Clemens did not find the phonograph entirely satisfactory, at least not for a time, and he appears never to have used it steadily. His early experience with it, however, seems interesting.
HARTFORD, Apl. 4, '91. DEAR HOWELLS,--I'm ashamed. It happened in this way. I was proposing to acknowledge the receipt of the play and the little book per phonograph, so that you could see that the instrument is good enough for mere letter- writing; then I meant to add the fact that you can't write literature with it, because it hasn't any ideas and it hasn't any gift for elaboration, or smartness of talk, or vigor of action, or felicity of expression, but is just matter-of-fact, compressive, unornamental, and as grave and unsmiling as the devil.
I filled four dozen cylinders in two sittings, then found I could have said about as much with the pen and said it a deal better. Then I resigned.
I believe it could teach one to dictate literature to a phonographer--and some time I will experiment in that line.
The little book is charmingly written, and it interested me. But it flies too high for me. Its concretest things are filmy abstractions to me, and when I lay my grip on one of them and open my hand, I feel as embarrassed as I use to feel when I thought I had caught a fly. I'm going to try to mail it back to you to-day--I mean I am going to charge my memory. Charging my memory is one of my chief industries ....
With our loves and our kindest regards distributed among you according to the proprieties. Yrs ever MARK.
P. S.--I'm sending that ancient "Mental Telegraphy" article to Harper's --with a modest postscript. Probably read it to you years ago. S. L. C.
The "little book" mentioned in this letter was by Swedenborg, an author in whom the Boston literary set was always deeply interested. "Mental Telegraphy" appeared in Harper's Magazine, and is now included in the Uniform Edition of Mark Twain's books. It was written in 1878.