“We never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead — and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead and then they would be honest so much earlier” – Mark Twain
These days any estate planning lawyer worth his salt will tell you to pay attention to intellectual property rights. “Estate planning” is of course our polite term for “who gets the dead guy’s stuff”. Physical assets like cash and real estate are relatively easy to deal with. When it comes to future revenue generated from so-called “products of the mind”, things get a little murkier, but a good attorney can sort it out for you. During your lifetime you invented a better mousetrap and patented the idea. Of course, you’re probably suffering in the hoary netherworld, tormented by the ghosts of slaughtered rodents, but the folks you left behind may still be dispatching vermin to the afterlife based on your brilliant final solution to the rodentia problem. The trick here is that you invented it while you were alive. What about intellectual property created after you’re dead?
If you don’t think this has been a problem, go dig up Samuel Clemens. He’ll give you an earful. Or he would if he wasn’t deader than a mackerel. And if you disinter him and he happens to get chatty, you probably have bigger, more immediate problems like how to efficiently dispatch the ravenous undead, witty and charming as they may be. The American writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is celebrated as one of the greatest humorists America has ever produced and universally recognized as a literary giant. He died in 1910. This presented a problem, when a book appeared in 1917 called “The Coming of Jap Herron” that was purportedly authored by his spirit. Starting in 1915, Emily Grant Hutchings and Lola V. Hays reported they were transcribing this brand new Mark Twain novel via Ouija board (they also claimed to be transcribing a second posthumous Twain novel called “Brent Roberts”).
This seems a bit above and beyond, literally and preternaturally, literary agent-wise, but hey you’ve got to earn that 10 percent by hook or by crook. Emily Grant Hutchings (formerly Emily Rosalie Schmidt) was born in Hannibal, Missouri in 1870. Despite later professing that she had no personal acquaintance with Mark Twain, it is likely she first met him in St. Louis at a 1902 luncheon in his honor given at the Museum of Fine Arts, where he received an honorary degree (jokingly conceived just for him) of “Master Doctor of Arts”. There are a few letters between Hutchings and Twain that have been preserved, so they do appear to have had minor correspondence, although they are generally brief and discuss the vagaries of the writing process. Ms. Hutchings had a fairly productive writing career of her own – spending 12 years as a feature writer for the St. Louis Sunday Globe-Democrat, as well as publishing articles in Current Literature, Cosmopolitan, Country Life, Current Magazine, The Open Court, Philistine, and Atlantic Monthly. She wrote one published novel entitled “Chriskios-Divine Healer.”
Hutchings graduated high school at 17 and went on to attend a famous school for girls in Altenburg, Germany, returning to America and enrolling in the State University at Columbia, Missouri. As writing does not traditionally pay very well, she also taught Latin, Greek, and German at Hannibal High School, marrying Charles Edwin Hutchings, secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Tower Grove Park in 1897.
Hutchings’ collaborator on Jap Herron (apart from the deceased Twain), Lola V. Hays was a psychic medium, plying her spiritualist trade in St. Louis, but there is decidedly less biographical information on her than Hutchings. We do know she really dug Ouija boards.
Hutchings had previously ventured into the literary spirit world, teaming with another St. Louis psychic medium, Pearl Lenore Pollard in 1913. The two worked on channeling (also via Ouija board) a 17th Century spirit that identified itself as “Patience Worth”. The undead Worth dictated several novels, some poetry, and short prose – most of which were reasonably well-received, albeit skeptically. Of course, researchers over the years have failed to identify that a person named Patience Worth was ever not dead, or ever existed in a corporeal state at all, and she evinced a remarkable awareness of Victorian norms for a dead 17th Century woman.
When Hutchings hooked up with Lola Hays, they appeared to initially make contact with Patience Worth yet again, but Mark Twain quickly muscled into the communications to dictate two volumes of fiction, Jap Herron and Brent Roberts. American psychologist and psychical researcher James Hyslop (an important figure in the Society for Psychical Research), took it upon himself to investigate, commenting “There would be little difference of opinion about the absence of Mark Twain’s characteristic humor in these two volumes. Mrs. Hays had read a little of Mark Twain, and Mrs. Hutchings nothing until after the work had been partly completed” (Hyslop, 1919, p399). It seems Hyslop took Hutchings at her word that she hadn’t ready any Twain prior to the spiritual communications, but that was patently false, firstly because she was a relatively well educated woman, and particularly because she had actually corresponded with Twain while he was still amongst the living.
Hyslop went on to try and get some independent verification of the contact between Hutchings, Hays, and Twain – like any good researcher, he found himself another medium (Mrs. Chenoweth). “So I told Mark Twain that I wanted him to deliver a message through the two ladies. He agreed to try, and I gave him the sentence: ‘Hyslop is a cabbage head.’ His immediate reply was: ‘You do not expect me to be so blunt as that, do you? That message shows no consideration for cabbages’” (Hyslop, 1919, p404). Now, that of course sounds a little more like Twain, but the message was never delivered by Hutchings and Hays.
What was Jap Herron actually about? One of the least generous reviews said something along the lines of, “Jap Herron, is a dreary tale of a pseudo-Sawyerish urchin so irritatingly well behaved that a genuine Twain hero would have sent him home bawling with his eyes blackened”. This opinion was not universal at the time of its publication, as some critics thought they did detect some stylistic similarities to Twain’s writings. Most folks agreed that if it was indeed authored by Twain, it was clear that death constituted a serious slump in mentality and literary style.
After Jap Herron was released to the mass market by publisher Mitchell Kennerley, the New York Times (September 9, 1917) review of it was fairly uncharitable, but nonetheless garnered it some attentions, stating “The story itself, a long novelette, is scened in a Missouri town and tells how a lad born to poverty and shiftlessness, by the help of a fine-souled and high-minded man and woman, grew into a noble and useful manhood and helped to regenerate his town. There is evident a rather striking knowledge of the conditions of life and the peculiarities of character in a Missouri town, the dialect is true, and the picture has, in general, many features that will seem familiar to those who know their ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’. A country paper fills an important place in the tale, and there is constant proof of familiarity with the life and work of the editor of such a sheet. The humor impresses as a feeble attempt at imitation and, while there is now and then a strong sure touch of pathos or a swift and true revelation of human nature, the ‘sob stuff’ that oozes through many of the scenes, and the overdrawn emotions are too much for credulity. If this is the best that ‘Mark Twain’ can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary”.
The fact the Jap Herron was published by Mitchell Kennerley turned out to be extremely problematic, as Harper and Brothers Publishers owned the sole right to the publication of Mark Twain stories. In February 1918, Mrs. Ossip Gabrilowitsch of Bryn Mawr (formerly Clara Clemens, Twain’s daughter) asked her attorney, Charles P. Lark of New York, to prevent the publication of the work through an injunction and demanded that already published copies be destroyed. And so we have the case of the suit of Harper and Brothers vs. Mitchell Kennerley, not only over violations of copyright, but also arguing that Jap Herron was of such poor quality that it would besmirch the Twain brand, additionally pointing out that Twain never believed in life after death.
The lawsuit never made it to trial. Hutchings and Kennerley didn’t like their chances, and agreed to pull all copies of Jap Herron from the shelves, which disappointed some folks who wanted to see if Samuel Clemens would be called to testify via Ouija board. As a result, actual paper copies of the novel are pretty darn rare (although it’s now out of copyright, so a digital copy is pretty easy to find). As to the novel “Brent Roberts” – it never seems to have seen the light of day. The moral of the story is that posthumous authorship is a legal minefield, and should you find yourself without a source of income in the afterlife, it’s probably a bad bet, even for a famous writer, and one should look for something more lucrative. As Mark Twain himself said, “Buy land, they’re not making it any more”.
Hyslop, James. “Mark Twain Returns?” The Unpopular (Unpartizan) Review v12. New York: Holt, July-Dec. 1919
Hyslop, James. “Cross Reference Experiments for Mark Twain”. American Society for Psychical Research. Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research v14. Boston, Mass.: H.B. Turner, 1920.
OK, so Jap Herron wasn’t very good, but it was obviously a draft for Chrissake! A manuscript goes through many revisions before publication. Clearly, Hutchings presented it to the publisher before it was ready. And I think it’s also obvious why she neglected to let Clemens revise it. Can you imagine how tedious it would be to transcribe a novel letter-by-letter via Ouija board? The prospect of revising the draft using the same letter-by-letter Ouija board method was too daunting.
If Clemens felt the urge to continue writing post-mortem, why didn’t he simply opt for reincarnation? My naive premise is that all beliefs about what happens after death are true and that it is up to each individual to choose among them when the time comes. I’m not saying reincarnation wouldn’t be without problems. Do-overs come with risks, but Clemens could keep trying until he was content with the outcome or decided to give up.