’s what he want­ed us to think. But some­where in his rem­i­nis­cence he may have been con­fused. Twain wrote in his 1904 auto­bi­og­ra­phy that his first nov­el writ­ten on a type­writer—the first type­writ­ten nov­el at all—was Tom Sawyer.

Was this so? Twain pur­chased his first type­writer (which prob­a­bly looked like the Rem­ing­ton Sholes and Glid­den above) in 1874 for $125. In 1875, he writes in a let­ter to the Rem­ing­ton com­pa­ny that he is no longer using his type­writer; it cor­rupts his morals because it makes him want to swear. He gives the infer­nal machine away, twice. It returns to him each time.

The year after Twain’s moral trou­ble with his Rem­ing­ton, Tom Sawyer is pub­lished from hand­writ­ten man­u­script, not typed. Then, sev­en years lat­er, Life on the Mis­sis­sip­pi comes to the pub­lish­er in type­script. Twain did not type it himself—he had pre­sum­ably renounced the act—but he dic­tat­ed the mem­oir to a typ­ist from a hand-writ­ten draft. Now, I can hear you quib­bling…  Life on the Mis­sis­sip­pi isn’t a nov­el at all! Well, okay, fair enough. Let’s just say it’s the first type­writ­ten book and call it a day, eh? Go read this excel­lent New York­er piece on the ear­ly life of the type­writer and leave me alone. I’ve got a book to fin­ish.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mark Twain Shirt­less in 1883 Pho­to

Mark Twain Cap­tured on Film by Thomas Edi­son in 1909. It’s the Only Known Footage of the Author.

Woody Allen’s Type­writer, Scis­sors and Sta­pler: The Great Film­mak­er Shows Us How He Writes

The Endur­ing Ana­log Under­world of Gramer­cy Type­writer

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (9)
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  • James Arlus Snow says:

    ..stephen king wrote the first book, availi­ble to down­load, free, on the inter­net..

  • faveola says:

    we had been study­ing about Mark Twain and I found out great thinks about him!!

  • bob says:

    thats awe­soome i nev­er knoew that

  • Bruce says:

    Len Deighton’s BOMBER is said to be the first nov­el pro­duced entire­ly on a word proces­sor.

  • Parzival says:

    Yeah, maybe next you could learn how to talk cor­rect­ly.

  • Ken Church says:

    Actu­al­ly, the read­ing habits of the author of this arti­cle are not that dif­fer­ent from Twain’s writ­ing habits. He often had sev­er­al books in the works at once even though he con­cen­trat­ed on one pri­mar­i­ly. Look­ing at his man­u­scripts, one can see that he was the con­su­mate word­smith, work­ing inde­fati­ga­bly to get the exact word and phrase that his brain demand­ed. With no elec­tron­ic “quick fix”, the ear­ly type­writer proved to be frus­trat­ing for him. I am sure he prob­a­bly found his fair sure of salty lan­guage even when writ­ing with a pen. “Under cer­tain cir­cum­stances, urgent cir­cum­stances, des­per­ate cir­cum­stances, pro­fan­i­ty pro­vides a relief denied even to prayer.” Mark Twain

  • lensdesir says:

    what is the first book mark twain write

  • Maria says:

    It’s true,it nev­er says what it was, i agree with you

  • justin says:

    tom saw­er

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