Part 4 out of 5
division of labor. Clemens wrote chapters I to XI; also chapters XXIV,
XXV, XXVII, XXVIII, XXX, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXVI, XXXVII, XLII,
XLIII, XLV, LI, LII, LIII, LVII, LIX, LX, LXI, LXII, and portions of
chapters XXXV, XLIX, LVI. Warner wrote chapters XII to XXIII; also
chapters XXVI, XXIX, XXXI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL, XLI, XLIV, XLVI, XLVII,
XLVITT, L, LIV, LV, LVIII, LXIII, and portions of chapters XXXV, XLIX,
and LVI. The work was therefore very evenly divided.
There was another co-worker on The Gilded Age before the book was finally
completed. This was J. Hammond Trumbull, who prepared the variegated,
marvelous cryptographic chapter headings: Trumbull was the most learned
man that ever lived in Hartford. He was familiar with all literary and
scientific data, and according to Clemens could swear in twenty-seven
languages. It was thought to be a choice idea to get Trumbull to supply
a lingual medley of quotations to precede the chapters in the new book,
the purpose being to excite interest and possibly to amuse the reader--a
purpose which to some extent appears to have miscarried.]
The book was begun in February and finished in April, so the work did not
lag. The result, if not highly artistic, made astonishingly good
reading. Warner had the touch of romance, Clemens, the gift of creating,
or at least of portraying, human realities. Most of his characters
reflected intimate personalities of his early life. Besides the
apotheosis of James Lampton into the immortal Sellers, Orion became
Washington Hawkins, Squire Clemens the judge, while Mark Twain's own
personality, in a greater or lesser degree, is reflected in most of his
creations. As for the Tennessee land, so long a will-o'the-wisp and a
bugbear, it became tangible property at last. Only a year or two before
Clemens had written to Orion:
Oh, here! I don't want to be consulted at all about Tennessee. I
don't want it even mentioned to me. When I make a suggestion it is
for you to act upon it or throw it aside, but I beseech you never to
ask my advice, opinion, or consent about that hated property.
But it came in good play now. It is the important theme of the story.
Mark Twain was well qualified to construct his share of the tale. He
knew his characters, their lives, and their atmospheres perfectly.
Senator Dilworthy (otherwise Senator Pomeroy, of Kansas, then notorious
for attempted vote-buying) was familiar enough. That winter in
Washington had acquainted Clemens with the life there, its political
intrigues, and the disrepute of Congress. Warner was equally well
qualified for his share of the undertaking, and the chief criticism that
one may offer is the one stated by Clemens himself--that the divisions of
the tale remain divisions rather than unity.
As for the story itself--the romance and tragedy of it--the character of
Laura in the hands of either author is one not easy to forget. Whether
this means that the work is well done, or only strikingly done, the
reader himself must judge. Morally, the character is not justified.
Laura was a victim of circumstance from the beginning. There could be no
poetic justice in her doom. To drag her out of a steamer wreck, only to
make her the victim of a scoundrel, later an adventuress, and finally a
murderess, all may be good art, but of a very bad kind. Laura is a sort
of American Becky Sharp; but there is retributive justice in Becky's
fate, whereas Laura's doom is warranted only by the author's whim. As
for her end, whatever the virtuous public of that day might have done, a
present-day audience would not have pelted her from the stage, destroyed
her future, taken away her life.
The authors regarded their work highly when it was finished, but that is
nothing. Any author regards his work highly at the moment of its
completion. In later years neither of them thought very well of their
production; but that also is nothing. The author seldom cares very
deeply for his offspring once it is turned over to the public charge.
The fact that the story is still popular, still delights thousands of
readers, when a myriad of novels that have been written since it was
completed have lived their little day and died so utterly that even their
names have passed out of memory, is the best verdict as to its worth.
PLANNING A NEW HOME
Clemens and his wife bought a lot for the new home that winter, a fine,
sightly piece of land on Farmington Avenue--table-land, slopingdown to a
pretty stream that wound through the willows and among the trees. They
were as delighted as children with their new purchase and the prospect of
building. To her sister Mrs. Clemens wrote:
Mr. Clemens seems to glory in his sense of possession; he goes daily
into the lot, has had several falls trying to lay off the land by
sliding around on his feet....
For three days the ice has covered the trees, and they have been
glorious. We could do nothing but watch the beauty outside; if you
looked at the trees as the sun struck them, with your back toward
the sun, they were covered with jewels. If you looked toward the
sun it was all crystal whiteness, a perfect fairy-land. Then the
nights were moonlight, and that was a great beauty, the moon giving
us the same prismatic effect.
This was the storm of which Mark Twain wrote his matchless description,
given first in his speech on New England weather, and later preserved in
'Following the Equator', in more extended form. In that book he likens
an ice-storm to his impressions derived from reading descriptions of the
Taj Mahal, that wonderful tomb of a fair East Indian queen. It is a
marvelous bit of word-painting--his description of that majestic vision:
"When every bough and twig is strung with ice-beads, frozen dewdrops, and
the whole tree sparkles cold and white, like the Shah of Persia's diamond
plume." It will pay any one to look up that description and read it all,
though it has been said, by the fortunate one or two who heard him first
give it utterance as an impromptu outburst, that in the subsequent
process of writing the bloom of its original magnificence was lost.
The plans for the new house were drawn forthwith by that gentle architect
Edward Potter, whose art to-day may be considered open to criticism, but
not because of any lack of originality. Hartford houses of that period
were mainly of the goods-box form of architecture, perfectly square,
typifying the commercial pursuits of many of their owners. Potter agreed
to get away from this idea, and a radical and even frenzied departure was
the result. Certainly his plans presented beautiful pictures, and all
who saw them were filled with wonder and delight. Architecture has
lavished itself in many florescent forms since then, but we may imagine
that Potter's "English violet" order of design, as he himself designated
it, startled, dazzled, and captivated in a day, when most houses were
mere habitations, built with a view to economy and the largest possible
amount of room.
Workmen were put on the ground without delay, to prepare for the
builders, and work was rapidly pushed along. Then in May the whole
matter was left in the hands of the architect and the carpenters (with
Lawyer Charles E. Perkins to stand between Potter and the violent
builder, who roared at Potter and frightened him when he wanted changes),
while the Clemens household, with Clara Spaulding, a girlhood friend of
Mrs. Clemens, sailed away to England for a half-year holiday.
A LONG ENGLISH HOLIDAY
They sailed on the Batavia, and with them went a young man named
Thompson, a theological student whom Clemens had consented to take as an
amanuensis. There is a pathetic incident connected with this young man,
and it may as well be set down here. Clemens found, a few weeks after
his arrival in England, that so great was the tax upon his time that he
could make no use of Thompson's services. He gave Thompson fifty
dollars, and upon the possibility of the young man's desiring to return
to America, advanced him another fifty dollars, saying that he could
return it some day, and never thought of it again. But the young man
remembered it, and one day, thirty-six years later, after a life of
hardship and struggle, such as the life of a country minister is apt to
be, he wrote and inclosed a money-order, a payment on his debt. That
letter and its inclosure brought only sorrow to Mark Twain. He felt that
it laid upon him the accumulated burden of the weary thirty-six years'
struggle with ill-fortune. He returned the money, of course, and in a
biographical note commented:
How pale painted heroisms of romance look beside it! Thompson's
heroism, which is real, which is colossal, which is sublime, and
which is costly beyond all estimate, is achieved in profound
obscurity, and its hero walks in rags to the end of his days. I had
forgotten Thompson completely, but he flashes before me as vividly
as lightning. I can see him now. It was on the deck of the
Batavia, in the dock. The ship was casting off, with that hubbub
and confusion and rushing of sailors, and shouting of orders and
shrieking of boatswain whistles, which marked the departure
preparations in those days--an impressive contrast with the solemn
silence which marks the departure preparations of the giant ships of
the present day. Mrs. Clemens, Clara Spaulding, little Susy, and
the nurse-maid were all properly garbed for the occasion. We all
had on our storm-rig, heavy clothes of somber hue, but new and
designed and constructed for the purpose, strictly in accordance
with sea-going etiquette; anything wearable on land being distinctly
and odiously out of the question.
Very well. On that deck, and gliding placidly among those honorable
and properly upholstered groups, appeared Thompson, young, grave,
long, slim, with an aged fuzzy plug hat towering high on the upper
end of him and followed by a gray duster, which flowed down, without
break or wrinkle, to his ankles. He came straight to us, and shook
hands and compromised us. Everybody could see that we knew him. A
nigger in heaven could not have created a profounder astonishment.
However, Thompson didn't know that anything was happening. He had
no prejudices about clothes. I can still see him as he looked when
we passed Sandy Hook and the winds of the big ocean smote us.
Erect, lofty, and grand he stood facing the blast, holding his plug
on with both hands and his generous duster blowing out behind, level
with his neck. There were scoffers observing, but he didn't know
it; he wasn't disturbed.
In my mind, I see him once afterward, clothed as before, taking me
down in shorthand. The Shah of Persia had come to England and Dr.
Hosmer, of the Herald, had sent me to Ostend, to view his Majesty's
progress across the Channel and write an account of it. I can't
recall Thompson after that, and I wish his memory had been as poor
They had been a month in London, when the final incident referred to took
place--the arrival of the Shah of Persia--and were comfortably quartered
at the Langham Hotel. To Twichell Clemens wrote:
We have a luxuriously ample suite of apartments on the third floor,
our bedroom looking straight up Portland Place, our parlor having a
noble array of great windows looking out upon both streets (Portland
Place and the crook that joins it onto Regent Street).
Nine p.m. full twilight, rich sunset tints lingering in the west.
I am not going to write anything; rather tell it when I get back.
I love you and Harmony, and that is all the fresh news I've got
anyway. And I mean to keep that fresh all the time.
Mrs. Clemens, in a letter to her sister, declared: "It is perfectly
discouraging to try to write you. There is so much to write about that
it makes me feel as if it was no use to begin."
It was a period of continuous honor and entertainment. If Mark Twain had
been a lion on his first visit, he was little less than royalty now. His
rooms at the Langham were like a court. Miss Spaulding (now Mrs. John B.
Stanchfield) remembers that Robert Browning, Turgenieff, Sir John
Millais, Lord Houghton, and Sir Charles Dilke (then at the height of his
fame) were among those that called to pay their respects. In a recent
letter she says:
I remember a delightful luncheon that Charles Kingsley gave for Mr.
Clemens; also an evening when Lord Dunraven brought Mr. Home, the
medium, Lord Dunraven telling many of the remarkable things he had
seen Mr. Home do. I remember I wanted so much to see him float out
of a seven or eight story window, and enter another, which Lord
Dunraven said he had seen him do many times. But Mr. Home had been
very ill, and said his power had left him. My great regret was that
we did not see Carlyle, who was too sad and ill for visits.
Among others they met Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland,
and found him so shy that it was almost impossible to get him to say a
word on any subject.
"The shyest full-grown man, except Uncle Remus, I ever met," Clemens once
wrote. "Dr. MacDonald and several other lively talkers were present, and
the talk went briskly on for a couple of hours, but Carroll sat still all
the while, except now and then when he answered a question."
At a dinner given by George Smalley they met Herbert Spencer, and at a
luncheon-party at Lord Houghton's, Sir Arthur Helps, then a world-wide
Lord Elcho, a large, vigorous man, sat at some distance down the
table. He was talking earnestly about the town of Godalming. It
was a deep, flowing, and inarticulate rumble, but I caught the
Godalming pretty nearly every time it broke free of the rumbling,
and as all the strength was on the first end of the word, it
startled me every time, because it sounded so like swearing. In the
middle of the luncheon Lady Houghton rose, remarked to the guests on
her right and on her left, in a matter-of-fact way, "Excuse me, I
have an engagement," and without further ceremony, she went off to
meet it. This would have been doubtful etiquette in America. Lord
Houghton told a number of delightful stories. He told them in
French, and I lost nothing of them but the nubs.
Little Susy and her father thrived on London life, but after a time it
wore on Mrs. Clemens. She delighted in the English cordiality and
culture, but the demands were heavy, the social forms sometimes trying.
Life in London was interesting, and in its way charming, but she did not
enter into it with quite her husband's enthusiasm and heartiness. In the
end they canceled all London engagements and quietly set out for
Scotland. On the way they rested a few days in York, a venerable place
such as Mark Twain always loved to describe. In a letter to Mrs. Langdon
For the present we shall remain in this queer old walled town, with
its crooked, narrow lanes, that tell us of their old day that knew
no wheeled vehicles; its plaster-and-timber dwellings, with upper
stories far overhanging the street, and thus marking their date,
say three hundred years ago; the stately city walls, the castellated
gates, the ivy-grown, foliage-sheltered, most noble and picturesque
ruin of St. Mary's Abbey, suggesting their date, say five hundred
years ago, in the heart of Crusading times and the glory of English
chivalry and romance; the vast Cathedral of York, with its worn
carvings and quaintly pictured windows, preaching of still remoter
days; the outlandish names of streets and courts and byways that
stand as a record and a memorial, all these centuries, of Danish
dominion here in still earlier times; the hint here and there of
King Arthur and his knights and their bloody fights with Saxon
oppressors round about this old city more than thirteen hundred
years gone by; and, last of all, the melancholy old stone coffins
and sculptured inscriptions, a venerable arch and a hoary tower of
stone that still remain and are kissed by the sun and caressed by
the shadows every day, just as the sun and the shadows have kissed
and, caressed them every lagging day since the Roman Emperor's
soldiers placed them here in the times when Jesus the Son of Mary
walked the streets of Nazareth a youth, with no more name or fame
than the Yorkshire boy who is loitering down this street this
They reached Edinburgh at the end of July and secluded themselves in
Veitch's family hotel in George Street, intending to see no one. But
this plan was not a success; the social stress of London had been too
much for Mrs. Clemens, and she collapsed immediately after their arrival.
Clemens was unacquainted in Edinburgh, but remembered that Dr. John
Brown, who had written Rab and His Friend, lived there. He learned his
address, and that he was still a practising physician. He walked around
to 23 Rutland Street, and made himself known. Dr. Brown came forthwith,
and Mrs. Clemens speedily recovered under his able and inspiring
The association did not end there. For nearly a month Dr. Brown was
their daily companion, either at the hotel, or in his own home, or on
protracted drives when he made his round of visits, taking these new
friends along. Dr. John was beloved by everybody in Edinburgh, everybody
in Scotland, for that matter, and his story of Rab had won him a
following throughout Christendom. He was an unpretentious sovereign.
Clemens once wrote of him:
His was a sweet and winning face, as beautiful a face as I have ever
known. Reposeful, gentle, benignant; the face of a saint at peace
with all the world and placidly beaming upon it the sunshine of love
that filled his heart.
He was the friend of all dogs, and of all people. It has been told of
him that once, when driving, he thrust his head suddenly out of the
carriage window, then resumed his place with a disappointed look.
"Who was it?" asked his companion. "Some one you know?"
"No," he said. "A dog I don't know."
He became the boon companion and playmate of little Susy, then not quite
a year and a half old. He called her Megalopis, a Greek term, suggested
by her eyes; those deep, burning eyes that seemed always so full of
life's sadder philosophies, and impending tragedy. In a collection of
Dr. Brown's letters he refers to this period. In one place he says:
Had the author of The Innocents Abroad not come to Edinburgh at that
time we in all human probability might never have met, and what a
deprivation that would have been to me during the last quarter of a
And in another place:
I am attending the wife of Mark Twain. His real name is Clemens.
She is a quite lovely little woman, modest and clever, and she has a
girlie eighteen months old, her ludicrous miniature--and such eyes!
Those playmates, the good doctor and Megalopis, romped together through
the hotel rooms with that complete abandon which few grown persons can
assume in their play with children, and not all children can assume in
their play with grown-ups. They played "bear," and the "bear" (which was
a very little one, so little that when it stood up behind the sofa you
could just get a glimpse of yellow hair) would lie in wait for her
victim, and spring out and surprise him and throw him into frenzies of
Almost every day they made his professional rounds with him. He always
carried a basket of grapes for his patients. His guests brought along
books to read while they waited. When he stopped for a call he would
"Entertain yourselves while I go in and reduce the population."
There was much sight-seeing to do in Edinburgh, and they could not quite
escape social affairs. There were teas and luncheons and dinners with
the Dunfermlines and the Abercrombies, and the MacDonalds, and with
others of those brave clans that no longer slew one another among the
grim northern crags and glens, but were as sociable and entertaining
lords and ladies as ever the southland could produce. They were very
gentle folk indeed, and Mrs. Clemens, in future years, found her heart
going back oftener to Edinburgh than to any other haven of those first
wanderings. August 24th she wrote to her sister:
We leave Edinburgh to-morrow with sincere regret; we have had such a
delightful stay here--we do so regret leaving Dr. Brown and his
sister, thinking that we shall probably never see them again [as
indeed they never did].
They spent a day or two at Glasgow and sailed for Ireland, where they put
in a fortnight, and early in September were back in England again, at
Chester, that queer old city where; from a tower on the wall, Charles I.
read the story of his doom. Reginald Cholmondeley had invited them to
visit his country seat, beautiful Condover Hall, near Shrewsbury, and in
that lovely retreat they spent some happy, restful days. Then they were
in the whirl of London once more, but escaped for a fortnight to Paris,
sight-seeing and making purchases for the new home.
Mrs. Clemens was quite ready to return to America, by this time.
I am blue and cross and homesick [she wrote]. I suppose what makes
me feel the latter is because we are contemplating to stay in London
another month. There has not one sheet of Mr. Clemens's proof come
yet, and if he goes home before the book is published here he will
lose his copyright. And then his friends feel that it will be
better for him to lecture in London before his book is published,
not only that it will give him a larger but a more enviable
reputation. I would not hesitate one moment if it were simply for
the money that his copyright will bring him, but if his reputation
will be better for his staying and lecturing, of course he ought to
stay.... The truth is, I can't bear the thought of postponing going
It is rather gratifying to find Olivia Clemens human, like that, now and
then. Otherwise, on general testimony, one might well be tempted to
regard her as altogether of another race and kind.
A LONDON LECTURE
Clemens concluded to hasten the homeward journey, but to lecture a few
nights in London before starting. He would then accompany his little
family home, and return at once to continue the lecture series and
protect his copyright. This plan was carried out. In a communication to
the Standard, October 7th, he said:
SIR,--In view of the prevailing frenzy concerning the Sandwich
Islands, and the inflamed desire of the public to acquire
information concerning them, I have thought it well to tarry yet
another week in England and deliver a lecture upon this absorbing
subject. And lest it should be thought unbecoming in me, a
stranger, to come to the public rescue at such a time, instead of
leaving to abler hands a matter of so much moment, I desire to
explain that I do it with the best motives and the most honorable
intentions. I do it because I am convinced that no one can allay
this unwholesome excitement as effectually as I can, and to allay
it, and allay it as quickly as possible, is surely one thing that is
absolutely necessary at this juncture. I feel and know that I am
equal to this task, for I can allay any kind of an excitement by
lecturing upon it. I have saved many communities in this way. I
have always been able to paralyze the public interest in any topic
that I chose to take hold of and elucidate with all my strength.
Hoping that this explanation will show that if I am seeming to
intrude I am at least doing it from a high impulse, I am, sir, your
A day later the following announcement appeared:
QUEEN'S CONCERT ROOMS,
MR. GEORGE DOLBY begs to announce that
MR. MARK TWAIN
WILL DELIVER A
AS ABOVE, ON
MONDAY EVENING NEXT, OCTOBER 13th, 1873,
AND REPEAT IT IN THE SAME PLACE, ON
TUESDAY EVENING, OCTOBER 14th,
WEDNESDAY " " 15th,
THURSDAY " " 16th,
FRIDAY " " 17th,
At Eight o'Clock,
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, OCTOBER 18th,
At Three o'Clock.
"Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands."
As Mr. TWAIN has spent several months in these Islands, and is well
acquainted with his subject, the Lecture may be expected to furnish
matter of interest.
STALLS, 5s. UNRESERVED SEATS, 3s.
The prospect of a lecture from Mark Twain interested the London public.
Those who had not seen him were willing to pay even for that privilege.
The papers were encouraging; Punch sounded a characteristic note:
WELCOME TO A LECTURER
"'Tis time we Twain did show ourselves." 'Twas said
By Caesar, when one Mark had lost his head:
By Mark, whose head's quite bright, 'tis said again:
Therefore, "go with me, friends, to bless this Twain."
Dolby had managed the Dickens lectures, and he proved his sound business
judgment and experience by taking the largest available hall in London
for Mark Twain.
On the evening of October 13th, in the spacious Queen's Concert Rooms,
Hanover Square, Mark Twain delivered his first public address in England.
The subject was "Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands," the old
lecture with which he had made his first great successes. He was not
introduced. He appeared on the platform in evening dress, assuming the
character of a manager announcing a disappointment.
Mr. Clemens, he said, had fully expected to be present. He paused and
loud murmurs arose from the audience. He lifted his hand and they
subsided. Then he added, "I am happy to say that Mark Twain is present,
and will now give his lecture." Whereupon the audience roared its
It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that his triumph that week was
a regal one. For five successive nights and a Saturday matinee the
culture and fashion of London thronged to hear him discourse of their
"fellow savages." It was a lecture event wholly without precedent. The
lectures of Artemus Ward,--["Artemus the delicious," as Charles Reade
called him, came to London in June, 1866, and gave his "piece" in
Egyptian Hall. The refined, delicate, intellectual countenance, the
sweet, gave, mouth, from which one might have expected philosophical
lectures retained their seriousness while listeners were convulsed with
laughter. There was something magical about it. Every sentence was a
surprise. He played on his audience as Liszt did on a piano most easily
when most effectively. Who can ever forget his attempt to stop his
Italian pianist-" a count in his own country, but not much account in
this "-who went on playing loudly while he was trying to tell us an
"affecting incident" that occurred near a small clump of trees shown on
his panorama of the Far West. The music stormed on-we could see only
lips and arms pathetically moving till the piano suddenly ceased, and we
heard-it was all we heard "and, she fainted in Reginald's arms." His
tricks have been at tempted in many theaters, but Artemus Ward was
inimitable. And all the time the man was dying. (Moneure D. Conway,
Autobiography.)]--who had quickly become a favorite in London, had
prepared the public for American platform humor, while the daily doings
of this new American product, as reported by the press, had aroused
interest, or curiosity, to a high pitch. On no occasion in his own
country had he won such a complete triumph. The papers for a week
devoted columns of space to appreciation and editorial comment. The
Daily News of October 17th published a column-and-a-half editorial on
American humor, with Mark Twain's public appearance as the general text.
The Times referred to the continued popularity of the lectures:
They can't be said to have more than whetted the public appetite, if
we are to take the fact which has been imparted to us, that the
holding capacity of the Hanover Square Rooms has been inadequate to
the demand made upon it every night by Twain's lecturing, as a
criterion. The last lecture of this too brief course was delivered
yesterday before an audience which crammed to discomfort every part
of the principal apartment of the Hanover Square Rooms....
At the close of yesterday's lecture Mark Twain was so loudly applauded
that he returned to the stage, and, as soon as the audience gave him a
chance of being heard, he said, with much apparent emotion:
"Ladies and Gentlemen,--I won't keep you one single moment in this
suffocating atmosphere. I simply wish to say that this is the last
lecture I shall have the honor to deliver in London until I return
from America, four weeks from now. I only wish to say (here Mr.
Clemens faltered as if too much affected to proceed) I am very
grateful. I do not wish to appear pathetic, but it is something
magnificent for a stranger to come to the metropolis of the world
and be received so handsomely as I have been. I simply thank you."
The Saturday Review devoted a page, and Once a Week, under the head of
"Cracking jokes," gave three pages, to praise of the literary and lecture
methods of the new American humorist. With the promise of speedy return,
he left London, gave the lecture once in Liverpool, and with his party
(October 21st) set sail for home.
In mid-Atlantic he remembered Dr. Brown, and wrote him:
We have plowed a long way over the sea, and there's twenty-two
hundred miles of restless water between us now, besides the railway
stretch. And yet you are so present with us, so close to us, that a
span and a whisper would bridge the distance.
So it would seem that of all the many memories of that eventful half-
year, that of Dr. Brown was the most present, the most tender.
FURTHER LONDON LECTURE TRIUMPHS
Orion Clemens records that he met "Sam and Livy" on their arrival from
England, November 2d, and that the president of the Mercantile Library
Association sent up his card "four times," in the hope of getting a
chance to propose a lecture engagement--an incident which impressed Orion
deeply in its evidence of his brother's towering importance. Orion
himself was by this time engaged in various projects. He was inventing a
flying-machine, for one thing, writing a Jules Verne story, reading proof
on a New York daily, and contemplating the lecture field. This great
blaze of international appreciation which had come to the little boy who
used to set type for him in Hannibal, and wash up the forms and cry over
the dirty proof, made him gasp.
They went to see Booth in Hamlet [he says], and Booth sent for Sam to
come behind the scenes, and when Sam proposed to add a part to Hamlet,
the part of a bystander who makes humorous modern comment on the
situations in the play, Booth laughed immoderately.
Proposing a sacrilege like that to Booth! To what heights had this
printer-pilot, miner-brother not attained!--[This idea of introducing a
new character in Hamlet was really attempted later by Mark Twain, with
the connivance of Joe Goodman [of all men], sad to relate. So far as is
known it is the one stain on Goodman's literary record.]
Clemens returned immediately to England--the following Saturday, in fact
--and was back in London lecturing again after barely a month's absence.
He gave the "Roughing It" address, this time under the title of "Roughing
It on the Silver Frontier," and if his audiences were any less
enthusiastic, or his houses less crowded than before, the newspapers of
that day have left no record of it. It was the height of the season now,
and being free to do so, he threw himself into the whirl of it, and for
two months, beyond doubt, was the most talked-of figure in London. The
Athenaeum Club made him a visiting member (an honor considered next to
knighthood); Punch quoted him; societies banqueted him; his apartments,
as before; were besieged by callers. Afternoons one was likely to find
him in "Poets' Corner" of the Langham smoking-room, with a group of
London and American authors--Reade, Collins, Miller, and the others--
frankly rioting in his bold fancies. Charles Warren Stoddard was in
London at the time, and acted as his secretary. Stoddard was a gentle
poet, a delightful fellow, and Clemens was very fond of him. His only
complaint of Stoddard was that he did not laugh enough at his humorous
yarns. Clemens once said:
"Dolby and I used to come in after the lecture, or perhaps after being
out to some dinner, and we liked to sit down and talk it over and tell
yarns, and we expected Stoddard to laugh at them, but Stoddard would lie
there on the couch and snore. Otherwise, as a secretary, he was
The great Tichborne trial was in progress then, and the spectacle of an
illiterate impostor trying to establish his claim as the rightful heir to
a great estate was highly diverting to Mark Twain.--[In a letter of this
period he speaks of having attended one of the Claimant's "Evenings."]--
He wanted to preserve the evidence as future literary material, and
Stoddard day after day patiently collected the news reports and neatly
pasted them into scrap-books, where they still rest, a complete record of
that now forgotten farce. The Tichborne trial recalled to Mark Twain the
claimant in the Lampton family, who from time to time wrote him long
letters, urging him to join in the effort to establish his rights to the
earldom of Durham. This American claimant was a distant cousin, who had
"somehow gotten hold of, or had fabricated a full set of documents."
Colonel Henry Watterson, just quoted (also a Lampton connection), adds:
During the Tichborne trial Mark and I were in London, and one day he
said to me: "I have investigated this Durham business down at the
Herald's office. There is nothing to it. The Lamptons passed out
of the earldom of Durham a hundred years ago. There were never any
estates; the title lapsed; the present earldom is a new creation,
not in the same family at all. But I'll tell you what: if you'll
put up $500, I'll put up $500 more; we'll bring our chap over here
and set him in as claimant, and, my word for it, Kenealy's fat boy
won't be a marker to him."
It was a characteristic Mark Twain project, one of the sort he never
earned out in reality, but loved to follow in fancy, and with the pen
sometimes. The "Rightful Earl of Durham" continued to send letters for a
long time after that (some of them still exist), but he did not establish
his claim. No one but Mark Twain ever really got anything out of it.
Like the Tennessee land, it furnished material by and by for a book.
Colonel Watterson goes on to say that Clemens was only joking about
having looked up the matter in the peerage; that he hadn't really looked
it up at all, and that the earldom lies still in the Lampton family.
Another of Clemens's friends in London at this time was Prentice Mulford,
of California. In later years Mulford acquired a wide reputation for his
optimistic and practical psychologies. Through them he lifted himself
out of the slough of despond, and he sought to extend a helping hand to
others. His "White Cross Library" had a wide reading and a wide
influence; perhaps has to this day. But in 1873 Mulford had not found
the tangibility of thought, the secret of strength; he was only finding
it, maybe, in his frank acknowledgment of shortcoming:
Now, Mark, I am down-very much down at present; you are up-where you
deserve to be. I can't ask this on the score of any past favors,
for there have been none. I have not always spoken of you in terms
of extravagant praise; have sometimes criticized you, which was due,
I suppose, in part to an envious spirit. I am simply human. Some
people in the same profession say they entertain no jealousy of
those more successful. I can't. They are divine; I am not.
It was only that he wished Clemens to speak a word for him to Routledge,
to get him a hearing for his work. He adds:
I shall be up myself some day, although my line is far apart from
yours. Whether you can do anything that I ask of you or not, I
shall be happy then, as I would be now, to do you any just and right
service.... Perhaps I have mistaken my vocation. Certainly, if I
was back with my rocker on the Tuolumne, I'd make it rattle livelier
than ever I did before. I have occasionally thought of London
Bridge, but the Thames is now so d---d cold and dirty, and besides I
can swim, and any attempt at drowning would, through the mere
instinct of self-preservation, only result in my swimming ashore and
ruining my best clothes; wherefore I should be worse off than ever.
Of course Mark Twain granted the favor Mulford asked, and a great deal
more, no doubt, for that was his way. Mulford came up, as he had
prophesied, but the sea in due time claimed him, though not in the way he
had contemplated. Years after he was one day found drifting off the
shores of Long Island in an open boat, dead.
Clemens made a number of notable dinner speeches during this second
London lecture period. His response to the toast of the "Ladies,"
delivered at the annual dinner of the Scottish Corporation of London, was
the sensational event of the evening.
He was obliged to decline an invitation to the Lord Mayor's dinner,
whereupon his Lordship wrote to urge him to be present at least at the
finale, when the welcome would be "none the less hearty," and bespoke his
attendance for any future dinners.
Clemens lectured steadily at the Hanover Square Rooms during the two
months of his stay in London, and it was only toward the end of this
astonishing engagement that the audience began to show any sign of
diminishing. Early in January he wrote to Twichell:
I am not going to the provinces because I cannot get halls that are large
enough. I always felt cramped in the Hanover Square Rooms, but I find
that everybody here speaks with awe and respect of that prodigious hall
and wonders that I could fill it so long.
I am hoping to be back in twenty days, but I have so much to go home to
and enjoy with a jubilant joy that it hardly seems possible that it can
come to pass in so uncertain a world as this.
In the same letter he speaks of attending an exhibition of Landseer's
paintings at the Royal Academy:
Ah, they are wonderfully beautiful! There are such rich moonlights
and dusks in the "Challenge" and the "Combat," and in that long
flight of birds across a lake in the subdued flush of sunset (or
sunrise, for no man can ever tell t'other from which in a picture,
except it has the filmy morning mist breathing itself up from the
water), and there is such a grave analytical profundity in the face
of the connoisseurs; and such pathos in the picture of a fawn
suckling its dead mother on a snowy waste, with only the blood in
the footprints to hint that she is not asleep. And the way that he
makes animals' flesh and blood, insomuch that if the room were
darkened ever so little, and a motionless living animal placed
beside the painted one, no man could tell which was which.
I interrupted myself here, to drop a line to Shirley Brooks and suggest a
cartoon for Punch. It was this: in one of the Academy saloons (in a
suite where these pictures are) a fine bust of Landseer stands on a
pedestal in the center of the room. I suggested that some of Landseer's
best known animals be represented as having come down out of their frames
in the moonlight and grouped themselves about the bust in mourning
He sailed January 13 (1874.), on the Paythia, and two weeks later was at
home, where all was going well. The Gilded Age had been issued a day or
two before Christmas, and was already in its third edition. By the end
of January 26,000 copies had been sold, a sale that had increased to
40,000 a month later. The new house was progressing, though it was by no
means finished. Mrs. Clemens was in good health. Little Susy was full
of such American activities as to earn the name of "The Modoc." The
promise of the year was bright.
THE REAL COLONEL SELLERS-GOLDEN DAYS
There are bound to be vexations, flies in the ointment, as we say. It
was Warner who conferred the name of Eschol Sellers on the chief figure
of the collaborated novel. Warner had known it as the name of an obscure
person, or perhaps he had only heard of it. At all events, it seemed a
good one for the character and had been adopted. But behold, the book
had been issued but a little while when there rose "out of the vasty
deeps" a genuine Eschol Sellers, who was a very respectable person. He
was a stout, prosperous-looking man, gray and about fifty-five years old.
He came into the American Publishing Company offices and asked permission
to look at the book. Mr. Bliss was out at the moment, but presently
arrived. The visitor rose and introduced himself.
"My name is Eschol Sellers," he said. "You have used it in one of your
publications. It has brought upon me a lot of ridicule. My people wish
me to sue you for $10,000 damages."
He had documents to prove his identity, and there was only one thing to
be done; he must be satisfied. Bliss agreed to recall as many of the
offending volumes as possible and change the name on the plates. He
contacted the authors, and the name Beriah was substituted for the
offending Eschol. It turned out that the real Sellers family was a large
one, and that the given name Eschol was not uncommon in its several
branches. This particular Eschol Sellers, curiously enough, was an
inventor and a promoter, though of a much more substantial sort than his
fiction namesake. He was also a painter of considerable merit, a writer
and an antiquarian. He was said to have been a grandson of the famous
painter, Rembrandt Peale.
Clemens vowed that he would not lecture in America that winter. The
irrepressible Redpath besieged him as usual, and at the end of January
Clemens telegraphed him, as he thought, finally. Following it with a
letter of explanation, he added:
"I said to her, 'There isn't money enough in America to hire me to leave
you for one day.'"
But Redpath was a persistent devil. He used arguments and held out
inducements which even Mrs. Clemens thought should not be resisted, and
Clemens yielded from time to time, and gave a lecture here and there
during February. Finally, on the 3d of March (1879.) he telegraphed his
"Why don't you congratulate me? I never expect to stand on a lecture
platform again after Thursday night."
Howells tells delightfully of a visit which he and Aldrich paid to
Hartford just at this period. Aldrich went to visit Clemens and Howells
to visit Charles Dudley Warner, Clemens coming as far as Springfield to
In the good-fellowship of that cordial neighborhood we had two such
days as the aging sun no longer shines on in his round. There was
constant running in and out of friendly houses where the lively
hosts and guests called one another by their Christian names or
nicknames, and no such vain ceremony as knocking or ringing at
doors. Clemens was then building the stately mansion in which he
satisfied his love of magnificence as if it had been another
sealskin coat, and he was at the crest of the prosperity which
enabled him to humor every whim or extravagance.
Howells tells how Clemens dilated on the advantages of subscription sale
over the usual methods of publication, and urged the two Boston authors
to prepare something which canvassers could handle.
"Why, any other means of bringing out a book is privately printing it,"
he declared, and added that his subscription books in Bliss's hands sold
right along, "just like the Bible."
On the way back to Boston Howells and Aldrich planned a subscription book
which would sell straight along, like the Bible. It was to be called
"Twelve Memorable Murders." They had dreamed two or three fortunes by
the time they had reached Boston, but the project ended there.
"We never killed a single soul," Howells said once to the writer of this
Clemens was always urging Howells to visit him after that. He offered
all sorts of inducements.
You will find us the most reasonable people in the world. We had
thought of precipitating upon you, George Warner and his wife one
day, Twichell and his jewel of a wife another day, and Charles
Perkins and wife another. Only those--simply members of our family
they are. But I'll close the door against them all, which will
"fix" all of the lot except Twichell, who will no more hesitate to
climb in the back window than nothing.
And you shall go to bed when you please, get up when you please,
talk when you please, read when you please.
A little later he was urging Howells or Aldrich, or both of them; to come
to Hartford to live.
Mr. Hall, who lives in the house next to Mrs. Stowe's (just where we
drive in to go to our new house), will sell for $16,000 or $17,000.
You can do your work just as well here as in Cambridge, can't you?
Come! Will one of you boys buy that house? Now, say yes.
Certainly those were golden, blessed days, and perhaps, as Howells says,
the sun does not shine on their like any more--not in Hartford, at least,
for the old group that made them no longer assembles there. Hartford
about this time became a sort of shrine for all literary visitors, and
for other notables as well, whether of America or from overseas. It was
the half-way place between Boston and New York, and pilgrims going in
either direction rested there. It is said that travelers arriving in
America, were apt to remember two things they wished to see: Niagara
Falls and Mark Twain. But the Falls had no such recent advertising
advantage as that spectacular success in London. Visitors were apt to
begin in Hartford.
Howells went with considerable frequency after that, or rather with
regularity, twice a year, or oftener, and his coming was always hailed
with great rejoicing. They visited and ate around at one place and
another among that pleasant circle of friends. But they were happiest
afterward together, Clemens smoking continually, "soothing his tense
nerves with a mild hot Scotch," says Howells, "while we both talked, and
talked, and tasked of everything in the heavens and on the earth, and the
waters under the earth. After two days of this talk I would come away
hollow, realizing myself best in the image of one of those locust-shells
which you find sticking to the bark of trees at the end of summer."
Sometimes Clemens told the story of his early life, "the inexhaustible,
the fairy, the Arabian Nights story, which I could never tire of even
when it began to be told over again."
BEGINNING "TOM SAWYER"
The Clemens household went to Quarry Farm in April, leaving the new house
once more in the hands of the architect and builders. It was costing a
vast sum of money, and there was a financial stress upon land. Mrs.
Clemens, always prudent, became a little uneasy at times, though without
warrant in those days, for her business statement showed that her
holdings were only a little less than a quarter of a million in her own
right, while her husband's books and lectures had been highly
remunerative, and would be more so. They were justified in living in
ample, even luxurious comfort, and how free from financial worries they
could have lived for the rest of their days!
Clemens, realizing his happiness, wrote Dr. Brown:
Indeed I am thankful for the wifey and the child, and if there is one
individual creature on all this footstool who is more thoroughly and
uniformly and, unceasingly happy than I am I defy the world to produce
him and prove him. In my opinion he don't exist. I was a mighty rough,
coarse, unpromising subject when Livy took charge of me, four years ago,
and I may still be to the rest of the world, but not to her. She has
made a very creditable job of me.
Truly fortune not only smiled, but laughed. Every mail brought great
bundles of letters that sang his praises. Robert Watt, who had
translated his books into Danish, wrote of their wide popularity among
his people. Madame Blanc (Th. Bentzon), who as early as 1872 had
translated The Jumping Frog into French, and published it, with extended
comment on the author and his work, in the 'Revue des deux mondes', was
said to be preparing a review of 'The Gilded Age'. All the world seemed
ready to do him honor.
Of course, one must always pay the price, usually a vexatious one. Bores
stopped him on the street to repeat ancient and witless stories.
Invented anecdotes, some of them exasperating ones, went the rounds of
the press. Impostors in distant localities personated him, or claimed to
be near relatives, and obtained favors, sometimes money, in his name.
Trivial letters, seeking benefactions of every kind, took the savor from
his daily mail. Letters from literary aspirants were so numerous that he
prepared a "form" letter of reply:
DEAR SIR OR MADAM,--Experience has not taught me very much, still it has
taught me that it is not wise to criticize a piece of literature, except
to an enemy of the person who wrote it; then if you praise it that enemy
admires--you for your honest manliness, and if you dispraise it he
admires you for your sound judgment.
Yours truly, S. L. C.
Even Orion, now in Keokuk on a chicken farm, pursued him with manuscripts
and proposals of schemes. Clemens had bought this farm for Orion, who
had counted on large and quick returns, but was planning new enterprises
before the first eggs were hatched. Orion Clemens was as delightful a
character as was ever created in fiction, but he must have been a trial
now and then to Mark Twain. We may gather something of this from a
letter written by the latter to his mother and sister at this period:
I can't "encourage" Orion. Nobody can do that conscientiously, for
the reason that before one's letter has time to reach him he is off
on some new wild-goose chase. Would you encourage in literature a
man who the older he grows the worse he writes?
I cannot encourage him to try the ministry, because he would change
his religion so fast that he would have to keep a traveling agent
under wages to go ahead of him to engage pulpits and board for him.
I cannot conscientiously encourage him to do anything but potter
around his little farm and put in his odd hours contriving new and
impossible projects at the rate of 365 a year which is his customary
average. He says he did well in Hannibal! Now there is a man who
ought to be entirely satisfied with the grandeurs, emoluments, and
activities of a hen farm.
If you ask me to pity Orion I can do that. I can do it every day
and all day long. But one can't "encourage" quicksilver; because
the instant you put your finger on it, it isn't there. No, I am
saying too much. He does stick to his literary and legal
aspirations, and he naturally would elect the very two things which
he is wholly and preposterously unfitted for. If I ever become
able, I mean to put Orion on a regular pension without revealing the
fact that it is a pension.
He did presently allow the pension, a liberal one, which continued
until neither Orion Clemens nor his wife had further earthly need of
Mark Twain for some time had contemplated one of the books that will
longest preserve his memory, 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'. The success
of 'Roughing It' naturally made him cast about for other autobiographical
material, and he remembered those days along the river-front in Hannibal
--his skylarking with Tom Blankenship, the Bowen boys, John Briggs, and
the rest. He had recognized these things as material--inviting material
it was--and now in the cool luxury of Quarry Farm he set himself to spin
the fabric of youth.
He found summer-time always his best period for literary effort, and on a
hillside just by the old quarry, Mrs. Crane had built for him that spring
a study--a little room of windows, somewhat suggestive of a pilot-house--
overlooking the long sweep of grass and the dreamlike city below. Vines
were planted that in the course of time would cover and embower it; there
was a tiny fireplace for chilly days. To Twichell, of his new retreat,
It is the loveliest study you ever saw. It is octagonal, with a peaked
roof, each face filled with a spacious window, and it sits perched in
complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of
valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a
cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four
chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the
lightning flashes behind the hills beyond, and the rain beats upon the
roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it.
He worked steadily there that summer. He would go up mornings, after
breakfast, remaining until nearly dinner-time, say until five o'clock or
after, for it was not his habit to eat luncheon. Other members of the
family did not venture near the place, and if he was urgently wanted they
blew a horn. Each evening he brought down his day's performance to read
to the assembled family. He felt the need of audience and approval.
Usually he earned the latter, but not always. Once, when for a day he
put aside other matters to record a young undertaker's love-affair, and
brought down the result in the evening, fairly bubbling with the joy of
it, he met with a surprise. The tale was a ghastly burlesque, its humor
of the most disheartening, unsavory sort. No one spoke during the
reading, nobody laughed: The air was thick with disapproval. His voice
lagged and faltered toward the end. When he finished there was heavy
silence. Mrs. Clemens was the only one who could speak:
"Youth, let's walk a little," she said.
The "Undertaker's Love Story" is still among the manuscripts of that
period, but it is unlikely that it will ever see the light of print.
--[This tale bears no relation to "The Undertaker's Story" in Sketches
New and Old.]
The Tom Sawyer tale progressed steadily and satisfactorily. Clemens
wrote Dr. Brown:
I have been writing fifty pages of manuscript a day, on an average,
for some time now, on a book (a story), and consequently have been
so wrapped up in it, and dead to everything else, that I have fallen
mighty short in letter-writing....
On hot days I spread the study wide open, anchor my papers down with
brickbats, and write in the midst of the hurricane, clothed in the
same thin linen we make shirts of.
He incloses some photographs in this letter.
The group [he says] represents the vine-clad carriageway in front of
the farm-house. On the left is Megalopis sitting in the lap of her
German nurse-maid. I am sitting behind them. Mrs. Crane is in the
center. Mr. Crane next to her. Then Mrs. Clemens and the new baby.
Her Irish nurse stands at her back. Then comes the table waitress,
a young negro girl, born free. Next to her is Auntie Cord (a
fragment of whose history I have just sent to a magazine). She is
the cook; was in slavery more than forty years; and the self-
satisfied wench, the last of the group, is the little baby's
American nurse-maid. In the middle distance my mother-in-law's
coachman (up on errand) has taken a position unsolicited to help out
the picture. No, that is not true. He was waiting there a minute
or two before the photographer came. In the extreme background,
under the archway, you glimpse my study.
The "new baby," "Bay," as they came to call her, was another little
daughter, born in June, a happy, healthy addition to the household.
In a letter written to Twichell we get a sweet summer picture of this
period, particularly of little sunny-haired, two-year-old Susy.
There is nothing selfish about the Modoc. She is fascinated with
the new baby. The Modoc rips and tears around outdoors most of the
time, and consequently is as hard as a pineknot and as brown as an
Indian. She is bosom friend to all the chickens, ducks, turkeys,
and guinea-hens on the place. Yesterday, as she marched along the
winding path that leads up the hill through the red-clover beds to
the summer-house, there was a long procession of these fowls
stringing contentedly after her, led by a stately rooster, who can
look over the Modoc's head. The devotion of these vassals has been
purchased with daily largess of Indian meal, and so the Modoc,
attended by her body-guard, moves in state wherever she goes.
There were days, mainly Sundays, when he did not work at all; peaceful
days of lying fallow, dreaming in shady places, drowsily watching little
Susy, or reading with Mrs. Clemens. Howells's "Foregone Conclusion" was
running in the Atlantic that year, and they delighted in it. Clemens
wrote the author:
I should think that this must be the daintiest, truest, most
admirable workmanship that was ever put on a story. The creatures
of God do not act out their natures more unerringly than yours do.
If your genuine stories can die I wonder by what right old Walter
Scott's artificialities shall continue to live.
At other times he found comfort in the society of Theodore Crane. These
two were always fond of each other, and often read together the books in
which they were mutually interested. They had portable-hammock
arrangements, which they placed side by side on the lawn, and read and
discussed through summer afternoons. The 'Mutineers of the Bounty' was
one of the books they liked best, and there was a story of an Iceland
farmer, a human document, that had an unfading interest. Also there were
certain articles in old numbers of the Atlantic that they read and
reread. 'Pepys' Diary', 'Two Years Before the Mast', and a book on the
Andes were reliable favorites. Mark Twain read not so many books, but
read a few books often. Those named were among the literature he asked
for each year of his return to Quarry Farm. Without them, the farm and
the summer would not be the same.
Then there was 'Lecky's History of European Morals'; there were periods
when they read Lecky avidly and discussed it in original and unorthodox
ways. Mark Twain found an echo of his own philosophies in Lecky. He
made frequent marginal notes along the pages of the world's moral
history--notes not always quotable in the family circle. Mainly,
however, they were short, crisp interjections of assent or disapproval.
In one place Lecky refers to those who have undertaken to prove that all
our morality is a product of experience, holding that a desire to obtain
happiness and to avoid pain is the only possible motive to action; the
reason, and the only reason, why we should perform virtuous actions being
"that on the whole such a course will bring us the greatest amount of
happiness." Clemens has indorsed these philosophies by writing on the
margin, "Sound and true." It was the philosophy which he himself would
always hold (though, apparently, never live by), and in the end would
embody a volume of his own.--[What Is Man? Privately printed in 1906.]--
In another place Lecky, himself speaking, says:
Fortunately we are all dependent for many of our pleasures on
others. Co-operation and organization are essential to our
happiness, and these are impossible without some restraint being
placed upon our appetites. Laws are made to secure this restraint,
and being sustained by rewards, and punishments they make it the
interest of the individual to regard that of the community.
"Correct!" comments Clemens. "He has proceeded from unreasoned
selfishness to reasoned selfishness. All our acts, reasoned and
unreasoned, are selfish." It was a conclusion he logically never
departed from; not the happiest one, it would seem, at first glance, but
one easier to deny than to disprove.
On the back of an old envelope Mark Twain set down his literary
declaration of this period.
"I like history, biography, travels, curious facts and strange
happenings, and science. And I detest novels, poetry, and theology."
But of course the novels of Howells would be excepted; Lecky was not
theology, but the history of it; his taste for poetry would develop
later, though it would never become a fixed quantity, as was his devotion
to history and science. His interest in these amounted to a passion.
AN "ATLANTIC" STORY AND A PLAY
The reference to "Auntie Cord" in the letter to Dr. Brown brings us to
Mark Twain's first contribution to the Atlantic Monthly. Howells in his
Recollections of his Atlantic editorship, after referring to certain
Western contributors, says:
Later came Mark Twain, originally of Missouri, but then
provisionally of Hartford, and now ultimately of the solar system,
not to say the universe. He came first with "A True Story," one of
those noble pieces of humanity with which the South has atoned
chiefly, if not solely, through him for all its despite to the
Clemens had long aspired to appear in the Atlantic, but such was his own
rating of his literature that he hardly hoped to qualify for its pages.
Twichell remembers his "mingled astonishment and triumph" when he was
invited to send something to the magazine.
He was obliged to "send something" once or twice before the acceptance of
"A True Story," the narrative of Auntie Cord, and even this acceptance
brought with it the return of a fable which had accompanied it, with the
explanation that a fable like that would disqualify the magazine for
every denominational reader, though Howells hastened to express his own
joy in it, having been particularly touched by the author's reference to
Sisyphus and Atlas as ancestors of the tumble-bug. The "True Story," he
said, with its "realest king of black talk," won him, and a few days
later he wrote again: "This little story delights me more and more. I
wish you had about forty of 'em."
And so, modestly enough, as became him, for the story was of the
simplest, most unpretentious sort, Mark Twain entered into the school of
In his letter to Howells, accompanying the MS., the author said:
I inclose also "A True Story," which has no humor in it. You can
pay as lightly as you choose for that if you want it, for it is
rather out of my line. I have not altered the old colored woman's
story, except to begin it at the beginning, instead of the middle,
as she did--and traveled both ways.
Howells in his Recollections tells of the business anxiety in the
Atlantic office in the effort to estimate the story's pecuniary value.
Clemens and Harte had raised literary rates enormously; the latter was
reputed to have received as much as five cents a word from affluent
newspapers! But the Atlantic was poor, and when sixty dollars was
finally decided upon for the three pages (about two and a half cents a
word) the rate was regarded as handsome--without precedent in Atlantic
history. Howells adds that as much as forty times this amount was
sometimes offered to Mark Twain in later years. Even in '74 he had
received a much higher rate than that offered by the Atlantic,--but no
acceptance, then, or later, ever made him happier, or seemed more richly
"A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It" was precisely what
it claimed to be.--[Atlantic Monthly for November, 1874; also included
in Sketches New and Old.]--Auntie Cord, the Auntie Rachel of that tale,
cook at Quarry Farm, was a Virginia negress who had been twice sold as a
slave, and was proud of the fact; particularly proud that she had brought
$1,000 on the block. All her children had been sold away from her, but
it was a long time ago, and now at sixty she was fat and seemingly
without care. She had told her story to Mrs. Crane, who had more than
once tried to persuade her to tell it to Clemens; but Auntie Cord was
reluctant. One evening, however, when the family sat on the front
veranda in the moonlight, looking down on the picture city, as was their
habit, Auntie Cord came around to say good night, and Clemens engaged her
in conversation. He led up to her story, and almost before she knew it
she was seated at his feet telling the strange tale in almost the exact
words in which it was set down by him next morning. It gave Mark Twain a
chance to exercise two of his chief gifts--transcription and portrayal.
He was always greater at these things than at invention. Auntie Cord's
story is a little masterpiece.
He wished to do more with Auntie Cord and her associates of the farm, for
they were extraordinarily interesting. Two other negroes on the place,
John Lewis and his wife (we shall hear notably of Lewis later), were not
always on terms of amity with Auntie Cord. They disagreed on religion,
and there were frequent battles in the kitchen. These depressed the
mistress of the house, but they gave only joy to Mark Twain. His
Southern raising had given him an understanding of their humors, their
native emotions which made these riots a spiritual gratification. He
would slip around among the shrubbery and listen to the noise and strife
of battle, and hug himself with delight. Sometimes they resorted to
missiles--stones, tinware--even dressed poultry which Auntie Cord was
preparing for the oven. Lewis was very black, Auntie Cord was a bright
mulatto, Lewis's' wife several shades lighter. Wherever the discussion
began it promptly shaded off toward the color-line and insult. Auntie
Cord was a Methodist; Lewis was a Dunkard. Auntie Cord was ignorant and
dogmatic; Lewis could read and was intelligent. Theology invariably led
to personality, and eventually to epithets, crockery, geology, and
victuals. How the greatest joker of the age did enjoy that summer
The fun was not all one-sided. An incident of that summer probably
furnished more enjoyment for the colored members of the household than it
did for Mark Twain. Lewis had some fowls, and among them was a
particularly pestiferous guinea-hen that used to get up at three in the
morning and go around making the kind of a noise that a guinea-hen must
like and is willing to get up early to hear. Mark Twain did not care for
it. He stood it as long as he could one morning, then crept softly from
the house to stop it.
It was a clear, bright night; locating the guinea-hen, he slipped up
stealthily with a stout stick. The bird was pouring out its heart,
tearing the moonlight to tatters. Stealing up close, Clemens made a
vicious swing with his bludgeon, but just then the guinea stepped forward
a little, and he missed. The stroke and his explosion frightened the
fowl, and it started to run. Clemens, with his mind now on the single
purpose of revenge, started after it. Around the trees, along the paths,
up and down the lawn, through gates and across the garden, out over the
fields, they raced, "pursuer and pursued." The guinea nor longer sang,
and Clemens was presently too exhausted to swear. Hour after hour the
silent, deadly hunt continued, both stopping to rest at intervals; then
up again and away. It was like something in a dream. It was nearly
breakfast-time when he dragged himself into the house at last, and the
guinea was resting and panting under a currant-bush. Later in the day
Clemens gave orders to Lewis to "kill and eat that guinea-hen," which
Lewis did. Clemens himself had then never eaten a guinea, but some years
later, in Paris, when the delicious breast of one of those fowls was
served him, he remembered and said:
"And to think, after chasing that creature all night, John Lewis got to
eat him instead of me."
The interest in Tom and Huck, or the inspiration for their adventures,
gave out at last, or was superseded by a more immediate demand. As early
as May, Goodman, in San Francisco, had seen a play announced there,
presenting the character of Colonel Sellers, dramatized by Gilbert S.
Densmore and played by John T. Raymond. Goodman immediately wrote
Clemens; also a letter came from Warner, in Hartford, who had noticed in
San Francisco papers announcements of the play. Of course Clemens would
take action immediately; he telegraphed, enjoining the performance. Then
began a correspondence with the dramatist and actor. This in time
resulted in an amicable arrangement, by which the dramatist agreed to
dispose of his version to Clemens. Clemens did not wait for it to
arrive, but began immediately a version of his own. Just how much or how
little of Densmore's work found its way into the completed play, as
presented by Raymond later, cannot be known now. Howells conveys the
impression that Clemens had no hand in its authorship beyond the
character of Sellers as taken from the book. But in a letter still
extant, which Clemens wrote to Howells at the time, he says:
I worked a month on my play, and launched it in New York last
Wednesday. I believe it will go. The newspapers have been
complimentary. It is simply a setting for one character, Colonel
Sellers. As a play I guess it will not bear critical assault in
The Warners are as charming as ever. They go shortly to the devil for a
year--that is, to Egypt.
Raymond, in a letter which he wrote to the Sun, November 3, 1874,
declared that "not one line" of Densmore's dramatization was used,
"except that which was taken bodily from The Gilded Age." During the
newspaper discussion of the matter, Clemens himself prepared a letter for
the Hartford Post. This letter was suppressed, but it still exists. In
it he says:
I entirely rewrote the play three separate and distinct times. I
had expected to use little of his [Densmore's] language and but
little of his plot. I do not think there are now twenty sentences
of Mr. Densmore's in the play, but I used so much of his plot that I
wrote and told him that I should pay him about as much more as I had
already paid him in case the play proved a success. I shall keep my
This letter, written while the matter was fresh in his mind, is
undoubtedly in accordance with the facts. That Densmore was fully
satisfied may be gathered from an acknowledgment, in which he says:
"Your letter reached me on the ad, with check. In this place permit me
to thank you for the very handsome manner in which you have acted in this
Warner, meantime, realizing that the play was constructed almost entirely
of the Mark Twain chapters of the book, agreed that his collaborator
should undertake the work and financial responsibilities of the dramatic
venture and reap such rewards as might result. Various stories have been
told of this matter, most of them untrue. There was no bitterness
between the friends, no semblance of an estrangement of any sort. Warner
very generously and promptly admitted that he was not concerned with the
play, its authorship, or its profits, whatever the latter might amount
to. Moreover, Warner was going to Egypt very soon, and his labors and
responsibilities were doubly sufficient as they stood.
Clemens's estimate of the play as a dramatic composition was correct
enough, but the public liked it, and it was a financial success from the
start. He employed a representative to travel with Raymond, to assist in
the management and in the division of spoil. The agent had instructions
to mail a card every day, stating the amount of his share in the profits.
Howells once arrived in Hartford just when this postal tide of fortune
was at its flood:
One hundred and fifty dollars--two hundred dollars--three hundred dollars
were the gay figures which they bore, and which he flaunted in the air,
before he sat down at the table, or rose from it to brandish, and then,
flinging his napkin in the chair, walked up and down to exult in.
Once, in later years, referring to the matter, Howells said
"He was never a man who cared anything about money except as a dream, and
he wanted more and more of it to fill out the spaces of this dream."
Which was a true word. Mark Twain with money was like a child with a
heap of bright pebbles, ready to pile up more and still more, then
presently to throw them all away and begin gathering anew.
THE NEW HOME
The Clemenses returned to Hartford to find their new house "ready,"
though still full of workmen, decorators, plumbers, and such other
minions of labor as make life miserable to those with ambitions for new
or improved habitations. The carpenters were still on the lower floor,
but the family moved in and camped about in rooms up-stairs that were
more or less free from the invader. They had stopped in New York ten
days to buy carpets and furnishings, and these began to arrive, with no
particular place to put them; but the owners were excited and happy with
it all, for it was the pleasant season of the year, and all the new
features of the house were fascinating, while the daily progress of the
decorators furnished a fresh surprise when they roamed through the rooms
at evening. Mrs. Clemens wrote home:
We are perfectly delighted with everything here and do so want you
all to see it.
Her husband, as he was likely to do, picked up the letter and finished
Livy appoints me to finish this; but how can a headless man perform
an intelligent function? I have been bully-ragged all day by the
builder, by his foreman, by the architect, by the tapestry devil who
is to upholster the furniture, by the idiot who is putting down the
carpets, by the scoundrel who is setting up the billiard-table (and
has left the balls in New York), by the wildcat who is sodding the
ground and finishing the driveway (after the sun went down), by a
book agent, whose body is in the back yard and the coroner notified.
Just think of this thing going on the whole day long, and I a man
who loathes details with all his heart! But I haven't lost my
temper, and I've made Livy lie down most of the time; could anybody
make her lie down all the time?
Warner wrote from Egypt expressing sympathy for their unfurnished state
of affairs, but added, "I would rather fit out three houses and fill them
with furniture than to fit out one 'dahabiyeh'." Warner was at that
moment undertaking his charmingly remembered trip up the Nile.
The new home was not entirely done for a long time. One never knows when
a big house like that--or a little house, for that matters done. But
they were settled at last, with all their beautiful things in place; and
perhaps there have been richer homes, possibly more artistic ones, but
there has never been a more charming home, within or without, than that
So many frequenters have tried to express the charm of that household.
None of them has quite succeeded, for it lay not so much in its
arrangement of rooms or their decorations or their outlook, though these
were all beautiful enough, but rather in the personality, the atmosphere;
and these are elusive things to convey in words. We can only see and
feel and recognize; we cannot translate them. Even Howells, with his
subtle touch, can present only an aspect here and there; an essence, as
it were, from a happy garden, rather than the fullness of its bloom.
As Mark Twain was unlike any other man that ever lived, so his house was
unlike any other house ever built. People asked him why he built the
kitchen toward the street, and he said:
"So the servants can see the circus go by without running out into the
But this was probably an after-thought. The kitchen end of the house
extended toward Farmington Avenue, but it was by no means unbeautiful.
It was a pleasing detail of the general scheme. The main entrance faced
at right angles with the street and opened to a spacious hall. In turn,
the hall opened to a parlor, where there was a grand piano, and to the
dining-room and library, and the library opened to a little conservatory,
semicircular in form, of a design invented by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The plants were set in the ground, and the flowering vines climbed
up the sides and overhung the roof above the silent spray of the
fountain companied by Callas and other waterloving lilies. There,
while we breakfasted, Patrick came in from the barn and sprinkled
the pretty bower, which poured out its responsive perfume in the
delicate accents of its varied blossoms.
In the library was an old carved mantel which Clemens and his wife had
bought in Scotland, salvage from a dismantled castle, and across the top
of the fireplace a plate of brass with the motto, "The ornament of a
house is the friends that frequent it," surely never more appropriately
There was the mahogany room, a large bedroom on the ground floor, and
upstairs were other spacious bedrooms and many baths, while everywhere
were Oriental rugs and draperies, and statuary and paintings. There was
a fireplace under a window, after the English pattern, so that in winter-
time one could at the same moment watch the blaze and the falling snow.
The library windows looked out over the valley with the little stream in
it, and through and across the tree-tops. At the top of the house was
what became Clemens's favorite retreat, the billiard-room, and here and
there were unexpected little balconies, which one could step out upon for
Below was a wide, covered veranda, the "ombra," as they called it,
secluded from the public eye--a favorite family gathering-place on
But a house might easily have all these things without being more than
usually attractive, and a house with a great deal less might have been as
full of charm; only it seemed just the proper setting for that particular
household, and undoubtedly it acquired the personality of its occupants.
Howells assures us that there never was another home like it, and we may
accept his statement. It was unique. It was the home of one of the most
unusual and unaccountable personalities in the world, yet was perfectly
and serenely ordered. Mark Twain was not responsible for this blissful
condition. He was its beacon-light; it was around Mrs. Clemens that its
affairs steadily revolved.
If in the four years and more of marriage Clemens had made advancement in
culture and capabilities, Olivia Clemens also had become something more
than the half-timid, inexperienced girl he had first known. In a way her
education had been no less notable than his. She had worked and studied,
and her half-year of travel and entertainment abroad had given her
opportunity for acquiring knowledge and confidence. Her vision of life
had vastly enlarged; her intellect had flowered; her grasp of
practicalities had become firm and sure.
In spite of her delicate physical structure, her continued uncertainty of
health, she capably undertook the management of their large new house,
and supervised its economies. Any one of her undertakings was sufficient
for one woman, but she compassed them all. No children had more careful
direction than hers. No husband had more devoted attendance and
companionship. No household was ever directed with a sweeter and gentler
grace, or with greater perfection of detail. When the great ones of the
world came to visit America's most picturesque literary figure she gave
welcome to them all, and filled her place at his side with such sweet and
capable dignity that those who came to pay their duties to him often
returned to pay even greater devotion to his companion. Says Howells:
She was, in a way, the loveliest person I have ever seen--the
gentlest, the kindest, without a touch of weakness; she united
wonderful tact with wonderful truth; and Clemens not only accepted
her rule implicitly, but he rejoiced, he gloried in it.
And once, in an interview with the writer of these chapters, Howells
declared: "She was not only a beautiful soul, but a woman of singular
intellectual power. I never knew any one quite like her." Then he
added: "Words cannot express Mrs. Clemens--her fineness, her delicate,
her wonderful tact with a man who was in some respects, and wished to be,
the most outrageous creature that ever breathed."
Howells meant a good many things by that, no doubt: Clemens's violent
methods, for one thing, his sudden, savage impulses, which sometimes
worked injustice and hardship for others, though he was first to discover
the wrong and to repair it only too fully. Then, too, Howells may have
meant his boyish teasing tendency to disturb Mrs. Clemens's exquisite
sense of decorum.
Once I remember seeing him come into his drawing-room at Hartford in a
pair of white cowskin slippers with the hair out, and do a crippled
colored uncle, to the joy of all beholders. I must not say all, for I
remember also the dismay of Mrs. Clemens, and her low, despairing cry of
He was continually doing such things as the "crippled colored uncle,";
partly for the very joy of the performance, but partly, too, to disturb
her serenity, to incur her reproof, to shiver her a little--"shock" would
be too strong a word. And he liked to fancy her in a spirit and attitude
of belligerence, to present that fancy to those who knew the measure of
her gentle nature. Writing to Mrs. Howells of a picture of herself in a
group, he said:
You look exactly as Mrs. Clemens does after she has said: "Indeed, I
do not wonder that you can frame no reply; for you know only too
well that your conduct admits of no excuse, palliation, or argument-
Clemens would pretend to a visitor that she had been violently indignant
over some offense of his; perhaps he would say:
"Well I contradicted her just now, and the crockery will begin to fly
She could never quite get used to this pleasantry, and a faint glow would
steal over her face. He liked to produce that glow. Yet always his
manner toward her was tenderness itself. He regarded her as some dainty
bit of porcelain, and it was said that he was always following her about
with a chair. Their union has been regarded as ideal. That is
Twichell's opinion and Howells's. The latter sums up:
Marriages are what the parties to them alone really know them to be,
but from the outside I should say that this marriage was one of the
THE WALK TO BOSTON
The new home became more beautiful to them as things found their places,
as the year deepened; and the wonder of autumn foliage lit up their
landscape. Sitting on one of the little upper balconies Mrs. Clemens
The atmosphere is very hazy, and it makes the autumn tints even more
soft and beautiful than usual. Mr. Twichell came for Mr. Clemens to
go walking with him; they returned at dinner-time, heavily laden
with autumn leaves.
And as usual Clemens, finding the letter unfinished, took up the story.
Twichell came up here with me to luncheon after services, and I went
back home with him and took Susy along in her little carriage. We
have just got home again, middle of afternoon, and Livy has gone to
rest and left the west balcony to me. There is a shining and most
marvelous miracle of cloud-effects mirrored in the brook; a picture
which began with perfection, and has momently surpassed it ever
since, until at last it is almost unendurably beautiful....
There is a cloud-picture in the stream now whose hues are as
manifold as those in an opal and as delicate as the tintings of a
sea-shell. But now a muskrat is swimming through it and
obliterating it with the turmoil of wavelets he casts abroad from
The customary Sunday assemblage of strangers is gathered together in
the grounds discussing the house.
Twichell and Clemens took a good many walks these days; long walks, for
Twichell was an athlete and Clemens had not then outgrown the Nevada
habit of pedestrian wandering. Talcott's Tower, a wooden structure about
five miles from Hartford, was one of their favorite objective points; and
often they walked out and back, talking so continuously, and so absorbed
in the themes of their discussions, that time and distance slipped away
almost unnoticed. How many things they talked of in those long walks!
They discussed philosophies and religions and creeds, and all the range
of human possibility and shortcoming, and all the phases of literature
and history and politics. Unorthodox discussions they were,
illuminating, marvelously enchanting, and vanished now forever.
Sometimes they took the train as far as Bloomfield, a little station on
the way, and walked the rest of the distance, or they took the train from
Bloomfield home. It seems a strange association, perhaps, the fellowship
of that violent dissenter with that fervent soul dedicated to church and
creed, but the root of their friendship lay in the frankness with which
each man delivered his dogmas and respected those of his companion.
It was during one of their walks to the tower that they planned a far
more extraordinary undertaking--nothing less, in fact, than a walk from
Hartford to Boston. This was early in November. They did not delay the
matter, for the weather was getting too uncertain.
Clemens wrote Redpath:
DEAR REDPATH,--Rev. J. H. Twichell and I expect to start at 8 o'clock
Thursday morning to walk to Boston in twenty four hours--or more. We
shall telegraph Young's Hotel for rooms Saturday night, in order to allow
for a low average of pedestrianism.
It was half past eight on Thursday morning, November 12, 1874, that they
left Twichell's house in a carriage, drove to the East Hartford bridge,
and there took to the road, Twichell carrying a little bag and Clemens a
basket of lunch.
The papers had got hold of it by this time, and were watching the result.
They did well enough that first day, following the old Boston stage road,
arriving at Westford about seven o'clock in the evening, twenty-eight
miles from the starting-point. There was no real hotel at Westford, only
a sort of tavern, but it afforded the luxury of rest. "Also," says
Twichell, in a memoranda of the trip, "a sublimely profane hostler whom
you couldn't jostle with any sort of mild remark without bringing down
upon yourself a perfect avalanche of oaths."
This was a joy to Clemens, who sat behind the stove, rubbing his lame
knees and fairly reveling in Twichell's discomfiture in his efforts to
divert the hostler's blasphemy. There was also a mellow inebriate there
who recommended kerosene for Clemens's lameness, and offered as testimony
the fact that he himself had frequently used it for stiffness in his
joints after lying out all night in cold weather, drunk: altogether it
was a notable evening.
Westford was about as far as they continued the journey afoot. Clemens
was exceedingly lame next morning, and had had a rather bad night; but he
swore and limped along six miles farther, to North Ashford, then gave it
up. They drove from North Ashford to the railway, where Clemens
telegraphed Redpath and Howells of their approach. To Redpath:
We have made thirty-five miles in less than five days. This
demonstrates that the thing can be done. Shall now finish by rail.
Did you have any bets on us?
Arrive by rail at seven o'clock, the first of a series of grand
annual pedestrian tours from Hartford to Boston to be performed by
us. The next will take place next year.
Redpath read his despatch to a lecture audience, with effect. Howells
made immediate preparation for receiving two way-worn, hungry men. He
telegraphed to Young's Hotel: "You and Twichell come right up to 37
Concord Avenue, Cambridge, near observatory. Party waiting for you."
They got to Howells's about nine o'clock, and the refreshments were
waiting. Miss Longfellow was there, Rose Hawthorne, John Fiske, Larkin
G. Mead, the sculptor, and others of their kind. Howells tells in his
book how Clemens, with Twichell, "suddenly stormed in," and immediately
began to eat and drink:
I can see him now as he stood up in the midst of our friends, with
his head thrown back, and in his hand a dish of those escalloped
oysters without which no party in Cambridge was really a party,
exulting in the tale of his adventure, which had abounded in the
most original characters and amusing incidents at every mile of
Clemens gave a dinner, next night, to Howells, Aldrich, Osgood, and the
rest. The papers were full of jokes concerning the Boston expedition;
some even had illustrations, and it was all amusing enough at the time.
Next morning, sitting in the writing-room of Young's Hotel, he wrote a
curious letter to Mrs. Clemens, though intended as much for Howells and
Aldrich as for her. It was dated sixty-one years ahead, and was a sort
of Looking Backwards, though that notable book had not yet been written.
It presupposed a monarchy in which the name of Boston has been changed to
"Limerick," and Hartford to "Dublin." In it, Twichell has become the
"Archbishop of Dublin," Howells "Duke of Cambridge," Aldrich "Marquis of
Ponkapog," Clemens the "Earl of Hartford." It was too whimsical and
delightful a fancy to be forgotten.--[This remarkable and amusing
document will be found under Appendix M, at the end of last volume.]
A long time afterward, thirty-four year, he came across this letter. He
"It seems curious now that I should have been dreaming dreams of a future
monarchy and never suspect that the monarchy was already present and the
Republic a thing of the past."
What he meant, was the political succession that had fostered those
commercial trusts which, in turn, had established party dominion.
To Howells, on his return, Clemens wrote his acknowledgments, and added:
Mrs. Clemens gets upon the verge of swearing, and goes tearing
around in an unseemly fury when I enlarge upon the delightful time
we had in Boston, and she not there to have her share. I have tried
hard to reproduce Mrs. Howells to her, and have probably not made a
shining success of it.
"OLD TIMES ON THE MISSISSIPPI"
Howells had been urging Clemens to do something more for the Atlantic,
specifically something for the January number. Clemens cudgeled his
brains, but finally declared he must give it up:
Mrs. Clemens has diligently persecuted me day by day with urgings to
go to work and do that something, but it's no use. I find I can't.
We are in such a state of worry and endless confusion that my head
Two hours later he sent another hasty line:
I take back the remark that I can't write for the January number,
for Twichell and I have had a long walk in the woods, and I got to
telling him about old Mississippi days of steam-boating glory and
grandeur as I saw them (during four years) from the pilot-house. He
said, "What a virgin subject to hurl into a magazine!" I hadn't
thought of that before. Would you like a series of papers to run
through three months or six or nine--or about four months, say?
Howells welcomed this offer as an echo of his own thought. He had come
from a piloting family himself, and knew the interest that Mark Twain
could put into such a series.
Acting promptly under the new inspiration, Clemens forthwith sent the
first chapter of that monumental, that absolutely unique, series of
papers on Mississippi River life, which to-day constitutes one of his
chief claims to immortality.
His first number was in the nature of an experiment. Perhaps, after all,
the idea would not suit the Atlantic readers.
"Cut it, scarify it, reject it, handle it with entire freedom," he wrote,
and awaited the result.
The "result" was that Howells expressed his delight:
The piece about the Mississippi is capital. It almost made the
water in our ice-pitcher muddy as I read it. I don't think I shall
meddle much with it, even in the way of suggestion. The sketch of
the low-lived little town was so good that I could have wished there
was more of it. I want the sketches, if you can make them, every
Mark Twain was now really interested in this new literary venture. He
was fairly saturated with memories. He was writing on the theme that lay
nearest to his heart. Within ten days he reported that he had finished
three of the papers, and had begun the fourth.
And yet I have spoken of nothing but piloting as a science so far, and I
doubt if I ever get beyond that portion of my subject. And I don't care
to. Any Muggins can write about old days on the Mississippi of five
hundred different kinds, but I am the only man alive that can scribble
about the piloting of that day, and no man has ever tried to scribble
about it yet. Its newness pleases me all the time, and it is about the
only new subject I know of.
He became so enthusiastic presently that he wanted to take Howells with
him on a trip down the Mississippi, with their wives for company, to go
over the old ground again and obtain added material enough for a book.
Howells was willing enough--agreed to go, in fact--but found it hard to
get away. He began to temporize and finally backed out. Clemens tried
to inveigle Osgood into the trip, but without success; also John Hay, but
Hay had a new baby at his house just then--"three days old, and with a
voice beyond price," he said, offering it as an excuse for non-
acceptance. So the plan for revisiting the river and the conclusion of
the book were held in abeyance for nearly seven years.
Those early piloting chapters, as they appeared in the Atlantic,
constituted Mark Twain's best literary exhibit up to that time. In some
respects they are his best literature of any time. As pictures of an
intensely interesting phase of life, they are so convincing, so real, and
at the same time of such extraordinary charm and interest, that if the
English language should survive a thousand years, or ten times as long,
they would be as fresh and vivid at the end of that period as the day
they were penned. In them the atmosphere of, the river and its
environment--its pictures, its thousand aspects of life--are reproduced
with what is no less than literary necromancy. Not only does he make you
smell the river you can fairly hear it breathe. On the appearance of the
first number John Hay wrote:
"It is perfect; no more nor less. I don't see how you do it," and added,
"you know what my opinion is of time not spent with you."
You are doing the science of piloting splendidly. Every word
interesting, and don't you drop the series till you've got every bit
of anecdote and reminiscence into it.
He let Clemens write the articles to suit himself. Once he said:
If I might put in my jaw at this point I should say, stick to actual
fact and character in the thing and give things in detail. All that
belongs to the old river life is novel, and is now mostly
historical. Don't write at any supposed Atlantic audience, but yarn
it off as if into my sympathetic ear.
Clemens replied that he had no dread of the Atlantic audience; he
declared it was the only audience that did not require a humorist to
"paint himself striped and stand on his head to amuse it."
The "Old Times" papers ran through seven numbers of the Atlantic. They
were reprinted everywhere by the newspapers, who in that day had little
respect for magazine copyrights, and were promptly pirated in book form
in Canada. They added vastly to Mark Twain's literary capital, though
Howells informs us that the Atlantic circulation did not thrive
proportionately, for the reason that the newspapers gave the articles to
their readers from advanced sheets of the magazine, even before the
latter could be placed on sale. It so happened that in the January
Atlantic, which contained the first of the Mississippi papers, there
appeared Robert Dale Owen's article on "Spiritualism," which brought such
humility both to author and publisher because of the exposure of the
medium Katie King, which came along while the magazine was in press.
Clemens has written this marginal note on the opening page of the copy at
While this number of the Atlantic was being printed the Katie King
manifestations were discovered to be the cheapest, wretchedest shams and
frauds, and were exposed in the newspapers. The awful humiliation of it
unseated Robert Dale Owen's reason, and he died in the madhouse.
A TYPEWRITER, AND A JOKE ON ALDRICH
It was during the trip to Boston with Twichell that Mark Twain saw for
the first time what was then--a brand-new invention, a typewriter; or it
may have been during a subsequent visit, a week or two later. At all
events, he had the machine and was practising on it December 9, 1874, for
he wrote two letters on it that day, one to Howells and the other to
Orion Clemens. In the latter he says:
I am trying to get the hang of this new-fangled writing-machine, but
am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first
attempt I ever have made, and yet I perceive that I shall soon
easily acquire a fine facility in its use. I saw the thing in
Boston the other day and was greatly taken with it.
He goes on to explain the new wonder, and on the whole his first attempt
is a very creditable performance. With his usual enthusiasm over an
innovation, he believes it is going to be a great help to him, and
proclaims its advantages.
This is the letter to Howells, with the errors preserved:
You needn't answer this; I am only practicing to get three; anothe
slip-up there; only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing. I
notice I miss fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters &
punctuation marks. I am simply using you for a target to bang at.
Blame my cats, but this thing requires genius in order to work it
In an article written long after he tells how he was with Nasby when he
first saw the machine in Boston through a window, and how they went in to
see it perform. In the same article he states that he was the first
person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature, and that he
thinks the story of Tom Sawyer was the first type-copied manuscript.
--[Tom Sawyer was not then complete, and had been laid aside. The first
type-copied manuscript was probably early chapters of the Mississippi
story, two discarded typewritten pages of which still exist.]
The new enthusiasm ran its course and died. Three months later, when the
Remington makers wrote him for a recommendation of the machine, he
replied that he had entirely stopped using it. The typewriter was not
perfect in those days, and the keys did not always respond readily.
He declared it was ruining his morals--that it made him "want to swear."
He offered it to Howells because, he said, Howells had no morals anyway.
Howells hesitated, so Clemens traded the machine to Bliss for a side-
saddle. But perhaps Bliss also became afraid of its influence, for in
due time he brought it back. Howells, again tempted, hesitated, and this
time was lost. What eventually became of the machine is not history.
One of those, happy Atlantic dinners which Howells tells of came about
the end of that year. It was at the Parker House, and Emerson was there;
and Aldrich, and the rest of that group.
"Don't you dare to refuse the invitation," said Howells, and naturally
Clemens didn't, and wrote back:
I want you to ask Mrs. Howells to let you stay all night at the
Parker House and tell lies and have an improving time, and take
breakfast with me in the morning. I will have a good room for you
and a fire. Can't you tell her it always makes you sick to go home
late at night or something like that? That sort of thing arouses
Mrs. Clemens's sympathies easily.
Two memories of that old dinner remain to-day. Aldrich and Howells were
not satisfied with the kind of neckties that Mark Twain wore (the old-
fashioned black "string" tie, a Western survival), so they made him a
present of two cravats when he set out on his return for Hartford. Next
day he wrote:
You and Aldrich have made one woman deeply and sincerely grateful--
Mrs. Clemens. For months--I may even say years--she has shown an
unaccountable animosity toward my necktie, even getting up in the
night to take it with the tongs and blackguard it, sometimes also
getting so far as to threaten it.
When I said you and Aldrich had given me two new neckties, and that
they were in a paper in my overcoat pocket, she was in a fever of
happiness until she found I was going to frame them; then all the
venom in her nature gathered itself together; insomuch that I, being
near to a door, went without, perceiving danger.
It is recorded that eventually he wore the neckties, and returned no more
to the earlier mode.
Another memory of that dinner is linked to a demand that Aldrich made of
Clemens that night, for his photograph. Clemens, returning to Hartford,
put up fifty-two different specimens in as many envelopes, with the idea
of sending one a week for a year. Then he concluded that this was too
slow a process, and for a week sent one every morning to "His Grace of
Aldrich stood it for a few days, then protested. "The police," he said,
"are in the habit of swooping down upon a publication of that sort."
On New-Year's no less than twenty pictures came at once--photographs and
prints of Mark Twain, his house, his family, his various belongings.
Aldrich sent a warning then that the perpetrator of this outrage was
known to the police as Mark Twain, alias "The Jumping Frog," a well-known
California desperado, who would be speedily arrested and brought to
Ponkapog to face his victim. This letter was signed "T. Bayleigh, Chief
of Police," and on the outside of the envelope there was a statement that
it would be useless for that person to send any more mail-matter, as the
post-office had been blown up. The jolly farce closed there. It was the
sort of thing that both men enjoyed.
Aldrich was writing a story at this time which contained some Western
mining incident and environment. He sent the manuscript to Clemens for
"expert" consideration and advice. Clemens wrote him at great length and
in careful detail. He was fond of Aldrich, regarding him as one of the
most brilliant of men. Once, to Robert Louis Stevenson, he said:
"Aldrich has never had his peer for prompt and pithy and witty and
humorous sayings. None has equaled him, certainly none has
surpassed him, in the felicity of phrasing with which he clothed
these children of his fancy. Aldrich is always brilliant; he can't
help it; he is a fire-opal set round with rose diamonds; when he is
not speaking you know that his dainty fancies are twinkling and
glimmering around in him; when he speaks the diamonds flash. Yes,
he is always brilliant, he will always be brilliant; he will be
brilliant in hell-you will see."
Stevenson, smiling a chuckly smile, said, "I hope not."
"Well, you will, and he will dim even those ruddy fires and look like a
transfigured Adonis backed against a pink sunset."--[North American
Review, September, 1906.]
RAYMOND, MENTAL TELEGRAPHY, ETC.
The Sellers play was given in Hartford, in January (1875), to as many
people as could crowd into the Opera House. Raymond had reached the
perfection of his art by that time, and the townsmen of Mark Twain saw
the play and the actor at their best. Kate Field played the part of
Laura Hawkins, and there was a Hartford girl in the company; also a
Hartford young man, who would one day be about as well known to playgoers
as any playwright or actor that America has produced. His name was
William Gillette, and it was largely due to Mark Twain that the author of
Secret Service and of the dramatic "Sherlock Holmes" got a fair public
start. Clemens and his wife loaned Gillette the three thousand dollars
which tided him through his period of dramatic education. Their faith in
his ability was justified.
Hartford would naturally be enthusiastic on a first "Sellers-Raymond"
night. At the end of the fourth act there was an urgent demand for the
author of the play, who was supposed to be present. He was not there in
person, but had sent a letter, which Raymond read:
MY DEAR RAYMOND,--I am aware that you are going to be welcomed to our
town by great audiences on both nights of your stay there, and I beg to
add my hearty welcome also, through this note. I cannot come to the
theater on either evening, Raymond, because there is something so
touching about your acting that I can't stand it.
(I do not mention a couple of colds in my head, because I hardly mind
them as much as I would the erysipelas, but between you and me I would
prefer it if they were rights and lefts.)
And then there is another thing. I have always taken a pride in earning
my living in outside places and spending it in Hartford; I have said that
no good citizen would live on his own people, but go forth and make it
sultry for other communities and fetch home the result; and now at this
late day I find myself in the crushed and bleeding position of fattening
myself upon the spoils of my brethren! Can I support such grief as this?
(This is literary emotion, you understand. Take the money at the door
just the same.)