The MS. sketch mentioned in the foregoing letter was "The Canvasser's Tale," later included in the volume, Tom Sawyer Abroad, and Other Stories. It is far from being Mark Twain's best work, but was accepted and printed in the Atlantic. David Gray was an able journalist and editor whom Mark Twain had known in Buffalo.
The "sketch of Elizabeth's time" is a brilliant piece of writing --an imaginary record of conversation and court manners in the good old days of free speech and performance, phrased in the language of the period. Gray, John Hay, Twichell, and others who had a chance to see it thought highly of it, and Hay had it set in type and a few proofs taken for private circulation. Some years afterward a West Point officer had a special font of antique type made for it, and printed a hundred copies. But the present-day reader would hardly be willing to include "Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen Elizabeth" in Mark Twain's collected works.
Clemens was a strong Republican in those days, as his letters of this period show. His mention of the "caves" in the next is another reference to "The Canvasser's Tale."
Sept. 14, 1876. MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Yes, the collection of caves was the origin of it. I changed it to echoes because these being invisible and intangible, constituted a still more absurd species of property, and yet a man could really own an echo, and sell it, too, for a high figure--such an echo as that at the Villa Siminetti, two miles from Milan, for instance. My first purpose was to have the man make a collection of caves and afterwards of echoes; but perceived that the element of absurdity and impracticability was so nearly identical as to amount to a repetition of an idea.....
I will not, and do not, believe that there is a possibility of Hayes's defeat, but I want the victory to be sweeping.....
It seems odd to find myself interested in an election. I never was before. And I can't seem to get over my repugnance to reading or thinking about politics, yet. But in truth I care little about any party's politics--the man behind it is the important thing.
You may well know that Mrs. Clemens liked the Parlor Car--enjoyed it ever so much, and was indignant at you all through, and kept exploding into rages at you for pretending that such a woman ever existed--closing each and every explosion with "But it is just what such a woman would do."-- "It is just what such a woman would say." They all voted the Parlor Car perfection--except me. I said they wouldn't have been allowed to court and quarrel there so long, uninterrupted; but at each critical moment the odious train-boy would come in and pile foul literature all over them four or five inches deep, and the lover would turn his head aside and curse--and presently that train-boy would be back again (as on all those Western roads) to take up the literature and leave prize candy.
Of course the thing is perfect, in the magazine, without the train-boy; but I was thinking of the stage and the groundlings. If the dainty touches went over their heads, the train-boy and other possible interruptions would fetch them every time. Would it mar the flow of the thing too much to insert that devil? I thought it over a couple of hours and concluded it wouldn't, and that he ought to be in for the sake of the groundlings (and to get new copyright on the piece.)