The Problem Of Attribution And The Mark Twain Canon

First published in the New York Sun, Monday, October 21, 1872, over the signature of “John,” the short piece “Poor Little Stephen Girard” has been generally considered the work of Mark Twain. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, first attributed to Twain just a month after its initial publication in the Sun. Such attribution was continued in several papers later in November and December of that year. On January 3, 1973, the New York Commercial Advertiser, that had the published “Poor Little Stephen Girard” the previous week as the work of Twain, corrected “the error which attributed it to Mark Twain” and said, “Now that the erratum is noted, the conundrum remains – Who was complimented – Mark or John?” Despite this erratum and partially because Twain never denied authorship, the attribution continued.
Barbara Schmidt at has an abnormally interesting discussion of the origin and reception of “Poor Little Stephen Girard.” She concludes, “’Poor Little Stephen Girard’ was written by John W. Beach, a Brooklyn, New York businessman who contributed at least 69 humorous travel letters and sketches to the New York Sun between March 6, 1871 and May 7, 1874.” If you are interested in Mark Twain or just in the mechanism of false attribution, head over to and see all the abnormally interesting things Schmidt has to say.
Via Mark Twain Forum