Ohio History Journal

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Professor of English, Washington University, St. Louis

Citizens of Oberlin, Ohio, have claimed for their town the dis-

tinction of being the original for Hadleyburg in Mark Twain's

"The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg." The story reflects Twain's

resentment, they think, at the unfavorable reception they accorded

his readings in the First Congregational Church on February 11,

1885. Mr. Russel Nye examines and approves this Oberlin tra-

dition in a persuasive essay1 to which no written exception has been

taken; yet this identification of Oberlin with Hadleyburg is almost

surely an error that invites rebuttal. It calls, too, for the cautionary

suggestion that this particular type of source hunting in Twain

should be conducted with great discretion: the fact is that Twain's

personal magnetism caused swarms of his contemporaries to wish

to connect themselves with him in some way.

Because "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" is one of

Twain's few really good short stories, it is particularly important

that we see it in proper perspective. The story is a scathing com-

mentary on man's hypocrisy and cowardice, and its theme should

not be blurred by the supposition that the "final cause," to use

Aristotle's phrase, was the repayment of the citizens of Oberlin for

a fourteen-year-old injury.

As I have indicated, identification of Hadleyburg with Oberlin

rests on two main arguments: (1) when "The Man That Corrupted

Hadleyburg" appeared in 1899, at least some of the residents of

Oberlin believed that Twain intended to pillory their town as a

seat of hypocrisy and corruption; (2) the unflattering attention

allegedly paid to Oberlin could have been occasioned by adverse

comments in Oberlin periodicals at the time that Twain and George

W. Cable made their joint lecture tour.2


1 "Mark Twain in Oberlin," Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly,

XLVII (1938), 69-73.

2 See Nye, loc. cit., 69-70. The Weekly News (Oberlin) indicated that the re-

ception of Twain was less favorable than that of Cable. The Review, an Oberlin