Who Is This Guy and Where Did He Get His Name?

W. Epaminandos Adrastus Blab also abbreviated W. E. A. B.
W (= W. Epaminandos Adrastus Blab?)
Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass
Sergeant Fathom
Sieur Louis de Conte
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens used all these names, most in the very early stages of his literary career, a couple only with his juvenilia. He used Sergeant Fathom twice (I think) in very close proximity and Sieur Louis de Conte but once. These two, but particularly Sieur Louis de Conte, who gets the byline in Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, are more characters in anonymously written works than actual pin names. But even “Mark Twain” was to a large extent a fictional character that Clemens cultivated over his literary lifetime. Because of this, I wonder if it is ever correct to attribute Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc to Mark Twain even thought it is unquestionably from the hand of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Sergeant Fathom was the virtual author of a parody on an article written about and partially by steamboat captain Isaiah Sellers. Clemens would go on to exploit Sellers’ “name” in other ways too.
There is considerable scholarly dispute about the origin of his best know nom de plume. Clemens first used “Mark Twain” publicly on February 3, 1863. Remember the date. Eleven years later in a letter to an unknown correspondent, Clemens offered this explanation of the origin of the name.

“Mark Twain” was the nom de plume of one Capt Isaiah Sellers, who used to write river news over it for the New Orleans Picayune. He died in 1863, & as he could no longer need that signature I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor’s remains. That is the history of the nom de plume I bear.

He repeated this story without mentioning the date and with a few minor variations in his 1883 book Life on the Mississippi. Twain’s first biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, recounted a similar story, with date. He no doubt got the story from Twain himself. Some, perhaps all, of the facts of these various accounts may be as fictitious as the nom de plume. For those looking for details, Horst H Kruse’s “Mark Twain’s Nom de Plume: Some Mysteries Resolved.” Mark Twain Journal, 30 (Spring 1992), 1-32, has the best discussion I have seen. Notice that Clemens used the name in the year before Sellers’ actual death on March 6, 1864. There’s even a question of whether Sellers or anyone else wrote for the Picayune under the name Mark Twain while Sellers was alive.
What Twain said with regard to false memories concerning his brother Henry and his grandfather may apply here as well,

I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.

There’s even a scholarly debate over the meaning of “Mark Twain.” I may take that up in a future post. In preparation, you might want read Paul Fatout’s “Mark Twain’s Nom de Plume,” American Literature, 34:1 (March, 1962), 1–7.
Why did I write this post? Researching it was a welcome diversion to the things I should be working on.

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