Part 9 out of 29
to get him a hearing for his work. He adds:
I shall be up myself some day, although my line is far apart from
yours. Whether you can do anything that I ask of you or not, I
shall be happy then, as I would be now, to do you any just and right
service.... Perhaps I have mistaken my vocation. Certainly, if I
was back with my rocker on the Tuolumne, I'd make it rattle livelier
than ever I did before. I have occasionally thought of London
Bridge, but the Thames is now so d---d cold and dirty, and besides I
can swim, and any attempt at drowning would, through the mere
instinct of self-preservation, only result in my swimming ashore and
ruining my best clothes; wherefore I should be worse off than ever.
Of course Mark Twain granted the favor Mulford asked, and a great deal
more, no doubt, for that was his way. Mulford came up, as he had
prophesied, but the sea in due time claimed him, though not in the way he
had contemplated. Years after he was one day found drifting off the
shores of Long Island in an open boat, dead.
Clemens made a number of notable dinner speeches during this second
London lecture period. His response to the toast of the "Ladies,"
delivered at the annual dinner of the Scottish Corporation of London, was
the sensational event of the evening.
He was obliged to decline an invitation to the Lord Mayor's dinner,
whereupon his Lordship wrote to urge him to be present at least at the
finale, when the welcome would be "none the less hearty," and bespoke his
attendance for any future dinners.
Clemens lectured steadily at the Hanover Square Rooms during the two
months of his stay in London, and it was only toward the end of this
astonishing engagement that the audience began to show any sign of
diminishing. Early in January he wrote to Twichell:
I am not going to the provinces because I cannot get halls that are large
enough. I always felt cramped in the Hanover Square Rooms, but I find
that everybody here speaks with awe and respect of that prodigious hall
and wonders that I could fill it so long.
I am hoping to be back in twenty days, but I have so much to go home to
and enjoy with a jubilant joy that it hardly seems possible that it can
come to pass in so uncertain a world as this.
In the same letter he speaks of attending an exhibition of Landseer's
paintings at the Royal Academy:
Ah, they are wonderfully beautiful! There are such rich moonlights
and dusks in the "Challenge" and the "Combat," and in that long
flight of birds across a lake in the subdued flush of sunset (or
sunrise, for no man can ever tell t'other from which in a picture,
except it has the filmy morning mist breathing itself up from the
water), and there is such a grave analytical profundity in the face
of the connoisseurs; and such pathos in the picture of a fawn
suckling its dead mother on a snowy waste, with only the blood in
the footprints to hint that she is not asleep. And the way that he
makes animals' flesh and blood, insomuch that if the room were
darkened ever so little, and a motionless living animal placed
beside the painted one, no man could tell which was which.
I interrupted myself here, to drop a line to Shirley Brooks and suggest a
cartoon for Punch. It was this: in one of the Academy saloons (in a
suite where these pictures are) a fine bust of Landseer stands on a
pedestal in the center of the room. I suggested that some of Landseer's
best known animals be represented as having come down out of their frames
in the moonlight and grouped themselves about the bust in mourning
He sailed January 13 (1874.), on the Paythia, and two weeks later was at
home, where all was going well. The Gilded Age had been issued a day or
two before Christmas, and was already in its third edition. By the end
of January 26,000 copies had been sold, a sale that had increased to
40,000 a month later. The new house was progressing, though it was by no
means finished. Mrs. Clemens was in good health. Little Susy was full
of such American activities as to earn the name of "The Modoc." The
promise of the year was bright.
THE REAL COLONEL SELLERS-GOLDEN DAYS
There are bound to be vexations, flies in the ointment, as we say. It
was Warner who conferred the name of Eschol Sellers on the chief figure
of the collaborated novel. Warner had known it as the name of an obscure
person, or perhaps he had only heard of it. At all events, it seemed a
good one for the character and had been adopted. But behold, the book
had been issued but a little while when there rose "out of the vasty
deeps" a genuine Eschol Sellers, who was a very respectable person. He
was a stout, prosperous-looking man, gray and about fifty-five years old.
He came into the American Publishing Company offices and asked permission
to look at the book. Mr. Bliss was out at the moment, but presently
arrived. The visitor rose and introduced himself.
"My name is Eschol Sellers," he said. "You have used it in one of your
publications. It has brought upon me a lot of ridicule. My people wish
me to sue you for $10,000 damages."
He had documents to prove his identity, and there was only one thing to
be done; he must be satisfied. Bliss agreed to recall as many of the
offending volumes as possible and change the name on the plates. He
contacted the authors, and the name Beriah was substituted for the
offending Eschol. It turned out that the real Sellers family was a large
one, and that the given name Eschol was not uncommon in its several
branches. This particular Eschol Sellers, curiously enough, was an
inventor and a promoter, though of a much more substantial sort than his
fiction namesake. He was also a painter of considerable merit, a writer
and an antiquarian. He was said to have been a grandson of the famous
painter, Rembrandt Peale.
Clemens vowed that he would not lecture in America that winter. The
irrepressible Redpath besieged him as usual, and at the end of January
Clemens telegraphed him, as he thought, finally. Following it with a
letter of explanation, he added:
"I said to her, 'There isn't money enough in America to hire me to leave
you for one day.'"
But Redpath was a persistent devil. He used arguments and held out
inducements which even Mrs. Clemens thought should not be resisted, and
Clemens yielded from time to time, and gave a lecture here and there
during February. Finally, on the 3d of March (1879.) he telegraphed his
"Why don't you congratulate me? I never expect to stand on a lecture
platform again after Thursday night."
Howells tells delightfully of a visit which he and Aldrich paid to
Hartford just at this period. Aldrich went to visit Clemens and Howells
to visit Charles Dudley Warner, Clemens coming as far as Springfield to
In the good-fellowship of that cordial neighborhood we had two such
days as the aging sun no longer shines on in his round. There was
constant running in and out of friendly houses where the lively
hosts and guests called one another by their Christian names or
nicknames, and no such vain ceremony as knocking or ringing at
doors. Clemens was then building the stately mansion in which he
satisfied his love of magnificence as if it had been another
sealskin coat, and he was at the crest of the prosperity which
enabled him to humor every whim or extravagance.
Howells tells how Clemens dilated on the advantages of subscription sale
over the usual methods of publication, and urged the two Boston authors
to prepare something which canvassers could handle.
"Why, any other means of bringing out a book is privately printing it,"
he declared, and added that his subscription books in Bliss's hands sold
right along, "just like the Bible."
On the way back to Boston Howells and Aldrich planned a subscription book
which would sell straight along, like the Bible. It was to be called
"Twelve Memorable Murders." They had dreamed two or three fortunes by
the time they had reached Boston, but the project ended there.
"We never killed a single soul," Howells said once to the writer of this
Clemens was always urging Howells to visit him after that. He offered
all sorts of inducements.
You will find us the most reasonable people in the world. We had
thought of precipitating upon you, George Warner and his wife one
day, Twichell and his jewel of a wife another day, and Charles
Perkins and wife another. Only those--simply members of our family
they are. But I'll close the door against them all, which will
"fix" all of the lot except Twichell, who will no more hesitate to
climb in the back window than nothing.
And you shall go to bed when you please, get up when you please,
talk when you please, read when you please.
A little later he was urging Howells or Aldrich, or both of them; to come
to Hartford to live.
Mr. Hall, who lives in the house next to Mrs. Stowe's (just where we
drive in to go to our new house), will sell for $16,000 or $17,000.
You can do your work just as well here as in Cambridge, can't you?
Come! Will one of you boys buy that house? Now, say yes.
Certainly those were golden, blessed days, and perhaps, as Howells says,
the sun does not shine on their like any more--not in Hartford, at least,
for the old group that made them no longer assembles there. Hartford
about this time became a sort of shrine for all literary visitors, and
for other notables as well, whether of America or from overseas. It was
the half-way place between Boston and New York, and pilgrims going in
either direction rested there. It is said that travelers arriving in
America, were apt to remember two things they wished to see: Niagara
Falls and Mark Twain. But the Falls had no such recent advertising
advantage as that spectacular success in London. Visitors were apt to
begin in Hartford.
Howells went with considerable frequency after that, or rather with
regularity, twice a year, or oftener, and his coming was always hailed
with great rejoicing. They visited and ate around at one place and
another among that pleasant circle of friends. But they were happiest
afterward together, Clemens smoking continually, "soothing his tense
nerves with a mild hot Scotch," says Howells, "while we both talked, and
talked, and tasked of everything in the heavens and on the earth, and the
waters under the earth. After two days of this talk I would come away
hollow, realizing myself best in the image of one of those locust-shells
which you find sticking to the bark of trees at the end of summer."
Sometimes Clemens told the story of his early life, "the inexhaustible,
the fairy, the Arabian Nights story, which I could never tire of even
when it began to be told over again."
BEGINNING "TOM SAWYER"
The Clemens household went to Quarry Farm in April, leaving the new house
once more in the hands of the architect and builders. It was costing a
vast sum of money, and there was a financial stress upon land. Mrs.
Clemens, always prudent, became a little uneasy at times, though without
warrant in those days, for her business statement showed that her
holdings were only a little less than a quarter of a million in her own
right, while her husband's books and lectures had been highly
remunerative, and would be more so. They were justified in living in
ample, even luxurious comfort, and how free from financial worries they
could have lived for the rest of their days!
Clemens, realizing his happiness, wrote Dr. Brown:
Indeed I am thankful for the wifey and the child, and if there is one
individual creature on all this footstool who is more thoroughly and
uniformly and, unceasingly happy than I am I defy the world to produce
him and prove him. In my opinion he don't exist. I was a mighty rough,
coarse, unpromising subject when Livy took charge of me, four years ago,
and I may still be to the rest of the world, but not to her. She has
made a very creditable job of me.
Truly fortune not only smiled, but laughed. Every mail brought great
bundles of letters that sang his praises. Robert Watt, who had
translated his books into Danish, wrote of their wide popularity among
his people. Madame Blanc (Th. Bentzon), who as early as 1872 had
translated The Jumping Frog into French, and published it, with extended
comment on the author and his work, in the 'Revue des deux mondes', was
said to be preparing a review of 'The Gilded Age'. All the world seemed
ready to do him honor.
Of course, one must always pay the price, usually a vexatious one. Bores
stopped him on the street to repeat ancient and witless stories.
Invented anecdotes, some of them exasperating ones, went the rounds of
the press. Impostors in distant localities personated him, or claimed to
be near relatives, and obtained favors, sometimes money, in his name.
Trivial letters, seeking benefactions of every kind, took the savor from
his daily mail. Letters from literary aspirants were so numerous that he
prepared a "form" letter of reply:
DEAR SIR OR MADAM,--Experience has not taught me very much, still it has
taught me that it is not wise to criticize a piece of literature, except
to an enemy of the person who wrote it; then if you praise it that enemy
admires--you for your honest manliness, and if you dispraise it he
admires you for your sound judgment.
Yours truly, S. L. C.
Even Orion, now in Keokuk on a chicken farm, pursued him with manuscripts
and proposals of schemes. Clemens had bought this farm for Orion, who
had counted on large and quick returns, but was planning new enterprises
before the first eggs were hatched. Orion Clemens was as delightful a
character as was ever created in fiction, but he must have been a trial
now and then to Mark Twain. We may gather something of this from a
letter written by the latter to his mother and sister at this period:
I can't "encourage" Orion. Nobody can do that conscientiously, for
the reason that before one's letter has time to reach him he is off
on some new wild-goose chase. Would you encourage in literature a
man who the older he grows the worse he writes?
I cannot encourage him to try the ministry, because he would change
his religion so fast that he would have to keep a traveling agent
under wages to go ahead of him to engage pulpits and board for him.
I cannot conscientiously encourage him to do anything but potter
around his little farm and put in his odd hours contriving new and
impossible projects at the rate of 365 a year which is his customary
average. He says he did well in Hannibal! Now there is a man who
ought to be entirely satisfied with the grandeurs, emoluments, and
activities of a hen farm.
If you ask me to pity Orion I can do that. I can do it every day
and all day long. But one can't "encourage" quicksilver; because
the instant you put your finger on it, it isn't there. No, I am
saying too much. He does stick to his literary and legal
aspirations, and he naturally would elect the very two things which
he is wholly and preposterously unfitted for. If I ever become
able, I mean to put Orion on a regular pension without revealing the
fact that it is a pension.
He did presently allow the pension, a liberal one, which continued
until neither Orion Clemens nor his wife had further earthly need of
Mark Twain for some time had contemplated one of the books that will
longest preserve his memory, 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'. The success
of 'Roughing It' naturally made him cast about for other autobiographical
material, and he remembered those days along the river-front in Hannibal
--his skylarking with Tom Blankenship, the Bowen boys, John Briggs, and
the rest. He had recognized these things as material--inviting material
it was--and now in the cool luxury of Quarry Farm he set himself to spin
the fabric of youth.
He found summer-time always his best period for literary effort, and on a
hillside just by the old quarry, Mrs. Crane had built for him that spring
a study--a little room of windows, somewhat suggestive of a pilot-house--
overlooking the long sweep of grass and the dreamlike city below. Vines
were planted that in the course of time would cover and embower it; there
was a tiny fireplace for chilly days. To Twichell, of his new retreat,
It is the loveliest study you ever saw. It is octagonal, with a peaked
roof, each face filled with a spacious window, and it sits perched in
complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of
valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a
cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four
chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the
lightning flashes behind the hills beyond, and the rain beats upon the
roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it.
He worked steadily there that summer. He would go up mornings, after
breakfast, remaining until nearly dinner-time, say until five o'clock or
after, for it was not his habit to eat luncheon. Other members of the
family did not venture near the place, and if he was urgently wanted they
blew a horn. Each evening he brought down his day's performance to read
to the assembled family. He felt the need of audience and approval.
Usually he earned the latter, but not always. Once, when for a day he
put aside other matters to record a young undertaker's love-affair, and
brought down the result in the evening, fairly bubbling with the joy of
it, he met with a surprise. The tale was a ghastly burlesque, its humor
of the most disheartening, unsavory sort. No one spoke during the
reading, nobody laughed: The air was thick with disapproval. His voice
lagged and faltered toward the end. When he finished there was heavy
silence. Mrs. Clemens was the only one who could speak:
"Youth, let's walk a little," she said.
The "Undertaker's Love Story" is still among the manuscripts of that
period, but it is unlikely that it will ever see the light of print.
--[This tale bears no relation to "The Undertaker's Story" in Sketches
New and Old.]
The Tom Sawyer tale progressed steadily and satisfactorily. Clemens
wrote Dr. Brown:
I have been writing fifty pages of manuscript a day, on an average,
for some time now, on a book (a story), and consequently have been
so wrapped up in it, and dead to everything else, that I have fallen
mighty short in letter-writing....
On hot days I spread the study wide open, anchor my papers down with
brickbats, and write in the midst of the hurricane, clothed in the
same thin linen we make shirts of.
He incloses some photographs in this letter.
The group [he says] represents the vine-clad carriageway in front of
the farm-house. On the left is Megalopis sitting in the lap of her
German nurse-maid. I am sitting behind them. Mrs. Crane is in the
center. Mr. Crane next to her. Then Mrs. Clemens and the new baby.
Her Irish nurse stands at her back. Then comes the table waitress,
a young negro girl, born free. Next to her is Auntie Cord (a
fragment of whose history I have just sent to a magazine). She is
the cook; was in slavery more than forty years; and the self-
satisfied wench, the last of the group, is the little baby's
American nurse-maid. In the middle distance my mother-in-law's
coachman (up on errand) has taken a position unsolicited to help out
the picture. No, that is not true. He was waiting there a minute
or two before the photographer came. In the extreme background,
under the archway, you glimpse my study.
The "new baby," "Bay," as they came to call her, was another little
daughter, born in June, a happy, healthy addition to the household.
In a letter written to Twichell we get a sweet summer picture of this
period, particularly of little sunny-haired, two-year-old Susy.
There is nothing selfish about the Modoc. She is fascinated with
the new baby. The Modoc rips and tears around outdoors most of the
time, and consequently is as hard as a pineknot and as brown as an
Indian. She is bosom friend to all the chickens, ducks, turkeys,
and guinea-hens on the place. Yesterday, as she marched along the
winding path that leads up the hill through the red-clover beds to
the summer-house, there was a long procession of these fowls
stringing contentedly after her, led by a stately rooster, who can
look over the Modoc's head. The devotion of these vassals has been
purchased with daily largess of Indian meal, and so the Modoc,
attended by her body-guard, moves in state wherever she goes.
There were days, mainly Sundays, when he did not work at all; peaceful
days of lying fallow, dreaming in shady places, drowsily watching little
Susy, or reading with Mrs. Clemens. Howells's "Foregone Conclusion" was
running in the Atlantic that year, and they delighted in it. Clemens
wrote the author:
I should think that this must be the daintiest, truest, most
admirable workmanship that was ever put on a story. The creatures
of God do not act out their natures more unerringly than yours do.
If your genuine stories can die I wonder by what right old Walter
Scott's artificialities shall continue to live.
At other times he found comfort in the society of Theodore Crane. These
two were always fond of each other, and often read together the books in
which they were mutually interested. They had portable-hammock
arrangements, which they placed side by side on the lawn, and read and
discussed through summer afternoons. The 'Mutineers of the Bounty' was
one of the books they liked best, and there was a story of an Iceland
farmer, a human document, that had an unfading interest. Also there were
certain articles in old numbers of the Atlantic that they read and
reread. 'Pepys' Diary', 'Two Years Before the Mast', and a book on the
Andes were reliable favorites. Mark Twain read not so many books, but
read a few books often. Those named were among the literature he asked
for each year of his return to Quarry Farm. Without them, the farm and
the summer would not be the same.
Then there was 'Lecky's History of European Morals'; there were periods
when they read Lecky avidly and discussed it in original and unorthodox
ways. Mark Twain found an echo of his own philosophies in Lecky. He
made frequent marginal notes along the pages of the world's moral
history--notes not always quotable in the family circle. Mainly,
however, they were short, crisp interjections of assent or disapproval.
In one place Lecky refers to those who have undertaken to prove that all
our morality is a product of experience, holding that a desire to obtain
happiness and to avoid pain is the only possible motive to action; the
reason, and the only reason, why we should perform virtuous actions being
"that on the whole such a course will bring us the greatest amount of
happiness." Clemens has indorsed these philosophies by writing on the
margin, "Sound and true." It was the philosophy which he himself would
always hold (though, apparently, never live by), and in the end would
embody a volume of his own.--[What Is Man? Privately printed in 1906.]--
In another place Lecky, himself speaking, says:
Fortunately we are all dependent for many of our pleasures on
others. Co-operation and organization are essential to our
happiness, and these are impossible without some restraint being
placed upon our appetites. Laws are made to secure this restraint,
and being sustained by rewards, and punishments they make it the
interest of the individual to regard that of the community.
"Correct!" comments Clemens. "He has proceeded from unreasoned
selfishness to reasoned selfishness. All our acts, reasoned and
unreasoned, are selfish." It was a conclusion he logically never
departed from; not the happiest one, it would seem, at first glance, but
one easier to deny than to disprove.
On the back of an old envelope Mark Twain set down his literary
declaration of this period.
"I like history, biography, travels, curious facts and strange
happenings, and science. And I detest novels, poetry, and theology."
But of course the novels of Howells would be excepted; Lecky was not
theology, but the history of it; his taste for poetry would develop
later, though it would never become a fixed quantity, as was his devotion
to history and science. His interest in these amounted to a passion.
AN "ATLANTIC" STORY AND A PLAY
The reference to "Auntie Cord" in the letter to Dr. Brown brings us to
Mark Twain's first contribution to the Atlantic Monthly. Howells in his
Recollections of his Atlantic editorship, after referring to certain
Western contributors, says:
Later came Mark Twain, originally of Missouri, but then
provisionally of Hartford, and now ultimately of the solar system,
not to say the universe. He came first with "A True Story," one of
those noble pieces of humanity with which the South has atoned
chiefly, if not solely, through him for all its despite to the
Clemens had long aspired to appear in the Atlantic, but such was his own
rating of his literature that he hardly hoped to qualify for its pages.
Twichell remembers his "mingled astonishment and triumph" when he was
invited to send something to the magazine.
He was obliged to "send something" once or twice before the acceptance of
"A True Story," the narrative of Auntie Cord, and even this acceptance
brought with it the return of a fable which had accompanied it, with the
explanation that a fable like that would disqualify the magazine for
every denominational reader, though Howells hastened to express his own
joy in it, having been particularly touched by the author's reference to
Sisyphus and Atlas as ancestors of the tumble-bug. The "True Story," he
said, with its "realest king of black talk," won him, and a few days
later he wrote again: "This little story delights me more and more. I
wish you had about forty of 'em."
And so, modestly enough, as became him, for the story was of the
simplest, most unpretentious sort, Mark Twain entered into the school of
In his letter to Howells, accompanying the MS., the author said:
I inclose also "A True Story," which has no humor in it. You can
pay as lightly as you choose for that if you want it, for it is
rather out of my line. I have not altered the old colored woman's
story, except to begin it at the beginning, instead of the middle,
as she did--and traveled both ways.
Howells in his Recollections tells of the business anxiety in the
Atlantic office in the effort to estimate the story's pecuniary value.
Clemens and Harte had raised literary rates enormously; the latter was
reputed to have received as much as five cents a word from affluent
newspapers! But the Atlantic was poor, and when sixty dollars was
finally decided upon for the three pages (about two and a half cents a
word) the rate was regarded as handsome--without precedent in Atlantic
history. Howells adds that as much as forty times this amount was
sometimes offered to Mark Twain in later years. Even in '74 he had
received a much higher rate than that offered by the Atlantic,--but no
acceptance, then, or later, ever made him happier, or seemed more richly
"A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It" was precisely what
it claimed to be.--[Atlantic Monthly for November, 1874; also included
in Sketches New and Old.]--Auntie Cord, the Auntie Rachel of that tale,
cook at Quarry Farm, was a Virginia negress who had been twice sold as a
slave, and was proud of the fact; particularly proud that she had brought
$1,000 on the block. All her children had been sold away from her, but
it was a long time ago, and now at sixty she was fat and seemingly
without care. She had told her story to Mrs. Crane, who had more than
once tried to persuade her to tell it to Clemens; but Auntie Cord was
reluctant. One evening, however, when the family sat on the front
veranda in the moonlight, looking down on the picture city, as was their
habit, Auntie Cord came around to say good night, and Clemens engaged her
in conversation. He led up to her story, and almost before she knew it
she was seated at his feet telling the strange tale in almost the exact
words in which it was set down by him next morning. It gave Mark Twain a
chance to exercise two of his chief gifts--transcription and portrayal.
He was always greater at these things than at invention. Auntie Cord's
story is a little masterpiece.
He wished to do more with Auntie Cord and her associates of the farm, for
they were extraordinarily interesting. Two other negroes on the place,
John Lewis and his wife (we shall hear notably of Lewis later), were not
always on terms of amity with Auntie Cord. They disagreed on religion,
and there were frequent battles in the kitchen. These depressed the
mistress of the house, but they gave only joy to Mark Twain. His
Southern raising had given him an understanding of their humors, their
native emotions which made these riots a spiritual gratification. He
would slip around among the shrubbery and listen to the noise and strife
of battle, and hug himself with delight. Sometimes they resorted to
missiles--stones, tinware--even dressed poultry which Auntie Cord was
preparing for the oven. Lewis was very black, Auntie Cord was a bright
mulatto, Lewis's' wife several shades lighter. Wherever the discussion
began it promptly shaded off toward the color-line and insult. Auntie
Cord was a Methodist; Lewis was a Dunkard. Auntie Cord was ignorant and
dogmatic; Lewis could read and was intelligent. Theology invariably led
to personality, and eventually to epithets, crockery, geology, and
victuals. How the greatest joker of the age did enjoy that summer
The fun was not all one-sided. An incident of that summer probably
furnished more enjoyment for the colored members of the household than it
did for Mark Twain. Lewis had some fowls, and among them was a
particularly pestiferous guinea-hen that used to get up at three in the
morning and go around making the kind of a noise that a guinea-hen must
like and is willing to get up early to hear. Mark Twain did not care for
it. He stood it as long as he could one morning, then crept softly from
the house to stop it.
It was a clear, bright night; locating the guinea-hen, he slipped up
stealthily with a stout stick. The bird was pouring out its heart,
tearing the moonlight to tatters. Stealing up close, Clemens made a
vicious swing with his bludgeon, but just then the guinea stepped forward
a little, and he missed. The stroke and his explosion frightened the
fowl, and it started to run. Clemens, with his mind now on the single
purpose of revenge, started after it. Around the trees, along the paths,
up and down the lawn, through gates and across the garden, out over the
fields, they raced, "pursuer and pursued." The guinea nor longer sang,
and Clemens was presently too exhausted to swear. Hour after hour the
silent, deadly hunt continued, both stopping to rest at intervals; then
up again and away. It was like something in a dream. It was nearly
breakfast-time when he dragged himself into the house at last, and the
guinea was resting and panting under a currant-bush. Later in the day
Clemens gave orders to Lewis to "kill and eat that guinea-hen," which
Lewis did. Clemens himself had then never eaten a guinea, but some years
later, in Paris, when the delicious breast of one of those fowls was
served him, he remembered and said:
"And to think, after chasing that creature all night, John Lewis got to
eat him instead of me."
The interest in Tom and Huck, or the inspiration for their adventures,
gave out at last, or was superseded by a more immediate demand. As early
as May, Goodman, in San Francisco, had seen a play announced there,
presenting the character of Colonel Sellers, dramatized by Gilbert S.
Densmore and played by John T. Raymond. Goodman immediately wrote
Clemens; also a letter came from Warner, in Hartford, who had noticed in
San Francisco papers announcements of the play. Of course Clemens would
take action immediately; he telegraphed, enjoining the performance. Then
began a correspondence with the dramatist and actor. This in time
resulted in an amicable arrangement, by which the dramatist agreed to
dispose of his version to Clemens. Clemens did not wait for it to
arrive, but began immediately a version of his own. Just how much or how
little of Densmore's work found its way into the completed play, as
presented by Raymond later, cannot be known now. Howells conveys the
impression that Clemens had no hand in its authorship beyond the
character of Sellers as taken from the book. But in a letter still
extant, which Clemens wrote to Howells at the time, he says:
I worked a month on my play, and launched it in New York last
Wednesday. I believe it will go. The newspapers have been
complimentary. It is simply a setting for one character, Colonel
Sellers. As a play I guess it will not bear critical assault in
The Warners are as charming as ever. They go shortly to the devil for a
year--that is, to Egypt.
Raymond, in a letter which he wrote to the Sun, November 3, 1874,
declared that "not one line" of Densmore's dramatization was used,
"except that which was taken bodily from The Gilded Age." During the
newspaper discussion of the matter, Clemens himself prepared a letter for
the Hartford Post. This letter was suppressed, but it still exists. In
it he says:
I entirely rewrote the play three separate and distinct times. I
had expected to use little of his [Densmore's] language and but
little of his plot. I do not think there are now twenty sentences
of Mr. Densmore's in the play, but I used so much of his plot that I
wrote and told him that I should pay him about as much more as I had
already paid him in case the play proved a success. I shall keep my
This letter, written while the matter was fresh in his mind, is
undoubtedly in accordance with the facts. That Densmore was fully
satisfied may be gathered from an acknowledgment, in which he says:
"Your letter reached me on the ad, with check. In this place permit me
to thank you for the very handsome manner in which you have acted in this
Warner, meantime, realizing that the play was constructed almost entirely
of the Mark Twain chapters of the book, agreed that his collaborator
should undertake the work and financial responsibilities of the dramatic
venture and reap such rewards as might result. Various stories have been
told of this matter, most of them untrue. There was no bitterness
between the friends, no semblance of an estrangement of any sort. Warner
very generously and promptly admitted that he was not concerned with the
play, its authorship, or its profits, whatever the latter might amount
to. Moreover, Warner was going to Egypt very soon, and his labors and
responsibilities were doubly sufficient as they stood.
Clemens's estimate of the play as a dramatic composition was correct
enough, but the public liked it, and it was a financial success from the
start. He employed a representative to travel with Raymond, to assist in
the management and in the division of spoil. The agent had instructions
to mail a card every day, stating the amount of his share in the profits.
Howells once arrived in Hartford just when this postal tide of fortune
was at its flood:
One hundred and fifty dollars--two hundred dollars--three hundred dollars
were the gay figures which they bore, and which he flaunted in the air,
before he sat down at the table, or rose from it to brandish, and then,
flinging his napkin in the chair, walked up and down to exult in.
Once, in later years, referring to the matter, Howells said
"He was never a man who cared anything about money except as a dream, and
he wanted more and more of it to fill out the spaces of this dream."
Which was a true word. Mark Twain with money was like a child with a
heap of bright pebbles, ready to pile up more and still more, then
presently to throw them all away and begin gathering anew.
THE NEW HOME
The Clemenses returned to Hartford to find their new house "ready,"
though still full of workmen, decorators, plumbers, and such other
minions of labor as make life miserable to those with ambitions for new
or improved habitations. The carpenters were still on the lower floor,
but the family moved in and camped about in rooms up-stairs that were
more or less free from the invader. They had stopped in New York ten
days to buy carpets and furnishings, and these began to arrive, with no
particular place to put them; but the owners were excited and happy with
it all, for it was the pleasant season of the year, and all the new
features of the house were fascinating, while the daily progress of the
decorators furnished a fresh surprise when they roamed through the rooms
at evening. Mrs. Clemens wrote home:
We are perfectly delighted with everything here and do so want you
all to see it.
Her husband, as he was likely to do, picked up the letter and finished
Livy appoints me to finish this; but how can a headless man perform
an intelligent function? I have been bully-ragged all day by the
builder, by his foreman, by the architect, by the tapestry devil who
is to upholster the furniture, by the idiot who is putting down the
carpets, by the scoundrel who is setting up the billiard-table (and
has left the balls in New York), by the wildcat who is sodding the
ground and finishing the driveway (after the sun went down), by a
book agent, whose body is in the back yard and the coroner notified.
Just think of this thing going on the whole day long, and I a man
who loathes details with all his heart! But I haven't lost my
temper, and I've made Livy lie down most of the time; could anybody
make her lie down all the time?
Warner wrote from Egypt expressing sympathy for their unfurnished state
of affairs, but added, "I would rather fit out three houses and fill them
with furniture than to fit out one 'dahabiyeh'." Warner was at that
moment undertaking his charmingly remembered trip up the Nile.
The new home was not entirely done for a long time. One never knows when
a big house like that--or a little house, for that matters done. But
they were settled at last, with all their beautiful things in place; and
perhaps there have been richer homes, possibly more artistic ones, but
there has never been a more charming home, within or without, than that
So many frequenters have tried to express the charm of that household.
None of them has quite succeeded, for it lay not so much in its
arrangement of rooms or their decorations or their outlook, though these
were all beautiful enough, but rather in the personality, the atmosphere;
and these are elusive things to convey in words. We can only see and
feel and recognize; we cannot translate them. Even Howells, with his
subtle touch, can present only an aspect here and there; an essence, as
it were, from a happy garden, rather than the fullness of its bloom.
As Mark Twain was unlike any other man that ever lived, so his house was
unlike any other house ever built. People asked him why he built the
kitchen toward the street, and he said:
"So the servants can see the circus go by without running out into the
But this was probably an after-thought. The kitchen end of the house
extended toward Farmington Avenue, but it was by no means unbeautiful.
It was a pleasing detail of the general scheme. The main entrance faced
at right angles with the street and opened to a spacious hall. In turn,
the hall opened to a parlor, where there was a grand piano, and to the
dining-room and library, and the library opened to a little conservatory,
semicircular in form, of a design invented by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The plants were set in the ground, and the flowering vines climbed
up the sides and overhung the roof above the silent spray of the
fountain companied by Callas and other waterloving lilies. There,
while we breakfasted, Patrick came in from the barn and sprinkled
the pretty bower, which poured out its responsive perfume in the
delicate accents of its varied blossoms.
In the library was an old carved mantel which Clemens and his wife had
bought in Scotland, salvage from a dismantled castle, and across the top
of the fireplace a plate of brass with the motto, "The ornament of a
house is the friends that frequent it," surely never more appropriately
There was the mahogany room, a large bedroom on the ground floor, and
upstairs were other spacious bedrooms and many baths, while everywhere
were Oriental rugs and draperies, and statuary and paintings. There was
a fireplace under a window, after the English pattern, so that in winter-
time one could at the same moment watch the blaze and the falling snow.
The library windows looked out over the valley with the little stream in
it, and through and across the tree-tops. At the top of the house was
what became Clemens's favorite retreat, the billiard-room, and here and
there were unexpected little balconies, which one could step out upon for
Below was a wide, covered veranda, the "ombra," as they called it,
secluded from the public eye--a favorite family gathering-place on
But a house might easily have all these things without being more than
usually attractive, and a house with a great deal less might have been as
full of charm; only it seemed just the proper setting for that particular
household, and undoubtedly it acquired the personality of its occupants.
Howells assures us that there never was another home like it, and we may
accept his statement. It was unique. It was the home of one of the most
unusual and unaccountable personalities in the world, yet was perfectly
and serenely ordered. Mark Twain was not responsible for this blissful
condition. He was its beacon-light; it was around Mrs. Clemens that its
affairs steadily revolved.
If in the four years and more of marriage Clemens had made advancement in
culture and capabilities, Olivia Clemens also had become something more
than the half-timid, inexperienced girl he had first known. In a way her
education had been no less notable than his. She had worked and studied,
and her half-year of travel and entertainment abroad had given her
opportunity for acquiring knowledge and confidence. Her vision of life
had vastly enlarged; her intellect had flowered; her grasp of
practicalities had become firm and sure.
In spite of her delicate physical structure, her continued uncertainty of
health, she capably undertook the management of their large new house,
and supervised its economies. Any one of her undertakings was sufficient
for one woman, but she compassed them all. No children had more careful
direction than hers. No husband had more devoted attendance and
companionship. No household was ever directed with a sweeter and gentler
grace, or with greater perfection of detail. When the great ones of the
world came to visit America's most picturesque literary figure she gave
welcome to them all, and filled her place at his side with such sweet and
capable dignity that those who came to pay their duties to him often
returned to pay even greater devotion to his companion. Says Howells:
She was, in a way, the loveliest person I have ever seen--the
gentlest, the kindest, without a touch of weakness; she united
wonderful tact with wonderful truth; and Clemens not only accepted
her rule implicitly, but he rejoiced, he gloried in it.
And once, in an interview with the writer of these chapters, Howells
declared: "She was not only a beautiful soul, but a woman of singular
intellectual power. I never knew any one quite like her." Then he
added: "Words cannot express Mrs. Clemens--her fineness, her delicate,
her wonderful tact with a man who was in some respects, and wished to be,
the most outrageous creature that ever breathed."
Howells meant a good many things by that, no doubt: Clemens's violent
methods, for one thing, his sudden, savage impulses, which sometimes
worked injustice and hardship for others, though he was first to discover
the wrong and to repair it only too fully. Then, too, Howells may have
meant his boyish teasing tendency to disturb Mrs. Clemens's exquisite
sense of decorum.
Once I remember seeing him come into his drawing-room at Hartford in a
pair of white cowskin slippers with the hair out, and do a crippled
colored uncle, to the joy of all beholders. I must not say all, for I
remember also the dismay of Mrs. Clemens, and her low, despairing cry of
He was continually doing such things as the "crippled colored uncle,";
partly for the very joy of the performance, but partly, too, to disturb
her serenity, to incur her reproof, to shiver her a little--"shock" would
be too strong a word. And he liked to fancy her in a spirit and attitude
of belligerence, to present that fancy to those who knew the measure of
her gentle nature. Writing to Mrs. Howells of a picture of herself in a
group, he said:
You look exactly as Mrs. Clemens does after she has said: "Indeed, I
do not wonder that you can frame no reply; for you know only too
well that your conduct admits of no excuse, palliation, or argument-
Clemens would pretend to a visitor that she had been violently indignant
over some offense of his; perhaps he would say:
"Well I contradicted her just now, and the crockery will begin to fly
She could never quite get used to this pleasantry, and a faint glow would
steal over her face. He liked to produce that glow. Yet always his
manner toward her was tenderness itself. He regarded her as some dainty
bit of porcelain, and it was said that he was always following her about
with a chair. Their union has been regarded as ideal. That is
Twichell's opinion and Howells's. The latter sums up:
Marriages are what the parties to them alone really know them to be,
but from the outside I should say that this marriage was one of the
THE WALK TO BOSTON
The new home became more beautiful to them as things found their places,
as the year deepened; and the wonder of autumn foliage lit up their
landscape. Sitting on one of the little upper balconies Mrs. Clemens
The atmosphere is very hazy, and it makes the autumn tints even more
soft and beautiful than usual. Mr. Twichell came for Mr. Clemens to
go walking with him; they returned at dinner-time, heavily laden
with autumn leaves.
And as usual Clemens, finding the letter unfinished, took up the story.
Twichell came up here with me to luncheon after services, and I went
back home with him and took Susy along in her little carriage. We
have just got home again, middle of afternoon, and Livy has gone to
rest and left the west balcony to me. There is a shining and most
marvelous miracle of cloud-effects mirrored in the brook; a picture
which began with perfection, and has momently surpassed it ever
since, until at last it is almost unendurably beautiful....
There is a cloud-picture in the stream now whose hues are as
manifold as those in an opal and as delicate as the tintings of a
sea-shell. But now a muskrat is swimming through it and
obliterating it with the turmoil of wavelets he casts abroad from
The customary Sunday assemblage of strangers is gathered together in
the grounds discussing the house.
Twichell and Clemens took a good many walks these days; long walks, for
Twichell was an athlete and Clemens had not then outgrown the Nevada
habit of pedestrian wandering. Talcott's Tower, a wooden structure about
five miles from Hartford, was one of their favorite objective points; and
often they walked out and back, talking so continuously, and so absorbed
in the themes of their discussions, that time and distance slipped away
almost unnoticed. How many things they talked of in those long walks!
They discussed philosophies and religions and creeds, and all the range
of human possibility and shortcoming, and all the phases of literature
and history and politics. Unorthodox discussions they were,
illuminating, marvelously enchanting, and vanished now forever.
Sometimes they took the train as far as Bloomfield, a little station on
the way, and walked the rest of the distance, or they took the train from
Bloomfield home. It seems a strange association, perhaps, the fellowship
of that violent dissenter with that fervent soul dedicated to church and
creed, but the root of their friendship lay in the frankness with which
each man delivered his dogmas and respected those of his companion.
It was during one of their walks to the tower that they planned a far
more extraordinary undertaking--nothing less, in fact, than a walk from
Hartford to Boston. This was early in November. They did not delay the
matter, for the weather was getting too uncertain.
Clemens wrote Redpath:
DEAR REDPATH,--Rev. J. H. Twichell and I expect to start at 8 o'clock
Thursday morning to walk to Boston in twenty four hours--or more. We
shall telegraph Young's Hotel for rooms Saturday night, in order to allow
for a low average of pedestrianism.
It was half past eight on Thursday morning, November 12, 1874, that they
left Twichell's house in a carriage, drove to the East Hartford bridge,
and there took to the road, Twichell carrying a little bag and Clemens a
basket of lunch.
The papers had got hold of it by this time, and were watching the result.
They did well enough that first day, following the old Boston stage road,
arriving at Westford about seven o'clock in the evening, twenty-eight
miles from the starting-point. There was no real hotel at Westford, only
a sort of tavern, but it afforded the luxury of rest. "Also," says
Twichell, in a memoranda of the trip, "a sublimely profane hostler whom
you couldn't jostle with any sort of mild remark without bringing down
upon yourself a perfect avalanche of oaths."
This was a joy to Clemens, who sat behind the stove, rubbing his lame
knees and fairly reveling in Twichell's discomfiture in his efforts to
divert the hostler's blasphemy. There was also a mellow inebriate there
who recommended kerosene for Clemens's lameness, and offered as testimony
the fact that he himself had frequently used it for stiffness in his
joints after lying out all night in cold weather, drunk: altogether it
was a notable evening.
Westford was about as far as they continued the journey afoot. Clemens
was exceedingly lame next morning, and had had a rather bad night; but he
swore and limped along six miles farther, to North Ashford, then gave it
up. They drove from North Ashford to the railway, where Clemens
telegraphed Redpath and Howells of their approach. To Redpath:
We have made thirty-five miles in less than five days. This
demonstrates that the thing can be done. Shall now finish by rail.
Did you have any bets on us?
Arrive by rail at seven o'clock, the first of a series of grand
annual pedestrian tours from Hartford to Boston to be performed by
us. The next will take place next year.
Redpath read his despatch to a lecture audience, with effect. Howells
made immediate preparation for receiving two way-worn, hungry men. He
telegraphed to Young's Hotel: "You and Twichell come right up to 37
Concord Avenue, Cambridge, near observatory. Party waiting for you."
They got to Howells's about nine o'clock, and the refreshments were
waiting. Miss Longfellow was there, Rose Hawthorne, John Fiske, Larkin
G. Mead, the sculptor, and others of their kind. Howells tells in his
book how Clemens, with Twichell, "suddenly stormed in," and immediately
began to eat and drink:
I can see him now as he stood up in the midst of our friends, with
his head thrown back, and in his hand a dish of those escalloped
oysters without which no party in Cambridge was really a party,
exulting in the tale of his adventure, which had abounded in the
most original characters and amusing incidents at every mile of
Clemens gave a dinner, next night, to Howells, Aldrich, Osgood, and the
rest. The papers were full of jokes concerning the Boston expedition;
some even had illustrations, and it was all amusing enough at the time.
Next morning, sitting in the writing-room of Young's Hotel, he wrote a
curious letter to Mrs. Clemens, though intended as much for Howells and
Aldrich as for her. It was dated sixty-one years ahead, and was a sort
of Looking Backwards, though that notable book had not yet been written.
It presupposed a monarchy in which the name of Boston has been changed to
"Limerick," and Hartford to "Dublin." In it, Twichell has become the
"Archbishop of Dublin," Howells "Duke of Cambridge," Aldrich "Marquis of
Ponkapog," Clemens the "Earl of Hartford." It was too whimsical and
delightful a fancy to be forgotten.--[This remarkable and amusing
document will be found under Appendix M, at the end of last volume.]
A long time afterward, thirty-four year, he came across this letter. He
"It seems curious now that I should have been dreaming dreams of a future
monarchy and never suspect that the monarchy was already present and the
Republic a thing of the past."
What he meant, was the political succession that had fostered those
commercial trusts which, in turn, had established party dominion.
To Howells, on his return, Clemens wrote his acknowledgments, and added:
Mrs. Clemens gets upon the verge of swearing, and goes tearing
around in an unseemly fury when I enlarge upon the delightful time
we had in Boston, and she not there to have her share. I have tried
hard to reproduce Mrs. Howells to her, and have probably not made a
shining success of it.
"OLD TIMES ON THE MISSISSIPPI"
Howells had been urging Clemens to do something more for the Atlantic,
specifically something for the January number. Clemens cudgeled his
brains, but finally declared he must give it up:
Mrs. Clemens has diligently persecuted me day by day with urgings to
go to work and do that something, but it's no use. I find I can't.
We are in such a state of worry and endless confusion that my head
Two hours later he sent another hasty line:
I take back the remark that I can't write for the January number,
for Twichell and I have had a long walk in the woods, and I got to
telling him about old Mississippi days of steam-boating glory and
grandeur as I saw them (during four years) from the pilot-house. He
said, "What a virgin subject to hurl into a magazine!" I hadn't
thought of that before. Would you like a series of papers to run
through three months or six or nine--or about four months, say?
Howells welcomed this offer as an echo of his own thought. He had come
from a piloting family himself, and knew the interest that Mark Twain
could put into such a series.
Acting promptly under the new inspiration, Clemens forthwith sent the
first chapter of that monumental, that absolutely unique, series of
papers on Mississippi River life, which to-day constitutes one of his
chief claims to immortality.
His first number was in the nature of an experiment. Perhaps, after all,
the idea would not suit the Atlantic readers.
"Cut it, scarify it, reject it, handle it with entire freedom," he wrote,
and awaited the result.
The "result" was that Howells expressed his delight:
The piece about the Mississippi is capital. It almost made the
water in our ice-pitcher muddy as I read it. I don't think I shall
meddle much with it, even in the way of suggestion. The sketch of
the low-lived little town was so good that I could have wished there
was more of it. I want the sketches, if you can make them, every
Mark Twain was now really interested in this new literary venture. He
was fairly saturated with memories. He was writing on the theme that lay
nearest to his heart. Within ten days he reported that he had finished
three of the papers, and had begun the fourth.
And yet I have spoken of nothing but piloting as a science so far, and I
doubt if I ever get beyond that portion of my subject. And I don't care
to. Any Muggins can write about old days on the Mississippi of five
hundred different kinds, but I am the only man alive that can scribble
about the piloting of that day, and no man has ever tried to scribble
about it yet. Its newness pleases me all the time, and it is about the
only new subject I know of.
He became so enthusiastic presently that he wanted to take Howells with
him on a trip down the Mississippi, with their wives for company, to go
over the old ground again and obtain added material enough for a book.
Howells was willing enough--agreed to go, in fact--but found it hard to
get away. He began to temporize and finally backed out. Clemens tried
to inveigle Osgood into the trip, but without success; also John Hay, but
Hay had a new baby at his house just then--"three days old, and with a
voice beyond price," he said, offering it as an excuse for non-
acceptance. So the plan for revisiting the river and the conclusion of
the book were held in abeyance for nearly seven years.
Those early piloting chapters, as they appeared in the Atlantic,
constituted Mark Twain's best literary exhibit up to that time. In some
respects they are his best literature of any time. As pictures of an
intensely interesting phase of life, they are so convincing, so real, and
at the same time of such extraordinary charm and interest, that if the
English language should survive a thousand years, or ten times as long,
they would be as fresh and vivid at the end of that period as the day
they were penned. In them the atmosphere of, the river and its
environment--its pictures, its thousand aspects of life--are reproduced
with what is no less than literary necromancy. Not only does he make you
smell the river you can fairly hear it breathe. On the appearance of the
first number John Hay wrote:
"It is perfect; no more nor less. I don't see how you do it," and added,
"you know what my opinion is of time not spent with you."
You are doing the science of piloting splendidly. Every word
interesting, and don't you drop the series till you've got every bit
of anecdote and reminiscence into it.
He let Clemens write the articles to suit himself. Once he said:
If I might put in my jaw at this point I should say, stick to actual
fact and character in the thing and give things in detail. All that
belongs to the old river life is novel, and is now mostly
historical. Don't write at any supposed Atlantic audience, but yarn
it off as if into my sympathetic ear.
Clemens replied that he had no dread of the Atlantic audience; he
declared it was the only audience that did not require a humorist to
"paint himself striped and stand on his head to amuse it."
The "Old Times" papers ran through seven numbers of the Atlantic. They
were reprinted everywhere by the newspapers, who in that day had little
respect for magazine copyrights, and were promptly pirated in book form
in Canada. They added vastly to Mark Twain's literary capital, though
Howells informs us that the Atlantic circulation did not thrive
proportionately, for the reason that the newspapers gave the articles to
their readers from advanced sheets of the magazine, even before the
latter could be placed on sale. It so happened that in the January
Atlantic, which contained the first of the Mississippi papers, there
appeared Robert Dale Owen's article on "Spiritualism," which brought such
humility both to author and publisher because of the exposure of the
medium Katie King, which came along while the magazine was in press.
Clemens has written this marginal note on the opening page of the copy at
While this number of the Atlantic was being printed the Katie King
manifestations were discovered to be the cheapest, wretchedest shams and
frauds, and were exposed in the newspapers. The awful humiliation of it
unseated Robert Dale Owen's reason, and he died in the madhouse.
A TYPEWRITER, AND A JOKE ON ALDRICH
It was during the trip to Boston with Twichell that Mark Twain saw for
the first time what was then--a brand-new invention, a typewriter; or it
may have been during a subsequent visit, a week or two later. At all
events, he had the machine and was practising on it December 9, 1874, for
he wrote two letters on it that day, one to Howells and the other to
Orion Clemens. In the latter he says:
I am trying to get the hang of this new-fangled writing-machine, but
am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first
attempt I ever have made, and yet I perceive that I shall soon
easily acquire a fine facility in its use. I saw the thing in
Boston the other day and was greatly taken with it.
He goes on to explain the new wonder, and on the whole his first attempt
is a very creditable performance. With his usual enthusiasm over an
innovation, he believes it is going to be a great help to him, and
proclaims its advantages.
This is the letter to Howells, with the errors preserved:
You needn't answer this; I am only practicing to get three; anothe
slip-up there; only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing. I
notice I miss fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters &
punctuation marks. I am simply using you for a target to bang at.
Blame my cats, but this thing requires genius in order to work it
In an article written long after he tells how he was with Nasby when he
first saw the machine in Boston through a window, and how they went in to
see it perform. In the same article he states that he was the first
person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature, and that he
thinks the story of Tom Sawyer was the first type-copied manuscript.
--[Tom Sawyer was not then complete, and had been laid aside. The first
type-copied manuscript was probably early chapters of the Mississippi
story, two discarded typewritten pages of which still exist.]
The new enthusiasm ran its course and died. Three months later, when the
Remington makers wrote him for a recommendation of the machine, he
replied that he had entirely stopped using it. The typewriter was not
perfect in those days, and the keys did not always respond readily.
He declared it was ruining his morals--that it made him "want to swear."
He offered it to Howells because, he said, Howells had no morals anyway.
Howells hesitated, so Clemens traded the machine to Bliss for a side-
saddle. But perhaps Bliss also became afraid of its influence, for in
due time he brought it back. Howells, again tempted, hesitated, and this
time was lost. What eventually became of the machine is not history.
One of those, happy Atlantic dinners which Howells tells of came about
the end of that year. It was at the Parker House, and Emerson was there;
and Aldrich, and the rest of that group.
"Don't you dare to refuse the invitation," said Howells, and naturally
Clemens didn't, and wrote back:
I want you to ask Mrs. Howells to let you stay all night at the
Parker House and tell lies and have an improving time, and take
breakfast with me in the morning. I will have a good room for you
and a fire. Can't you tell her it always makes you sick to go home
late at night or something like that? That sort of thing arouses
Mrs. Clemens's sympathies easily.
Two memories of that old dinner remain to-day. Aldrich and Howells were
not satisfied with the kind of neckties that Mark Twain wore (the old-
fashioned black "string" tie, a Western survival), so they made him a
present of two cravats when he set out on his return for Hartford. Next
day he wrote:
You and Aldrich have made one woman deeply and sincerely grateful--
Mrs. Clemens. For months--I may even say years--she has shown an
unaccountable animosity toward my necktie, even getting up in the
night to take it with the tongs and blackguard it, sometimes also
getting so far as to threaten it.
When I said you and Aldrich had given me two new neckties, and that
they were in a paper in my overcoat pocket, she was in a fever of
happiness until she found I was going to frame them; then all the
venom in her nature gathered itself together; insomuch that I, being
near to a door, went without, perceiving danger.
It is recorded that eventually he wore the neckties, and returned no more
to the earlier mode.
Another memory of that dinner is linked to a demand that Aldrich made of
Clemens that night, for his photograph. Clemens, returning to Hartford,
put up fifty-two different specimens in as many envelopes, with the idea
of sending one a week for a year. Then he concluded that this was too
slow a process, and for a week sent one every morning to "His Grace of
Aldrich stood it for a few days, then protested. "The police," he said,
"are in the habit of swooping down upon a publication of that sort."
On New-Year's no less than twenty pictures came at once--photographs and
prints of Mark Twain, his house, his family, his various belongings.
Aldrich sent a warning then that the perpetrator of this outrage was
known to the police as Mark Twain, alias "The Jumping Frog," a well-known
California desperado, who would be speedily arrested and brought to
Ponkapog to face his victim. This letter was signed "T. Bayleigh, Chief
of Police," and on the outside of the envelope there was a statement that
it would be useless for that person to send any more mail-matter, as the
post-office had been blown up. The jolly farce closed there. It was the
sort of thing that both men enjoyed.
Aldrich was writing a story at this time which contained some Western
mining incident and environment. He sent the manuscript to Clemens for
"expert" consideration and advice. Clemens wrote him at great length and
in careful detail. He was fond of Aldrich, regarding him as one of the
most brilliant of men. Once, to Robert Louis Stevenson, he said:
"Aldrich has never had his peer for prompt and pithy and witty and
humorous sayings. None has equaled him, certainly none has
surpassed him, in the felicity of phrasing with which he clothed
these children of his fancy. Aldrich is always brilliant; he can't
help it; he is a fire-opal set round with rose diamonds; when he is
not speaking you know that his dainty fancies are twinkling and
glimmering around in him; when he speaks the diamonds flash. Yes,
he is always brilliant, he will always be brilliant; he will be
brilliant in hell-you will see."
Stevenson, smiling a chuckly smile, said, "I hope not."
"Well, you will, and he will dim even those ruddy fires and look like a
transfigured Adonis backed against a pink sunset."--[North American
Review, September, 1906.]
RAYMOND, MENTAL TELEGRAPHY, ETC.
The Sellers play was given in Hartford, in January (1875), to as many
people as could crowd into the Opera House. Raymond had reached the
perfection of his art by that time, and the townsmen of Mark Twain saw
the play and the actor at their best. Kate Field played the part of
Laura Hawkins, and there was a Hartford girl in the company; also a
Hartford young man, who would one day be about as well known to playgoers
as any playwright or actor that America has produced. His name was
William Gillette, and it was largely due to Mark Twain that the author of
Secret Service and of the dramatic "Sherlock Holmes" got a fair public
start. Clemens and his wife loaned Gillette the three thousand dollars
which tided him through his period of dramatic education. Their faith in
his ability was justified.
Hartford would naturally be enthusiastic on a first "Sellers-Raymond"
night. At the end of the fourth act there was an urgent demand for the
author of the play, who was supposed to be present. He was not there in
person, but had sent a letter, which Raymond read:
MY DEAR RAYMOND,--I am aware that you are going to be welcomed to our
town by great audiences on both nights of your stay there, and I beg to
add my hearty welcome also, through this note. I cannot come to the
theater on either evening, Raymond, because there is something so
touching about your acting that I can't stand it.
(I do not mention a couple of colds in my head, because I hardly mind
them as much as I would the erysipelas, but between you and me I would
prefer it if they were rights and lefts.)
And then there is another thing. I have always taken a pride in earning
my living in outside places and spending it in Hartford; I have said that
no good citizen would live on his own people, but go forth and make it
sultry for other communities and fetch home the result; and now at this
late day I find myself in the crushed and bleeding position of fattening
myself upon the spoils of my brethren! Can I support such grief as this?
(This is literary emotion, you understand. Take the money at the door
just the same.)
Once more I welcome you to Hartford, Raymond, but as for me let me stay
at home and blush.
Yours truly, MARK.
The play was equally successful wherever it went. It made what in that
day was regarded as a fortune. One hundred thousand dollars is hardly
too large an estimate of the amount divided between author and actor.
Raymond was a great actor in that part, as he interpreted it, though he
did not interpret it fully, or always in its best way. The finer side,
the subtle, tender side of Colonel Sellers, he was likely to overlook.
Yet, with a natural human self-estimate, Raymond believed he had created
a much greater part than Mark Twain had written. Doubtless from the
point of view of a number of people this was so, though the idea, was
naturally obnoxious to Clemens. In course of time their personal
Clemens that winter gave another benefit for Father Hawley. In reply to
an invitation to appear in behalf of the poor, he wrote that he had quit
the lecture field, and would not return to the platform unless driven
there by lack of bread. But he added:
By the spirit of that remark I am debarred from delivering this proposed
lecture, and so I fall back upon the letter of it, and emerge upon the
platform for this last and final time because I am confronted by a lack
of bread-among Father Hawley's flock.
He made an introductory speech at an old-fashioned spelling-bee, given at
the Asylum Hill Church; a breezy, charming talk of which the following is
I don't see any use in spelling a word right--and never did. I mean
I don't see any use in having a uniform and arbitrary way of
spelling words. We might as well make all clothes alike and cook
all dishes alike. Sameness is tiresome; variety is pleasing. I
have a correspondent whose letters are always a refreshment to me;
there is such a breezy, unfettered originality about his
orthography. He always spells "kow" with a large "K." Now that is
just as good as to spell it with a small one. It is better. It
gives the imagination a broader field, a wider scope. It suggests
to the mind a grand, vague, impressive new kind of a cow.
He took part in the contest, and in spite of his early reputation,
was spelled down on the word "chaldron," which he spelled
"cauldron," as he had been taught, while the dictionary used as
authority gave that form as second choice.
Another time that winter, Clemens read before the Monday Evening Club a
paper on "Universal Suffrage," which is still remembered by the surviving
members of that time. A paragraph or two will convey its purport:
Our marvelous latter-day statesmanship has invented universal
suffrage. That is the finest feather in our cap. All that we
require of a voter is that he shall be forked, wear pantaloons
instead of petticoats, and bear a more or less humorous resemblance
to the reported image of God. He need not know anything whatever;
he may be wholly useless and a cumberer of the earth; he may even be
known to be a consummate scoundrel. No matter. While he can steer
clear of the penitentiary his vote is as weighty as the vote of a
president, a bishop, a college professor, a merchant prince. We
brag of our universal, unrestricted suffrage; but we are shams after
all, for we restrict when we come to the women.
The Monday Evening Club was an organization which included the best minds
of Hartford. Dr. Horace Bushnell, Prof. Calvin E. Stowe, and J. Hammond
Trumbull founded it back in the sixties, and it included such men as Rev.
Dr. Parker, Rev. Dr. Burton, Charles H. Clark, of the Courant, Warner,
and Twichell, with others of their kind. Clemens had been elected after
his first sojourn in England (February, 1873), and had then read a paper
on the "License of the Press." The club met alternate Mondays, from
October to May. There was one paper for each evening, and, after the
usual fashion of such clubs, the reading was followed by discussion.
Members of that time agree that Mark Twain's association with the club
had a tendency to give it a life, or at least an exhilaration, which it
had not previously known. His papers were serious in their purpose he
always preferred to be serious--but they evidenced the magic gift which
made whatever he touched turn to literary jewelry.
Psychic theories and phenomena always attracted Mark Twain. In thought-
transference, especially, he had a frank interest--an interest awakened
and kept alive by certain phenomena--psychic manifestations we call them
now. In his association with Mrs. Clemens it not infrequently happened
that one spoke the other's thought, or perhaps a long-procrastinated
letter to a friend would bring an answer as quickly as mailed; but these
are things familiar to us all. A more startling example of thought-
communication developed at the time of which we are writing, an example
which raised to a fever-point whatever interest he may have had in the
subject before. (He was always having these vehement interests--rages we
may call them, for it would be inadequate to speak of them as fads,
inasmuch as they tended in the direction of human enlightenment, or
progress, or reform.)
Clemens one morning was lying in bed when, as he says, suddenly a red-hot
new idea came whistling down into my camp." The idea was that the time
was ripe for a book that would tell the story of the Comstock-of the
Nevada silver mines. It seemed to him that the person best qualified for
the work was his old friend William Wright--Dan de Quille. He had not
heard from Dan, or of him, for a long time, but decided to write and urge
him to take up the idea. He prepared the letter, going fully into the
details of his plan, as was natural for him to do, then laid it aside
until he could see Bliss and secure his approval of the scheme from a
publishing standpoint. Just a week later, it was the 9th of March, a
letter came--a thick letter bearing a Nevada postmark, and addressed in a
handwriting which he presently recognized as De Quille's. To a visitor
who was present he said:
"Now I will do a miracle. I will tell you everything this letter
contains--date, signature, and all without breaking the seal."
He stated what he believed was in the letter. Then he opened it and
showed that he had correctly given its contents, which were the same in
all essential details as those of his own letter, not yet mailed.
In an article on "Mental Telegraphy" (he invented the name) he relates
this instance, with others, and in 'Following the Equator' and elsewhere
he records other such happenings. It was one of the "mysteries" in which
he never lost interest, though his concern in it in time became a passive
The result of the De Quille manifestation, however, he has not recorded.
Clemens immediately wrote, urging Dan to come to Hartford for an extended
visit. De Quille came, and put in a happy spring in his old comrade's
luxurious home, writing 'The Big Bonanza', which Bliss successfully
published a year later.
Mark Twain was continually inviting old friends to share his success with
him. Any comrade of former days found welcome in his home as often as he
would come, and for as long as he would stay. Clemens dropped his own
affairs to advise in their undertakings; and if their undertakings were
literary he found them a publisher. He did this for Joaquin Miller and
for Bret Harte, and he was always urging Goodman to make his house a
The Beecher-Tilton trial was the sensation of the spring of 1875, and
Clemens, in common with many others, was greatly worked up over it. The
printed testimony had left him decidedly in doubt as to Beecher's
innocence, though his blame would seem to have been less for the possible
offense than because of the great leader's attitude in the matter. To
Twichell he said:
"His quibbling was fatal. Innocent or guilty, he should have made an
unqualified statement in the beginning."
Together they attended one of the sessions, on a day when Beecher himself
was on the witness-stand. The tension was very great; the excitement was
painful. Twichell thought that Beecher appeared well under the stress of
examination and was deeply sorry for him; Clemens was far from convinced.
The feeling was especially strong in Hartford, where Henry Ward Beecher's
relatives were prominent, and animosities grew out of it. They are all
forgotten now; most of those who cherished bitterness are dead. Any
feeling that Clemens had in the matter lasted but a little while.
Howells tells us that when he met him some months after the trial ended,
and was tempted to mention it, Clemens discouraged any discussion of the
event. Says Howells:
He would only say the man had suffered enough; as if the man had
expiated his wrong, and he was not going to do anything to renew his
penalty. I found that very curious, very delicate. His continued
blame could not come to the sufferer's knowledge, but he felt it his
duty to forbear it.
It was one hundred years, that 19th of April, since the battles of
Lexington and Concord, and there was to be a great celebration. The
Howellses had visited Hartford in March, and the Clemenses were invited
to Cambridge for the celebration. Only Clemens could go, which in the
event proved a good thing perhaps; for when Clemens and Howells set out
for Concord they did not go over to Boston to take the train, but decided
to wait for it at Cambridge. Apparently it did not occur to them that
the train would be jammed the moment the doors were opened at the Boston
station; but when it came along they saw how hopeless was their chance.
They had special invitations and passage from Boston, but these were only
mockeries now. It yeas cold and chilly, and they forlornly set out in
search of some sort of a conveyance. They tramped around in the mud and
raw wind, but vehicles were either filled or engaged, and drivers and
occupants were inclined to jeer at them. Clemens was taken with an acute
attack of indigestion, which made him rather dismal and savage. Their
effort finally ended with his trying to run down a tally-ho which was
empty inside and had a party of Harvard students riding atop. The
students, who did not recognize their would-be fare, enjoyed the race.
They encouraged their pursuer, and perhaps their driver, with merriment
and cheers. Clemens was handicapped by having to run in the slippery
mud, and soon "dropped by the wayside."
"I am glad," says Howells, "I cannot recall what he said when he came
back to me."
They hung about a little longer, then dragged themselves home, slipped
into the house, and built up a fine, cheerful fire on the hearth. They
proposed to practise a deception on Mrs. Howells by pretending they had
been to Concord and returned. But it was no use. Their statements were
flimsy, and guilt was plainly written on their faces. Howells recalls
this incident delightfully, and expresses the belief that the humor of
the situation was finally a greater pleasure to Clemens than the actual
visit to Concord would have been.
Twichell did not have any such trouble in attending the celebration. He
had adventures (he was always having adventures), but they were of a more
successful kind. Clemens heard the tale of them when he returned to
Hartford. He wrote it to Howells:
Joe Twichell preached morning and evening here last Sunday; took
midnight train for Boston; got an early breakfast and started by
rail at 7.30 A.M. for Concord; swelled around there until 1 P.M.,
seeing everything; then traveled on top of a train to Lexington; saw
everything there; traveled on top of a train to Boston (with
hundreds in company), deluged with dust, smoke, and cinders; yelled
and hurrahed all the way like a school-boy; lay flat down, to dodge
numerous bridges, and sailed into the depot howling with excitement
and as black as a chimneysweep; got to Young's Hotel at 7 P.M.; sat
down in the reading-room and immediately fell asleep; was promptly
awakened by a porter, who supposed he was drunk; wandered around an
hour and a half; then took 9 P.M. train, sat down in a smoking-car,
and remembered nothing more until awakened by conductor as the train
came into Hartford at 1.30 A.M. Thinks he had simply a glorious
time, and wouldn't have missed the Centennial for the world. He
would have run out to see us a moment at Cambridge but he was too
dirty. I wouldn't have wanted him there; his appalling energy would
have been an insufferable reproach to mild adventurers like you and
CONCLUDING "TOM SAWYER"--MARK TWAIN's "EDITORS"
Meantime the "inspiration tank," as Clemens sometimes called it, had
filled up again. He had received from somewhere new afflatus for the
story of Tom and Huck, and was working on it steadily. The family
remained in Hartford, and early in July, under full head of steam, he
brought the story to a close. On the 5th he wrote Howells:
I have finished the story and didn't take the chap beyond boyhood.
I believe it would be fatal to do it in any shape but
autobiographically, like Gil Blas. I perhaps made a mistake in not
writing it in the first person. If I went on now, and took him into
manhood, he would just lie, like all the one-horse men in
literature, and the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him.
It is not a boy's book at all. It will only be read by adults. It
is only written for adults.
He would like to see the story in the Atlantic, he said, but doubted the
wisdom of serialization.
"By and by I shall take a boy of twelve and run him through life (in the
first person), but not Tam Sawyer, he would not make a good character for
it." From which we get the first glimpse of Huck's later adventures.
Of course he wanted Howells to look at the story. It was a tremendous
favor to ask, he said, and added, "But I know of no other person whose
judgment I could venture to take, fully and entirely. Don't hesitate to
say no, for I know how your time is taxed, and I would have honest need
to blush if you said yes."
"Send on your MS.," wrote Howells. "You've no idea what I may ask you to
do for me some day."
But Clemens, conscience-stricken, "blushed and weakened," as he said.
When Howells insisted, he wrote:
But I will gladly send it to you if you will do as follows:
dramatize it, if you perceive that you can, and take, for your
remuneration, half of the first $6,000 which I receive for its
representation on the stage. You could alter the plot entirely if
you chose. I could help in the work most cheerfully after you had
arranged the plot. I have my eye upon two young girls who can play
Tom and Huck.
Howells in his reply urged. Clemens to do the playwriting himself. He
could never find time, he said, and he doubted whether he could enter
into the spirit of another man's story. Clemens did begin a
dramatization then or a little later, but it was not completed. Mrs.
Clemens, to whom he had read the story as it proceeded, was as anxious as
her husband for Howells's opinion, for it was the first extended piece of
fiction Mark Twain had undertaken alone. He carried the manuscript over
to Boston himself, and whatever their doubts may have been, Howells's
subsequent letter set them at rest. He wrote that he had sat up till one
in the morning to get to the end of it, simply because it was impossible
to leave off.
It is altogether the best boy story I ever read. It will be an immense
success, but I think you ought to treat it explicitly as a boy's story;
grown-ups will enjoy it just as much if you do, and if you should put it
forth as a story of boys' character from the grown-up point of view you
give the wrong key to it.
Viewed in the light of later events, there has never been any better
literary opinion than that--none that has been more fully justified.
Clemens was delighted. He wrote concerning a point here and there, one
inquiry referring to the use of a certain strong word. Howells's reply
left no doubt:
I'd have that swearing out in an instant. I suppose I didn't notice
it because the location was so familiar to my Western sense, and so
exactly the thing Huck would say, but it won't do for children.
It was in the last chapter, where Huck relates to Tom the sorrows of
reform and tells how they comb him "all to thunder." In the original,
"They comb me all to hell," says Huck; which statement, one must agree,
is more effective, more the thing Huck would be likely to say.
Clemens's acknowledgment of the correction was characteristic:
Mrs. Clemens received the mail this morning, and the next minute she
lit into the study with danger in her eye and this demand on her
tongue, "Where is the profanity Mr. Howells speaks of?" Then I had
to miserably confess that I had left it out when reading the MS. to
her. Nothing but almost inspired lying got me out of this scrape
with my scalp. Does your wife give you rats, like that, when you go
a little one-sided?
The Clemens family did not, go to Elmira that year. The children's
health seemed to require the sea-shore, and in August they went to
Bateman's Point, Rhode Island, where Clemens most of the time played
tenpins in an alley that had gone to ruin. The balls would not stay on
the track; the pins stood at inebriate angles. It reminded him of the
old billiard-tables of Western mining-camps, and furnished the same
uncertainty of play. It was his delight, after he had become accustomed
to the eccentricities of the alley, to invite in a stranger and watch his
suffering and his frantic effort to score.
"SKETCHES NEW AND OLD"
The long-delayed book of Sketches, contracted for five years before, was
issued that autumn. "The Jumping Frog," which he had bought from Webb,
was included in the volume, also the French translation which Madame
Blanc (Th. Bentzon) had made for the Revue des deux mondes, with Mark
Twain's retranslation back into English, a most astonishing performance
in its literal rendition of the French idiom. One example will suffice
here. It is where the stranger says to Smiley, "I don't see no p'ints
about that frog that's any better'n any other frog."
Says the French, retranslated:
"Eh bien! I no saw not that that frog had nothing of better than each
frog" (Je ne vois pas que cette grenouille ait mieux qu'aucune
grenouille). (If that isn't grammar gone to seed then I count myself no
"Possible that you not it saw not," said Smiley; "possible that you you
comprehend frogs; possible that you not you there comprehend nothing;
possible that you had of the experience, and possible that you not be but
an amateur. Of all manner (de toute maniere) I bet forty dollars that
she batter in jumping, no matter which frog of the county of Calaveras."
He included a number of sketches originally published with the Frog, also
a selection from the "Memoranda" and Buffalo Express contributions, and
he put in the story of Auntie Cord, with some matter which had never
hitherto appeared. True Williams illustrated the book, but either it
furnished him no inspiration or he was allowed too much of another sort,
for the pictures do not compare with his earlier work.
Among the new matter in the book were-"Some Fables for Good Old Boys and
Girls," in which certain wood creatures are supposed to make a scientific
excursion into a place at some time occupied by men. It is the most
pretentious feature of the book, and in its way about as good as any.
Like Gulliver's Travels, its object was satire, but its result is also
Clemens was very anxious that Howells should be first to review this
volume. He had a superstition that Howells's verdicts were echoed by the
lesser reviewers, and that a book was made or damned accordingly; a
belief hardly warranted, for the review has seldom been written that
meant to any book the difference between success and failure. Howells's
review of Sketches may be offered as a case in point. It was highly
commendatory, much more so than the notice of the 'Innocents' had been,
or even that of 'Roughing It', also more extensive than the latter. Yet
after the initial sale of some twenty thousand copies, mainly on the
strength of the author's reputation, the book made a comparatively poor
showing, and soon lagged far behind its predecessors.
We cannot judge, of course, the taste of that day, but it appears now an
unattractive, incoherent volume. The pictures were absurdly bad, the
sketches were of unequal merit. Many of them are amusing, some of them
delightful, but most of them seem ephemeral. If we except "The Jumping
Frog," and possibly "A True Story" (and the latter was altogether out of
place in the collection), there is no reason to suppose that any of its
contents will escape oblivion. The greater number of the sketches, as
Mark Twain himself presently realized and declared, would better have
been allowed to die.
Howells did, however, take occasion to point out in his review, or at
least to suggest, the more serious side of Mark Twain. He particularly
called attention to "A True Story," which the reviewers, at the time of
its publication in the Atlantic, had treated lightly, fearing a lurking
joke in it; or it may be they had not read it, for reviewers are busy
people. Howells spoke of it as the choicest piece of work in the volume,
and of its "perfect fidelity to the tragic fact." He urged the reader to
turn to it again, and to read it as a "simple dramatic report of
reality," such as had been equaled by no other American writer.
It was in this volume of sketches that Mark Twain first spoke in print
concerning copyright, showing the absurd injustice of discriminating
against literary ownership by statute of limitation. He did this in the
form of an open petition to Congress, asking that all property, real and
personal, should be put on the copyright basis, its period of ownership
limited to a "beneficent term of forty-two years." Generally this was
regarded as a joke, as in a sense it was; but like most of Mark Twain's
jokes it was founded on reason and justice.
The approval with which it was received by his literary associates led
him to still further flights. He began a determined crusade for
international copyright laws. It was a transcendental beginning, but it
contained the germ of what, in the course of time, he would be largely
instrumental in bringing to a ripe and magnificent conclusion. In this
first effort he framed a petition to enact laws by which the United
States would declare itself to be for right and justice, regardless of
other nations, and become a good example to the world by refusing to
pirate the books of any foreign author. He wrote to Howells, urging him
to get Lowell, Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, and others to sign this
I will then put a gentlemanly chap under wages, and send him personally
to every author of distinction in the country and corral the rest of the
signatures. Then I'll have the whole thing lithographed (about one
thousand copies), and move upon the President and Congress in person, but
in the subordinate capacity of the party who is merely the agent of
better and wiser men, or men whom the country cannot venture to laugh at.
I will ask the President to recommend the thing in his message (and if he
should ask me to sit down and frame the paragraph for him I should blush,
but still I would frame it). And then if Europe chooses to go on
stealing from us we would say, with noble enthusiasm, "American lawmakers
do steal, but not from foreign authors--not from foreign authors,"....
If we only had some God in the country's laws, instead of being in such a
sweat to get Him into the Constitution, it would be better all around.
The petition never reached Congress. Holmes agreed to sign it with a
smile, and the comment that governments were not in the habit of setting
themselves up as high moral examples, except for revenue. Longfellow
also pledged himself, as did a few others; but if there was any general
concurrence in the effort there is no memory of it now. Clemens
abandoned the original idea, but remained one of the most persistent and
influential advocates of copyright betterment, and lived to see most of
his dream fulfilled.--[For the petition concerning copyright term in the
United States, see Sketches New and Old. For the petition concerning
international copyright and related matters, see Appendix N, at the end
of last volume.]
It was about this period that Mark Twain began to exhibit openly his more
serious side; that is to say his advocacy of public reforms. His paper
on "Universal Suffrage" had sounded a first note, and his copyright
petitions were of the same spirit. In later years he used to say that he
had always felt it was his mission to teach, to carry the banner of moral
reconstruction, and here at forty we find him furnishing evidences of
this inclination. In the Atlantic for October, 1875, there was published
an unsigned three-page article entitled, "The Curious Republic of
Gondour." In this article was developed the idea that the voting
privilege should be estimated not by the individuals, but by their
intellectual qualifications. The republic of Gondour was a Utopia, where
this plan had been established:
It was an odd idea and ingenious. You must understand the
constitution gave every man a vote; therefore that vote was a vested
right, and could not be taken away. But the constitution did not
say that certain individuals might not be given two votes or ten.
So an amendatory clause was inserted in a quiet way, a clause which
authorized the enlargement of the suffrage in certain cases to be
specified by statute....
The victory was complete. The new law was framed and passed. Under
it every citizen, howsoever poor or ignorant, possessed one vote, so
universal suffrage still reigned; but if a man possessed a good
common-school education and no money he had two votes, a high-school
education gave him four; if he had property, likewise, to the value
of three thousand sacos he wielded one more vote; for every fifty
thousand sacos a man added to his property, he was entitled to
another vote; a University education entitled a man to nine votes,
even though he owned no property.
The author goes on to show the beneficent results of this enaction; how
the country was benefited and glorified by this stimulus toward
enlightenment and industry. No one ever suspected that Mark Twain was
the author of this fable. It contained almost no trace of his usual
literary manner. Nevertheless he wrote it, and only withheld his name,
as he did in a few other instances, in the fear that the world might
refuse to take him seriously over his own signature or nom de plume.
Howells urged him to follow up the "Gondour" paper; to send some more
reports from that model land. But Clemens was engaged in other things by
that time, and was not pledged altogether to national reforms.
He was writing a skit about a bit of doggerel which was then making
nights and days unhappy for many undeserving persons who in an evil
moment had fallen upon it in some stray newspaper corner. A certain car
line had recently adopted the "punch system," and posted in its cars, for
the information of passengers and conductor, this placard:
A Blue Trip Slip for an 8 Cents Fare,
A Buff Trip Slip for a 6 Cents Fare,
A Pink Trip Slip for a 3 Cents Fare,
For Coupon And Transfer, Punch The Tickets.
Noah Brooks and Isaac Bromley were riding down-town one evening on the
Fourth Avenue line, when Bromley said:
"Brooks, it's poetry. By George, it's poetry!"
Brooks followed the direction of Bromley's finger and read the card of
instructions. They began perfecting the poetic character of the notice,
giving it still more of a rhythmic twist and jingle; arrived at the
Tribune office, W. C. Wyckoff, scientific editor, and Moses P. Handy lent
intellectual and poetic assistance, with this result:
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare.
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch, brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
It was printed, and street-car poetry became popular. Different papers
had a turn at it, and each usually preceded its own effort with all other
examples, as far as perpetrated. Clemens discovered the lines, and on
one of their walks recited them to Twichell. "A Literary Nightmare" was
written a few days later. In it the author tells how the jingle took
instant and entire possession of him and went waltzing through his brain;
how, when he had finished his breakfast, he couldn't tell whether he had
eaten anything or not; and how, when he went to finish the novel he was
writing, and took up his pen, he could only get it to say:
Punch in the presence of the passenjare.
He found relief at last in telling it to his reverend friend, that is,
Twichell, upon whom he unloaded it with sad results.
It was an amusing and timely skit, and is worth reading to-day. Its
publication in the Atlantic had the effect of waking up horse-car poetry
all over the world. Howells, going to dine at Ernest Longfellow's the
day following its appearance, heard his host and Tom Appleton urging each
other to "Punch with care." The Longfellow ladies had it by heart.
Boston was devastated by it. At home, Howells's children recited it to
him in chorus. The streets were full of it; in Harvard it became an
It was transformed into other tongues. Even Swinburne, the musical, is
said to have done a French version for the 'Revue des deux mondes'*. A
St. Louis magazine, The Western, found relief in a Latin anthem with this
Pungite, fratres, pungite,
Pungite cum amore,
Pungite pro vectore,
* LE CHANT DU CONDUCTEUR
Ayant ete paye, le conducteur
Percera en pleine vue du voyageur,
Quand il regoit trois sous un coupon vert,
Un coupon jaune pour six sous c'est l'affaire,
Et pour huit sous c'est un coupon couleur
De rose, en pleine vue du voyageur.
Donc, percez soigneusement, mes freres
Tout en pleine vue des voyageurs, etc.
MARK TWAIN AND HIS WIFE
Clemens and his wife traveled to Boston for one of those happy fore-
gatherings with the Howellses, which continued, at one end of the journey
or another, for so many years. There was a luncheon with Longfellow at
Craigie House, and, on the return to Hartford, Clemens reported to
Howells how Mrs. Clemens had thrived on the happiness of the visit. Also
he confesses his punishment for the usual crimes:
I "caught it" for letting Mrs. Howells bother and bother about her
coffee, when it was a "good deal better than we get at home." I
"caught it" for interrupting Mrs. C. at the last moment and losing
her the opportunity to urge you not to forget to send her that MS.
when the printers are done with it. I "caught it" once more for
personating that drunken Colonel James. I "caught it" for
mentioning that Mr. Longfellow's picture was slightly damaged; and
when, after a lull in the storm, I confessed, shamefacedly, that I
had privately suggested to you that we hadn't any frames, and that
if you wouldn't mind hinting to Mr. Houghton, etc., etc., etc., the
madam was simply speechless for the space of a minute. Then she
"How could you, Youth! The idea of sending Mr. Howells, with his
sensitive nature, upon such a repulsive er--"
"Oh, Howells won't mind it! You don't know Howells. Howells is a
She was gone. But George was the first person she stumbled on in
the hall, so she took it out of George. I am glad of that, because
it saved the babies.
Clemens used to admit, at a later day, that his education did not advance
by leaps and bounds, but gradually, very gradually; and it used to give
him a pathetic relief in those after-years, when that sweet presence had
gone out of his life, to tell the way of it, to confess over-fully,
perhaps, what a responsibility he had been to her.
He used to tell how, for a long time, he concealed his profanity from
her; how one morning, when he thought the door was shut between their
bedroom and the bathroom, he was in there dressing and shaving,
accompanying these trying things with language intended only for the
strictest privacy; how presently, when he discovered a button off the
shirt he intended to put on, he hurled it through the window into the
yard with appropriate remarks, followed it with another shirt that was in
the same condition, and added certain collars and neckties and bath-room
requisites, decorating the shrubbery outside, where the people were going
by to church; how in this extreme moment he heard a slight cough and
turned to find that the door was open! There was only one door to the
bath-room, and he knew he had to pass her. He felt pale and sick, and
sat down for a few moments to consider. He decided to assume that she
was asleep, and to walk out and through the room, head up, as if he had
nothing on his conscience. He attempted it, but without success. Half-
way across the room he heard a voice suddenly repeat his last terrific
remark. He turned to see her sitting up in bed, regarding him with a
look as withering as she could find in her gentle soul. The humor of it
"Livy," he said, "did it sound like that?"
"Of course it did," she said, "only worse. I wanted you to hear just how
"Livy," he said, "it would pain me to think that when I swear it sounds
like that. You got the words right, Livy, but you don't know the tune."
Yet he never willingly gave her pain, and he adored her and gloried in
her dominion, his life long. Howells speaks of his beautiful and tender
loyalty to her as the "most moving quality of his most faithful soul."
It was a greater part of him than the love of most men for their wives,
and she merited all the worship he could give her, all the devotion, all
the implicit obedience, by her surpassing force and beauty of character.
She guarded his work sacredly; and reviewing the manuscripts which he was
induced to discard, and certain edited manuscripts, one gets a partial
idea of what the reading world owes to Olivia Clemens. Of the discarded.
manuscripts (he seems seldom to have destroyed them) there are a
multitude, and among them all scarcely one that is not a proof of her
sanity and high regard for his literary honor. They are amusing--some of
them; they are interesting--some of them; they are strong and virile--
some of them; but they are unworthy--most of them, though a number remain
unfinished because theme or interest failed.
Mark Twain was likely to write not wisely but too much, piling up
hundreds of manuscript pages only because his brain was thronging as with
a myriad of fireflies, a swarm of darting, flashing ideas demanding
release. As often as not he began writing with only a nebulous idea of
what he proposed to do. He would start with a few characters and
situations, trusting in Providence to supply material as needed. So he
was likely to run ashore any time. As for those other attempts--stories
"unavailable" for one reason or another--he was just as apt to begin
those as the better sort, for somehow he could never tell the difference.
That is one of the hall-marks of genius--the thing which sharply
differentiates genius from talent. Genius is likely to rate a literary
disaster as its best work. Talent rarely makes that mistake.