Each of Twain’s stories for the magazine was encouraged and improved by Howells, who became Twain’s most useful public champion and his most trusted editor–a relationship that the Twain biographer Ben Tarnoff explores in his introduction to the collection. “[Howells] didn’t simply make Twain a better writer; he also explained Twain’s significance to the wider world,” Tarnoff writes. “He elevated the author of The Innocents Abroad from a popular entertainer to a transformative literary figure–into the “Lincoln of our literature,” as Howells called him.”
Writing to Howells in 1874, while the two were editing Old Times on the Mississippi for the magazine, Twain described a burden he felt of being known merely as a humorist. He bemoaned the expectations of an audience that simply wanted him to “stand on his head every fifteen minutes.” Writing forThe Atlantic, he told his friend, offered him a new relationship with readers and a new way to feel about his work. “It is the only audience that I sit down before in perfect serenity,” he wrote.