Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced by David Widger
MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS 1901-1906
ARRANGED WITH COMMENT BY ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE
LETTERS OF 1901, CHIEFLY TO TWICHELL. MARK TWAIN AS A REFORMER.
SUMMER AT SARANAC. ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT McKINLEY
An editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal, early in 1901, said:
"A remarkable transformation, or rather a development, has taken
place in Mark Twain. The genial humorist of the earlier day is now
a reformer of the vigorous kind, a sort of knight errant who does
not hesitate to break a lance with either Church or State if he
thinks them interposing on that broad highway over which he believes
not a part but the whole of mankind has the privilege of passing in
the onward march of the ages."
Mark Twain had begun "breaking the lance" very soon after his return
from Europe. He did not believe that he could reform the world, but
at least he need not withhold his protest against those things which
stirred his wrath. He began by causing the arrest of a cabman who
had not only overcharged but insulted him; he continued by writing
openly against the American policy in the Philippines, the
missionary propaganda which had resulted in the Chinese uprising and
massacre, and against Tammany politics. Not all of his efforts were
in the line of reform; he had become a sort of general spokesman
which the public flocked to hear, whatever the subject. On the
occasion of a Lincoln Birthday service at Carnegie Hall he was
chosen to preside, and he was obliged to attend more dinners than
were good for his health. His letters of this period were mainly
written to his old friend Twichell, in Hartford. Howells, who lived
in New York, he saw with considerable frequency.
In the letter which follows the medicine which Twichell was to take
was Plasmon, an English proprietary remedy in which Mark Twain had
invested--a panacea for all human ills which osteopathy could not
To Rev. Joseph Twichell, in Hartford:
14 W. 10TH ST. Jan. 23, '01.
DEAR JOE,--Certainly. I used to take it in my coffee, but it settled to
the bottom in the form of mud, and I had to eat it with a spoon; so I
dropped the custom and took my 2 teaspoonfuls in cold milk after
breakfast. If we were out of milk I shoveled the dry powder into my
mouth and washed it down with water. The only essential is to get it
down, the method is not important.
No, blame it, I can't go to the Alumni dinner, Joe. It takes two days,
and I can't spare the time. Moreover I preside at the Lincoln birthday
celebration in Carnegie Hall Feb. 11 and I must not make two speeches so
close together. Think of it--two old rebels functioning there--I as
President, and Watterson as Orator of the Day! Things have changed
somewhat in these 40 years, thank God.
Look here--when you come down you must be our guest--we've got a roomy
room for you, and Livy will make trouble if you go elsewhere. Come
straight to 14 West 10th.
Jan. 24. Livy says Amen to that; also, can you give us a day or two's
notice, so the room will be sure to be vacant?
I'm going to stick close to my desk for a month, now, hoping to write a
The letter which follows is a fair sample of Mark Twain's private
violence on a subject which, in public print, he could only treat
effectively by preserving his good humor. When he found it
necessary to boil over, as he did, now and then, for relief, he
always found a willing audience in Twichell. The mention of his
"Private Philosophy" refers to 'What Is Man?', privately published
in 1906; reissued by his publishers in 1916.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
14 W. 10th Jan. 29, '01.
DEAR JOE,--I'm not expecting anything but kicks for scoffing, and am
expecting a diminution of my bread and butter by it, but if Livy will let
me I will have my say. This nation is like all the others that have been
spewed upon the earth--ready to shout for any cause that will tickle its
vanity or fill its pocket. What a hell of a heaven it will be, when they
get all these hypocrites assembled there!
I can't understand it! You are a public guide and teacher, Joe, and are
under a heavy responsibility to men, young and old; if you teach your
people--as you teach me--to hide their opinions when they believe the
flag is being abused and dishonored, lest the utterance do them and a
publisher a damage, how do you answer for it to your conscience? You are
sorry for me; in the fair way of give and take, I am willing to be a
little sorry for you.
However, I seem to be going counter to my own Private Philosophy--which
Livy won't allow me to publish--because it would destroy me. But I hope
to see it in print before I die. I planned it 15 years ago, and wrote it
in '98. I've often tried to read it to Livy, but she won't have it; it
makes her melancholy. The truth always has that effect on people. Would
have, anyway, if they ever got hold of a rag of it--Which they don't.
You are supposing that I am supposing that I am moved by a Large
Patriotism, and that I am distressed because our President has blundered
up to his neck in the Philippine mess; and that I am grieved because this
great big ignorant nation, which doesn't know even the A B C facts of the
Philippine episode, is in disgrace before the sarcastic world--drop that
idea! I care nothing for the rest--I am only distressed and troubled
because I am befouled by these things. That is all. When I search
myself away down deep, I find this out. Whatever a man feels or thinks
or does, there is never any but one reason for it--and that is a selfish
At great inconvenience, and expense of precious time I went to the chief
synagogue the other night and talked in the interest of a charity school
of poor Jew girls. I know--to the finest, shades--the selfish ends that
moved me; but no one else suspects. I could give you the details if I
had time. You would perceive how true they are.
I've written another article; you better hurry down and help Livy squelch
She's out pottering around somewhere, poor housekeeping slave; and Clara
is in the hands of the osteopath, getting the bronchitis pulled and
hauled out of her. It was a bad attack, and a little disquieting. It
came day before yesterday, and she hasn't sat up till this afternoon.
She is getting along satisfactorily, now.
Lots of love to you all.
Mark Twain's religion had to do chiefly with humanity in its present
incarnation, and concerned itself very little with any possible
measure of reward or punishment in some supposed court of the
hereafter. Nevertheless, psychic investigation always interested
him, and he was good-naturedly willing to explore, even hoping,
perhaps, to be convinced that individuality continues beyond death.
The letter which follows indicates his customary attitude in
relation to spiritualistic research. The experiments here
mentioned, however, were not satisfactory.
To Mrs. Charles McQuiston:
DOBBS FERRY, N. Y.
March 26, 1901.
DEAR MRS. McQUISTON,--I have never had an experience which moved me to
believe the living can communicate with the dead, but my wife and I have
experimented in the matter when opportunity offered and shall continue to
I enclose a letter which came this morning--the second from the same
source. Mrs. K----is a Missourian, and lately she discovered, by
accident, that she was a remarkable hypnotiser. Her best subject is a
Missouri girl, Miss White, who is to come here soon and sustain strictly
scientific tests before professors at Columbia University. Mrs. Clemens
and I intend to be present. And we shall ask the pair to come to our
house to do whatever things they can do. Meantime, if you thought well
of it, you might write her and arrange a meeting, telling her it is by my
suggestion and that I gave you her address.
Someone has told me that Mrs. Piper is discredited. I cannot be sure,
but I think it was Mr. Myers, President of the London Psychical Research
Society--we heard of his death yesterday. He was a spiritualist. I am
afraid he was a very easily convinced man. We visited two mediums whom
he and Andrew Lang considered quite wonderful, but they were quite
Mrs. Clemens corrects me: One of those women was a fraud, the other not a
fraud, but only an innocent, well-meaning, driveling vacancy.
S. L. CLEMENS.
In Mark Twain's Bermuda chapters entitled Idle Notes of an Idle
Excursion he tells of an old sea captain, one Hurricane Jones, who
explained biblical miracles in a practical, even if somewhat
startling, fashion. In his story of the prophets of Baal, for
instance, the old captain declared that the burning water was
nothing more nor less than petroleum. Upon reading the "notes,"
Professor Phelps of Yale wrote that the same method of explaining
miracles had been offered by Sir Thomas Browne.
Perhaps it may be added that Captain Hurricane Jones also appears in
Roughing It, as Captain Ned Blakely.
To Professor William Lyon Phelps;
NEW YORK, April 24, 1901.
MY DEAR SIR,--I was not aware that old Sir Thomas had anticipated that
story, and I am much obliged to you for furnishing me the paragraph.
t is curious that the same idea should leave entered two heads so unlike
as the head of that wise old philosopher and that of Captain Ned Wakeman,
a splendidly uncultured old sailor, but in his own opinion a thinker by
divine right. He was an old friend of mine of many years' standing;
I made two or three voyages with him, and found him a darling in many
ways. The petroleum story was not told to me; he told it to Joe
Twichell, who ran across him by accident on a sea voyage where I think
the two were the only passengers. A delicious pair, and admirably mated,
they took to each other at once and became as thick as thieves. Joe was
passing under a fictitious name, and old Wakeman didn't suspect that he
was a parson; so he gave his profanity full swing, and he was a master of
that great art. You probably know Twichell, and will know that that is a
kind of refreshment which he is very capable of enjoying.
S. L. CLEMENS.
For the summer Clemens and his family found a comfortable lodge in
the Adirondacks--a log cabin called "The Lair"--on Saranac Lake.
Soon after his arrival there he received an invitation to attend the
celebration of Missouri's eightieth anniversary. He sent the
To Edward L. Dimmitt, in St. Louis:
AMONG THE ADIRONDACK LAKES, July 19, 1901.
DEAR MR. DIMMITT,--By an error in the plans, things go wrong end first in
this world, and much precious time is lost and matters of urgent
importance are fatally retarded. Invitations which a brisk young fellow
should get, and which would transport him with joy, are delayed and
impeded and obstructed until they are fifty years overdue when they reach
It has happened again in this case.
When I was a boy in Missouri I was always on the lookout for invitations
but they always miscarried and went wandering through the aisles of time;
and now they are arriving when I am old and rheumatic and can't travel
and must lose my chance.
I have lost a world of delight through this matter of delaying
invitations. Fifty years ago I would have gone eagerly across the world
to help celebrate anything that might turn up. IT would have made no
difference to me what it was, so that I was there and allowed a chance to
make a noise.
The whole scheme of things is turned wrong end to. Life should begin
with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its
capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages. As things are now, when in
youth a dollar would bring a hundred pleasures, you can't have it. When
you are old, you get it and there is nothing worth buying with it then.
It's an epitome of life. The first half of it consists of the capacity
to enjoy without the chance; the last half consists of the chance without
I am admonished in many ways that time is pushing me inexorably along.
I am approaching the threshold of age; in 1977 I shall be 142. This is
no time to be flitting about the earth. I must cease from the activities
proper to youth and begin to take on the dignities and gravities and
inertia proper to that season of honorable senility which is on its way
and imminent as indicated above.
Yours is a great and memorable occasion, and as a son of Missouri I
should hold it a high privilege to be there and share your just pride in
the state's achievements; but I must deny myself the indulgence, while
thanking you earnestly for the prized honor you have done me in asking me
to be present.
Very truly yours,
S. L. CLEMENS.
In the foregoing Mark Twain touches upon one of his favorite
fancies: that life should begin with old age and approach strong
manhood, golden youth, to end at last with pampered and beloved
babyhood. Possibly he contemplated writing a story with this idea
as the theme, but He seems never to have done so.
The reader who has followed these letters may remember Yung Wing,
who had charge of the Chinese educational mission in Hartford, and
how Mark Twain, with Twichell, called on General Grant in behalf of
the mission. Yung Wing, now returned to China, had conceived the
idea of making an appeal to the Government of the United States for
relief of his starving countrymen.
To J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
AMPERSAND, N. Y., July 28, '01.
DEAR JOE,--As you say, it is impracticable--in my case, certainly. For
me to assist in an appeal to that Congress of land-thieves and liars
would be to bring derision upon it; and for me to assist in an appeal for
cash to pass through the hands of those missionaries out there, of any
denomination, Catholic or Protestant, wouldn't do at all. They wouldn't
handle money which I had soiled, and I wouldn't trust them with it,
anyway. They would devote it to the relief of suffering--I know that--
but the sufferers selected would be converts. The missionary-utterances
exhibit no humane feeling toward the others, but in place of it a spirit
of hate and hostility. And it is natural; the Bible forbids their
presence there, their trade is unlawful, why shouldn't their characters
be of necessity in harmony with--but never mind, let it go, it irritates
Later.... I have been reading Yung Wing's letter again. It may be that
he is over-wrought by his sympathies, but it may not be so. There may be
other reasons why the missionaries are silent about the Shensi-2-year
famine and cannibalism. It may be that there are so few Protestant
converts there that the missionaries are able to take care of them. That
they are not likely to largely concern themselves about Catholic converts
and the others, is quite natural, I think.
That crude way of appealing to this Government for help in a cause which
has no money in it, and no politics, rises before me again in all its
admirable innocence! Doesn't Yung Wing know us yet? However, he has
been absent since '96 or '97. We have gone to hell since then. Kossuth
couldn't raise 30 cents in Congress, now, if he were back with his moving
I am on the front porch (lower one--main deck) of our little bijou of a
dwelling-house. The lake-edge (Lower Saranac) is so nearly under me that
I can't see the shore, but only the water, small-pored with rain-
splashes--for there is a heavy down-pour. It is charmingly like sitting
snuggled up on a ship's deck with the stretching sea all around--but very
much more satisfactory, for at sea a rain-storm is depressing, while here
of course the effect engendered is just a deep sense of comfort and
contentment. The heavy forest shuts us solidly in on three sides there
are no neighbors. There are beautiful little tan-colored impudent
squirrels about. They take tea, 5 p. m., (not invited) at the table in
the woods where Jean does my typewriting, and one of them has been brave
enough to sit upon Jean's knee with his tail curved over his back and
munch his food. They come to dinner, 7 p. m., on the front porch (not
invited). They all have the one name--Blennerhasset, from Burr's friend
--and none of them answers to it except when hungry.
We have been here since June 21st. For a little while we had some warm
days--according to the family's estimate; I was hardly discommoded
myself. Otherwise the weather has been of the sort you are familiar with
in these regions: cool days and cool nights. We have heard of the hot
wave every Wednesday, per the weekly paper--we allow no dailies to
intrude. Last week through visitors also--the only ones we have had--
Dr. Root and John Howells.
We have the daily lake-swim; and all the tribe, servants included (but
not I) do a good deal of boating; sometimes with the guide, sometimes
without him--Jean and Clara are competent with the oars. If we live
another year, I hope we shall spend its summer in this house.
We have taken the Appleton country seat, overlooking the Hudson, at
Riverdale, 25 minutes from the Grand Central Station, for a year,
beginning Oct. 1, with option for another year. We are obliged to be
close to New York for a year or two.
Aug. 3rd. I go yachting a fortnight up north in a 20-knot boat 225 feet
long, with the owner, (Mr. Rogers), Tom Reid, Dr. Rice, Col. A. G. Paine
and one or two others. Judge Howland would go, but can't get away from
engagements; Professor Sloane would go, but is in the grip of an illness.
Come--will you go? If you can manage it, drop a post-card to me c/o H.H.
Rogers, 26 Broadway. I shall be in New York a couple of days before we
sail--July 31 or Aug. 1, perhaps the latter,--and I think I shall stop at
the Hotel Grosvenor, cor. l0th St and 5th ave.
We all send you and the Harmonies lots and gobs of love.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
AMPERSAND, N. Y., Aug. 28.
DEAR JOE,--Just a word, to scoff at you, with your extravagant suggestion
that I read the biography of Phillips Brooks--the very dullest book that
has been printed for a century. Joe, ten pages of Mrs. Cheney's masterly
biography of her fathers--no, five pages of it--contain more meat, more
sense, more literature, more brilliancy, than that whole basketful of
drowsy rubbish put together. Why, in that dead atmosphere even Brooks
himself is dull--he wearied me; oh how he wearied me!
We had a noble good time in the Yacht, and caught a Chinese missionary
and drowned him.
Love from us all to you all.
The assassination of President McKinley occurred September 6, 1901.
Such an event would naturally stir Mark Twain to comment on human
nature in general. His letter to Twichell is as individual as it is
sound in philosophy. At what period of his own life, or under what
circumstances, he made the long journey with tragic intent there is
no means of knowing now. There is no other mention of it elsewhere
in the records that survive him.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
AMPERSAND, Tuesday, (Sept. 10, 1901)
DEAR JOE,--It is another off day, but tomorrow I shall resume work to a
certainty, and bid a long farewell to letter-scribbling.
The news of the President looks decidedly hopeful, and we are all glad,
and the household faces are much improved, as to cheerfulness. Oh, the
talk in the newspapers! Evidently the Human Race is the same old Human
Race. And how unjust, and unreflectingly discriminating, the talkers
are. Under the unsettling effects of powerful emotion the talkers are
saying wild things, crazy things--they are out of themselves, and do not
know it; they are temporarily insane, yet with one voice they declare the
assassin sane--a man who has been entertaining fiery and reason--
debauching maggots in his head for weeks and months. Why, no one is
sane, straight along, year in and year out, and we all know it. Our
insanities are of varying sorts, and express themselves in varying forms
--fortunately harmless forms as a rule--but in whatever form they occur
an immense upheaval of feeling can at any time topple us distinctly over
the sanity-line for a little while; and then if our form happens to be of
the murderous kind we must look out--and so must the spectator.
This ass with the unpronounceable name was probably more insane than
usual this week or two back, and may get back upon his bearings by and
by, but he was over the sanity-border when he shot the President. It is
possible that it has taken him the whole interval since the murder of the
King of Italy to get insane enough to attempt the President's life.
Without a doubt some thousands of men have been meditating the same act
in the same interval, but new and strong interests have intervened and
diverted their over-excited minds long enough to give them a chance to
settle, and tranquilize, and get back upon a healthy level again. Every
extraordinary occurrence unsettles the heads of hundreds of thousands of
men for a few moments or hours or days. If there had been ten kings
around when Humbert fell they would have been in great peril for a day or
more--and from men in whose presence they would have been quite safe
after the excess of their excitement had had an interval in which to cool
down. I bought a revolver once and travelled twelve hundred miles to
kill a man. He was away. He was gone a day. With nothing else to do,
I had to stop and think--and did. Within an hour--within half of it--
I was ashamed of myself--and felt unspeakably ridiculous. I do not know
what to call it if I was not insane. During a whole week my head was in
a turmoil night and day fierce enough and exhausting enough to upset a
stronger reason than mine.
All over the world, every day, there are some millions of men in that
condition temporarily. And in that time there is always a moment--
perhaps only a single one when they would do murder if their man was at
hand. If the opportunity comes a shade too late, the chances are that it
has come permanently too late. Opportunity seldom comes exactly at the
supreme moment. This saves a million lives a day in the world--for sure.
No Ruler is ever slain but the tremendous details of it are ravenously
devoured by a hundred thousand men whose minds dwell, unaware, near the
temporary-insanity frontier--and over they go, now! There is a day--two
days--three--during which no Ruler would be safe from perhaps the half of
them; and there is a single moment wherein he would not be safe from any
of them, no doubt.
It may take this present shooting-case six months to breed another ruler-
tragedy, but it will breed it. There is at least one mind somewhere
which will brood, and wear, and decay itself to the killing-point and
produce that tragedy.
Every negro burned at the stake unsettles the excitable brain of another
one--I mean the inflaming details of his crime, and the lurid
theatricality of his exit do it--and the duplicate crime follows; and
that begets a repetition, and that one another one and so on. Every
lynching-account unsettles the brains of another set of excitable white
men, and lights another pyre--115 lynchings last year, 102 inside of 8
months this year; in ten years this will be habit, on these terms.
Yes, the wild talk you see in the papers! And from men who are sane when
not upset by overwhelming excitement. A U. S. Senator-Cullom--wants this
Buffalo criminal lynched! It would breed other lynchings--of men who are
not dreaming of committing murders, now, and will commit none if Cullom
will keep quiet and not provide the exciting cause.
And a District Attorney wants a law which shall punish with death
attempts upon a President's life--this, mind you, as a deterrent.
It would have no effect--or the opposite one. The lunatic's mind-space
is all occupied--as mine was--with the matter in hand; there is no room
in it for reflections upon what may happen to him. That comes after the
It is the noise the attempt would make in the world that would breed the
subsequent attempts, by unsettling the rickety minds of men who envy the
criminal his vast notoriety--his obscure name tongued by stupendous Kings
and Emperors--his picture printed everywhere, the trivialest details of
his movements, what he eats, what he drinks; how he sleeps, what he says,
cabled abroad over the whole globe at cost of fifty thousand dollars a
day--and he only a lowly shoemaker yesterday!--like the assassin of the
President of France--in debt three francs to his landlady, and insulted
by her--and to-day she is proud to be able to say she knew him
"as familiarly as you know your own brother," and glad to stand till she
drops and pour out columns and pages of her grandeur and her happiness
upon the eager interviewer.
Nothing will check the lynchings and ruler-murder but absolute silence--
the absence of pow-pow about them. How are you going to manage that?
By gagging every witness and jamming him into a dungeon for life; by
abolishing all newspapers; by exterminating all newspaper men; and by
extinguishing God's most elegant invention, the Human Race. It is quite
simple, quite easy, and I hope you will take a day off and attend to it,
Joe. I blow a kiss to you, and am
When the Adirondack summer ended Clemens settled for the winter in
the beautiful Appleton home at Riverdale-on-the-Hudson. It was a
place of wide-spreading grass and shade-a house of ample room. They
were established in it in time for Mark Twain to take an active
interest in the New York elections and assist a ticket for good
government to defeat Tammany Hall.
LETTERS OF 1902. RIVERDALE. YORK HARBOR. ILLNESS OF MRS. CLEMENS
The year 1902 was an eventful one for Mark Twain. In April he received a
degree of LL.D. from the University of Missouri and returned to his
native State to accept it. This was his last journey to the Mississippi
River. During the summer Mrs. Clemens's health broke down and illnesses
of one sort or another visited other members of the family. Amid so much
stress and anxiety Clemens had little time or inclination for work. He
wrote not many letters and mainly somber ones. Once, by way of
diversion, he worked out the idea of a curious club--which he formed--its
members to be young girls--girls for the most part whom he had never
seen. They were elected without their consent from among those who wrote
to him without his consent, and it is not likely that any one so chosen
declined membership. One selection from his letters to the French
member, Miss Helene Picard, of St.-Die, France, will explain the club and
present a side of Mask Twain somewhat different from that found in most
of his correspondence.
To Miss Picard, in St.-Die, France:
RIVERDALE-ON-THE-HUDSON, February 22, 1902.
DEAR MISS HELENE,--If you will let me call you so, considering that my
head is white and that I have grownup daughters. Your beautiful letter
has given me such deep pleasure! I will make bold to claim you for a
friend and lock you up with the rest of my riches; for I am a miser who
counts his spoil every day and hoards it secretly and adds to it when he
can, and is grateful to see it grow.
Some of that gold comes, like yourself, in a sealed package, and I can't
see it and may never have the happiness; but I know its value without
that, and by what sum it increases my wealth.
I have a Club, a private Club, which is all my own. I appoint the
Members myself, and they can't help themselves, because I don't allow
them to vote on their own appointment and I don't allow them to resign!
They are all friends whom I have never seen (save one), but who have
written friendly letters to me.
By the laws of my Club there can be only one Member in each country, and
there can be no male Member but myself. Some day I may admit males, but
I don't know--they are capricious and inharmonious, and their ways
provoke me a good deal. It is a matter which the Club shall decide.
I have made four appointments in the past three or four months: You as
Member for France, a young Highland girl as Member for Scotland, a
Mohammedan girl as Member for Bengal, and a dear and bright young niece
of mine as Member for the United States--for I do not represent a country
myself, but am merely Member at Large for the Human Race.
You must not try to resign, for the laws of the Club do not allow that.
You must console yourself by remembering that you are in the best of
company; that nobody knows of your membership except myself--that no
Member knows another's name, but only her country; that no taxes are
levied and no meetings held (but how dearly I should like to attend
One of my Members is a Princess of a royal house, another is the daughter
of a village book-seller on the continent of Europe. For the only
qualification for Membership is intellect and the spirit of good will;
other distinctions, hereditary or acquired, do not count.
May I send you the Constitution and Laws of the Club? I shall be so
pleased if I may. It is a document which one of my daughters typewrites
for me when I need one for a new Member, and she would give her eyebrows
to know what it is all about, but I strangle her curiosity by saying:
"There are much cheaper typewriters than you are, my dear, and if you try
to pry into the sacred mysteries of this Club one of your prosperities
will perish sure."
My favorite? It is "Joan of Arc." My next is "Huckleberry Finn," but
the family's next is "The Prince and the Pauper." (Yes, you are right--
I am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go
thrashing around in political questions.)
I wish you every good fortune and happiness and I thank you so much for
S. L. CLEMENS.
Early in the year Clemens paid a visit to Twichell in Hartford, and
after one of their regular arguments on theology and the moral
accountability of the human race, arguments that had been going on
between them for more than thirty years--Twichell lent his visitor
Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards, to read on the way home.
The next letter was the result.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
DEAR JOE,--"After compliments."--[Meaning "What a good time you gave me;
what a happiness it was to be under your roof again; etc., etc." See
opening sentence of all translations of letters passing between Lord
Roberts and Indian princes and rulers.]--From Bridgeport to New York;
thence to home; and continuously until near midnight I wallowed and
reeked with Jonathan in his insane debauch; rose immediately refreshed
and fine at 10 this morning, but with a strange and haunting sense of
having been on a three days' tear with a drunken lunatic. It is years
since I have known these sensations. All through the book is the glaze
of a resplendent intellect gone mad--a marvelous spectacle. No, not all
through the book--the drunk does not come on till the last third, where
what I take to be Calvinism and its God begins to show up and shine red
and hideous in the glow from the fires of hell, their only right and
proper adornment. By God I was ashamed to be in such company.
Jonathan seems to hold (as against the Arminian position) that the Man
(or his Soul or his Will) never creates an impulse itself, but is moved
to action by an impulse back of it. That's sound!
Also, that of two or more things offered it, it infallibly chooses the
one which for the moment is most pleasing to ITSELF. Perfectly correct!
An immense admission for a man not otherwise sane.
Up to that point he could have written chapters III and IV of my
suppressed "Gospel." But there we seem to separate. He seems to concede
the indisputable and unshakable dominion of Motive and Necessity (call
them what he may, these are exterior forces and not under the man's
authority, guidance or even suggestion)--then he suddenly flies the logic
track and (to all seeming) makes the man and not these exterior forces
responsible to God for the man's thoughts, words and acts. It is frank
I think that when he concedes the autocratic dominion of Motive and
Necessity he grants, a third position of mine--that a man's mind is a
mere machine--an automatic machine--which is handled entirely from the
outside, the man himself furnishing it absolutely nothing: not an ounce
of its fuel, and not so much as a bare suggestion to that exterior
engineer as to what the machine shall do, nor how it shall do it nor
After that concession, it was time for him to get alarmed and shirk--for
he was pointing straight for the only rational and possible next-station
on that piece of road the irresponsibility of man to God.
And so he shirked. Shirked, and arrived at this handsome result:
Man is commanded to do so-and-so. It has been ordained from the
beginning of time that some men shan't and others can't.
These are to be blamed: let them be damned.
I enjoy the Colonel very much, and shall enjoy the rest of him with an
Joe, the whole tribe shout love to you and yours!
We have not heard of Joe Goodman since the trying days of '90 and
'91, when he was seeking to promote the fortunes of the type-setting
machine. Goodman, meantime, who had in turn been miner, printer,
publisher, and farmer; had been devoting his energies and genius to
something entirely new: he had been translating the prehistoric
Mayan inscriptions of Yucatan, and with such success that his work
was elaborately published by an association of British scientists.
In due time a copy of this publication came to Clemens, who was full
of admiration of the great achievement.
To J. T. Goodman, in California:
June 13, '02.
DEAR JOE,--I am lost in reverence and admiration! It is now twenty-four
hours that I have been trying to cool down and contemplate with quiet
blood this extraordinary spectacle of energy, industry, perseverance,
pluck, analytical genius, penetration, this irruption of thunders and
fiery splendors from a fair and flowery mountain that nobody had supposed
was a sleeping volcano, but I seem to be as excited as ever. Yesterday
I read as much as half of the book, not understanding a word but
enchanted nevertheless--partly by the wonder of it all, the study, the
erudition, the incredible labor, the modesty, the dignity, the majestic
exclusiveness of the field and its lofty remoteness from things and
contacts sordid and mean and earthy, and partly by the grace and beauty
and limpidity of the book's unsurpassable English. Science, always great
and worshipful, goes often in hodden grey, but you have clothed her in
garments meet for her high degree.
You think you get "poor pay" for your twenty years? No, oh no. You have
lived in a paradise of the intellect whose lightest joys were beyond the
reach of the longest purse in Christendom, you have had daily and nightly
emancipation from the world's slaveries and gross interests, you have
received a bigger wage than any man in the land, you have dreamed a
splendid dream and had it come true, and to-day you could not afford to
trade fortunes with anybody--not even with another scientist, for he must
divide his spoil with his guild, whereas essentially the world you have
discovered is your own and must remain so.
It is all just magnificent, Joe! And no one is prouder or gladder than
At York Harbor, Maine, where they had taken a cottage for the
summer--a pretty place, with Howells not far distant, at Kittery
Point--Mrs. Clemens's health gave way. This was at a period when
telegraphic communication was far from reliable. The old-time
Western Union had fallen from grace; its "system" no longer
justified the best significance of that word. The new day of
reorganization was coming, and it was time for it. Mark Twain's
letter concerning the service at York Harbor would hardly be
warranted today, but those who remember conditions of that earlier
time will agree that it was justified then, and will appreciate its
To the President of The Western Union, in New York:
YORK HARBOR, MAINE.
DEAR SIR,--I desire to make a complaint, and I bring it to you, the head
of the company, because by experience I know better than to carry it to a
I have been here a month and a half, and by testimony of friends,
reinforced by personal experience I now feel qualified to claim as an
established fact that the telegraphic service here is the worst in the
world except that Boston.
These services are actually slower than was the New York and Hartford
service in the days when I last complained to you--which was fifteen or
eighteen years ago, when telegraphic time and train time between the
mentioned points was exactly the same, to-wit, three hours and a half.
Six days ago--it was that raw day which provoked so much comment--my
daughter was on her way up from New York, and at noon she telegraphed me
from New Haven asking that I meet her with a cloak at Portsmouth. Her
telegram reached me four hours and a quarter later--just 15 minutes too
late for me to catch my train and meet her.
I judge that the telegram traveled about 200 miles. It is the best
telegraphic work I have seen since I have been here, and I am mentioning
it in this place not as a complaint but as a compliment. I think a
compliment ought always to precede a complaint, where one is possible,
because it softens resentment and insures for the complaint a courteous
and gentle reception.
Still, there is a detail or two connected with this matter which ought
perhaps to be mentioned. And now, having smoothed the way with the
compliment, I will venture them. The head corpse in the York Harbor
office sent me that telegram altho (1) he knew it would reach me too late
to be of any value; (2) also, that he was going to send it to me by his
boy; (3) that the boy would not take the trolley and come the 2 miles in
12 minutes, but would walk; (4) that he would be two hours and a quarter
on the road; (5) and that he would collect 25 cents for transportation,
for a telegram which the he knew to be worthless before he started it.
From these data I infer that the Western Union owes me 75 cents; that is
to say, the amount paid for combined wire and land transportation--
a recoup provided for in the printed paragraph which heads the telegraph-
By these humane and Christian stages we now arrive at the complaint
proper. We have had a grave case of illness in the family, and a
relative was coming some six hundred miles to help in the sick-room
during the convalescing period. It was an anxious time, of course,
and I wrote and asked to be notified as to the hour of the expected
arrival of this relative in Boston or in York Harbor. Being afraid of
the telegraph--which I think ought not to be used in times of hurry and
emergency--I asked that the desired message be brought to me by some
swift method of transportation. By the milkman, if he was coming this
way. But there are always people who think they know more than you do,
especially young people; so of course the young fellow in charge of this
lady used the telegraph. And at Boston, of all places! Except York
The result was as usual; let me employ a statelier and exacter term, and
The dispatch was handed to the h. c. of the Boston office at 9 this
morning. It said, "Shall bring A. S. to you eleven forty-five this
morning." The distance traveled by the dispatch is forty or fifty miles,
I suppose, as the train-time is five minutes short of two hours, and the
trains are so slow that they can't give a W. U. telegram two hours and
twenty minutes start and overtake it.
As I have said, the dispatch was handed in at Boston at 9. The expected
visitors left Boston at 9.40, and reached my house at 12 noon, beating
the telegram 2 solid hours, and 5 minutes over.
The boy brought the telegram. It was bald-headed with age, but still
legible. The boy was prostrate with travel and exposure, but still
alive, and I went out to condole with him and get his last wishes and
send for the ambulance. He was waiting to collect transportation before
turning his passing spirit to less serious affairs. I found him
strangely intelligent, considering his condition and where he is getting
his training. I asked him at what hour the telegram was handed to the
h. c. in Boston. He answered brightly, that he didn't know.
I examined the blank, and sure enough the wary Boston h. c. had
thoughtfully concealed that statistic. I asked him at what hour it had
started from Boston. He answered up as brightly as ever, and said he
I examined the blank, and sure enough the Boston h. c. had left that
statistic out in the cold, too. In fact it turned out to be an official
concealment--no blank was provided for its exposure. And none required
by the law, I suppose. "It is a good one-sided idea," I remarked;
"They can take your money and ship your telegram next year if they want
to--you've no redress. The law ought to extend the privilege to all of
The boy looked upon me coldly.
I asked him when the telegram reached York Harbor. He pointed to some
figures following the signature at the bottom of the blank--"12.14.
"I said it was now 1.45 and asked--
"Do you mean that it reached your morgue an hour and a half ago?"
He nodded assent.
"It was at that time half an hour too late to be of any use to me, if I
wanted to go and meet my people--which was the case--for by the wording
of the message you can see that they were to arrive at the station at
11.45. Why did, your h. c. send me this useless message? Can't he read?
Is he dead?"
"It's the rules."
"No, that does not account for it. Would he have sent it if it had been
three years old, I in the meantime deceased, and he aware of it?"
The boy didn't know.
"Because, you know, a rule which required him to forward to the cemetery
to-day a dispatch due three years ago, would be as good a rule as one
which should require him to forward a telegram to me to-day which he knew
had lost all its value an hour or two before he started it. The
construction of such a rule would discredit an idiot; in fact an idiot--
I mean a common ordinary Christian idiot, you understand--would be
ashamed of it, and for the sake of his reputation wouldn't make it. What
do you think?"
He replied with much natural brilliancy that he wasn't paid for thinking.
This gave me a better opinion of the commercial intelligence pervading
his morgue than I had had before; it also softened my feelings toward
him, and also my tone, which had hitherto been tinged with bitterness.
"Let bygones be bygones," I said, gently, "we are all erring creatures,
and mainly idiots, but God made us so and it is dangerous to criticise."
S. L. CLEMENS.
One day there arrived from Europe a caller with a letter of
introduction from Elizabeth, Queen of Rumania, better known as
Carmen Sylva. The visitor was Madam Hartwig, formerly an American
girl, returning now, because of reduced fortunes, to find profitable
employment in her own land. Her husband, a man of high principle,
had declined to take part in an "affair of honor," as recognized by
the Continental code; hence his ruin. Elizabeth of Rumania was one
of the most loved and respected of European queens and an author of
distinction. Mark Twain had known her in Vienna. Her letter to him
and his own letter to the public (perhaps a second one, for its date
is two years later) follow herewith.
From Carmen Sylva to Mark Twain:
BUCAREST, May 9, 1902.
HONORED MASTER,--If I venture to address you on behalf of a poor lady,
who is stranded in Bucarest I hope not to be too disagreeable.
Mrs. Hartwig left America at the age of fourteen in order to learn to
sing which she has done thoroughly. Her husband had quite a brilliant
situation here till he refused to partake 'dans une afaire onereuse',
so it seems. They haven't a penny and each of them must try to find a
living. She is very nice and pleasant and her school is so good that she
most certainly can give excellent singing lessons.
I beg your pardon for being a bore to one I so deeply love and admire,
to whom I owe days and days of forgetfulness of self and troubles and the
intensest of all joys: Hero-worship! People don't always realize what a
happiness that is! God bless you for every beautiful thought you poured
into my tired heart and for every smile on a weary way!
From Mark Twain to the Public:
Nov. 16, '04.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,--I desire to recommend Madame Hartwig to my
friends and the public as a teacher of singing and as a concert-vocalist.
She has lived for fifteen years at the court of Roumania, and she brought
with her to America an autograph letter in which her Majesty the Queen of
Roumania cordially certified her to me as being an accomplished and
gifted singer and teacher of singing, and expressed a warm hope that her
professional venture among us would meet with success; through absence in
Europe I have had no opportunity to test the validity of the Queen's
judgment in the matter, but that judgment is the utterance of an entirely
competent authority--the best that occupies a throne, and as good as any
that sits elsewhere, as the musical world well knows--and therefore back
it without hesitation, and endorse it with confidence.
I will explain that the reason her Majesty tried to do her friend a
friendly office through me instead of through someone else was, not that
I was particularly the right or best person for the office, but because I
was not a stranger. It is true that I am a stranger to some of the
monarchs--mainly through their neglect of their opportunities--but such
is not the case in the present instance. The latter fact is a high
compliment to me, and perhaps I ought to conceal it. Some people would.
Mrs. Clemens's improvement was scarcely perceptible. It was not
until October that they were able to remove her to Riverdale, and
then only in a specially arranged invalid-car. At the end of the
long journey she was carried to her room and did not leave it again
for many months.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
RIVERDALE, N. Y., Oct. 31, '02.
DEAR JOE,--It is ten days since Susy [Twichell] wrote that you were laid
up with a sprained shoulder, since which time we have had no news about
it. I hope that no news is good news, according to the proverb; still,
authoritative confirmation of it will be gladly received in this family,
if some of you will furnish it. Moreover, I should like to know how and
where it happened. In the pulpit, as like as not, otherwise you would
not be taking so much pains to conceal it. This is not a malicious
suggestion, and not a personally-invented one: you told me yourself,
once, that you threw artificial power and impressiveness into places in
your sermons where needed, by "banging the bible"--(your own words.)
You have reached a time of life when it is not wise to take these risks.
You would better jump around. We all have to change our methods as the
infirmities of age creep upon us. Jumping around will be impressive now,
whereas before you were gray it would have excited remark.
Poor Livy drags along drearily. It must be hard times for that turbulent
spirit. It will be a long time before she is on her feet again. It is a
most pathetic case. I wish I could transfer it to myself. Between
ripping and raging and smoking and reading, I could get a good deal of a
holiday out of it.
Clara runs the house smoothly and capably. She is discharging a trial-
cook today and hiring another.
A power of love to you all!
Such was the state of Mrs. Clemens's health that visitors were excluded
from the sick room, and even Clemens himself was allowed to see her no
more than a few moments at a time. These brief, precious visits were the
chief interests of his long days. Occasionally he was allowed to send
her a few lines, reporting his occupations, and these she was sometimes
permitted to answer. Only one of his notes has been preserved, written
after a day, now rare, of literary effort. Its signature, the letter Y,
stands for "Youth," always her name for him.
To Mrs. Clemens:
DEAR HEART,--I've done another full day's work, and finished before 4.
I have been reading and dozing since and would have had a real sleep a
few minutes ago but for an incursion to bring me a couple of unimportant
letters. I've stuck to the bed all day and am getting back my lost
ground. Next time I will be strictly careful and make my visit very
short--just a kiss and a rush. Thank you for your dear, dear note; you
who are my own and only sweetheart.
LETTERS OF 1903. TO VARIOUS PERSONS. HARD DAYS AT RIVERDALE.
LAST SUMMER AT ELMIRA. THE RETURN TO ITALY
The reader may perhaps recall that H. H. Rogers, some five or six years
earlier, had taken charge of the fortunes of Helen Keller, making it
possible for her to complete her education. Helen had now written her
first book--a wonderful book--'The Story of My Life', and it had been
successfully published. For a later generation it may be proper to
explain that the Miss Sullivan, later Mrs. Macy, mentioned in the letter
which follows, was the noble woman who had devoted her life to the
enlightenment of this blind, dumb girl--had made it possible for her to
speak and understand, and, indeed, to see with the eyes of luminous
The case of plagiarism mentioned in this letter is not now remembered,
and does not matter, but it furnished a text for Mark Twain, whose
remarks on the subject in general are eminently worth while.
To Helen Keller, in Wrentham, Mass.:
ST. PATRICK'S DAY, '03.
DEAR HELEN,--I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am
to have your book, and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and
as a remembrances of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted
between us for nine years without a break, and without a single act of
violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in
heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often
think of it with longing, and how they'll say, "There they come--sit
down in front!" I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was
at Henry Rogers's last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not
at all well; you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is
just as lovely as ever.
I am charmed with your book-enchanted. You are a wonderful creature,
the most wonderful in the world--you and your other half together--
Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make a complete
and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy,
penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary
competencies of her pen--they are all there.
Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was
that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human
utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernal, the soul--let
us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable
material of all human utterances--is plagiarism. For substantially all
ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million
outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and
satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas
there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little
discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his
temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When
a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries
and ten thousand men--but we call it his speech, and really some
exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It
is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we
call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand
men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a
photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing--and the last man
gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite--that
is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine
parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure
and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do
Then why don't we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well
as the story itself? It can hardly happen--to the extent of fifty words
except in the case of a child: its memory-tablet is not lumbered with
impressions, and the actual language can have graving-room there, and
preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person's memory-tablet
is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase.
It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed
upon a man's mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to
turn up some time or other and be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt
we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences
borrowed from books at some unremembered time and now imagined to be our
own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes's
poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his
dictation, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my "Innocents
Abroad" with. Then years afterwards I was talking with Dr. Holmes about
it. He was not an ignorant ass--no, not he: he was not a collection of
decayed human turnips, like your "Plagiarism Court;" and so when I said,
"I know now where I stole it, but whom did you steal it from," he said,
"I don't remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have
never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anybody who had."
To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child's heart with
their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn't sleep for
blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole
histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions
were one solid ruck of plagiarism, and they didn't know it and never
suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting
themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they
think they've caught filching a chop! Oh, dam--
But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary
today. Ever lovingly your friend,
(Edited and modified by Clara Clemens, deputy to her mother, who for more
than 7 months has been ill in bed and unable to exercise her official
The burden of the Clemens household had fallen almost entirely upon
Clara Clemens. In addition to supervising its customary affairs,
she also shouldered the responsibility of an unusual combination of
misfortunes, for besides the critical condition of her mother, her
sister, Jean Clemens, was down with pneumonia, no word of which must
come to Mrs. Clemens. Certainly it was a difficult position. In
some account of it, which he set down later, Clemens wrote: "It was
fortunate for us all that Clara's reputation for truthfulness was so
well established in her mother's mind. It was our daily protection
from disaster. The mother never doubted Clara's word. Clara could
tell her large improbabilities without exciting any suspicion,
whereas if I tried to market even a small and simple one the case
would have been different. I was never able to get a reputation
The accumulation of physical ailments in the Clemens home had
somewhat modified Mark Twain's notion of medical practice. He was
no longer radical; he had become eclectic. It is a good deal of a
concession that he makes to Twichell, after those earlier letters
from Sweden, in which osteopathy had been heralded as the anodyne
for all human ills.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
DEAR JOE,--Livy does really make a little progress these past 3 or 4
days, progress which is visible to even the untrained eye. The
physicians are doing good work with her, but my notion is, that no art of
healing is the best for all ills. I should distribute the ailments
around: surgery cases to the surgeons; lupus to the actinic-ray
specialist; nervous prostration to the Christian Scientist; most ills to
the allopath and the homeopath; (in my own particular case) rheumatism,
gout and bronchial attacks to the osteopathist.
Mr. Rogers was to sail southward this morning--and here is this weather!
I am sorry. I think it's a question if he gets away tomorrow.
It was through J. Y. M. MacAlister, to whom the next letter is
written, that Mark Twain had become associated with the Plasmon
Company, which explains the reference to "shares." He had seen much
of MacAlister during the winter at Tedworth Square, and had grown
fond of him. It is a characteristic letter, and one of interesting
To J. Y. M. MacAlister, in London:
RIVERDALE, NEW YORK.
April, 7, '03.
DEAR MACALISTER,--Yours arrived last night, and God knows I was glad to
get it, for I was afraid I had blundered into an offence in some way and
forfeited your friendship--a kind of blunder I have made so many times in
my life that I am always standing in a waiting and morbid dread of its
Three days ago I was in condition--during one horribly long night--to
sympathetically roast with you in your "hell of troubles." During that
night I was back again where I was in the black days when I was buried
under a mountain of debt. I called the daughters to me in private
council and paralysed them with the announcement, "Our outgo has
increased in the past 8 months until our expenses are now 125 per cent.
greater than our income."
It was a mistake. When I came down in the morning a gray and aged wreck,
and went over the figures again, I found that in some unaccountable way
(unaccountable to a business man but not to me) I had multiplied the
totals by 2. By God I dropped 75 years on the floor where I stood.
Do you know it affected me as one is affected when he wakes out of a
hideous dream and finds that it was only a dream. It was a great comfort
and satisfaction to me to call the daughters to a private meeting of the
Board again and say, "You need not worry any more; our outgo is only a
third more than our income; in a few months your mother will be out of
her bed and on her feet again--then we shall drop back to normal and be
Certainly there is a blistering and awful reality about a well-arranged
unreality. It is quite within the possibilities that two or three nights
like that night of mine could drive a man to suicide. He would refuse to
examine the figures; they would revolt him so, and he could go to his
death unaware that there was nothing serious about them. I cannot get
that night out of my head, it was so vivid, so real, so ghastly. In any
other year of these 33 the relief would have been simple: go where you
can cut your cloth to fit your income. You can't do that when your wife
can't be moved, even from one room to the next.
Clam spells the trained nurse afternoons; I am allowed to see Mrs.
Clemens 20 minutes twice a day and write her two letters a day provided I
put no news in them. No other person ever sees her except the physician
and now and then a nerve-specialist from New York. She saw there was
something the matter that morning, but she got no facts out of me. But
that is nothing--she hasn't had anything but lies for 8 months. A fact
would give her a relapse.
The doctor and a specialist met in conspiracy five days ago, and in their
belief she will by and by come out of this as good as new, substantially.
They ordered her to Italy for next winter--which seems to indicate that
by autumn she will be able to undertake the voyage. So Clara is writing
a Florence friend to take a look round among the villas for us in the
regions near that city. It seems early to do this, but Joan Bergheim
thought it would be wise.
He and his wife lunched with us here yesterday. They have been abroad in
Havana 4 months, and they sailed for England this morning.
I am enclosing an order for half of my (your) Founders shares. You are
not to refuse them this time, though you have done it twice before. They
are yours, not mine, and for your family's sake if not your own you
cannot in these cloudy days renounce this property which is so clearly
yours and theirs. You have been generous long enough; be just, now to
yourself. Mr. Rogers is off yachting for 5 or 6 weeks--I'll get them
when he returns. The head of the house joins me in warmest greetings and
remembrances to you and Mrs. MacAlister.
May 8. Great Scott! I never mailed this letter! I addressed it, put
"Registered" on it--then left it lying unsealed on the arm of my chair,
and rushed up to my bed quaking with a chill. I've never been out of the
bed since--oh, bronchitis, rheumatism, two sets of teeth aching, land,
I've had a dandy time for 4 weeks. And to-day--great guns, one of the
very worst! . . .
I'm devilish sorry, and I do apologise--for although I am not as slow as
you are about answering letters, as a rule, I see where I'm standing this
Two weeks ago Jean was taken down again--this time with measles, and I
haven't been able to go to her and she hasn't been able to come to me.
But Mrs. Clemens is making nice progress, and can stand alone a moment or
two at a time.
Now I'll post this.
The two letters that follow, though written only a few days apart,
were separated in their arrival by a period of seven years. The
second letter was, in some way, mislaid and not mailed; and it was
not until after the writer of it was dead that it was found and
Mark Twain could never get up much enthusiasm for the writings of
Scott. His praise of Quentin Durward is about the only approval he
ever accorded to the works of the great romanticist.
To Brander Matthews, in New York:
NEW YORK CITY, May 4, '03.
DEAR BRANDER,--I haven't been out of my bed for four weeks, but--well, I
have been reading, a good deal, and it occurs to me to ask you to sit
down, some time or other when you have 8 or 9 months to spare, and jot me
down a certain few literary particulars for my help and elevation. Your
time need not be thrown away, for at your further leisure you can make
Colombian lectures out of the results and do your students a good turn.
1. Are there in Sir Walter's novels passages done in good English--
English which is neither slovenly or involved?
2. Are there passages whose English is not poor and thin and
commonplace, but is of a quality above that?
3. Are there passages which burn with real fire--not punk, fox-fire,
4. Has he heroes and heroines who are not cads and cadesses?
5. Has he personages whose acts and talk correspond with their
characters as described by him?
6. Has he heroes and heroines whom the reader admires, admires, and
7. Has he funny characters that are funny, and humorous passages that
8. Does he ever chain the reader's interest, and make him reluctant to
lay the book down?
9. Are there pages where he ceases from posing, ceases from admiring the
placid flood and flow of his own dilutions, ceases from being artificial,
and is for a time, long or short, recognizably sincere and in earnest?
10. Did he know how to write English, and didn't do it because he didn't
11. Did he use the right word only when he couldn't think of another
one, or did he run so much to wrong because he didn't know the right one
when he saw it?
13. Can you read him? and keep your respect for him? Of course a
person could in his day--an era of sentimentality and sloppy romantics--
but land! can a body do it today?
Brander, I lie here dying, slowly dying, under the blight of Sir Walter.
I have read the first volume of Rob Roy, and as far as chapter XIX of Guy
Mannering, and I can no longer hold my head up nor take my nourishment.
Lord, it's all so juvenile! so artificial, so shoddy; and such wax
figures and skeletons and spectres. Interest? Why, it is impossible to
feel an interest in these bloodless shams, these milk-and-water humbugs.
And oh, the poverty of the invention! Not poverty in inventing
situations, but poverty in furnishing reasons for them. Sir Walter
usually gives himself away when he arranges for a situation--elaborates,
and elaborates, and elaborates, till if you live to get to it you don't
believe in it when it happens.
I can't find the rest of Rob Roy, I can't stand any more Mannering--I do
not know just what to do, but I will reflect, and not quit this great
study rashly. He was great, in his day, and to his proper audience; and
so was God in Jewish times, for that matter, but why should either of
them rank high now? And do they?--honest, now, do they? Dam'd if I
My, I wish I could see you and Leigh Hunt!
` Sincerely Yours
S. L. CLEMENS.
To Brander Matthews, in New York:
RIVERDALE, May 8,'03 (Mailed June, 1910).
DEAR BRANDER,--I'm still in bed, but the days have lost their dulness
since I broke into Sir Walter and lost my temper. I finished Guy
Mannering--that curious, curious book, with its mob of squalid shadows
jabbering around a single flesh-and-blood being--Dinmont; a book crazily
put together out of the very refuse of the romance-artist's stage
properties--finished it and took up Quentin Durward, and finished that.
It was like leaving the dead to mingle with the living: it was like
withdrawing from the infant class in the College of journalism to sit
under the lectures in English literature in Columbia University.
I wonder who wrote Quentin Durward?
In 1903, preparations were going on for a great world's fair, to be
held in St. Louis, and among other features proposed was a World's
Literary Convention, with a week to be set apart in honor of Mark
Twain, and a special Mark Twain Day in it, on which the National
Association would hold grand services in honor of the distinguished
Missourian. A letter asking his consent to the plan brought the
To T. F. Gatts, of Missouri:
NEW YORK, May 30, 1903.
DEAR MR. GATTS,--It is indeed a high compliment which you offer me in
naming an association after me and in proposing the setting apart of a
Mark Twain day at the great St. Louis fair, but such compliments are not
proper for the living; they are proper and safe for the dead only. I
value the impulse which moves you to tender me these honors. I value it
as highly as any one can, and am grateful for it, but I should stand in a
sort of terror of the honors themselves. So long as we remain alive we
are not safe from doing things which, however righteously and honorably
intended, can wreck our repute and extinguish our friendships.
I hope that no society will be named for me while I am still alive, for I
might at some time or other do something which would cause its members to
regret having done me that honor. After I shall have joined the dead I
shall follow the customs of those people and be guilty of no conduct that
can wound any friend; but until that time shall come I shall be a
doubtful quantity like the rest of our race.
Very truly yours,
S. L. CLEMENS.
The National Mark Twain Association did not surrender easily. Mr.
Gatts wrote a second letter full of urgent appeal. If Mark Twain
was tempted, we get no hint of it in his answer.
To T. F. Gatts, of Missouri:
NEW YORK, June 8, 1903.
DEAR MR. GATTS,--While I am deeply touched by the desire of my friends of
Hannibal to confer these great honors upon me, I must still forbear to
accept them. Spontaneous and unpremeditated honors, like those which
came to me at Hannibal, Columbia, St. Louis and at the village stations
all down the line, are beyond all price and are a treasure for life in
the memory, for they are a free gift out of the heart and they come
without solicitations; but I am a Missourian and so I shrink from
distinctions which have to be arranged beforehand and with my privity,
for I then became a party to my own exalting. I am humanly fond of
honors that happen but chary of those that come by canvass and intention.
With sincere thanks to you and your associates for this high compliment
which you have been minded to offer me, I am,
Very truly yours,
S. L. CLEMENS.
We have seen in the letter to MacAlister that Mark Twain's wife had
been ordered to Italy and plans were in progress for an
establishment there. By the end of June Mrs. Clemens was able to
leave Riverdale, and she made the journey to Quarry Farm, Elmira,
where they would remain until October, the month planned for their
sailing. The house in Hartford had been sold; and a house which,
prior to Mrs. Clemens's breakdown they had bought near Tarrytown
(expecting to settle permanently on the Hudson) had been let. They
were going to Europe for another indefinite period.
At Quarry Farm Mrs. Clemens continued to improve, and Clemens, once
more able to work, occupied the study which Mrs. Crane had built for
him thirty years before, and where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and the
Wandering Prince had been called into being.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford, Conn.:
QUARRY FARM, ELMIRA, N. Y.,
July 21, '03.
DEAR JOE,--That love-letter delighted Livy beyond any like utterance
received by her these thirty years and more. I was going to answer it
for her right away, and said so; but she reserved the privilege to
herself. I judge she is accumulating Hot Stuff--as George Ade would say
. . . .
Livy is coming along: eats well, sleeps some, is mostly very gay, not
very often depressed; spends all day on the porch, sleeps there a part of
the night, makes excursions in carriage and in wheel-chair; and, in the
matter of superintending everything and everybody, has resumed business
at the old stand.
Did you ever go house-hunting 3,000 miles away? It costs three months of
writing and telegraphing to pull off a success. We finished 3 or 4 days
ago, and took the Villa Papiniano (dam the name, I have to look at it a
minutes after writing it, and then am always in doubt) for a year by
cable. Three miles outside of Florence, under Fiesole--a darling
location, and apparently a choice house, near Fiske.
There's 7 in our gang. All women but me. It means trunks and things.
But thanks be! To-day (this is private) comes a most handsome voluntary
document with seals and escutcheons on it from the Italian Ambassador
(who is a stranger to me) commanding the Customs people to keep their
hands off the Clemens's things. Now wasn't it lovely of him? And wasn't
it lovely of me to let Livy take a pencil and edit my answer and knock a
good third of it out?
And that's a nice ship--the Irene! new--swift--13,000 tons--rooms up in
the sky, open to sun and air--and all that. I was desperately troubled
for Livy--about the down-cellar cells in the ancient "Latin."
The cubs are in Riverdale, yet; they come to us the first week in August.
With lots and lots of love to you all,
The arrangement for the Villa Papiniano was not completed, after
all, and through a good friend, George Gregory Smith, a resident of
Florence, the Villa Quarto, an ancient home of royalty, on the hills
west of Florence, was engaged. Smith wrote that it was a very
beautiful place with a south-eastern exposure, looking out toward
Valombrosa and the Chianti Hills. It had extensive grounds and
stables, and the annual rental for it all was two thousand dollars a
year. It seemed an ideal place, in prospect, and there was great
hope that Mrs. Clemens would find her health once more in the
Italian climate which she loved.
Perhaps at this point, when Mark Twain is once more leaving America,
we may offer two letters from strangers to him--letters of
appreciation--such as he was constantly receiving from those among
the thousands to whom he had given happiness. The first is from
Samuel Merwin, one day to become a popular novelist, then in the
hour of his beginnings.
To Mark Twain, from Samuel Merwin:
PLAINFIELD, N. J.
August 4, 1903.
DEAR MR. CLEMENS,--For a good many years I have been struggling with the
temptation to write you and thank you for the work you have done; and to-
day I seem to be yielding.
During the past two years I have been reading through a group of writers
who seem to me to represent about the best we have--Sir Thomas Malory,
Spenser, Shakespeare, Boswell, Carlyle, Le Sage. In thinking over one
and then another, and then all of them together, it was plain to see why
they were great men and writers: each brought to his time some new blood,
new ideas,--turned a new current into the stream. I suppose there have
always been the careful, painstaking writers, the men who are always
taken so seriously by their fellow craftsmen. It seems to be the
unconventional man who is so rare--I mean the honestly unconventional
man, who has to express himself in his own big way because the
conventional way isn't big enough, because ne needs room and freedom.
We have a group of the more or less conventional men now--men of dignity
and literary position. But in spite of their influence and of all the
work they have done, there isn't one of them to whom one can give one's
self up without reservation, not one whose ideas seem based on the deep
foundation of all true philosophy,--except Mark Twain.
I hope this letter is not an impertinence. I have just been turning
about, with my head full of Spenser and Shakespeare and "Gil Blas,"
looking for something in our own present day literature to which I could
surrender myself as to those five gripping old writings. And nothing
could I find until I took up "Life on the Mississippi," and "Huckleberry
Finn," and, just now, the "Connecticut Yankee." It isn't the first time
I have read any of these three, and it's because I know it won't be the
last, because these books are the only ones written in my lifetime that
claim my unreserved interest and admiration and, above all, my feelings,
that I've felt I had to write this letter.
I like to think that "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" will be looked
upon, fifty or a hundred years from now, as the picture of buoyant,
dramatic, human American life. I feel, deep in my own heart, pretty sure
that they will be. They won't be looked on then as the work of a
"humorist" any more than we think of Shakespeare as a humorist now.
I don't mean by this to set up a comparison between Mark Twain and
Shakespeare: I don't feel competent to do it; and I'm not at all sure
that it could be done until Mark Twain's work shall have its fair share
of historical perspective. But Shakespeare was a humorist and so, thank
Heaven! is Mark Twain. And Shakespeare plunged deep into the deep, sad
things of life; and so, in a different way (but in a way that has more
than once brought tears to my eyes) has Mark Twain. But after all, it
isn't because of any resemblance for anything that was ever before
written that Mark Twain's books strike in so deep: it's rather because
they've brought something really new into our literature--new, yet old as
Adam and Eve and the Apple. And this achievement, the achievement of
putting something into literature that was not there before, is, I should
think, the most that any writer can ever hope to do. It is the one mark
of distinction between the "lonesome" little group of big men and the
vast herd of medium and small ones. Anyhow, this much I am sure of--to
the young man who hopes, however feebly, to accomplish a little
something, someday, as a writer, the one inspiring example of our time is
Very truly yours,
Mark Twain once said he could live a month on a good compliment, and from
his reply, we may believe this one to belong in, that class.
To Samuel Merwin, in Plainfield, N. J.:
Aug. 16, '03.
DEAR MR. MERWIN,--What you have said has given me deep pleasure--indeed I
think no words could be said that could give me more.
Very sincerely yours,
S. L. CLEMENS.
The next "compliment" is from one who remains unknown, for she
failed to sign her name in full. But it is a lovely letter, and
loses nothing by the fact that the writer of it was willing to
remain in obscurity.
To Mark Twain, from Margaret M----:
Aug. 18, 1903.
MY DEAR, DEAR MARK TWAIN,--May a little girl write and tell you how
dearly she loves and admires your writings? Well, I do and I want to
tell you your ownself. Don't think me too impertinent for indeed I don't
mean to be that! I have read everything of yours that I could get and
parts that touch me I have read over and over again. They seem such dear
friends to me, so like real live human beings talking and laughing,
working and suffering too! One cannot but feel that it is your own life
and experience that you have painted. So do not wonder that you seem a
dear friend to me who has never even seen you. I often think of you as
such in my own thoughts. I wonder if you will laugh when I tell you I
have made a hero of you? For when people seem very sordid and mean and
stupid (and it seems as if everybody was) then the thought will come like
a little crumb of comfort "well, Mark Twain isn't anyway." And it does
really brighten me up.
You see I have gotten an idea that you are a great, bright spirit of
kindness and tenderness. One who can twist everybody's-even your own-
faults and absurdities into hearty laughs. Even the person mocked must
laugh! Oh, Dear! How often you have made me laugh! And yet as often
you have struck something infinite away down deep in my heart so that I
want to cry while half laughing!
So this all means that I want to thank you and to tell you. "God always
love Mark Twain!" is often my wish. I dearly love to read books, and I
never tire of reading yours; they always have a charm for me. Good-bye,
I am afraid I have not expressed what I feel. But at least I have tried.
Clemens and family left Elmira October the 5th for New York City.
They remained at the Hotel Grosvenor until their sailing date,
October 24th. A few days earlier, Mr. Frank Doubleday sent a volume
of Kipling's poems and de Blowitz's Memoirs for entertainment on the
ship. Mark Twain's acknowledgment follows.
To F. N. Doubleday, in New York:
October 12, '03.
DEAR DOUBLEDAY,--The books came--ever so many thanks. I have been
reading "The Bell Buoy" and "The Old Men" over and over again--my custom
with Kipling's work-and saving up the rest for other leisurely and
luxurious meals. A bell-buoy is a deeply impressive fellow-being. In
these many recent trips up and down the Sound in the Kanawha--
[Mr. Rogers's yacht.]--he has talked to me nightly, sometimes in his
pathetic and melancholy way, sometimes with his strenuous and urgent
note, and I got his meaning--now I have his words! No one but Kipling
could do this strong and vivid thing. Some day I hope to hear the poem
chanted or sung--with the bell-buoy breaking in, out of the distance.
"The Old Men," delicious, isn't it? And so comically true. I haven't
arrived there yet, but I suppose I am on the way....
P. S. Your letter has arrived. It makes me proud and glad--what Kipling
says. I hope Fate will fetch him to Florence while we are there.
I would rather see him than any other man.
We've let the Tarrytown house for a year. Man, you would never have
believed a person could let a house in these times. That one's for sale,
the Hartford one is sold. When we buy again may we--may I--be damned....
I've dipped into Blowitz and find him quaintly and curiously interesting.
I think he tells the straight truth, too. I knew him a little, 23 years
The appreciative word which Kipling had sent Doubleday was: "I love
to think of the great and God-like Clemens. He is the biggest man
you have on your side of the water by a damn sight, and don't you
forget it. Cervantes was a relation of his."
LETTERS OF 1904. TO VARIOUS PERSONS. LIFE IN VILLA QUARTO. DEATH OF
MRS. CLEMENS. THE RETURN TO AMERICA
Mrs. Clemens stood the voyage to Italy very well and, in due time, the
family were installed in the Villa Reale di Quarto, the picturesque old
Palace of Cosimo, a spacious, luxurious place, even if not entirely
cheerful or always comfortable during the changeable Tuscan winter.
Congratulated in a letter from MacAlister in being in the midst of
Florentine sunshine, he answered: "Florentine sunshine? Bless you, there
isn't any. We have heavy fogs every morning, and rain all day. This
house is not merely large, it is vast--therefore I think it must always
lack the home feeling."
Neither was their landlady, the American wife of an Italian count, all
that could be desired. From a letter to Twichell, however, we learn that
Mark Twain's work was progressing well.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
VILLA DI QUARTO,
FLORENCE, Jan. 7, '04.
DEAR JOE,--. . . I have had a handsome success, in one way, here.
I left New York under a sort of half promise to furnish to the Harper
magazines 30,000 words this year. Magazining is difficult work because
every third page represents 2 pages that you have put in the fire;
(because you are nearly sure to start wrong twice) and so when you have
finished an article and are willing to let it go to print it represents
only 10 cents a word instead of 30.
But this time I had the curious (and unprecedented) luck to start right
in each case. I turned out 37,000 words in 25 working days; and the
reason I think I started right every time is, that not only have I
approved and accepted the several articles, but the court of last resort
(Livy) has done the same.
On many of the between-days I did some work, but only of an idle and not
necessarily necessary sort, since it will not see print until I am dead.
I shall continue this (an hour per day) but the rest of the year I expect
to put in on a couple of long books (half-completed ones.) No more
magazine-work hanging over my head.
This secluded and silent solitude this clean, soft air and this
enchanting view of Florence, the great valley and the snow-mountains that
frame it are the right conditions for work. They are a persistent
inspiration. To-day is very lovely; when the afternoon arrives there
will be a new picture every hour till dark, and each of them divine--or
progressing from divine to diviner and divinest. On this (second) floor
Clara's room commands the finest; she keeps a window ten feet high wide
open all the time and frames it in. I go in from time to time, every day
and trade sass for a look. The central detail is a distant and stately
snow-hump that rises above and behind blackforested hills, and its
sloping vast buttresses, velvety and sun-polished with purple shadows
between, make the sort of picture we knew that time we walked in
Switzerland in the days of our youth.
I wish I could show your letter to Livy--but she must wait a week or so
for it. I think I told you she had a prostrating week of tonsilitis a
month ago; she has remained very feeble ever since, and confined to the
bed of course, but we allow ourselves to believe she will regain the lost
ground in another month. Her physician is Professor Grocco--she could
not have a better. And she has a very good trained nurse.
Love to all of you from all of us. And to all of our dear Hartford
P. S. 3 days later.
Livy is as remarkable as ever. The day I wrote you--that night, I mean--
she had a bitter attack of gout or rheumatism occupying the whole left
arm from shoulder to fingers, accompanied by fever. The pains racked her
50 or 6o hours; they have departed, now--and already she is planning a
trip to Egypt next fall, and a winter's sojourn there! This is life in
You will be surprised that I was willing to do so much magazine-writing--
a thing I have always been chary about--but I had good reasons. Our
expenses have been so prodigious for a year and a half, and are still so
prodigious, that Livy was worrying altogether too much about them, and
doing a very dangerous amount of lying awake on their account. It was
necessary to stop that, and it is now stopped.
Yes, she is remarkable, Joe. Her rheumatic attack set me to cursing and
swearing, without limit as to time or energy, but it merely concentrated
her patience and her unconquerable fortitude. It is the difference
between us. I can't count the different kinds of ailments which have
assaulted her in this fiendish year and a half--and I forgive none of
them--but here she comes up again as bright and fresh and enterprising as
ever, and goes to planning about Egypt, with a hope and a confidence
which are to me amazing.
Clara is calling for me--we have to go into town and pay calls.
In Florence, that winter, Clemens began dictating to his secretary
some autobiographical chapters. This was the work which was "not to
see print until I am dead." He found it a pleasant, lazy occupation
and wrote his delight in it to Howells in a letter which seems not
to have survived. In his reply, Howells wrote: "You do stir me
mightily with the hope of dictating and I will try it when I get the
chance. But there is the tempermental difference. You are dramatic
and unconscious; you count the thing more than yourself; I am cursed
with consciousness to the core, and can't say myself out; I am
always saying myself in, and setting myself above all that I say, as
of more worth. Lately I have felt as if I were rotting with
egotism. I don't admire myself; I am sick of myself; but I can't
think of anything else. Here I am at it now, when I ought to be
rejoicing with you at the blessing you have found .... I'd like,
immensely, to read your autobiography. You always rather bewildered
me by your veracity, and I fancy you may tell the truth about
yourself. But all of it? The black truth which we all know of
ourselves in our hearts, or only the whity-brown truth of the
pericardium, or the nice, whitened truth of the shirtfront? Even
you won't tell the black heart's--truth. The man who could do it
would be famed to the last day the sun shone upon."
We gather from Mark Twain's answer that he was not deceiving himself
in the matter of his confessions.
To W. D. Howells, in New York:
VILLA DI QUARTO, FLORENCE,
March 14, '04.
DEAR HOWELLS,--Yes, I set up the safeguards, in the first day's
dictating; taking this position: that an autobiography is the truest of
all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the
truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with
hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is
there, between the lines, where the author is raking dust upon it, the
result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily
The summer in England! you can't ask better luck than that. Then you
will run over to Florence; we shall all be hungry to see you-all. We are
hunting for another villa, (this one is plenty large enough but has no
room in it) but even if we find it I am afraid it will be months before
we can move Mrs. Clemens. Of course it will. But it comforts us to let
on that we think otherwise, and these pretensions help to keep hope alive
Good-bye, with love, Amen.
News came of the death of Henry M. Stanley, one of Mark Twain's
oldest friends. Clemens once said that he had met Stanley in St.
Louis where he (Clemens) had delivered a lecture which Stanley had
reported. In the following letter he fixes the date of their
meeting as early in 1867, which would be immediately after Mark
Twain's return from California, and just prior to the Quaker City
excursion--a fact which is interesting only because it places the
two men together when each was at the very beginning of a great
To Lady Stanley, in England:
VILLA DI QUARTO, FIRENZE, May 11, '04.
DEAR LADY STANLEY,--I have lost a dear and honored friend--how fast they
fall about me now, in my age! The world has lost a tried and proved
hero. And you--what have you lost? It is beyond estimate--we who know
you, and what he was to you, know that. How far he stretches across my
life! I knew him when his work was all before him five years before the
great day that he wrote his name far-away up on the blue of the sky for
the world to see and applaud and remember; I have known him as friend and
intimate ever since. It is 37 years. I have known no other friend and
intimate so long, except John Hay--a friendship which dates from the same
year and the same half of it, the first half of 1867. I grieve with you
and with your family, dear Lady Stanley, it is all I can do; but that I
do out of my heart. It would be we, instead of I, if Mrs. Clemens knew,
but in all these 20 months that she has lain a prisoner in her bed we
have hidden from her all things that could sadden her. Many a friend is
gone whom she still asks about and still thinks is living.
In deepest sympathy I beg the privilege of signing myself
S. L. CLEMENS.
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:
VILLA DI QUARTO, May 11, '04
DEAR JOE,--Yours has this moment arrived--just as I was finishing a note
to poor Lady Stanley. I believe the last country-house visit we paid in
England was to Stanley's. Lord, how my friends and acquaintances fall
about me now, in my gray-headed days! Vereschagin, Mommsen, Dvorak,
Lenbach, Jokai--all so recently, and now Stanley. I had known Stanley 37
years. Goodness, who is it I haven't known! As a rule the necrologies
find me personally interested--when they treat of old stagers. Generally
when a man dies who is worth cabling, it happens that I have run across
him somewhere, some time or other.
Oh, say! Down by the Laurentian Library there's a marble image that has
been sitting on its pedestal some 450 Years, if my dates are right--
Cosimo I. I've seen the back of it many a time, but not the front; but
yesterday I twisted my head around after we had driven by, and the
profane exclamation burst from my mouth before I could think: "there's
I mean to get a photo of it--and use it if it confirms yesterday's
conviction. That's a very nice word from the Catholic Magazine and I am
glad you sent it. I mean to show it to my priest--we are very fond of
him. He is a stealing man, and is also learnedly scientific. He
invented the thing which records the seismatic disturbances, for the
peoples of the earth. And he's an astronomer and has an observatory of
Ah, many's the cry I have, over reflecting that maybe we could have had
Young Harmony for Livy, and didn't have wit enough to think of it.
Speaking of Livy reminds me that your inquiry arrives at a good time
(unberufen) It has been weeks (I don't know how many!) since we could
have said a hopeful word, but this morning Katy came the minute the day-
nurse came on watch and said words of a strange and long-forgotten sound:
"Mr. Clemens, Mrs. Clemens is really and truly better!--anybody can see
it; she sees it herself; and last night at 9 o'clock she said it."
There--it is heart-warming, it is splendid, it is sublime; let us enjoy
it, let us make the most of it today--and bet not a farthing on tomorrow.
The tomorrows have nothing for us. Too many times they have breathed the
word of promise to our ear and broken it to our hope. We take no
tomorrow's word any more.
You've done a wonder, Joe: you've written a letter that can be sent in to
Livy--that doesn't often happen, when either a friend or a stranger
writes. You did whirl in a P. S. that wouldn't do, but you wrote it on a
margin of a page in such a way that I was able to clip off the margin
clear across both pages, and now Livy won't perceive that the sheet isn't
the same size it used to was. It was about Aldrich's son, and I came
near forgetting to remove it. It should have been written on a loose
strip and enclosed. That son died on the 5th of March and Aldrich wrote
me on the night before that his minutes were numbered. On the 18th Livy
asked after that patient, and I was prepared, and able to give her a
grateful surprise by telling her "the Aldriches are no longer uneasy
I do wish I could have been present and heard Charley Clark. When he
can't light up a dark place nobody can.
With lots of love to you all.
Mrs. Clemens had her bad days and her good days-days when there
seemed no ray of light, and others that seemed almost to promise
recovery. The foregoing letter to Twichell, and the one which
follows, to Richard Watson Gilder, reflect the hope and fear that
daily and hourly alternated at Villa Quarto
To Richard Watson Gilder, in New York:
VILLA DI QUARTO, FLORENCE,
May 12, '04.
DEAR GILDER,--A friend of ours (the Baroness de Nolda) was here this
afternoon and wanted a note of introduction to the Century, for she has
something to sell to you in case you'll want to make her an offer after
seeing a sample of the goods. I said "With pleasure: get the goods
ready, send the same to me, I will have Jean type-write them, then I will
mail them to the Century and tonight I will write the note to Mr. Gilder
and start it along. Also write me a letter embodying what you have been
saying to me about the goods and your proposed plan of arranging and
explaining them, and I will forward that to Gilder too."
As to the Baroness. She is a German; 30 years old; was married at 17; is
very pretty-indeed I might say very pretty; has a lot of sons (5) running
up from seven to 12 years old. Her husband is a Russian. They live half
the time in Russia and the other half in Florence, and supply population
alternately to the one country and then to the other. Of course it is a
family that speaks languages. This occurs at their table--I know it by
experience: It is Babel come again. The other day, when no guests were
present to keep order, the tribes were all talking at once, and 6
languages were being traded in; at last the littlest boy lost his temper
and screamed out at the top of his voice, with angry sobs: "Mais,
vraiment, io non capisco gar nichts."
The Baroness is a little afraid of her English, therefore she will write
her remarks in French--I said there's a plenty of translators in New
York. Examine her samples and drop her a line.
For two entire days, now, we have not been anxious about Mrs. Clemens
(unberufen). After 20 months of bed-ridden solitude and bodily misery
she all of a sudden ceases to be a pallid shrunken shadow, and looks
bright and young and pretty. She remains what she always was, the most
wonderful creature of fortitude, patience, endurance and recuperative
power that ever was. But ah, dear, it won't last; this fiendish malady
will play new treacheries upon her, and I shall go back to my prayers
again--unutterable from any pulpit!
With love to you and yours,
S. L. C.
May 13 10 A.M. I have just paid one of my pair of permitted 2 minutes
visits per day to the sick room. And found what I have learned to
expect--retrogression, and that pathetic something in the eye which
betrays the secret of a waning hope.
The year of the World's Fair had come, and an invitation from Gov.
Francis, of Missouri, came to Mark Twain in Florence, personally
inviting him to attend the great celebration and carry off first
prize. We may believe that Clemens felt little in the spirit of
humor, but to such an invitation he must send a cheerful, even if
To Gov. Francis, of Missouri:
VILLA DI QUARTO, FIRENZE,
May 26, 1904.
DEAR GOVERNOR FRANCIS,--It has been a dear wish of mine to exhibit myself
at the Great Fair and get a prize, but circumstances beyond my control
have interfered, and I must remain in Florence. Although I have never
taken prizes anywhere else I used to take them at school in Missouri half
a century ago, and I ought to be able to repeat, now, if I could have a
chance. I used to get the medal for good spelling, every week, and I
could have had the medal for good conduct if there hadn't been so much
curruption in Missouri in those days; still, I got it several times by
trading medals and giving boot. I am willing to give boot now, if--
however, those days are forever gone by in Missouri, and perhaps it is
better so. Nothing ever stops the way it was in this changeable world.
Although I cannot be at the Fair, I am going to be represented there
anyway, by a portrait, by Professor Gelli. You will find it excellent.
Good judges here say it is better than the original. They say it has all
the merits of the original and keeps still, besides. It sounds like
flattery, but it is just true.
I suppose you will get a prize, because you have created the most
prodigious and in all ways most wonderful Fair the planet has ever seen.
Very well, you have indeed earned it: and with it the gratitude of the
State and the nation.
It was only a few days after the foregoing was written that death
entered Villa Quarto--unexpectedly at last--for with the first June
days Mrs. Clemens had seemed really to improve. It was on Sunday,
June 5th, that the end came. Clemens, with his daughter Jean, had
returned from a long drive, during which they had visited a Villa
with the thought of purchase. On their return they were told that
their patient had been better that afternoon than for three months.
Yet it was only a few hours later that she left them, so suddenly
and quietly that even those near her did not at first realize that
she was gone.
To W. D. Howells, in New York.
VILLA DI QUARTO, FLORENCE,
June 6, '94. 
DEAR HOWELLS,--Last night at 9.20 I entered Mrs. Clemens's room to say
the usual goodnight--and she was dead--tho' no one knew it. She had been
cheerfully talking, a moment before. She was sitting up in bed--she had
not lain down for months--and Katie and the nurse were supporting her.
They supposed she had fainted, and they were holding the oxygen pipe to
her mouth, expecting to revive her. I bent over her and looked in her
face, and I think I spoke--I was surprised and troubled that she did not