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Mark Twain responds to Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer ban


In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library deemed Mark Twain’s classics Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer removed from the children’s section of the library, citing Huck’s questionable character and that he “…said ‘sweat’ when he should have said ‘perspiration.’”

Ardent admirer and library employee, Asa Don Dickinson, wrote to the writer to describe the ban as well as his defense of the books, then requested Twain help him to defend one of his most memorable characters.

Thanks to Letters of Note, his response has survived to this day, though it wouldn’t be surprising if it found itself censored all on its own.


November 21, 1905


I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck’s character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood.

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children’s Department, won’t you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, ‘S. L. Clemens’)

Full story at Letters of Note.

Not suitable for children.

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