[PW] Request help tracing quotation: All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure. Attributed to Mark Twain

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Sun Aug 15 14:29:38 PDT 2021

I received a request to explore the provenance of the quotation in the
subject line.

The best lead I have found is data pointing to a limited edition 1934
book with 125 copies. The book is available, for example, in the
Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University. Apparently, the book
includes a facsimile of a letter sent by Mark Twain containing the
quotation. The letter is also included in the main text.

Apparently, Mark Twain was the leader of a group that studied the
poetry of Robert Browning together.

I've uncovered conflicting information about the recipient of the
letter. There are three possibilities. It would be nice to resolve
this ambiguity.

Mary E. Foote
Mary Hallock Foote
Cordelia Welsh Foote,

Here is the citation for the 1934 book.

Book year: 1934
Book title: When Huck Finn Went Highbrow
Book author: Benjamin De Casseres,
Book publisher: Thomas F. Madigan, New York
Note: Limited edition with 125 copies
Additional note: Book includes facsimile of letter send from Mark
Twain to Mary E. Foote (maybe) dated December 2, 1887
Quote Page 7,

Below is the target text which was printed in a 1948 compilation.

[ref] 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas
Harnsberger, Topic: Reader, (Letter excerpt from Mark Twain to Mary
Hallock Foote), Quote Page 396, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc.,
New York. (Verified on paper)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Now when you come to think of it, wasn't it a curious idea—I mean for
a dozen ladies of (apparently) high intelligence to elect me their
Browning reader? Of course you think I declined at first; but I
didn't. I'm not the declining sort. I would take charge of the
constellations if I were asked to do it. All you need in this life is
ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.
[End excerpt]

The goal is to obtain a complete and accurate citation together with
complete data about the letter.

Book title
Book author
Book publisher
Year of publication
Page number of quotation
Number of copies of limited edition together with the number of the book

Sender of letter
Recipient of letter
Date of letter

Ideally I would like scans or digital photos showing the metadata
indicated and the target text.

To avoid duplicated efforts please contact me offline if you can
access this book, and you are willing to help. If multiple people
contact me then I will select one to move forward.

Garson O'Toole

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