Part 20 out of 29
the end of February he came down to the Mayor's dinner given to Prince
Henry of Prussia, but he did not speak. Clemens used to say afterward
that he had not been asked to speak, and that it was probably because of
his supposed breach of etiquette at the Kaiser's dinner in Berlin; but
the fact that Prince Henry sought him out, and was most cordially and
humanly attentive during a considerable portion of the evening, is
against the supposition.
Clemens attended a Yale alumni dinner that winter and incidentally
visited Twichell in Hartford. The old question of moral responsibility
came up and Twichell lent his visitor a copy of Jonathan Edwards's
'Freedom of the Will' for train perusal. Clemens found it absorbing.
Later he wrote Twichell his views.
DEAR JOE,--(After compliments.)--[Meaning "What a good time you gave
me; what a happiness it was to be under your roof again," etc. See
opening sentence of all translations of letters passing between Lord
Roberts and Indian princes and rulers.]--From Bridgeport to New
York, thence to home, & continuously until near midnight I wallowed
& reeked with Jonathan in his insane debauch; rose immensely
refreshed & fine at ten this morning, but with a strange & haunting
sense of having been on a three days' tear with a drunken lunatic.
It is years since I have known these sensations. All through the
book is the glare of a resplendent intellect gone mad--a marvelous
spectacle. No, not all through the book
--the drunk does not come on till the last third, where what I take
to be Calvinism & its God begins to show up & shine red & hideous in
the glow from the fires of hell, their only right and proper
Jonathan seems to hold (as against the Armenian position) that the
man (or his soul or his will) never creates an impulse itself, but
is moved to action by an impulse back of it. That's sound!
Also, that of two or more things offered it, it infallibly chooses
the one which for the moment is most pleasing to ITSELF. Perfectly
correct! An immense admission for a man not otherwise sane.
Up to that point he could have written Chapters III & IV of my
suppressed Gospel. But there we seem to separate. He seems to
concede the indisputable & unshaken dominion of Motive & Necessity
(call them what he may, these are exterior forces & not under the
man's authority, guidance, or even suggestion); then he suddenly
flies the logical track & (to all seeming) makes the man & not those
exterior forces responsible to God for the man's thoughts, words, &
acts. It is frank insanity.
I think that when he concedes the autocratic dominion of Motive and
Necessity he grants a third position of mine--that a man's mind is a
mere machine--an automatic machine--which is handled entirely from
the outside, the man himself furnishing it absolutely nothing; not
an ounce of its fuel, & not so much as a bare suggestion to that
exterior engineer as to what the machine shall do nor how it shall
do it nor when.
After that concession it was time for him to get alarmed & shirk--
for he was pointed straight for the only rational & possible next
station on that piece of road--the irresponsibility of man to God.
And so he shirked. Shirked, and arrived at this handsome result:
Man is commanded to do so & so.
It has been ordained from the beginning of time that some men
sha'n't & others can't.
These are to blame: let them be damned.
I enjoy the Colonel very much, & shall enjoy the rest of him with an
Joe, the whole tribe shout love to you & yours!
Clemens was moved to set down some theology of his own, and did so in a
manuscript which he entitled, "If I Could Be There." It is in the
dialogue form he often adopted for polemic writing. It is a colloquy
between the Master of the Universe and a Stranger. It begins:
If I could be there, hidden under the steps of the throne, I should hear
conversations like this:
A STRANGER. Lord, there is one who needs to be punished, and has been
overlooked. It is in the record. I have found it.
LORD. By searching?
S. Yes, Lord.
L. Who is it? What is it?
S. A man.
S. He died in sin. Sin committed by his great-grandfather.
L. When was this?
S. Eleven million years ago.
L. Do you know what a microbe is?
S. Yes, Lord. It is a creature too small to be detected by my eye.
L. He commits depredations upon your blood?
S. Yes, Lord.
L. I give you leave to subject him to a billion years of misery for this
offense. Go! Work your will upon him.
S. But, Lord, I have nothing against him; I am indifferent to him.
S. He is so infinitely small and contemptible. I am to him as is a
mountain-range to a grain of sand.
L. What am I to man?
L. Am I not, to a man, as is a billion solar systems to a grain of sand?
S. It is true, Lord.
L. Some microbes are larger than others. Does man regard the
S. No, Lord. To him there is no difference of consequence. To him they
are all microbes, all infinitely little and equally inconsequential.
L. To me there is no difference of consequence between a man & a
microbe. Man looks down upon the speck at his feet called a microbe from
an altitude of a thousand miles, so to speak, and regards him with
indifference; I look down upon the specks called a man and a microbe from
an altitude of a billion leagues, so to speak, and to me they are of a
size. To me both are inconsequential. Man kills the microbes when he
S. Yes, Lord.
L. Then what? Does he keep him in mind years and years and go on
contriving miseries for him?
S. No, Lord.
L. Does he forget him?
S. Yes, Lord.
S. He cares nothing more about him.
L. Employs himself with more important matters?
S. Yes, Lord.
L. Apparently man is quite a rational and dignified person, and can
divorce his mind from uninteresting trivialities. Why does he affront me
with the fancy that I interest Myself in trivialities--like men and
L. Is it true the human race thinks the universe was created for its
S. Yes, Lord.
L. The human race is modest. Speaking as a member of it, what do you
think the other animals are for?
S. To furnish food and labor for man.
L. What is the sea for?
S. To furnish food for man. Fishes.
L. And the air?
S. To furnish sustenance for man. Birds and breath.
L. How many men are there?
S. Fifteen hundred millions.
L. (Referring to notes.) Take your pencil and set down some statistics.
In a healthy man's lower intestine 28,000,000 microbes are born daily and
die daily. In the rest of a man's body 122,000,000 microbes are born
daily and die daily. The two sums aggregate-what?
S. About 150,000,000.
L. In ten days the aggregate reaches what?
S. Fifteen hundred millions.
L. It is for one person. What would it be for the whole human
S. Alas, Lord, it is beyond the power of figures to set down that
multitude. It is billions of billions multiplied by billions of
billions, and these multiplied again and again by billions of billions.
The figures would stretch across the universe and hang over into space on
L. To what intent are these uncountable microbes introduced into the
S. That they may eat.
L. Now then, according to man's own reasoning, what is man for?
L. What is he for?
S. To-to-furnish food for microbes.
L. Manifestly. A child could see it. Now then, with this common-sense
light to aid your perceptions, what are the air, the land, and the ocean
S. To furnish food for man so that he may nourish, support, and multiply
and replenish the microbes.
L. Manifestly. Does one build a boarding-house for the sake of the
boarding-house itself or for the sake of the boarders?
S. Certainly for the sake of the boarders.
L. Man's a boarding-house.
S. I perceive it, Lord.
L. He is a boarding-house. He was never intended for anything else. If
he had had less vanity and a clearer insight into the great truths that
lie embedded in statistics he would have found it out early. As concerns
the man who has gone unpunished eleven million years, is it your belief
that in life he did his duty by his microbes?
S. Undoubtedly, Lord. He could not help it.
L. Then why punish him? He had no other duty to perform.
Whatever else may be said of this kind of doctrine, it is at least
original and has a conclusive sound. Mark Twain had very little use for
orthodoxy and conservatism. When it was announced that Dr. Jacques Loeb,
of the University of California, had demonstrated the creation of life by
chemical agencies he was deeply interested. When a newspaper writer
commented that a "consensus of opinion among biologists" would probably
rate Dr. Loeb as a man of lively imagination rather than an inerrant
investigator of natural phenomena, he felt called to chaff the consensus
I wish I could be as young as that again. Although I seem so old
now I was once as young as that. I remember, as if it were but
thirty or forty years ago, how a paralyzing consensus of opinion
accumulated from experts a-setting around about brother experts who
had patiently and laboriously cold-chiseled their way into one or
another of nature's safe-deposit vaults and were reporting that they
had found something valuable was plenty for me. It settled it.
But it isn't so now-no. Because in the drift of the years I by and
by found out that a Consensus examines a new thing with its feelings
rather oftener than with its mind.
There was that primitive steam-engine-ages back, in Greek times: a
Consensus made fun of it. There was the Marquis of Worcester's
steam-engine 250 years ago: a Consensus made fun of it. There was
Fulton's steamboat of a century ago: a French Consensus, including
the great Napoleon, made fun of it. There was Priestley, with his
oxygen: a Consensus scoffed at him, mobbed him, burned him out,
banished him. While a Consensus was proving, by statistics and
things, that a steamship could not cross the Atlantic, a steamship
And so on through a dozen pages or more of lively satire, ending with an
extract from Adam's Diary.
Then there was a Consensus about it. It was the very first one. It
sat six days and nights. It was then delivered of the verdict that
a world could not be made out of nothing; that such small things as
sun and moon and stars might, maybe, but it would take years and
years if there was considerable many of them. Then the Consensus
got up and looked out of the window, and there was the whole outfit,
spinning and sparkling in space! You never saw such a disappointed
He was writing much at this time, mainly for his own amusement, though
now and then he offered one of his reflections for print. That beautiful
fairy tale, "The Five Boons of Life," of which the most precious is
"Death," was written at this period. Maeterlinck's lovely story of the
bee interested him; he wrote about that. Somebody proposed a Martyrs'
Day; he wrote a paper ridiculing the suggestion. In his note-book, too,
there is a memorandum for a love-story of the Quarternary Epoch which
would begin, "On a soft October afternoon 2,000,000 years ago." John
Fiske's Discovery of America, Volume I, he said, was to furnish the
animals and scenery, civilization and conversation to be the same as to-
day; but apparently this idea was carried no further. He ranged through
every subject from protoplasm to infinity, exalting, condemning,
ridiculing, explaining; his brain was always busy--a dynamo that rested
neither night nor day.
In April Clemens received notice of another yachting trip on the Kanawha,
which this time would sail for the Bahama and West India islands. The
guests were to be about the same.--[The invited ones of the party were
Hon. T. B. Reed, A. G. Paine, Laurence Hutton, Dr. C. C. Rice, W. T.
Foote, and S. L. Clemens. "Owners of the yacht," Mr. Rogers called them,
signing himself as "Their Guest."]
He sent this telegram:
H. H. ROGERS,
Can't get away this week. I have company here from tonight till middle
of next week. Will Kanawha be sailing after that & can I go as Sunday-
school superintendent at half rate? Answer and prepay.
The sailing date was conveniently arranged and there followed a happy
cruise among those balmy islands. Mark Twain was particularly fond of
"Tom" Reed, who had been known as "Czar" Reed in Congress, but was
delightfully human in his personal life. They argued politics a good
deal, and Reed, with all his training and intimate practical knowledge of
the subject, confessed that he "couldn't argue with a man like that."
"Do you believe the things you say?" he asked once, in his thin, falsetto
"Yes," said Clemens. "Some of them."
"Well, you want to look out. If you go on this way, by and by you'll get
to believing nearly everything you say."
Draw poker appears to have been their favorite diversion. Clemens in his
notes reports that off the coast of Florida Reed won twenty-three pots in
succession. It was said afterward that they made no stops at any harbor;
that when the chief officer approached the poker-table and told them they
were about to enter some important port he received peremptory orders to
"sail on and not interrupt the game." This, however, may be regarded as
more or less founded on fiction.
MARK TWAIN AND THE PHILIPPINES
Among the completed manuscripts of the early part of 1902 was a North
American Review article (published in April)--"Does the Race of Man Love
a Lord?"--a most interesting treatise on snobbery as a universal
weakness. There were also some papers on the Philippine situation. In
one of these Clemens wrote:
We have bought some islands from a party who did not own them; with
real smartness and a good counterfeit of disinterested friendliness
we coaxed a confiding weak nation into a trap and closed it upon
them; we went back on an honored guest of the Stars and Stripes when
we had no further use for him and chased him to the mountains; we
are as indisputably in possession of a wide-spreading archipelago as
if it were our property; we have pacified some thousands of the
islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their
villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors;
furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable
patriots; subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent
Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket; we have
acquired property in the three hundred concubines and other slaves
of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu, and hoisted our
protecting flag over that swag.
And so, by these Providences of God--the phrase is the government's,
not mine--we are a World Power; and are glad and proud, and have a
back seat in the family. With tacks in it. At least we are letting
on to be glad and proud; it is the best way. Indeed, it is the only
way. We must maintain our dignity, for people are looking. We are
a World Power; we cannot get out of it now, and we must make the
best of it.
And again he wrote:
I am not finding fault with this use of our flag, for in order not
to seem eccentric I have swung around now and joined the nation in
the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly
reared, and had the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be
sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts lest it
suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Philippines to
float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was
polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand
corrected. I concede and acknowledge that it was only the
government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us
compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag
could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it
is different with the administration.
But a much more conspicuous comment on the Philippine policy was the so-
called "Defense of General Funston" for what Funston himself referred to
as a "dirty Irish trick"; that is to say, deception in the capture of
Aguinaldo. Clemens, who found it hard enough to reconcile himself to-
any form of warfare, was especially bitter concerning this particular
campaign. The article appeared in the North American Review for May,
1902, and stirred up a good deal of a storm. He wrote much more on the
subject--very much more--but it is still unpublished.
THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE
One day in April, 1902, Samuel Clemens received the following letter from
the president of the University of Missouri:
MY DEAR MR. CLEMENS, Although you received the degree of doctor of
literature last fall from Yale, and have had other honors conferred upon
you by other great universities, we want to adopt you here as a son of
the University of Missouri. In asking your permission to confer upon you
the degree of LL.D. the University of Missouri does not aim to confer an
honor upon you so much as to show her appreciation of you. The rules of
the University forbid us to confer the degree upon any one in absentia.
I hope very much that you can so arrange your plans as to be with us on
the fourth day of next June, when we shall hold our Annual Commencement.
Very truly yours,
R. H. JESSE.
Clemens had not expected to make another trip to the West, but a
proffered honor such as this from one's native State was not a thing to
It was at the end of May when he arrived in St. Louis, and he was met at
the train there by his old river instructor and friend, Horace Bixby--as
fresh, wiry, and capable as he had been forty-five years before.
"I have become an old man. You are still thirty-five," Clemens said.
They went to the Planters Hotel, and the news presently got around that
Mark Twain was there. There followed a sort of reception in the hotel
lobby, after which Bixby took him across to the rooms of the Pilots
Association, where the rivermen gathered in force to celebrate his
return. A few of his old comrades were still alive, among them Beck
Jolly. The same afternoon he took the train for Hannibal.
It was a busy five days that he had in Hannibal. High-school
commencement day came first. He attended, and willingly, or at least
patiently, sat through the various recitals and orations and
orchestrations, dreaming and remembering, no doubt, other high-school
commencements of more than half a century before, seeing in some of those
young people the boys and girls he had known in that vanished time. A
few friends of his youth were still there, but they were among the
audience now, and no longer fresh and looking into the future. Their
heads were white, and, like him, they were looking down the recorded
years. Laura Hawkins was there and Helen Kercheval (Mrs. Frazer and Mrs.
Garth now), and there were others, but they were few and scattering.
He was added to the program, and he made himself as one of the graduates,
and told them some things of the young people of that earlier time that
brought their laughter and their tears.
He was asked to distribute the diplomas, and he undertook the work in his
own way. He took an armful of them and said to the graduates:
"Take one. Pick out a good one. Don't take two, but be sure you get a
So each took one "unsight and unseen" aid made the more exact
distributions among themselves later.
Next morning it was Saturday--he visited the old home on Hill Street, and
stood in the doorway all dressed in white while a battalion of
photographers made pictures of "this return of the native" to the
threshold of his youth.
"It all seems so small to me," he said, as he looked through the house;
"a boy's home is a big place to him. I suppose if I should come back
again ten years from now it would be the size of a birdhouse."
He went through the rooms and up-stairs where he had slept and looked out
the window down in the back yard where, nearly sixty years before, Tom
Sawyer, Huck Finn, Joe Harper, and the rest--that is to say, Tom
Blankenship, John Briggs, Will Pitts, and the Bowen boys--set out on
their nightly escapades. Of that lightsome band Will Pitts and John
Briggs still remained, with half a dozen others--schoolmates of the less
adventurous sort. Buck Brown, who had been his rival in the spelling
contests, was still there, and John Robards, who had worn golden curls
and the medal for good conduct, and Ed Pierce. And while these were
assembled in a little group on the pavement outside the home a small old
man came up and put out his hand, and it was Jimmy MacDaniel, to whom so
long before, sitting on the river-bank and eating gingerbread, he had
first told the story of Jim Wolfe and the cats.
They put him into a carriage, drove him far and wide, and showed the
hills and resorts and rendezvous of Tom Sawyer and his marauding band.
He was entertained that evening by the Labinnah Club (whose name was
achieved by a backward spelling of Hannibal), where he found most of the
survivors of his youth. The news report of that occasion states that he
was introduced by Father McLoughlin, and that he "responded in a very
humorous and touchingly pathetic way, breaking down in tears at the
conclusion. Commenting on his boyhood days and referring to his mother
was too much for the great humorist. Before him as he spoke were sitting
seven of his boyhood friends."
On Sunday morning Col. John Robards escorted him to the various churches
and Sunday-schools. They were all new churches to Samuel Clemens, but he
pretended not to recognize this fact. In each one he was asked to speak
a few words, and he began by saying how good it was to be back in the old
home Sunday-school again, which as a boy he had always so loved, and he
would go on and point out the very place he had sat, and his escort
hardly knew whether or not to enjoy the proceedings. At one place he
told a moral story. He said:
Little boys and girls, I want to tell you a story which illustrates the
value of perseverance--of sticking to your work, as it were. It is a
story very proper for a Sunday-school. When I was a little boy in
Hannibal I used to play a good deal up here on Holliday's Hill, which of
course you all know. John Briggs and I played up there. I don't suppose
there are any little boys as good as we were then, but of course that is
not to be expected. Little boys in those days were 'most always good
little boys, because those were the good old times when everything was
better than it is now, but never mind that. Well, once upon a time, on
Holliday's Hill, they were blasting out rock, and a man was drilling for
a blast. He sat there and drilled and drilled and drilled perseveringly
until he had a hole down deep enough for the blast. Then he put in the
powder and tamped and tamped it down, but maybe he tamped it a little too
hard, for the blast went off and he went up into the air, and we watched
him. He went up higher and higher and got smaller and smaller. First he
looked as big as a child, then as big as a dog, then as big as a kitten,
then as big as a bird, and finally he went out of sight. John Briggs was
with me, and we watched the place where he went out of sight, and by and
by we saw him coming down first as big as a bird, then as big as a
kitten, then as big as a dog, then as big as a child, and then he was a
man again, and landed right in his seat and went to drilling just
persevering, you see, and sticking to his work. Little boys and girls,
that's the secret of success, just like that poor but honest workman on
Holliday's Hill. Of course you won't always be appreciated. He wasn't.
His employer was a hard man, and on Saturday night when he paid him he
docked him fifteen minutes for the time he was up in the air--but never
mind, he had his reward.
He told all this in his solemn, grave way, though the Sunday-school was
in a storm of enjoyment when he finished. There still remains a doubt in
Hannibal as to its perfect suitability, but there is no doubt as to its
That Sunday afternoon, with John Briggs, he walked over Holliday's Hill--
the Cardiff Hill of Tom Sawyer. It was jest such a Sunday as that one
when they had so nearly demolished the negro driver and had damaged a
cooper-shop. They calculated that nearly three thousand Sundays had
passed since then, and now here they were once more, two old men with the
hills still fresh and green, the river still sweeping by and rippling in
the sun. Standing there together and looking across to the low-lying
Illinois shore, and to the green islands where they had played, and to
Lover's Leap on the south, the man who had been Sam Clemens said:
"John, that is one of the loveliest sights I ever saw. Down there by the
island is the place we used to swim, and yonder is where a man was
drowned, and there's where the steamboat sank. Down there on Lover's
Leap is where the Millerites put on their robes one night to go to
heaven. None of them went that night, but I suppose most of them have
John Briggs said:
"Sam, do you remember the day we stole the peaches from old man Price and
one of his bow-legged niggers came after us with the dogs, and how we
made up our minds that we'd catch that nigger and drown him?"
They came to the place where they had pried out the great rock that had
so nearly brought them to grief. Sam Clemens said:
"John, if we had killed that man we'd have had a dead nigger on our hands
without a cent to pay for him."
And so they talked on of this thing and that, and by and by they drove
along the river, and Sam Clemens pointed out the place where he swam it
and was taken with a cramp on the return swim, and believed for a while
that his career was about to close.
"Once, near the shore, I thought I would let down," he said, "but was
afraid to, knowing that if the water was deep I was a goner, but finally
my knees struck the sand and I crawled out. That was the closest call I
They drove by the place where the haunted house had stood. They drank
from a well they had always known, and from the bucket as they had always
drunk, talking and always talking, fondling lovingly and lingeringly that
most beautiful of all our possessions, the past.
"Sam," said John, when they parted, "this is probably the last time we
shall meet on this earth. God bless you. Perhaps somewhere we shall
renew our friendship."
"John," was the answer, "this day has been worth thousands of dollars to
me. We were like brothers once, and I feel that we are the same now.
Good-by, John. I'll try to meet you--somewhere."
A PROPHET HONORED IN HIS COUNTRY
Clemens left next day for Columbia. Committees met him at Rensselaer,
Monroe City, Clapper, Stoutsville, Paris, Madison, Moberly--at every
station along the line of his travel. At each place crowds were gathered
when the train pulled in, to cheer and wave and to present him with
flowers. Sometimes he spoke a few words; but oftener his eyes were full
of tears--his voice would not come.
There is something essentially dramatic in official recognition by one's
native State--the return of the lad who has set out unknown to battle
with life, and who, having conquered, is invited back to be crowned. No
other honor, however great and spectacular, is quite like that, for there
is in it a pathos and a completeness that are elemental and stir emotions
as old as life itself.
It was on the 4th of June, 1902, that Mark Twain received his doctor of
laws degree from the State University at Columbia, Missouri. James
Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture, and Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Secretary of
the Interior, were among those similarly honored. Mark Twain was
naturally the chief attraction. Dressed in his Yale scholastic gown he
led the procession of graduating students, and, as in Hannibal, awarded
them their diplomas. The regular exercises were made purposely brief in
order that some time might be allowed for the conferring of the degrees.
This ceremony was a peculiarly impressive one. Gardner Lathrop read a
brief statement introducing "America's foremost author and best-loved
citizen, Samuel Langhorne Clemens--Mark Twain."
Clemens rose, stepped out to the center of the stage, and paused. He
seemed to be in doubt as to whether he should make a speech or simply
express his thanks and retire. Suddenly, and without a signal, the great
audience rose as one man and stood in silence at his feet. He bowed, but
he could not speak. Then that vast assembly began a peculiar chant,
spelling out slowly the word Missouri, with a pause between each letter.
It was dramatic; it was tremendous in its impressiveness. He had
recovered himself when they finished. He said he didn't know whether he
was expected to make a speech or not. They did not leave'him in doubt.
They cheered and demanded a speech, a speech, and he made them one--one
of the speeches he could make best, full of quaint phrasing, happy humor,
gentle and dramatic pathos. He closed by telling the watermelon story
for its "moral effect."
He was the guest of E. W. Stevens in Columbia, and a dinner was given in
his honor. They would have liked to keep him longer, but he was due in
St. Louis again to join in the dedication of the grounds, where was to be
held a World's Fair, to celebrate the Louisiana Purchase. Another
ceremony he attended was the christening of the St. Louis harbor-boat, or
rather the rechristening, for it had been decided to change its name from
the St. Louis--[Originally the Elon G. Smith, built in 1873.]--to the
Mark Twain. A short trip was made on it for the ceremony. Governor
Francis and Mayor Wells were of the party, and Count and Countess
Rochambeau and Marquis de Lafayette, with the rest of the French group
that had come over for the dedication of the World's Fair grounds.
Mark Twain himself was invited to pilot the harbor boat, and so returned
for the last time to his old place at the wheel. They all collected in
the pilot-house behind him, feeling that it was a memorable occasion.
They were going along well enough when he saw a little ripple running out
from the shore across the bow. In the old days he could have told
whether it indicated a bar there or was only caused by the wind, but he
could not be sure any more. Turning to the pilot languidly, he said:
"I feel a little tired. I guess you had better take the wheel."
Luncheon was served aboard, and Mayor Wells made the christening speech;
then the Countess Rochambeau took a bottle of champagne from the hand of
Governor Francis and smashed it on the deck, saying, "I christen thee,
good boat, Mark Twain." So it was, the Mississippi joined in according
him honors. In his speech of reply he paid tribute to those illustrious
visitors from France and recounted something of the story of French
exploration along that great river.
"The name of La Salle will last as long as the river itself," he said;
"will last until commerce is dead. We have allowed the commerce of the
river to die, but it was to accommodate the railroads, and we must be
Carriages were waiting for them when the boat landed in the afternoon,
and the party got in and were driven to a house which had been identified
as Eugene Field's birthplace. A bronze tablet recording this fact had
been installed, and this was to be the unveiling. The place was not in
an inviting quarter of the town. It stood in what is known as Walsh's
Row--was fashionable enough once, perhaps, but long since fallen into
disrepute. Ragged children played in the doorways, and thirsty lodgers
were making trips with tin pails to convenient bar-rooms. A curious
nondescript audience assembled around the little group of dedicators,
wondering what it was all about. The tablet was concealed by the
American flag, which could be easily pulled away by an attached cord.
Governor Francis spoke a few words, to the effect that they had gathered
here to unveil a tablet to an American poet, and that it was fitting that
Mark Twain should do this. They removed their hats, and Clemens, his
white hair blowing in the wind, said:
"My friends; we are here with reverence and respect to commemorate and
enshrine in memory the house where was born a man who, by his life, made
bright the lives of all who knew him, and by his literary efforts cheered
the thoughts of thousands who never knew him. I take pleasure in
unveiling the tablet of Eugene Field."
The flag fell and the bronze inscription was revealed. By this time the
crowd, generally, had recognized who it was that was speaking. A
working-man proposed three cheers for Mark Twain, and they were heartily
given. Then the little party drove away, while the neighborhood
collected to regard the old house with a new interest.
It was reported to Clemens later that there was some dispute as to the
identity of the Field birthplace. He said:
"Never mind. It is of no real consequence whether it is his birthplace
or not. A rose in any other garden will bloom as sweet."
AT YORK HARBOR
They decided to spend the summer at York Harbor, Maine. They engaged a
cottage, there, and about the end of June Mr. Rogers brought his yacht
Kanawha to their water-front at Riverdale, and in perfect weather took
them to Maine by sea. They landed at York Harbor and took possession of
their cottage, The Pines, one of their many attractive summer lodges.
Howells, at Kittery Point, was not far away, and everything promised a
Mrs. Clemens wrote to Mrs. Crane:
We are in the midst of pines. They come up right about us, and the
house is so high and the roots of the trees are so far below the
veranda that we are right in the branches. We drove over to call on
Mr. and Mrs. Howells. The drive was most beautiful, and never in my
life have I seen such a variety of wild flowers in so short a space.
Howells tells us of the wide, low cottage in a pine grove overlooking
York River, and how he used to sit with Clemens that summer at a corner
of the veranda farthest away from Mrs. Clemens's window, where they could
read their manuscripts to each other, and tell their stories and laugh
their hearts out without disturbing her.
Clemens, as was his habit, had taken a work-room in a separate cottage
"in the house of a friend and neighbor, a fisherman and a boatman":
There was a table where he could write, and a bed where he could lie
down and read; and there, unless my memory has played me one of
those constructive tricks that people's memories indulge in, he read
me the first chapters of an admirable story. The scene was laid in
a Missouri town, and the characters such as he had known in boyhood;
but often as I tried to make him own it, he denied having written
any such story; it is possible that I dreamed it, but I hope the MS.
will yet be found.
Howells did not dream it; but in one way his memory misled him. The
story was one which Clemens had heard in Hannibal, and he doubtless
related it in his vivid way. Howells, writing at a later time, quite
naturally included it among the several manuscripts which Clemens read
aloud to him. Clemens may have intended to write the tale, may even have
begun it, though this is unlikely. The incidents were too well known and
too notorious in his old home for fiction.
Among the stories that Clemens did show, or read, to Howells that summer
was "The Belated Passport," a strong, intensely interesting story with
what Howells in a letter calls a "goat's tail ending," perhaps meaning
that it stopped with a brief and sudden shake--with a joke, in fact,
altogether unimportant, and on the whole disappointing to the reader. A
far more notable literary work of that summer grew out of a true incident
which Howells related to Clemens as they sat chatting together on the
veranda overlooking the river one summer afternoon. It was a pathetic
episode in the life of some former occupants of The Pines--the tale of a
double illness in the household, where a righteous deception was carried
on during several weeks for the benefit of a life that was about to slip
away. Out of this grew the story, "Was it Heaven? or Hell?" a
heartbreaking history which probes the very depths of the human soul.
Next to "Hadleyburg," it is Mark Twain's greatest fictional sermon.
Clemens that summer wrote, or rather finished, his most pretentious poem.
One day at Riverdale, when Mrs. Clemens had been with him on the lawn,
they had remembered together the time when their family of little folks
had filled their lives so full, conjuring up dream-like glimpses of them
in the years of play and short frocks and hair-plaits down their backs.
It was pathetic, heart-wringing fancying; and later in the day Clemens
conceived and began the poem which now he brought to conclusion. It was
built on the idea of a mother who imagines her dead child still living,
and describes to any listener the pictures of her fancy. It is an
impressive piece of work; but the author, for some reason, did not offer
it for publication.--[This poem was completed on the anniversary of
Susy's death and is of considerable length. Some selections from it will
be found under Appendix U, at the end of this work.]
Mrs. Clemens, whose health earlier in the year had been delicate, became
very seriously ill at York Harbor. Howells writes:
At first she had been about the house, and there was one gentle afternoon
when she made tea for us in the parlor, but that was the last time I
spoke with her. After that it was really a question of how soonest and
easiest she could be got back to Riverdale.
She had seemed to be in fairly good health and spirits for several weeks
after the arrival at York. Then, early in August, there came a great
celebration of some municipal anniversary, and for two or three days
there were processions, mass-meetings, and so on by day, with fireworks
at night. Mrs. Clemens, always young in spirit, was greatly interested.
She went about more than her strength warranted, seeing and hearing and
enjoying all that was going on. She was finally persuaded to forego the
remaining ceremonies and rest quietly on the pleasant veranda at home;
but she had overtaxed herself and a collapse was inevitable. Howells and
two friends called one afternoon, and a friend of the Queen of Rumania, a
Madame Hartwig, who had brought from that gracious sovereign a letter
which closed in this simple and modest fashion:
I beg your pardon for being a bore to one I so deeply love and
admire, to whom I owe days and days of forgetfulness of self and
troubles, and the intensest of all joys-hero-worship! People don't
always realize what a happiness that is! God bless you for every
beautiful thought you poured into my tired heart, and for every
smile on a weary way. CARMEN SYLVA.
This was the occasion mentioned by Howells when Mrs. Clemens made tea for
them in the parlor for the last time. Her social life may be said to
have ended that afternoon. Next morning the break came. Clemens, in his
notebook for that day, writes:
Tuesday, August 12, 1902. At 7 A.M. Livy taken violently ill.
Telephoned and Dr. Lambert was here in 1/2 hour. She could not breathe-
was likely to stifle. Also she had severe palpitation. She believed she
was dying. I also believed it.
Nurses were summoned, and Mrs. Crane and others came from Elmira. Clara
Clemens took charge of the household and matters generally, and the
patient was secluded and guarded from every disturbing influence.
Clemens slipped about with warnings of silence. A visitor found notices
in Mark Twain's writing pinned to the trees near Mrs. Clemens's window
warning the birds not to sing too loudly.
The patient rallied, but she remained very much debilitated. On
September 3d the note-book says:
Always Mr. Rogers keeps his yacht Kanawha in commission & ready to
fly here and take us to Riverdale on telegraphic notice.
But Mrs. Clemens was unable to return by sea. When it was decided at
last, in October, that she could be removed to Riverdale, Clemens and
Howells went to Boston and engaged an invalid car to make the journey
from York Harbor to Riverdale without change. Howells tells us that
Clemens gave his strictest personal attention to the arrangement of these
details, and that they absorbed him.
There was no particular of the business which he did not scrutinize
and master . . . . With the inertness that grows upon an aging
man he had been used to delegate more and more things, but of that
thing I perceived that he would not delegate the least detail.
They made the journey on the 16th, in nine and a half hours. With the
exception of the natural weariness due to such a trip, the invalid was
apparently no worse on their arrival. The stout English butler carried
her to her room. It would be many months before she would leave it
again. In one of his memoranda Clemens wrote:
Our dear prisoner is where she is through overwork-day & night
devotion to the children & me. We did not know how to value it. We
And in a notation, on a letter praising him for what he had done for the
world's enjoyment, and for his splendid triumph over debt, he said:
Livy never gets her share of these applauses, but it is because the
people do not know. Yet she is entitled to the lion's share.
He wrote Twichell at the end of October:
Livy drags along drearily. It must be hard times for that turbulent
spirit. It will be a long time before she is on her feet again. It
is a most pathetic case. I wish I could transfer it to myself.
Between ripping & raging & smoking & reading I could get a good deal
of holiday out of it. Clara runs the house smoothly & capitally.
Heavy as was the cloud of illness, he could not help pestering Twichell a
little about a recent mishap--a sprained shoulder:
I should like to know how & where it happened. In the pulpit, as
like as not, otherwise you would not be taking so much pains to
conceal it. This is not a malicious suggestion, & not a personally
invented one: you told me yourself once that you threw artificial
power & impressiveness in your sermons where needed by "banging the
Bible"--(your own words). You have reached a time of life when it
is not wise to take these risks. You would better jump around. We
all have to change our methods as the infirmities of age creep upon
us. Jumping around will be impressive now, whereas before you were
gray it would have excited remark.
Mrs. Clemens seemed to improve as the weeks passed, and they had great
hopes of her complete recovery. Clemens took up some work--a new Huck
Finn story, inspired by his trip to Hannibal. It was to have two parts--
Huck and Tom in youth, and then their return in old age. He did some
chapters quite in the old vein, and wrote to Howells of his plan.
It is a great lay-out: what I shall enjoy most will be the return of
the old fellows to the scene and their tall lying. There is a
matchless chance there. I suppose you will put in plenty of pegs in
this prefatory part.
But the new story did not reach completion. Huck and Tom would not come
back, even to go over the old scenes.
THE SIXTY-SEVENTH BIRTHDAY DINNER
It was on the evening of the 27th of November, 1902, I at the
Metropolitan Club, New York City, that Col. George Harvey, president of
the Harper Company, gave Mark Twain a dinner in celebration of his sixty-
seventh birthday. The actual date fell three days later; but that would
bring it on Sunday, and to give it on Saturday night would be more than
likely to carry it into Sabbath morning, and so the 27th was chosen.
Colonel Harvey himself presided, and Howells led the speakers with a
poem, "A Double-Barreled Sonnet to Mark Twain," which closed:
Still, to have everything beyond cavil right,
We will dine with you here till Sunday night.
Thomas Brackett Reed followed with what proved to be the last speech he
would ever make, as it was also one of his best. All the speakers did
well that night, and they included some of the country's foremost in
oratory: Chauncey Depew, St. Clair McKelway, Hamilton Mabie, and Wayne
MacVeagh. Dr. Henry van Dyke and John Kendrick Bangs read poems. The
chairman constantly kept the occasion from becoming too serious by
maintaining an attitude of "thinking ambassador" for the guest of the
evening, gently pushing Clemens back in his seat when he attempted to
rise and expressing for him an opinion of each of the various tributes.
"The limit has been reached," he announced at the close of Dr. van Dyke's
poem. "More that is better could not be said. Gentlemen, Mr. Clemens."
It is seldom that Mark Twain has made a better after-dinner speech than
he delivered then. He was surrounded by some of the best minds of the
nation, men assembled to do him honor. They expected much of him--to
Mark Twain always an inspiring circumstance. He was greeted with cheers
and hand-clapping that came volley after volley, and seemed never ready
to end. When it had died away at last he stood waiting a little in the
stillness for his voice; then he said, "I think I ought to be allowed to
talk as long as I want to," and again the storm broke.
It is a speech not easy to abridge--a finished and perfect piece of
after-dinner eloquence,--[The "Sixty-seventh Birthday Speech" entire is
included in the volume Mark Twain's Speeches.]--full of humorous stories
and moving references to old friends--to Hay; and Reed, and Twichell, and
Howells, and Rogers, the friends he had known so long and loved so well.
He told of his recent trip to his boyhood home, and how he had stood with
John Briggs on Holliday's Hill and they had pointed out the haunts of
their youth. Then at the end he paid a tribute to the companion of his
home, who could not be there to share his evening's triumph. This
peroration--a beautiful heart-offering to her and to those that had
shared in long friendship--demands admission:
Now, there is one invisible guest here. A part of me is not
present; the larger part, the better part, is yonder at her home;
that is my wife, and she has a good many personal friends here, and
I think it won't distress any one of them to know that, although she
is going to be confined to her bed for many months to come from that
nervous prostration, there is not any danger and she is coming along
very well--and I think it quite appropriate that I should speak of
her. I knew her for the first time just in the same year that I
first knew John Hay and Tom Reed and Mr. Twichell--thirty-six years
ago--and she has been the best friend I have ever had, and that is
saying a good deal--she has reared me--she and Twichell together--
and what I am I owe to them. Twichell--why, it is such a pleasure
to look upon Twichell's face! For five and twenty years I was under
the Rev. Mr. Twichell's tuition, I was in his pastorate occupying a
pew in his church and held him in due reverence. That man is full
of all the graces that go to make a person companionable and
beloved; and wherever Twichell goes to start a church the people
flock there to buy the land; they find real estate goes up all
around the spot, and the envious and the thoughtful always try to
get Twichell to move to their neighborhood and start a church; and
wherever you see him go you can go and buy land there with
confidence, feeling sure that there will be a double price for you
before very long.
I have tried to do good in this world, and it is marvelous in how
many different ways I have done good, and it is comfortable to
reflect--now, there's Mr. Rogers--just out of the affection I bear
that man many a time I have given him points in finance that he had
never thought of--and if he could lay aside envy, prejudice, and
superstition, and utilize those ideas in his business, it would make
a difference in his bank-account.
Well, I liked the poetry. I liked all the speeches and the poetry,
too. I liked Dr. van Dyke's poem. I wish I could return thanks in
proper measure to you, gentlemen, who have spoken and violated your
feelings to pay me compliments; some were merited and some you
overlooked, it is true; and Colonel Harvey did slander every one of
you, and put things into my mouth that I never said, never thought
of at all.
And now my wife and I, out of our single heart, return you our
deepest and most grateful thanks, and--yesterday was her birthday.
The sixty-seventh birthday dinner was widely celebrated by the press, and
newspaper men generally took occasion to pay brilliant compliments to
Mark Twain. Arthur Brisbane wrote editorially:
For more than a generation he has been the Messiah of a genuine
gladness and joy to the millions of three continents.
It was little more than a week later that one of the old friends he had
mentioned, Thomas Brackett Reed, apparently well and strong that birthday
evening, passed from the things of this world. Clemens felt his death
keenly, and in a "good-by" which he wrote for Harper's Weekly he said:
His was a nature which invited affection--compelled it, in fact--and
met it half-way. Hence, he was "Tom" to the most of his friends and
to half of the nation . . . .
I cannot remember back to a time when he was not "Tom" Reed to me,
nor to a time when he could have been offended at being so addressed
by me. I cannot remember back to a time when I could let him alone
in an after-dinner speech if he was present, nor to a time when he
did not take my extravagance concerning him and misstatements about
him in good part, nor yet to a time when he did not pay them back
with usury when his turn came. The last speech he made was at my
birthday dinner at the end of November, when naturally I was his
text; my last word to him was in a letter the next day; a day later
I was illustrating a fantastic article on art with his portrait
among others--a portrait now to be laid reverently away among the
jests that begin in humor and end in pathos. These things happened
only eight days ago, and now he is gone from us, and the nation is
speaking of him as one who was. It seems incredible, impossible.
Such a man, such a friend, seems to us a permanent possession; his
vanishing from our midst is unthinkable, as was the vanishing of the
Campanile, that had stood for a thousand years and was turned to
dust in a moment.
The appreciation closes:
I have only wished to say how fine and beautiful was his life and
character, and to take him by the hand and say good-by, as to a
fortunate friend who has done well his work and gees a pleasant
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE CONTROVERSIES
The North American Review for December (1902) contained an instalment of
the Christian Science series which Mark Twain had written in Vienna
several years before. He had renewed his interest in the doctrine, and
his admiration for Mrs. Eddy's peculiar abilities and his antagonism
toward her had augmented in the mean time. Howells refers to the "mighty
moment when Clemens was building his engines of war for the destruction
of Christian Science, which superstition nobody, and he least of all,
expected to destroy":
He believed that as a religious machine the Christian Science Church
was as perfect as the Roman Church, and destined to be more
formidable in its control of the minds of men . . . .
An interesting phase of his psychology in this business was not.
only his admiration for the masterly policy of the Christian Science
hierarchy, but his willingness to allow the miracles of its healers
to be tried on his friends and family if they wished it. He had a
tender heart for the whole generation of empirics, as well as the
newer sorts of scienticians, but he seemed to base his faith in them
largely upon the failure of the regulars, rather than upon their own
successes, which also he believed in. He was recurrently, but not
insistently, desirous that you should try their strange magics when
you were going to try the familiar medicines.
Clemens never had any quarrel with the theory of Christian Science or
mental healing, or with any of the empiric practices. He acknowledged
good in all of them, and he welcomed most of them in preference to
materia medica. It is true that his animosity for the founder of the
Christian Science cult sometimes seems to lap over and fringe the
religion itself; but this is apparent rather than real. Furthermore, he
frequently expressed a deep obligation which humanity owed to the founder
of the faith, in that she had organized a healing element ignorantly and
indifferently employed hitherto. His quarrel with Mrs. Eddy lay in the
belief that she herself, as he expressed it, was "a very unsound
I believe she has a serious malady--self-edification--and that it
will be well to have one of the experts demonstrate over her. [But
he added]: Closely examined, painstakingly studied, she is easily
the most interesting person on the planet, and in several ways as
easily the most extraordinary woman that was ever born upon it.
Necessarily, the forces of Christian Science were aroused by these
articles, and there were various replies, among them, one by the founder
herself, a moderate rejoinder in her usual literary form.
"Mrs. Eddy in Error," in the North American Review for April, 1903,
completed what Clemens had to say on the matter for this time.
He was putting together a book on the subject, comprised of his various
published papers and some added chapters. It would not be a large
volume, and he offered to let his Christian Science opponents share it
with him, stating their side of the case. Mr. William D. McCrackan, one
of the church's chief advocates, was among those invited to participate.
McCrackan and Clemens, from having begun as enemies, had become quite
friendly, and had discussed their differences face to face at
considerable length. Early in the controversy Clemens one night wrote
McCrackan a pretty savage letter. He threw it on the hall table for
mailing, but later got out of bed and slipped down-stairs to get it. It
was too late--the letters had been gathered up and mailed. Next evening
a truly Christian note came from McCrackan, returning the hasty letter,
which he said he was sure the writer would wish to recall. Their
friendship began there. For some reason, however, the collaborated
volume did not materialize. In the end, publication was delayed a number
of years, by which time Clemens's active interest was a good deal
modified, though the practice itself never failed to invite his
Howells refers to his anti-Christian Science rages, which began with the
postponement of the book, and these Clemens vented at the time in another
manuscript entitled, "Eddypus," an imaginary history of a thousand years
hence, when Eddyism should rule the world. By that day its founder would
have become a deity, and the calendar would be changed to accord with her
birth. It was not publishable matter, and really never intended as such.
It was just one of the things which Mark Twain wrote to relieve mental
"WAS IT HEAVEN? OR HELL?"
The Christmas number of Harper's Magazine for 1902 contained the story,
"Was it Heaven? or Hell?" and it immediately brought a flood of letters
to its author from grateful readers on both sides of the ocean. An
Englishman wrote: "I want to thank you for writing so pathetic and so
profoundly true a story"; and an American declared it to be the best
short story ever written. Another letter said:
I have learned to love those maiden liars--love and weep over them--
then put them beside Dante's Beatrice in Paradise.
There were plenty of such letters; but there was one of a different sort.
It was a letter from a man who had but recently gone through almost
precisely the experience narrated in the tale. His dead daughter had
even borne the same name--Helen. She had died of typhus while her mother
was prostrated with the same malady, and the deception had been
maintained in precisely the same way, even to the fictitiously written
letters. Clemens replied to this letter, acknowledging the striking
nature of the coincidence it related, and added that, had he invented the
story, he would have believed it a case of mental telegraphy.
I was merely telling a true story just as it had been told to me by
one who well knew the mother and the daughter & all the beautiful &
pathetic details. I was living in the house where it had happened,
three years before, & I put it on paper at once while it was fresh
in my mind, & its pathos still straining at my heartstrings.
Clemens did not guess that the coincidences were not yet complete, that
within a month the drama of the tale would be enacted in his own home.
In his note-book, under the date of December 24(1902), he wrote:
Jean was hit with a chill: Clara was completing her watch in her
mother's room and there was no one able to force Jean to go to bed.
As a result she is pretty ill to-day-fever & high temperature.
Three days later he added:
It was pneumonia. For 5 days jean's temperature ranged between 103
& 104 2/5, till this morning, when it got down to 101. She looks
like an escaped survivor of a forest fire. For 6 days now my story
in the Christmas Harper's "Was it Heaven? or Hell?"--has been
enacted in this household. Every day Clara & the nurses have lied
about Jean to her mother, describing the fine times she is having
outdoors in the winter sports.
That proved a hard, trying winter in the Clemens home, and the burden of
it fell chiefly, indeed almost entirely, upon Clara Clemens. Mrs.
Clemens became still more frail, and no other member of the family, not
even her husband, was allowed to see her for longer than the briefest
interval. Yet the patient was all the more anxious to know the news, and
daily it had to be prepared--chiefly invented--for her comfort. In an
account which Clemens once set down of the "Siege and Season of
Unveracity," as he called it, he said:
Clara stood a daily watch of three or four hours, and hers was a
hard office indeed. Daily she sealed up in her heart a dozen
dangerous truths, and thus saved her mother's life and hope and
happiness with holy lies. She had never told her mother a lie in
her life before, and I may almost say that she never told her a
truth afterward. It was fortunate for us all that Clara's
reputation for truthfulness was so well established in her mother's
mind. It was our daily protection from disaster. The mother never
doubted Clara's word. Clara could tell her large improbabilities
without exciting any suspicion, whereas if I tried to market even a
small and simple one the case would have been different. I was
never able to get a reputation like Clara's. Mrs. Clemens
questioned Clara every day concerning Jean's health, spirits,
clothes, employments, and amusements, and how she was enjoying
herself; and Clara furnished the information right along in minute
detail--every word of it false, of course. Every day she had to
tell how Jean dressed, and in time she got so tired of using Jean's
existing clothes over and over again, and trying to get new effects
out of them, that finally, as a relief to her hard-worked invention,
she got to adding imaginary clothes to Jean's wardrobe, and probably
would have doubled it and trebled it if a warning note in her
mother's comments had not admonished her that she was spending more
money on these spectral gowns and things than the family income
Some portions of detailed accounts of Clara's busy days of this period,
as written at the time by Clemens to Twichell and to Mrs. Crane, are
eminently worth preserving. To Mrs. Crane:
Clara does not go to her Monday lesson in New York today [her mother
having seemed not so well through the night], but forgets that fact
and enters her mother's room (where she has no business to be)
toward train-time dressed in a wrapper.
LIVY. Why, Clara, aren't you going to your lesson?
CLARA (almost caught). Yes.
L. In that costume?
CL. Oh no.
L. Well, you can't make your train; it's impossible.
CL. I know, but I'm going to take the other one.
L. Indeed that won't do--you'll be ever so much too late for
CL. No, the lesson-time has been put an hour later.
L. (satisfied, then suddenly). But, Clara, that train and the late
lesson together will make you late to Mrs. Hapgood's luncheon.
CL. No, the train leaves fifteen minutes earlier than it used to.
L. (satisfied). Tell Mrs. Hapgood, etc., etc., etc. (which Clara
promises to do). Clara, dear, after the luncheon--I hate to put
this on you--but could you do two or three little shopping-errands
CL. Oh, it won't trouble me a bit-I can do it. (Takes a list of
the things she is to buy-a list which she will presently hand to
At 3 or 4 P.M. Clara takes the things brought from New York,
studies over her part a little, then goes to her mother's room.
LIVY. It's very good of you, dear. Of course, if I had known it
was going to be so snowy and drizzly and sloppy I wouldn't have
asked you to buy them. Did you get wet?
CL. Oh, nothing to hurt.
L. You took a cab both ways?
CL. Not from the station to the lesson-the weather was good enough
till that was over.
L. Well, now, tell me everything Mrs. Hapgood said.
Clara tells her a long yarn-avoiding novelties and surprises and
anything likely to inspire questions difficult to answer; and of
course detailing the menu, for if it had been the feeding of the
5,000 Livy would have insisted on knowing what kind of bread it was
and how the fishes were served. By and by, while talking of
LIVY. Clams!--in the end of December. Are you sure it was clams?
CL. I didn't say cl---I meant Blue Points.
L. (tranquilized). It seemed odd. What is Jean doing?
CL. She said she was going to do a little typewriting.
L. Has she been out to-day?
CL. Only a moment, right after luncheon. She was determined to go
out again, but----
L. How did you know she was out?
CL. (saving herself in time). Katie told me. She was determined
to go out again in the rain and snow, but I persuaded her to stay
L. (with moving and grateful admiration). Clara, you are
wonderful! the wise watch you keep over Jean, and the influence you
have over her; it's so lovely of you, and I tied here and can't take
care of her myself. (And she goes on with these undeserved praises
till Clara is expiring with shame.)
I am to see Livy a moment every afternoon until she has another bad
night; and I stand in dread, for with all my practice I realize that
in a sudden emergency I am but a poor, clumsy liar, whereas a fine
alert and capable emergency liar is the only sort that is worth
anything in a sick-chamber.
Now, Joe, just see what reputation can do. All Clara's life she has
told Livy the truth and now the reward comes; Clara lies to her
three and a half hours every day, and Livy takes it all at par,
whereas even when I tell her a truth it isn't worth much without
corroboration . . . .
Soon my brief visit is due. I've just been up listening at Livy's
5 P.M. A great disappointment. I was sitting outside Livy's door
waiting. Clara came out a minute ago and said L ivy is not so well,
and the nurse can't let me see her to-day.
That pathetic drama was to continue in some degree for many a long month.
All that winter and spring Mrs. Clemens kept but a frail hold on life.
Clemens wrote little, and refused invitations everywhere he could. He
spent his time largely in waiting for the two-minute period each day when
he could stand at the bed-foot and say a few words to the invalid, and he
confined his writing mainly to the comforting, affectionate messages
which he was allowed to push under her door. He was always waiting there
long before the moment he was permitted to enter. Her illness and her
helplessness made manifest what Howells has fittingly characterized as
his "beautiful and tender loyalty to her, which was the most moving
quality of his most faithful soul."
THE SECOND RIVERDALE WINTER
Most of Mark Twain's stories have been dramatized at one time or another,
and with more or less success. He had two plays going that winter, one
of them the little "Death Disk," which--in story form had appeared a year
before in Harper's Magazine. It was put on at the Carnegie Lyceum with
considerable effect, but it was not of sufficient importance to warrant a
Another play of that year was a dramatization of Huckleberry Finn, by Lee
Arthur. This was played with a good deal of success in Baltimore,
Philadelphia, and elsewhere, the receipts ranging from three hundred to
twenty-one hundred dollars per night, according to the weather and
locality. Why the play was discontinued is not altogether apparent;
certainly many a dramatic enterprise has gone further, faring worse.
Huck in book form also had been having adventures a little earlier, in
being tabooed on account of his morals by certain librarians of Denver
and Omaha. It was years since Huck had been in trouble of that sort, and
he acquired a good deal of newspaper notoriety in consequence.
Certain entries in Mark Twain's note-book reveal somewhat of his life and
thought at this period. We find such entries as this:
Saturday, January 3, 1903. The offspring of riches: Pride, vanity,
ostentation, arrogance, tyranny.
Sunday, January 4, 1903. The offspring of poverty: Greed,
sordidness, envy, hate, malice, cruelty, meanness, lying, shirking,
cheating, stealing, murder.
Monday, February 2, 1903. 33d wedding anniversary. I was allowed
to see Livy 5 minutes this morning in honor of the day. She makes
but little progress toward recovery, still there is certainly some,
we are sure.
Sunday, March 1, 1903. We may not doubt that society in heaven
consists mainly of undesirable persons.
Thursday, March 19, 1903. Susy's birthday. She would be 31 now.
The family illnesses, which presently included an allotment for himself,
his old bronchitis, made him rage more than ever at the imperfections of
the species which could be subject to such a variety of ills. Once he
Man was made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.
Adam, man's benefactor--he gave him all that he has ever received
that was worth having--death.
The Riverdale home was in reality little more than a hospital that
spring. Jean had scarcely recovered her physical strength when she was
attacked by measles, and Clara also fell a victim to the infection.
Fortunately Mrs. Clemens's health had somewhat improved.
It was during this period that Clemens formulated his eclectic
therapeutic doctrine. Writing to Twichell April 4, 1903, he said:
Livy does make a little progress these past 3 or 4 days, progress
which is visible to even the untrained eye. The physicians are
doing good work for her, but my notion is, that no art of healing is
the best for all ills. I should distribute the ailments around:
surgery cases to the surgeon; lupus to the actinic-ray specialist;
nervous prostration to the Christian Scientist; most ills to the
allopath & the homeopath; & (in my own particular case) rheumatism,
gout, & bronchial attack to the osteopathist.
He had plenty of time to think and to read during those weeks of
confinement, and to rage, and to write when he felt the need of that
expression, though he appears to have completed not much for print beyond
his reply to Mrs. Eddy, already mentioned, and his burlesque,
"Instructions in Art," with pictures by himself, published in the
Metropolitan for April and May.
Howells called his attention to some military outrages in the
Philippines, citing a case where a certain lieutenant had tortured one of
his men, a mild offender, to death out of pure deviltry, and had been
tried but not punished for his fiendish crime.--[The torture to death of
Private Edward C. Richter, an American soldier, by orders of a
commissioned officer of the United States army on the night of February
7, 1902. Private Richter was bound and gagged and the gag held in his
mouth by means of a club while ice-water was slowly poured into his face,
a dipper full at a time, for two hours and a half, until life became
Clemens undertook to give expression to his feelings on this subject, but
he boiled so when he touched pen to paper to write of it that it was
simply impossible for him to say anything within the bounds of print.
Then his only relief was to rise and walk the floor, and curse out his
fury at the race that had produced such a specimen.
Mrs. Clemens, who perhaps got some drift or the echo of these tempests,
now and then sent him a little admonitory, affectionate note.
Among the books that Clemens read, or tried to read, during his
confinement were certain of the novels of Sir Walter Scott. He had never
been able to admire Scott, and determined now to try to understand this
author's popularity and his standing with the critics; but after wading
through the first volume of one novel, and beginning another one, he
concluded to apply to one who could speak as having authority. He wrote
to Brander Matthews:
DEAR BRANDER,--I haven't been out of my bed for 4 weeks, but-well, I
have been reading a good deal, & it occurs to me to ask you to sit
down, some time or other when you have 8 or 9 months to spare, & jot
me down a certain few literary particulars for my help & elevation.
Your time need not be thrown away, for at your further leisure you
can make Columbian lectures out of the results & do your students a
1. Are there in Sir Walter's novels passages done in good English--
English which is neither slovenly nor involved?
2. Are there passages whose English is not poor & thin &
commonplace, but is of a quality above that?
3. Are there passages which burn with real fire--not punk, fox-
4. Has he heroes & heroines who are not cads and cadesses?
5. Has he personages whose acts & talk correspond with their
characters as described by him?
6. Has he heroes & heroines whom the reader admires--admires and
7. Has he funny characters that are funny, and humorous passages
that are humorous?
8. Does he ever chain the reader's interest & make him reluctant to
lay the book down?
9. Are there pages where he ceases from posing, ceases from
admiring the placid flood & flow of his own dilution, ceases from
being artificial, & is for a time, long or short, recognizably
sincere & in earnest?
10. Did he know how to write English, & didn't do it because he
didn't want to?
11. Did he use the right word only when he couldn't think of
another one, or did he run so much to wrong words because he didn't
know the right one when he saw it?
12. Can you read him and keep your respect for him? Of course a
person could in his day--an era of sentimentality & sloppy
romantics--but land! can a body do it to-day?
Brander, I lie here dying; slowly dying, under the blight of Sir
Walter. I have read the first volume of Rob Roy, & as far as
Chapter XIX of Guy Mannering, & I can no longer hold my head up or
take my nourishment. Lord, it's all so juvenile! so artificial, so
shoddy; & such wax figures & skeletons & specters. Interest? Why,
it is impossible to feel an interest in these bloodless shams, these
milk-&-water humbugs. And oh, the poverty of invention! Not
poverty in inventing situations, but poverty in furnishing reasons
for them. Sir Walter usually gives himself away when he arranges
for a situation--elaborates & elaborates & elaborates till, if you
live to get to it, you don't believe in it when it happens.
I can't find the rest of Rob Roy, I, can't stand any more Mannering-
I do not know just what to do, but I will reflect, & not quit this
great study rashly ....
My, I wish I could see you & Leigh Hunt!
S. L. CLEMENS.
But a few days later he experienced a revelation. It came when he
perseveringly attacked still a third work of Scott--Quentin Durward.
Hastily he wrote to Matthews again:
I'm still in bed, but the days have lost their dullness since I broke
into Sir Walter & lost my temper. I finished Guy Mannering that curious,
curious book, with its mob of squalid shadows gibbering around a single
flesh-&-blood being--Dinmont; a book crazily put together out of the very
refuse of the romance artist's stage properties--finished it & took up
Quentin Durward & finished that.
It was like leaving the dead to mingle with the living; it was like
withdrawing from the infant class in the college of journalism to sit
under the lectures in English literature in Columbia University.
I wonder who wrote Quentin Durward?--[This letter, enveloped, addressed,
and stamped, was evidently mislaid. It was found and mailed seven years
later, June, 1910 message from the dead.]
Among other books which he read that winter and spring was Helen Keller's
'The Story of My Life', then recently published. That he finished it in
a mood of sweet gentleness we gather from a long, lovely letter which he
wrote her--a letter in which he said:
I am charmed with your book--enchanted. You are a wonderful creature,
the most wonderful in the world--you and your other half together--Miss
Sullivan, I mean--for it took the pair of you to make a complete &
perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy,
penetration, originality, wisdom, character, & the fine literary
competencies of her pen--they are all there.
When reading and writing failed as diversion, Mark Twain often turned to
mathematics. With no special talent for accuracy in the matter of
figures, he had a curious fondness for calculations, scientific and
financial, and he used to cover pages, ciphering at one thing and
another, arriving pretty inevitably at the wrong results. When the
problem was financial, and had to do with his own fortunes, his figures
were as likely as not to leave him in a state of panic. The expenditures
were naturally heavy that spring; and one night, when he had nothing
better to do, he figured the relative proportion to his income. The
result showed that they were headed straight for financial ruin. He put
in the rest of the night fearfully rolling and tossing, and
reconstructing his figures that grew always worse, and next morning
summoned Jean and Clara and petrified them with the announcement that the
cost of living was one hundred and twenty-five per cent. more than the
Writing to MacAlister three days later he said:
It was a mistake. When I came down in the morning, a gray and aged
wreck, I found that in some unaccountable way (unaccountable to a
business man, but not to me) I had multiplied the totals by two. By
God, I dropped seventy-five years on the floor where I stood!
Do you know it affected me as one is affected when one wakes out of
a hideous dream & finds it was only a dream. It was a great comfort
& satisfaction to me to call the daughters to a private meeting of
the board again. Certainly there is a blistering & awful reality
about a well-arranged unreality. It is quite within the
possibilities that two or three nights like that of mine would drive
a man to suicide. He would refuse to examine the figures, they
would revolt him so, & he would go to his death unaware that there
was nothing serious about them. I cannot get that night out of my
head, it was so vivid, so real, so ghastly: In any other year of
these thirty-three the relief would have been simple: go where you
can, cut your cloth to fit your income. You can't do that when your
wife can't be moved, even from one room to the next.
The doctor & a specialist met in conspiracy five days ago, & in
their belief she will by and by come out of this as good as new,
substantially. They ordered her to Italy for next winter--which
seems to indicate that by autumn she will be able to undertake the
voyage. So Clara is writing to a Florence friend to take a look
around among the villas for us in the regions near that city.
Mark Twain had been at home well on toward three years; but his
popularity showed no signs of diminishing. So far from having waned, it
had surged to a higher point than ever before. His crusade against
public and private abuses had stirred readers, and had set them to
thinking; the news of illness in his household; a report that he was
contemplating another residence abroad--these things moved deeply the
public heart, and a tide of letters flowed in, letters of every sort--of
sympathy, of love, or hearty endorsement, whatever his attitude of
When a writer in a New York newspaper said, "Let us go outside the realm
of practical politics next time in choosing our candidates for the
Presidency," and asked, "Who is our ablest and most conspicuous private
citizen?" another editorial writer, Joseph Hollister, replied that Mark
Twain was "the greatest man of his day in private life, and entitled to
the fullest measure of recognition."
But Clemens was without political ambitions. He knew the way of such
things too well. When Hollister sent him the editorial he replied only
with a word of thanks, and did not, even in jest, encourage that tiny
seed of a Presidential boom. One would like to publish many of the
beautiful letters received during this period, for they are beautiful,
most of them, however illiterate in form, however discouraging in length
--beautiful in that they overflow with the writers' sincerity and
So many of them came from children, usually without the hope of a reply,
some signed only with initials, that the writers might not be open to the
suspicion of being seekers for his autograph. Almost more than any other
reward, Mark Twain valued this love of the children.
A department in the St. Nicholas Magazine offered a prize for a
caricature drawing of some well-known man. There were one or two of
certain prominent politicians and capitalists, and there was literally a
wheelbarrow load of Mark Twain. When he was informed of this he wrote:
"No tribute could have pleased me more than that--the friendship of the
Tributes came to him in many forms. In his native State it was proposed
to form a Mark Twain Association, with headquarters at Hannibal, with the
immediate purpose of having a week set apart at the St. Louis World's
Fair, to be called the Mark Twain week, with a special Mark Twain day, on
which a national literary convention would be held. But when his consent
was asked, and his co-operation invited, he wrote characteristically:
It is indeed a high compliment which you offer me, in naming an
association after me and in proposing the setting apart of a Mark Twain
day at the great St. Louis Fair, but such compliments are not proper for
the living; they are proper and safe for the dead only. I value the
impulse which moves you to tender me these honors. I value it as highly
as any one can, and am grateful for it, but I should stand in a sort of
terror of the honors themselves. So long as we remain alive we are not
safe from doing things which, however righteously and honorably intended,
can wreck our repute and extinguish our friendships.
I hope that no society will be named for me while I am still alive, for I
might at some time or other do something which would cause its members to
regret having done me that honor. After I shall have joined the dead I
shall follow the custom of those people, and be guilty of no conduct that
can wound any friend; but until that time shall come I shall be a
doubtful quantity, like the rest of our race.
The committee, still hoping for his consent, again appealed to him. But
again he wrote:
While I am deeply touched by the desire of my friends of Hannibal to
confer these great honors upon me I must still forbear to accept them.
Spontaneous and unpremeditated honors, like those which came to me at
Hannibal, Columbia, St. Louis, and at the village stations all down the
line, are beyond all price and are a treasure for life in the memory, for
they are a free gift out of the heart and they come without solicitation;
but I am a Missourian, and so I shrink from distinctions which have to be
arranged beforehand and with my privity, for I then become a party to my
own exalting. I am humanly fond of honors that happen, but chary of
those that come by canvass and intention.
Somewhat later he suggested a different feature for the fair; one that
was not practical, perhaps, but which certainly would have aroused
interest--that is to say, an old-fashioned six-day steamboat-race from
New Orleans to St. Louis, with the old-fashioned accessories, such as
torch-baskets, forecastle crowds of negro singers, with a negro on the
safety-valve. In his letter to President Francis he said:
As to particulars, I think that the race should be a genuine reproduction
of the old-time race, not just an imitation of it, and that it should
cover the whole course. I think the boats should begin the trip at New
Orleans, and side by side (not an interval between), and end it at North
St. Louis, a mile or two above the Big Mound.
In a subsequent letter to Governor Francis he wrote:
It has been a dear wish of mine to exhibit myself at the great Fair & get
a prize, but circumstances beyond my control have interfered . . . .
I suppose you will get a prize, because you have created the most
prodigious Fair the planet has ever seen. Very well, you have indeed
earned it, and with it the gratitude of the State and the nation.
Newspaper men used every inducement to get interviews from him. They
invited him to name a price for any time he could give them, long or
short. One reporter offered him five hundred dollars for a two-hour
talk. Another proposed to pay him one hundred dollars a week for a
quarter of a day each week, allowing him to discuss any subject he
pleased. One wrote asking him two questions: the first, "Your favorite
method of escaping from Indians"; the second, "Your favorite method of
escaping capture by the Indians when they were in pursuit of you." They
inquired as to his favorite copy-book maxim; as to what he considered
most important to a young man's success; his definition of a gentleman.
They wished to know his plan for the settlement of labor troubles. But
they did not awaken his interest, or his cupidity. To one applicant he
No, there are temptations against which we are fire-proof. Your
proposition is one which comes to me with considerable frequency, but it
never tempts me. The price isn't the objection; you offer plenty. It is
the nature of the work that is the objection--a kind of work which I
could not do well enough to satisfy me. To multiply the price by twenty
would not enable me to do the work to my satisfaction, & by consequence
would make no impression upon me.
Once he allowed himself to be interviewed for the Herald, when from Mr.
Rogers's yacht he had watched Sir Thomas Lipton's Shamrock go down to
defeat; but this was a subject which appealed to him--a kind of
hotweather subject--and he could be as light-minded about it as he chose.
THE LAST SUMMER AT ELMIRA
The Clemenses were preparing to take up residence in Florence, Italy.
The Hartford house had been sold in May, ending forever the association
with the city that had so long been a part of their lives. The Tarrytown
place, which they had never occupied, they also agreed to sell, for it
was the belief now that Mrs. Clemens's health would never greatly prosper
there. Howells says, or at least implies, that they expected their
removal to Florence to be final. He tells us, too, of one sunny
afternoon when he and Clemens sat on the grass before the mansion at
Riverdale, after Mrs. Clemens had somewhat improved, and how they "looked
up toward a balcony where by and by that lovely presence made itself
visible, as if it had stooped there from a cloud. A hand frailly waved a
handkerchief; Clemens ran over the lawn toward it, calling tenderly." It
was a greeting to Howells the last he would ever receive from her.
Mrs. Clemens was able to make a trip to Elmira by the end of June, and on
the 1st of July Mr. Rogers brought Clemens and his wife down the river on
his yacht to the Lackawanna pier, and they reached Quarry Farm that
evening. She improved in the quietude and restfulness of that beloved
place. Three weeks later Clemens wrote to Twichell:
Livy is coming along: eats well, sleeps some, is mostly very gay, not
very often depressed; spends all day on the porch, sleeps there a part of
the night; makes excursions in carriage & in wheel-chair; &, in the
matter of superintending everything & everybody, has resumed business at
the old stand.
During three peaceful months she spent most of her days reclining on the
wide veranda, surrounded by those dearest to her, and looking out on the
dreamlike landscape--the long, grassy slope, the drowsy city, and the
distant hills--getting strength for the far journey by sea. Clemens did
some writing, occupying the old octagonal study--shut in now and
overgrown with vines--where during the thirty years since it was built so
many of his stories had been written. 'A Dog's Tale'--that pathetic
anti-vivisection story--appears to have been the last manuscript ever
completed in the spot consecrated by Huck and Tom, and by Tom Canty the
Pauper and the little wandering Prince.
It was October 5th when they left Elmira. Two days earlier Clemens had
written in his note-book:
Today I placed flowers on Susy's grave--for the last time probably--
& read words:
"Good-night, dear heart, good-night."
They did not return to Riverdale, but went to the Hotel Grosvenor for the
intervening weeks. They had engaged passage for Italy on the Princess
Irene, which would sail on the 24th. It was during the period of their
waiting that Clemens concluded his final Harper contract. On that day,
in his note-book, he wrote:
In 1895 Cheiro the palmist examined my hand & said that in my 68th year
(1903) I would become suddenly rich. I was a bankrupt & $94,000 in debt
at the time through the failure of Charles L. Webster & Co. Two years
later--in London--Cheiro repeated this long-distance prediction, & added
that the riches would come from a quite unexpected source. I am
superstitious. I kept the prediction in mind & often thought of it.
When at last it came true, October 22, 1903, there was but a month & 9
days to spare.
The contract signed that day concentrates all my books in Harper's hands
& now at last they are valuable; in fact they are a fortune. They
guarantee me $25,000 a year for 5 years, and they will yield twice as
much as that.--[In earlier note-books and letters Clemens more than once
refers to this prophecy and wonders if it is to be realized. The Harper
contract, which brought all of his books into the hands of one publisher
(negotiated for him by Mr. Rogers), proved, in fact, a fortune. The
books yielded always more than the guarantee; sometimes twice that
amount, as he had foreseen.]
During the conclusion of this contract Clemens made frequent visits to
Fairhaven on the Kanawha. Joe Goodman came from the Pacific to pay him a
good-by visit during this period. Goodman had translated the Mayan
inscriptions, and his work had received official recognition and
publication by the British Museum. It was a fine achievement for a man
in later life and Clemens admired it immensely. Goodman and Clemens
enjoyed each other in the old way at quiet resorts where they could talk
over the old tales. Another visitor of that summer was the son of an old
friend, a Hannibal printer named Daulton. Young Daulton came with
manuscripts seeking a hearing of the magazine editors, so Clemens wrote a
letter which would insure that favor:
INTRODUCING MR. GEO. DAULTON:
TO GILDER, ALDEN, HARVEY, McCLURE, WALKER, PAGE, BOK, COLLIER, and such
other members of the sacred guild as privilege me to call them friends-
Although I have no personal knowledge of the bearer of this, I have what
is better: He comes recommended to me by his own father--a thing not
likely to happen in any of your families, I reckon. I ask you, as a
favor to me, to waive prejudice & superstition for this once & examine
his work with an eye to its literary merit, instead of to the chastity of
its spelling. I wish to God you cared less for that particular.
I set (or sat) type alongside of his father, in Hannibal, more than 50
years ago, when none but the pure in heart were in that business. A true
man he was; and if I can be of any service to his son--and to you at the
same time, let me hope--I am here heartily to try.
Yours by the sanctions of time & deserving,
S. L. CLEMENS.
Among the kindly words which came to Mark Twain before leaving America
was this one which Rudyard Kipling had written to his publisher, Frank
I love to think of the great and godlike Clemens. He is the biggest
man you have on your side of the water by a damn sight, and don't
you forget it. Cervantes was a relation of his.
It curiously happened that Clemens at the same moment was writing to
Doubleday about Kipling:
I have been reading "The Bell Buoy" and "The Old Man" over and over
again-my custom with Kipling's work--and saving up the rest for
other leisurely and luxurious meals. A bell-buoy is a deeply
impressive fellow-being. In these many recent trips up and down the
Sound in the Kanawha he has talked to me nightly sometimes in his
pathetic and melancholy way, sometimes with his strenuous and urgent
note, and I got his meaning--now I have his words! No one but
Kipling could do this strong and vivid thing. Some day I hope to
hear the poem chanted or sung-with the bell-buoy breaking in out of
P. S.--Your letter has arrived. It makes me proud and glad--what
Kipling says. I hope Fate will fetch him to Florence while we are
there. I would rather see him than any other man.
THE RETURN TO FLORENCE
From the note-book:
Saturday, October 24, 1903. Sailed in the Princess Irene for Genoa
at 11. Flowers & fruit from Mrs. Rogers & Mrs. Coe. We have with
us Katie Leary (in our domestic service 23 years) & Miss Margaret
Sherry (trained nurse).
Two days later he wrote:
Heavy storm all night. Only 3 stewardesses. Ours served 60 meals
in rooms this morning.
On the 27th:
Livy is enduring the voyage marvelously well. As well as Clara &
Jean, I think, & far better than the trained nurse.
She has been out on deck an hour.
November 2. Due at Gibraltar 10 days from New York. 3 days to
Naples, then 2 day to Genoa.
At supper the band played "Cavalleria Rusticana," which is forever
associated in my mind with Susy. I love it better than any other,
but it breaks my heart.
It was the "Intermezzo" he referred to, which had been Susy's favorite
music, and whenever he heard it he remembered always one particular
opera-night long ago, and Susy's face rose before him.
They were in Naples on the 5th; thence to Genoa, and to Florence, where
presently they were installed in the Villa Reale di Quarto, a fine old
Italian palace built by Cosimo more than four centuries ago. In later
times it has been occupied and altered by royal families of Wurtemberg
and Russia. Now it was the property of the Countess Massiglia, from whom
Clemens had leased it.
They had hoped to secure the Villa Papiniano, under Fiesole, near
Professor Fiske, but negotiations for it had fallen through. The Villa
Quarto, as it is usually called, was a more pretentious place and as
beautifully located, standing as it does in an ancient garden looking out
over Florence toward Vallombrosa and the Chianti hills. Yet now in the
retrospect, it seems hardly to have been the retreat for an invalid. Its
garden was supernaturally beautiful, all that one expects that a garden
of Italy should be--such a garden as Maxfield Parrish might dream; but
its beauty was that which comes of antiquity--the accumulation of dead
years. Its funereal cypresses, its crumbling walls and arches, its
clinging ivy and moldering marbles, and a clock that long ago forgot the
hours, gave it a mortuary look. In a way it suggested Arnold Bocklin's
"Todteninsel," and it might well have served as the allegorical setting
for a gateway to the bourne of silence.
The house itself, one of the most picturesque of the old Florentine
suburban palaces, was historically interesting, rather than cheerful.
The rooms, in number more than sixty, though richly furnished, were vast
and barnlike, and there were numbers of them wholly unused and never
entered. There was a dearth of the modern improvements which Americans
have learned to regard as a necessity, and the plumbing, such as it was,
was not always in order. The place was approached by narrow streets,
along which the more uninviting aspects of Italy were not infrequent.
Youth and health and romance might easily have reveled in the place; but
it seems now not to have been the best choice for that frail invalid, to
whom cheer and brightness and freshness and the lovelier things of hope
meant always so much.--[Villa Quarto has recently been purchased by
Signor P. de Ritter Lahony, and thoroughly restored and refreshed and
beautified without the sacrifice of any of its romantic features.]
--Neither was the climate of Florence all that they had hoped for.
Their former sunny winter had misled them. Tradition to the contrary,
Italy--or at least Tuscany--is not one perpetual dream of sunlight. It
is apt to be damp and cloudy; it is likely to be cold. Writing to
MacAlister, Clemens said:
Florentine sunshine? Bless you, there isn't any. We have heavy fogs
every morning & rain all day. This house is not merely large, it is
vast--therefore I think it must always lack the home feeling.
His dissatisfaction in it began thus early, and it grew as one thing
after another went wrong. With it all, however, Mrs. Clemens seemed to
gain a little, and was glad to see company--a reasonable amount of
company--to brighten her surroundings.
Clemens began to work and wrote a story or two, and those lively articles
about the Italian language.
To Twichell he reported progress:
I have a handsome success in one way here. I left New York under a
sort of half-promise to furnish to the Harper magazines 30,000 words
this year. Magazining is difficult work because every third page
represents two pages that you have put in the fire (you are nearly
sure to start wrong twice), & so when you have finished an article &
are willing to let it go to print it represents only 10 cents a word
instead of 30.
But this time I had the curious (& unprecedented) luck to start
right in each case. I turned out 37,000 words in 25 working days; &
the reason I think I started right every time is, that not only have
I approved and accepted the several articles, but the court of last
resort (Livy) has done the same.
On many of the between-days I did some work, but only of an idle &
not necessarily necessary sort, since it will not see print until I
am dead. I shall continue this (an hour per day), but the rest of
the year I expect to put in on a couple of long books (half-
completed ones). No more magazine work hanging over my head.
This secluded & silent solitude, this clean, soft air, & this
enchanting view of Florence, the great valley & snow-mountains that
frame it, are the right conditions for work. They are a persistent
inspiration. To-day is very lovely; when the afternoon arrives
there will be a new picture every hour till dark, & each of them
divine--or progressing from divine to diviner & divinest. On this
(second) floor Clara's room commands the finest; she keeps a window
ten feet high wide open all the time & frames it in that. I go in
from time to time every day & trade sass for a look. The central
detail is a distant & stately snow-hump that rises above & behind
black-forested hills, & its sloping vast buttresses, velvety & sun-
polished, with purple shadows between, make the sort of picture we
knew that time we walked in Switzerland in the days of our youth.
From this letter, which is of January 7, 1904, we gather that the weather
had greatly improved, and with it Mrs. Clemens's health, notwithstanding
she had an alarming attack in December. One of the stories he had
finished was "The $30,000 Bequest." The work mentioned, which would not
see print until after his death, was a continuation of those
autobiographical chapters which for years he had been setting down as the
mood seized him.
He experimented with dictation, which he had tried long before with
Redpath, and for a time now found it quite to his liking. He dictated
some of his copyright memories, and some anecdotes and episodes; but his
amanuensis wrote only longhand, which perhaps hampered him, for he tired
of it by and by and the dictations were discontinued.
Among these notes there is one elaborate description of the Villa di
Quarto, dictated at the end of the winter, by which time we are not
surprised to find he had become much attached to the place. The Italian
spring was in the air, and it was his habit to grow fond of his
surroundings. Some atmospheric paragraphs of these impressions invite us