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.