May 05, 2016 - Sale 2413

Sale 2413 - Lot 291

Price Realized: $ 4,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 3,500 - $ 5,000
TWAIN'S "WATERMELON CURE" FOR DYSENTERY TWAIN, MARK. Autograph Letter Signed, "S.L. Clemens," to Francis Henry Bennett Skrine ("Dear Skrine"), acknowledging receipt of his book, describing how he would have saved the book's hero by feeding him watermelon, elaborately praising the book, discussing an alternative plot line, inviting him and his wife to visit York Harbor, ME, and anticipating a yachting trip in the West Indies. 3 1/2 pages, 8vo, personalized mourning stationery, written on a single folded sheet; slight fading to text of first two pages but remainder of text and signature bold, short closed tear at lower edge of first leaf, center vertical fold reinforced with tissue, remnants of prior mounting at edges of pages 2-3, faint scattered soiling, horizontal folds. Riverdale, 5-13 February 1902

Additional Details

". . . I read to the end of Hunter's strange recoveries from repetitions of what was substantially death. . . .
"If I had been at his side he would never have had those disastrous & constitution-undermining experiences with dysentery. I would have bought a fresh ripe watermelon for Three ppence[sic] & fed it to him with limitless prodigality & had him on his feet inside of ten hours every time & as free from any vestige or remnant of that distemper as ever he was in his life. And I would have said to him 'Don't ever call other doctors when you have these attacks; call me--& give me a fresh ripe watermelon & ten hours & if ever I fail to set you on your feet sound & whole in that time, I will give you a thousand pounds cash if it takes my last penny.'
"Yet I get no practice, except upon my wife; the others lay the thing before a physician before trying it--with the infallible result. But many's the time I've fetched her out in short order. She had a bad attack when we came home from summering last year. I reckon there was only about one watermelon left in New York, but I took a coupé & began the hunt, at 9 p.m.; & at 11 I was back with the preserver. Every time she woke in the night I fed it to her; & in ten hours she was all right--it had never taken quite that much time before.
"If I were in South Africa & melonically equipped, I would engage that no soldier should perish with dysentery--nor remain off duty above one day. But do you suppose the medical staff would allow Lord Kitchener there, or Lord Curzan in India to listen to me?
"Indeed no. They wouldn't dream of permitting it. . . ."
In Twain's story, "Two Little Tales," published in 1901 in The Century Magazine, a dying emperor is saved by a "watermelon cure." The story may have been inspired by an incident recounted by Albert Bigelow Paine, in which Twain had successfully assisted a friend to introduce to the resistant medical director general of the British Army a skimmed-milk product.
Francis Henry Bennett Skrine (1847-1933) was a British government official who befriended Twain in India in 1896 and whose written works include The Life of Sir William Wilson Hunter (1901).