Friday, March 28, 2008

The Secret of Max Adeler's Name

Regular listeners to Mister Ron's Basement are probably quite familiar now with the humorous stories of Max Adeler, who wrote some of the most outrageously funny stories of all time in the 1870s. Adeler's real name was Charles Heber Clark. In 1995, Professor David Ketterer issued a beautiful book called "Charles Heber Clark; A Family Memoir," containing Clark's autobiography, which he had written for his family between 1906 and 1912, and also included various notes and annotations by Ketterer, as well as a reproduction of of the novelette "Fortunate Island" (which we have read on the Basement). The edition is well worth owning, long out-of-print, and usually costs more on the used market than original 1870s editions of Adeler's books.

When Clark first started writing humor for newspapers, he used the silly punnish pen name of "Quill." Later he adopted a better pen name. In the autobiography, Clark states:

"I wrote under the name of "Max Adeler," which belonged to a character in a little story book I was fond of when I was a boy."

In the footnotes, Ketterer wrote:

"I have not been able to identify the "little story book" containing the "Max Adeler" character."

Well, I found it!

The book is called "Island Home Castaways" by Christopher Romaunt, who was actually James F. Bowman. It was first published in the US in 1852 (right about the time Clark was eleven years old). A British edition of the book can be found on Google Books for free download as a pdf file at  this site.

The raw text that was used in preparation for a Gutenberg edition can be found (at least for a while) at:

Essentially, the story concerns six castaway youths on an island. One of them is named "Max Adeler." Here is a revealing quote from the book:

"That now, is positively diabolical!" exclaimed Max, from his covert among the creepers, where he was completely invisible, except his heels, which were kicking in the air; "I wouldn't have believed, Arthur, that you were such a methodical, cold-blooded creature! I suppose now, that if I had tumbled overboard during that hideous time, and been gulped down by a shark, or if Shakespeare had starved to death, you would have made a regular memorandum of the event, in business-like style, and wound up your watch as usual. I think I see the entry in your pocket-book, thus: '1839, June 3rd-Mem. Max Adeler fell overboard this day, and was devoured by a shark-an amiable and interesting youth, though too much given to levity, and not prepared, I fear, for so unexpected a summons. June 5th-Mem. My worthy and estimable friend, John Browne, late of Glasgow, Scotland, died this day, from lack of necessary food. Threw him overboard. What startling monitions of the uncertainty of life!'"

Clark adopted the name of "an amiable and interesting youth, though too much given to levity."

Additionally, there are many instances of Clark's characters getting shipwrecked or abandoned on an island. I found three or four in "Random Shots," for example, and of course, there is the Professor and his daughter in "Fortunate Island."

The feeling I got when I discovered this was quite strange -- it was like reaching into the mind of someone 150 years ago, and for a few minutes at least, I had the experience of probably being the only person on the planet who knew this (and one of the few that cared).

The way I discovered this is kind of complex, but suffice it to say that a decade ago it would have been almost impossible to do. The power of the internet to find things long dormant and forgotten is amazing. In many ways, I am using twenty-first century technology to open up the lives and thoughts of people from the nineteenth in ways that are new and wonderful.

Your comments are welcome.

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