Part 6 out of 16
Don't dine that evening, for I shall arrive dinnerless and need your
I'll bring my Blindfold Novelette, but shan't exhibit it unless you
exhibit yours. You would simply go to work and write a novelette that
would make mine sick. Because you would know all about where my weak
points lay. No, Sir, I'm one of these old wary birds!
Don't bother to write a letter--3 lines on a postal card is all that I
can permit from a busy man.
P. S. Good! You'll not have to feel any call to mention that debut in
the Atlantic--they've made me pay the grand cash for my box!--a thing
which most managers would be too worldly-wise to do, with journalistic
folks. But I'm most honestly glad, for I'd rather pay three prices, any
time, than to have my tongue half paralyzed with a dead-head ticket.
Hang that Anna Dickinson, a body can never depend upon her debuts! She
has made five or six false starts already. If she fails to debut this
time, I will never bet on her again.
In his book, My Mark Twain, Howells refers to the "tragedy" of Miss
Dickinson's appearance. She was the author of numerous plays, some
of which were successful, but her career as an actress was never
At Elmira that summer the Clemenses heard from their good friend
Doctor Brown, of Edinburgh, and sent eager replies.
To Dr. John Brown, in Edinburgh:
ELMIRA, NEW YORK, U. S. June 22, 1876.
DEAR FRIEND THE DOCTOR,--It was a perfect delight to see the well-known
handwriting again! But we so grieve to know that you are feeling
miserable. It must not last--it cannot last. The regal summer is come
and it will smile you into high good cheer; it will charm away your
pains, it will banish your distresses. I wish you were here, to spend
the summer with us. We are perched on a hill-top that overlooks a little
world of green valleys, shining rivers, sumptuous forests and billowy
uplands veiled in the haze of distance. We have no neighbors. It is the
quietest of all quiet places, and we are hermits that eschew caves and
live in the sun. Doctor, if you'd only come!
I will carry your letter to Mrs. C. now, and there will be a glad woman,
I tell you! And she shall find one of those pictures to put in this for
Mrs. Barclays and if there isn't one here we'll send right away to
Hartford and get one. Come over, Doctor John, and bring the Barclays,
the Nicolsons and the Browns, one and all!
SAML. L. CLEMENS.
From May until August no letters appear to have passed between
Clemens and Howells; the latter finally wrote, complaining of the
lack of news. He was in the midst of campaign activities, he said,
writing a life of Hayes, and gaily added: "You know I wrote the life
of Lincoln, which elected him." He further reported a comedy he had
completed, and gave Clemens a general stirring up as to his own
Mark Twain, in his hillside study, was busy enough. Summer was his
time for work, and he had tried his hand in various directions. His
mention of Huck Finn in his reply to Howells is interesting, in that
it shows the measure of his enthusiasm, or lack of it, as a gauge of
his ultimate achievement
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 9, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I was just about to write you when your letter came--
and not one of those obscene postal cards, either, but reverently, upon
I shall read that biography, though the letter of acceptance was amply
sufficient to corral my vote without any further knowledge of the man.
Which reminds me that a campaign club in Jersey City wrote a few days ago
and invited me to be present at the raising of a Tilden and Hendricks
flag there, and to take the stand and give them some "counsel." Well, I
could not go, but gave them counsel and advice by letter, and in the
kindliest terms as to the raising of the flag--advised them "not to raise
Get your book out quick, for this is a momentous time. If Tilden is
elected I think the entire country will go pretty straight to--Mrs.
Howells's bad place.
I am infringing on your patent--I started a record of our children's
sayings, last night. Which reminds me that last week I sent down and got
Susie a vast pair of shoes of a most villainous pattern, for I discovered
that her feet were being twisted and cramped out of shape by a smaller
and prettier article. She did not complain, but looked degraded and
injured. At night her mamma gave her the usual admonition when she was
about to say her prayers--to wit:
"Now, Susie--think about God."
"Mamma, I can't, with those shoes."
The farm is perfectly delightful this season. It is as quiet and
peaceful as a South Sea Island. Some of the sunsets which we have
witnessed from this commanding eminence were marvelous. One evening a
rainbow spanned an entire range of hills with its mighty arch, and from a
black hub resting upon the hill-top in the exact centre, black rays
diverged upward in perfect regularity to the rainbow's arch and created a
very strongly defined and altogether the most majestic, magnificent and
startling half-sunk wagon wheel you can imagine. After that, a world of
tumbling and prodigious clouds came drifting up out of the West and took
to themselves a wonderfully rich and brilliant green color--the decided
green of new spring foliage. Close by them we saw the intense blue of
the skies, through rents in the cloud-rack, and away off in another
quarter were drifting clouds of a delicate pink color. In one place hung
a pall of dense black clouds, like compacted pitch-smoke. And the
stupendous wagon wheel was still in the supremacy of its unspeakable
grandeur. So you see, the colors present in the sky at once and the same
time were blue, green, pink, black, and the vari-colored splendors of the
rainbow. All strong and decided colors, too. I don't know whether this
weird and astounding spectacle most suggested heaven, or hell. The
wonder, with its constant, stately, and always surprising changes, lasted
upwards of two hours, and we all stood on the top of the hill by my study
till the final miracle was complete and the greatest day ended that we
Our farmer, who is a grave man, watched that spectacle to the end, and
then observed that it was "dam funny."
The double-barreled novel lies torpid. I found I could not go on with
it. The chapters I had written were still too new and familiar to me.
I may take it up next winter, but cannot tell yet; I waited and waited to
see if my interest in it would not revive, but gave it up a month ago and
began another boys' book--more to be at work than anything else. I have
written 400 pages on it--therefore it is very nearly half done. It is
Huck Finn's Autobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I
have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn the MS when it is done.
So the comedy is done, and with a "fair degree of satisfaction." That
rejoices me, and makes me mad, too--for I can't plan a comedy, and what
have you done that God should be so good to you? I have racked myself
baldheaded trying to plan a comedy harness for some promising characters
of mine to work in, and had to give it up. It is a noble lot of blooded
stock and worth no end of money, but they must stand in the stable and be
profitless. I want to be present when the comedy is produced and help
enjoy the success.
Warner's book is mighty readable, I think.
Love to yez.
Howells promptly wrote again, urging him to enter the campaign for
Hayes. "There is not another man in this country," he said, "who
could help him so much as you." The "farce" which Clemens refers to
in his reply, was "The Parlor Car," which seems to have been about
the first venture of Howells in that field.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, August 23, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I am glad you think I could do Hayes any good, for I
have been wanting to write a letter or make a speech to that end. I'll
be careful not to do either, however, until the opportunity comes in a
natural, justifiable and unlugged way; and shall not then do anything
unless I've got it all digested and worded just right. In which case I
might do some good--in any other I should do harm. When a humorist
ventures upon the grave concerns of life he must do his job better than
another man or he works harm to his cause.
The farce is wonderfully bright and delicious, and must make a hit. You
read it to me, and it was mighty good; I read it last night and it was
better; I read it aloud to the household this morning and it was better
than ever. So it would be worth going a long way to see it well played;
for without any question an actor of genius always adds a subtle
something to any man's work that none but the writer knew was there
before. Even if he knew it. I have heard of readers convulsing
audiences with my "Aurelia's Unfortunate Young Man." If there is
anything really funny in the piece, the author is not aware of it.
All right--advertise me for the new volume. I send you herewith a sketch
which will make 3 pages of the Atlantic. If you like it and accept it,
you should get it into the December No. because I shall read it in public
in Boston the 13th and 14th of Nov. If it went in a month earlier it
would be too old for me to read except as old matter; and if it went in a
month later it would be too old for the Atlantic--do you see? And if you
wish to use it, will you set it up now, and send me three proofs?--one
to correct for Atlantic, one to send to Temple Bar (shall I tell them to
use it not earlier than their November No. and one to use in practising
for my Boston readings.
We must get up a less elaborate and a much better skeleton-plan for the
Blindfold Novels and make a success of that idea. David Gray spent
Sunday here and said we could but little comprehend what a rattling stir
that thing would make in the country. He thought it would make a mighty
strike. So do I. But with only 8 pages to tell the tale in, the plot
must be less elaborate, doubtless. What do you think?
When we exchange visits I'll show you an unfinished sketch of Elizabeth's
time which shook David Gray's system up pretty exhaustively.
The MS. sketch mentioned in the foregoing letter was "The
Canvasser's Tale," later included in the volume, Tom Sawyer Abroad,
and Other Stories. It is far from being Mark Twain's best work, but
was accepted and printed in the Atlantic. David Gray was an able
journalist and editor whom Mark Twain had known in Buffalo.
The "sketch of Elizabeth's time" is a brilliant piece of writing
--an imaginary record of conversation and court manners in the good
old days of free speech and performance, phrased in the language of
the period. Gray, John Hay, Twichell, and others who had a chance
to see it thought highly of it, and Hay had it set in type and a few
proofs taken for private circulation. Some years afterward a West
Point officer had a special font of antique type made for it, and
printed a hundred copies. But the present-day reader would hardly
be willing to include "Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen
Elizabeth" in Mark Twain's collected works.
Clemens was a strong Republican in those days, as his letters of
this period show. His mention of the "caves" in the next is another
reference to "The Canvasser's Tale."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sept. 14, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Yes, the collection of caves was the origin of it.
I changed it to echoes because these being invisible and intangible,
constituted a still more absurd species of property, and yet a man could
really own an echo, and sell it, too, for a high figure--such an echo as
that at the Villa Siminetti, two miles from Milan, for instance.
My first purpose was to have the man make a collection of caves and
afterwards of echoes; but perceived that the element of absurdity and
impracticability was so nearly identical as to amount to a repetition of
I will not, and do not, believe that there is a possibility of Hayes's
defeat, but I want the victory to be sweeping.....
It seems odd to find myself interested in an election. I never was
before. And I can't seem to get over my repugnance to reading or
thinking about politics, yet. But in truth I care little about any
party's politics--the man behind it is the important thing.
You may well know that Mrs. Clemens liked the Parlor Car--enjoyed it ever
so much, and was indignant at you all through, and kept exploding into
rages at you for pretending that such a woman ever existed--closing each
and every explosion with "But it is just what such a woman would do."--
"It is just what such a woman would say." They all voted the Parlor Car
perfection--except me. I said they wouldn't have been allowed to court
and quarrel there so long, uninterrupted; but at each critical moment the
odious train-boy would come in and pile foul literature all over them
four or five inches deep, and the lover would turn his head aside and
curse--and presently that train-boy would be back again (as on all those
Western roads) to take up the literature and leave prize candy.
Of course the thing is perfect, in the magazine, without the train-boy;
but I was thinking of the stage and the groundlings. If the dainty
touches went over their heads, the train-boy and other possible
interruptions would fetch them every time. Would it mar the flow of the
thing too much to insert that devil? I thought it over a couple of hours
and concluded it wouldn't, and that he ought to be in for the sake of the
groundlings (and to get new copyright on the piece.)
And it seemed to me that now that the fourth act is so successfully
written, why not go ahead and write the 3 preceding acts? And then after
it is finished, let me put into it a low-comedy character (the girl's or
the lover's father or uncle) and gobble a big pecuniary interest in your
work for myself. Do not let this generous proposition disturb your rest
--but do write the other 3 acts, and then it will be valuable to
managers. And don't go and sell it to anybody, like Harte, but keep it
Harte's play can be doctored till it will be entirely acceptable and then
it will clear a great sum every year. I am out of all patience with
Harte for selling it. The play entertained me hugely, even in its
present crude state.
Love to you all.
Following the Sellers success, Clemens had made many attempts at
dramatic writing. Such undertakings had uniformly failed, but he
had always been willing to try again. In the next letter we get the
beginning of what proved his first and last direct literary
association, that is to say, collaboration, with Bret Harte.
Clemens had great admiration for Harte's ability and believed that
between them they could turn out a successful play. Whether or not
this belief was justified will appear later. Howells's biography of
Hayes, meanwhile, had not gone well. He reported that only two
thousand copies had been sold in what was now the height of the
campaign. "There's success for you," he said; "it makes me despair
of the Republic."
Clemens, on his part, had made a speech for Hayes that Howells
declared had put civil-service reform in a nutshell; he added: "You
are the only Republican orator, quoted without distinction of party
by all the newspapers."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 11, 1876.
MY DEAR HOWELLS, This is a secret, to be known to nobody but you (of
course I comprehend that Mrs. Howells is part of you) that Bret Harte
came up here the other day and asked me to help him write a play and
divide the swag, and I agreed. I am to put in Scotty Briggs (See Buck
Fanshaw's Funeral, in "Roughing It.") and he is to put in a Chinaman (a,
wonderfully funny creature, as Bret presents him--for 5 minutes--in his
Sandy Bar play.) This Chinaman is to be the character of the play, and
both of us will work on him and develop him. Bret is to draw a plot, and
I am to do the same; we shall use the best of the two, or gouge from both
and build a third. My plot is built--finished it yesterday--six days'
work, 8 or 9 hours a day, and has nearly killed me.
Now the favor I ask of you is that you will have the words "Ah Sin, a
Drama," printed in the middle of a note-paper page and send the same to
me, with Bill. We don't want anybody to know that we are building this
play. I can't get this title page printed here without having to lie so
much that the thought of it is disagreeable to one reared as I have been.
And yet the title of the play must be printed--the rest of the
application for copyright is allowable in penmanship.
We have got the very best gang of servants in America, now. When George
first came he was one of the most religious of men. He had but one
fault--young George Washington's. But I have trained him; and now it
fairly breaks Mrs. Clemens's heart to hear George stand at that front
door and lie to the unwelcome visitor. But your time is valuable; I must
not dwell upon these things.....I'll ask Warner and Harte if they'll do
Blindfold Novelettes. Some time I'll simplify that plot. All it needs
is that the hanging and the marriage shall not be appointed for the same
day. I got over that difficulty, but it required too much MS to
reconcile the thing--so the movement of the story was clogged.
I came near agreeing to make political speeches with our candidate for
Governor the 16th and 23 inst., but I had to give up the idea, for Harte
and I will be here at work then.
Mark Twain was writing few letters these days to any one but
Howells, yet in November he sent one to an old friend of his youth,
Burrough, the literary chair-maker who had roomed with him in the
days when he had been setting type for the St. Louis Evening News.
To Mr. Burrough, of St. Louis:
HARTFORD, Nov. 1, 1876.
MY DEAR BURROUGHS,--As you describe me I can picture myself as I was 20
years ago. The portrait is correct. You think I have grown some; upon
my word there was room for it. You have described a callow fool, a self-
sufficient ass, a mere human tumble-bug.... imagining that he is
remodeling the world and is entirely capable of doing it right.
Ignorance, intolerance, egotism, self-assertion, opaque perception, dense
and pitiful chuckle-headedness--and an almost pathetic unconsciousness of
it all. That is what I was at 19 and 20; and that is what the average
Southerner is at 60 today. Northerners, too, of a certain grade. It is
of children like this that voters are made. And such is the primal
source of our government! A man hardly knows whether to swear or cry
I think I comprehend the position there--perfect freedom to vote just as
you choose, provided you choose to vote as other people think--social
ostracism, otherwise. The same thing exists here, among the Irish.
An Irish Republican is a pariah among his people. Yet that race find
fault with the same spirit in Know-Nothingism.
Fortunately a good deal of experience of men enabled me to choose my
residence wisely. I live in the freest corner of the country. There are
no social disabilities between me and my Democratic personal friends.
We break the bread and eat the salt of hospitality freely together and
never dream of such a thing as offering impertinent interference in each
other's political opinions.
Don't you ever come to New York again and not run up here to see me. I
Suppose we were away for the summer when you were East; but no matter,
you could have telegraphed and found out. We were at Elmira N. Y. and
right on your road, and could have given you a good time if you had
allowed us the chance.
Yes, Will Bowen and I have exchanged letters now and then for several
years, but I suspect that I made him mad with my last--shortly after you
saw him in St. Louis, I judge. There is one thing which I can't stand
and won't stand, from many people. That is sham sentimentality--the kind
a school-girl puts into her graduating composition; the sort that makes
up the Original Poetry column of a country newspaper; the rot that deals
in the "happy days of yore," the "sweet yet melancholy past," with its
"blighted hopes" and its "vanished dreams" and all that sort of drivel.
Will's were always of this stamp. I stood it years. When I get a letter
like that from a grown man and he a widower with a family, it gives me
the stomach ache. And I just told Will Bowen so, last summer. I told
him to stop being 16 at 40; told him to stop drooling about the sweet yet
melancholy past, and take a pill. I said there was but one solitary
thing about the past worth remembering, and that was the fact that it is
the past--can't be restored. Well, I exaggerated some of these truths a
little--but only a little--but my idea was to kill his sham
sentimentality once and forever, and so make a good fellow of him again.
I went to the unheard-of trouble of re-writing the letter and saying the
same harsh things softly, so as to sugarcoat the anguish and make it a
little more endurable and I asked him to write and thank me honestly for
doing him the best and kindliest favor that any friend ever had done him
--but he hasn't done it yet. Maybe he will, sometime. I am grateful to
God that I got that letter off before he was married (I get that news
from you) else he would just have slobbered all over me and drowned me
when that event happened.
I enclose photograph for the young ladies. I will remark that I do not
wear seal-skin for grandeur, but because I found, when I used to lecture
in the winter, that nothing else was able to keep a man warm sometimes,
in these high latitudes. I wish you had sent pictures of yourself and
family--I'll trade picture for picture with you, straight through, if you
are commercially inclined.
Your old friend,
SAML L. CLEMENS.
LETTERS, 1877. TO BERMUDA WITH TWICHELL. PROPOSITION TO TH. NAST.
THE WHITTIER DINNER
Mark Twain must have been too busy to write letters that winter.
Those that have survived are few and unimportant. As a matter of
fact, he was writing the play, "Ah Sin," with Bret Harte, and
getting it ready for production. Harte was a guest in the Clemens
home while the play was being written, and not always a pleasant
one. He was full of requirements, critical as to the 'menage,' to
the point of sarcasm. The long friendship between Clemens and Harte
weakened under the strain of collaboration and intimate daily
intercourse, never to renew its old fiber. It was an unhappy
outcome of an enterprise which in itself was to prove of little
profit. The play, "Ah Sin," had many good features, and with
Charles T. Parsloe in an amusing Chinese part might have been made a
success, if the two authors could have harmoniously undertaken the
needed repairs. It opened in Washington in May, and a letter from
Parsloe, written at the moment, gives a hint of the situation.
From Charles T. Parsloe to S. L. Clemens:
WASHINGTON, D. C. May 11th, 1877.
MR. CLEMENS,--I forgot whether I acknowledged receipt of check by
telegram. Harte has been here since Monday last and done little or
nothing yet, but promises to have something fixed by tomorrow morning.
We have been making some improvements among ourselves. The last act is
weak at the end, and I do hope Mr. Harte will have something for a good
finish to the piece. The other acts I think are all right, now.
Hope you have entirely recovered. I am not very well myself, the
excitement of a first night is bad enough, but to have the annoyance with
Harte that I have is too much for a beginner. I ain't used to it. The
houses have been picking up since Tuesday Mr. Ford has worked well and
hard for us.
Yours in, haste,
CHAS. THOS. PARSLOE.
The play drew some good houses in Washington, but it could not hold
them for a run. Never mind what was the matter with it; perhaps a
very small change at the right point would have turned it into a
fine success. We have seen in a former letter the obligation which
Mark Twain confessed to Harte--a debt he had tried in many ways to
repay--obtaining for him a liberal book contract with Bliss;
advancing him frequent and large sums of money which Harte could
not, or did not, repay; seeking to advance his fortunes in many
directions. The mistake came when he introduced another genius into
the intracacies of his daily life. Clemens went down to Washington
during the early rehearsals of "Ah Sin."
Meantime, Rutherford B. Hayes had been elected President, and
Clemens one day called with a letter of introduction from Howells,
thinking to meet the Chief Executive. His own letter to Howells,
later, probably does not give the real reason of his failure, but it
will be amusing to those who recall the erratic personality of
George Francis Train. Train and Twain were sometimes confused by
the very unlettered; or pretendedly, by Mark Twain's friends.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
BALTIMORE, May 1, '77.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Found I was not absolutely needed in Washington so I
only staid 24 hours, and am on my way home, now. I called at the White
House, and got admission to Col. Rodgers, because I wanted to inquire
what was the right hour to go and infest the, President. It was my luck
to strike the place in the dead waste and middle of the day, the very
busiest time. I perceived that Mr. Rodgers took me for George Francis
Train and had made up his mind not to let me get at the President; so at
the end of half an hour I took my letter of introduction from the table
and went away. It was a great pity all round, and a great loss to the
nation, for I was brim full of the Eastern question. I didn't get to see
the President or the Chief Magistrate either, though I had sort of a
glimpse of a lady at a window who resembled her portraits.
Howells condoled with him on his failure to see the President,
"but," he added, "if you and I had both been there, our combined
skill would have no doubt procured us to be expelled from the White
House by Fred Douglass. But the thing seems to be a complete
failure as it was." Douglass at this time being the Marshal of
Columbia, gives special point to Howells's suggestion.
Later, in May, Clemens took Twichell for an excursion to Bermuda.
He had begged Howells to go with them, but Howells, as usual, was
full of literary affairs. Twichell and Clemens spent four glorious
days tramping the length and breadth of the beautiful island, and
remembered it always as one of their happiest adventures. "Put it
down as an Oasis!" wrote Twichell on his return, "I'm afraid I shall
not see as green a spot again soon. And it was your invention and
your gift. And your company was the best of it. Indeed, I never
took more comfort in being with you than on this journey, which, my
boy, is saying a great deal."
To Howells, Clemens triumphantly reported the success of the
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD, May 29, 1877.
Confound you, Joe Twichell and I roamed about Bermuda day and night and
never ceased to gabble and enjoy. About half the talk was--"It is a
burning shame that Howells isn't here." "Nobody could get at the very
meat and marrow of this pervading charm and deliciousness like Howells;"
"How Howells would revel in the quaintness, and the simplicity of this
people and the Sabbath repose of this land." "What an imperishable
sketch Howells would make of Capt. West the whaler, and Capt. Hope with
the patient, pathetic face, wanderer in all the oceans for 42 years,
lucky in none; coming home defeated once more, now, minus his ship--
resigned, uncomplaining, being used to this." "What a rattling chapter
Howells would make out of the small boy Alfred, with his alert eye and
military brevity and exactness of speech; and out of the old landlady;
and her sacred onions; and her daughter; and the visiting clergyman; and
the ancient pianos of Hamilton and the venerable music in vogue there--
and forty other things which we shall leave untouched or touched but
lightly upon, we not being worthy." "Dam Howells for not being here!"
(this usually from me, not Twichell.)
O, your insufferable pride, which will have a fall some day! If you had
gone with us and let me pay the $50 which the trip and the board and the
various nicknacks and mementoes would cost, I would have picked up enough
droppings from your conversation to pay me 500 per cent profit in the way
of the several magazine articles which I could have written, whereas I
can now write only one or two and am therefore largely out of pocket by
your proud ways. Ponder these things. Lord, what a perfectly bewitching
excursion it was! I traveled under an assumed name and was never
molested with a polite attention from anybody.
Love to you all.
Aldrich, meantime, had invited the Clemenses to Ponkapog during the
Bermuda absence, and Clemens hastened to send him a line expressing
regrets. At the close he said:
To T. B. Aldrich, in Ponkapog, Mass.:
FARMINGTON AVENUE, HARTFORD, June 3, 1877.
Day after tomorrow we leave for the hills beyond Elmira, N. Y. for the
summer, when I shall hope to write a book of some sort or other to beat
the people with. A work similar to your new one in the Atlantic is what
I mean, though I have not heard what the nature of that one is. Immoral,
I suppose. Well, you are right. Such books sell best, Howells says.
Howells says he is going to make his next book indelicate. He says he
thinks there is money in it. He says there is a large class of the
young, in schools and seminaries who--But you let him tell you. He has
ciphered it all down to a demonstration.
With the warmest remembrances to the pair of you
SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.
Clemens would naturally write something about Bermuda, and began at
once, "Random Notes of an Idle Excursion," and presently completed
four papers, which Howells eagerly accepted for the Atlantic. Then
we find him plunging into another play, this time alone.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, June 27, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--If you should not like the first 2 chapters, send them
to me and begin with Chapter 3--or Part 3, I believe you call these
things in the magazine. I have finished No. 4., which closes the series,
and will mail it tomorrow if I think of it. I like this one, I liked the
preceding one (already mailed to you some time ago) but I had my doubts
about 1 and 2. Do not hesitate to squelch them, even with derision and
Today I am deep in a comedy which I began this morning--principal
character, that old detective--I skeletoned the first act and wrote the
second, today; and am dog-tired, now. Fifty-four close pages of MS in 7
hours. Once I wrote 55 pages at a sitting--that was on the opening
chapters of the "Gilded Age" novel. When I cool down, an hour from now,
I shall go to zero, I judge.
Clemens had doubts as to the quality of the Bermuda papers, and with
some reason. They did not represent him at his best. Nevertheless,
they were pleasantly entertaining, and Howells expressed full
approval of them for Atlantic use. The author remained troubled.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, July 4,1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It is splendid of you to say those pleasant things.
But I am still plagued with doubts about Parts 1 and 2. If you have any,
don't print. If otherwise, please make some cold villain like Lathrop
read and pass sentence on them. Mind, I thought they were good, at
first--it was the second reading that accomplished its hellish purpose on
me. Put them up for a new verdict. Part 4 has lain in my pigeon-hole a
good while, and when I put it there I had a Christian's confidence in 4
aces in it; and you can be sure it will skip toward Connecticut tomorrow
before any fatal fresh reading makes me draw my bet.
I've piled up 151 MS pages on my comedy. The first, second and fourth
acts are done, and done to my satisfaction, too. Tomorrow and next day
will finish the 3rd act and the play. I have not written less than 30
pages any day since I began. Never had so much fun over anything in my
life-never such consuming interest and delight. (But Lord bless you the
second reading will fetch it!) And just think!--I had Sol Smith Russell
in my mind's eye for the old detective's part, and hang it he has gone
off pottering with Oliver Optic, or else the papers lie.
I read everything about the President's doings there with exultation.
I wish that old ass of a private secretary hadn't taken me for George
Francis Train. If ignorance were a means of grace I wouldn't trade that
gorilla's chances for the Archbishop of Canterbury's.
I shall call on the President again, by and by. I shall go in my war
paint; and if I am obstructed the nation will have the unusual spectacle
of a private secretary with a pen over one ear a tomahawk over the other.
I read the entire Atlantic this time. Wonderful number. Mrs. Rose Terry
Cooke's story was a ten-strike. I wish she would write 12 old-time New
England tales a year.
Good times to you all! Mind if you don't run here for a few days you
will go to hence without having had a fore-glimpse of heaven.
The play, "Ah Sin," that had done little enough in Washington, was
that summer given another trial by Augustin Daly, at the Fifth
Avenue Theater, New York, with a fine company. Clemens had
undertaken to doctor the play, and it would seem to have had an
enthusiastic reception on the opening night. But it was a summer
audience, unspoiled by many attractions. "Ah Sin" was never a
success in the New York season--never a money-maker on the road.
The reference in the first paragraph of the letter that follows is
to the Bermuda chapters which Mark Twain was publishing
simultaneously in England and America.
ELMIRA, Aug 3,1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I have mailed one set of the slips to London, and told
Bentley you would print Sept. 15, in October Atlantic, and he must not
print earlier in Temple Bar. Have I got the dates and things right?
I am powerful glad to see that No. 1 reads a nation sight better in print
than it did in MS. I told Bentley we'd send him the slips, each time, 6
weeks before day of publication. We can do that can't we? Two months
ahead would be still better I suppose, but I don't know.
"Ah Sin" went a-booming at the Fifth Avenue. The reception of Col.
Sellers was calm compared to it.
*The criticisms were just; the criticisms of the great New York dailies
are always just, intelligent, and square and honest--notwithstanding,
by a blunder which nobody was seriously to blame for, I was made to say
exactly the opposite of this in a newspaper some time ago. Never said it
at all, and moreover I never thought it. I could not publicly correct it
before the play appeared in New York, because that would look as if I had
really said that thing and then was moved by fears for my pocket and my
reputation to take it back. But I can correct it now, and shall do it;
for now my motives cannot be impugned. When I began this letter, it had
not occurred to me to use you in this connection, but it occurs to me
now. Your opinion and mine, uttered a year ago, and repeated more than
once since, that the candor and ability of the New York critics were
beyond question, is a matter which makes it proper enough that I should
speak through you at this time. Therefore if you will print this
paragraph somewhere, it may remove the impression that I say unjust
things which I do not think, merely for the pleasure of talking.
There, now, Can't you say--
"In a letter to Mr. Howells of the Atlantic Monthly, Mark Twain describes
the reception of the new comedy 'Ali Sin,' and then goes on to say:" etc.
Beginning at the star with the words, "The criticisms were just." Mrs.
Clemens says, "Don't ask that of Mr. Howells--it will be disagreeable to
him." I hadn't thought of it, but I will bet two to one on the
correctness of her instinct. We shall see.
Will you cut that paragraph out of this letter and precede it with the
remarks suggested (or with better ones,) and send it to the Globe or some
other paper? You can't do me a bigger favor; and yet if it is in the
least disagreeable, you mustn't think of it. But let me know, right
away, for I want to correct this thing before it grows stale again.
I explained myself to only one critic (the World)--the consequence was a
noble notice of the play. This one called on me, else I shouldn't have
explained myself to him.
I have been putting in a deal of hard work on that play in New York, but
it is full of incurable defects.
My old Plunkett family seemed wonderfully coarse and vulgar on the stage,
but it was because they were played in such an outrageously and
inexcusably coarse way. The Chinaman is killingly funny. I don't know
when I have enjoyed anything as much as I did him. The people say there
isn't enough of him in the piece. That's a triumph--there'll never be
any more of him in it.
John Brougham said, "Read the list of things which the critics have
condemned in the piece, and you have unassailable proofs that the play
contains all the requirements of success and a long life."
That is true. Nearly every time the audience roared I knew it was over
something that would be condemned in the morning (justly, too) but must
be left in--for low comedies are written for the drawing-room, the
kitchen and the stable, and if you cut out the kitchen and the stable the
drawing-room can't support the play by itself.
There was as much money in the house the first two nights as in the first
ten of Sellers. Haven't heard from the third--I came away.
In a former letter we have seen how Mark Twain, working on a story
that was to stand as an example of his best work, and become one of
his surest claims to immortality (The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn), displayed little enthusiasm in his undertaking. In the
following letter, which relates the conclusion of his detective
comedy, we find him at the other extreme, on very tiptoe with
enthusiasm over something wholly without literary value or dramatic
possibility. One of the hall-marks of genius is the inability to
discriminate as to the value of its output. "Simon Wheeler, Amateur
Detective" was a dreary, absurd, impossible performance, as wild and
unconvincing in incident and dialogue as anything out of an asylum
could well be. The title which he first chose for it, "Balaam's
Ass," was properly in keeping with the general scheme. Yet Mark
Twain, still warm with the creative fever, had the fullest faith in
it as a work of art and a winner of fortune. It would never see the
light of production, of course. We shall see presently that the
distinguished playwright, Dion Boucicault, good-naturedly
complimented it as being better than "Ahi Sin." One must wonder
what that skilled artist really thought, and how he could do even
this violence to his conscience.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Wednesday P.M. (1877)
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It's finished. I was misled by hurried mis-paging.
There were ten pages of notes, and over 300 pages of MS when the play was
done. Did it in 42 hours, by the clock; 40 pages of the Atlantic--but
then of course it's very "fat." Those are the figures, but I don't
believe them myself, because the thing's impossible.
But let that pass. All day long, and every day, since I finished (in the
rough) I have been diligently altering, amending, re-writing, cutting
down. I finished finally today. Can't think of anything else in the way
of an improvement. I thought I would stick to it while the interest was
hot--and I am mighty glad I did. A week from now it will be frozen--then
revising would be drudgery. (You see I learned something from the fatal
blunder of putting "Ah Sin" aside before it was finished.)
She's all right, now. She reads in two hours and 20 minutes and will
play not longer than 2 3/4 hours. Nineteen characters; 3 acts; (I
bunched 2 into 1.)
Tomorrow I will draw up an exhaustive synopsis to insert in the printed
title-page for copyrighting, and then on Friday or Saturday I go to New
York to remain a week or ten days and lay for an actor. Wish you could
run down there and have a holiday. 'Twould be fun.
My wife won't have "Balaam's Ass"; therefore I call the piece "Cap'n
Simon Wheeler, The Amateur Detective."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 29, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Just got your letter last night. No, dern that
article,--[One of the Bermuda chapters.]--it made me cry when I read it
in proof, it was so oppressively and ostentatiously poor. Skim your eye
over it again and you will think as I do. If Isaac and the prophets of
Baal can be doctored gently and made permissible, it will redeem the
thing: but if it can't, let's burn all of the articles except the tail-
end of it and use that as an introduction to the next article--as I
suggested in my letter to you of day before yesterday. (I had this proof
from Cambridge before yours came.)
Boucicault says my new play is ever so much better than "Ah Sin;" says
the Amateur detective is a bully character, too. An actor is chawing
over the play in New York, to see if the old Detective is suited to his
abilities. Haven't heard from him yet.
If you've got that paragraph by you yet, and if in your judgment it would
be good to publish it, and if you absolutely would not mind doing it,
then I think I'd like to have you do it--or else put some other words in
my mouth that will be properer, and publish them. But mind, don't think
of it for a moment if it is distasteful--and doubtless it is. I value
your judgment more than my own, as to the wisdom of saying anything at
all in this matter. To say nothing leaves me in an injurious position--
and yet maybe I might do better to speak to the men themselves when I go
to New York. This was my latest idea, and it looked wise.
We expect to leave here for home Sept. 4, reaching there the 8th--but we
may be delayed a week.
Curious thing. I read passages from my play, and a full synopsis, to
Boucicault, who was re-writing a play, which he wrote and laid aside 3 or
4 years ago. (My detective is about that age, you know.) Then he read a
passage from his play, where a real detective does some things that are
as idiotic as some of my old Wheeler's performances. Showed me the
passages, and behold, his man's name is Wheeler! However, his Wheeler
is not a prominent character, so we'll not alter the names. My Wheeler's
name is taken from the old jumping Frog sketch.
I am re-reading Ticknor's diary, and am charmed with it, though I still
say he refers to too many good things when he could just as well have
told them. Think of the man traveling 8 days in convoy and familiar
intercourse with a band of outlaws through the mountain fastnesses of
Spain--he the fourth stranger they had encountered in thirty years--and
compressing this priceless experience into a single colorless paragraph
of his diary! They spun yarns to this unworthy devil, too.
I wrote you a very long letter a day or two ago, but Susy Crane wanted to
make a copy of it to keep, so it has not gone yet. It may go today,
We unite in warm regards to you and yours.
The Ticknor referred to in a former letter was Professor George
Ticknor, of Harvard College, a history-writer of distinction. On
the margin of the "Diary" Mark Twain once wrote, "Ticknor is a
Millet, who makes all men fall in love with him." And adds: "Millet
was the cause of lovable qualities in people, and then he admired
and loved those persons for the very qualities which he (without
knowing it) had created in them. Perhaps it would be strictly truer
of these two men to say that they bore within them the divine
something in whose presence the evil in people fled away and hid
itself, while all that was good in them came spontaneously forward
out of the forgotten walls and comers in their systems where it was
accustomed to hide."
It is Frank Millet, the artist, he is speaking of--a knightly soul
whom all the Clemens household loved, and who would one day meet his
knightly end with those other brave men that found death together
when the Titanic went down.
The Clemens family was still at Quarry Farm at the end of August,
and one afternoon there occurred a startling incident which Mark
Twain thought worth setting down in practically duplicate letters to
Howells and to Dr. John Brown. It may be of interest to the reader
to know that John T. Lewis, the colored man mentioned, lived to a
good old age--a pensioner of the Clemens family and, in the course
of time, of H. H. Rogers. Howells's letter follows. It is the
"very long letter" referred to in the foregoing.
To W. D. Howells and wife, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 25 '77.
MY DEAR HOWELLSES,--I thought I ought to make a sort of record of it for
further reference; the pleasantest way to do that would be to write it to
somebody; but that somebody would let it leak into print and that we wish
to avoid. The Howellses would be safe--so let us tell the Howellses
Day before yesterday was a fine summer day away up here on the summit.
Aunt Marsh and Cousin May Marsh were here visiting Susie Crane and Livy
at our farmhouse. By and by mother Langdon came up the hill in the "high
carriage" with Nora the nurse and little Jervis (Charley Langdon's little
boy)--Timothy the coachman driving. Behind these came Charley's wife and
little girl in the buggy, with the new, young, spry, gray horse--a high-
stepper. Theodore Crane arrived a little later.
The Bay and Susy were on hand with their nurse, Rosa. I was on hand,
too. Susy Crane's trio of colored servants ditto--these being Josie,
house-maid; Aunty Cord, cook, aged 62, turbaned, very tall, very broad,
very fine every way (see her portrait in "A True Story just as I Heard
It" in my Sketches;) Chocklate (the laundress) (as the Bay calls her--she
can't say Charlotte,) still taller, still more majestic of proportions,
turbaned, very black, straight as an Indian--age 24. Then there was the
farmer's wife (colored) and her little girl, Susy.
Wasn't it a good audience to get up an excitement before? Good
excitable, inflammable material?
Lewis was still down town, three miles away, with his two-horse wagon,
to get a load of manure. Lewis is the farmer (colored). He is of mighty
frame and muscle, stocky, stooping, ungainly, has a good manly face and a
clear eye. Age about 45--and the most picturesque of men, when he sits
in his fluttering work-day rags, humped forward into a bunch, with his
aged slouch hat mashed down over his ears and neck. It is a spectacle to
make the broken-hearted smile. Lewis has worked mighty hard and remained
mighty poor. At the end of each whole year's toil he can't show a gain
of fifty dollars. He had borrowed money of the Cranes till he owed them
$700 and he being conscientious and honest, imagine what it was to him to
have to carry this stubborn, helpless load year in and year out.
Well, sunset came, and Ida the young and comely (Charley Langdon's wife)
and her little Julia and the nurse Nora, drove out at the gate behind the
new gray horse and started down the long hill--the high carriage
receiving its load under the porte cochere. Ida was seen to turn her
face toward us across the fence and intervening lawn--Theodore waved
good-bye to her, for he did not know that her sign was a speechless
appeal for help.
The next moment Livy said, "Ida's driving too fast down hill!" She
followed it with a sort of scream, "Her horse is running away!"
We could see two hundred yards down that descent. The buggy seemed to
fly. It would strike obstructions and apparently spring the height of a
man from the ground.
Theodore and I left the shrieking crowd behind and ran down the hill
bare-headed and shouting. A neighbor appeared at his gate--a tenth of a
second too late! the buggy vanished past him like a thought. My last
glimpse showed it for one instant, far down the descent, springing high
in the air out of a cloud of dust, and then it disappeared. As I flew
down the road my impulse was to shut my eyes as I turned them to the
right or left, and so delay for a moment the ghastly spectacle of
mutilation and death I was expecting.
I ran on and on, still spared this spectacle, but saying to myself:
"I shall see it at the turn of the road; they never can pass that turn
alive." When I came in sight of that turn I saw two wagons there bunched
together--one of them full of people. I said, "Just so--they are staring
petrified at the remains."
But when I got amongst that bunch, there sat Ida in her buggy and nobody
hurt, not even the horse or the vehicle. Ida was pale but serene. As I
came tearing down, she smiled back over her shoulder at me and said,
"Well, we're alive yet, aren't we?" A miracle had been performed--
You see Lewis, the prodigious, humped upon his front seat, had been
toiling up, on his load of manure; he saw the frantic horse plunging down
the hill toward him, on a full gallop, throwing his heels as high as a
man's head at every jump. So Lewis turned his team diagonally across the
road just at the "turn," thus making a V with the fence--the running
horse could not escape that, but must enter it. Then Lewis sprang to the
ground and stood in this V. He gathered his vast strength, and with a
perfect Creedmoor aim he seized the gray horse's bit as he plunged by and
fetched him up standing!
It was down hill, mind you. Ten feet further down hill neither Lewis nor
any other man could have saved them, for they would have been on the
abrupt "turn," then. But how this miracle was ever accomplished at all,
by human strength, generalship and accuracy, is clean beyond my
comprehension--and grows more so the more I go and examine the ground and
try to believe it was actually done. I know one thing, well; if Lewis
had missed his aim he would have been killed on the spot in the trap he
had made for himself, and we should have found the rest of the remains
away down at the bottom of the steep ravine.
Ten minutes later Theodore and I arrived opposite the house, with the
servants straggling after us, and shouted to the distracted group on the
porch, "Everybody safe!"
Believe it? Why how could they? They knew the road perfectly. We might
as well have said it to people who had seen their friends go over
However, we convinced them; and then, instead of saying something, or
going on crying, they grew very still--words could not express it, I
Nobody could do anything that night, or sleep, either; but there was a
deal of moving talk, with long pauses between pictures of that flying
carriage, these pauses represented--this picture intruded itself all the
time and disjointed the talk.
But yesterday evening late, when Lewis arrived from down town he found
his supper spread, and some presents of books there, with very
complimentary writings on the fly-leaves, and certain very complimentary
letters, and more or less greenbacks of dignified denomination pinned to
these letters and fly-leaves,--and one said, among other things, (signed
by the Cranes) "We cancel $400 of your indebtedness to us," &c. &c.
(The end thereof is not yet, of course, for Charley Langdon is West and
will arrive ignorant of all these things, today.)
The supper-room had been kept locked and imposingly secret and mysterious
until Lewis should arrive; but around that part of the house were
gathered Lewis's wife and child, Chocklate, Josie, Aunty Cord and our
Rosa, canvassing things and waiting impatiently. They were all on hand
when the curtain rose.
Now, Aunty Cord is a violent Methodist and Lewis an implacable Dunker--
Baptist. Those two are inveterate religious disputants. The revealments
having been made Aunty Cord said with effusion--
"Now, let folks go on saying there ain't no God! Lewis, the Lord sent
you there to stop that horse."
"Then who sent the horse there in sich a shape?"
But I want to call your attention to one thing. When Lewis arrived the
other evening, after saving those lives by a feat which I think is the
most marvelous of any I can call to mind--when he arrived, hunched up on
his manure wagon and as grotesquely picturesque as usual, everybody
wanted to go and see how he looked. They came back and said he was
beautiful. It was so, too--and yet he would have photographed exactly as
he would have done any day these past 7 years that he has occupied this
P. S. Our little romance in real life is happily and satisfactorily
completed. Charley has come, listened, acted--and now John T. Lewis has
ceased to consider himself as belonging to that class called "the poor."
It has been known, during some years, that it was Lewis's purpose to buy
a thirty dollar silver watch some day, if he ever got where he could
afford it. Today Ida has given him a new, sumptuous gold Swiss stem-
winding stop-watch; and if any scoffer shall say, "Behold this thing is
out of character," there is an inscription within, which will silence
him; for it will teach him that this wearer aggrandizes the watch, not
the watch the wearer.
I was asked beforehand, if this would be a wise gift, and I said "Yes,
the very wisest of all;" I know the colored race, and I know that in
Lewis's eyes this fine toy will throw the other more valuable
testimonials far away into the shade. If he lived in England the Humane
Society would give him a gold medal as costly as this watch, and nobody
would say: "It is out of character." If Lewis chose to wear a town
clock, who would become it better?
Lewis has sound common sense, and is not going to be spoiled. The
instant he found himself possessed of money, he forgot himself in a plan
to make his old father comfortable, who is wretchedly poor and lives down
in Maryland. His next act, on the spot, was the proffer to the Cranes of
the $300 of his remaining indebtedness to them. This was put off by them
to the indefinite future, for he is not going to be allowed to pay that
at all, though he doesn't know it.
A letter of acknowledgment from Lewis contains a sentence which raises it
to the dignity of literature:
"But I beg to say, humbly, that inasmuch as divine providence saw fit to
use me as a instrument for the saving of those presshious lives, the
honner conferd upon me was greater than the feat performed."
That is well said.
Howells was moved to use the story in the. "Contributors' Club,"
and warned Clemens against letting it get into the newspapers. He
declared he thought it one of the most impressive things he had ever
read. But Clemens seems never to have allowed it to be used in any
form. In its entirety, therefore, it is quite new matter.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Sept. 19, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I don't really see how the story of the runaway horse
could read well with the little details of names and places and things
left out. They are the true life of all narrative. It wouldn't quite
do to print them at this time. We'll talk about it when you come.
Delicacy--a sad, sad false delicacy--robs literature of the best two
things among its belongings. Family-circle narrative and obscene
stories. But no matter; in that better world which I trust we are all
going to I have the hope and belief that they will not be denied us.
Say--Twichell and I had an adventure at sea, 4 months ago, which I did
not put in my Bermuda articles, because there was not enough to it. But
the press dispatches bring the sequel today, and now there's plenty to
it. A sailless, wasteless, chartless, compassless, grubless old
condemned tub that has been drifting helpless about the ocean for 4
months and a half, begging bread and water like any other tramp, flying a
signal of distress permanently, and with 13 innocent, marveling
chuckleheaded Bermuda niggers on board, taking a Pleasure Excursion! Our
ship fed the poor devils on the 25th of last May, far out at sea and left
them to bullyrag their way to New York--and now they ain't as near New
York as they were then by 250 miles! They have drifted 750 miles and are
still drifting in the relentless Gulf Stream! What a delicious magazine
chapter it would make--but I had to deny myself. I had to come right out
in the papers at once, with my details, so as to try to raise the
government's sympathy sufficiently to have better succor sent them than
the cutter Colfax, which went a little way in search of them the other
day and then struck a fog and gave it up.
If the President were in Washington I would telegraph him.
When I hear that the "Jonas Smith" has been found again, I mean to send
for one of those darkies, to come to Hartford and give me his adventures
for an Atlantic article.
Likely you will see my today's article in the newspapers.
The revenue cutter Colfax went after the Jonas Smith, thinking there was
mutiny or other crime on board. It occurs to me now that, since there is
only mere suffering and misery and nobody to punish, it ceases to be a
matter which (a republican form of) government will feel authorized to
interfere in further. Dam a republican form of government.
Clemens thought he had given up lecturing for good; he was
prosperous and he had no love for the platform. But one day an idea
popped into his head: Thomas Nast, the "father of the American
cartoon," had delivered a successful series of illustrated lectures-
talks for which he made the drawings as he went along. Mark Twain's
idea was to make a combination with Nast. His letter gives us the
plan in full.
To Thomas Nast, Morristown, N. J.:
HARTFORD, CONN. 1877.
MY DEAR NAST,--I did not think I should ever stand on a platform again
until the time was come for me to say "I die innocent." But the same old
offers keep arriving. I have declined them all, just as usual, though
sorely tempted, as usual.
Now, I do not decline because I mind talking to an audience, but because
(1) traveling alone is so heartbreakingly dreary, and (2) shouldering the
whole show is such a cheer-killing responsibility.
Therefore, I now propose to you what you proposed to me in 1867, ten
years ago (when I was unknown) viz., that you stand on the platform and
make pictures, and I stand by you and blackguard the audience. I should
enormously enjoy meandering around (to big towns--don't want to go to the
little ones) with you for company.
My idea is not to fatten the lecture agents and lyceums on the spoils,
but put all the ducats religiously into two equal piles, and say to the
artist and lecturer, "Absorb these."
For instance--[Here follows a plan and a possible list of cities to be
visited. The letter continues]
Call the gross receipts $100,000 for four months and a half, and the
profit from $60,000 to $75,000 (I try to make the figures large enough,
and leave it to the public to reduce them.)
I did not put in Philadelphia because Pugh owns that town, and last
winter when I made a little reading-trip he only paid me $300 and
pretended his concert (I read fifteen minutes in the midst of a concert)
cost him a vast sum, and so he couldn't afford any more. I could get up
a better concert with a barrel of cats.
I have imagined two or three pictures and concocted the accompanying
remarks to see how the thing would go. I was charmed.
Well, you think it over, Nast, and drop me a line. We should have some
SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.
The plan came to nothing. Nast, like Clemens, had no special taste
for platforming, and while undoubtedly there would have been large
profits in the combination, the promise of the venture did not
compel his acceptance.
In spite of his distaste for the platform Mark Twain was always
giving readings and lectures, without charge, for some worthy
Hartford cause. He was ready to do what he could to help an
entertainment along, if he could do it in his own way--an original
way, sometimes, and not always gratifying to the committee, whose
plans were likely to be prearranged.
For one thing, Clemens, supersensitive in the matter of putting
himself forward in his own town, often objected to any special
exploitation of his name. This always distressed the committee, who
saw a large profit to their venture in the prestige of his fame.
The following characteristic letter was written in self-defense
when, on one such occasion, a committee had become sufficiently
peevish to abandon a worthy enterprise.
To an Entertainment Committee, in Hartford:
E. S. SYKES, Esq:
Dr. SIR,--Mr. Burton's note puts upon me all the blame of the destruction
of an enterprise which had for its object the succor of the Hartford
poor. That is to say, this enterprise has been dropped because of the
"dissatisfaction with Mr. Clemens's stipulations." Therefore I must be
allowed to say a word in my defense.
There were two "stipulations"--exactly two. I made one of them; if the
other was made at all, it was a joint one, from the choir and me.
My individual stipulation was, that my name should be kept out of the
newspapers. The joint one was that sufficient tickets to insure a good
sum should be sold before the date of the performance should be set.
(Understand, we wanted a good sum--I do not think any of us bothered
about a good house; it was money we were after)
Now you perceive that my concern is simply with my individual
stipulation. Did that break up the enterprise?
Eugene Burton said he would sell $300 worth of the tickets himself.--Mr.
Smith said he would sell $200 or $300 worth himself. My plan for Asylum
Hill Church would have ensured $150 from that quarter.--All this in the
face of my "Stipulation." It was proposed to raise $1000; did my
stipulation render the raising of $400 or $500 in a dozen churches
My stipulation is easily defensible. When a mere reader or lecturer has
appeared 3 or 4 times in a town of Hartford's size, he is a good deal
more than likely to get a very unpleasant snub if he shoves himself
forward about once or twice more. Therefore I long ago made up my mind
that whenever I again appeared here, it should be only in a minor
capacity and not as a chief attraction.
Now, I placed that harmless and very justifiable stipulation before the
committee the other day; they carried it to headquarters and it was
accepted there. I am not informed that any objection was made to it, or
that it was regarded as an offense. It seems late in the day, now, after
a good deal of trouble has been taken and a good deal of thankless work
done by the committees, to, suddenly tear up the contract and then turn
and bowl me down from long range as being the destroyer of it.
If the enterprise has failed because of my individual stipulation, here
you have my proper and reasonable reasons for making that stipulation.
If it has failed because of the joint stipulation, put the blame there,
and let us share it collectively.
I think our plan was a good one. I do not doubt that Mr. Burton still
approves of it, too. I believe the objections come from other quarters,
and not from him. Mr. Twichell used the following words in last Sunday's
sermon, (if I remember correctly):
"My hearers, the prophet Deuteronomy says this wise thing: 'Though ye
plan a goodly house for the poor, and plan it with wisdom, and do take
off your coats and set to to build it, with high courage, yet shall the
croaker presently come, and lift up his voice, (having his coat on,) and
say, Verily this plan is not well planned--and he will go his way; and
the obstructionist will come, and lift up his voice, (having his coat
on,) and say, Behold, this is but a sick plan--and he will go his way;
and the man that knows it all will come, and lift up his voice, (having
his coat on,) and say, Lo, call they this a plan? then will he go his
way; and the places which knew him once shall know him no more forever,
because he was not, for God took him. Now therefore I say unto you,
Verily that house will not be budded. And I say this also: He that
waiteth for all men to be satisfied with his plan, let him seek eternal
life, for he shall need it.'"
This portion of Mr. Twichell's sermon made a great impression upon me,
and I was grieved that some one had not wakened me earlier so that I
might have heard what went before.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Mr. Sykes (of the firm of Sykes & Newton, the Allen House Pharmacy)
replied that he had read the letter to the committee and that it had
set those gentlemen right who had not before understood the
situation. "If others were as ready to do their part as yourself
our poor would not want assistance," he said, in closing.
We come now to an incident which assumes the proportions of an
episode-even of a catastrophe--in Mark Twain's career. The disaster
was due to a condition noted a few pages earlier--the inability of
genius to judge its own efforts. The story has now become history--
printed history--it having been sympathetically told by Howells in
My Mark Twain, and more exhaustively, with a report of the speech
that invited the lightning, in a former work by the present writer.
The speech was made at John Greenleaf Whittier's seventieth birthday
dinner, given by the Atlantic staff on the evening of December 17,
1877. It was intended as a huge joke--a joke that would shake the
sides of these venerable Boston deities, Longfellow, Emerson,
Holmes, and the rest of that venerated group. Clemens had been a
favorite at the Atlantic lunches and dinners--a speech by him always
an event. This time he decided to outdo himself.
He did that, but not in the way he had intended. To use one of his
own metaphors, he stepped out to meet the rainbow and got struck by
lightning. His joke was not of the Boston kind or size. When its
full nature burst upon the company--when the ears of the assembled
diners heard the sacred names of Longfellow, Emerson, and Holmes
lightly associated with human aspects removed--oh, very far removed
--from Cambridge and Concord, a chill fell upon the diners that
presently became amazement, and then creeping paralysis. Nobody
knew afterward whether the great speech that he had so gaily planned
ever came to a natural end or not. Somebody--the next on the
program--attempted to follow him, but presently the company melted
out of the doors and crept away into the night.
It seemed to Mark Twain that his career had come to an end. Back in
Hartford, sweating and suffering through sleepless nights, he wrote
Howells his anguish.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sunday Night. 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--My sense of disgrace does not abate. It grows. I see
that it is going to add itself to my list of permanencies--a list of
humiliations that extends back to when I was seven years old, and which
keep on persecuting me regardless of my repentancies.
I feel that my misfortune has injured me all over the country; therefore
it will be best that I retire from before the public at present. It will
hurt the Atlantic for me to appear in its pages, now. So it is my
opinion and my wife's that the telephone story had better be suppressed.
Will you return those proofs or revises to me, so that I can use the same
on some future occasion?
It seems as if I must have been insane when I wrote that speech and saw
no harm in it, no disrespect toward those men whom I reverenced so much.
And what shame I brought upon you, after what you said in introducing me!
It burns me like fire to think of it.
The whole matter is a dreadful subject--let me drop it here--at least on
Howells sent back a comforting letter. "I have no idea of dropping
you out of the Atlantic," he wrote; "and Mr. Houghton has still
less, if possible. You are going to help and not hurt us many a
year yet, if you will.... You are not going to be floored by it;
there is more justice than that, even in this world."
Howells added that Charles Elliot Norton had expressed just the
right feeling concerning the whole affair, and that many who had not
heard the speech, but read the newspaper reports of it, had found it
Clemens wrote contrite letters to Holmes, Emerson, and Longfellow,
and received most gracious acknowledgments. Emerson, indeed, had
not heard the speech: His faculties were already blurred by the
mental mists that would eventually shut him in. Clemens wrote again
to Howells, this time with less anguish.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Friday, 1877.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Your letter was a godsend; and perhaps the welcomest
part of it was your consent that I write to those gentlemen; for you
discouraged my hints in that direction that morning in Boston--rightly,
too, for my offense was yet too new, then. Warner has tried to hold up
our hands like the good fellow he is, but poor Twichell could not say a
word, and confessed that he would rather take nearly any punishment than
face Livy and me. He hasn't been here since.
It is curious, but I pitched early upon Mr. Norton as the very man who
would think some generous thing about that matter, whether he said it or
not. It is splendid to be a man like that--but it is given to few to be.
I wrote a letter yesterday, and sent a copy to each of the three. I
wanted to send a copy to Mr. Whittier also, since the offense was done
also against him, being committed in his presence and he the guest of the
occasion, besides holding the well-nigh sacred place he does in his
people's estimation; but I didn't know whether to venture or not, and so
ended by doing nothing. It seemed an intrusion to approach him, and even
Livy seemed to have her doubts as to the best and properest way to do in
the case. I do not reverence Mr. Emerson less, but somehow I could
approach him easier.
Send me those proofs, if you have got them handy; I want to submit them
to Wylie; he won't show them to anybody.
Had a very pleasant and considerate letter from Mr. Houghton, today, and
was very glad to receive it.
You can't imagine how brilliant and beautiful that new brass fender is,
and how perfectly naturally it takes its place under the carved oak. How
they did scour it up before they sent it! I lied a good deal about it
when I came home--so for once I kept a secret and surprised Livy on a
I haven't done a stroke of work since the Atlantic dinner; have only
moped around. But I'm going to try tomorrow. How could I ever have.
Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God's fool, and
all His works must be contemplated with respect.
Livy and I join in the warmest regards to you and yours,
Longfellow, in his reply, said: "I do not believe anybody was much hurt.
Certainly I was not, and Holmes tells me he was not. So I think you may
dismiss the matter from your mind without further remorse."
Holmes wrote: "It never occurred to me for a moment to take offense, or
feel wounded by your playful use of my name."
Miss Ellen Emerson replied for her father (in a letter to Mrs. Clemens)
that the speech had made no impression upon him, giving at considerable
length the impression it had made on herself and other members of the
Clearly, it was not the principals who were hurt, but only those who
held them in awe, though one can realize that this would not make it
much easier for Mark Twain.
LETTERS FROM EUROPE, 1878-79. TRAMPING WITH TWICHELL. WRITING A NEW
TRAVEL BOOK. LIFE IN MUNICH
Whether the unhappy occurrence at the Whittier dinner had anything
to do with Mark Twain's resolve to spend a year or two in Europe
cannot be known now. There were other good reasons for going, one
in particular being a demand for another book of travel. It was
also true, as he explains in a letter to his mother, that his days
were full of annoyances, making it difficult for him to work. He
had a tendency to invest money in almost any glittering enterprise
that came along, and at this time he was involved in the promotion
of a variety of patent rights that brought him no return other than
assessment and vexation.
Clemens's mother was by this time living with her son Onion and his
wife, in Iowa.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa:
HARTFORD, Feb. 17, 1878
MY DEAR MOTHER,--I suppose I am the worst correspondent in the whole
world; and yet I grow worse and worse all the time. My conscience
blisters me for not writing you, but it has ceased to abuse me for not
writing other folks.
Life has come to be a very serious matter with me. I have a badgered,
harassed feeling, a good part of my time. It comes mainly of business
responsibilities and annoyances, and the persecution of kindly letters
from well meaning strangers--to whom I must be rudely silent or else put
in the biggest half of my time bothering over answers. There are other
things also that help to consume my time and defeat my projects. Well,
the consequence is, I cannot write a book at home. This cuts my income
down. Therefore, I have about made up my mind to take my tribe and fly
to some little corner of Europe and budge no more until I shall have
completed one of the half dozen books that lie begun, up stairs. Please
say nothing about this at present.
We propose to sail the 11th of April. I shall go to Fredonia to meet
you, but it will not be well for Livy to make that trip I am afraid.
However, we shall see. I will hope she can go.
Mr. Twichell has just come in, so I must go to him. We are all well, and
send love to you all.
He was writing few letters at this time, and doing but little work.
There were always many social events during the winter, and what
with his European plans and a diligent study of the German language,
which the entire family undertook, his days and evenings were full
enough. Howells wrote protesting against the European travel and
berating him for his silence:
"I never was in Berlin and don't know any family hotel there.
I should be glad I didn't, if it would keep you from going. You
deserve to put up at the Sign of the Savage in Vienna. Really, it's
a great blow to me to hear of that prospected sojourn. It's a
shame. I must see you, somehow, before you go. I'm in dreadfully
low spirits about it.
"I was afraid your silence meant something wicked."
Clemens replied promptly, urging a visit to Hartford, adding a
postscript for Mrs. Howells, characteristic enough to warrant
P. S. to Mrs. Howells, in Boston:
DEAR MRS. HOWELLS. Mrs. Clemens wrote you a letter, and handed it to me
half an hour ago, while I was folding mine to Mr. Howells. I laid that
letter on this table before me while I added the paragraph about R,'s
application. Since then I have been hunting and swearing, and swearing
and hunting, but I can't find a sign of that letter. It is the most
astonishing disappearance I ever heard of. Mrs. Clemens has gone off
driving--so I will have to try and give you an idea of her communication
from memory. Mainly it consisted of an urgent desire that you come to
see us next week, if you can possibly manage it, for that will be a
reposeful time, the turmoil of breaking up beginning the week after. She
wants you to tell her about Italy, and advise her in that connection, if
you will. Then she spoke of her plans--hers, mind you, for I never have
anything quite so definite as a plan. She proposes to stop a fortnight
in (confound the place, I've forgotten what it was,) then go and live in
Dresden till sometime in the summer; then retire to Switzerland for the
hottest season, then stay a while in Venice and put in the winter in
Munich. This program subject to modifications according to
circumstances. She said something about some little by-trips here and
there, but they didn't stick in my memory because the idea didn't charm
(They have just telephoned me from the Courant office that Bayard Taylor
and family have taken rooms in our ship, the Holsatia, for the 11th
Do come, if you possibly can!--and remember and don't forget to avoid
letting Mrs. Clemens find out I lost her letter. Just answer her the
same as if you had got it.
S. L. CLEMENS.
The Howellses came, as invited, for a final reunion before the
breaking up. This was in the early half of March; the Clemenses
were to sail on the 11th of the following month.
Orion Clemens, meantime, had conceived a new literary idea and was
piling in his MS. as fast as possible to get his brother's judgment
on it before the sailing-date. It was not a very good time to send
MS., but Mark Twain seems to have read it and given it some
consideration. "The Journey in Heaven," of his own, which he
mentions, was the story published so many years later under the
title of "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven." He had began it in
1868, on his voyage to San Francisco, it having been suggested by
conversations with Capt. Ned Wakeman, of one of the Pacific
steamers. Wakeman also appears in 'Roughing It,' Chap. L, as Capt.
Ned Blakely, and again in one of the "Rambling Notes of an Idle
Excursion," as "Captain Hurricane Jones."
To Orion Clemens, in Keokuk:
HARTFORD, Mch. 23, 1878.
MY DEAR BRO.,--Every man must learn his trade--not pick it up. God
requires that he learn it by slow and painful processes. The apprentice-
hand, in black-smithing, in medicine, in literature, in everything, is a
thing that can't be hidden. It always shows.
But happily there is a market for apprentice work, else the "Innocents
Abroad" would have had no sale. Happily, too, there's a wider market for
some sorts of apprentice literature than there is for the very best of
journey-work. This work of yours is exceedingly crude, but I am free to
say it is less crude than I expected it to be, and considerably better
work than I believed you could do, it is too crude to offer to any
prominent periodical, so I shall speak to the N. Y. Weekly people. To
publish it there will be to bury it. Why could not same good genius have
sent me to the N. Y. Weekly with my apprentice sketches?
You should not publish it in book form at all--for this reason: it is
only an imitation of Verne--it is not a burlesque. But I think it may be
regarded as proof that Verne cannot be burlesqued.
In accompanying notes I have suggested that you vastly modify the first
visit to hell, and leave out the second visit altogether. Nobody would,
or ought to print those things. You are not advanced enough in
literature to venture upon a matter requiring so much practice. Let me
show you what a man has got to go through:
Nine years ago I mapped out my "Journey in Heaven." I discussed it with
literary friends whom I could trust to keep it to themselves.
I gave it a deal of thought, from time to time. After a year or more I
wrote it up. It was not a success. Five years ago I wrote it again,
altering the plan. That MS is at my elbow now. It was a considerable
improvement on the first attempt, but still it wouldn't do--last year and
year before I talked frequently with Howells about the subject, and he
kept urging me to do it again.
So I thought and thought, at odd moments and at last I struck what I
considered to be the right plan! Mind I have never altered the ideas,
from the first--the plan was the difficulty. When Howells was here last,
I laid before him the whole story without referring to my MS and he said:
"You have got it sure this time. But drop the idea of making mere
magazine stuff of it. Don't waste it. Print it by itself--publish it
first in England--ask Dean Stanley to endorse it, which will draw some of
the teeth of the religious press, and then reprint in America." I doubt
my ability to get Dean Stanley to do anything of the sort, but I shall do
the rest--and this is all a secret which you must not divulge.
Now look here--I have tried, all these years, to think of some way of
"doing" hell too--and have always had to give it up. Hell, in my book,
will not occupy five pages of MS I judge--it will be only covert hints,
I suppose, and quickly dropped, I may end by not even referring to it.
And mind you, in my opinion you will find that you can't write up hell so
it will stand printing. Neither Howells nor I believe in hell or the
divinity of the Savior, but no matter, the Savior is none the less a
sacred Personage, and a man should have no desire or disposition to refer
to him lightly, profanely, or otherwise than with the profoundest
The only safe thing is not to introduce him, or refer to him at all,
I suspect. I have entirely rewritten one book 3 (perhaps 4.) times,
changing the plan every time--1200 pages of MS. wasted and burned--and
shall tackle it again, one of these years and maybe succeed at last.
Therefore you need not expect to get your book right the first time.
Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and
lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are
God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases
to get under the bed, by and by.
Mr. Perkins will send you and Ma your checks when we are gone. But don't
write him, ever, except a single line in case he forgets the checks--for
the man is driven to death with work.
I see you are half promising yourself a monthly return for your book.
In my experience, previously counted chickens never do hatch. How many
of mine I have counted! and never a one of them but failed! It is much
better to hedge disappointment by not counting.--Unexpected money is a
delight. The same sum is a bitterness when you expected more.
My time in America is growing mighty short. Perhaps we can manage in
this way: Imprimis, if the N. Y. Weekly people know that you are my
brother, they will turn that fact into an advertisement--a thing of value
to them, but not to you and me. This must be prevented. I will write
them a note to say you have a friend near Keokuk, Charles S. Miller,
who has a MS for sale which you think is a pretty clever travesty on
Verne; and if they want it they might write to him in your care. Then if
any correspondence ensues between you and them, let Mollie write for you
and sign your name--your own hand writing representing Miller's. Keep
yourself out of sight till you make a strike on your own merits there is
no other way to get a fair verdict upon your merits.
Later-I've written the note to Smith, and with nothing in it which he can
use as an advertisement. I'm called--Good bye-love to you both.
We leave here next Wednesday for Elmira: we leave there Apl. 9 or 10--and
In the letter that follows the mention of Annie and Sam refers, of
course, to the children of Mrs. Moffett, who had been, Pamela
Clemens. They were grown now, and Annie Moffett was married to
Charles L. Webster, who later was to become Mark Twain's business
partner. The Moffetts and Websters were living in Fredonia at this
time, and Clemens had been to pay them a good-by visit. The Taylor
dinner mentioned was a farewell banquet given to Bayard Taylor, who
had been appointed Minister to Germany, and was to sail on the ship
with Mark Twain. Mark Twain's mother was visiting in Fredonia when
this letter was written.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens, in Fredonia:
Apr. 7, '78.
MY DEAR MOTHER,--I have told Livy all about Annie's beautiful house, and
about Sam and Charley, and about Charley's ingenious manufactures and his
strong manhood and good promise, and how glad I am that he and Annie
married. And I have told her about Annie's excellent house-keeping, also
about the great Bacon conflict; (I told you it was a hundred to one that
neither Livy nor the European powers had heard of that desolating
And I have told her how beautiful you are in your age and how bright your
mind is with its old-time brightness, and how she and the children would
enjoy you. And I have told her how singularly young Pamela is looking,
and what a fine large fellow Sam is, and how ill the lingering syllable
"my" to his name fits his port and figure.
Well, Pamela, after thinking it over for a day or so, I came near
inquiring about a state-room in our ship for Sam, to please you, but my
wiser former resolution came back to me. It is not for his good that he
have friends in the ship. His conduct in the Bacon business shows that
he will develop rapidly into a manly man as soon as he is cast loose from
your apron strings.
You don't teach him to push ahead and do and dare things for himself, but
you do just the reverse. You are assisted in your damaging work by the
tyrannous ways of a village--villagers watch each other and so make
cowards of each other. After Sam shall have voyaged to Europe by
himself, and rubbed against the world and taken and returned its cuffs,
do you think he will hesitate to escort a guest into any whisky-mill in
Fredonia when he himself has no sinful business to transact there?
No, he will smile at the idea. If he avoids this courtesy now from
principle, of course I find no fault with it at all--only if he thinks it
is principle he may be mistaken; a close examination may show it is only
a bowing to the tyranny of public opinion.
I only say it may--I cannot venture to say it will. Hartford is not a
large place, but it is broader than to have ways of that sort. Three or
four weeks ago, at a Moody and Sankey meeting, the preacher read a letter
from somebody "exposing" the fact that a prominent clergyman had gone
from one of those meetings, bought a bottle of lager beer and drank it on
the premises (a drug store.)
A tempest of indignation swept the town. Our clergymen and everybody
else said the "culprit" had not only done an innocent thing, but had done
it in an open, manly way, and it was nobody's right or business to find
fault with it. Perhaps this dangerous latitude comes of the fact that we
never have any temperance "rot" going on in Hartford.
I find here a letter from Orion, submitting some new matter in his story
for criticism. When you write him, please tell him to do the best he can
and bang away. I can do nothing further in this matter, for I have but 3
days left in which to settle a deal of important business and answer a
bushel and a half of letters. I am very nearly tired to death.
I was so jaded and worn, at the Taylor dinner, that I found I could not
remember 3 sentences of the speech I had memorized, and therefore got up
and said so and excused myself from speaking. I arrived here at 3
o'clock this morning. I think the next 3 days will finish me. The idea
of sitting down to a job of literary criticism is simply ludicrous.
A young lady passenger in our ship has been placed under Livy's charge.
Livy couldn't easily get out of it, and did not want to, on her own
account, but fully expected I would make trouble when I heard of it.
But I didn't. A girl can't well travel alone, so I offered no objection.
She leaves us at Hamburg. So I've got 6 people in my care, now--which is
just 6 too many for a man of my unexecutive capacity. I expect nothing
else but to lose some of them overboard.
We send our loving good-byes to all the household and hope to see you
again after a spell.
There are no other American letters of this period. The Clemens
party, which included Miss Clara Spaulding, of Elmira, sailed as
planned, on the Holsatia, April 11, 1878. As before stated, Bayard
Taylor was on the ship; also Murat Halstead and family. On the eve
of departure, Clemens sent to Howells this farewell word:
"And that reminds me, ungrateful dog that I am, that I owe as much
to your training as the rude country job-printer owes to the city
boss who takes him in hand and teaches him the right way to handle
his art. I was talking to Mrs. Clemens about this the other day,
and grieving because I never mentioned it to you, thereby seeming to
ignore it, or to be unaware of it. Nothing that has passed under
your eye needs any revision before going into a volume, while all my
other stuff does need so much."
A characteristic tribute, and from the heart.
The first European letter came from Frankfort, a rest on their way
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
FRANKFORT ON THE MAIN, May 4, 1878.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I only propose to write a single line to say we are
still around. Ah, I have such a deep, grateful, unutterable sense of
being "out of it all." I think I foretaste some of the advantages of
being dead. Some of the joy of it. I don't read any newspapers or care
for them. When people tell me England has declared war, I drop the
subject, feeling that it is none of my business; when they tell me Mrs.
Tilton has confessed and Mr. B. denied, I say both of them have done that
before, therefore let the worn stub of the Plymouth white-wash brush be
brought out once more, and let the faithful spit on their hands and get
to work again regardless of me--for I am out of it all.
We had 2 almost devilish weeks at sea (and I tell you Bayard Taylor is a
really lovable man--which you already knew) then we staid a week in the
beautiful, the very beautiful city of Hamburg; and since then we have
been fooling along, 4 hours per day by rail, with a courier, spending the
other 20 in hotels whose enormous bedchambers and private parlors are an
overpowering marvel to me: Day before yesterday, in Cassel, we had a love
of a bedroom ,31 feet long, and a parlor with 2 sofas, 12 chairs, a
writing desk and 4 tables scattered around, here and there in it. Made
of red silk, too, by George.
The times and times I wish you were along! You could throw some fun into
the journey; whereas I go on, day by day, in a smileless state of solemn
What a paradise this is! What clean clothes, what good faces, what
tranquil contentment, what prosperity, what genuine freedom, what superb
government. And I am so happy, for I am responsible for none of it. I
am only here to enjoy. How charmed I am when I overhear a German word
which I understand. With love from us 2 to you 2.
P. S. We are not taking six days to go from Hamburg to Heidelberg
because we prefer it. Quite on the contrary. Mrs. Clemens picked up a
dreadful cold and sore throat on board ship and still keeps them in
stock--so she could only travel 4 hours a day. She wanted to dive
straight through, but I had different notions about the wisdom of it.
I found that 4 hours a day was the best she could do. Before I forget
it, our permanent address is Care Messrs. Koester & Co., Backers,
Heidelberg. We go there tomorrow.
Poor Susy! From the day we reached German soil, we have required Rosa to
speak German to the children--which they hate with all their souls. The
other morning in Hanover, Susy came to us (from Rosa, in the nursery) and
said, in halting syllables, "Papa, vie viel uhr ist es?"--then turned
with pathos in her big eyes, and said, "Mamma, I wish Rosa was made in
Frankfort was a brief halting-place, their destination being
Heidelberg. They were presently located there in the beautiful
Schloss hotel, which overlooks the old castle with its forest
setting, the flowing Neckar, and the distant valley of the Rhine.
Clemens, who had discovered the location, and loved it, toward the
end of May reported to Howells his felicities.
Part of letter to W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sunday, a. m., May 26, 1878.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--....divinely located. From this airy porch among the
shining groves we look down upon Heidelberg Castle, and upon the swift
Neckar, and the town, and out over the wide green level of the Rhine
valley--a marvelous prospect. We are in a Cul-de-sac formed of hill-
ranges and river; we are on the side of a steep mountain; the river at
our feet is walled, on its other side, (yes, on both sides,) by a steep
and wooded mountain-range which rises abruptly aloft from the water's
edge; portions of these mountains are densely wooded; the plain of the
Rhine, seen through the mouth of this pocket, has many and peculiar
charms for the eye.
Our bedroom has two great glass bird-cages (enclosed balconies) one
looking toward the Rhine valley and sunset, the other looking up the
Neckar cul-de-sac, and naturally we spend nearly all our time in these-
when one is sunny the other is shady. We have tables and chairs in them;
we do our reading, writing, studying, smoking and suppering in them.
The view from these bird-cages is my despair. The pictures change from
one enchanting aspect to another in ceaseless procession, never keeping
one form half an hour, and never taking on an unlovely one.
And then Heidelberg on a dark night! It is massed, away down there,
almost right under us, you know, and stretches off toward the valley.
Its curved and interlacing streets are a cobweb, beaded thick with
lights--a wonderful thing to see; then the rows of lights on the arched
bridges, and their glinting reflections in the water; and away at the far
end, the Eisenbahnhof, with its twenty solid acres of glittering gas-
jets, a huge garden, as one may say, whose every plant is a flame.
These balconies are the darlingest things. I have spent all the morning
in this north one. Counting big and little, it has 256 panes of glass in
it; so one is in effect right out in the free sunshine, and yet sheltered
from wind and rain--and likewise doored and curtained from whatever may
be going on in the bedroom. It must have been a noble genius who devised
this hotel. Lord, how blessed is the repose, the tranquillity of this
place! Only two sounds; the happy clamor of the birds in the groves, and
the muffled music of the Neckar, tumbling over the opposing dykes. It is
no hardship to lie awake awhile, nights, for this subdued roar has
exactly the sound of a steady rain beating upon a roof. It is so healing
to the spirit; and it bears up the thread of one's imaginings as the
accompaniment bears up a song.
While Livy and Miss Spaulding have been writing at this table, I have sat
tilted back, near by, with a pipe and the last Atlantic, and read Charley
Warner's article with prodigious enjoyment. I think it is exquisite.
I think it must be the roundest and broadest and completest short essay
he has ever written. It is clear, and compact, and charmingly done.
The hotel grounds join and communicate with the Castle grounds; so we and
the children loaf in the winding paths of those leafy vastnesses a great
deal, and drink beer and listen to excellent music.
When we first came to this hotel, a couple of weeks ago, I pointed to a
house across the river, and said I meant to rent the centre room on the
3d floor for a work-room. Jokingly we got to speaking of it as my
office; and amused ourselves with watching "my people" daily in their
small grounds and trying to make out what we could of their dress, &c.,
without a glass. Well, I loafed along there one day and found on that
house the only sign of the kind on that side of the river: "Moblirte
Wohnung zu Vermiethen!" I went in and rented that very room which I had
long ago selected. There was only one other room in the whole double-
(It occurs to me that I made a great mistake in not thinking to deliver a
very bad German speech, every other sentence pieced out with English, at
the Bayard Taylor banquet in New York. I think I could have made it one
of the features of the occasion.)--[He used this plan at a gathering of
the American students in Heidelberg, on July 4th, with great effect; so
his idea was not wasted.]
We left Hartford before the end of March, and I have been idle ever
since. I have waited for a call to go to work--I knew it would come.
Well, it began to come a week ago; my note-book comes out more and more
frequently every day since; 3 days ago I concluded to move my manuscript
over to my den. Now the call is loud and decided at last. So tomorrow I
shall begin regular, steady work, and stick to it till middle of July or
1st August, when I look for Twichell; we will then walk about Germany 2
or 3 weeks, and then I'll go to work again--(perhaps in Munich.)
We both send a power of love to the Howellses, and we do wish you were
here. Are you in the new house? Tell us about it.
There has been no former mention in the letters of the coming of
Twichell; yet this had been a part of the European plan. Mark Twain
had invited his walking companion to make a tramp with him through
Europe, as his guest. Material for the new book would grow faster
with Twichell as a companion; and these two in spite of their widely
opposed views concerning Providence and the general scheme of
creation, were wholly congenial comrades. Twichell, in Hartford,
expecting to receive the final summons to start, wrote: "Oh, my! do
you realize, Mark, what a symposium it is to be? I do. To begin
with, I am thoroughly tired, and the rest will be worth everything.
To walk with you and talk with you for weeks together--why, it's my
dream of luxury."
August 1st brought Twichell, and the friends set out without delay
on a tramp through the Black Forest, making short excursions at
first, but presently extending them in the direction of Switzerland.
Mrs. Clemens and the others remained in Heidelberg, to follow at
their leisure. To Mrs. Clemens her husband sent frequent reports of
their wanderings. It will be seen that their tramp did not confine
itself to pedestrianism, though they did, in fact, walk a great
deal, and Mark Twain in a note to his mother declared, "I loathe all
travel, except on foot." The reports to Mrs. Clemens follow:
Letters to Mrs. Clemens, in Heidelberg:
ALLERHEILIGEN Aug. 5, 1878 8:30 p.m.
Livy darling, we had a rattling good time to-day, but we came very near
being left at Baden-Baden, for instead of waiting in the waiting-room, we
sat down on the platform to wait where the trains come in from the other
direction. We sat there full ten minutes--and then all of a sudden it
occurred to me that that was not the right place.
On the train the principal of the big English school at Nauheim (of which
Mr. Scheiding was a teacher), introduced himself to me, and then he
mapped out our day for us (for today and tomorrow) and also drew a map
and gave us directions how to proceed through Switzerland. He had his
entire school with him, taking them on a prodigious trip through
Switzerland--tickets for the round trip ten dollars apiece. He has done
this annually for 10 years. We took a post carriage from Aachen to
Otterhofen for 7 marks--stopped at the "Pflug" to drink beer, and saw
that pretty girl again at a distance. Her father, mother, and two
brothers received me like an ancient customer and sat down and talked as
long as I had any German left. The big room was full of red-vested
farmers (the Gemeindrath of the district, with the Burgermeister at the
head,) drinking beer and talking public business. They had held an
election and chosen a new member and had been drinking beer at his
expense for several hours. (It was intensely Black-foresty.)
There was an Australian there (a student from Stuttgart or somewhere,)
and Joe told him who I was and he laid himself out to make our course
plain, for us--so I am certain we can't get lost between here and
We walked the carriage road till we came to that place where one sees the
foot path on the other side of the ravine, then we crossed over and took
that. For a good while we were in a dense forest and judged we were
lost, but met a native women who said we were all right. We fooled along
and got there at 6 p.m.--ate supper, then followed down the ravine to the
foot of the falls, then struck into a blind path to see where it would
go, and just about dark we fetched up at the Devil's Pulpit on top of the
hills. Then home. And now to bed, pretty sleepy. Joe sends love and I
send a thousand times as much, my darling.
S. L. C.
Livy darling, we had a lovely day jogged right along, with a good horse
and sensible driver--the last two hours right behind an open carriage
filled with a pleasant German family--old gentleman and 3 pretty
daughters. At table d'hote tonight, 3 dishes were enough for me, and
then I bored along tediously through the bill of fare, with a back-ache,
not daring to get up and bow to the German family and leave. I meant to
sit it through and make them get up and do the bowing; but at last Joe
took pity on me and said he would get up and drop them a curtsy and put
me out of my misery. I was grateful. He got up and delivered a
succession of frank and hearty bows, accompanying them with an atmosphere