Part 11 out of 29
book he records how two Germans, strangers in Heidelberg, asked him a
direction, and that when he gave it, in the most elaborate and correct
German he could muster, one of them only lifted his eyes and murmured:
"Gott im Himmel!"
He was daily impressed with the lingual attainments of foreigners and his
own lack of them. In the notes he comments:
Am addressed in German, and when I can't speak it immediately the
person tackles me in French, and plainly shows astonishment when I
stop him. They naturally despise such an ignoramus. Our doctor
here speaks as pure English, as I.
On the Fourth of July he addressed the American students in Heidelberg in
one of those mixtures of tongues for which he had a peculiar gift.
The room he had rented for a study was let by a typical German family,
and he was a great delight to them. He practised his German on them, and
interested himself in their daily affairs.
Howells wrote insistently for some assurance of contributions to the
"I must begin printing your private letters to satisfy the popular
demand," he said. "People are constantly asking when you are going to
Clemens replied that he would be only too glad to write for the Atlantic
if his contributions could be copyrighted in Canada, where pirates were
I do not know that I have any printable stuff just now--separatable
stuff, that is--but I shall have by and by. It is very gratifying to
hear that it is wanted by anybody. I stand always prepared to hear the
reverse, and am constantly surprised that it is delayed so long.
Consequently it is not going to astonish me when it comes.
The Clemens party enjoyed Heidelberg, though in different ways. The
children romped and picnicked in the castle grounds, which adjoined the
hotel; Mrs. Clemens and Miss Spaulding were devoted to bric-a-brac
hunting, picture-galleries, and music. Clemens took long walks, or made
excursions by rail and diligence to farther points. Art and opera did
not appeal to him. The note-book says:
I have attended operas, whenever I could not help it, for fourteen
years now; I am sure I know of no agony comparable to the listening
to an unfamiliar opera. I am enchanted with the airs of "Trovatore"
and other old operas which the hand-organ and the music-box have
made entirely familiar to my ear. I am carried away with delighted
enthusiasm when they are sung at the opera. But oh, how far between
they are! And what long, arid, heartbreaking and headaching
"between-times" of that sort of intense but incoherent noise which
always so reminds me of the time the orphan asylum burned down.
Sunday night, 11th. Huge crowd out to-night to hear the band play
the "Fremersberg." I suppose it is very low-grade music--I know it
must be low-grade music--because it so delighted me, it so warmed
me, moved me, stirred me, uplifted me, enraptured me, that at times
I could have cried, and at others split my throat with shouting.
The great crowd was another evidence that it was low-grade music,
for only the few are educated up to a point where high-class music
gives pleasure. I have never heard enough classic music to be able
to enjoy it, and the simple truth is I detest it. Not mildly, but
with all my heart.
What a poor lot we human beings are anyway! If base music gives me
wings, why should I want any other? But I do. I want to like the
higher music because the higher and better like it. But you see I
want to like it without taking the necessary trouble, and giving the
thing the necessary amount of time and attention. The natural
suggestion is, to get into that upper tier, that dress-circle, by a
lie--we will pretend we like it. This lie, this pretense, gives to
opera what support it has in America.
And then there is painting. What a red rag is to a bull Turner's
"Slave Ship" is to me. Mr. Ruskin is educated in art up to a point
where that picture throws him into as mad an ecstasy of pleasure as
it throws me into one of rage. His cultivation enables him to see
water in that yellow mud; his cultivation reconciles the floating of
unfloatable things to him--chains etc.; it reconciles him to fishes
swimming on top of the water. The most of the picture is a manifest
impossibility, that is to say, a lie; and only rigid cultivation can
enable a man to find truth in a lie. A Boston critic said the
"Slave Ship" reminded him of a cat having a fit in a platter of
tomatoes. That went home to my non-cultivation, and I thought, here
is a man with an unobstructed eye.
Mark Twain has dwelt somewhat upon these matters in 'A Tramp Abroad'. He
confesses in that book that later he became a great admirer of Turner,
though perhaps never of the "Slave Ship" picture. In fact, Mark Twain
was never artistic, in the common acceptance of that term; neither his
art nor his tastes were of an "artistic" kind.
TRAMPING WITH TWICHELL
Twichell arrived on time, August 1st. Clemens met him at Baden-Baden,
and they immediately set out on a tramp through the Black Forest,
excursioning as pleased them, and having an idyllic good time. They did
not always walk, but they often did. At least they did sometimes, when
the weather was just right and Clemens's rheumatism did not trouble him.
But they were likely to take a carriage, or a donkey-cart, or a train, or
any convenient thing that happened along. They did not hurry, but idled
and talked and gathered flowers, or gossiped with wayside natives and
tourists, though always preferring to wander along together, beguiling
the way with discussion and speculation and entertaining tales. They
crossed on into Switzerland in due time and considered the conquest of
the Alps. The family followed by rail or diligence, and greeted them
here and there when they rested from their wanderings. Mark Twain found
an immunity from attention in Switzerland, which for years he had not
known elsewhere. His face was not so well known and his pen-name was
It was a large relief to be no longer an object of public curiosity; but
Twichell, as in the Bermuda trip, did not feel quite honest, perhaps, in
altogether preserving the mask of unrecognition. In one of his letters
home he tells how; when a young man at their table was especially
delighted with Mark Twain's conversation, he could not resist taking the
young man aside and divulging to him the speaker's identity.
"I could not forbear telling him who Mark was," he says, "and the mingled
surprise and pleasure his face exhibited made me glad I had done so."
They climbed the Rigi, after which Clemens was not in good walking trim
for some time; so Twichell went on a trip on his own account, to give his
comrade a chance to rest. Then away again to Interlaken, where the
Jungfrau rises, cold and white; on over the loneliness of Gemini Pass,
with glaciers for neighbors and the unfading white peaks against the
blue; to Visp and to Zermatt, where the Matterhorn points like a finger
that directs mankind to God. This was true Alpine wandering--sweet
The association of the wanderers was a very intimate one. Their minds
were closely attuned, and there were numerous instances of thought--echo-
mind answering to mind--without the employment of words. Clemens records
in his notes:
Sunday A.M., August 11th. Been reading Romola yesterday afternoon,
last night, and this morning; at last I came upon the only passage
which has thus far hit me with force--Tito compromising with his
conscience, and resolving to do; not a bad thing, but not the best
thing. Joe entered the room five minutes--no, three minutes later--
and without prelude said, "I read that book you've got there six
years ago, and got a mighty good text for a sermon out of it the
passage where the young fellow compromises with his conscience, and
resolves to do, not a bad thing, but not the best thing." This is
Joe's first reference to this book since he saw me buy it twenty-
four hours ago. So my mind operated on his in this instance. He
said he was sitting yonder in the reading-room, three minutes ago (I
have not got up yet), thinking of nothing in particular, and didn't
know what brought Romola into his head; but into his head it came
and that particular passage. Now I, forty feet away, in another
room, was reading that particular passage at that particular moment.
Couldn't suggest Romola to him earlier, because nothing in the book
had taken hold of me till I came to that one passage on page 112,
The instances of mind-telegraphing are simply innumerable. This
evening Joe and I sat long at the edge of the village looking at the
Matterhorn. Then Joe said, "We ought to go to the Cervin Hotel and
inquire for Livy's telegram." If he had been but one instant later
I should have said those words instead of him.
Such entries are frequent, and one day there came along a kind of object-
lesson. They were toiling up a mountainside, when Twichell began telling
a very interesting story which had happened in connection with a friend
still living, though Twichell had no knowledge of his whereabouts at this
time. The story finished just as they rounded a turn in, the cliff, and
Twichell, looking up, ended his last sentence, "And there's the man!"
Which was true, for they were face to face with the very man of whom he
had been telling.
Another subject that entered into their discussion was the law of
accidents. Clemens held that there was no such thing an accident: that
it was all forewritten in the day of the beginning; that every event,
however slight, was embryonic in that first instant of created life, and
immutably timed to its appearance in the web of destiny. Once on their
travels, when they were on a high bank above a brawling stream, a little
girl, who started to run toward them, slipped and rolled under the bottom
rail of the protecting fence, her feet momentarily hanging out over the
precipice and the tearing torrent below. It seemed a miraculous escape
from death, and furnished an illustration for their discussion. The
condition of the ground, the force of her fall, the nearness of the fatal
edge, all these had grown inevitably out of the first great projection of
thought, and the child's fall and its escape had been invested in life's
The author of A Tramp Abroad tells us of the rushing stream that flows
out of the Arcadian sky valley, the Gasternthal, and goes plunging down
to Kandersteg, and how he took exercise by making "Harris" (Twichell) set
stranded logs adrift while he lounged comfortably on a boulder, and
watched them go tearing by; also how he made Harris run a race with one
of those logs. But that is literature. Twichell, in a letter home, has
preserved a likelier and lovelier story:
Mark is a queer fellow. There is nothing that he so delights in as
a swift, strong stream. You can hardly get him to leave one when
once he is within the influence of its fascinations. To throw in
stones and sticks seems to afford him rapture. Tonight, as we were
on our way back to the hotel, seeing a lot of driftwood caught by
the torrent side below the path, I climbed down and threw it in.
When I got back to the path Mark was running down-stream after it as
hard as he could go, throwing up his hands and shouting in the
wildest ecstasy, and when a piece went over a fall and emerged to
view in the foam below he would jump up and down and yell. He said
afterward that he hadn't been so excited in three months. He acted
just like a boy; another feature of his extreme sensitiveness in
Then generalizing, Twichell adds:
He has coarse spots in him. But I never knew a person so finely
regardful of the feelings of others in some ways. He hates to pass
another person walking, and will practise some subterfuge to take
off what he feels is the discourtesy of it. And he is exceedingly
timid, tremblingly timid, about approaching strangers; hates to ask
a question. His sensitive regard for others extends to animals.
When we are driving his concern is all about the horse. He can't
bear to see the whip used, or to see a horse pull hard. To-day,
when the driver clucked up his horse and quickened his pace a
little, Mark said, "The fellow's got the notion that we are in a
hurry." He is exceedingly considerate toward me in regard of
everything--or most things.
The days were not all sunshine. Sometimes it rained and they took
shelter by the wayside, or, if there was no shelter, they plodded along
under their umbrellas, still talking away, and if something occurred that
Clemens wanted to put down they would stand stock still in the rain, and
Twichell would hold the umbrella while Clemens wrote--a good while
sometimes--oblivious to storm and discomfort and the long way yet ahead.
After the day on Gemmi Pass Twichell wrote home:
Mark, to-day, was immensely absorbed in the flowers. He scrambled
around and gathered a great variety, and manifested the intensest
pleasure in them. He crowded a pocket of his note-book with his
specimens and wanted more room. So I stopped the guide and got out
my needle and thread, and out of a stiff paper, a hotel
advertisement, I had about me made a paper bag, a cornucopia like,
and tied it to his vest in front, and it answered the purpose
admirably. He filled it full with a beautiful collection, and as
soon as we got here to-night he transferred it to a cardboard box
and sent it by mail to Livy. A strange Mark he is, full of
contradictions. I spoke last night of his sensitive to others'
feelings. To-day the guide got behind, and came up as if he would
like to go by, yet hesitated to do so. Mark paused, went aside and
busied himself a minute picking a flower. In the halt the guide got
by and resumed his place in front. Mark threw the flower away,
saying, "I didn't want that. I only wanted to give the old man a
chance to go on without seeming to pass us." Mark is splendid to
walk with amid such grand scenery, for he talks so well about it,
has such a power of strong, picturesque expression. I wish you
might have heard him to-day. His vigorous speech nearly did justice
to the things we saw.
In an address which Twichell gave many years later he recalls another
pretty incident of their travels. They had been toiling up the Gorner
As we paused for a rest, a lamb from a flock of sheep near by ventured
inquisitively toward us, whereupon Mark seated himself on a rock, and
with beckoning hand and soft words tried to get it to come to him.
On the lamb's part it was a struggle between curiosity and timidity, but
in a succession of advances and retreats it gained confidence, though at
a very gradual rate. It was a scene for a painter: the great American
humorist on one side of the game and that silly little creature on the
other, with the Matterhorn for a background. Mark was reminded that the
time he was consuming was valuable--but to no purpose. The Gorner Grat
could wait. He held on with undiscouraged perseverance till he carried
his point: the lamb finally put its nose in his hand, and he was happy
over it all the rest of the day.
The matter of religion came up now and again in the drift of their
discussions. It was Twichell's habit to have prayers in their room every
night at the hotels, and Clemens was willing to join in the observances.
Once Twichell, finding him in a responsive mood--a remorseful mood--gave
his sympathy, and spoke of the larger sympathy of divinity. Clemens
listened and seemed soothed and impressed, but his philosophies were too
wide and too deep for creeds and doctrines. A day or two later, as they
were tramping along in the hot sun, his honesty had to speak out.
"Joe," he said, "I'm going to make a confession. I don't believe in your
religion at all. I've been living a lie right straight along whenever I
pretended to. For a moment, sometimes, I have been almost a believer,
but it immediately drifts away from me again. I don't believe one word
of your Bible was inspired by God any more than any other book. I
believe it is entirely the work of man from beginning to end--atonement
and all. The problem of life and death and eternity and the true
conception of God is a bigger thing than is contained in that book."
So the personal side of religious discussion closed between them, and was
never afterward reopened.
They joined Mrs. Clemens and the others at Lausanne at last, and their
Swiss holiday was over. Twichell set out for home by way of England, and
Clemens gave himself up to reflection and rest after his wanderings.
Then, as the days of their companionship passed in review, quickly and
characteristically he sent a letter after his comrade:
DEAR OLD JOE, It is actually all over! I was so low-spirited at the
station yesterday, and this morning, when I woke, I couldn't seem to
accept the dismal truth that you were really gone, and the pleasant
tramping and talking at an end. Ah, my boy! it has been such a
rich holiday to me, and I feel under such deep and honest
obligations to you for coming. I am putting out of my mind all
memory of the times when I misbehaved toward you and hurt you; I am
resolved to consider it forgiven, and to store up and remember only
the charming hours of the journeys and the times when I was not
unworthy to be with you and share a companionship which to me stands
first after Livy's. It is justifiable to do this; for why should I
let my small infirmities of disposition live and grovel among my
mental pictures of the eternal sublimities of the Alps?
Livy can't accept or endure the fact that you are gone. But you
are, and we cannot get around it. So take our love with you, and
bear it also over the sea to Harmony, and God bless you both.
The Clemens party wandered down into Italy--to the lakes, Venice,
Florence, Rome--loitering through the galleries, gathering here and there
beautiful furnishings--pictures, marbles, and the like--for the Hartford
In Venice they bought an old careen bed, a massive regal affair with
serpentine columns surmounted by singularly graceful cupids, and with
other cupids sporting on the headboard: the work of some artist who had
been dust three centuries maybe, for this bed had come out of an old
Venetian palace, dismantled and abandoned. It was a furniture with a
long story, and the years would add mightily to its memories. It would
become a stately institution in the Clemens household. The cupids on the
posts were removable, and one of the highest privileges of childhood
would be to occupy that bed and have down one of the cupids to play with.
It was necessary to be ill to acquire that privilege--not violently and
dangerously ill, but interestingly so--ill enough to be propped up with
pillows and have one's meals served on a tray, with dolls and picture-
books handy, and among them a beautiful rosewood cupid who had kept
dimpled and dainty for so many, many years.
They spent three weeks in Venice: a dreamlike experience, especially for
the children, who were on the water most of the time, and became fast
friends with their gondolier, who taught them some Italian words; then a
week in Florence and a fortnight in Rome.--[From the note-book:
"BAY--When the waiter brought my breakfast this morning I spoke to him in
"MAMA--What did you say?
"B.--I said, 'Polly-vo fransay.'
"M.--What does it mean?
"B.--I don't know. What does it mean, Susy?
"S.-It means, 'Polly wants a cracker."]
Clemens discovered that in twelve years his attitude had changed somewhat
concerning the old masters. He no longer found the bright, new copies an
improvement on the originals, though the originals still failed to wake
his enthusiasm. Mrs. Clemens and Miss Spaulding spent long hours
wandering down avenues of art, accompanied by him on occasion, though not
always willingly. He wrote his sorrow to Twichell:
I do wish you were in Rome to do my sight-seeing for me. Rome interests
me as much as East Hartford could, and no more; that is, the Rome which
the average tourist feels an interest in. There are other things here
which stir me enough to make life worth living. Livy and Clara are
having a royal time worshiping the old masters, and I as good a time
gritting my ineffectual teeth over them.
Once when Sarah Orne Jewett was with the party he remarked that if the
old masters had labeled their fruit one wouldn't be so likely to mistake
pears for turnips.
"Youth," said Mrs. Clemens, gravely, "if you do not care for these
masterpieces yourself, you might at least consider the feelings of
others"; and Miss Jewett, regarding him severely, added, in her quaint
"Now, you've been spoke to!"
He felt duly reprimanded, but his taste did not materially reform. He
realized that he was no longer in a proper frame of mind to write of
general sight-seeing. One must be eager, verdant, to write happily the
story of travel. Replying to a letter from Howells on the subject he
I wish I could give those sharp satires on European life which you
mention, but of course a man can't write successful satire except he
be in a calm, judicial good-humor; whereas I hate travel, and I hate
hotels, and I hate the opera, and I hate the old masters. In truth
I don't ever seem to be in a good enough humor with anything to
satirize it. No, I want to stand up before it and curse it and foam
at the mouth, or take a club and pound it to rags and pulp. I have
got in two or three chapters about Wagner's operas, and managed to
do it without showing temper, but the strain of another such effort
would burst me.
Clemens became his own courier for a time in Italy, and would seem to
have made more of a success of it than he did a good many years
afterward, if we may believe the story he has left us of his later
"Am a shining success as a courier," he records, "by the use of francs.
Have learned how to handle the railway guide intelligently and with
He declares that he will have no more couriers; but possibly he could
have employed one to advantage on the trip out of Italy, for it was a
desperately hard one, with bad connections and delayed telegrams. When,
after thirty-six hours weary, continuous traveling, they arrived at last
in Munich in a drizzle and fog, and were domiciled in their winter
quarters, at No. 1a, Karlstrasse, they felt that they had reached the
home of desolation itself, the very throne of human misery.
And the rooms were so small, the conveniences so meager, and the
porcelain stove was grim, ghastly, dismal, intolerable! So Livy and
Clara Spaulding sat down forlorn and cried, and I retired to a
private place to pray. By and by we all retired to our narrow
German beds, and when Livy and I had finished talking across the
room it was all decided that we should rest twenty-four hours, then
pay whatever damages were required and straightway fly to the south
The rooms had been engaged by letter, months before, of their
proprietress, Fraulein Dahlweiner, who had met them at the door with a
lantern in her hand, full of joy in their arrival and faith in her
ability to make them happy. It was a faith that was justified. Next
morning, when they all woke, rested, the weather had cleared, there were
bright fires in the rooms, the world had taken on a new aspect. Fraulein
Dahlweiner, the pathetic, hard-working little figure, became almost
beautiful in their eyes in her efforts for their comfort. She arranged
larger rooms and better conveniences for them. Their location was
central and there was a near-by park. They had no wish to change.
Clemens, in his letter to Howells, boasts that he brought the party
through from Rome himself, and that they never had so little trouble
before; but in looking over this letter, thirty years later, he
commented, "Probably a lie."
He secured a room some distance away for his work, but then could not
find his Swiss note-book. He wrote Twichell that he had lost it, and
that after all he might not be obliged to write a volume of travels. But
the notebook turned up and the work on the new book proceeded. For a
time it went badly. He wrote many chapters, only to throw them aside.
He had the feeling that he had somehow lost the knack of descriptive
narrative. He had become, as it seemed, too didactic. He thought his
description was inclined to be too literal, his humor manufactured.
These impressions passed, by and by; interest developed, and with it
enthusiasm and confidence. In a letter to Twichell he reported his
I was about to write to my publisher and propose some other book, when
the confounded thing [the note-book] turned up, and down went my heart
into my boots. But there was now no excuse, so I went solidly to work,
tore up a great part of the MS. written in Heidelberg--wrote and tore up,
continued to write and tear up--and at last, reward of patient and noble
persistence, my pen got the old swing again! Since then I'm glad that
Providence knew better what to do with the Swiss notebook than I did.
Further along in the same letter there breaks forth a true heart-answer
to that voice of the Alps which, once heard, is never wholly silent:
O Switzerland! The further it recedes into the enriching haze of
time, the more intolerably delicious the charm of it and the cheer
of it and the glory and majesty, and solemnity and pathos of it
grow. Those mountains had a soul: they thought, they spoke. And
what a voice it was! And how real! Deep down in my memory it is
sounding yet. Alp calleth unto Alp! That stately old Scriptural
wording is the right one for God's Alps and God's ocean. How puny
we were in that awful Presence, and how painless it was to be so!
How fitting and right it seemed, and how stingless was the sense of
our unspeakable insignificance! And Lord, how pervading were the
repose and peace and blessedness that poured out of the heart of the
invisible Great Spirit of the mountains!
Now what is it? There are mountains and mountains and mountains in
this world, but only these take you by the heartstrings. I wonder
what the secret of it is. Well, time and time and again it has
seemed to me that I must drop everything and flee to Switzerland
once more. It is a longings deep, strong, tugging longing. That is
the word. We must go again, Joe.
That winter in Munich was not recalled as an unpleasant one in after-
years. His work went well enough--always a chief source of
gratification. Mrs. Clemens and Miss Spaulding found interest in the
galleries, in quaint shops, in the music and picturesque life of that
beautiful old Bavarian town. The children also liked Munich. It was
easy for them to adopt any new environment or custom. The German
Christmas, with its lavish tree and toys and cakes, was an especial
delight. The German language they seemed fairly to absorb. Writing to
his mother Clemens said:
I cannot see but that the children speak German as well as they do
English. Susy often translates Livy's orders to the servants. I cannot
work and study German at the same time; so I have dropped the latter and
do not even read the language, except in the morning paper to get the
In Munich--as was the case wherever they were known--there were many
callers. Most Americans and many foreigners felt it proper to call on
Mark Twain. It was complimentary, but it was wearying sometimes. Mrs.
Clemens, in a letter written from Venice, where they had received even
more than usual attention, declared there were moments when she almost
wished she might never see a visitor again.
Originally there was a good deal about Munich in the new book, and some
of the discarded chapters might have been retained with advantage. They
were ruled out in the final weeding as being too serious, along with the
French chapters. Only a few Italian memories were left to follow the
The book does record one Munich event, though transferring it to
Heilsbronn. It is the incident of the finding of the lost sock in the
vast bedroom. It may interest the reader to compare what really
happened, as set down in a letter to Twichell, with the story as written
Last night I awoke at three this morning, and after raging to myself
for two interminable hours I gave it up. I rose, assumed a catlike
stealthiness, to keep from waking Livy, and proceeded to dress in
the pitch-dark. Slowly but surely I got on garment after garment--
all down to one sock; I had one slipper on and the other in my hand.
Well, on my hands and knees I crept softly around, pawing and
feeling and scooping along the carpet, and among chair-legs, for
that missing sock, I kept that up, and still kept it up, and kept it
up. At first I only said to myself, "Blame that sock," but that
soon ceased to answer. My expletives grew steadily stronger and
stronger, and at last, when I found I was lost, I had to sit flat
down on the floor and take hold of something to keep from lifting
the roof off with the profane explosion that was trying to get out
of me. I could see the dim blur of the window, but of course it was
in the wrong place and could give me no information as to where I
was. But I had one comfort--I had not waked Livy; I believed I
could find that sock in silence if the night lasted long enough.
So I started again and softly pawed all over the place, and sure
enough, at the end of half an hour I laid my hand on the missing
article. I rose joyfully up and butted the washbowl and pitcher off
the stand, and simply raised ---- so to speak. Livy screamed, then
said, "Who is it? What is the matter?" I said, "There ain't
anything the matter. I'm hunting for my sock." She said, "Are you
hunting for it with a club?"
I went in the parlor and lit the lamp, and gradually the fury
subsided and the ridiculous features of the thing began to suggest
themselves. So I lay on the sofa with note-book and pencil, and
transferred the adventure to our big room in the hotel at
Heilsbronn, and got it on paper a good deal to my satisfaction.
He wrote with frequency to Howells, and sent him something for the
magazine now and then: the "Gambetta Duel" burlesque, which would make a
chapter in the book later, and the story of "The Great Revolution in
Pitcairn."--[Included in The Stolen White Elephant volume. The
"Pitcairn" and "Elephant" tales were originally chapters in 'A Tramp
Abroad'; also the unpleasant "Coffin-box" yarn, which Howells rejected
for the Atlantic and generally condemned, though for a time it remained a
favorite with its author.]
Howells's novel, 'The Lady of the Aroostook', was then running through
the 'Atlantic', and in one of his letters Clemens expresses the general
deep satisfaction of his household in that tale:
If your literature has not struck perfection now we are not able to see
what is lacking. It is all such truth--truth to the life; everywhere
your pen falls it leaves a photograph . . . . Possibly you will not
be a fully accepted classic until you have been dead one hundred years--
it is the fate of the Shakespeares of all genuine professions--but then
your books will be as common as Bibles, I believe. In that day I shall
be in the encyclopedias too, thus: "Mark Twain, history and occupation
unknown; but he was personally acquainted with Howells."
Though in humorous form, this was a sincere tribute. Clemens always
regarded with awe William Dean Howells's ability to dissect and
photograph with such delicacy the minutiae of human nature; just as
Howells always stood in awe of Mark Twain's ability to light, with a
single flashing sentence, the whole human horizon.
PARIS, ENGLAND, AND HOMEWARD BOUND
They decided to spend the spring months in Paris, so they gave up their
pleasant quarters with Fraulein Dahlweiner, and journeyed across Europe,
arriving at the French capital February 28, 1879. Here they met another
discouraging prospect, for the weather was cold and damp, the cabmen
seemed brutally ill-mannered, their first hotel was chilly, dingy,
uninviting. Clemens, in his note-book, set down his impressions of their
rooms. A paragraph will serve:
Ten squatty, ugly arm-chairs, upholstered in the ugliest and
coarsest conceivable scarlet plush; two hideous sofas of the same--
uncounted armless chairs ditto. Five ornamental chairs, seats
covered with a coarse rag, embroidered in flat expanse with a
confusion of leaves such as no tree ever bore, six or seven a dirty
white and the rest a faded red. How those hideous chairs do swear
at the hideous sofa near them! This is the very hatefulest room I
have seen in Europe.
Oh, how cold and raw and unwarmable it is!
It was better than that when the sun came out, and they found happier
quarters presently at the Hotel Normandy, rue de l'Echelle.
But, alas, the sun did not come out often enough. It was one of those
French springs and summers when it rains nearly every day, and is
distressingly foggy and chill between times. Clemens received a bad
impression of France and the French during that Parisian-sojourn, from
which he never entirely recovered. In his note-book he wrote: "France
has neither winter, nor summer, nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks
it is a fine country."
The weather may not have been entirely accountable for his prejudice, but
from whatever cause Mark Twain, to the day of his death, had no great
love for the French as a nation. Conversely, the French as a nation did
not care greatly for Mark Twain. There were many individual Frenchmen
that Mark Twain admired, as there were many Frenchmen who admired the
work and personality of Mark Twain; but on neither side was there the
warm, fond, general affection which elsewhere throughout Europe he
invited and returned.
His book was not yet finished. In Paris he worked on it daily, but
without enthusiasm. The city was too noisy, the weather too dismal.
His note-book says:
May 7th. I wish this terrible winter would come to an end. Have had
rain almost without intermission for two months and one week.
May 28th. This is one of the coldest days of this most damnable and
It was not all gloom and discomfort. There was congenial company in
Paris, and dinner-parties, and a world of callers. Aldrich the
scintillating--[ Of Aldrich Clemens used to say: "When Aldrich speaks it
seems to me he is the bright face of the moon, and I feel like the other
side." Aldrich, unlike Clemens, was not given to swearing. The Parisian
note-book has this memorandum: "Aldrich gives his seat in the horse-car
to a crutched cripple, and discovers that what he took for a crutch is
only a length of walnut beading and the man not lame; whereupon Aldrich
uses the only profanity that ever escaped his lips: 'Damn a dam'd man who
would carry a dam'd piece of beading under his dam'd arm!'"]--was there,
also Gedney Bunce, of Hartford, Frank Millet and his wife, Hjalinar
Hjorth Boyesen and his wife, and a Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, artist
people whom the Clemenses had met pleasantly in Italy. Turgenieff, as in
London, came to call; also Baron Tauchnitz, that nobly born
philanthropist of German publishers, who devoted his life, often at his
personal cost, to making the literature of other nations familiar to his
own. Tauchnitz had early published the 'Innocents', following it with
other Mark Twain volumes as they appeared, paying always, of his own will
and accord, all that he could afford to pay for this privilege; which was
not really a privilege, for the law did not require him to pay at all.
He traveled down to Paris now to see the author, and to pay his respects
to him. "A mighty nice old gentleman," Clemens found him. Richard
Whiteing was in Paris that winter, and there were always plenty of young
American painters whom it was good to know.
They had what they called the Stomach Club, a jolly organization, whose
purpose was indicated by its name. Mark Twain occasionally attended its
sessions, and on one memorable evening, when Edwin A. Abbey was there,
speeches were made which never appeared in any printed proceedings. Mark
Twain's address that night has obtained a wide celebrity among the clubs
of the world, though no line of it, or even its title has ever found its
way into published literature.
Clemens had a better time in Paris than the rest of his party. He could
go and come, and mingle with the sociabilities when the abnormal weather
kept the others housed in. He did a good deal of sight-seeing of his own
kind, and once went up in a captive balloon. They were all studying
French, more or less, and they read histories and other books relating to
France. Clemens renewed his old interest in Joan of Arc, and for the
first time appears to have conceived the notion of writing the story of
that lovely character.
The Reign of Terror interested him. He reread Carlyle's Revolution, a
book which he was never long without reading, and they all read 'A Tale
of Two Cities'. When the weather permitted they visited the scenes of
that grim period.
In his note-book he comments:
"The Reign of Terror shows that, without distinction or rank, the
people were savages. Marquises, dukes, lawyers, blacksmiths, they
each figure in due proportion to their crafts."
"For 1,000 years this savage nation indulged itself in massacre;
every now and then a big massacre or a little one. The spirit is
peculiar to France--I mean in Christendom--no other state has had
it. In this France has always walked abreast, kept her end up with
her brethren, the Turks and the Burmese. Their chief traits--love
of glory and massacre."
Yet it was his sense of fairness that made him write, as a sort of
"You perceive I generalize with intrepidity from single instances.
It is the tourists' custom. When I see a man jump from the Vendome
Column I say, 'They like to do that in Paris.'"
Following this implied atonement, he records a few conclusions, drawn
doubtless from Parisian reading and observation:
"Childish race and great."
"I'm for cremation."
"I disfavor capital punishment."
"Samson was a Jew, therefore not a fool. The Jews have the best
average brain of any people in the world. The Jews are the only
race in the world who work wholly with their brains, and never with
their hands. There are no Jew beggars, no Jew tramps, no Jew
ditchers, hod-carriers, day-laborers, or followers of toilsome
"They are peculiarly and conspicuously the world's intellectual
"Communism is idiocy. They want to divide up the property. Suppose
they did it. It requires brains to keep money as well as to make
it. In a precious little while the money would be back in the
former owner's hands and the communist would be poor again. The
division would have to be remade every three years or it would do
the communist no good."
A curious thing happened one day in Paris. Boyesen; in great excitement,
came to the Normandy and was shown to the Clemens apartments. He was
pale and could hardly speak, for his emotion. He asked immediately if.
his wife had come to their rooms. On learning that she had not, he
declared that she was lost or had met with an accident. She had been
gone several hours, he said, and had sent no word, a thing which she had
never done before. He besought Clemens to aid him in his search for her,
to do something to help him find her. Clemens, without showing the least
emotion or special concentration of interest, said quietly:
"Where will you go first," Boyesen demanded.
Still in the same even voice Clemens said:
"To the elevator."
He passed out of the room, with Boyesen behind him, into the hall. The
elevator was just coming up, and as they reached it, it stopped at their
landing, and Mrs. Boyesen stepped out. She had been delayed by a
breakdown and a blockade. Clemens said afterward that he had a positive
conviction that she would be on the elevator when they reached it. It
was one of those curious psychic evidences which we find all along during
his life; or, if the skeptics prefer to call them coincidences, they are
privileged to do so.
Paris, June 1, 1879. Still this vindictive winter continues. Had a
raw, cold rain to-day. To-night we sit around a rousing wood fire.
They stood it for another month, and then on the 10th of July, when it
was still chilly and disagreeable, they gave it up and left for Brussels,
which he calls "a dirty, beautiful (architecturally), interesting town."
Two days in Brussels, then to Antwerp, where they dined on the Trenton
with Admiral Roan, then to Rotterdam, Dresden, Amsterdam, and London,
arriving there the 29th of July, which was rainy and cold, in keeping
with all Europe that year.
Had to keep a rousing big cannel-coal fire blazing in the grate all
day. A remarkable summer, truly!
London meant a throng of dinners, as always: brilliant, notable affairs,
too far away to recall. A letter written by Mrs. Clemens at the time
preserves one charming, fresh bit of that departed bloom.
Clara [Spaulding] went in to dinner with Mr. Henry James; she
enjoyed him very much. I had a little chat with him before dinner,
and he was exceedingly pleasant and easy to talk with. I had
expected just the reverse, thinking one would feel looked over by
him and criticized.
Mr. Whistler, the artist, was at the dinner, but he did not attract
me. Then there was a lady, over eighty years old, a Mrs. Stuart,
who was Washington Irving's love, and she is said to have been his
only love, and because of her he went unmarried to his grave.--
[Mrs. Clemens was misinformed. Irving's only "love" was a Miss
Hoffman.]--She was also an intimate friend of Madame Bonaparte.
You would judge Mrs. Stuart to be about fifty, and she was the life
of the drawing-room after dinner, while the ladies were alone,
before the gentlemen came up. It was lovely to see such a sweet old
age; every one was so fond of her, every one deferred to her, yet
every one was joking her, making fun of her, but she was always
equal to the occasion, giving back as bright replies as possible;
you had not the least sense that she was aged. She quoted French in
her stories with perfect ease and fluency, and had all the time such
a kindly, lovely way. When she entered the room, before dinner, Mr.
James, who was then talking with me, shook hands with her and said,
"Good evening, you wonderful lady." After she had passed . . .
he said, "She is the youngest person in London. She has the
youngest feelings and the youngest interests . . . . She is
It was a perfect delight to hear her and see her.
For more than two years they had had an invitation from Reginald
Cholmondeley to pay him another visit.
So they went for a week to Condover, where many friends were gathered,
including Millais, the painter, and his wife (who had been the wife of
Ruskin), numerous relatives, and other delightful company. It was one of
the happiest chapters of their foreign sojourn.--[Moncure D. Conway, who
was in London at the time, recalls, in his Autobiography, a visit which
he made with Mr. and Mrs. Clemens to Stratford-on-Avon. "Mrs. Clemens
was an ardent Shakespearian, and Mark Twain determined to give her a
surprise. He told her that we were going on a journey to Epworth, and
persuaded me to connive with the joke by writing to Charles Flower not to
meet us himself, but send his carriage. On arrival at the station we
directed the driver to take us straight to the church. When we entered,
and Mrs. Clemens read on Shakespeare's grave, 'Good friend, for Jesus'
sake, forbear,' she started back, exclaiming, 'where am I?' Mark
received her reproaches with an affluence of guilt, but never did lady
enjoy a visit more than that to Avonbank. Mrs. Charles Flower (nee
Martineau) took Mrs. Clemens to her heart, and contrived that every
social or other attraction of that region should surround her."]
From the note-book:
Sunday, August 17,'79. Raw and cold, and a drenching rain. Went to
hear Mr. Spurgeon. House three-quarters full-say three thousand
people. First hour, lacking one minute, taken up with two prayers,
two ugly hymns, and Scripture-reading. Sermon three-quarters of an
hour long. A fluent talker, good, sonorous voice. Topic treated in
the unpleasant, old fashion: Man a mighty bad child, God working at
him in forty ways and having a world of trouble with him.
A wooden-faced congregation; just the sort to see no incongruity in
the majesty of Heaven stooping to plead and sentimentalize over
such, and see in their salvation an important matter.
Tuesday, August 19th. Went up Windermere Lake in the steamer.
Talked with the great Darwin.
They had planned to visit Dr. Brown in Scotland. Mrs. Clemens, in
particular, longed to go, for his health had not been of the best, and
she felt that they would never have a chance to see him again. Clemens
in after years blamed himself harshly for not making the trip, declaring
that their whole reason for not going was an irritable reluctance on his
part to take the troublesome journey and a perversity of spirit for which
there was no real excuse. There is documentary evidence against this
harsh conclusion. They were, in fact, delayed here and there by
misconnections and the continued terrific weather, barely reaching
Liverpool in time for their sailing date, August 23d. Unquestionably he
was weary of railway travel, far he always detested it. Time would
magnify his remembered reluctance, until, in the end, he would load his
conscience with the entire burden of blame.
Their ship was the Gallia, and one night, when they were nearing the
opposite side of the Atlantic, Mark Twain, standing on deck, saw for the
third time in his experience a magnificent lunar rainbow: a complete
arch, the colors part of the time very brilliant, but little different
from a day rainbow. It is not given to many persons in this world to see
even one of these phenomena. After each previous vision there had come
to him a period of good-fortune. Perhaps this also boded well for him.
The Gallia reached New York September 3, 1879. A report of his arrival,
in the New York Sun, stated that Mark Twain had changed in his absence;
that only his drawl seemed natural.
His hat, as he stood on the deck of the incoming Cunarder, Gallia,
was of the pattern that English officers wear in India, and his suit
of clothes was such as a merchant might wear in his store. He
looked older than when he went to Germany, and his hair has turned
It was a late hour when they were finally up to the dock, and Clemens,
anxious to get through the Custom House, urged the inspector to accept
his carefully prepared list of dutiable articles, without opening the
baggage. But the official was dubious. Clemens argued eloquently, and a
higher authority was consulted. Again Clemens stated his case and
presented his arguments. A still higher chief of inspection was
summoned, evidently from his bed. He listened sleepily to the preamble,
then suddenly said: "Oh, chalk his baggage, of course! Don't you know
it's Mark Twain and that he'll talk all night?"
They went directly to the farm, for whose high sunlit loveliness they had
been longing through all their days of absence. Mrs. Clemens, in her
letters, had never failed to dwell on her hunger for that fair hilltop.
From his accustomed study-table Clemens wrote to Twichell:
"You have run about a good deal, Joe, but you have never seen any place
that was so divine as the farm. Why don't you come here and take a
foretaste of Heaven?" Clemens declared he would roam no more forever,
and settled down to the happy farm routine. He took up his work, which
had not gone well in Paris, and found his interest in it renewed. In the
letter to Twichell he said:
I am revising my MS. I did not expect to like it, but I do. I have
been knocking out early chapters for more than a year now, not
because they had not merit, but merely because they hindered the
flow of the narrative; it was a dredging process. Day before
yesterday my shovel fetched up three more chapters and laid them,
reeking, on the festering shore-pile of their predecessors, and now
I think the yarn swims right along, without hitch or halt. I
believe it will be a readable book of travels. I cannot see that it
lacks anything but information.
Mrs. Clemens was no less weary of travel than her husband. Yet she had
enjoyed their roaming, and her gain from it had been greater than his.
Her knowledge of art and literature, and of the personal geography of
nations, had vastly increased; her philosophy of life had grown beyond
She had lost something, too; she had outstripped her traditions. One
day, when she and her sister had walked across the fields, and had
stopped to rest in a little grove by a pretty pond, she confessed,
timidly enough and not without sorrow, how she had drifted away from her
orthodox views. She had ceased to believe, she said, in the orthodox
Bible God, who exercised a personal supervision over every human soul.
The hordes of people she had seen in many lands, the philosophies she had
listened to from her husband and those wise ones about him, the life away
from the restricted round of home, all had contributed to this change.
Her God had become a larger God; the greater mind which exerts its care
of the individual through immutable laws of time and change and
environment--the Supreme Good which comprehends the individual flower,
dumb creature, or human being only as a unit in the larger scheme of life
and love. Her sister was not shocked or grieved; she too had grown with
the years, and though perhaps less positively directed, had by a path of
her own reached a wider prospect of conclusions. It was a sweet day
there in the little grove by the water, and would linger in the memory of
both so long as life lasted. Certainly it was the larger faith; though
the moment must always come when the narrower, nearer, more humanly
protecting arm of orthodoxy lends closer comfort. Long afterward, in the
years that followed the sorrow of heavy bereavement, Clemens once said to
his wife, "Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith do
so," and she answered," I can't, Youth. I haven't any."
And the thought that he had destroyed her illusion, without affording a
compensating solace, was one that would come back to him, now and then,
all his days.
THE GRANT SPEECH OF 1879
If the lunar rainbow had any fortuitous significance, perhaps we may find
it in the two speeches which Mark Twain made in November and December of
that year. The first of these was delivered at Chicago, on the occasion
of the reception of General Grant by the Army of the Tennessee, on the
evening of November 73, 1879. Grant had just returned from his splendid
tour of the world. His progress from San Francisco eastward had been
such an ovation as is only accorded to sovereignty. Clemens received an
invitation to the reunion, but, dreading the long railway journey, was at
first moved to decline. He prepared a letter in which he made "business"
his excuse, and expressed his regret that he would not be present to see
and hear the veterans of the Army of the Tennessee at the moment when
their old commander entered the room and rose in his place to speak.
"Besides," he said, "I wanted to see the General again anyway and renew
the acquaintance. He would remember me, because I was the person who did
not ask him for an office."
He did not send the letter. Reconsidering, it seemed to him that there
was something strikingly picturesque in the idea of a Confederate soldier
who had been chased for a fortnight in the rain through Ralls and Monroe
counties, Missouri, now being invited to come and give welcome home to
his old imaginary pursuer. It was in the nature of an imperative
command, which he could not refuse to obey.
He accepted and agreed to speak. They had asked him to respond to the
toast of "The Ladies," but for him the subject was worn out. He had
already responded to that toast at least twice. He telegraphed that
there was one class of the community that had always been overlooked upon
such occasions, and that if they would allow him to do so he would take
that class for a toast: the babies. Necessarily they agreed, and he
prepared himself accordingly.
He arrived in Chicago in time for the prodigious procession of welcome.
Grant was to witness the march from a grand reviewing stand, which had
been built out from the second story of the Palmer House. Clemens had
not seen the General since the "embarrassing" introduction in Washington,
twelve years before. Their meeting was characteristic enough. Carter
Harrison, Mayor of Chicago, arriving with Grant, stepped over to Clemens,
and asked him if he wouldn't like to be presented. Grant also came
forward, and a moment later Harrison was saying:
"General, let me present Mr. Clemens, a man almost as great as yourself."
They shook hands; there was a pause of a moment, then Grant said, looking
at him gravely:
"Mr. Clemens, I am not embarrassed, are you?"
So he remembered that first, long-ago meeting. It was a conspicuous
performance. The crowd could not hear the words, but they saw the
greeting and the laugh, and cheered both men.
Following the procession, there were certain imposing ceremonies of
welcome at Haverly's Theater where long, laudatory eloquence was poured
out upon the returning hero, who sat unmoved while the storm of music and
cheers and oratory swept about him. Clemens, writing of it that evening
to Mrs. Clemens, said:
I never sat elbow to elbow with so many historic names before.
Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Schofield, Pope, Logan, and so on.
What an iron man Grant is! He sat facing the house, with his right
leg crossed over his left, his right boot sole tilted up at an
angle, and his left hand and arm reposing on the arm of his chair.
You note that position? Well, when glowing references were made to
other grandees on the stage, those grandees always showed a trifle
of nervous consciousness, and as these references came frequently
the nervous changes of position and attitude were also frequent.
But Grant! He was under a tremendous and ceaseless bombardment of
praise and congratulation; but as true as I'm sitting here he never
moved a muscle of his body for a single instant during thirty
minutes! You could have played him on a stranger for an effigy.
Perhaps he never would have moved, but at last a speaker made such a
particularly ripping and blood-stirring remark about him that the
audience rose and roared and yelled and stamped and clapped an
entire minute--Grant sitting as serene as ever-when General Sherman
stepped up to him, laid his hand affectionately on his shoulder,
bent respectfully down, and whispered in his ear. Then Grant got up
and bowed, and the storm of applause swelled into a hurricane.
But it was the next evening that the celebration rose to a climax. This
was at the grand banquet at the Palmer House, where six hundred guests
sat down to dinner and Grant himself spoke, and Logan and Hurlbut, and
Vilas and Woodford and Pope, fifteen in all, including Robert G.
Ingersoll and Mark Twain. Chicago has never known a greater event than
that dinner, for there has never been a time since when those great
soldiers and citizens could have been gathered there.
To Howells Clemens wrote:
Imagine what it was like to see a bullet-shredded old battle-flag
reverently unfolded to the gaze of a thousand middle-aged soldiers,
most of whom hadn't seen it since they saw it advancing over
victorious fields when they were in their prime. And imagine what
it was like when Grant, their first commander, stepped into view
while they were still going mad over the flag, and then right in the
midst of it all somebody struck up "When we were marching through
Georgia." Well, you should have heard the thousand voices lift that
chorus and seen the tears stream down. If I live a hundred years I
sha'n't ever forget these things, nor be able to talk about them. I
sha'n't ever forget that I saw Phil Sheridan, with martial cloak and
plumed chapeau, riding his big black horse in the midst of his own
cannon; by all odds the superbest figure of a soldier. I ever
Grand times, my boy, grand times!
Mark Twain declared afterward that he listened to four speeches that
night which he would remember as long as he lived. One of them was by
Emory Storrs, another by General Vilas, another by Logan, and the last
and greatest by Robert Ingersoll, whose eloquence swept the house like a
flame. The Howells letter continues:
I doubt if America has ever seen anything quite equal to it; I am
well satisfied I shall not live to see its equal again. How pale
those speeches are in print, but how radiant, how full of color, how
blinding they were in the delivery! Bob Ingersoll's music will sing
through my memory always as the divinest that ever enchanted my
ears. And I shall always see him, as he stood that night on a
dinner-table, under the flash of lights and banners, in the midst of
seven hundred frantic shouters, the most beautiful human creature
that ever lived. "They fought, that a mother might own her child."
The words look like any other print, but, Lord bless me! he
borrowed the very accent of the angel of mercy to say them in, and
you should have seen that vast house rise to its feet; and you
should have heard the hurricane that followed. That's the only
test! People may shout, clap their hands, stamp, wave their
napkins, but none but the master can make them get up on their feet.
Clemens's own speech came last. He had been placed at the end to hold
the house. He was preceded by a dull speaker, and his heart sank, for it
was two o'clock and the diners were weary and sleepy, and the dreary
speech had made them unresponsive.
They gave him a round of applause when he stepped up upon the table in
front of him--a tribute to his name. Then he began the opening words of
that memorable, delightful fancy.
"We haven't all had the good-fortune to be ladies; we haven't all been
generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the
babies--we stand on common ground--"
The tired audience had listened in respectful silence through the first
half of the sentence. He made one of his effective pauses on the word
"babies," and when he added, in that slow, rich measure of his, "we stand
on common ground," they let go a storm of applause. There was no
weariness and inattention after that. At the end of each sentence, he
had to stop to let the tornado roar itself out and sweep by. When he
reached the beginning of the final paragraph, "Among the three or four
million cradles now rocking in the land are some which this nation would
preserve for ages as sacred things if we could know which ones they are,"
the vast audience waited breathless for his conclusion. Step by step he
led toward some unseen climax--some surprise, of course, for that would
be his way. Then steadily, and almost without emphasis, he delivered the
opening of his final sentence:
"And now in his cradle, somewhere under the flag, the future illustrious
commander-in-chief of the American armies is so little burdened with his
approaching grandeurs and responsibilities as to be giving his whole
strategic mind, at this moment, to trying to find out some way to get his
own big toe into his mouth, an achievement which (meaning no disrespect)
the illustrious guest of this evening also turned his attention to some
fifty-six years ago."
He paused, and the vast crowd had a chill of fear. After all, he seemed
likely to overdo it to spoil everything with a cheap joke at the end.
No one ever knew better than Mark Twain the value of a pause. He waited
now long enough to let the silence become absolute, until the tension was
painful, then wheeling to Grant himself he said, with all the dramatic
power of which he was master:
"And if the child is but the father of the man, there are mighty few who
will doubt that he succeeded!"
The house came down with a crash. The linking of their hero's great
military triumphs with that earliest of all conquests seemed to them so
grand a figure that they went mad with the joy of it. Even Grant's iron
serenity broke; he rocked and laughed while the tears streamed down his
They swept around the speaker with their congratulations, in their
efforts to seize his hand. He was borne up and down the great dining-
hall. Grant himself pressed up to make acknowledgments.
"It tore me all to pieces," he said; and Sherman exclaimed, "Lord bless
you, my boy! I don't know how you do it!"
The little speech has been in "cold type" so many years since then that
the reader of it to-day may find it hard to understand the flame of
response it kindled so long ago. But that was another day--and another
nation--and Mark Twain, like Robert Ingersoll, knew always his period and
ANOTHER "ATLANTIC" SPEECH
The December good-fortune was an opportunity Clemens had to redeem
himself with the Atlantic contingent, at a breakfast given to Dr. Holmes.
Howells had written concerning it as early as October, and the first
impulse had been to decline. It would be something of an ordeal; for
though two years had passed since the fatal Whittier dinner, Clemens had
not been in that company since, and the lapse of time did not signify.
Both Howells and Warner urged him to accept, and he agreed to do so on
condition that he be allowed to speak.
If anybody talks there I shall claim the right to say a word myself, and
be heard among the very earliest, else it would be confoundedly awkward
for me--and for the rest, too. But you may read what I say beforehand,
and strike out whatever you choose.
Howells advised against any sort of explanation. Clemens accepted this
as wise counsel, and prepared an address relevant only to the guest of
It was a noble gathering. Most of the guests of the Whittier dinner were
present, and this time there were ladies. Emerson, Longfellow, and
Whittier were there, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Julia Ward Howe; also the
knightly Colonel Waring, and Stedman, and Parkman, and grand old John
Bigelow, old even then.--[He died in 1911 in his 94th year.]
Howells was conservative in his introduction this time. It was better
taste to be so. He said simply:
"We will now listen to a few words of truth and soberness from Mark
Clemens is said to have risen diffidently, but that was his natural
manner. It probably did not indicate anything of the inner tumult he
Outwardly he was calm enough, and what he said was delicate and
beautiful, the kind of thing that he could say so well. It seems fitting
that it should be included here, the more so that it tells a story not
elsewhere recorded. This is the speech in full:
MR. CHAIRMAN, LADIES, AND GENTLEMEN,--I would have traveled a much
greater distance than I have come to witness the paying of honors to
Dr. Holmes, for my feeling toward him has always been one of
peculiar warmth. When one receives a letter from a great man for
the first time in his life it is a large event to him, as all of you
know by your own experience. You never can receive letters enough
from famous men afterward to obliterate that one or dim the memory
of the pleasant surprise it was and the gratification it gave you.
Lapse of time cannot make it commonplace or cheap. Well, the first
great man who ever wrote me a letter was our guest, Oliver Wendell
Holmes. He was also the first great literary man I ever stole
anything from, and that is how I came to write to him and he to me.
When my first book was new a friend of mine said, "The dedication is
very neat." Yes, I said, I thought it was. My friend said,
"I always admired it, even before I saw it in The Innocents Abroad."
I naturally said, "What do you mean? Where did you ever see it
before?" "Well, I saw it first, some years ago, as Dr. Holmes's
dedication to his Songs in Many Keys." Of course my first impulse
was to prepare this man's remains for burial, but upon reflection I
said I would reprieve him for a moment or two, and give him a chance
to prove his assertion if he could. We stepped into a book-store.
and he did prove it. I had stolen that dedication almost word for
word. I could not imagine how this curious thing happened; for I
knew one thing, for a dead certainty--that a certain amount of pride
always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride
protects a man from deliberately stealing other people's ideas.
That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for a man, and admirers
had often told me I had nearly a basketful, though they were rather
reserved as to the size of the basket. However, I thought the thing
out and solved the mystery. Some years before I had been laid up a
couple of weeks in the Sandwich Islands, and had read and reread Dr.
Holmes's poems till my mental reservoir was filled with them to the
brim. The dedication lay on top and handy, so by and by I
unconsciously took it. Well, of course, I wrote to Dr. Holmes and
told him I hadn't meant to steal, and he wrote back and said, in the
kindest way, that it was all right, and no harm done, and added that
he believed we all unconsciously worked over ideas gathered in
reading and hearing, imagining they were original with ourselves.
He stated a truth and did it in such a pleasant way, and salved over
my sore spot so gently and so healingly, that I was rather glad I
had committed the crime, for the sake of the letter. I afterward
called on him and told him to make perfectly free with any ideas of
mine that struck him as good protoplasm for poetry. He could see by
that time that there wasn't anything mean about me; so we got along,
right from the start.--[Holmes in his letter had said: "I rather
think The Innocents Abroad will have many more readers than Songs in
Many Keys. . . You will be stolen from a great deal oftener than
you will borrow from other people."]
I have met Dr. Holmes many times since; and lately he said--However,
I am wandering wildly away from the one thing which I got on my feet
to do; that is, to make my compliments to you, my fellow-teachers of
the great public, and likewise to say I am right glad to see that
Dr. Holmes is still in his prime and full of generous life, and as
age is not determined by years but by trouble, and by infirmities of
mind and body, I hope it may be a very long time yet before any can
truthfully say, "He is growing old."
Whatever Mark Twain may have lost on that former occasion, came back to
him multiplied when he had finished this happy tribute. So the year for
him closed prosperously. The rainbow of promise was justified.
THE QUIETER THINGS OF HOME
Upset and disturbed as Mark Twain often was, he seldom permitted his
distractions to interfere with the program of his fireside. His days and
his nights might be fevered, but the evenings belonged to another world.
The long European wandering left him more than ever enamoured of his
home; to him it had never been so sweet before, so beautiful, so full of
peace. Company came: distinguished guests and the old neighborhood
circles. Dinner-parties were more frequent than ever, and they were
likely to be brilliant affairs. The best minds, the brightest wits,
gathered around Mark Twain's table. Booth, Barrett, Irving, Sheridan,
Sherman, Howells, Aldrich: they all assembled, and many more. There was
always some one on the way to Boston or New York who addressed himself
for the day or the night, or for a brief call, to the Mark Twain
Certain visitors from foreign lands were surprised at his environment,
possibly expecting to find him among less substantial, more bohemian
surroundings. Henry Drummond, the author of Natural Law in the Spiritual
World, in a letter of this time, said:
I had a delightful day at Hartford last Wednesday . . . . Called
on Mark Twain, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the widow of Horace
Bushnell. I was wishing A---- had been at the Mark Twain interview.
He is funnier than any of his books, and to my surprise a most
respected citizen, devoted to things esthetic, and the friend of the
poor and struggling.--[Life of Henry Drummond, by George Adam
The quieter evenings were no less delightful. Clemens did not often go
out. He loved his own home best. The children were old enough now to
take part in a form of entertainment that gave him and them especial
pleasure-acting charades. These he invented for them, and costumed the
little performers, and joined in the acting as enthusiastically and as
unrestrainedly as if he were back in that frolicsome boyhood on John
Quarles's farm. The Warner and Twichell children were often there and
took part in the gay amusements. The children of that neighborhood
played their impromptu parts well and naturally. They were in a dramatic
atmosphere, and had been from infancy. There was never any preparation
for the charades. A word was selected and the parts of it were whispered
to the little actors. Then they withdrew to the hall, where all sorts of
costumes had been laid out for the evening, dressed their parts, and each
detachment marched into the library, performed its syllable and retired,
leaving the audience, mainly composed of parents, to guess the answer.
Often they invented their own words, did their own costuming, and
conducted the entire performance independent of grown-up assistance or
interference. Now and then, even at this early period, they conceived
and produced little plays, and of course their father could not resist
joining in these. At other times, evenings, after dinner, he would sit
at the piano and recall the old darky songs-spirituals and jubilee
choruses-singing them with fine spirit, if not with perfect technic, the
children joining in these moving melodies.
He loved to read aloud to them. It was his habit to read his manuscript
to Mrs. Clemens, and, now that the children were older, he was likely to
include them in his critical audience.
It would seem to have been the winter after their return from Europe that
this custom was inaugurated, for 'The Prince and the Pauper' manuscript
was the first one so read, and it was just then he was resuming work on
this tale. Each afternoon or evening, when he had finished his chapter,
he assembled his little audience and read them the result. The children
were old enough to delight in that half real, half fairy tale of the
wandering prince and the royal pauper: and the charm and simplicity of
the story are measurably due to those two small listeners, to whom it was
adapted in that early day of its creation.
Clemens found the Prince a blessed relief from 'A Tramp Abroad', which
had become a veritable nightmare. He had thought it finished when he
left the farm, but discovered that he must add several hundred pages to
complete its bulk. It seemed to him that he had been given a life-
sentence. He wrote six hundred pages and tore up all but two hundred and
eighty-eight. He was about to destroy these and begin again, when Mrs.
Clemens's health became poor and he was advised to take her to Elmira,
though it was then midwinter. To Howells he wrote:
I said, "if there is one death that is painfuler than another, may I
get it if I don't do that thing."
So I took the 288 pages to Bliss and told him that was the very last
line I should ever write on this book (a book which required 600
pages of MS., and I have written nearly four thousand, first and
I am as soary (and flighty) as a rocket to-day, with the unutterable
joy of getting that Old Man of the Sea off my back, where he has
been roosting more than a year and a half.
They remained a month at Elmira, and on their return Clemens renewed work
on 'The Prince and the Pauper'. He reported to Howells that if he never
sold a copy his jubilant delight in writing it would suffer no
diminution. A week later his enthusiasm had still further increased:
I take so much pleasure in my story that I am loath to hurry, not
wanting to get it done. Did I ever tell you the plot of it? It
begins at 9 A.M., January 27, 1547.
He follows with a detailed synopsis of his plot, which in this instance
he had worked out with unusual completeness--a fact which largely
accounts for the unity of the tale. Then he adds:
My idea is to afford a realizing sense of the exceeding severity of
the laws of that day by inflicting some of their penalties upon the
king himself, and allowing him a chance to see the rest of them
applied to others; all of which is to account for certain mildnesses
which distinguished Edward VI.'s reign from those that precede it
and follow it.
Imagine this fact: I have even fascinated Mrs. Clemens with this
yarn for youth. My stuff generally gets considerable damning with
faint praise out of her, but this time it is all the other way. She
is become the horse-leech's daughter, and my mill doesn't grind fast
enough to suit her. This is no mean triumph, my dear sir.
He forgot, perhaps, to mention his smaller auditors, but we may believe
they were no less eager in their demands for the tale's continuance.
"A TRAMP ABROAD"
'A Tramp Abroad' came from the presses on the 13th of March, 1880. It
had been widely heralded, and there was an advance sale of twenty-five
thousand copies. It was of the same general size and outward character
as the Innocents, numerously illustrated, and was regarded by its
publishers as a satisfactory book.
It bore no very striking resemblance to the Innocents on close
examination. Its pictures-drawn, for the most part, by a young art
student named Brown, whom Clemens had met in Paris--were extraordinarily
bad, while the crude engraving process by which they had been reproduced;
tended to bring them still further into disrepute. A few drawings by
True Williams were better, and those drawn by Clemens himself had a value
of their own. The book would have profited had there been more of what
the author calls his "works of art."
Mark Twain himself had dubious anticipations as to the book's reception.
But Howells wrote:
Well, you are a blessing. You ought to believe in God's goodness,
since he has bestowed upon the world such a delightful genius as
yours to lighten its troubles.
Your praises have been the greatest uplift I ever had. When a body
is not even remotely expecting such things, how the surprise takes
the breath away! We had been interpreting your stillness to
melancholy and depression, caused by that book. This is honest.
Why, everything looks brighter now. A check for untold cash could
not have made our hearts sing as your letter has done.
A letter from Tauchnitz, proposing to issue an illustrated edition in
Germany, besides putting it into his regular series, was an added
satisfaction. To be in a Tauchnitz series was of itself a recognition of
the book's merit.
To Twichell, Clemens presented a special copy of the Tramp with a
personal inscription, which must not be omitted here:
MY DEAR "HARRIS"--NO, I MEAN MY DEAR JOE,--Just imagine it for a
moment: I was collecting material in Europe during fourteen months
for a book, and now that the thing is printed I find that you, who
were with me only a month and a half of the fourteen, are in actual
presence (not imaginary) in 440 of the 531 pages the book contains!
Hang it, if you had stayed at home it would have taken me fourteen
years to get the material. You have saved me an intolerable whole
world of hated labor, and I'll not forget it, my boy.
You'll find reminders of things, all along, that happened to us, and
of others that didn't happen; but you'll remember the spot where
they were invented. You will see how the imaginary perilous trip up
the Riffelberg is preposterously expanded. That horse-student is on
page 192. The "Fremersberg" is neighboring. The Black Forest novel
is on page 211. I remember when and where we projected that: in the
leafy glades with the mountain sublimities dozing in the blue haze
beyond the gorge of Allerheiligen. There's the "new member," page
213; the dentist yarn, 223; the true Chamois, 242; at page 248 is a
pretty long yarn, spun from a mighty brief text meeting, for a
moment, that pretty girl who knew me and whom I had forgotten; at
281 is "Harris," and should have been so entitled, but Bliss has
made a mistake and turned you into some other character; 305 brings
back the whole Rigi tramp to me at a glance; at 185 and 186 are
specimens of my art; and the frontispiece is the combination which I
made by pasting one familiar picture over the lower half of an
equally familiar one. This fine work being worthy of Titian, I have
shed the credit of it upon him. Well, you'll find more reminders of
things scattered through here than are printed, or could have been
printed, in many books.
All the "legends of the Neckar," which I invented for that unstoried
region, are here; one is in the Appendix. The steel portrait of me
is just about perfect.
We had a mighty good. time, Joe, and the six weeks I would dearly
like to repeat any time; but the rest of the fourteen months-never.
Hartford, March 16, 1880.
Possibly Twichell had vague doubts concerning a book of which he was so
large a part, and its favorable reception by the critics and the public
generally was a great comfort. When the Howells letter was read to him
he is reported as having sat with his hands on his knees, his head bent
forward--a favorite attitude--repeating at intervals:
"Howells said that, did he? Old Howells said that!"
There have been many and varying opinions since then as to the literary
merits of 'A Tramp Abroad'. Human tastes differ, and a "mixed" book of
this kind invites as many opinions as it has chapters. The word "uneven"
pretty safely describes any book of size, but it has a special
application to this one. Written under great stress and uncertainty of
mind, it could hardly be uniform. It presents Mark Twain at his best,
and at his worst. Almost any American writer was better than Mark Twain
at his worst: Mark Twain at his best was unapproachable.
It is inevitable that 'A Tramp Abroad' and 'The Innocents Abroad' should
be compared, though with hardly the warrant of similarity. The books are
as different as was their author at the periods when they were written.
'A Tramp Abroad' is the work of a man who was traveling and observing for
the purpose of writing a book, and for no other reason. The Innocents
Abroad was written by a man who was reveling in every scene and
experience, every new phase and prospect; whose soul was alive to every
historic association, and to every humor that a gay party of young sight-
seers could find along the way. The note-books of that trip fairly glow
with the inspiration of it; those of the later wanderings are mainly
filled with brief, terse records, interspersed with satire and
denunciation. In the 'Innocents' the writer is the enthusiast with a
sense of humor. In the 'Tramp' he has still the sense of humor, but he
has become a cynic; restrained, but a cynic none the less. In the
'Innocents' he laughs at delusions and fallacies--and enjoys them. In
the 'Tramp' he laughs at human foibles and affectations--and wants to
smash them. Very often he does not laugh heartily and sincerely at all,
but finds his humor in extravagant burlesque. In later life his gentler
laughter, his old, untroubled enjoyment of human weakness, would return,
but just now he was in that middle period, when the "damned human race"
amused him indeed, though less tenderly. (It seems proper to explain
that in applying this term to mankind he did not mean that the race was
foredoomed, but rather that it ought to be.)
Reading the 'Innocents', the conviction grows that, with all its faults,
it is literature from beginning to end. Reading the 'Tramp', the
suspicion arises that, regardless of technical improvement, its
percentage of literature is not large. Yet, as noted in an earlier
volume, so eminent a critic as Brander Matthews has pronounced in its
favor, and he undoubtedly had a numerous following; Howells expressed.
his delight in the book at the time of its issue, though one wonders how
far the personal element entered into his enjoyment, and what would be
his final decision if he read the two books side by side to-day. He
reviewed 'A Tramp Abroad' adequately and finely in the Atlantic, and
justly; for on the whole it is a vastly entertaining book, and he did not
'A Tramp Abroad' had an "Introduction" in the manuscript, a pleasant word
to the reader but not a necessary one, and eventually it was omitted.
Fortunately the appendix remained. Beyond question it contains some of
the very best things in the book. The descriptions of the German Portier
and the German newspaper are happy enough, and the essay on the awful
German language is one of Mark Twain's supreme bits of humor. It is Mark
Twain at his best; Mark Twain in a field where he had no rival, the field
of good-natured, sincere fun-making-ridicule of the manifest absurdities
of some national custom or institution which the nation itself could
enjoy, while the individual suffered no wound. The present Emperor of
Germany is said to find comfort in this essay on his national speech when
all other amusements fail. It is delicious beyond words to express; it
In the body of the book there are also many delights. The description of
the ant might rank next to the German language almost in its humor, and
the meeting with the unrecognized girl at Lucerne has a lively charm.
Of the serious matter, some of the word-pictures are flawless in their
beauty; this, for instance, suggested by the view of the Jungfrau from
There was something subduing in the influence of that silent and
solemn and awful presence; one seemed to meet the immutable, the
indestructible, the eternal, face to face, and to feel the trivial
and fleeting nature of his own existence the more sharply by the
contrast. One had the sense of being under the brooding
contemplation of a spirit, not an inert mass of rocks and ice--a
spirit which had looked down, through the slow drift of ages, upon a
million vanished races of men and judged them; and would judge a
million more--and still be there, watching unchanged and
unchangeable, after all life should be gone and the earth have
become a vacant desolation
While I was feeling these things, I was groping, without knowing it,
toward an understanding of what the spell is which people find in
the Alps, and in no other mountains; that strange, deep, nameless
influence which, once felt, cannot be forgotten; once felt, leaves
always behind it a restless longing to feel it again--a longing
which is like homesickness; a grieving, haunting yearning, which
will plead, implore, and persecute till it has its will. I met
dozens of people, imaginative and unimaginative, cultivated and
uncultivated, who had come from far countries and roamed through the
Swiss Alps year after year--they could not explain why. They had
come first, they said, out of idle curiosity, because everybody
talked about it; they had come since because they could not help it,
and they should keep on coming, while they lived, for the same
reason; they had tried to break their chains and stay away, but it
was futile; now they had no desire to break them. Others came
nearer formulating what they felt; they said they could find perfect
rest and peace nowhere else when they were troubled: all frets and
worries and chafings sank to sleep in the presence of the benignant
serenity of the Alps; the Great Spirit of the mountain breathed his
own peace upon their hurt minds and sore hearts, and healed them;
they could not think base thoughts or do mean and sordid things
here, before the visible throne of God.
Indeed, all the serious matter in the book is good. The reader's chief
regret is likely to be that there is not more of it. The main difficulty
with the humor is that it seems overdone. It is likely to be carried too
far, and continued too long. The ascent of Riffelberg is an example.
Though spotted with delights it seems, to one reader at least, less
admirable than other of the book's important features, striking, as it
does, more emphatically the chief note of the book's humor--that is to
Without doubt there must be many--very many--who agree in finding a
fuller enjoyment in 'A Tramp Abroad' than in the 'Innocents'; only, the
burden of the world's opinion lies the other way. The world has a
weakness for its illusions: the splendor that falls on castle walls, the
glory of the hills at evening, the pathos of the days that are no more.
It answers to tenderness, even on the page of humor, and to genuine
enthusiasm, sharply sensing the lack of these things; instinctively
resenting, even when most amused by it, extravagance and burlesque. The
Innocents Abroad is more soul-satisfying than its successor, more poetic;
more sentimental, if you will. The Tramp contains better English usage,
without doubt, but it is less full of happiness and bloom and the halo of
romance. The heart of the world has felt this, and has demanded the book
in fewer numbers.--[The sales of the Innocents during the earlier years
more than doubled those of the Tramp during a similar period. The later
ratio of popularity is more nearly three to one. It has been repeatedly
stated that in England the Tramp has the greater popularity, an assertion
not sustained by the publisher's accountings.]
LETTERS, TALES, AND PLANS
The reader has not failed to remark the great number of letters which
Samuel Clemens wrote to his friend William Dean Howells; yet
comparatively few can even be mentioned. He was always writing to
Howells, on every subject under the sun; whatever came into his mind--
business, literature, personal affairs--he must write about it to
Howells. Once, when nothing better occurred, he sent him a series of
telegrams, each a stanza from an old hymn, possibly thinking they might
carry comfort.--["Clemens had then and for many years the habit of
writing to me about what he was doing, and still more of what he was
experiencing. Nothing struck his imagination, in or out of the daily
routine, but he wished to write me of it, and he wrote with the greatest
fullness and a lavish dramatization, sometimes to the length of twenty or
forty pages:" (My Mark Twain, by W. D. Howells.)] Whatever of
picturesque happened in the household he immediately set it down for
Howells's entertainment. Some of these domestic incidents carry the
flavor of his best humor. Once he wrote:
Last night, when I went to bed, Mrs. Clemens said, "George didn't
take the cat down to the cellar; Rosa says he has left it shut up in
the conservatory." So I went down to attend to Abner (the cat).
About three in the morning Mrs. C. woke me and said, "I do believe
I hear that cat in the drawing-room. What did you do with him?" I
answered with the confidence of a man who has managed to do the
right thing for once, and said, "I opened the conservatory doors,
took the library off the alarm, and spread everything open, so that
there wasn't any obstruction between him and the cellar." Language
wasn't capable of conveying this woman's disgust. But the sense of
what she said was, "He couldn't have done any harm in the
conservatory; so you must go and make the entire house free to him
and the burglars, imagining that he will prefer the coal-bins to the
drawing-room. If you had had Mr. Howells to help you I should have
admired, but not have been astonished, because I should know that
together you would be equal to it; but how you managed to contrive
such a stately blunder all by yourself is what I cannot understand."
So, you see, even she knows how to apprecaite our gifts....
I knocked off during these stirring hours, and don't intend to go to
work again till we go away for the summer, four or six weeks hence.
So I am writing to you, not because I have anything to say, but
because you don't have to answer and I need something to do this
The rightful earl has----
Well, never mind about the rightful earl; he merely wanted to-borrow
money. I never knew an American earl that didn't.
After a trip to Boston, during which Mrs. Clemens did some bric-a-brac
shopping, he wrote:
Mrs. Clemens has two imperishable topics now: the museum of andirons
which she collected and your dinner. It is hard to tell which she
admires the most. Sometimes she leans one way and sometimes the
other; but I lean pretty steadily toward the dinner because I can
appreciate that, whereas I am no prophet in andirons. There has
been a procession of Adams Express wagons filing before the door all
day delivering andirons.
In a more serious vein he refers to the aged violinist Ole Bull and his
wife, whom they had met during their visit, and their enjoyment of that
Clemens did some shorter work that spring, most of which found its way
into the Atlantic. "Edward Mills and George Benton," one of the
contributions of this time, is a moral sermon in its presentation of a
pitiful human spectacle and misdirected human zeal.
It brought a pack of letters of approval, not only from laity, but the
church, and in some measure may have helped to destroy the silly
sentimentalism which manifested itself in making heroes of spectacular
criminals. That fashion has gone out, largely. Mark Twain wrote
frequently on the subject, though never more effectively than in this
particular instance. "Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning" was another
Atlantic story, a companion piece to "Mrs. McWilliams's Experience with
the Membranous Croup," and in the same delightful vein--a vein in which
Mark Twain was likely to be at his best--the transcription of a scene not
so far removed in character from that in the "cat" letter just quoted:
something which may or may not have happened, but might have happened,
approximately as set down. Rose Terry Cooke wrote:
Horrid man, how did you know the way I behave in a thunderstorm?
Have you been secreted in the closet or lurking on the shed roof?
I hope you got thoroughly rained on; and worst of all is that you
made me laugh at myself; my real terrors turned round and grimaced
at me: they were sublime, and you have made them ridiculous just
come out here another year and have four houses within a few rods of
you struck and then see if you write an article of such exasperating
levity. I really hate you, but you are funny.
In addition to his own work, he conceived a plan for Orion. Clemens
himself had been attempting, from time to time, an absolutely faithful
autobiography; a document in which his deeds and misdeeds, even his moods
and inmost thoughts, should be truly set down. He had found it an
impossible task. He confessed freely that he lacked the courage, even
the actual ability, to pen the words that would lay his soul bare, but he
believed Orion equal to the task. He knew how rigidly honest he was, how
ready to confess his shortcomings, how eager to be employed at some
literary occupation. It was Mark Twain's belief that if Orion would
record in detail his long, weary struggle, his succession of attempts and
failures, his past dreams and disappointments, along with his sins of
omission and commission, it would make one of those priceless human
documents such as have been left by Benvenuto Cellini, Cazenova, and
"Simply tell your story to yourself," he wrote, "laying all hideousness
utterly bare, reserving nothing. Banish the idea of the audience and all
Orion, out in Keokuk, had long since abandoned the chicken farm and a
variety of other enterprises. He had prospected insurance, mining,
journalism, his old trade of printing, and had taken down and hung up his
law shingle between each of these seizures. Aside from business, too, he
had been having a rather spectacular experience. He had changed his
politics three times (twice in one day), and his religion as many more.
Once when he was delivering a political harangue in the street, at night,
a parade of the opposition (he had but just abandoned them) marched by
carrying certain flaming transparencies, which he himself had made for
them the day before. Finally, after delivering a series of infidel
lectures; he had been excommunicated and condemned to eternal flames by
the Presbyterian Church. He was therefore ripe for any new diversion,
and the Autobiography appealed to him. He set about it with splendid
enthusiasm, wrote a hundred pages or so of his childhood with a startling
minutia of detail and frankness, and mailed them to his brother for
They were all that Mark Twain had expected; more than he had expected.
He forwarded them to Howells with great satisfaction, suggesting, with
certain excisions, they be offered anonymously to the Atlantic readers.
But Howells's taste for realism had its limitations. He found the story
interesting--indeed, torturingly, heart-wringingly so--and, advising
strongly against its publication, returned it.
Onion was steaming along at the rate of ten to twenty pages a day now,
forwarding them as fast as written, while his courage was good and the
fires warm. Clemens, receiving a package by every morning mail, soon
lost interest, then developed a hunted feeling, becoming finally
desperate. He wrote wildly to shut Orion off, urging him to let his
manuscript accumulate, and to send it in one large consignment at the
end. This Orion did, and it is fair to say that in this instance at
least he stuck to his work faithfully to the bitter, disheartening end.
And it would have been all that Mark Twain had dreamed it would be, had
Orion maintained the simple narrative spirit of its early pages. But he
drifted off into theological byways; into discussions of his
excommunication and infidelities, which were frank enough, but lacked
In old age Mark Twain once referred to Orion's autobiography in print and
his own disappointment in it, which he attributed to Orion's having
departed from the idea of frank and unrestricted confession to exalt
himself as a hero-a statement altogether unwarranted, and due to one of
those curious confusions of memory and imagination that more than once
resulted in a complete reversal of the facts. A quantity of Orion's
manuscript has been lost and destroyed, but enough fragments of it remain
to show its fidelity to the original plan. It is just one long record of
fleeting hope, futile effort, and humiliation. It is the story of a life
of disappointment; of a man who has been defeated and beaten down and
crushed by the world until he has nothing but confession left to
surrender.--[Howells, in his letter concerning the opening chapters,
said that they would some day make good material. Fortunately the
earliest of these chapters were preserved, and, as the reader may
remember, furnished much of the childhood details for this biography.]
Whatever may have been Mark Twain's later impression of his brother's
manuscript, its story of failure and disappointment moved him to definite
action at the time.
Several years before, in Hartford, Orion had urged him to make his
publishing contracts on a basis of half profits, instead of on the
royalty plan. Clemens, remembering this, had insisted on such an
arrangement for the publication of 'A Tramp Abroad', and when his first
statement came in he realized that the new contract was very largely to
his advantage. He remembered Orion's anxiety in the matter, and made it
now a valid excuse for placing his brother on a firm financial footing.
Out of the suspicions which you bred in me years ago has grown this
result, to wit: that I shall within the twelve months get $40,000 out of
this Tramp, instead of $20,000. $20,000, after taxes and other expenses
are stripped away, is worth to the investor about $75 a month, so I shall
tell Mr. Perkins [his lawyer and financial agent] to make your check that
amount per month hereafter.... This ends the loan business, and
hereafter you can reflect that you are living not on borrowed money, but
on money which you have squarely earned, and which has no taint or savor
of charity about it, and you can also reflect that the money which you
have been receiving of me is charged against the heavy bill which the
next publisher will have to stand who gets a book of mine.
From that time forward Orion Clemens was worth substantially twenty
thousand dollars--till the day of his death, and, after him, his widow.
Far better was it for him that the endowment be conferred in the form of
an income, than had the capital amount been placed in his hands.
MARK TWAIN's ABSENT-MINDEDNESS
A number of amusing incidents have been more or less accurately reported
concerning Mark Twain's dim perception of certain physical surroundings,
and his vague resulting memories--his absent-mindedness, as we say.
It was not that he was inattentive--no man was ever less so if the
subject interested him--but only that the casual, incidental thing seemed
not to find a fixed place in his deeper consciousness.
By no means was Mark Twain's absent-mindedness a development of old age.
On the two occasions following he was in the very heyday of his mental
strength. Especially was it, when he was engaged upon some absorbing or
difficult piece of literature, that his mind seemed to fold up and shut
most of the world away. Soon after his return from Europe, when he was
still struggling with 'A Tramp Abroad', he wearily put the manuscript
aside, one day, and set out to invite F. G. Whitmore over for a game of
billiards. Whitmore lived only a little way down the street, and Clemens
had been there time and again. It was such a brief distance that he
started out in his slippers and with no hat. But when he reached the
corner where the house, a stone's-throw away, was in plain view he
stopped. He did not recognize it. It was unchanged, but its outlines
had left no impress upon his mind. He stood there uncertainly a little
while, then returned and got the coachman, Patrick McAleer, to show him
The second, and still more picturesque instance, belongs also to this
period. One day, when he was playing billiards with Whitmore, George,
the butler, came up with a card.
"Who is he, George?" Clemens asked, without looking at the card.
"I don't know, suh, but he's a gentleman, Mr. Clemens."
"Now, George, how many times have I told you I don't want to see
strangers when I'm playing billiards! This is just some book agent, or
insurance man, or somebody with something to sell. I don't want to see
him, and I'm not going to."
"Oh, but this is a gentleman, I'm sure, Mr. Clemens. Just look at his
"Yes, of course, I see--nice engraved card--but I don't know him, and if
it was St. Peter himself I wouldn't buy the key of salvation! You tell
him so--tell him--oh, well, I suppose I've got to go and get rid of him
myself. I'll be back in a minute, Whitmore."
He ran down the stairs, and as he got near the parlor door, which stood
open, he saw a man sitting on a couch with what seemed to be some framed
water-color pictures on the floor near his feet.
"Ah, ha!" he thought, "I see. A picture agent. I'll soon get rid of
He went in with his best, "Well, what can I do for you?" air, which he,
as well as any man living, knew how to assume; a friendly air enough, but
not encouraging. The gentleman rose and extended his hand.
"How are you, Mr. Clemens?" he said.
Of course this was the usual thing with men who had axes to grind or
goods to sell. Clemens did not extend a very cordial hand. He merely
raised a loose, indifferent hand--a discouraging hand.
"And how is Mrs. Clemens?" asked the uninvited guest.
So this was his game. He would show an interest in the family and
ingratiate himself in that way; he would be asking after the children
"Well--Mrs. Clemens is about as usual--I believe."
"And the children--Miss Susie and little Clara?"
This was a bit startling. He knew their names! Still, that was easy to
find out. He was a smart agent, wonderfully smart. He must be got rid
"The children are well, quite well," and (pointing down at the pictures)-
-"We've got plenty like these. We don't want any more. No, we don't
care for any more," skilfully working his visitor toward the door as he
The man, looking non-plussed--a good deal puzzled--allowed himself to be
talked into the hall and toward the front door. Here he paused a moment:
"Mr. Clemens, will you tell me where Mr. Charles Dudley Warner lives?"
This was the chance! He would work him off on Charlie Warner. Perhaps
Warner needed pictures.
"Oh, certainly, certainly! Right across the yard. I'll show you.
There's a walk right through. You don't need to go around the front way
at all. You'll find him at home, too, I'm pretty sure"; all the time
working his caller out and down the step and in the right direction.
The visitor again extended his hand.
"Please remember me to Mrs. Clemens and the children."
"Oh, certainly, certainly, with pleasure. Good day. Yes, that's the
On the way back to the billiard-room Mrs. Clemens called to him. She was
ill that day.
"Yes, Livy." He went in for a word.
"George brought me Mr. B----'s card. I hope you were very nice to him;
the B----s were so nice to us, once last year, when you were gone.",
"The B----s--Why, Livy ----"
"Yes, of course, and I asked him to be sure to call when he came to
He gazed at her helplessly.
"Well, he's been here."
"Oh, Youth, have you done anything?"
"Yes, of course I have. He seemed to have some pictures to sell, so I
sent him over to Warner's. I noticed he didn't take them with him. Land
sakes, Livy, what can I do?"
"Which way did he go, Youth?"
"Why, I sent him to Charlie Warner's. I thought----"
"Go right after him. Go quick! Tell him what you have done."
He went without further delay, bareheaded and in his slippers, as usual.
Warner and B---- were in cheerful and friendly converse. They had met
before. Clemens entered gaily:
"Oh Yes, I see! You found him all right. Charlie, we met Mr. B---- and
his wife in Europe last summer and they made things pleasant for us. I
wanted to come over here with him, but was a good deal occupied just
then. Livy isn't very well, but she seems a good deal better, so I just
followed along to have a good talk, all together."
He stayed an hour, and whatever bad impression had formed in B----'s mind
faded long before the hour ended. Returning home Clemens noticed the
pictures still on the parlor floor.
"George," he said, "what pictures are those that gentleman left?"
"Why, Mr. Clemens, those are our own pictures. I've been straightening
up the room a little, and Mrs. Clemens had me set them around to see how
they would look in new places. The gentleman was looking at them while
he was waiting for you to come down."
FURTHER AFFAIRS AT THE FARM
It was at Elmira, in July (1880), that the third little girl came--Jane
Lampton, for her grandmother, but always called Jean. She was a large,
lovely baby, robust and happy. When she had been with them a little more
than a month Clemens, writing to Twichell, said:
DEAR OLD JOE,--Concerning Jean Clemens, if anybody said he "didn't
see no pints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog," I
should think he was convicting himself of being a pretty poor sort
of observer. She is the comeliest and daintiest and perfectest
little creature the continents and archipelagos have seen since the
Bay and Susy were her size. I will not go into details; it is not