New York World
1884: November 28

[This article about the defaced illustration was reprinted throughout the country (for example, in The Chicago Daily Tribune, November 30). It gets at least two details from the novel wrong: Aunt Sally is not "a young girl," and the caption of the illustration was "WHO DO YOU RECKON IT IS?," not "In a Dilemma; What Shall I do?" Similarly, its account of the process by which MT created his own publishing company is often inaccurate. But it shows considerable sauvity in its handling of the "characteristic" that made the defacement so dangerous -- and the story it tells of how the problem arose and how it was resolved is the fullest we have.]
Mark Twain in a Dilemma
A Victim of a Joke He Thinks the Most Unkindest Cut of All.
A Prospectus of "Huckleberry Finn" that was Apt to Bring the Author of the Bantling into Trouble--
A Stroke of Misfortune from an Engraver's Stylus.

HARTFORD, Conn., Nov. 28--"Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain's new book, was complete last March, but owing to complications and differences with his publishers, it has not yet appeared, although it has been extensively announced--a prospectus of the story sent out and the opening chapters recently published in the Century. When the book was finished last month Mark Twain made a proposition in regard to its publication to the American Publishing Company of this city, which published his "Innocents Abroad" and his later works. From them the company, which heretofore had been but a small concern, achieved a reputation and standing equal to any of the older established publishing houses of the country. Mark Twain on his side obtained royalties amounting in all to over $400,000. When "Huckleberry Finn," the sequel to "Tom Sawyer," was completed, Twain again made a proposition to his publishers to produce this new work. Negotiations were commenced, but never completed. The parties could not agree to terms. Evidently Mark Twain considered that he had built up the American Publishing Company, while they seemed to think themselves the founders of his fame and fortune. Liberal royalties were offered Twain by the publishing company, but he refused to accept them. The final offer was that the profits should be divided, each of the parties to receive 50 per cent, of the proceeds from the sale of the new work. This proposition was not satisfactory to the author, who wanted 60 per cent of the profits. This offer the company refused to accept, and he determined on entering a new business--combining that of the publisher with that of author.

Mark Twain had a nephew residing in New York in whose business ability he had great confidence. This man, whose name is Charles L. Webster, is engaged in the book-publishing business at No. 658 Broadway. He entered into a partnership with his nephew to produce his new work and to supervise all the mechanical details of its production. The copy was all sent to him and by him given to the printers. In order to properly embellish the book the services of a leading metropolitan engraver were secured, and from this comes all the trouble into which Hartford's popular author is now plunged. The engravings, after having been cut on the plates, were sent to the electrotyper. One of the plates represented a man with a downcast head, standing in the foreground of a particularly striking illustration. In front of him was a ragged urchin with a look of dismay overspreading his countenance. In the background, and standing behind the boy, was an attractive-looking young girl, whose face was enlivened by a broad grin. Something which the boy or man had said or done evidently amused her highly. The title of the cut was "In a Dilemma; What Shall I do?"

When the plate was sent to the electrotyper a wicked spirit must have possessed him. The title was suggestive. A mere stroke of the awl would suffice to give to the cut an indecent character never intended by the author or engraver. It would make no difference in the surface of the plate that would be visible to the naked eye, but when printed would add to the engraving a characteristic which would be repudiated not only by the author, but by all the respectable people of the country into whose hands the volume should fall. The work of the engraver was successful. It passed the eye of the inspector and was approved. A proof was taken and submitted. If the alteration of the plate was manifested in the proof it was evidently attributed to a defect in the press and paper, which would be remedied when the volume was sent to the press. Now the work was ready for printing.

In issuing books to be sold by "subscription only" the publishers first strike off a large number of prospectuses, which are to be used by the agents when soliciting subscribers to the work. Some 3,000 of these prospectuses, with the defective cut, were presented and distributed to the different agents throughout the country. The entire work had passed the eyes of the various readers and inspectors and the glaring indecency of the cut had not been discovered. Throughout the country were hundreds of agents displaying the merits of the work and elaborating on the artistic work of the engravings. It was remarkable that while the defect was so palpable, none of the agents noticed it, or if he did, he failed to report it to the publishers. Possibly they might have considered the alteration intentional, as the title to the illustration was now doubly suggestive.

At last came a letter from the Chicago agent calling attention to the cut. Then there was consternation in the office of the publishers. Copies of the prospectus were hauled from the shelf and critically examined. Then for the first time it dawned on the publishers that such an illustration would condemn the work. Immediately all the agents were telegraphed to and the prospectuses were called in. The page containing the cut was torn from the book, a new and perfect illustration being substituted. Agents were supplied with the improved volumes and are now happy in canvassing for a work to which there can be no objection, while they smile at the prospects of heavy commissions. But the story leaked out. Several opposition publishers got hold of the cut, however, and these now adorn their respective offices.