Part 5 out of 16
character in a play written for John T. Raymond. Clemens had taken
out dramatic copyright on the book, and immediately stopped the
performance by telegraph. A correspondence between the author and
the dramatist followed, leading to a friendly arrangement by which
the latter agreed to dispose of his version to Mark Twain. A good
deal of discussion from time to time having arisen over the
authorship of the Sellers play, as presented by Raymond, certain
among the letters that follow may be found of special interest.
Meanwhile we find Clemens writing to Dr. John Brown, of Edinburgh,
on these matters and events in general. The book MS., which he
mentions as having put aside, was not touched again for nearly a
To Dr. John Brown, in Edinburgh:
QUARRY FARM, NEAR ELMIRA, N. Y.
Sept. 4, 1874.
DEAR FRIEND,--I have been writing fifty pages of manuscript a day, on an
average, for sometime now, on a book (a story) and consequently have been
so wrapped up in it and so dead to anything else, that I have fallen
mighty short in letter-writing. But night before last I discovered that
that day's chapter was a failure, in conception, moral truth to nature,
and execution--enough blemish to impair the excellence of almost any
chapter--and so I must burn up the day's work and do it all over again.
It was plain that I had worked myself out, pumped myself dry. So I
knocked off, and went to playing billiards for a change. I haven't had
an idea or a fancy for two days, now--an excellent time to write to
friends who have plenty of ideas and fancies of their own, and so will
prefer the offerings of the heart before those of the head. Day after
to-morrow I go to a neighboring city to see a five-act-drama of mine
brought out, and suggest amendments in it, and would about as soon spend
a night in the Spanish Inquisition as sit there and be tortured with all
the adverse criticisms I can contrive to imagine the audience is
indulging in. But whether the play be successful or not, I hope I shall
never feel obliged to see it performed a second time. My interest in my
work dies a sudden and violent death when the work is done.
I have invented and patented a pretty good sort of scrap-book (I think)
but I have backed down from letting it be known as mine just at present
--for I can't stand being under discussion on a play and a scrap-book at
the same time!
I shall be away two days, and then return to take our tribe to New York,
where we shall remain five days buying furniture for the new house, and
then go to Hartford and settle solidly down for the winter. After all
that fallow time I ought to be able to go to work again on the book.
We shall reach Hartford about the middle of September, I judge.
We have spent the past four months up here on top of a breezy hill, six
hundred feet high, some few miles from Elmira, N. Y., and overlooking
that town; (Elmira is my wife's birthplace and that of Susie and the new
baby). This little summer house on the hill-top (named Quarry Farm
because there's a quarry on it,) belongs to my wife's sister, Mrs. Crane.
A photographer came up the other day and wanted to make some views,
and I shall send you the result per this mail.
My study is a snug little octagonal den, with a coal-grate, 6 big
windows, one little one, and a wide doorway (the latter opening upon the
distant town.) On hot days I spread the study wide open, anchor my papers
down with brickbats and write in the midst of the hurricanes, clothed in
the same thin linen we make shirts of. The study is nearly on the peak
of the hill; it is right in front of the little perpendicular wall of
rock left where they used to quarry stones. On the peak of the hill is
an old arbor roofed with bark and covered with the vine you call the
"American Creeper"--its green is almost bloodied with red. The Study is
30 yards below the old arbor and 200 yards above the dwelling-house-it is
remote from all noises.....
Now isn't the whole thing pleasantly situated?
In the picture of me in the study you glimpse (through the left-hand
window) the little rock bluff that rises behind the pond, and the bases
of the little trees on top of it. The small square window is over the
fireplace; the chimney divides to make room for it. Without the
stereoscope it looks like a framed picture. All the study windows have
Venetian blinds; they long ago went out of fashion in America but they
have not been replaced with anything half as good yet.
The study is built on top of a tumbled rock-heap that has morning-glories
climbing about it and a stone stairway leading down through and dividing
There now--if you have not time to read all this, turn it over to "Jock"
and drag in the judge to help.
Mrs. Clemens must put in a late picture of Susie--a picture which she
maintains is good, but which I think is slander on the child.
We revisit the Rutland Street home many a time in fancy, for we hold
every individual in it in happy and grateful memory.
SAML. L. CLEMENS.
P. S.--I gave the P. O. Department a blast in the papers about sending
misdirected letters of mine back to the writers for reshipment, and got a
blast in return, through a New York daily, from the New York postmaster.
But I notice that misdirected letters find me, now, without any
unnecessary fooling around.
The new house in Hartford was now ready to be occupied, and in a
letter to Howells, written a little more than a fortnight after the
foregoing, we find them located in "part" of it. But what seems
more interesting is that paragraph of the letter which speaks of
close friendly relations still existing with the Warners, in that it
refutes a report current at this time that there was a break between
Clemens and Warner over the rights in the Sellers play. There was,
in fact, no such rupture. Warner, realizing that he had no hand in
the character of Sellers, and no share in the work of dramatization,
generously yielded all claim to any part of the returns.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD, Sept. 20, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--All right, my boy, send proof sheets here. I amend
dialect stuff by talking and talking and talking it till it sounds right-
and I had difficulty with this negro talk because a negro sometimes
(rarely) says "goin" and sometimes "gwyne," and they make just such
discrepancies in other words--and when you come to reproduce them on
paper they look as if the variation resulted from the writer's
carelessness. But I want to work at the proofs and get the dialect as
nearly right as possible.
We are in part of the new house. Goodness knows when we'll get in the
rest of it--full of workmen yet.
I worked a month at 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 the one character, Col. Sellers--as a play I guess
it will not bear a critical assault in force.
The Warners are as charming as ever. They go shortly to the devil for a
year--(which is but a poetical way of saying they are going to afflict
themselves with the unsurpassable--(bad word) of travel for a spell.)
I believe they mean to go and see you, first-so they mean to start from
heaven to the other place; not from earth. How is that?
I think that is no slouch of a compliment--kind of a dim religious light
about it. I enjoy that sort of thing.
Raymond, in a letter to the Sun, stated that not "one line" of the
California dramatization had been used by Mark Twain, "except that
which was taken bodily from The Gilded Age." Clemens himself, in a
statement that he wrote for the Hartford Post, but suppressed,
probably at the request of his wife, gave a full history of the
play's origin, a matter of slight interest to-day.
Sellers on the stage proved a great success. The play had no
special merit as a literary composition, but the character of
Sellers delighted the public, and both author and actor were richly
repaid for their entertainment.
LETTERS 1874. MISSISSIPPI CHAPTERS. VISITS TO BOSTON.
A JOKE ON ALDRICH
"Couldn't you send me some such story as that colored one for our January
number--that is, within a month?" wrote Howells, at the end of September,
and during the week following Mark Twain struggled hard to comply, but
without result. When the month was nearly up he wrote:
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 23, 1874.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I have delayed thus long, hoping I might do something
for the January number and 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 weary and endless confusion
that my head won't go. So I give it up.....
But two hours later, when he had returned from one of the long walks
which he and Twichell so frequently took together, he told a
Later, P.M. HOME, 24th '74.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I take back the remark that I can't write for the Jan.
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 5 years) from the pilothouse. 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 3 months or 6
or 9?--or about 4 months, say?
Howells himself had come from a family of pilots, and rejoiced in
the idea. A few days later Mark Twain forwarded the first
instalment of the new series--those wonderful chapters that begin,
now, with chapter four in the Mississippi book. Apparently he was
not without doubt concerning the manuscript, and accompanied it with
a brief line.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
DEAR HOWELLS,--Cut it, scarify it, reject it handle it with entire
But Howells had no doubts as to the quality of the new find. He
declared that the "piece" about the Mississippi was capital, that it
almost made the water in their ice-pitcher turn muddy as he read it.
"The sketch of the low-lived little town was so good that I could
have wished that there was more of it. I want the sketches, if you
can make them, every month."
The "low-lived little town" was Hannibal, and the reader can turn to
the vivid description of it in the chapter already mentioned.
In the same letter Howells refers to a "letter from Limerick," which
he declares he shall keep until he has shown it around--especially
to Aldrich and Osgood.
The "letter from Limerick" has to do with a special episode.
Mention has just been made of Mark Twain's walk with Twichell.
Frequently their walks were extended tramps, and once in a daring
moment one or the other of them proposed to walk to Boston. The
time was November, and the bracing air made the proposition seem
attractive. They were off one morning early, Twichell carrying a
little bag, and Clemens a basket of luncheon. A few days before,
Clemens had written Redpath that the Rev. J. H. Twichell and he
expected to start at eight 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
They did not get quite to Boston. In fact, they got only a little
farther than the twenty-eight miles they made the first day.
Clemens could hardly walk next morning, but they managed to get to
North Ashford, where they took a carriage for the nearest railway
station. There they telegraphed to Redpath and Howells that they
would be in Boston that evening. Howells, of course, had a good
supper and good company awaiting them at his home, and the
pedestrians spent two happy days visiting and recounting their
It was one morning, at his hotel, that Mark Twain wrote the Limerick
letter. It was addressed to Mrs. Clemens, but was really intended
for Howells and Twichell and the others whom it mentions. It was an
amusing fancy, rather than a letter, but it deserves place here.
To Mrs. Clemens---intended for Howells, Aldrich, etc.
BOSTON, Nov. 16, 1935. 
DEAR LIVY, You observe I still call this beloved old place by the name it
had when I was young. Limerick! It is enough to make a body sick.
The gentlemen-in-waiting stare to see me sit here telegraphing this
letter to you, and no doubt they are smiling in their sleeves. But let
them! The slow old fashions are good enough for me, thank God, and I
will none other. When I see one of these modern fools sit absorbed,
holding the end of a telegraph wire in his hand, and reflect that a
thousand miles away there is another fool hitched to the other end of it,
it makes me frantic with rage; and then am I more implacably fixed and
resolved than ever, to continue taking twenty minutes to telegraph you
what I communicate in ten sends by the new way if I would so debase
myself. And when I see a whole silent, solemn drawing-room full of
idiots sitting with their hands on each other's foreheads "communing," I
tug the white hairs from my head and curse till my asthma brings me the
blessed relief of suffocation. In our old day such a gathering talked
pure drivel and "rot," mostly, but better that, a thousand times, than
these dreary conversational funerals that oppress our spirits in this mad
It is sixty years since I was here before. I walked hither, then, with
my precious old friend. It seems incredible, now, that we did it in two
days, but such is my recollection. I no longer mention that we walked
back in a single day, it makes me so furious to see doubt in the face of
the hearer. Men were men in those old times. Think of one of the
puerile organisms in this effeminate age attempting such a feat.
My air-ship was delayed by a collision with a fellow from China loaded
with the usual cargo of jabbering, copper-colored missionaries, and so I
was nearly an hour on my journey. But by the goodness of God thirteen of
the missionaries were crippled and several killed, so I was content to
lose the time. I love to lose time, anyway, because it brings soothing
reminiscences of the creeping railroad days of old, now lost to us
Our game was neatly played, and successfully.--None expected us, of
course. You should have seen the guards at the ducal palace stare when
I said, "Announce his grace the Archbishop of Dublin and the Rt. Hon.
the Earl of Hartford." Arrived within, we were all eyes to see the Duke
of Cambridge and his Duchess, wondering if we might remember their faces,
and they ours. In a moment, they came tottering in; he, bent and
withered and bald; she blooming with wholesome old age. He peered
through his glasses a moment, then screeched in a reedy voice: "Come to
my arms! Away with titles--I'll know ye by no names but Twain and
Twichell! Then fell he on our necks and jammed his trumpet in his ear,
the which we filled with shoutings to this effect: God bless you, old
Howells what is left of you!"
We talked late that night--none of your silent idiot "communings" for us
--of the olden time. We rolled a stream of ancient anecdotes over our
tongues and drank till the lord Archbishop grew so mellow in the mellow
past that Dublin ceased to be Dublin to him and resumed its sweeter
forgotten name of New York. In truth he almost got back into his ancient
religion, too, good Jesuit, as he has always been since O'Mulligan the
First established that faith in the Empire.
And we canvassed everybody. Bailey Aldrich, Marquis of Ponkapog, came
in, got nobly drunk, and told us all about how poor Osgood lost his
earldom and was hanged for conspiring against the second Emperor--but
he didn't mention how near he himself came to being hanged, too, for
engaging in the same enterprise. He was as chaffy as he was sixty years
ago, too, and swore the Archbishop and I never walked to Boston--but
there was never a day that Ponkapog wouldn't lie, so be it by the grace
of God he got the opportunity.
The Lord High Admiral came in, a hale gentleman close upon seventy and
bronzed by the suns and storms of many climes and scarred with the wounds
got in many battles, and I told him how I had seen him sit in a high
chair and eat fruit and cakes and answer to the name of Johnny. His
granddaughter (the eldest) is but lately warned to the youngest of the
Grand Dukes, and so who knows but a day may come when the blood of the
Howells's may reign in the land? I must not forget to say, while I think
of it, that your new false teeth are done, my dear, and your wig. Keep
your head well bundled with a shawl till the latter comes, and so cheat
your persecuting neuralgias and rheumatisms. Would you believe it?--the
Duchess of Cambridge is deafer than you--deafer than her husband. They
call her to breakfast with a salvo of artillery; and usually when it
thunders she looks up expectantly and says "come in....."
The monument to the author of "Gloverson and His Silent partners" is
finished. It is the stateliest and the costliest ever erected to the
memory of any man. This noble classic has now been translated into all
the languages of the earth and is adored by all nations and known to all
creatures. Yet I have conversed as familiarly with the author of it as I
do with my own great-grandchildren.
I wish you could see old Cambridge and Ponkapog. I love them as dearly
as ever, but privately, my dear, they are not much improvement on idiots.
It is melancholy to hear them jabber over the same pointless anecdotes
three and four times of an evening, forgetting that they had jabbered
them over three or four times the evening before. Ponkapog still writes
poetry, but the old-time fire has mostly gone out of it. Perhaps his
best effort of late years is this:
"O soul, soul, soul of mine:
Soul, soul, soul of thine!
Thy soul, my soul, two souls entwine,
And sing thy lauds in crystal wine!"
This he goes about repeating to everybody, daily and nightly, insomuch
that he is become a sore affliction to all that know him.
But I must desist. There are drafts here, everywhere and my gout is
something frightful. My left foot hath resemblance to a snuff-bladder.
God be with you.
These to Lady Hartford, in the earldom of Hartford, in the upper portion
of the city of Dublin.
One may imagine the joy of Howells and the others in this ludicrous
extravaganza, which could have been written by no one but Mark
Twain. It will hardly take rank as prophecy, though certainly true
forecast in it is not wholly lacking.
Clemens was now pretty well satisfied with his piloting story, but
he began to have doubts as to its title, "Old Times on the
Mississippi." It seemed to commit him to too large an undertaking.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Dec. 3, 1874.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Let us change the heading to "Piloting on the Miss in
the Old Times"--or to "Steamboating on the M. in Old Times"--or to
"Personal Old Times on the Miss."--We could change it for Feb. if now
too late for Jan.--I suggest it because the present heading is too
pretentious, too broad and general. It seems to command me to deliver a
Second Book of Revelation to the world, and cover all the Old Times the
Mississippi (dang that word, it is worse than "type" or "Egypt ") ever
saw--whereas here I have finished Article No. III and am about to start
on No. 4. and yet I have spoken of nothing but of 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 Times on the Miss.
of 500 different kinds, but I am the only man alive that can scribble
about the piloting of that day--and no man ever has tried to scribble
about it yet. Its newness pleases me all the time--and it is about the
only new subject I know of. If I were to write fifty articles they would
all be about pilots and piloting--therefore let's get the word Piloting
into the heading. There's a sort of freshness about that, too.
But Howells thought the title satisfactory, and indeed it was the
best that could have been selected for the series. He wrote every
few days of his delight in the papers, and cautioned the author not
to make an attempt to please any "supposed Atlantic audience,"
adding, "Yarn it off into my sympathetic ear." Clemens replied:
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
H't'f'd. Dec. 8, 1874.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It isn't the Atlantic audience that distresses me; for
it is the only audience that I sit down before in perfect serenity (for
the simple reason that it doesn't require a "humorist" to paint himself
striped and stand on his head every fifteen minutes.) The trouble was,
that I was only bent on "working up an atmosphere" and that is to me a
most fidgety and irksome thing, sometimes. I avoid it, usually, but in
this case it was absolutely necessary, else every reader would be
applying the atmosphere of his own or sea experiences, and that shirt
wouldn't fit, you know.
I could have sent this Article II a week ago, or more, but I couldn't
bring myself to the drudgery of revising and correcting it. I have been
at that tedious work 3 hours, now, and by George but I am glad it is
Say--I am as prompt as a clock, if I only know the day a thing is wanted
--otherwise I am a natural procrastinaturalist. Tell me what day and
date you want Nos. 3 and 4, and I will tackle and revise them and they'll
be there to the minute.
I could wind up with No. 4., but there are some things more which I am
powerfully moved to write. Which is natural enough, since I am a person
who would quit authorizing in a minute to go to piloting, if the madam
would stand it. I would rather sink a steamboat than eat, any time.
My wife was afraid to write you--so I said with simplicity, "I will give
you the language--and ideas." Through the infinite grace of God there
has not been such another insurrection in the family before as followed
this. However, the letter was written, and promptly, too--whereas,
heretofore she has remained afraid to do such things.
With kind regards to Mrs. Howells,
The "Old Times" papers appeared each month in the Atlantic until
July, 1875, and take rank to-day with Mark Twain's best work. When
the first number appeared, John Hay wrote: "It is perfect; no more
nor less. I don't see how you do it." Which was reported to
Howells, who said: "What business has Hay, I should like to know,
praising a favorite of mine? It's interfering."
These were the days when the typewriter was new. Clemens and
Twichell, during their stay in Boston, had seen the marvel in
operation, and Clemens had been unable to resist owning one. It was
far from being the perfect machine of to-day; the letters were all
capitals, and one was never quite certain, even of those. Mark
Twain, however, began with enthusiasm and practised faithfully. On
the day of its arrival he wrote two letters that have survived, the
first to his brother, the other to Howells.
Typewritten letter to W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Dec. 9, 1874.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I want to add a short paragraph to article No. 1, when
the proof comes. Merely a line or two, however.
I don't know whether I am going to make this typewriting machine go or
nto: that last word was intended for n-not; but I guess I shall make some
sort of a succss of it before I run it very long. I am so thick-fingered
that I miss the keys.
You needn't a swer this; I am only practicing to get three; another slip-
up there; only practici?ng to get the hang of the thing. I notice I miss
fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters and 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 just right.
Knowing Mark Twain, Howells wrote: "When you get tired of the
machine send it to me." Clemens naturally did get tired of the
machine; it was ruining his morals, he said. He presently offered
it to Howells, who by this time hesitated, but eventually yielded
and accepted it. If he was blasted by its influence the fact has
not been recorded.
One of the famous Atlantic dinners came along in December. "Don't
you dare to refuse that invitation," wrote Howells, "to meet
Emerson, Aldrich, and all those boys at the Parker House, at six
o'clock, Tuesday, December 15th. Come!"
Clemens had no desire to refuse; he sent word that he would come,
and followed it with a characteristic line.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--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 rouses Mrs.
Clemens's sympathies, easily; the only trouble is to keep them up.
Twichell and I talked till 2 or 3 in the morning, the night we supped at
your house and it restored his health, on account of his being drooping
for some time and made him much more robuster than what he was before.
Will Mrs. Howells let you?
S. L. C.
Aldrich had issued that year a volume of poems, and he presented
Clemens with a copy of it during this Boston visit. The letter of
appreciation which follows contains also reference to an amusing
incident; but we shall come to that presently.
To T. B. Aldrich, in Ponkapog, Mass.
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD.
Dec. 18, 1874.
MY DEAR ALDRICH,--I read the "Cloth of Gold" through, coming down in the
cars, and it is just lightning poetry--a thing which it gravels me to say
because my own efforts in that line have remained so persistently
unrecognized, in consequence of the envy and jealousy of this generation.
"Baby Bell" always seemed perfection, before, but now that I have
children it has got even beyond that. About the hour that I was reading
it in the cars, Twichell was reading it at home and forthwith fell upon
me with a burst of enthusiasm about it when I saw him. This was
pleasant, because he has long been a lover of it.
"Thos. Bailey Aldrich responded" etc., "in one of the brightest speeches
of the evening."
That is what the Tribune correspondent says. And that is what everybody
that heard it said. Therefore, you keep still. Don't ever be so unwise
as to go on trying to unconvince those people.
I've been skating around the place all day with some girls, with Mrs.
Clemens in the window to do the applause. There would be a power of fun
in skating if you could do it with somebody else's muscles.--There are
about twenty boys booming by the house, now, and it is mighty good to
I'm keeping you in mind, you see, in the matter of photographs. I have
a couple to enclose in this letter and I want you to say you got them,
and then I shall know I have been a good truthful child.
I am going to send more as I ferret them out, about the place.--And I
won't forget that you are a "subscriber."
The wife and I unite in warm regards to you and Mrs. Aldrich.
S. L. CLEMENS.
A letter bearing the same date as the above went back to Howells, we
find, in reference to still another incident, which perhaps should
Mark Twain up to this time had worn the black "string" necktie of
the West--a decoration which disturbed Mrs. Clemens, and invited
remarks from his friends. He had persisted in it, however, up to
the date of the Atlantic dinner, when Howells and Aldrich decided
that something must be done about it.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Dec. 18, 1874.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I left No. 3, (Miss. chapter) in my eldest's reach, and
it may have gone to the postman and it likewise may have gone into the
fire. I confess to a dread that the latter is the case and that that
stack of MS will have to be written over again. If so, O for the return
of the lamented Herod!
You and Aldrich have made one woman deeply and sincerely grateful--Mrs.
Clemens. For months--I may even say years--she had shown unaccountable
animosity toward my neck-tie, even getting up in the night to take it
with the tongs and blackguard it--sometimes also going so far as to
When I said you and Aldrich had given me two new neck-ties, 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.
Now I wear one of the new neck-ties, nothing being sacred in Mrs.
Clemens's eyes that can be perverted to a gaud that shall make the person
of her husband more alluring than it was aforetime.
Jo Twichell was the delightedest old boy I ever saw, when he read the
words you had written in that book. He and I went to the Concert of the
Yale students last night and had a good time.
Mrs. Clemens dreads our going to New Orleans, but I tell her she'll have
to give her consent this time.
With kindest regards unto ye both.
S. L. CLEMENS.
The reference to New Orleans at the end of this letter grew
naturally out of the enthusiasm aroused by the Mississippi papers.
The more Clemens wrote about the river the more he wished to revisit
it and take Howells with him. Howells was willing enough to go and
they eventually arranged to take their wives on the excursion. This
seemed all very well and possible, so long as the time was set for
some date in the future still unfixed. But Howells was a busy
editor, and it was much more easy for him to promise good-naturedly
than to agree on a definite time of departure. He explained at
length why he could not make the journey, and added: "Forgive me
having led you on to fix a time; I never thought it would come to
that; I supposed you would die, or something. I am really more
sorry and ashamed than I can make it appear." So the beautiful plan
was put aside, though it was not entirely abandoned for a long time.
We now come to the incident mentioned in Mark Twain's letter to
Aldrich, of December the 18th. It had its beginning at the Atlantic
dinner, where Aldrich had abused Clemens for never sending him any
photographs of himself. It was suggested by one or the other that
his name be put down as a "regular subscriber" for all Mark Twain
photographs as they "came out." Clemens returned home and hunted up
fifty-two different specimens, put each into an envelope, and began
mailing them to him, one each morning. When a few of them had
arrived Aldrich wrote, protesting.
"The police," he said, "have a way of swooping down on that kind of
publication. The other day they gobbled up an entire edition of
'The Life in New York.'"
Whereupon Clemens bundled up the remaining collection--forty-five
envelopes of photographs and prints-and mailed them together.
Aldrich wrote, now, violently declaring the perpetrator of the
outrage to be known to the police; that a sprawling yellow figure
against a green background had been recognized as an admirable
likeness of Mark Twain, alias the jumping Frog, a well-known
Californian desperado, formerly the chief of Henry Plummer's band of
road agents in Montana. The letter was signed, "T. Bayleigh, Chief
of Police." On the back of the envelope "T. Bayleigh" had also
written that it was "no use for the person to send any more letters,
as the post-office at that point was to be blown up. Forty-eight
hogs-head of nitroglycerine had been syrupticiously introduced into
the cellar of the building, and more was expected. R.W.E. H.W.L.
O.W.H., and other conspirators in masks have been seen flitting
about the town for some days past. The greatest excitement combined
with the most intense quietness reigns at Ponkapog."
LETTERS FROM HARTFORD, 1875. MUCH CORRESPONDENCE WITH HOWELLS
Orion Clemens had kept his job with Bliss only a short time. His mental
make-up was such that it was difficult for him to hold any position long.
He meant to do well, but he was unfortunate in his efforts. His ideas
were seldom practical, his nature was yielding and fickle. He had
returned to Keokuk presently, and being convinced there was a fortune in
chickens, had prevailed upon his brother to purchase for him a little
farm not far from the town. But the chicken business was not lively and
Orion kept the mail hot with manuscripts and propositions of every sort,
which he wanted his brother to take under advisement.
Certainly, to Mark Twain Orion Clemens was a trial. The letters of the
latter show that scarcely one of them but contains the outline of some
rainbow-chasing scheme, full of wild optimism, and the certainty that
somewhere just ahead lies the pot of gold. Only, now and then, there is
a letter of abject humiliation and complete surrender, when some golden
vision, some iridescent soap-bubble, had vanished at his touch. Such
depression did not last; by sunrise he was ready with a new dream, new
enthusiasm, and with a new letter inviting his "brother Sam's" interest
and investment. Yet, his fear of incurring his brother's displeasure was
pitiful, regardless of the fact that he constantly employed the very
means to insure that result. At one time Clemens made him sign a sworn
agreement that he would not suggest any plan or scheme of investment for
the period of twelve months. Orion must have kept this agreement. He
would have gone to the stake before he would have violated an oath, but
the stake would have probably been no greater punishment than his
sufferings that year.
On the whole, Samuel Clemens was surprisingly patient and considerate
with Orion, and there was never a time that he was not willing to help.
Yet there were bound to be moments of exasperation; and once, when his
mother, or sister, had written, suggesting that he encourage his
brother's efforts, he felt moved to write at considerable freedom.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in Fredonia, N. Y.:
HARTFORD, Sunday, 1875.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--I Saw Gov. Newell today and he said he was
still moving in the matter of Sammy's appointment--[As a West Point
cadet.]--and would stick to it till he got a result of a positive nature
one way or the other, but thus far he did not know whether to expect
success or defeat.
Ma, whenever you need money I hope you won't be backward about saying so
--you can always have it. We stint ourselves in some ways, but we have
no desire to stint you. And we don't intend to, either.
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? Would you encourage Orion in the
glaring insanity of studying law? If he were packed and crammed full of
law, it would be worthless lumber to him, for his is such a capricious
and ill-regulated mind that he would apply the principles of the law with
no more judgment than a child of ten years. I know what I am saying.
I laid one of the plainest and simplest of legal questions before Orion
once, and the helpless and hopeless mess he made of it was absolutely
astonishing. Nothing aggravates me so much as to have Orion mention law
or literature to me.
Well, 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
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" quick-silver, 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 select 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.
That is best for him. Let him consider it a periodical loan, and pay
interest out of the principal. Within a year's time he would be looking
upon himself as a benefactor of mine, in the way of furnishing me a good
permanent investment for money, and that would make him happy and
satisfied with himself. If he had money he would share with me in a
moment and I have no disposition to be stingy with him.
Livy sends love.
The New Orleans plan was not wholly dead at this time. Howells
wrote near the end of January that the matter was still being
debated, now and then, but was far from being decided upon. He
hoped to go somewhere with Mrs. Howells for a brief time in March,
he said. Clemens, in haste, replied:
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Jan. 26, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--When Mrs. Clemens read your letter she said: "Well,
then, wherever they go, in March, the direction will be southward and so
they must give us a visit on the way." I do not know what sort of
control you may be under, but when my wife speaks as positively as that,
I am not in the habit of talking back and getting into trouble. Situated
as I am, I would not be able to understand, now, how you could pass by
this town without feeling that you were running a wanton risk and doing a
daredevil thing. I consider it settled that you are to come in March,
and I would be sincerely sorry to learn that you and Mrs. Howells feel
differently about it.
The piloting material has been uncovering itself by degrees, until it has
exposed such a huge hoard to my view that a whole book will be required
to contain it if I use it. So I have agreed to write the book for Bliss.
--[The book idea was later given up for the time being.]--I won't be
able to run the articles in the Atlantic later than the September number,
for the reason that a subscription book issued in the fall has a much
larger sale than if issued at any other season of the year. It is funny
when I reflect that when I originally wrote you and proposed to do from 6
to 9 articles for the magazine, the vague thought in my mind was that 6
might exhaust the material and 9 would be pretty sure to do it. Or
rather it seems to me that that was my thought--can't tell at this
distance. But in truth 9 chapters don't now seem to more than open up
the subject fairly and start the yarn to wagging.
I have been sick a-bed several days, for the first time in 21 years.
How little confirmed invalids appreciate their advantages. I was able to
read the English edition of the Greville Memoirs through without
interruption, take my meals in bed, neglect all business without a pang,
and smoke 18 cigars a day. I try not to look back upon these 21 years
with a feeling of resentment, and yet the partialities of Providence do
seem to me to be slathered around (as one may say) without that gravity
and attention to detail which the real importance of the matter would
seem to suggest.
The New Orleans idea continued to haunt the letters. The thought of
drifting down the Mississippi so attracted both Clemens and Howells,
that they talked of it when they met, and wrote of it when they were
separated. Howells, beset by uncertainties, playfully tried to put
the responsibility upon his wife. Once he wrote: "She says in the
noblest way, 'Well, go to New Orleans, if you want to so much' (you
know the tone). I suppose it will do if I let you know about the
middle of February?"
But they had to give it up in the end. Howells wrote that he had
been under the weather, and on half work the whole winter. He did
not feel that he had earned his salary, he said, or that he was
warranted in taking a three weeks' pleasure trip. Clemens offered
to pay all the expenses of the trip, but only indefinite
postponement followed. It would be seven years more before Mark
Twain would return to the river, and then not with Howells.
In a former chapter mention has been made of Charles Warren
Stoddard, whom Mark Twain had known in his California days. He was
fond of Stoddard, who was a facile and pleasing writer of poems and
descriptive articles. During the period that he had been acting as
Mark Twain's secretary in London, he had taken pleasure in
collecting for him the news reports of the celebrated Tichborn
Claimant case, then in the English courts. Clemens thought of
founding a story on it, and did, in fact, use the idea, though 'The
American Claimant,' which he wrote years later, had little or no
connection with the Tichborn episode.
To C. W. Stoddard:
HARTFORD, Feb. 1, 1875.
DEAR CHARLEY,--All right about the Tichborn scrapbooks; send them along
when convenient. I mean to have the Beecher-Tilton trial scrap-book as a
I am writing a series of 7-page articles for the Atlantic at $20 a page;
but as they do not pay anybody else as much as that, I do not complain
(though at the same time I do swear that I am not content.) However the
awful respectability of the magazine makes up.
I have cut your articles about San Marco out of a New York paper (Joe
Twichell saw it and brought it home to me with loud admiration,) and sent
it to Howells. It is too bad to fool away such good literature in a
perishable daily journal.
Do remember us kindly to Lady Hardy and all that rare family--my wife and
I so often have pleasant talks about them.
Ever your friend,
SAML. L. CLEMENS.
The price received by Mark Twain for the Mississippi papers, as
quoted in this letter, furnishes us with a realizing sense of the
improvement in the literary market, with the advent of a flood of
cheap magazines and the Sunday newspaper. The Atlantic page
probably contained about a thousand words, which would make his
price average, say, two cents per word. Thirty years later, when
his fame was not much more extended, his pay for the same matter
would have been fifteen times as great, that is to say, at the rate
of thirty cents per word. But in that early time there were no
Sunday magazines--no literary magazines at all except the Atlantic,
and Harpers, and a few fashion periodicals. Probably there were
news-stands, but it is hard to imagine what they must have looked
like without the gay pictorial cover-femininity that to-day pleases
and elevates the public and makes author and artist affluent.
Clemens worked steadily on the river chapters, and Howells was
always praising him and urging him to go on. At the end of January
he wrote: "You're doing the science of piloting splendidly. Every
word's interesting. And don't you drop the series 'til you've got
every bit of anecdote and reminiscence into it."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Feb. 10, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Your praises of my literature gave me the solidest
gratification; but I never did have the fullest confidence in my critical
penetration, and now your verdict on S-----has knocked what little I did
have gully-west! I didn't enjoy his gush, but I thought a lot of his
similes were ever so vivid and good. But it's just my luck; every time I
go into convulsions of admiration over a picture and want to buy it right
away before I've lost the chance, some wretch who really understands art
comes along and damns it. But I don't mind. I would rather have my
ignorance than another man's knowledge, because I have got so much more
I send you No. 5 today. I have written and re-written the first half of
it three different times, yesterday and today, and at last Mrs. Clemens
says it will do. I never saw a woman so hard to please about things she
doesn't know anything about.
Of course, the reference to his wife's criticism in this is tenderly
playful, as always--of a pattern with the severity which he pretends
for her in the next.
To Mrs. W. D. Howells, in Boston:
DEAR MRS. HOWELLS,--Mrs. Clemens is delighted to get the pictures, and so
am I. I can perceive in the group, that Mr. Howells is feeling as I so
often feel, viz: "Well, no doubt I am in the wrong, though I do not know
how or where or why--but anyway it will be safest to look meek, and walk
circumspectly for a while, and not discuss the thing." And 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--none!"
I shall just delight in that group on account of the good old human
domestic spirit that pervades it--bother these family groups that put on
a state aspect to get their pictures taken in.
We want a heliotype made of our eldest daughter. How soft and rich and
lovely the picture is. Mr. Howells must tell me how to proceed in the
SAM. L. CLEMENS.
In the next letter we have a picture of Susy--[This spelling of the
name was adopted somewhat later and much preferred. It appears as
"Susie" in most of the earlier letters.]--Clemens's third birthday,
certainly a pretty picture, and as sweet and luminous and tender
today as it was forty years ago-as it will be a hundred years hence,
if these lines should survive that long. The letter is to her uncle
Charles Langdon, the "Charlie" of the Quaker City. "Atwater" was
associated with the Langdon coal interests in Elmira. "The play"
is, of course, "The Gilded Age."
To Charles Langdon, in Elmira:
Mch. 19, 1875.
DEAR CHARLIE,--Livy, after reading your letter, used her severest form of
expression about Mr. Atwater--to wit: She did not "approve" of his
conduct. This made me shudder; for it was equivalent to Allie
Spaulding's saying "Mr. Atwater is a mean thing;" or Rev. Thomas
Beecher's saying "Damn that Atwater," or my saying "I wish Atwater was
three hundred million miles in----!"
However, Livy does not often get into one of these furies, God be
In Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Chicago,
the play paid me an average of nine hundred dollars a week. In smaller
towns the average is $400 to $500.
This is Susie's birth-day. Lizzie brought her in at 8.30 this morning
(before we were up) hooded with a blanket, red curl-papers in her hair, a
great red japonica, in one hand (for Livy) and a yellow rose-bud nestled
in violets (for my buttonhole) in the other--and she looked wonderfully
pretty. She delivered her memorials and received her birth-day kisses.
Livy laid her japonica, down to get a better "holt" for kissing-which
Susie presently perceived, and became thoughtful: then said sorrowfully,
turning the great deeps of her eyes upon her mother: "Don't you care for
Right after breakfast we got up a rousing wood fire in the main hall
(it is a cold morning) illuminated the place with a rich glow from all
the globes of the newell chandelier, spread a bright rug before the fire,
set a circling row of chairs (pink ones and dove-colored) and in the
midst a low invalid-table covered with a fanciful cloth and laden with
the presents--a pink azalia in lavish bloom from Rosa; a gold inscribed
Russia-leather bible from Patrick and Mary; a gold ring (inscribed) from
"Maggy Cook;" a silver thimble (inscribed with motto and initials) from
Lizzie; a rattling mob of Sunday clad dolls from Livy and Annie, and a
Noah's Ark from me, containing 200 wooden animals such as only a human
being could create and only God call by name without referring to the
passenger list. Then the family and the seven servants assembled there,
and Susie and the "Bay" arrived in state from above, the Bay's head being
fearfully and wonderfully decorated with a profusion of blazing red
flowers and overflowing cataracts of lycopodium. Wee congratulatory
notes accompanied the presents of the servants. I tell you it was a
great occasion and a striking and cheery group, taking all the
surroundings into account and the wintry aspect outside.
There was to be a centennial celebration that year of the battles of
Lexington and Concord, and Howells wrote, urging Clemens and his
wife to visit them and attend it. Mrs. Clemens did not go, and
Clemens and Howells did not go, either--to the celebration. They
had their own ideas about getting there, but found themselves unable
to board the thronged train at Concord, and went tramping about in
the cold and mud, hunting a conveyance, only to return at length to
the cheer of the home, defeated and rather low in spirits.
Twichell, who went on his own hook, had no such difficulties. To
Howells, Mark Twain wrote the adventures of this athletic and
strenuous exponent of the gospel.
The "Winnie" mentioned in this letter was Howells's daughter
Winifred. She had unusual gifts, but did not live to develop them.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD. Apl. 23, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I've got Mrs. Clemens's picture before me, and hope I
shall not forget to send it with this.
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 schoolboy; lay flat down to dodge numerous bridges, and sailed
into the depot, howling with excitement and as black as a chimney-sweep;
got to Young's Hotel at 7 P. M.; sat down in 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
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 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 me.
Well, he is welcome to the good time he had--I had a deal better one.
My narrative has made Mrs. Clemens wish she could have been there.--When
I think over what a splendid good sociable time I had in your house I
feel ever so thankful to the wise providence that thwarted our several
ably-planned and ingenious attempts to get to Lexington. I am coming
again before long, and then she shall be of the party.
Now you said that you and Mrs. Howells could run down here nearly any
Saturday. Very well then, let us call it next Saturday, for a "starter."
Can you do that? By that time it will really be spring and you won't
freeze. The birds are already out; a small one paid us a visit
yesterday. We entertained it and let it go again, Susie protesting.
The spring laziness is already upon me--insomuch that the spirit begins
to move me to cease from Mississippi articles and everything else and
give myself over to idleness until we go to New Orleans. I have one
article already finished, but somehow it doesn't seem as proper a chapter
to close with as the one already in your hands. I hope to get in a mood
and rattle off a good one to finish with--but just now all my moods are
Winnie's literature sings through me yet! Surely that child has one of
these "futures" before her.
Now try to come--will you?
With the warmest regards of the two of us--
S. L. CLEMENS.
Mrs. Clemens sent a note to Mrs. Howells, which will serve as a pendant
to the foregoing.
From Mrs. Clemens to Mrs. Howells, in Boston:
MY DEAR MRS. HOWELLS,--Don't dream for one instant that my not getting a
letter from you kept me from Boston. I am too anxious to go to let such
a thing as that keep me.
Mr. Clemens did have such a good time with you and Mr. Howells.
He evidently has no regret that he did not get to the Centennial. I was
driven nearly distracted by his long account of Mr. Howells and his
wanderings. I would keep asking if they ever got there, he would never
answer but made me listen to a very minute account of everything that
they did. At last I found them back where they started from.
If you find misspelled words in this note, you will remember my infirmity
and not hold me responsible.
LIVY L. CLEMENS.
In spite of his success with the Sellers play and his itch to follow it
up, Mark Twain realized what he believed to be his literary limitations.
All his life he was inclined to consider himself wanting in the finer
gifts of character-shading and delicate portrayal. Remembering Huck
Finn, and the rare presentation of Joan of Arc, we may not altogether
agree with him. Certainly, he was never qualified to delineate those
fine artificialities of life which we are likely to associate with
culture, and perhaps it was something of this sort that caused the
hesitation confessed in the letter that follows. Whether the plan
suggested interested Howells or not we do not know. In later years
Howells wrote a novel called The Story of a Play; this may have been its
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD, Apl. 26, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--An actor named D. H. Harkins has been here to ask me to
put upon paper a 5-act play which he has been mapping out in his mind for
3 or 4 years. He sat down and told me his plot all through, in a clear,
bright way, and I was a deal taken with it; but it is a line of
characters whose fine shading and artistic development requires an abler
hand than mine; so I easily perceived that I must not make the attempt.
But I liked the man, and thought there was a good deal of stuff in him;
and therefore I wanted his play to be written, and by a capable hand,
too. So I suggested you, and said I would write and see if you would be
willing to undertake it. If you like the idea, he will call upon you in
the course of two or three weeks and describe his plot and his
characters. Then if it doesn't strike you favorably, of course you can
simply decline; but it seems to me well worth while that you should hear
what he has to say. You could also "average" him while he talks, and
judge whether he could play your priest--though I doubt if any man can do
Shan't I write him and say he may call? If you wish to communicate
directly with him instead, his address is "Larchmont Manor, Westchester
Co., N. Y."
Do you know, the chill of that 19th of April seems to be in my bones yet?
I am inert and drowsy all the time. That was villainous weather for a
couple of wandering children to be out in.
The sinister typewriter did not find its way to Howells for nearly a
year. Meantime, Mark Twain had refused to allow the manufacturers
to advertise his ownership. He wrote to them:
HARTFORD, March 19, 1875.
Please do not use my name in any way. Please do not even divulge the
fact that I own a machine. I have entirely stopped using the typewriter,
for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to anybody
without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only describe
the machine, but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc.,
etc. I don't like to write letters, and so I don't want people to know
I own this curiosity-breeding little joker.
Three months later the machine was still in his possession. Bliss
had traded a twelve-dollar saddle for it, but apparently showed
little enthusiasm in his new possession.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
June 25, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I told Patrick to get some carpenters and box the
machine and send it to you--and found that Bliss had sent for the machine
and earned it off.
I have been talking to you and writing to you as if you were present when
I traded the machine to Bliss for a twelve-dollar saddle worth $25
(cheating him outrageously, of course--but conscience got the upper hand
again and I told him before I left the premises that I'd pay for the
saddle if he didn't like the machine--on condition that he donate said
machine to a charity)
This was a little over five weeks ago--so I had long ago concluded that
Bliss didn't want the machine and did want the saddle--wherefore I jumped
at the chance of shoving the machine off onto you, saddle or no saddle so
I got the blamed thing out of my sight.
The saddle hangs on Tara's walls down below in the stable, and the
machine is at Bliss's grimly pursuing its appointed mission, slowly and
implacably rotting away another man's chances for salvation.
I have sent Bliss word not to donate it to a charity (though it is a pity
to fool away a chance to do a charity an ill turn,) but to let me know
when he has got his dose, because I've got another candidate for
damnation. You just wait a couple of weeks and if you don't see the
Type-Writer come tilting along toward Cambridge with an unsatisfied
appetite in its eye, I lose my guess.
Don't you be mad about this blunder, Howells--it only comes of a bad
memory, and the stupidity which is inseparable from true genius. Nothing
intentionally criminal in it.
It was November when Howells finally fell under the baleful
influence of the machine. He wrote:
"The typewriter came Wednesday night, and is already beginning to
have its effect on me. Of course, it doesn't work: if I can
persuade some of the letters to get up against the ribbon they won't
get down again without digital assistance. The treadle refuses to
have any part or parcel in the performance; and I don't know how to
get the roller to turn with the paper. Nevertheless I have begun
several letters to My d-a-r lemans, as it prefers to spell your
respected name, and I don't despair yet of sending you something in
its beautiful handwriting--after I've had a man out from the agent's
to put it in order. It's fascinating in the meantime, and it wastes
my time like an old friend."
The Clemens family remained in Hartford that summer, with the
exception of a brief season at Bateman's Point, R. I., near
Newport. By this time Mark Twain had taken up and finished the Tom
Sawyer story begun two years before. Naturally he wished Howells to
consider the MS.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, July 5th, 1875.
MY DEAR 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 like 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
Moreover the book is plenty long enough as it stands. It is about 900
pages of MS, and may be 1000 when I shall have finished "working up"
vague places; so it would make from 130 to 150 pages of the Atlantic--
about what the Foregone Conclusion made, isn't it?
I would dearly like to see it in the Atlantic, but I doubt if it would
pay the publishers to buy the privilege, or me to sell it. Bret Harte
has sold his novel (same size as mine, I should say) to Scribner's
Monthly for $6,500 (publication to begin in September, I think,) and he
gets a royalty of 7 1/2 per cent from Bliss in book form afterwards. He
gets a royalty of ten per cent on it in England (issued in serial
numbers) and the same royalty on it in book form afterwards, and is to
receive an advance payment of five hundred pounds the day the first No.
of the serial appears. If I could do as well, here, and there, with
mine, it might possibly pay me, but I seriously doubt it though it is
likely I could do better in England than Bret, who is not widely known
You see I take a vile, mercenary view of things--but then my household
expenses are something almost ghastly.
By and by I shall take a boy of twelve and run him on through life (in
the first person) but not Tom Sawyer--he would not be a good character
I wish you would promise to read the MS of Tom Sawyer some time, and see
if you don't really decide that I am right in closing with him as a boy-
and point out the most glaring defects for me. It is a tremendous favor
to ask, and I expect you to refuse and would be ashamed to expect you to
do otherwise. But the thing has been so many months in my mind that it
seems a relief to snake it out. I don't know any other person whose
judgment I could venture to take fully and entirely. Don't hesitate
about saying no, for I know how your time is taxed, and I would have
honest need to blush if you said yes.
Osgood and I are "going for" the puppy G---- on infringement of
trademark. To win one or two suits of this kind will set literary folks
on a firmer bottom. I wish Osgood would sue for stealing Holmes's poem.
Wouldn't it be gorgeous to sue R---- for petty larceny? I will promise
to go into court and swear I think him capable of stealing pea-nuts from
a blind pedlar.
Of course Howells promptly replied that he would read the story,
adding: "You've no idea what I may ask you to do for me, some day.
I'm sorry that you can't do it for the Atlantic, but I succumb.
Perhaps you will do Boy No. 2 for us." Clemens, conscience-
stricken, meantime, hastily put the MS. out of reach of temptation.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
July 13, 1875
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Just as soon as you consented I realized all the
atrocity of my request, and straightway blushed and weakened.
I telegraphed my theatrical agent to come here and carry off the MS and
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 $6000 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." I believe a good deal of a
drama can be made of it. Come--can't you tackle this in the odd hours of
your vacation? or later, if you prefer?
I do wish you could come down once more before your holiday. I'd give
Howells wrote that he had no time for the dramatization and urged Clemens
to undertake it himself. He was ready to read the story, whenever it
should arrive. Clemens did not hurry, however, The publication of Tom
Sawyer could wait. He already had a book in press--the volume of
Sketches New and Old, which he had prepared for Bliss several years
Sketches was issued that autumn, and Howells gave it a good notice--
possibly better than it deserved.
Considered among Mark Twain's books to-day, the collection of sketches
does not seem especially important. With the exception of the frog story
and the "True Story" most of those included--might be spared. Clemens
himself confessed to Howells that He wished, when it was too late, that
he had destroyed a number of them. The book, however, was distinguished
in a special way: it contains Mark Twain's first utterance in print on
the subject of copyright, a matter in which he never again lost interest.
The absurdity and injustice of the copyright laws both amused and
irritated him, and in the course of time he would be largely instrumental
in their improvement. In the book his open petition to Congress that all
property rights, as well as literary ownership, should be put on the
copyright basis and limited to a "beneficent term of forty-two years,"
was more or less of a joke, but, like so many of Mark Twain's jokes, it
was founded on reason and justice.
He had another idea, that was not a joke: an early plan in the direction
of international copyright. It was to be a petition signed by the
leading American authors, asking the United States to declare itself to
be the first to stand for right and justice by enacting laws against the
piracy of foreign books. It was a rather utopian scheme, as most schemes
for moral progress are, in their beginning. It would not be likely ever
to reach Congress, but it would appeal to Howells and his Cambridge
friends. Clemens wrote, outlining his plan of action.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Sept. 18, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--My plan is this--you are to get Mr. Lowell and Mr.
Longfellow to be the first signers of my copyright petition; you must
sign it yourself and get Mr. Whittier to do likewise. Then Holmes will
sign--he said he would if he didn't have to stand at the head. Then I'm
fixed. 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 a thousand copies) and move upon the President and Congress in
person, but in the subordinate capacity of a party who is merely the
agent of better and wiser men--men whom the country cannot venture to
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.)
Next I would get a prime leader in Congress: I would also see that votes
enough to carry the measure were privately secured before the bill was
offered. This I would try through my leader and my friends there.
And then if Europe chose 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!"
You see, what I want to drive into the Congressional mind is the simple
fact that the moral law is "Thou shalt not steal"--no matter what Europe
I swear I can't see any use in robbing European authors for the benefit
of American booksellers, anyway.
If we can ever get this thing through Congress, we can try making
copyright perpetual, some day. There would be no sort of use in it,
since only one book in a hundred millions outlives the present copyright
term--no sort of use except that the writer of that one book have his
rights--which is something.
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 only man who ever signed my petition with alacrity, and said that the
fact that a thing was right was all-sufficient, was Rev. Dr. Bushnell.
I have lost my old petition, (which was brief) but will draft and enclose
another--not in the words it ought to be, but in the substance. I want
Mr. Lowell to furnish the words (and the ideas too,) if he will do it.
Say--Redpath beseeches me to lecture in Boston in November--telegraphs
that Beecher's and Nast's withdrawal has put him in the tightest kind of
a place. So I guess I'll do that old "Roughing It" lecture over again in
November and repeat it 2 or 3 times in New York while I am at it.
Can I take a carriage after the lecture and go out and stay with you that
night, provided you find at that distant time that it will not
inconvenience you? Is Aldrich home yet?
With love to you all
S. L. C.
Of course the petition never reached Congress. Holmes's comment
that governments were not in the habit of setting themselves up as
high moral examples, except for revenue, was shared by too many
others. The petition was tabled, but Clemens never abandoned his
purpose and lived to see most of his dream fulfilled. Meantime,
Howells's notice of the Sketches appeared in the Atlantic, and
brought grateful acknowledgment from the author.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 19, 1875.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--That is a perfectly superb notice. You can easily
believe that nothing ever gratified me so much before. The newspaper
praises bestowed upon the "Innocents Abroad" were large and generous, but
somehow I hadn't confidence in the critical judgement of the parties who
furnished them. You know how that is, yourself, from reading the
newspaper notices of your own books. They gratify a body, but they
always leave a small pang behind in the shape of a fear that the critic's
good words could not safely be depended upon as authority. Yours is the
recognized critical Court of Last Resort in this country; from its
decision there is no appeal; and so, to have gained this decree of yours
before I am forty years old, I regard as a thing to be right down proud
of. Mrs. Clemens says, "Tell him I am just as grateful to him as I can
be." (It sounds as if she were grateful to you for heroically trampling
the truth under foot in order to praise me but in reality it means that
she is grateful to you for being bold enough to utter a truth which she
fully believes all competent people know, but which none has heretofore
been brave enough to utter.) You see, the thing that gravels her is that
I am so persistently glorified as a mere buffoon, as if that entirely
covered my case--which she denies with venom.
The other day Mrs. Clemens was planning a visit to you, and so I am
waiting with a pleasurable hope for the result of her deliberations.
We are expecting visitors every day, now, from New York; and afterward
some are to come from Elmira. I judge that we shall then be free to go
Bostonward. I should be just delighted; because we could visit in
comfort, since we shouldn't have to do any shopping--did it all in New
York last week, and a tremendous pull it was too.
Mrs. C. said the other day, "We will go to Cambridge if we have to walk;
for I don't believe we can ever get the Howellses to come here again
until we have been there." I was gratified to see that there was one
string, anyway, that could take her to Cambridge. But I will do her the
justice to say that she is always wanting to go to Cambridge, independent
of the selfish desire to get a visit out of you by it. I want her to get
started, now, before children's diseases are fashionable again, because
they always play such hob with visiting arrangements.
With love to you all
S. L. CLEMENS.
Mark Twain's trips to Boston were usually made alone. Women require
more preparation to go visiting, and Mrs. Clemens and Mrs. Howells
seem to have exchanged visits infrequently. For Mark Twain,
perhaps, it was just as well that his wife did not always go with
him; his absent-mindedness and boyish ingenuousness often led him
into difficulties which Mrs. Clemens sometimes found embarrassing.
In the foregoing letter they were planning a visit to Cambridge. In
the one that follows they seem to have made it--with certain
results, perhaps not altogether amusing at the moment.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Oct. 4, '75.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--We had a royal good time at your house, and have had a
royal good time ever since, talking about it, both privately and with the
Mrs. Clemens's bodily strength came up handsomely under that cheery
respite from household and nursery cares. I do hope that Mrs. Howells's
didn't go correspondingly down, under the added burden to her cares and
responsibilities. Of course I didn't expect to get through without
committing some crimes and hearing of them afterwards, so I have taken
the inevitable lashings and been able to hum a tune while the punishment
went on. 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 Col. James. I "caught it" for mentioning that Mr. Longfellow's
picture was slightly damaged; and when, after a lull in the storm,
I confessed, shame-facedly, that I had privately suggested to you that we
hadn't any frames, and that if you wouldn't mind hinting to Mr. Houghton,
&c., &c., &c., the Madam was simply speechless for the space of a minute.
Then she said:
"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 man
who--" She was gone. But George was the first person she stumbled on in
the hall, so she took it out of George. I was glad of that, because it
saved the babies.
I've got another rattling good character for my novel! That great work
is mulling itself into shape gradually.
Mrs. Clemens sends love to Mrs. Howells--meantime she is diligently
laying up material for a letter to her.
The "George" of this letter was Mark Twain's colored butler, a
valued and even beloved member of the household--a most picturesque
character, who "one day came to wash windows," as Clemens used to
say, "and remained eighteen years." The fiction of Mrs. Clemens's
severity he always found amusing, because of its entire contrast
with the reality of her gentle heart.
Clemens carried the Tom Sawyer MS. to Boston himself and placed it
in Howells's hands. Howells had begged to be allowed to see the
story, and Mrs. Clemens was especially anxious that he should do so.
She had doubts as to certain portions of it, and had the fullest
faith in Howells's opinion.
It was a gratifying one when it came. Howells wrote: "I finished
reading Tom Sawyer a week ago, sitting up till one A.M. to get to
the end, simply because it was impossible to leave off. It's
altogether the best boy's 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 study of boy character from the grown-up
point of view, you give the wrong key to it.... The adventures are
enchanting. I wish I had been on that island. The treasure-
hunting, the loss in the cave--it's all exciting and splendid.
I shouldn't think of publishing this story serially. Give me a hint
when it's to be out, and I'll start the sheep to jumping in the
right places"--meaning that he would have an advance review ready
for publication in the Atlantic, which was a leader of criticism in
Mark Twain was writing a great deal at this time. Howells was
always urging him to send something to the Atlantic, declaring a
willingness to have his name appear every month in their pages, and
Clemens was generally contributing some story or sketch. The
"proof" referred to in the next letter was of one of these articles.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Nov. 23, '75.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Herewith is the proof. In spite of myself, how
awkwardly I do jumble words together; and how often I do use three words
where one would answer--a thing I am always trying to guard against.
I shall become as slovenly a writer as Charles Francis Adams, if I don't
look out. (That is said in jest; because of course I do not seriously
fear getting so bad as that. I never shall drop so far toward his and
Bret Harte's level as to catch myself saying "It must have been wiser to
have believed that he might have accomplished it if he could have felt
that he would have been supported by those who should have &c. &c. &c.")
The reference to Bret Harte reminds me that I often accuse him of being a
deliberate imitator of Dickens; and this in turn reminds me that I have
charged unconscious plagiarism upon Charley Warner; and this in turn
reminds me that I have been delighting my soul for two weeks over a bran
new and ingenious way of beginning a novel--and behold, all at once it
flashes upon me that Charley Warner originated the idea 3 years ago and
told me about it! Aha! So much for self-righteousness! I am well
repaid. Here are 108 pages of MS, new and clean, lying disgraced in the
waste paper basket, and I am beginning the novel over again in an
unstolen way. I would not wonder if I am the worst literary thief in the
world, without knowing it.
It is glorious news that you like Tom Sawyer so well. I mean to see to
it that your review of it shall have plenty of time to appear before the
other notices. Mrs. Clemens decides with you that the book should issue
as a book for boys, pure and simple--and so do I. It is surely the
correct idea. As to that last chapter, I think of just leaving it off
and adding nothing in its place. Something told me that the book was
done when I got to that point--and so the strong temptation to put Huck's
life at the Widow's into detail, instead of generalizing it in a
paragraph was resisted. Just send Sawyer to me by express--I enclose
money for it. If it should get lost it will be no great matter.
Company interfered last night, and so "Private Theatricals" goes over
till this evening, to be read aloud. Mrs. Clemens is mad, but the story
will take that all out. This is going to be a splendid winter night for
fireside reading, anyway.
I am almost at a dead stand-still with my new story, on account of the
misery of having to do it all over again. We--all send love to you--all.
The "story" referred to may have been any one of several begun by him at
this time. His head was full of ideas for literature of every sort.
Many of his beginnings came to nothing, for the reason that he started
wrong, or with no definitely formed plan. Others of his literary
enterprises were condemned by his wife for their grotesqueness or for the
offense they might give in one way or another, however worthy the
intention behind them. Once he wrote a burlesque on family history "The
Autobiography of a Damned Fool." "Livy wouldn't have it," he said later,
"so I gave it up." The world is indebted to Mark Twain's wife for the
check she put upon his fantastic or violent impulses. She was his
public, his best public--clearheaded and wise. That he realized this,
and was willing to yield, was by no means the least of his good fortunes.
We may believe that he did not always yield easily, and perhaps sometimes
only out of love for her. In the letter which he wrote her on her
thirtieth birthday we realize something of what she had come to mean in
To Mrs. Clemens on her Thirtieth Birthday:
HARTFORD, November 27, 1875.
Livy darling, six years have gone by since I made my first great success
in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made
preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world. Every
day we live together adds to the security of my confidence, that we can
never any more wish to be separated than that we can ever imagine a
regret that we were ever joined. You are dearer to me to-day, my child,
than you were upon the last anniversary of this birth-day; you were
dearer then than you were a year before--you have grown more and more
dear from the first of those anniversaries, and I do not doubt that this
precious progression will continue on to the end.
Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their
gray hairs without fear and without depression, trusting and believing
that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed.
So, with abounding affection for you and our babies, I hail this day that
brings you the matronly grace and dignity of three decades!
S. L. C.
MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS 1876-1885
ARRANGED WITH COMMENT BY ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE
LETTERS, 1876, CHIEFLY TO W. D. HOWELLS. LITERATURE AND POLITICS.
PLANNING A PLAY WITH BRET HARTE
The Monday Evening Club of Hartford was an association of most of
the literary talent of that city, and it included a number of very
distinguished members. The writers, the editors, the lawyers, and
the ministers of the gospel who composed it were more often than not
men of national or international distinction. There was but one
paper at each meeting, and it was likely to be a paper that would
later find its way into some magazine.
Naturally Mark Twain was one of its favorite members, and his
contributions never failed to arouse interest and discussion. A
"Mark Twain night" brought out every member. In the next letter we
find the first mention of one of his most memorable contributions--a
story of one of life's moral aspects. The tale, now included in his
collected works, is, for some reason, little read to-day; yet the
curious allegory, so vivid in its seeming reality, is well worth
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Jan. 11, '76.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Indeed we haven't forgotten the Howellses, nor scored
up a grudge of any kind against them; but the fact is I was under the
doctor's hands for four weeks on a stretch and have been disabled from
working for a week or so beside. I thought I was well, about ten days
ago, so I sent for a short-hand writer and dictated answers to a bushel
or so of letters that had been accumulating during my illness. Getting
everything shipshape and cleared up, I went to work next day upon an
Atlantic article, which ought to be worth $20 per page (which is the
price they usually pay for my work, I believe) for although it is only 70
pages MS (less than two days work, counting by bulk,) I have spent 3 more
days trimming, altering and working at it. I shall put in one more day's
polishing on it, and then read it before our Club, which is to meet at
our house Monday evening, the 24th inst. I think it will bring out
considerable discussion among the gentlemen of the Club--though the title
of the article will not give them much notion of what is to follow,--this
title being "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in
Connecticut"--which reminds me that today's Tribune says there will be a
startling article in the current Atlantic, in which a being which is
tangible bud invisible will figure-exactly the case with the sketch of
mine which I am talking about! However, mine can lie unpublished a year
or two as well as not--though I wish that contributor of yours had not
interfered with his coincidence of heroes.
But what I am coming at, is this: won't you and Mrs. Howells come down
Saturday the 22nd and remain to the Club on Monday night? We always have
a rattling good time at the Club and we do want you to come, ever so
much. Will you? Now say you will. Mrs. Clemens and I are persuading
ourselves that you twain will come.
My volume of sketches is doing very well, considering the times; received
my quarterly statement today from Bliss, by which I perceive that 20,000
copies have been sold--or rather, 20,000 had been sold 3 weeks ago; a lot
more, by this time, no doubt.
I am on the sick list again--and was, day before yesterday--but on the
whole I am getting along.
Howells wrote that he could not come down to the club meeting,
adding that sickness was "quite out of character" for Mark Twain,
and hardly fair on a man who had made so many other people feel
well. He closed by urging that Bliss "hurry out" 'Tom Sawyer.'
"That boy is going to make a prodigious hit." Clemens answered:
To W. D. Howells, in Boston.
HARTFORD, Jan. 18, '76.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Thanks, and ever so many, for the good opinion of 'Tom
Sawyer.' Williams has made about 300 rattling pictures for it--some of
them very dainty. Poor devil, what a genius he has and how he does
murder it with rum. He takes a book of mine, and without suggestion from
anybody builds no end of pictures just from his reading of it.
There was never a man in the world so grateful to another as I was to you
day before yesterday, when I sat down (in still rather wretched health)
to set myself to the dreary and hateful task of making final revision of
Tom Sawyer, and discovered, upon opening the package of MS that your
pencil marks were scattered all along. This was splendid, and swept away
all labor. Instead of reading the MS, I simply hunted out the pencil
marks and made the emendations which they suggested. I reduced the boy
battle to a curt paragraph; I finally concluded to cut the Sunday school
speech down to the first two sentences, leaving no suggestion of satire,
since the book is to be for boys and girls; I tamed the various
obscenities until I judged that they no longer carried offense. So, at a
single sitting I began and finished a revision which I had supposed would
occupy 3 or 4. days and leave me mentally and physically fagged out at
the end. I was careful not to inflict the MS upon you until I had
thoroughly and painstakingly revised it. Therefore, the only faults left
were those that would discover themselves to others, not me--and these
you had pointed out.
There was one expression which perhaps you overlooked. When Huck is
complaining to Tom of the rigorous system in vogue at the widow's, he
says the servants harass him with all manner of compulsory decencies, and
he winds up by saying: "and they comb me all to hell." (No exclamation
point.) Long ago, when I read that to Mrs. Clemens, she made no comment;
another time I created occasion to read that chapter to her aunt and her
mother (both sensitive and loyal subjects of the kingdom of heaven, so to
speak) and they let it pass. I was glad, for it was the most natural
remark in the world for that boy to make (and he had been allowed few
privileges of speech in the book;) when I saw that you, too, had let it
go without protest, I was glad, and afraid; too--afraid you hadn't
observed it. Did you? And did you question the propriety of it? Since
the book is now professedly and confessedly a boy's and girl's hook, that
darn word bothers me some, nights, but it never did until I had ceased to
regard the volume as being for adults.
Don't bother to answer now, (for you've writing enough to do without
allowing me to add to the burden,) but tell me when you see me again!
Which we do hope will be next Saturday or Sunday or Monday. Couldn't you
come now and mull over the alterations which you are going to make in
your MS, and make them after you go back? Wouldn't it assist the work if
you dropped out of harness and routine for a day or two and have that
sort of revivification which comes of a holiday-forgetfulness of the
work-shop? I can always work after I've been to your house; and if you
will come to mine, now, and hear the club toot their various horns over
the exasperating metaphysical question which I mean to lay before them in
the disguise of a literary extravaganza, it would just brace you up like
(I feel sort of mean trying to persuade a man to put down a critical
piece of work at a critical time, but yet I am honest in thinking it
would not hurt the work nor impair your interest in it to come under the
circumstances.) Mrs. Clemens says, "Maybe the Howellses could come Monday
if they cannot come Saturday; ask them; it is worth trying." Well, how's
that? Could you? It would be splendid if you could. Drop me a postal
card--I should have a twinge of conscience if I forced you to write a
letter, (I am honest about that,)--and if you find you can't make out to
come, tell me that you bodies will come the next Saturday if the thing is
possible, and stay over Sunday.
Howells, however, did not come to the club meeting, but promised to
come soon when they could have a quiet time to themselves together.
As to Huck's language, he declared:
"I'd have that swearing out in an instant. I suppose I didn't
notice it because the locution was so familiar to my Western sense,
and so exactly the thing that Huck would say." Clemens changed the
phrase to, "They comb me all to thunder," and so it stands to-day.
The "Carnival of Crime," having served its purpose at the club,
found quick acceptance by Howells for the Atlantic. He was so
pleased with it, in fact, that somewhat later he wrote, urging that
its author allow it to be printed in a dainty book, by Osgood, who
made a specialty of fine publishing. Meantime Howells had written
his Atlantic notice of Tom Sawyer, and now inclosed Clemens a proof
of it. We may judge from the reply that it was satisfactory.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Apl 3, '76.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It is a splendid notice and will embolden weak-kneed
journalistic admirers to speak out, and will modify or shut up the
unfriendly. To "fear God and dread the Sunday school" exactly described
that old feeling which I used to have, but I couldn't have formulated it.
I want to enclose one of the illustrations in this letter, if I do not
forget it. Of course the book is to be elaborately illustrated, and I
think that many of the pictures are considerably above the American
average, in conception if not in execution.
I do not re-enclose your review to you, for you have evidently read and
corrected it, and so I judge you do not need it. About two days after
the Atlantic issues I mean to begin to send books to principal journals
I read the "Carnival of Crime" proof in New York when worn and witless
and so left some things unamended which I might possibly have altered had
I been at home. For instance, "I shall always address you in your own
S-n-i-v-e-l-i-n-g d-r-a-w-l, baby." I saw that you objected to something
there, but I did not understand what! Was it that it was too personal?
Should the language be altered?--or the hyphens taken out? Won't you
please fix it the way it ought to be, altering the language as you
choose, only making it bitter and contemptuous?
"Deuced" was not strong enough; so I met you halfway with "devilish."
Mrs. Clemens has returned from New York with dreadful sore throat, and
bones racked with rheumatism. She keeps her bed. "Aloha nui!" as the
Henry Irving once said to Mark Twain: "You made a mistake by not
adopting the stage as a profession. You would have made even a
greater actor than a writer."
Mark Twain would have made an actor, certainly, but not a very
tractable one. His appearance in Hartford in "The Loan of a Lover"
was a distinguished event, and his success complete, though he made
so many extemporaneous improvements on the lines of thick-headed
Peter Spuyk, that he kept the other actors guessing as to their
cues, and nearly broke up the performance. It was, of course, an
amateur benefit, though Augustin Daly promptly wrote, offering to
put it on for a long run.
The "skeleton novelette" mentioned in the next letter refers to a
plan concocted by Howells and Clemens, by which each of twelve
authors was to write a story, using the same plot, "blindfolded" as
to what the others had written. It was a regular "Mark Twain"
notion, and it is hard to-day to imagine Howells's continued
enthusiasm in it. Neither he nor Clemens gave up the idea for a
long time. It appears in their letters again and again, though
perhaps it was just as well for literature that it was never carried
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Apl. 22, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS, You'll see per enclosed slip that I appear for the first
time on the stage next Wednesday. You and Mrs. H. come down and you
shall skip in free.
I wrote my skeleton novelette yesterday and today. It will make a little
under 12 pages.
Please tell Aldrich I've got a photographer engaged, and tri-weekly issue
is about to begin. Show him the canvassing specimens and beseech him to
S. L. C.
In his next letter Mark Twain explains why Tom Sawyer is not to
appear as soon as planned. The reference to "The Literary
Nightmare" refers to the "Punch, Conductor, Punch with Care" sketch,
which had recently appeared in the Atlantic. Many other versifiers
had had their turn at horse-car poetry, and now a publisher was
anxious to collect it in a book, provided he could use the Atlantic
sketch. Clemens does not tell us here the nature of Carlton's
insult, forgiveness of which he was not yet qualified to grant, but
there are at least two stories about it, or two halves of the same
incident, as related afterward by Clemens and Canton. Clemens said
that when he took the Jumping Frog book to Carlton, in 1867, the
latter, pointing to his stock, said, rather scornfully: "Books?
I don't want your book; my shelves are full of books now," though
the reader may remember that it was Carlton himself who had given
the frog story to the Saturday Press and had seen it become famous.
Carlton's half of the story was that he did not accept Mark Twain's
book because the author looked so disreputable. Long afterward,
when the two men met in Europe, the publisher said to the now rich
and famous author: "Mr. Clemens, my one claim on immortality is that
I declined your first book."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Apl. 25, 1876
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Thanks for giving me the place of honor.
Bliss made a failure in the matter of getting Tom Sawyer ready on time--
the engravers assisting, as usual. I went down to see how much of a
delay there was going to be, and found that the man had not even put a
canvasser on, or issued an advertisement yet--in fact, that the
electrotypes would not all be done for a month! But of course the main
fact was that no canvassing had been done--because a subscription harvest
is before publication, (not after, when people have discovered how bad
one's book is.)
Well, yesterday I put in the Courant an editorial paragraph stating that
Tam Sawyer is "ready to issue, but publication is put off in order to
secure English copyright by simultaneous publication there and here. The
English edition is unavoidably delayed."
You see, part of that is true. Very well. When I observed that my
"Sketches" had dropped from a sale of 6 or 7000 a month down to 1200 a
month, I said "this ain't no time to be publishing books; therefore, let
Tom lie still till Autumn, Mr. Bliss, and make a holiday book of him to
beguile the young people withal."
I shall print items occasionally, still further delaying Tom, till I ease
him down to Autumn without shock to the waiting world.
As to that "Literary Nightmare" proposition. I'm obliged to withhold
consent, for what seems a good reason--to wit: A single page of horse-car
poetry is all that the average reader can stand, without nausea; now, to
stack together all of it that has been written, and then add it to my
article would be to enrage and disgust each and every reader and win the
deathless enmity of the lot.
Even if that reason were insufficient, there would still be a sufficient
reason left, in the fact that Mr. Carlton seems to be the publisher of
the magazine in which it is proposed to publish this horse-car matter.
Carlton insulted me in Feb. 1867, and so when the day arrives that sees
me doing him a civility I shall feel that I am ready for Paradise, since
my list of possible and impossible forgivenesses will then be complete.
Mrs. Clemens says my version of the blindfold novelette "A Murder and A
Marriage" is "good." Pretty strong language--for her.
The Fieldses are coming down to the play tomorrow, and they promise to
get you and Mrs. Howells to come too, but I hope you'll do nothing of the
kind if it will inconvenience you, for I'm not going to play either
strikingly bad enough or well enough to make the journey pay you.
My wife and I think of going to Boston May 7th to see Anna Dickinson's
debut on the 8th. If I find we can go, I'll try to get a stage box and
then you and Mrs. Howells must come to Parker's and go with us to the
(Is that spelt right?--somehow it doesn't look right.)
With our very kindest regards to the whole family.
The mention of Anna Dickinson, at the end of this letter, recalls a
prominent reformer and lecturer of the Civil War period. She had
begun her crusades against temperance and slavery in 1857, when she
was but fifteen years old, when her success as a speaker had been
immediate and extraordinary. Now, in this later period, at the age
of thirty-four, she aspired to the stage--unfortunately for her, as
her gifts lay elsewhere. Clemens and Howells knew Miss Dickinson,
and were anxious for the success which they hardly dared hope for.
Clemens arranged a box party.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
May 4, '76.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I shall reach Boston on Monday the 8th, either at
4:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. (Which is best?) and go straight to Parker's.
If you and Mrs. Howells cannot be there by half past 4, I'll not plan to
arrive till the later train-time (6,) because I don't want to be there
alone--even a minute. Still, Joe Twichell will doubtless go with me
(forgot that,) he is going to try hard to. Mrs. Clemens has given up
going, because Susy is just recovering from about the savagest assault of
diphtheria a child ever did recover from, and therefore will not be
entirely her healthy self again by the 8th.
Would you and Mrs. Howells like to invite Mr. and Mrs. Aldrich? I have
a large proscenium box--plenty of room. Use your own pleasure about it
--I mainly (that is honest,) suggest it because I am seeking to make
matters pleasant for you and Mrs. Howells. I invited Twichell because I
thought I knew you'd like that. I want you to fix it so that you and the
Madam can remain in Boston all night; for I leave next day and we can't
have a talk, otherwise. I am going to get two rooms and a parlor; and
would like to know what you decide about the Aldriches, so as to know
whether to apply for an additional bedroom or not.