Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Letters Of Mark Twain, Complete by Mark Twain

Part 16 out of 16

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

the light of the sun--all alive, and looking just as they were used to
look! Mr. Lascelles spent yesterday here on the farm, and told me all
about it. I shall be in the middle of my 75th year then, and interested
in pageants for personal and prospective reasons.

I beg you to give my best thanks to the Bath Club for the offer of its
hospitalities, but I shall not be able to take advantage of it, because I
am to be a guest in a private house during my stay in London.
Sincerely yours,

It was in 1907 that Clemens had seen the Oxford Pageant--during the
week when he had been awarded his doctor's degree. It gave him the
greatest delight, and he fully expected to see the next one, planned
for 1910.

In the letter to Howells which follows we get another glimpse of
Mark Twain's philosophy of man, the irresponsible machine.

To W. D. Howells, in New York:

Jan. 18, '09.
DEAR HOWELLS,--I have to write a line, lazy as I am, to say how your Poe
article delighted me; and to say that I am in agreement with
substantially all you say about his literature. To me his prose is
unreadable--like Jane Austin's. No, there is a difference. I could read
his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It
seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.

Another thing: you grant that God and circumstances sinned against Poe,
but you also grant that he sinned against himself--a thing which he
couldn't do and didn't do.

It is lively up here now. I wish you could come.
Yrs ever,

To W. D. Howells, in New York:

3 in the morning, Apl. 17, '09.
[Written with pencil].
My pen has gone dry and the ink is out of reach. Howells, Did you write
me day-before-day before yesterday, or did I dream it? In my mind's eye
I most vividly see your hand-write on a square blue envelop in the
mailpile. I have hunted the house over, but there is no such letter.
Was it an illusion?

I am reading Lowell's letter, and smoking. I woke an hour ago and am
reading to keep from wasting the time. On page 305, vol. I. I have
just margined a note:

"Young friend! I like that! You ought to see him now."

It seemed startlingly strange to hear a person call you young. It was a
brick out of a blue sky, and knocked me groggy for a moment. Ah me, the
pathos of it is, that we were young then. And he--why, so was he, but he
didn't know it. He didn't even know it 9 years later, when we saw him
approaching and you warned me, saying, "Don't say anything about age--he
has just turned fifty, and thinks he is old and broods over it."

[Well, Clara did sing! And you wrote her a dear letter.]

Time to go to sleep.
Yours ever,

To Daniel Kiefer:

[No date.]
DANL KIEFER ESQ. DEAR SIR,--I should be far from willing to have a
political party named after me.

I would not be willing to belong to a party which allowed its members to
have political aspirations or to push friends forward for political
Yours very truly,

The copyright extension, for which the author had been working so
long, was granted by Congress in 1909, largely as the result of that
afternoon in Washington when Mark Twain had "received" in "Uncle
Joe" Cannon's private room, and preached the gospel of copyright
until the daylight faded and the rest of the Capitol grew still.
Champ Clark was the last to linger that day and they had talked far
into the dusk. Clark was powerful, and had fathered the bill. Now
he wrote to know if it was satisfactory.

To Champ Clark, in Washington:

DEAR CHAMP CLARK--Is the new copyright law acceptable to me?
Emphatically, yes! Clark, it is the only sane, and clearly defined, and
just and righteous copyright law that has ever existed in the United
States. Whosoever will compare it with its predecessors will have no
trouble in arriving at that decision.

The bill which was before the committee two years ago when I was down
there was the most stupefying jumble of conflicting and apparently
irreconcilable interests that was ever seen; and we all said "the case is
hopeless, absolutely hopeless--out of this chaos nothing can be built."
But we were in error; out of that chaotic mass this excellent bill has
been instructed; the warring interests have been reconciled, and the
result is as comely and substantial a legislative edifice as lifts its
domes and towers and protective lightning rods out of the statute book,
I think. When I think of that other bill, which even the Deity couldn't
understand, and of this one which even I can understand, I take off my
hat to the man or men who devised this one. Was it R. U. Johnson? Was
it the Author's League? Was it both together? I don't know, but I take
off my hat, anyway. Johnson has written a valuable article about the new
law--I enclose it.

At last--at last and for the first time in copyright history we are ahead
of England! Ahead of her in two ways: by length of time and by fairness
to all interests concerned. Does this sound like shouting? Then I must
modify it: all we possessed of copyright-justice before the fourth of
last March we owed to England's initiative.
Truly Yours,

Because Mark Twain amused himself with certain aspects of Christian
Science, and was critical of Mrs. Eddy, there grew up a wide
impression that he jeered at the theory of mental healing; when, as
a matter of fact, he was one of its earliest converts, and never
lost faith in its power. The letter which follows is an excellent
exposition of his attitude toward the institution of Christian
Science and the founder of the church in America.

To J. Wylie Smith, Glasgow, Scotland:

"STORMFIELD," August 7, 1909
DEAR SIR,--My view of the matter has not changed. To wit, that Christian
Science is valuable; that it has just the same value now that it had when
Mrs. Eddy stole it from Quimby; that its healing principle (its most
valuable asset) possesses the same force now that it possessed a million
years ago before Quimby was born; that Mrs. Eddy. . . organized that
force, and is entitled to high credit for that. Then, with a splendid
sagacity she hitched it to. . . a religion, the surest of all ways to
secure friends for it, and support. In a fine and lofty way--
figuratively speaking--it was a tramp stealing a ride on the lightning
express. Ah, how did that ignorant village-born peasant woman know the
human being so well? She has no more intellect than a tadpole--until it
comes to business then she is a marvel! Am I sorry I wrote the book?
Most certainly not. You say you have 500 (converts) in Glasgow. Fifty
years from now, your posterity will not count them by the hundred, but by
the thousand. I feel absolutely sure of this.
Very truly yours,

Clemens wrote very little for publication that year, but he enjoyed
writing for his own amusement, setting down the things that boiled,
or bubbled, within him: mainly chapters on the inconsistencies of
human deportment, human superstition and human creeds. The "Letters
from the Earth" referred to in the following, were supposed to have
been written by an immortal visitant from some far realm to a
friend, describing the absurdities of mankind. It is true, as he
said, that they would not do for publication, though certainly the
manuscript contains some of his mgt delicious writing. Miss
Wallace, to whom the next letter is written, had known Mark Twain in
Bermuda, and, after his death, published a dainty volume entitled
Mark Twain in the Happy Island.

Nov. 13, '09.
DEAR BETSY,--I've been writing "Letters from the Earth," and if you will
come here and see us I will--what? Put the MS in your hands, with the
places to skip marked? No. I won't trust you quite that far. I'll read
messages to you. This book will never be published--in fact it couldn't
be, because it would be felony to soil the mails with it, for it has much
Holy Scripture in it of the kind that . . . can't properly be read
aloud, except from the pulpit and in family worship. Paine enjoys it,
but Paine is going to be damned one of these days, I suppose.

The autumn splendors passed you by? What a pity. I wish you had been
here. It was beyond words! It was heaven and hell and sunset and
rainbows and the aurora all fused into one divine harmony, and you
couldn't look at it and keep the tears back. All the hosannahing strong
gorgeousnesses have gone back to heaven and hell and the pole, now, but
no matter; if you could look out of my bedroom window at this moment, you
would choke up; and when you got your voice you would say: This is not
real, this is a dream. Such a singing together, and such a whispering
together, and such a snuggling together of cosy soft colors, and such
kissing and caressing, and such pretty blushing when the sun breaks out
and catches those dainty weeds at it--you remember that weed-garden of
mine?--and then--then the far hills sleeping in a dim blue trance--oh,
hearing about it is nothing, you should be here to see it.

Good! I wish I could go on the platform and read. And I could, if it
could be kept out of the papers. There's a charity-school of 400 young
girls in Boston that I would give my ears to talk to, if I had some more;
but--oh, well, I can't go, and it's no use to grieve about it.

This morning Jean went to town; also Paine; also the butler; also Katy;
also the laundress. The cook and the maid, and the boy and the
roustabout and Jean's coachman are left--just enough to make it lonesome,
because they are around yet never visible. However, the Harpers are
sending Leigh up to play billiards; therefore I shall survive.

Early in June that year, Clemens had developed unmistakable symptoms
of heart trouble of a very serious nature. It was angina pectoris,
and while to all appearances he was as well as ever and usually felt
so, he was periodically visited by severe attacks of acute "breast
pains" which, as the months passed, increased in frequency and
severity. He was alarmed and distressed--not on his own account,
but because of his daughter Jean--a handsome girl, who had long been
subject to epileptic seizures. In case of his death he feared that
Jean would be without permanent anchorage, his other daughter,
Clara--following her marriage to Ossip Gabrilowitsch in October--
having taken up residence abroad.

This anxiety was soon ended. On the morning of December 24th, jean
Clemens was found dead in her apartment. She was not drowned in her
bath, as was reported, but died from heart exhaustion, the result of
her malady and the shock of cold water.
[Questionable diagnosis! D.W.]

The blow to her father was terrible, but heavy as it was, one may
perhaps understand that her passing in that swift, painless way must
have afforded him a measure of relief.

To Mrs. Gabrilowitsch, in Europe:

Dec. 29, '09.
O, Clara, Clara dear, I am so glad she is out of it and safe--safe! I am
not melancholy; I shall never be melancholy again, I think. You see, I
was in such distress when I came to realize that you were gone far away
and no one stood between her and danger but me--and I could die at any
moment, and then--oh then what would become of her! For she was wilful,
you know, and would not have been governable.

You can't imagine what a darling she was, that last two or three days;
and how fine, and good, and sweet, and noble-and joyful, thank Heaven!--
and how intellectually brilliant. I had never been acquainted with Jean
before. I recognized that.

But I mustn't try to write about her--I can't. I have already poured my
heart out with the pen, recording that last day or two.

I will send you that--and you must let no one but Ossip read it.

I love you so!
And Ossip.

The writing mentioned in the last paragraph was his article 'The Death of
Jean,' his last serious writing, and one of the world's most beautiful
examples of elegiac prose.--[Harper's Magazine, Dec., 1910,] and later in
the volume, 'What Is Man and Other Essays.'



Mark Twain had returned from a month's trip to Bermuda a few days
before Jean died. Now, by his physician's advice, he went back to
those balmy islands. He had always loved them, since his first trip
there with Twichell thirty-three years earlier, and at "Bay House,"
the residence of Vice-Consul Allen, where he was always a welcome
guest, he could have the attentions and care and comforts of a home.
Taking Claude, the butler, as his valet, he sailed January 5th, and
presently sent back a letter in which he said, "Again I am leading
the ideal life, and am immeasurably content."

By his wish, the present writer and his family were keeping the
Stormfield house open for him, in order that he might be able to
return to its comforts at any time. He sent frequent letters--one
or two by each steamer--but as a rule they did not concern matters
of general interest. A little after his arrival, however, he wrote
concerning an incident of his former visit--a trivial matter--but
one which had annoyed him. I had been with him in Bermuda on the
earlier visit, and as I remember it, there had been some slight
oversight on his part in the matter of official etiquette--something
which doubtless no one had noticed but himself.

To A. B. Paine, in Redding:

BAY HOUSE, Jan. 11, 1910.

DEAR PAINE,--. . . There was a military lecture last night at the
Officer's Mess, prospect, and as the lecturer honored me with a special
and urgent invitation and said he wanted to lecture to me particularly,
I being "the greatest living master of the platform-art," I naturally
packed Helen and her mother into the provided carriage and went.

As soon as we landed at the door with the crowd the Governor came to me
at once and was very cordial, and apparently as glad to see me as he said
he was. So that incident is closed. And pleasantly and entirely
satisfactorily. Everything is all right, now, and I am no longer in a
clumsy and awkward situation.

I "met up" with that charming Colonel Chapman, and other officers of the
regiment, and had a good time.

Commandant Peters of the "Carnegie" will dine here tonight and arrange a
private visit for us to his ship, the crowd to be denied access.
Sincerely Yours,
S. L. C.

"Helen" of this letter was Mr. and Mrs. Allen's young daughter,
a favorite companion of his walks and drives. "Loomis" and "Lark,"
mentioned in the letters which follow, were Edward E. Loomis--his
nephew by marriage--named by Mark Twain as one of the trustees of
his estate, and Charles T. Lark, Mark Twain's attorney.

To A. B. Paine, in Redding:

HAMILTON, Jan. 21, '10.
DEAR PAINE,--Thanks for your letter, and for its contenting news of the
situation in that foreign and far-off and vaguely-remembered country
where you and Loomis and Lark and other beloved friends are.

I have a letter from Clara this morning. She is solicitous, and wants me
well and watchfully taken care of. My, she ought to see Helen and her
parents and Claude administer that trust!

Also she says: "I hope to hear from you or Mr. Paine very soon."

I am writing her, and I know you will respond to your part of her prayer.
She is pretty desolate now, after Jean's emancipation--the only kindness
God ever did that poor unoffending child in all her hard life.
Ys ever
S. L. C.

Send Clara a copy of Howells's gorgeous letter. I want a copy of my
article that he is speaking of.

The "gorgeous letter" was concerning Mark Twain's article, "The
Turning-point in My Life" which had just appeared in one of the
Harper publications. Howells wrote of it, "While your wonderful
words are warm in my mind yet, I want to tell you what you know
already: that you never wrote anything greater, finer, than that
turning-point paper of yours."

From the early Bermuda letters we may gather that Mark Twain's days
were enjoyable enough, and that his malady was not giving him
serious trouble, thus far. Near the end of January he wrote: "Life
continues here the same as usual. There isn't a flaw in it. Good
times, good home, tranquil contentment all day and every day,
without a break. I shouldn't know how to go about bettering my
situation." He did little in the way of literary work, probably
finding neither time nor inclination for it. When he wrote at all
it was merely to set down some fanciful drolleries with no thought
of publication.

To Prof. William Lyon Phelps, Yale College:

HAMILTON, March 12.
DEAR PROFESSOR PHELPS,--I thank you ever so much for the book--[Professor
Phelps's Essays on Modern Novelists.]--which I find charming--so charming
indeed, that I read it through in a single night, and did not regret the
lost night's sleep. I am glad if I deserve what you have said about me:
and even if I don't I am proud and well contented, since you think I
deserve it.

Yes, I saw Prof. Lounsbury, and had a most pleasant time with him. He
ought to have staid longer in this little paradise--partly for his own
sake, but mainly for mine.

I knew my poor Jean had written you. I shall not have so dear and sweet
a secretary again.

Good health to you, and all good fortune attend you.
Sincerely yours,

He would appear to have written not many letters besides those to
Mrs. Gabrilowitsch and to Stormfield, but when a little girl sent
him a report of a dream, inspired by reading The Prince and the
Pauper, he took the time and trouble to acknowledge it, realizing,
no doubt, that a line from him would give the child happiness.

To Miss Sulamith, in New York:

"BAY HOUSE," BERMUDA, March 21, 1910.
DEAR MISS SULAMITH,--I think it is a remarkable dream for a girl of 13 to
have dreamed, in fact for a person of any age to have dreamed, because it
moves by regular grade and sequence from the beginning to the end, which
is not the habit of dreams. I think your report of it is a good piece of
work, a clear and effective statement of the vision.

I am glad to know you like the "Prince and the Pauper" so well and I
believe with you that the dream is good evidence of that liking. I think
I may say, with your sister that I like myself best when I am serious.
Sincerely yours,

Through February, and most of March, letters and reports from him
were about the same. He had begun to plan for his return, and
concerning amusements at Stormfield for the entertainment of the
neighbors, and for the benefit of the library which he had founded
soon after his arrival in Redding. In these letters he seldom
mentioned the angina pains that had tortured him earlier. But once,
when he sent a small photograph of himself, it seemed to us that his
face had become thin and that he had suffered. Certainly his next
letter was not reassuring.

To A. B. Paine, in Redding:

DEAR PAINE,--We must look into the magic-lantern business. Maybe the
modern lantern is too elaborate and troublesome for back-settlement use,
but we can inquire. We must have some kind of a show at "Stormfield" to
entertain the countryside with.

We are booked to sail in the "Bermudian" April 23rd, but don't tell
anybody, I don't want it known. I may have to go sooner if the pain in
my breast doesn't mend its ways pretty considerably. I don't want to die
here for this is an unkind place for a person in that condition. I
should have to lie in the undertaker's cellar until the ship would remove
me and it is dark down there and unpleasant.

The Colliers will meet me on the pier and I may stay with them a week or
two before going home. It all depends on the breast pain--I don't want
to die there. I am growing more and more particular about the place.
With love,
S. L. C.

This letter had been written by the hand of his "secretary," Helen
Allen: writing had become an effort to him. Yet we did not suspect
how rapidly the end was approaching and only grew vaguely alarmed.
A week later, however, it became evident that his condition was

DEAR PAINE,--. . . . I have been having a most uncomfortable time for
the past 4 days with that breast-pain, which turns out to be an affection
of the heart, just as I originally suspected. The news from New York is
to the effect that non-bronchial weather has arrived there at last,
therefore if I can get my breast trouble in traveling condition I may
sail for home a week or two earlier than has heretofore been proposed:
Yours as ever
(per H. S. A.)

In this letter he seems to have forgotten that his trouble had been
pronounced an affection of the heart long before he left America,
though at first it had been thought that it might be gastritis.
The same mail brought a letter from Mr. Allen explaining fully the
seriousness of his condition. I sailed immediately for Bermuda,
arriving there on the 4th of April. He was not suffering at the
moment, though the pains came now with alarming frequency and
violence. He was cheerful and brave. He did not complain. He gave
no suggestion of a man whose days were nearly ended.

A part of the Stormfield estate had been a farm, which he had given
to Jean Clemens, where she had busied herself raising some live
stock and poultry. After her death he had wished the place to be
sold and the returns devoted to some memorial purpose. The sale had
been made during the winter and the price received had been paid in
cash. I found him full of interest in all affairs, and anxious to
discuss the memorial plan. A day or two later he dictated the
following letter-the last he would ever send.

It seemed fitting that this final word from one who had so long
given happiness to the whole world should record a special gift to
his neighbors.

To Charles T. Lark, in New York:

April 6, 1910.
DEAR MR. LARK,--I have told Paine that I want the money derived from the
sale of the farm, which I had given, but not conveyed, to my daughter
Jean, to be used to erect a building for the Mark Twain Library of
Redding, the building to be called the Jean L. Clemens Memorial Building.

I wish to place the money $6,000.00 in the hands of three trustees,--
Paine and two others: H. A. Lounsbury and William E. Hazen, all of
Redding, these trustees to form a building Committee to decide on the
size and plan of the building needed and to arrange for and supervise the
work in such a manner that the fund shall amply provide for the building
complete, with necessary furnishings, leaving, if possible, a balance
remaining, sufficient for such repairs and additional furnishings as may
be required for two years from the time of completion.

Will you please draw a document covering these requirements and have it
ready by the time I reach New York (April 14th).
Very sincerely,

We sailed on the 12th of April, reaching New York on the 14th,
as he had planned. A day or two later, Mr. and Mrs. Gabrilowitsch,
summoned from Italy by cable, arrived. He suffered very little
after reaching Stormfield, and his mind was comparatively clear up
to the last day. On the afternoon of April 21st he sank into a
state of coma, and just at sunset he died. Three days later, at
Elmira, New York, he was laid beside Mrs. Clemens and those others
who had preceded him.



At Redding, Connecticut,
The April sunrise pours
Over the hardwood ridges
Softening and greening now
In the first magic of Spring.

The wild cherry-trees are in bloom,
The bloodroot is white underfoot,
The serene early light flows on,
Touching with glory the world,
And flooding the large upper room
Where a sick man sleeps.
Slowly he opens his eyes,
After long weariness, smiles,
And stretches arms overhead,
While those about him take heart.

With his awakening strength,
(Morning and spring in the air,
The strong clean scents of earth,
The call of the golden shaft,
Ringing across the hills)
He takes up his heartening book,
Opens the volume and reads,
A page of old rugged Carlyle,
The dour philosopher
Who looked askance upon life,
Lurid, ironical, grim,
Yet sound at the core.
But weariness returns;
He lays the book aside
With his glasses upon the bed,
And gladly sleeps. Sleep,
Blessed abundant sleep,
Is all that he needs.

And when the close of day
Reddens upon the hills
And washes the room with rose,
In the twilight hush
The Summoner comes to him
Ever so gently, unseen,
Touches him on the shoulder;
And with the departing sun
Our great funning friend is gone.

How he has made us laugh!
A whole generation of men
Smiled in the joy of his wit.
But who knows whether he was not
Like those deep jesters of old
Who dwelt at the courts of Kings,
Arthur's, Pendragon's, Lear's,
Plying the wise fool's trade,
Making men merry at will,
Hiding their deeper thoughts
Under a motley array,--
Keen-eyed, serious men,
Watching the sorry world,
The gaudy pageant of life,
With pity and wisdom and love?

Fearless, extravagant, wild,
His caustic merciless mirth
Was leveled at pompous shams.
Doubt not behind that mask
There dwelt the soul of a man,
Resolute, sorrowing, sage,
As sure a champion of good
As ever rode forth to fray.

Haply--who knows?--somewhere
In Avalon, Isle of Dreams,
In vast contentment at last,
With every grief done away,
While Chaucer and Shakespeare wait,
And Moliere hangs on his words,
And Cervantes not far off
Listens and smiles apart,
With that incomparable drawl
He is jesting with Dagonet now.

[Copyright, 1910, by Collier's Weekly.]

Book of the day: