They say, "Very well done." "The alliteration is so pretty." "What's an oesophagus, a bird?" "What's it all mean, anyway?" I tell them it means Mark Twain, and that an oesophagus is a kind of swallow. Am I right? Or is it a gull? Or a gullet?
Hereafter if you must write such things won't you please be so kind as to label them? Very sincerely yours, ALLETTA F. DEAN.
Mark Twain to Miss Dean:
Don't you give that oesophagus away again or I'll never trust you with another privacy!
So many wrote, that Clemens finally felt called upon to make public confession, and as one searching letter had been mailed from Springfield, Massachusetts, he made his reply through the Republican of that city. After some opening comment he said:
I published a short story lately & it was in that that I put the oesophagus. I will say privately that I expected it to bother some people--in fact, that was the intention--but the harvest has been larger than I was calculating upon. The oesophagus has gathered in the guilty and the innocent alike, whereas I was only fishing for the innocent--the innocent and confiding.
He quoted a letter from a schoolmaster in the Philippines who thought the passage beautiful with the exception of the curious creature which "slept upon motionless wings." Said Clemens:
Do you notice? Nothing in the paragraph disturbed him but that one word. It shows that that paragraph was most ably constructed for the deception it was intended to put upon the reader. It was my intention that it should read plausibly, and it is now plain that it does; it was my intention that it should be emotional and touching, and you see yourself that it fetched this public instructor. Alas! if I had but left that one treacherous word out I should have scored, scored everywhere, and the paragraph would have slidden through every reader's sensibilities like oil and left not a suspicion behind.
The other sample inquiry is from a professor in a New England university. It contains one naughty word (which I cannot bear to suppress), but he is not in the theological department, so it is no harm:
"DEAR MR. CLEMENS,--'Far in the empty sky a solitary oesophagus slept upon motionless wing.'
"It is not often I get a chance to read much periodical literature, but I have just gone through at this belated period, with much gratification and edification, your 'Double-Barrelled Detective Story.'
"But what in hell is an oesophagus? I keep one myself, but it never sleeps in the air or anywhere else. My profession is to deal with words, and oesophagus interested me the moment I lighted upon it. But, as a companion of my youth used to say, 'I'll be eternally, co- eternally cussed' if I can make it out. Is it a joke or am I an ignoramus?"
Between you and me, I was almost ashamed of having fooled that man, but for pride's sake I was not going to say so. I wrote and told him it was a joke--and that is what I am now saying to my Springfield inquirer. And I told him to carefully read the whole paragraph and he would find not a vestige of sense in any detail of it. This also I recommend to my Springfield inquirer.
I have confessed. I am sorry--partially. I will not do so any more--for the present. Don't ask me any more questions; let the oesophagus have a rest--on his same old motionless wing.
He wrote Twichell that the story had been a six-day 'tour de force', twenty-five thousand words, and he adds:
How long it takes a literary seed to sprout sometimes! This seed was planted in your house many years ago when you sent me to bed with a book not heard of by me until then--Sherlock Holmes . . . . I've done a grist of writing here this summer, but not for publication soon, if ever.