Part 1 out of 4
This etext was produced by David Widger
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.
Don't dine that evening, for I shall arrive dinnerless and need your
I'll bring my Blindfold Novelette, but shan't exhibit it unless you
exhibit yours. You would simply go to work and write a novelette that
would make mine sick. Because you would know all about where my weak
points lay. No, Sir, I'm one of these old wary birds!
Don't bother to write a letter--3 lines on a postal card is all that I
can permit from a busy man.
P. S. Good! You'll not have to feel any call to mention that debut in
the Atlantic--they've made me pay the grand cash for my box!--a thing
which most managers would be too worldly-wise to do, with journalistic
folks. But I'm most honestly glad, for I'd rather pay three prices, any
time, than to have my tongue half paralyzed with a dead-head ticket.
Hang that Anna Dickinson, a body can never depend upon her debuts! She
has made five or six false starts already. If she fails to debut this
time, I will never bet on her again.
In his book, My Mark Twain, Howells refers to the "tragedy" of Miss
Dickinson's appearance. She was the author of numerous plays, some
of which were successful, but her career as an actress was never
At Elmira that summer the Clemenses heard from their good friend
Doctor Brown, of Edinburgh, and sent eager replies.
To Dr. John Brown, in Edinburgh:
ELMIRA, NEW YORK, U. S. June 22, 1876.
DEAR FRIEND THE DOCTOR,--It was a perfect delight to see the well-known
handwriting again! But we so grieve to know that you are feeling
miserable. It must not last--it cannot last. The regal summer is come
and it will smile you into high good cheer; it will charm away your
pains, it will banish your distresses. I wish you were here, to spend
the summer with us. We are perched on a hill-top that overlooks a little
world of green valleys, shining rivers, sumptuous forests and billowy
uplands veiled in the haze of distance. We have no neighbors. It is the
quietest of all quiet places, and we are hermits that eschew caves and
live in the sun. Doctor, if you'd only come!
I will carry your letter to Mrs. C. now, and there will be a glad woman,
I tell you! And she shall find one of those pictures to put in this for
Mrs. Barclays and if there isn't one here we'll send right away to
Hartford and get one. Come over, Doctor John, and bring the Barclays,
the Nicolsons and the Browns, one and all!
SAML. L. CLEMENS.
From May until August no letters appear to have passed between
Clemens and Howells; the latter finally wrote, complaining of the
lack of news. He was in the midst of campaign activities, he said,
writing a life of Hayes, and gaily added: "You know I wrote the life
of Lincoln, which elected him." He further reported a comedy he had
completed, and gave Clemens a general stirring up as to his own
Mark Twain, in his hillside study, was busy enough. Summer was his
time for work, and he had tried his hand in various directions. His
mention of Huck Finn in his reply to Howells is interesting, in that
it shows the measure of his enthusiasm, or lack of it, as a gauge of
his ultimate achievement
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 9, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I was just about to write you when your letter came--
and not one of those obscene postal cards, either, but reverently, upon
I shall read that biography, though the letter of acceptance was amply
sufficient to corral my vote without any further knowledge of the man.
Which reminds me that a campaign club in Jersey City wrote a few days ago
and invited me to be present at the raising of a Tilden and Hendricks
flag there, and to take the stand and give them some "counsel." Well, I
could not go, but gave them counsel and advice by letter, and in the
kindliest terms as to the raising of the flag--advised them "not to raise
Get your book out quick, for this is a momentous time. If Tilden is
elected I think the entire country will go pretty straight to--Mrs.
Howells's bad place.
I am infringing on your patent--I started a record of our children's
sayings, last night. Which reminds me that last week I sent down and got
Susie a vast pair of shoes of a most villainous pattern, for I discovered
that her feet were being twisted and cramped out of shape by a smaller
and prettier article. She did not complain, but looked degraded and
injured. At night her mamma gave her the usual admonition when she was
about to say her prayers--to wit:
"Now, Susie--think about God."
"Mamma, I can't, with those shoes."
The farm is perfectly delightful this season. It is as quiet and
peaceful as a South Sea Island. Some of the sunsets which we have
witnessed from this commanding eminence were marvelous. One evening a
rainbow spanned an entire range of hills with its mighty arch, and from a
black hub resting upon the hill-top in the exact centre, black rays
diverged upward in perfect regularity to the rainbow's arch and created a
very strongly defined and altogether the most majestic, magnificent and
startling half-sunk wagon wheel you can imagine. After that, a world of
tumbling and prodigious clouds came drifting up out of the West and took
to themselves a wonderfully rich and brilliant green color--the decided
green of new spring foliage. Close by them we saw the intense blue of
the skies, through rents in the cloud-rack, and away off in another
quarter were drifting clouds of a delicate pink color. In one place hung
a pall of dense black clouds, like compacted pitch-smoke. And the
stupendous wagon wheel was still in the supremacy of its unspeakable
grandeur. So you see, the colors present in the sky at once and the same
time were blue, green, pink, black, and the vari-colored splendors of the
rainbow. All strong and decided colors, too. I don't know whether this
weird and astounding spectacle most suggested heaven, or hell. The
wonder, with its constant, stately, and always surprising changes, lasted
upwards of two hours, and we all stood on the top of the hill by my study
till the final miracle was complete and the greatest day ended that we
Our farmer, who is a grave man, watched that spectacle to the end, and
then observed that it was "dam funny."
The double-barreled novel lies torpid. I found I could not go on with
it. The chapters I had written were still too new and familiar to me.
I may take it up next winter, but cannot tell yet; I waited and waited to
see if my interest in it would not revive, but gave it up a month ago and
began another boys' book--more to be at work than anything else. I have
written 400 pages on it--therefore it is very nearly half done. It is
Huck Finn's Autobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I
have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn the MS when it is done.
So the comedy is done, and with a "fair degree of satisfaction." That
rejoices me, and makes me mad, too--for I can't plan a comedy, and what
have you done that God should be so good to you? I have racked myself
baldheaded trying to plan a comedy harness for some promising characters
of mine to work in, and had to give it up. It is a noble lot of blooded
stock and worth no end of money, but they must stand in the stable and be
profitless. I want to be present when the comedy is produced and help
enjoy the success.
Warner's book is mighty readable, I think.
Love to yez.
Howells promptly wrote again, urging him to enter the campaign for
Hayes. "There is not another man in this country," he said, "who
could help him so much as you." The "farce" which Clemens refers to
in his reply, was "The Parlor Car," which seems to have been about
the first venture of Howells in that field.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, August 23, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I am glad you think I could do Hayes any good, for I
have been wanting to write a letter or make a speech to that end. I'll
be careful not to do either, however, until the opportunity comes in a
natural, justifiable and unlugged way; and shall not then do anything
unless I've got it all digested and worded just right. In which case I
might do some good--in any other I should do harm. When a humorist
ventures upon the grave concerns of life he must do his job better than
another man or he works harm to his cause.
The farce is wonderfully bright and delicious, and must make a hit. You
read it to me, and it was mighty good; I read it last night and it was
better; I read it aloud to the household this morning and it was better
than ever. So it would be worth going a long way to see it well played;
for without any question an actor of genius always adds a subtle
something to any man's work that none but the writer knew was there
before. Even if he knew it. I have heard of readers convulsing
audiences with my "Aurelia's Unfortunate Young Man." If there is
anything really funny in the piece, the author is not aware of it.
All right--advertise me for the new volume. I send you herewith a sketch
which will make 3 pages of the Atlantic. If you like it and accept it,
you should get it into the December No. because I shall read it in public
in Boston the 13th and 14th of Nov. If it went in a month earlier it
would be too old for me to read except as old matter; and if it went in a
month later it would be too old for the Atlantic--do you see? And if you
wish to use it, will you set it up now, and send me three proofs?--one
to correct for Atlantic, one to send to Temple Bar (shall I tell them to
use it not earlier than their November No. and one to use in practising
for my Boston readings.
We must get up a less elaborate and a much better skeleton-plan for the
Blindfold Novels and make a success of that idea. David Gray spent
Sunday here and said we could but little comprehend what a rattling stir
that thing would make in the country. He thought it would make a mighty
strike. So do I. But with only 8 pages to tell the tale in, the plot
must be less elaborate, doubtless. What do you think?
When we exchange visits I'll show you an unfinished sketch of Elizabeth's
time which shook David Gray's system up pretty exhaustively.
The MS. sketch mentioned in the foregoing letter was "The
Canvasser's Tale," later included in the volume, Tom Sawyer Abroad,
and Other Stories. It is far from being Mark Twain's best work, but
was accepted and printed in the Atlantic. David Gray was an able
journalist and editor whom Mark Twain had known in Buffalo.
The "sketch of Elizabeth's time" is a brilliant piece of writing
--an imaginary record of conversation and court manners in the good
old days of free speech and performance, phrased in the language of
the period. Gray, John Hay, Twichell, and others who had a chance
to see it thought highly of it, and Hay had it set in type and a few
proofs taken for private circulation. Some years afterward a West
Point officer had a special font of antique type made for it, and
printed a hundred copies. But the present-day reader would hardly
be willing to include "Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen
Elizabeth" in Mark Twain's collected works.
Clemens was a strong Republican in those days, as his letters of
this period show. His mention of the "caves" in the next is another
reference to "The Canvasser's Tale."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sept. 14, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Yes, the collection of caves was the origin of it.
I changed it to echoes because these being invisible and intangible,
constituted a still more absurd species of property, and yet a man could
really own an echo, and sell it, too, for a high figure--such an echo as
that at the Villa Siminetti, two miles from Milan, for instance.
My first purpose was to have the man make a collection of caves and
afterwards of echoes; but perceived that the element of absurdity and
impracticability was so nearly identical as to amount to a repetition of
I will not, and do not, believe that there is a possibility of Hayes's
defeat, but I want the victory to be sweeping.....
It seems odd to find myself interested in an election. I never was
before. And I can't seem to get over my repugnance to reading or
thinking about politics, yet. But in truth I care little about any
party's politics--the man behind it is the important thing.
You may well know that Mrs. Clemens liked the Parlor Car--enjoyed it ever
so much, and was indignant at you all through, and kept exploding into
rages at you for pretending that such a woman ever existed--closing each
and every explosion with "But it is just what such a woman would do."--
"It is just what such a woman would say." They all voted the Parlor Car
perfection--except me. I said they wouldn't have been allowed to court
and quarrel there so long, uninterrupted; but at each critical moment the
odious train-boy would come in and pile foul literature all over them
four or five inches deep, and the lover would turn his head aside and
curse--and presently that train-boy would be back again (as on all those
Western roads) to take up the literature and leave prize candy.
Of course the thing is perfect, in the magazine, without the train-boy;
but I was thinking of the stage and the groundlings. If the dainty
touches went over their heads, the train-boy and other possible
interruptions would fetch them every time. Would it mar the flow of the
thing too much to insert that devil? I thought it over a couple of hours
and concluded it wouldn't, and that he ought to be in for the sake of the
groundlings (and to get new copyright on the piece.)
And it seemed to me that now that the fourth act is so successfully
written, why not go ahead and write the 3 preceding acts? And then after
it is finished, let me put into it a low-comedy character (the girl's or
the lover's father or uncle) and gobble a big pecuniary interest in your
work for myself. Do not let this generous proposition disturb your rest
--but do write the other 3 acts, and then it will be valuable to
managers. And don't go and sell it to anybody, like Harte, but keep it
Harte's play can be doctored till it will be entirely acceptable and then
it will clear a great sum every year. I am out of all patience with
Harte for selling it. The play entertained me hugely, even in its
present crude state.
Love to you all.
Following the Sellers success, Clemens had made many attempts at
dramatic writing. Such undertakings had uniformly failed, but he
had always been willing to try again. In the next letter we get the
beginning of what proved his first and last direct literary
association, that is to say, collaboration, with Bret Harte.
Clemens had great admiration for Harte's ability and believed that
between them they could turn out a successful play. Whether or not
this belief was justified will appear later. Howells's biography of
Hayes, meanwhile, had not gone well. He reported that only two
thousand copies had been sold in what was now the height of the
campaign. "There's success for you," he said; "it makes me despair
of the Republic."
Clemens, on his part, had made a speech for Hayes that Howells
declared had put civil-service reform in a nutshell; he added: "You
are the only Republican orator, quoted without distinction of party
by all the newspapers."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 11, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS, This is a secret, to be known to nobody but you (of
course I comprehend that Mrs. Howells is part of you) that Bret Harte
came up here the other day and asked me to help him write a play and
divide the swag, and I agreed. I am to put in Scotty Briggs (See Buck
Fanshaw's Funeral, in "Roughing It.") and he is to put in a Chinaman (a,
wonderfully funny creature, as Bret presents him--for 5 minutes--in his
Sandy Bar play.) This Chinaman is to be the character of the play, and
both of us will work on him and develop him. Bret is to draw a plot, and
I am to do the same; we shall use the best of the two, or gouge from both
and build a third. My plot is built--finished it yesterday--six days'
work, 8 or 9 hours a day, and has nearly killed me.
Now the favor I ask of you is that you will have the words "Ah Sin, a
Drama," printed in the middle of a note-paper page and send the same to
me, with Bill. We don't want anybody to know that we are building this
play. I can't get this title page printed here without having to lie so
much that the thought of it is disagreeable to one reared as I have been.
And yet the title of the play must be printed--the rest of the
application for copyright is allowable in penmanship.
We have got the very best gang of servants in America, now. When George
first came he was one of the most religious of men. He had but one
fault--young George Washington's. But I have trained him; and now it
fairly breaks Mrs. Clemens's heart to hear George stand at that front
door and lie to the unwelcome visitor. But your time is valuable; I must
not dwell upon these things.....I'll ask Warner and Harte if they'll do
Blindfold Novelettes. Some time I'll simplify that plot. All it needs
is that the hanging and the marriage shall not be appointed for the same
day. I got over that difficulty, but it required too much MS to
reconcile the thing--so the movement of the story was clogged.
I came near agreeing to make political speeches with our candidate for
Governor the 16th and 23 inst., but I had to give up the idea, for Harte
and I will be here at work then.
Mark Twain was writing few letters these days to any one but
Howells, yet in November he sent one to an old friend of his youth,
Burrough, the literary chair-maker who had roomed with him in the
days when he had been setting type for the St. Louis Evening News.
To Mr. Burrough, of St. Louis:
HARTFORD, Nov. 1, 1876.
MY DEAR BURROUGHS,--As you describe me I can picture myself as I was 20
years ago. The portrait is correct. You think I have grown some; upon
my word there was room for it. You have described a callow fool, a self-
sufficient ass, a mere human tumble-bug.... imagining that he is
remodeling the world and is entirely capable of doing it right.
Ignorance, intolerance, egotism, self-assertion, opaque perception, dense
and pitiful chuckle-headedness--and an almost pathetic unconsciousness of
it all. That is what I was at 19 and 20; and that is what the average
Southerner is at 60 today. Northerners, too, of a certain grade. It is
of children like this that voters are made. And such is the primal
source of our government! A man hardly knows whether to swear or cry
I think I comprehend the position there--perfect freedom to vote just as
you choose, provided you choose to vote as other people think--social
ostracism, otherwise. The same thing exists here, among the Irish.
An Irish Republican is a pariah among his people. Yet that race find
fault with the same spirit in Know-Nothingism.
Fortunately a good deal of experience of men enabled me to choose my
residence wisely. I live in the freest corner of the country. There are
no social disabilities between me and my Democratic personal friends.
We break the bread and eat the salt of hospitality freely together and
never dream of such a thing as offering impertinent interference in each
other's political opinions.
Don't you ever come to New York again and not run up here to see me. I
Suppose we were away for the summer when you were East; but no matter,
you could have telegraphed and found out. We were at Elmira N. Y. and
right on your road, and could have given you a good time if you had
allowed us the chance.
Yes, Will Bowen and I have exchanged letters now and then for several
years, but I suspect that I made him mad with my last--shortly after you
saw him in St. Louis, I judge. There is one thing which I can't stand
and won't stand, from many people. That is sham sentimentality--the kind
a school-girl puts into her graduating composition; the sort that makes
up the Original Poetry column of a country newspaper; the rot that deals
in the "happy days of yore," the "sweet yet melancholy past," with its
"blighted hopes" and its "vanished dreams" and all that sort of drivel.
Will's were always of this stamp. I stood it years. When I get a letter
like that from a grown man and he a widower with a family, it gives me
the stomach ache. And I just told Will Bowen so, last summer. I told
him to stop being 16 at 40; told him to stop drooling about the sweet yet
melancholy past, and take a pill. I said there was but one solitary
thing about the past worth remembering, and that was the fact that it is
the past--can't be restored. Well, I exaggerated some of these truths a
little--but only a little--but my idea was to kill his sham
sentimentality once and forever, and so make a good fellow of him again.
I went to the unheard-of trouble of re-writing the letter and saying the
same harsh things softly, so as to sugarcoat the anguish and make it a
little more endurable and I asked him to write and thank me honestly for
doing him the best and kindliest favor that any friend ever had done him
--but he hasn't done it yet. Maybe he will, sometime. I am grateful to
God that I got that letter off before he was married (I get that news
from you) else he would just have slobbered all over me and drowned me
when that event happened.
I enclose photograph for the young ladies. I will remark that I do not
wear seal-skin for grandeur, but because I found, when I used to lecture
in the winter, that nothing else was able to keep a man warm sometimes,
in these high latitudes. I wish you had sent pictures of yourself and
family--I'll trade picture for picture with you, straight through, if you
are commercially inclined.
Your old friend,
SAML L. CLEMENS.
LETTERS, 1877. TO BERMUDA WITH TWICHELL. PROPOSITION TO TH. NAST.
THE WHITTIER DINNER
Mark Twain must have been too busy to write letters that winter.
Those that have survived are few and unimportant. As a matter of
fact, he was writing the play, "Ah Sin," with Bret Harte, and
getting it ready for production. Harte was a guest in the Clemens
home while the play was being written, and not always a pleasant
one. He was full of requirements, critical as to the 'menage,' to
the point of sarcasm. The long friendship between Clemens and Harte
weakened under the strain of collaboration and intimate daily
intercourse, never to renew its old fiber. It was an unhappy
outcome of an enterprise which in itself was to prove of little
profit. The play, "Ah Sin," had many good features, and with
Charles T. Parsloe in an amusing Chinese part might have been made a
success, if the two authors could have harmoniously undertaken the
needed repairs. It opened in Washington in May, and a letter from
Parsloe, written at the moment, gives a hint of the situation.
From Charles T. Parsloe to S. L. Clemens:
WASHINGTON, D. C. May 11th, 1877.
MR. CLEMENS,--I forgot whether I acknowledged receipt of check by
telegram. Harte has been here since Monday last and done little or
nothing yet, but promises to have something fixed by tomorrow morning.
We have been making some improvements among ourselves. The last act is
weak at the end, and I do hope Mr. Harte will have something for a good
finish to the piece. The other acts I think are all right, now.
Hope you have entirely recovered. I am not very well myself, the
excitement of a first night is bad enough, but to have the annoyance with
Harte that I have is too much for a beginner. I ain't used to it. The
houses have been picking up since Tuesday Mr. Ford has worked well and
hard for us.
Yours in, haste,
CHAS. THOS. PARSLOE.
The play drew some good houses in Washington, but it could not hold
them for a run. Never mind what was the matter with it; perhaps a
very small change at the right point would have turned it into a
fine success. We have seen in a former letter the obligation which
Mark Twain confessed to Harte--a debt he had tried in many ways to
repay--obtaining for him a liberal book contract with Bliss;
advancing him frequent and large sums of money which Harte could
not, or did not, repay; seeking to advance his fortunes in many
directions. The mistake came when he introduced another genius into
the intracacies of his daily life. Clemens went down to Washington
during the early rehearsals of "Ah Sin."
Meantime, Rutherford B. Hayes had been elected President, and
Clemens one day called with a letter of introduction from Howells,
thinking to meet the Chief Executive. His own letter to Howells,
later, probably does not give the real reason of his failure, but it
will be amusing to those who recall the erratic personality of
George Francis Train. Train and Twain were sometimes confused by
the very unlettered; or pretendedly, by Mark Twain's friends.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
BALTIMORE, May 1, '77.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Found I was not absolutely needed in Washington so I
only staid 24 hours, and am on my way home, now. I called at the White
House, and got admission to Col. Rodgers, because I wanted to inquire
what was the right hour to go and infest the, President. It was my luck
to strike the place in the dead waste and middle of the day, the very
busiest time. I perceived that Mr. Rodgers took me for George Francis
Train and had made up his mind not to let me get at the President; so at
the end of half an hour I took my letter of introduction from the table
and went away. It was a great pity all round, and a great loss to the
nation, for I was brim full of the Eastern question. I didn't get to see
the President or the Chief Magistrate either, though I had sort of a
glimpse of a lady at a window who resembled her portraits.
Howells condoled with him on his failure to see the President,
"but," he added, "if you and I had both been there, our combined
skill would have no doubt procured us to be expelled from the White
House by Fred Douglass. But the thing seems to be a complete
failure as it was." Douglass at this time being the Marshal of
Columbia, gives special point to Howells's suggestion.
Later, in May, Clemens took Twichell for an excursion to Bermuda.
He had begged Howells to go with them, but Howells, as usual, was
full of literary affairs. Twichell and Clemens spent four glorious
days tramping the length and breadth of the beautiful island, and
remembered it always as one of their happiest adventures. "Put it
down as an Oasis!" wrote Twichell on his return, "I'm afraid I shall
not see as green a spot again soon. And it was your invention and
your gift. And your company was the best of it. Indeed, I never
took more comfort in being with you than on this journey, which, my
boy, is saying a great deal."
To Howells, Clemens triumphantly reported the success of the
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD, May 29, 1877.
Confound you, Joe Twichell and I roamed about Bermuda day and night and
never ceased to gabble and enjoy. About half the talk was--"It is a
burning shame that Howells isn't here." "Nobody could get at the very
meat and marrow of this pervading charm and deliciousness like Howells;"
"How Howells would revel in the quaintness, and the simplicity of this
people and the Sabbath repose of this land." "What an imperishable
sketch Howells would make of Capt. West the whaler, and Capt. Hope with
the patient, pathetic face, wanderer in all the oceans for 42 years,
lucky in none; coming home defeated once more, now, minus his ship--
resigned, uncomplaining, being used to this." "What a rattling chapter
Howells would make out of the small boy Alfred, with his alert eye and
military brevity and exactness of speech; and out of the old landlady;
and her sacred onions; and her daughter; and the visiting clergyman; and
the ancient pianos of Hamilton and the venerable music in vogue there--
and forty other things which we shall leave untouched or touched but
lightly upon, we not being worthy." "Dam Howells for not being here!"
(this usually from me, not Twichell.)
O, your insufferable pride, which will have a fall some day! If you had
gone with us and let me pay the $50 which the trip and the board and the
various nicknacks and mementoes would cost, I would have picked up enough
droppings from your conversation to pay me 500 per cent profit in the way
of the several magazine articles which I could have written, whereas I
can now write only one or two and am therefore largely out of pocket by
your proud ways. Ponder these things. Lord, what a perfectly bewitching
excursion it was! I traveled under an assumed name and was never
molested with a polite attention from anybody.
Love to you all.
Aldrich, meantime, had invited the Clemenses to Ponkapog during the
Bermuda absence, and Clemens hastened to send him a line expressing
regrets. At the close he said:
To T. B. Aldrich, in Ponkapog, Mass.:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD, June 3, 1877.
Day after tomorrow we leave for the hills beyond Elmira, N. Y. for the
summer, when I shall hope to write a book of some sort or other to beat
the people with. A work similar to your new one in the Atlantic is what
I mean, though I have not heard what the nature of that one is. Immoral,
I suppose. Well, you are right. Such books sell best, Howells says.
Howells says he is going to make his next book indelicate. He says he
thinks there is money in it. He says there is a large class of the
young, in schools and seminaries who--But you let him tell you. He has
ciphered it all down to a demonstration.
With the warmest remembrances to the pair of you
SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.
Clemens would naturally write something about Bermuda, and began at
once, "Random Notes of an Idle Excursion," and presently completed
four papers, which Howells eagerly accepted for the Atlantic. Then
we find him plunging into another play, this time alone.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, June 27, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--If you should not like the first 2 chapters, send them
to me and begin with Chapter 3--or Part 3, I believe you call these
things in the magazine. I have finished No. 4., which closes the series,
and will mail it tomorrow if I think of it. I like this one, I liked the
preceding one (already mailed to you some time ago) but I had my doubts
about 1 and 2. Do not hesitate to squelch them, even with derision and
Today I am deep in a comedy which I began this morning--principal
character, that old detective--I skeletoned the first act and wrote the
second, today; and am dog-tired, now. Fifty-four close pages of MS in 7
hours. Once I wrote 55 pages at a sitting--that was on the opening
chapters of the "Gilded Age" novel. When I cool down, an hour from now,
I shall go to zero, I judge.
Clemens had doubts as to the quality of the Bermuda papers, and with
some reason. They did not represent him at his best. Nevertheless,
they were pleasantly entertaining, and Howells expressed full
approval of them for Atlantic use. The author remained troubled.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, July 4,1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It is splendid of you to say those pleasant things.
But I am still plagued with doubts about Parts 1 and 2. If you have any,
don't print. If otherwise, please make some cold villain like Lathrop
read and pass sentence on them. Mind, I thought they were good, at
first--it was the second reading that accomplished its hellish purpose on
me. Put them up for a new verdict. Part 4 has lain in my pigeon-hole a
good while, and when I put it there I had a Christian's confidence in 4
aces in it; and you can be sure it will skip toward Connecticut tomorrow
before any fatal fresh reading makes me draw my bet.
I've piled up 151 MS pages on my comedy. The first, second and fourth
acts are done, and done to my satisfaction, too. Tomorrow and next day
will finish the 3rd act and the play. I have not written less than 30
pages any day since I began. Never had so much fun over anything in my
life-never such consuming interest and delight. (But Lord bless you the
second reading will fetch it!) And just think!--I had Sol Smith Russell
in my mind's eye for the old detective's part, and hang it he has gone
off pottering with Oliver Optic, or else the papers lie.
I read everything about the President's doings there with exultation.
I wish that old ass of a private secretary hadn't taken me for George
Francis Train. If ignorance were a means of grace I wouldn't trade that
gorilla's chances for the Archbishop of Canterbury's.
I shall call on the President again, by and by. I shall go in my war
paint; and if I am obstructed the nation will have the unusual spectacle
of a private secretary with a pen over one ear a tomahawk over the other.
I read the entire Atlantic this time. Wonderful number. Mrs. Rose Terry
Cooke's story was a ten-strike. I wish she would write 12 old-time New
England tales a year.
Good times to you all! Mind if you don't run here for a few days you
will go to hence without having had a fore-glimpse of heaven.
The play, "Ah Sin," that had done little enough in Washington, was
that summer given another trial by Augustin Daly, at the Fifth
Avenue Theater, New York, with a fine company. Clemens had
undertaken to doctor the play, and it would seem to have had an
enthusiastic reception on the opening night. But it was a summer
audience, unspoiled by many attractions. "Ah Sin" was never a
success in the New York season--never a money-maker on the road.
The reference in the first paragraph of the letter that follows is
to the Bermuda chapters which Mark Twain was publishing
simultaneously in England and America.
ELMIRA, Aug 3,1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I have mailed one set of the slips to London, and told
Bentley you would print Sept. 15, in October Atlantic, and he must not
print earlier in Temple Bar. Have I got the dates and things right?
I am powerful glad to see that No. 1 reads a nation sight better in print
than it did in MS. I told Bentley we'd send him the slips, each time, 6
weeks before day of publication. We can do that can't we? Two months
ahead would be still better I suppose, but I don't know.
"Ah Sin" went a-booming at the Fifth Avenue. The reception of Col.
Sellers was calm compared to it.
*The criticisms were just; the criticisms of the great New York dailies
are always just, intelligent, and square and honest--notwithstanding,
by a blunder which nobody was seriously to blame for, I was made to say
exactly the opposite of this in a newspaper some time ago. Never said it
at all, and moreover I never thought it. I could not publicly correct it
before the play appeared in New York, because that would look as if I had
really said that thing and then was moved by fears for my pocket and my
reputation to take it back. But I can correct it now, and shall do it;
for now my motives cannot be impugned. When I began this letter, it had
not occurred to me to use you in this connection, but it occurs to me
now. Your opinion and mine, uttered a year ago, and repeated more than
once since, that the candor and ability of the New York critics were
beyond question, is a matter which makes it proper enough that I should
speak through you at this time. Therefore if you will print this
paragraph somewhere, it may remove the impression that I say unjust
things which I do not think, merely for the pleasure of talking.
There, now, Can't you say--
"In a letter to Mr. Howells of the Atlantic Monthly, Mark Twain describes
the reception of the new comedy 'Ali Sin,' and then goes on to say:" etc.
Beginning at the star with the words, "The criticisms were just." Mrs.
Clemens says, "Don't ask that of Mr. Howells--it will be disagreeable to
him." I hadn't thought of it, but I will bet two to one on the
correctness of her instinct. We shall see.
Will you cut that paragraph out of this letter and precede it with the
remarks suggested (or with better ones,) and send it to the Globe or some
other paper? You can't do me a bigger favor; and yet if it is in the
least disagreeable, you mustn't think of it. But let me know, right
away, for I want to correct this thing before it grows stale again.
I explained myself to only one critic (the World)--the consequence was a
noble notice of the play. This one called on me, else I shouldn't have
explained myself to him.
I have been putting in a deal of hard work on that play in New York, but
it is full of incurable defects.
My old Plunkett family seemed wonderfully coarse and vulgar on the stage,
but it was because they were played in such an outrageously and
inexcusably coarse way. The Chinaman is killingly funny. I don't know
when I have enjoyed anything as much as I did him. The people say there
isn't enough of him in the piece. That's a triumph--there'll never be
any more of him in it.
John Brougham said, "Read the list of things which the critics have
condemned in the piece, and you have unassailable proofs that the play
contains all the requirements of success and a long life."
That is true. Nearly every time the audience roared I knew it was over
something that would be condemned in the morning (justly, too) but must
be left in--for low comedies are written for the drawing-room, the
kitchen and the stable, and if you cut out the kitchen and the stable the
drawing-room can't support the play by itself.
There was as much money in the house the first two nights as in the first
ten of Sellers. Haven't heard from the third--I came away.
In a former letter we have seen how Mark Twain, working on a story
that was to stand as an example of his best work, and become one of
his surest claims to immortality (The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn), displayed little enthusiasm in his undertaking. In the
following letter, which relates the conclusion of his detective
comedy, we find him at the other extreme, on very tiptoe with
enthusiasm over something wholly without literary value or dramatic
possibility. One of the hall-marks of genius is the inability to
discriminate as to the value of its output. "Simon Wheeler, Amateur
Detective" was a dreary, absurd, impossible performance, as wild and
unconvincing in incident and dialogue as anything out of an asylum
could well be. The title which he first chose for it, "Balaam's
Ass," was properly in keeping with the general scheme. Yet Mark
Twain, still warm with the creative fever, had the fullest faith in
it as a work of art and a winner of fortune. It would never see the
light of production, of course. We shall see presently that the
distinguished playwright, Dion Boucicault, good-naturedly
complimented it as being better than "Ahi Sin." One must wonder
what that skilled artist really thought, and how he could do even
this violence to his conscience.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Wednesday P.M. (1877)
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It's finished. I was misled by hurried mis-paging.
There were ten pages of notes, and over 300 pages of MS when the play was
done. Did it in 42 hours, by the clock; 40 pages of the Atlantic--but
then of course it's very "fat." Those are the figures, but I don't
believe them myself, because the thing's impossible.
But let that pass. All day long, and every day, since I finished (in the
rough) I have been diligently altering, amending, re-writing, cutting
down. I finished finally today. Can't think of anything else in the way
of an improvement. I thought I would stick to it while the interest was
hot--and I am mighty glad I did. A week from now it will be frozen--then
revising would be drudgery. (You see I learned something from the fatal
blunder of putting "Ah Sin" aside before it was finished.)
She's all right, now. She reads in two hours and 20 minutes and will
play not longer than 2 3/4 hours. Nineteen characters; 3 acts; (I
bunched 2 into 1.)
Tomorrow I will draw up an exhaustive synopsis to insert in the printed
title-page for copyrighting, and then on Friday or Saturday I go to New
York to remain a week or ten days and lay for an actor. Wish you could
run down there and have a holiday. 'Twould be fun.
My wife won't have "Balaam's Ass"; therefore I call the piece "Cap'n
Simon Wheeler, The Amateur Detective."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 29, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Just got your letter last night. No, dern that
article,--[One of the Bermuda chapters.]--it made me cry when I read it
in proof, it was so oppressively and ostentatiously poor. Skim your eye
over it again and you will think as I do. If Isaac and the prophets of
Baal can be doctored gently and made permissible, it will redeem the
thing: but if it can't, let's burn all of the articles except the tail-
end of it and use that as an introduction to the next article--as I
suggested in my letter to you of day before yesterday. (I had this proof
from Cambridge before yours came.)
Boucicault says my new play is ever so much better than "Ah Sin;" says
the Amateur detective is a bully character, too. An actor is chawing
over the play in New York, to see if the old Detective is suited to his
abilities. Haven't heard from him yet.
If you've got that paragraph by you yet, and if in your judgment it would
be good to publish it, and if you absolutely would not mind doing it,
then I think I'd like to have you do it--or else put some other words in
my mouth that will be properer, and publish them. But mind, don't think
of it for a moment if it is distasteful--and doubtless it is. I value
your judgment more than my own, as to the wisdom of saying anything at
all in this matter. To say nothing leaves me in an injurious position--
and yet maybe I might do better to speak to the men themselves when I go
to New York. This was my latest idea, and it looked wise.
We expect to leave here for home Sept. 4, reaching there the 8th--but we
may be delayed a week.
Curious thing. I read passages from my play, and a full synopsis, to
Boucicault, who was re-writing a play, which he wrote and laid aside 3 or
4 years ago. (My detective is about that age, you know.) Then he read a
passage from his play, where a real detective does some things that are
as idiotic as some of my old Wheeler's performances. Showed me the
passages, and behold, his man's name is Wheeler! However, his Wheeler
is not a prominent character, so we'll not alter the names. My Wheeler's
name is taken from the old jumping Frog sketch.
I am re-reading Ticknor's diary, and am charmed with it, though I still
say he refers to too many good things when he could just as well have
told them. Think of the man traveling 8 days in convoy and familiar
intercourse with a band of outlaws through the mountain fastnesses of
Spain--he the fourth stranger they had encountered in thirty years--and
compressing this priceless experience into a single colorless paragraph
of his diary! They spun yarns to this unworthy devil, too.
I wrote you a very long letter a day or two ago, but Susy Crane wanted to
make a copy of it to keep, so it has not gone yet. It may go today,
We unite in warm regards to you and yours.
The Ticknor referred to in a former letter was Professor George
Ticknor, of Harvard College, a history-writer of distinction. On
the margin of the "Diary" Mark Twain once wrote, "Ticknor is a
Millet, who makes all men fall in love with him." And adds: "Millet
was the cause of lovable qualities in people, and then he admired
and loved those persons for the very qualities which he (without
knowing it) had created in them. Perhaps it would be strictly truer
of these two men to say that they bore within them the divine
something in whose presence the evil in people fled away and hid
itself, while all that was good in them came spontaneously forward
out of the forgotten walls and comers in their systems where it was
accustomed to hide."
It is Frank Millet, the artist, he is speaking of--a knightly soul
whom all the Clemens household loved, and who would one day meet his
knightly end with those other brave men that found death together
when the Titanic went down.
The Clemens family was still at Quarry Farm at the end of August,
and one afternoon there occurred a startling incident which Mark
Twain thought worth setting down in practically duplicate letters to
Howells and to Dr. John Brown. It may be of interest to the reader
to know that John T. Lewis, the colored man mentioned, lived to a
good old age--a pensioner of the Clemens family and, in the course
of time, of H. H. Rogers. Howells's letter follows. It is the
"very long letter" referred to in the foregoing.
To W. D. Howells and wife, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 25 '77.
MY DEAR HOWELLSES,--I thought I ought to make a sort of record of it for
further reference; the pleasantest way to do that would be to write it to
somebody; but that somebody would let it leak into print and that we wish
to avoid. The Howellses would be safe--so let us tell the Howellses
Day before yesterday was a fine summer day away up here on the summit.
Aunt Marsh and Cousin May Marsh were here visiting Susie Crane and Livy
at our farmhouse. By and by mother Langdon came up the hill in the "high
carriage" with Nora the nurse and little Jervis (Charley Langdon's little
boy)--Timothy the coachman driving. Behind these came Charley's wife and
little girl in the buggy, with the new, young, spry, gray horse--a high-
stepper. Theodore Crane arrived a little later.
The Bay and Susy were on hand with their nurse, Rosa. I was on hand,
too. Susy Crane's trio of colored servants ditto--these being Josie,
house-maid; Aunty Cord, cook, aged 62, turbaned, very tall, very broad,
very fine every way (see her portrait in "A True Story just as I Heard
It" in my Sketches;) Chocklate (the laundress) (as the Bay calls her--she
can't say Charlotte,) still taller, still more majestic of proportions,
turbaned, very black, straight as an Indian--age 24. Then there was the
farmer's wife (colored) and her little girl, Susy.
Wasn't it a good audience to get up an excitement before? Good
excitable, inflammable material?
Lewis was still down town, three miles away, with his two-horse wagon,
to get a load of manure. Lewis is the farmer (colored). He is of mighty
frame and muscle, stocky, stooping, ungainly, has a good manly face and a
clear eye. Age about 45--and the most picturesque of men, when he sits
in his fluttering work-day rags, humped forward into a bunch, with his
aged slouch hat mashed down over his ears and neck. It is a spectacle to
make the broken-hearted smile. Lewis has worked mighty hard and remained
mighty poor. At the end of each whole year's toil he can't show a gain
of fifty dollars. He had borrowed money of the Cranes till he owed them
$700 and he being conscientious and honest, imagine what it was to him to
have to carry this stubborn, helpless load year in and year out.
Well, sunset came, and Ida the young and comely (Charley Langdon's wife)
and her little Julia and the nurse Nora, drove out at the gate behind the
new gray horse and started down the long hill--the high carriage
receiving its load under the porte cochere. Ida was seen to turn her
face toward us across the fence and intervening lawn--Theodore waved
good-bye to her, for he did not know that her sign was a speechless
appeal for help.
The next moment Livy said, "Ida's driving too fast down hill!" She
followed it with a sort of scream, "Her horse is running away!"
We could see two hundred yards down that descent. The buggy seemed to
fly. It would strike obstructions and apparently spring the height of a
man from the ground.
Theodore and I left the shrieking crowd behind and ran down the hill
bare-headed and shouting. A neighbor appeared at his gate--a tenth of a
second too late! the buggy vanished past him like a thought. My last
glimpse showed it for one instant, far down the descent, springing high
in the air out of a cloud of dust, and then it disappeared. As I flew
down the road my impulse was to shut my eyes as I turned them to the
right or left, and so delay for a moment the ghastly spectacle of
mutilation and death I was expecting.
I ran on and on, still spared this spectacle, but saying to myself:
"I shall see it at the turn of the road; they never can pass that turn
alive." When I came in sight of that turn I saw two wagons there bunched
together--one of them full of people. I said, "Just so--they are staring
petrified at the remains."
But when I got amongst that bunch, there sat Ida in her buggy and nobody
hurt, not even the horse or the vehicle. Ida was pale but serene. As I
came tearing down, she smiled back over her shoulder at me and said,
"Well, we're alive yet, aren't we?" A miracle had been performed--
You see Lewis, the prodigious, humped upon his front seat, had been
toiling up, on his load of manure; he saw the frantic horse plunging down
the hill toward him, on a full gallop, throwing his heels as high as a
man's head at every jump. So Lewis turned his team diagonally across the
road just at the "turn," thus making a V with the fence--the running
horse could not escape that, but must enter it. Then Lewis sprang to the
ground and stood in this V. He gathered his vast strength, and with a
perfect Creedmoor aim he seized the gray horse's bit as he plunged by and
fetched him up standing!
It was down hill, mind you. Ten feet further down hill neither Lewis nor
any other man could have saved them, for they would have been on the
abrupt "turn," then. But how this miracle was ever accomplished at all,
by human strength, generalship and accuracy, is clean beyond my
comprehension--and grows more so the more I go and examine the ground and
try to believe it was actually done. I know one thing, well; if Lewis
had missed his aim he would have been killed on the spot in the trap he
had made for himself, and we should have found the rest of the remains
away down at the bottom of the steep ravine.
Ten minutes later Theodore and I arrived opposite the house, with the
servants straggling after us, and shouted to the distracted group on the
porch, "Everybody safe!"
Believe it? Why how could they? They knew the road perfectly. We might
as well have said it to people who had seen their friends go over
However, we convinced them; and then, instead of saying something, or
going on crying, they grew very still--words could not express it, I
Nobody could do anything that night, or sleep, either; but there was a
deal of moving talk, with long pauses between pictures of that flying
carriage, these pauses represented--this picture intruded itself all the
time and disjointed the talk.
But yesterday evening late, when Lewis arrived from down town he found
his supper spread, and some presents of books there, with very
complimentary writings on the fly-leaves, and certain very complimentary
letters, and more or less greenbacks of dignified denomination pinned to
these letters and fly-leaves,--and one said, among other things, (signed
by the Cranes) "We cancel $400 of your indebtedness to us," &c. &c.
(The end thereof is not yet, of course, for Charley Langdon is West and
will arrive ignorant of all these things, today.)
The supper-room had been kept locked and imposingly secret and mysterious
until Lewis should arrive; but around that part of the house were
gathered Lewis's wife and child, Chocklate, Josie, Aunty Cord and our
Rosa, canvassing things and waiting impatiently. They were all on hand
when the curtain rose.
Now, Aunty Cord is a violent Methodist and Lewis an implacable Dunker--
Baptist. Those two are inveterate religious disputants. The revealments
having been made Aunty Cord said with effusion--
"Now, let folks go on saying there ain't no God! Lewis, the Lord sent
you there to stop that horse."
"Then who sent the horse there in sich a shape?"
But I want to call your attention to one thing. When Lewis arrived the
other evening, after saving those lives by a feat which I think is the
most marvelous of any I can call to mind--when he arrived, hunched up on
his manure wagon and as grotesquely picturesque as usual, everybody
wanted to go and see how he looked. They came back and said he was
beautiful. It was so, too--and yet he would have photographed exactly as
he would have done any day these past 7 years that he has occupied this
P. S. Our little romance in real life is happily and satisfactorily
completed. Charley has come, listened, acted--and now John T. Lewis has
ceased to consider himself as belonging to that class called "the poor."
It has been known, during some years, that it was Lewis's purpose to buy
a thirty dollar silver watch some day, if he ever got where he could
afford it. Today Ida has given him a new, sumptuous gold Swiss stem-
winding stop-watch; and if any scoffer shall say, "Behold this thing is
out of character," there is an inscription within, which will silence
him; for it will teach him that this wearer aggrandizes the watch, not
the watch the wearer.
I was asked beforehand, if this would be a wise gift, and I said "Yes,
the very wisest of all;" I know the colored race, and I know that in
Lewis's eyes this fine toy will throw the other more valuable
testimonials far away into the shade. If he lived in England the Humane
Society would give him a gold medal as costly as this watch, and nobody
would say: "It is out of character." If Lewis chose to wear a town
clock, who would become it better?
Lewis has sound common sense, and is not going to be spoiled. The
instant he found himself possessed of money, he forgot himself in a plan
to make his old father comfortable, who is wretchedly poor and lives down
in Maryland. His next act, on the spot, was the proffer to the Cranes of
the $300 of his remaining indebtedness to them. This was put off by them
to the indefinite future, for he is not going to be allowed to pay that
at all, though he doesn't know it.
A letter of acknowledgment from Lewis contains a sentence which raises it
to the dignity of literature:
"But I beg to say, humbly, that inasmuch as divine providence saw fit to
use me as a instrument for the saving of those presshious lives, the
honner conferd upon me was greater than the feat performed."
That is well said.
Howells was moved to use the story in the. "Contributors' Club,"
and warned Clemens against letting it get into the newspapers. He
declared he thought it one of the most impressive things he had ever
read. But Clemens seems never to have allowed it to be used in any
form. In its entirety, therefore, it is quite new matter.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Sept. 19, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I don't really see how the story of the runaway horse
could read well with the little details of names and places and things
left out. They are the true life of all narrative. It wouldn't quite
do to print them at this time. We'll talk about it when you come.
Delicacy--a sad, sad false delicacy--robs literature of the best two
things among its belongings. Family-circle narrative and obscene
stories. But no matter; in that better world which I trust we are all
going to I have the hope and belief that they will not be denied us.
Say--Twichell and I had an adventure at sea, 4 months ago, which I did
not put in my Bermuda articles, because there was not enough to it. But
the press dispatches bring the sequel today, and now there's plenty to
it. A sailless, wasteless, chartless, compassless, grubless old
condemned tub that has been drifting helpless about the ocean for 4
months and a half, begging bread and water like any other tramp, flying a
signal of distress permanently, and with 13 innocent, marveling
chuckleheaded Bermuda niggers on board, taking a Pleasure Excursion! Our
ship fed the poor devils on the 25th of last May, far out at sea and left
them to bullyrag their way to New York--and now they ain't as near New
York as they were then by 250 miles! They have drifted 750 miles and are
still drifting in the relentless Gulf Stream! What a delicious magazine
chapter it would make--but I had to deny myself. I had to come right out
in the papers at once, with my details, so as to try to raise the
government's sympathy sufficiently to have better succor sent them than
the cutter Colfax, which went a little way in search of them the other
day and then struck a fog and gave it up.
If the President were in Washington I would telegraph him.
When I hear that the "Jonas Smith" has been found again, I mean to send
for one of those darkies, to come to Hartford and give me his adventures
for an Atlantic article.
Likely you will see my today's article in the newspapers.
The revenue cutter Colfax went after the Jonas Smith, thinking there was
mutiny or other crime on board. It occurs to me now that, since there is
only mere suffering and misery and nobody to punish, it ceases to be a
matter which (a republican form of) government will feel authorized to
interfere in further. Dam a republican form of government.
Clemens thought he had given up lecturing for good; he was
prosperous and he had no love for the platform. But one day an idea
popped into his head: Thomas Nast, the "father of the American
cartoon," had delivered a successful series of illustrated lectures-
talks for which he made the drawings as he went along. Mark Twain's
idea was to make a combination with Nast. His letter gives us the
plan in full.
To Thomas Nast, Morristown, N. J.:
HARTFORD, CONN. 1877.
MY DEAR NAST,--I did not think I should ever stand on a platform again
until the time was come for me to say "I die innocent." But the same old
offers keep arriving. I have declined them all, just as usual, though
sorely tempted, as usual.
Now, I do not decline because I mind talking to an audience, but because
(1) traveling alone is so heartbreakingly dreary, and (2) shouldering the
whole show is such a cheer-killing responsibility.
Therefore, I now propose to you what you proposed to me in 1867, ten
years ago (when I was unknown) viz., that you stand on the platform and
make pictures, and I stand by you and blackguard the audience. I should
enormously enjoy meandering around (to big towns--don't want to go to the
little ones) with you for company.
My idea is not to fatten the lecture agents and lyceums on the spoils,
but put all the ducats religiously into two equal piles, and say to the
artist and lecturer, "Absorb these."
For instance--[Here follows a plan and a possible list of cities to be
visited. The letter continues]
Call the gross receipts $100,000 for four months and a half, and the
profit from $60,000 to $75,000 (I try to make the figures large enough,
and leave it to the public to reduce them.)
I did not put in Philadelphia because Pugh owns that town, and last
winter when I made a little reading-trip he only paid me $300 and
pretended his concert (I read fifteen minutes in the midst of a concert)
cost him a vast sum, and so he couldn't afford any more. I could get up
a better concert with a barrel of cats.
I have imagined two or three pictures and concocted the accompanying
remarks to see how the thing would go. I was charmed.
Well, you think it over, Nast, and drop me a line. We should have some
SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.
The plan came to nothing. Nast, like Clemens, had no special taste
for platforming, and while undoubtedly there would have been large
profits in the combination, the promise of the venture did not
compel his acceptance.
In spite of his distaste for the platform Mark Twain was always
giving readings and lectures, without charge, for some worthy
Hartford cause. He was ready to do what he could to help an
entertainment along, if he could do it in his own way--an original
way, sometimes, and not always gratifying to the committee, whose
plans were likely to be prearranged.
For one thing, Clemens, supersensitive in the matter of putting
himself forward in his own town, often objected to any special
exploitation of his name. This always distressed the committee, who
saw a large profit to their venture in the prestige of his fame.
The following characteristic letter was written in self-defense
when, on one such occasion, a committee had become sufficiently
peevish to abandon a worthy enterprise.
To an Entertainment Committee, in Hartford:
E. S. SYKES, Esq:
Dr. SIR,--Mr. Burton's note puts upon me all the blame of the destruction
of an enterprise which had for its object the succor of the Hartford
poor. That is to say, this enterprise has been dropped because of the
"dissatisfaction with Mr. Clemens's stipulations." Therefore I must be
allowed to say a word in my defense.
There were two "stipulations"--exactly two. I made one of them; if the
other was made at all, it was a joint one, from the choir and me.
My individual stipulation was, that my name should be kept out of the
newspapers. The joint one was that sufficient tickets to insure a good
sum should be sold before the date of the performance should be set.
(Understand, we wanted a good sum--I do not think any of us bothered
about a good house; it was money we were after)
Now you perceive that my concern is simply with my individual
stipulation. Did that break up the enterprise?
Eugene Burton said he would sell $300 worth of the tickets himself.--Mr.
Smith said he would sell $200 or $300 worth himself. My plan for Asylum
Hill Church would have ensured $150 from that quarter.--All this in the
face of my "Stipulation." It was proposed to raise $1000; did my
stipulation render the raising of $400 or $500 in a dozen churches
My stipulation is easily defensible. When a mere reader or lecturer has
appeared 3 or 4 times in a town of Hartford's size, he is a good deal
more than likely to get a very unpleasant snub if he shoves himself
forward about once or twice more. Therefore I long ago made up my mind
that whenever I again appeared here, it should be only in a minor
capacity and not as a chief attraction.
Now, I placed that harmless and very justifiable stipulation before the
committee the other day; they carried it to headquarters and it was
accepted there. I am not informed that any objection was made to it, or
that it was regarded as an offense. It seems late in the day, now, after
a good deal of trouble has been taken and a good deal of thankless work
done by the committees, to, suddenly tear up the contract and then turn
and bowl me down from long range as being the destroyer of it.
If the enterprise has failed because of my individual stipulation, here
you have my proper and reasonable reasons for making that stipulation.
If it has failed because of the joint stipulation, put the blame there,
and let us share it collectively.
I think our plan was a good one. I do not doubt that Mr. Burton still
approves of it, too. I believe the objections come from other quarters,
and not from him. Mr. Twichell used the following words in last Sunday's
sermon, (if I remember correctly):
"My hearers, the prophet Deuteronomy says this wise thing: 'Though ye
plan a goodly house for the poor, and plan it with wisdom, and do take
off your coats and set to to build it, with high courage, yet shall the
croaker presently come, and lift up his voice, (having his coat on,) and
say, Verily this plan is not well planned--and he will go his way; and
the obstructionist will come, and lift up his voice, (having his coat
on,) and say, Behold, this is but a sick plan--and he will go his way;
and the man that knows it all will come, and lift up his voice, (having
his coat on,) and say, Lo, call they this a plan? then will he go his
way; and the places which knew him once shall know him no more forever,
because he was not, for God took him. Now therefore I say unto you,
Verily that house will not be budded. And I say this also: He that
waiteth for all men to be satisfied with his plan, let him seek eternal
life, for he shall need it.'"
This portion of Mr. Twichell's sermon made a great impression upon me,
and I was grieved that some one had not wakened me earlier so that I
might have heard what went before.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Mr. Sykes (of the firm of Sykes & Newton, the Allen House Pharmacy)
replied that he had read the letter to the committee and that it had
set those gentlemen right who had not before understood the
situation. "If others were as ready to do their part as yourself
our poor would not want assistance," he said, in closing.
We come now to an incident which assumes the proportions of an
episode-even of a catastrophe--in Mark Twain's career. The disaster
was due to a condition noted a few pages earlier--the inability of
genius to judge its own efforts. The story has now become history--
printed history--it having been sympathetically told by Howells in
My Mark Twain, and more exhaustively, with a report of the speech
that invited the lightning, in a former work by the present writer.
The speech was made at John Greenleaf Whittier's seventieth birthday
dinner, given by the Atlantic staff on the evening of December 17,
1877. It was intended as a huge joke--a joke that would shake the
sides of these venerable Boston deities, Longfellow, Emerson,
Holmes, and the rest of that venerated group. Clemens had been a
favorite at the Atlantic lunches and dinners--a speech by him always
an event. This time he decided to outdo himself.
He did that, but not in the way he had intended. To use one of his
own metaphors, he stepped out to meet the rainbow and got struck by
lightning. His joke was not of the Boston kind or size. When its
full nature burst upon the company--when the ears of the assembled
diners heard the sacred names of Longfellow, Emerson, and Holmes
lightly associated with human aspects removed--oh, very far removed
--from Cambridge and Concord, a chill fell upon the diners that
presently became amazement, and then creeping paralysis. Nobody
knew afterward whether the great speech that he had so gaily planned
ever came to a natural end or not. Somebody--the next on the
program--attempted to follow him, but presently the company melted
out of the doors and crept away into the night.
It seemed to Mark Twain that his career had come to an end. Back in
Hartford, sweating and suffering through sleepless nights, he wrote
Howells his anguish.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sunday Night. 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--My sense of disgrace does not abate. It grows. I see
that it is going to add itself to my list of permanencies--a list of
humiliations that extends back to when I was seven years old, and which
keep on persecuting me regardless of my repentancies.
I feel that my misfortune has injured me all over the country; therefore
it will be best that I retire from before the public at present. It will
hurt the Atlantic for me to appear in its pages, now. So it is my
opinion and my wife's that the telephone story had better be suppressed.
Will you return those proofs or revises to me, so that I can use the same
on some future occasion?
It seems as if I must have been insane when I wrote that speech and saw
no harm in it, no disrespect toward those men whom I reverenced so much.
And what shame I brought upon you, after what you said in introducing me!
It burns me like fire to think of it.
The whole matter is a dreadful subject--let me drop it here--at least on
Howells sent back a comforting letter. "I have no idea of dropping
you out of the Atlantic," he wrote; "and Mr. Houghton has still
less, if possible. You are going to help and not hurt us many a
year yet, if you will.... You are not going to be floored by it;
there is more justice than that, even in this world."
Howells added that Charles Elliot Norton had expressed just the
right feeling concerning the whole affair, and that many who had not
heard the speech, but read the newspaper reports of it, had found it
Clemens wrote contrite letters to Holmes, Emerson, and Longfellow,
and received most gracious acknowledgments. Emerson, indeed, had
not heard the speech: His faculties were already blurred by the
mental mists that would eventually shut him in. Clemens wrote again
to Howells, this time with less anguish.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Friday, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Your letter was a godsend; and perhaps the welcomest
part of it was your consent that I write to those gentlemen; for you
discouraged my hints in that direction that morning in Boston--rightly,
too, for my offense was yet too new, then. Warner has tried to hold up
our hands like the good fellow he is, but poor Twichell could not say a
word, and confessed that he would rather take nearly any punishment than
face Livy and me. He hasn't been here since.
It is curious, but I pitched early upon Mr. Norton as the very man who
would think some generous thing about that matter, whether he said it or
not. It is splendid to be a man like that--but it is given to few to be.
I wrote a letter yesterday, and sent a copy to each of the three. I
wanted to send a copy to Mr. Whittier also, since the offense was done
also against him, being committed in his presence and he the guest of the
occasion, besides holding the well-nigh sacred place he does in his
people's estimation; but I didn't know whether to venture or not, and so
ended by doing nothing. It seemed an intrusion to approach him, and even
Livy seemed to have her doubts as to the best and properest way to do in
the case. I do not reverence Mr. Emerson less, but somehow I could
approach him easier.
Send me those proofs, if you have got them handy; I want to submit them
to Wylie; he won't show them to anybody.
Had a very pleasant and considerate letter from Mr. Houghton, today, and
was very glad to receive it.
You can't imagine how brilliant and beautiful that new brass fender is,
and how perfectly naturally it takes its place under the carved oak. How
they did scour it up before they sent it! I lied a good deal about it
when I came home--so for once I kept a secret and surprised Livy on a
I haven't done a stroke of work since the Atlantic dinner; have only
moped around. But I'm going to try tomorrow. How could I ever have.
Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God's fool, and
all His works must be contemplated with respect.
Livy and I join in the warmest regards to you and yours,
Longfellow, in his reply, said: "I do not believe anybody was much hurt.
Certainly I was not, and Holmes tells me he was not. So I think you may
dismiss the matter from your mind without further remorse."
Holmes wrote: "It never occurred to me for a moment to take offense, or
feel wounded by your playful use of my name."
Miss Ellen Emerson replied for her father (in a letter to Mrs. Clemens)
that the speech had made no impression upon him, giving at considerable
length the impression it had made on herself and other members of the
Clearly, it was not the principals who were hurt, but only those who
held them in awe, though one can realize that this would not make it
much easier for Mark Twain.
LETTERS FROM EUROPE, 1878-79. TRAMPING WITH TWICHELL. WRITING A NEW
TRAVEL BOOK. LIFE IN MUNICH
Whether the unhappy occurrence at the Whittier dinner had anything
to do with Mark Twain's resolve to spend a year or two in Europe
cannot be known now. There were other good reasons for going, one
in particular being a demand for another book of travel. It was
also true, as he explains in a letter to his mother, that his days
were full of annoyances, making it difficult for him to work. He
had a tendency to invest money in almost any glittering enterprise
that came along, and at this time he was involved in the promotion
of a variety of patent rights that brought him no return other than
assessment and vexation.
Clemens's mother was by this time living with her son Onion and his
wife, in Iowa.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa:
HARTFORD, Feb. 17, 1878
MY DEAR MOTHER,--I suppose I am the worst correspondent in the whole
world; and yet I grow worse and worse all the time. My conscience
blisters me for not writing you, but it has ceased to abuse me for not
writing other folks.
Life has come to be a very serious matter with me. I have a badgered,
harassed feeling, a good part of my time. It comes mainly of business
responsibilities and annoyances, and the persecution of kindly letters
from well meaning strangers--to whom I must be rudely silent or else put
in the biggest half of my time bothering over answers. There are other
things also that help to consume my time and defeat my projects. Well,
the consequence is, I cannot write a book at home. This cuts my income
down. Therefore, I have about made up my mind to take my tribe and fly
to some little corner of Europe and budge no more until I shall have
completed one of the half dozen books that lie begun, up stairs. Please
say nothing about this at present.
We propose to sail the 11th of April. I shall go to Fredonia to meet
you, but it will not be well for Livy to make that trip I am afraid.
However, we shall see. I will hope she can go.
Mr. Twichell has just come in, so I must go to him. We are all well, and
send love to you all.
He was writing few letters at this time, and doing but little work.
There were always many social events during the winter, and what
with his European plans and a diligent study of the German language,
which the entire family undertook, his days and evenings were full
enough. Howells wrote protesting against the European travel and
berating him for his silence:
"I never was in Berlin and don't know any family hotel there.
I should be glad I didn't, if it would keep you from going. You
deserve to put up at the Sign of the Savage in Vienna. Really, it's
a great blow to me to hear of that prospected sojourn. It's a
shame. I must see you, somehow, before you go. I'm in dreadfully
low spirits about it.
"I was afraid your silence meant something wicked."
Clemens replied promptly, urging a visit to Hartford, adding a
postscript for Mrs. Howells, characteristic enough to warrant
P. S. to Mrs. Howells, in Boston:
DEAR MRS. HOWELLS. Mrs. Clemens wrote you a letter, and handed it to me
half an hour ago, while I was folding mine to Mr. Howells. I laid that
letter on this table before me while I added the paragraph about R,'s
application. Since then I have been hunting and swearing, and swearing
and hunting, but I can't find a sign of that letter. It is the most
astonishing disappearance I ever heard of. Mrs. Clemens has gone off
driving--so I will have to try and give you an idea of her communication
from memory. Mainly it consisted of an urgent desire that you come to
see us next week, if you can possibly manage it, for that will be a
reposeful time, the turmoil of breaking up beginning the week after. She
wants you to tell her about Italy, and advise her in that connection, if
you will. Then she spoke of her plans--hers, mind you, for I never have
anything quite so definite as a plan. She proposes to stop a fortnight
in (confound the place, I've forgotten what it was,) then go and live in
Dresden till sometime in the summer; then retire to Switzerland for the
hottest season, then stay a while in Venice and put in the winter in
Munich. This program subject to modifications according to
circumstances. She said something about some little by-trips here and
there, but they didn't stick in my memory because the idea didn't charm
(They have just telephoned me from the Courant office that Bayard Taylor
and family have taken rooms in our ship, the Holsatia, for the 11th
Do come, if you possibly can!--and remember and don't forget to avoid
letting Mrs. Clemens find out I lost her letter. Just answer her the
same as if you had got it.
S. L. CLEMENS.
The Howellses came, as invited, for a final reunion before the
breaking up. This was in the early half of March; the Clemenses
were to sail on the 11th of the following month.
Orion Clemens, meantime, had conceived a new literary idea and was
piling in his MS. as fast as possible to get his brother's judgment
on it before the sailing-date. It was not a very good time to send
MS., but Mark Twain seems to have read it and given it some
consideration. "The Journey in Heaven," of his own, which he
mentions, was the story published so many years later under the
title of "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven." He had began it in
1868, on his voyage to San Francisco, it having been suggested by
conversations with Capt. Ned Wakeman, of one of the Pacific
steamers. Wakeman also appears in 'Roughing It,' Chap. L, as Capt.
Ned Blakely, and again in one of the "Rambling Notes of an Idle
Excursion," as "Captain Hurricane Jones."
To Orion Clemens, in Keokuk:
HARTFORD, Mch. 23, 1878.
MY DEAR BRO.,--Every man must learn his trade--not pick it up. God
requires that he learn it by slow and painful processes. The apprentice-
hand, in black-smithing, in medicine, in literature, in everything, is a
thing that can't be hidden. It always shows.
But happily there is a market for apprentice work, else the "Innocents
Abroad" would have had no sale. Happily, too, there's a wider market for
some sorts of apprentice literature than there is for the very best of
journey-work. This work of yours is exceedingly crude, but I am free to
say it is less crude than I expected it to be, and considerably better
work than I believed you could do, it is too crude to offer to any
prominent periodical, so I shall speak to the N. Y. Weekly people. To
publish it there will be to bury it. Why could not same good genius have
sent me to the N. Y. Weekly with my apprentice sketches?
You should not publish it in book form at all--for this reason: it is
only an imitation of Verne--it is not a burlesque. But I think it may be
regarded as proof that Verne cannot be burlesqued.
In accompanying notes I have suggested that you vastly modify the first
visit to hell, and leave out the second visit altogether. Nobody would,
or ought to print those things. You are not advanced enough in
literature to venture upon a matter requiring so much practice. Let me
show you what a man has got to go through:
Nine years ago I mapped out my "Journey in Heaven." I discussed it with
literary friends whom I could trust to keep it to themselves.
I gave it a deal of thought, from time to time. After a year or more I
wrote it up. It was not a success. Five years ago I wrote it again,
altering the plan. That MS is at my elbow now. It was a considerable
improvement on the first attempt, but still it wouldn't do--last year and
year before I talked frequently with Howells about the subject, and he
kept urging me to do it again.
So I thought and thought, at odd moments and at last I struck what I
considered to be the right plan! Mind I have never altered the ideas,
from the first--the plan was the difficulty. When Howells was here last,
I laid before him the whole story without referring to my MS and he said:
"You have got it sure this time. But drop the idea of making mere
magazine stuff of it. Don't waste it. Print it by itself--publish it
first in England--ask Dean Stanley to endorse it, which will draw some of
the teeth of the religious press, and then reprint in America." I doubt
my ability to get Dean Stanley to do anything of the sort, but I shall do
the rest--and this is all a secret which you must not divulge.
Now look here--I have tried, all these years, to think of some way of
"doing" hell too--and have always had to give it up. Hell, in my book,
will not occupy five pages of MS I judge--it will be only covert hints,
I suppose, and quickly dropped, I may end by not even referring to it.
And mind you, in my opinion you will find that you can't write up hell so
it will stand printing. Neither Howells nor I believe in hell or the
divinity of the Savior, but no matter, the Savior is none the less a
sacred Personage, and a man should have no desire or disposition to refer
to him lightly, profanely, or otherwise than with the profoundest
The only safe thing is not to introduce him, or refer to him at all,
I suspect. I have entirely rewritten one book 3 (perhaps 4.) times,
changing the plan every time--1200 pages of MS. wasted and burned--and