The Letters Of Mark Twain, Vol. 3
Part 3 out of 4
Our next letter to Howells is, in the main, pure foolery, but we get
in it a hint what was to become in time one of Mask Twain's
strongest interests, the matter of copyright. He had both a
personal and general interest in the subject. His own books were
constantly pirated in Canada, and the rights of foreign authors were
not respected in America. We have already seen how he had drawn a
petition which Holmes, Lowell, Longfellow, and others were to sign,
and while nothing had come of this plan he had never ceased to
formulate others. Yet he hesitated when he found that the proposed
protection was likely to work a hardship to readers of the poorer
class. Once he wrote: "My notions have mightily changed lately....
I can buy a lot of the copyright classics, in paper, at from three
to thirty cents apiece. These things must find their way into the
very kitchens and hovels of the country..... And even if the treaty
will kill Canadian piracy, and thus save me an average of $5,000 a
year, I am down on it anyway, and I'd like cussed well to write an
article opposing the treaty."
To W. D. Howells, in Belmont, Mass.:
Thursday, June 6th, 1880.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--There you stick, at Belmont, and now I'm going to
Washington for a few days; and of course, between you and Providence that
visit is going to get mixed, and you'll have been here and gone again
just about the time I get back. Bother it all, I wanted to astonish you
with a chapter or two from Orion's latest book--not the seventeen which
he has begun in the last four months, but the one which he began last
Last night, when I went to bed, Mrs. Clemens said, "George didn't take
the cat down to the cellar--Rosa says he has left it shut up in the
conservatory." So I went down to attend to Abner (the cat.) About 3 in
the morning Mrs. C. woke me and said, "I do believe I hear that cat in
the drawing-room--what did you do with him?" I answered up with the
confidence of a man who has managed to do the right thing for once, and
said "I opened the conservatory doors, took the library off the alarm,
and spread everything open, so that there wasn't any obstruction between
him and the cellar." Language wasn't capable of conveying this woman's
disgust. But the sense of what she said, was, "He couldn't have done any
harm in the conservatory--so you must go and make the entire house free
to him and the burglars, imagining that he will prefer the coal-bins to
the drawing-room. If you had had Mr. Howells to help you, I should have
admired but not been astonished, because I should know that together you
would be equal to it; but how you managed to contrive such a stately
blunder all by yourself, is what I cannot understand."
So, you see, even she knows how to appreciate our gifts.
Brisk times here.--Saturday, these things happened: Our neighbor Chas.
Smith was stricken with heart disease, and came near joining the
majority; my publisher, Bliss, ditto, ditto; a neighbor's child died;
neighbor Whitmore's sixth child added to his five other cases of measles;
neighbor Niles sent for, and responded; Susie Warner down, abed; Mrs.
George Warner threatened with death during several hours; her son Frank,
whilst imitating the marvels in Barnum's circus bills, thrown from his
aged horse and brought home insensible: Warner's friend Max Yortzburgh,
shot in the back by a locomotive and broken into 32 distinct pieces and
his life threatened; and Mrs. Clemens, after writing all these cheerful
things to Clara Spaulding, taken at midnight, and if the doctor had not
been pretty prompt the contemplated Clemens would have called before his
apartments were ready.
However, everybody is all right, now, except Yortzburg, and he is
mending--that is, he is being mended. I knocked off, during these
stirring times, and don't intend to go to work again till we go away for
the Summer, 3 or 6 weeks hence. So I am writing to you not because I
have anything to say, but because you don't have to answer and I need
something to do this afternoon.....
I have a letter from a Congressman this morning, and he says Congress
couldn't be persuaded to bother about Canadian pirates at a time like
this when all legislation must have a political and Presidential bearing,
else Congress won't look at it. So have changed my mind and my course;
I go north, to kill a pirate. I must procure repose some way, else I
cannot get down to work again.
Pray offer my most sincere and respectful approval to the President--is
approval the proper word? I find it is the one I most value here in the
household and seldomest get.
With our affection to you both.
It was always dangerous to send strangers with letters of
introduction to Mark Twain. They were so apt to arrive at the wrong
time, or to find him in the wrong mood. Howells was willing to risk
it, and that the result was only amusing instead of tragic is the
best proof of their friendship.
To W. D. Howells, in Belmont, Mass.:
June 9, '80.
Well, old practical joker, the corpse of Mr. X----has been here, and I
have bedded it and fed it, and put down my work during 24 hours and tried
my level best to make it do something, or say something, or appreciate
something--but no, it was worse than Lazarus. A kind-hearted, well-
meaning corpse was the Boston young man, but lawsy bless me, horribly
dull company. Now, old man, unless you have great confidence in Mr. X's
judgment, you ought to make him submit his article to you before he
prints it. For only think how true I was to you: Every hour that he was
here I was saying, gloatingly, "O G-- d--- you, when you are in bed and
your light out, I will fix you" (meaning to kill him)...., but then the
thought would follow--" No, Howells sent him--he shall be spared, he
shall be respected he shall travel hell-wards by his own route."
Breakfast is frozen by this time, and Mrs. Clemens correspondingly hot.
"I did not expect you to ask that man to live with you," Howells
answered. "What I was afraid of was that you would turn him out of
doors, on sight, and so I tried to put in a good word for him.
After this when I want you to board people, I'll ask you. I am
sorry for your suffering. I suppose I have mostly lost my smell for
bores; but yours is preternaturally keen. I shall begin to be
afraid I bore you. (How does that make you feel?)"
In a letter to Twichell--a remarkable letter--when baby Jean Clemens
was about a month old, we get a happy hint of conditions at Quarry
Farm, and in the background a glimpse of Mark Twain's unfailing
To Rev. Twichell, in Hartford:
QUARRY FARM, Aug. 29 ['80].
DEAR OLD JOE,--Concerning Jean Clemens, if anybody said he "didn't see no
pints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog," I should think
he was convicting himself of being a pretty poor sort of observer....
I will not go into details; it is not necessary; you will soon be in
Hartford, where I have already hired a hall; the admission fee will be
but a trifle.
It is curious to note the change in the stock-quotation of the Affection
Board brought about by throwing this new security on the market. Four
weeks ago the children still put Mamma at the head of the list right
along, where she had always been. But now:
Motley [a cat]
That is the way it stands, now Mamma is become No. 2; I have dropped from
No. 4., and am become No. 5. Some time ago it used to be nip and tuck
between me and the cats, but after the cats "developed" I didn't stand
any more show.
I've got a swollen ear; so I take advantage of it to lie abed most of the
day, and read and smoke and scribble and have a good time. Last evening
Livy said with deep concern, "O dear, I believe an abscess is forming in
I responded as the poet would have done if he had had a cold in the
"Tis said that abscess conquers love,
But O believe it not."
This made a coolness.
Been reading Daniel Webster's Private Correspondence. Have read a
hundred of his diffuse, conceited, "eloquent," bathotic (or bathostic)
letters written in that dim (no, vanished) Past when he was a student;
and Lord, to think that this boy who is so real to me now, and so booming
with fresh young blood and bountiful life, and sappy cynicisms about
girls, has since climbed the Alps of fame and stood against the sun one
brief tremendous moment with the world's eyes upon him, and then--f-z-t-!
where is he? Why the only long thing, the only real thing about the
whole shadowy business is the sense of the lagging dull and hoary lapse
of time that has drifted by since then; a vast empty level, it seems,
with a formless spectre glimpsed fitfully through the smoke and mist that
lie along its remote verge.
Well, we are all getting along here first-rate; Livy gains strength
daily, and sits up a deal; the baby is five weeks old and--but no more of
this; somebody may be reading this letter 80 years hence. And so, my
friend (you pitying snob, I mean, who are holding this yellow paper in
your hand in 1960,) save yourself the trouble of looking further; I know
how pathetically trivial our small concerns will seem to you, and I will
not let your eye profane them. No, I keep my news; you keep your
compassion. Suffice it you to know, scoffer and ribald, that the little
child is old and blind, now, and once more toothless; and the rest of us
are shadows, these many, many years. Yes, and your time cometh!
At the Farm that year Mark Twain was working on The Prince and the
Pauper, and, according to a letter to Aldrich, brought it to an end
September 19th. It is a pleasant letter, worth preserving. The
book by Aldrich here mentioned was 'The Stillwater Tragedy.'
To T. B. Aldrich, in Ponkapog, Mass.:
ELMIRA, Sept. 15, '80.
MY DEAR ALDRICH,--Thank you ever so much for the book--I had already
finished it, and prodigiously enjoyed it, in the periodical of the
notorious Howells, but it hits Mrs. Clemens just right, for she is having
a reading holiday, now, for the first time in same months; so between-
times, when the new baby is asleep and strengthening up for another
attempt to take possession of this place, she is going to read it.
Her strong friendship for you makes her think she is going to like it.
I finished a story yesterday, myself. I counted up and found it between
sixty and eighty thousand words--about the size of your book. It is for
boys and girls--been at work at it several years, off and on.
I hope Howells is enjoying his journey to the Pacific. He wrote me that
you and Osgood were going, also, but I doubted it, believing he was in
liquor when he wrote it. In my opinion, this universal applause over his
book is going to land that man in a Retreat inside of two months.
I notice the papers say mighty fine things about your book, too.
You ought to try to get into the same establishment with Howells.
But applause does not affect me--I am always calm--this is because I am
used to it.
Well, good-bye, my boy, and good luck to you. Mrs. Clemens asks me to
send her warmest regards to you and Mrs. Aldrich--which I do, and add
While Mark Twain was a journalist in San Francisco, there was a
middle-aged man named Soule, who had a desk near him on the Morning
Call. Soule was in those days highly considered as a poet by his
associates, most of whom were younger and less gracefully poetic.
But Soule's gift had never been an important one. Now, in his old
age, he found his fame still local, and he yearned for wider
recognition. He wished to have a volume of poems issued by a
publisher of recognized standing. Because Mark Twain had been one
of Soule's admirers and a warm friend in the old days, it was
natural that Soule should turn to him now, and equally natural that
Clemens should turn to Howells.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sunday, Oct. 2 '80.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Here's a letter which I wrote you to San Francisco the
second time you didn't go there.... I told Soule he needn't write you,
but simply send the MS. to you. O dear, dear, it is dreadful to be an
unrecognized poet. How wise it was in Charles Warren Stoddard to take in
his sign and go for some other calling while still young.
I'm laying for that Encyclopedical Scotchman--and he'll need to lock the
door behind him, when he comes in; otherwise when he hears my proposed
tariff his skin will probably crawl away with him. He is accustomed to
seeing the publisher impoverish the author--that spectacle must be
getting stale to him--if he contracts with the undersigned he will
experience a change in that programme that will make the enamel peel off
his teeth for very surprise--and joy. No, that last is what Mrs. Clemens
thinks--but it's not so. The proposed work is growing, mightily, in my
estimation, day by day; and I'm not going to throw it away for any mere
trifle. If I make a contract with the canny Scot, I will then tell him
the plan which you and I have devised (that of taking in the humor of all
countries)--otherwise I'll keep it to myself, I think. Why should we
assist our fellowman for mere love of God?
One wishes that Howells might have found value enough in the verses
of Frank Soule to recommend them to Osgood. To Clemens he wrote:
"You have touched me in regard to him, and I will deal gently with
his poetry. Poor old fellow! I can imagine him, and how he must
have to struggle not to be hard or sour."
The verdict, however, was inevitable. Soule's graceful verses
proved to be not poetry at all. No publisher of standing could
afford to give them his imprint.
The "Encyclopedical Scotchman" mentioned in the preceding letter was
the publisher Gebbie, who had a plan to engage Howells and Clemens
to prepare some sort of anthology of the world's literature. The
idea came to nothing, though the other plan mentioned--for a library
of humor--in time grew into a book.
Mark Twain's contracts with Bliss for the publication of his books
on the subscription plan had been made on a royalty basis, beginning
with 5 per cent. on 'The Innocents Abroad' increasing to 7 « per
cent. on 'Roughing It,' and to 10 per cent. on later books. Bliss
had held that these later percentages fairly represented one half
the profits. Clemens, however, had never been fully satisfied, and
his brother Onion had more than once urged him to demand a specific
contract on the half-profit basis. The agreement for the
publication of 'A Tramp Abroad' was made on these terms. Bliss died
before Clemens received his first statement of sales. Whatever may
have been the facts under earlier conditions, the statement proved
to Mark Twain's satisfaction; at least, that the half-profit
arrangement was to his advantage. It produced another result; it
gave Samuel Clemens an excuse to place his brother Onion in a
position of independence.
To Onion Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa:
Sunday, Oct 24 '80.
MY DEAR BRO.,--Bliss is dead. The aspect of the balance-sheet is
enlightening. It reveals the fact, through my present contract, (which
is for half the profits on the book above actual cost of paper, printing
and binding,) that I have lost considerably by all this nonsense--sixty
thousand dollars, I should say--and if Bliss were alive I would stay with
the concern and get it all back; for on each new book I would require a
portion of that back pay; but as it is (this in the very strictest
confidence,) I shall probably go to a new publisher 6 or 8 months hence,
for I am afraid Frank, with his poor health, will lack push and drive.
Out of the suspicions you bred in me years ago, has grown this result,
--to wit, that I shall within the twelvemonth get $40,000 out of this
"Tramp" instead Of $20,000. Twenty thousand dollars, after taxes and
other expenses are stripped away, is worth to the investor about $75 a
month--so I shall tell Mr. Perkins to make your check that amount per
month, hereafter, while our income is able to afford it. This ends the
loan business; and hereafter you can reflect that you are living not on
borrowed money but on money which you have squarely earned, and which has
no taint or savor of charity about it--and you can also reflect that the
money you have been receiving of me all these years is interest charged
against the heavy bill which the next publisher will have to stand who
gets a book of mine.
Jean got the stockings and is much obliged; Mollie wants to know whom she
most resembles, but I can't tell; she has blue eyes and brown hair, and
three chins, and is very fat and happy; and at one time or another she
has resembled all the different Clemenses and Langdons, in turn, that
have ever lived.
Livy is too much beaten out with the baby, nights, to write, these times;
and I don't know of anything urgent to say, except that a basket full of
letters has accumulated in the 7 days that I have been whooping and
cursing over a cold in the head--and I must attack the pile this very
With love from us
On the completion of The Prince and Pauper story, Clemens had
naturally sent it to Howells for consideration. Howells wrote:
"I have read the two P's and I like it immensely, it begins well and
it ends well." He pointed out some things that might be changed or
omitted, and added: "It is such a book as I would expect from you,
knowing what a bottom of fury there is to your fun." Clemens had
thought somewhat of publishing the story anonymously, in the fear
that it would not be accepted seriously over his own signature.
The "bull story" referred to in the next letter is the one later
used in the Joan of Arc book, the story told Joan by "Uncle Laxart,"
how he rode a bull to a funeral.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Xmas Eve, 1880.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I was prodigiously delighted with what you said about
the book--so, on the whole, I've concluded to publish intrepidly, instead
of concealing the authorship. I shall leave out that bull story.
I wish you had gone to New York. The company was small, and we had a
first-rate time. Smith's an enjoyable fellow. I liked Barrett, too.
And the oysters were as good as the rest of the company. It was worth
going there to learn how to cook them.
Next day I attended to business--which was, to introduce Twichell to Gen.
Grant and procure a private talk in the interest of the Chinese
Educational Mission here in the U. S. Well, it was very funny. Joe had
been sitting up nights building facts and arguments together into a
mighty and unassailable array and had studied them out and got them by
heart--all with the trembling half-hearted hope of getting Grant to add
his signature to a sort of petition to the Viceroy of China; but Grant
took in the whole situation in a jiffy, and before Joe had more than
fairly got started, the old man said: "I'll write the Viceroy a Letter
--a separate letter--and bring strong reasons to bear upon him; I know
him well, and what I say will have weight with him; I will attend to it
right away. No, no thanks--I shall be glad to do it--it will be a labor
So all Joe's laborious hours were for naught! It was as if he had come
to borrow a dollar, and been offered a thousand before he could unfold
But it's getting dark. Merry Christmas to all of you.
The Chinese Educational Mission, mentioned in the foregoing, was a
thriving Hartford institution, projected eight years before by a
Yale graduate named Yung Wing. The mission was now threatened, and
Yung Wing, knowing the high honor in which General Grant was held in
China, believed that through him it might be saved. Twichell, of
course, was deeply concerned and naturally overjoyed at Grant's
interest. A day or two following the return to Hartford, Clemens
received a letter from General Grant, in which he wrote: "Li Hung
Chang is the most powerful and most influential Chinaman in his
country. He professed great friendship for me when I was there, and
I have had assurances of the same thing since. I hope, if he is
strong enough with his government, that the decision to withdraw the
Chinese students from this country may be changed."
But perhaps Li Hung Chang was experiencing one of his partial
eclipses just then, or possibly he was not interested, for the
Hartford Mission did not survive.
LETTERS 1881, TO HOWELLS AND OTHERS. ASSISTING A YOUNG SCULPTOR.
With all of Mark Twain's admiration for Grant, he had opposed him as a
third-term President and approved of the nomination of Garfield. He had
made speeches for Garfield during the campaign just ended, and had been
otherwise active in his support. Upon Garfield's election, however, he
felt himself entitled to no special favor, and the single request which
he preferred at length could hardly be classed as, personal, though made
for a "personal friend."
To President-elect James A. Garfield, in Washington:
HARTFORD, Jany. 12, '81.
DEAR SIR,--Several times since your election persons wanting office have
asked me "to use my influence" with you in their behalf.
To word it in that way was such a pleasant compliment to me that I never
complied. I could not without exposing the fact that I hadn't any
influence with you and that was a thing I had no mind to do.
It seems to me that it is better to have a good man's flattering estimate
of my influence--and to keep it--than to fool it away with trying to get
him an office. But when my brother--on my wife's side--Mr. Charles J.
Langdon--late of the Chicago Convention--desires me to speak a word for
Mr. Fred Douglass, I am not asked "to use my influence" consequently I am
not risking anything. So I am writing this as a simple citizen. I am
not drawing on my fund of influence at all. A simple citizen may express
a desire with all propriety, in the matter of a recommendation to office,
and so I beg permission to hope that you will retain Mr. Douglass in his
present office of Marshall of the District of Columbia, if such a course
will not clash with your own preferences or with the expediencies and
interest of your administration. I offer this petition with peculiar
pleasure and strong desire, because I so honor this man's high and
blemishless character and so admire his brave, long crusade for the
liberties and elevation of his race.
He is a personal friend of mine, but that is nothing to the point, his
history would move me to say these things without that, and I feel them
With great respect
I am, General,
S. L. CLEMENS.
Clemens would go out of his way any time to grant favor to the
colored race. His childhood associations were partly accountable
for this, but he also felt that the white man owed the negro a debt
for generations of enforced bondage. He would lecture any time in a
colored church, when he would as likely as not refuse point-blank to
speak for a white congregation. Once, in Elmira, he received a
request, poorly and none too politely phrased, to speak for one of
the churches. He was annoyed and about to send a brief refusal,
when Mrs. Clemens, who was present, said:
"I think I know that church, and if so this preacher is a colored
man; he does not know how to write a polished letter--how should
he?" Her husband's manner changed so suddenly that she added:
"I will give you a motto, and it will be useful to you if you will
adopt it: Consider every man colored until he is proved white."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Feb. 27, 1881.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I go to West Point with Twichell tomorrow, but shall be
back Tuesday or Wednesday; and then just as soon thereafter as you and
Mrs. Howells and Winny can come you will find us ready and most glad to
see you--and the longer you can stay the gladder we shall be. I am not
going to have a thing to do, but you shall work if you want to. On the
evening of March 10th, I am going to read to the colored folk in the
African Church here (no whites admitted except such as I bring with me),
and a choir of colored folk will sing jubilee songs. I count on a good
time, and shall hope to have you folks there, and Livy. I read in
Twichell's chapel Friday night and had a most rattling high time--but the
thing that went best of all was Uncle Remus's Tar Baby. I mean to try
that on my dusky audience. They've all heard that tale from childhood--
at least the older members have.
I arrived home in time to make a most noble blunder--invited Charley
Warner here (in Livy's name) to dinner with the Gerhardts, and told him
Livy had invited his wife by letter and by word of mouth also. I don't
know where I got these impressions, but I came home feeling as one does
who realizes that he has done a neat thing for once and left no flaws or
loop-holes. Well, Livy said she had never told me to invite Charley and
she hadn't dreamed of inviting Susy, and moreover there wasn't any
dinner, but just one lean duck. But Susy Warner's intuitions were
correct--so she choked off Charley, and staid home herself--we waited
dinner an hour and you ought to have seen that duck when he was done
drying in the oven.
Clemens and his wife were always privately assisting worthy and
ambitious young people along the way of achievement. Young actors
were helped through dramatic schools; young men and women were
assisted through college and to travel abroad. Among others Clemens
paid the way of two colored students, one through a Southern
institution and another through the Yale law school.
The mention of the name of Gerhardt in the preceding letter
introduces the most important, or at least the most extensive, of
these benefactions. The following letter gives the beginning of the
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Private and Confidential.
HARTFORD, Feb. 21, 1881.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Well, here is our romance.
It happened in this way. One morning, a month ago--no, three weeks--
Livy, and Clara Spaulding and I were at breakfast, at 10 A.M., and I was
in an irritable mood, for the barber was up stairs waiting and his hot
water getting cold, when the colored George returned from answering the
bell and said: "There's a lady in the drawing-room wants to see you."
"A book agent!" says I, with heat. "I won't see her; I will die in my
Then I got up with a soul full of rage, and went in there and bent
scowling over that person, and began a succession of rude and raspy
questions--and without even offering to sit down.
Not even the defendant's youth and beauty and (seeming) timidity were
able to modify my savagery, for a time--and meantime question and answer
were going on. She had risen to her feet with the first question; and
there she stood, with her pretty face bent floorward whilst I inquired,
but always with her honest eyes looking me in the face when it came her
turn to answer.
And this was her tale, and her plea-diffidently stated, but straight-
forwardly; and bravely, and most winningly simply and earnestly: I put it
in my own fashion, for I do not remember her words:
Mr. Karl Gerhardt, who works in Pratt & Whitney's machine shops, has made
a statue in clay, and would I be so kind as to come and look at it, and
tell him if there is any promise in it? He has none to go to, and he
would be so glad.
"O, dear me," I said, "I don't know anything about art--there's nothing I
could tell him."
But she went on, just as earnestly and as simply as before, with her
plea--and so she did after repeated rebuffs; and dull as I am, even I
began by and by to admire this brave and gentle persistence, and to
perceive how her heart of hearts was in this thing, and how she couldn't
give it up, but must carry her point. So at last I wavered, and promised
in general terms that I would come down the first day that fell idle--and
as I conducted her to the door, I tamed more and more, and said I would
come during the very next week--"We shall be so glad--but--but, would you
please come early in the week?--the statue is just finished and we are so
anxious--and--and--we did hope you could come this week--and"--well, I
came down another peg, and said I would come Monday, as sure as death;
and before I got to the dining room remorse was doing its work and I was
saying to myself, "Damnation, how can a man be such a hound? why didn't I
go with her now?" Yes, and how mean I should have felt if I had known
that out of her poverty she had hired a hack and brought it along to
convey me. But luckily for what was left of my peace of mind, I didn't
Well, it appears that from here she went to Charley Warner's. There was
a better light, there, and the eloquence of her face had a better chance
to do its office. Warner fought, as I had done; and he was in the midst
of an article and very busy; but no matter, she won him completely. He
laid aside his MS and said, "Come, let us go and see your father's
statue. That is--is he your father?" "No, he is my husband." So this
child was married, you see.
This was a Saturday. Next day Warner came to dinner and said "Go!--go
tomorrow--don't fail." He was in love with the girl, and with her
husband too, and said he believed there was merit in the statue. Pretty
crude work, maybe, but merit in it.
Patrick and I hunted up the place, next day; the girl saw us driving up,
and flew down the stairs and received me. Her quarters were the second
story of a little wooden house--another family on the ground floor. The
husband was at the machine shop, the wife kept no servant, she was there
alone. She had a little parlor, with a chair or two and a sofa; and the
artist-husband's hand was visible in a couple of plaster busts, one of
the wife, and another of a neighbor's child; visible also in a couple of
water colors of flowers and birds; an ambitious unfinished portrait of
his wife in oils: some paint decorations on the pine mantel; and an
excellent human ear, done in some plastic material at 16.
Then we went into the kitchen, and the girl flew around, with enthusiasm,
and snatched rag after rag from a tall something in the corner, and
presently there stood the clay statue, life size--a graceful girlish
creature, nude to the waist, and holding up a single garment with one
hand the expression attempted being a modified scare--she was interrupted
when about to enter the bath.
Then this young wife posed herself alongside the image and so remained
--a thing I didn't understand. But presently I did--then I said:
"O, it's you!"
"Yes," she said, "I was the model. He has no model but me. I have stood
for this many and many an hour--and you can't think how it does tire one!
But I don't mind it. He works all day at the shop; and then, nights and
Sundays he works on his statue as long as I can keep up."
She got a big chisel, to use as a lever, and between us we managed to
twist the pedestal round and round, so as to afford a view of the statue
from all points. Well, sir, it was perfectly charming, this girl's
innocence and purity---exhibiting her naked self, as it were, to a
stranger and alone, and never once dreaming that there was the slightest
indelicacy about the matter. And so there wasn't; but it will be many
along day before I run across another woman who can do the like and show
no trace of self-consciousness.
Well, then we sat down, and I took a smoke, and she told me all about her
people in Massachusetts--her father is a physician and it is an old and
respectable family--(I am able to believe anything she says.) And she
told me how "Karl" is 26 years old; and how he has had passionate
longings all his life toward art, but has always been poor and obliged to
struggle for his daily bread; and how he felt sure that if he could only
have one or two lessons in--
"Lessons? Hasn't he had any lessons?"
No. He had never had a lesson.
And presently it was dinner time and "Karl" arrived--a slender young
fellow with a marvelous head and a noble eye--and he was as simple and
natural, and as beautiful in spirit as his wife was. But she had to do
the talking--mainly--there was too much thought behind his cavernous eyes
for glib speech.
I went home enchanted. Told Livy and Clara Spaulding all about the
paradise down yonder where those two enthusiasts are happy with a yearly
expense of $350. Livy and Clara went there next day and came away
enchanted. A few nights later the Gerhardts kept their promise and came
here for the evening. It was billiard night and I had company and so was
not down; but Livy and Clara became more charmed with these children than
Warner and I planned to get somebody to criticise the statue whose
judgment would be worth something. So I laid for Champney, and after two
failures I captured him and took him around, and he said "this statue is
full of faults--but it has merits enough in it to make up for them"--
whereat the young wife danced around as delighted as a child. When we
came away, Champney said, "I did not want to say too much there, but the
truth is, it seems to me an extraordinary performance for an untrained
hand. You ask if there is promise enough there to justify the Hartford
folk in going to an expense of training this young man. I should say,
yes, decidedly; but still, to make everything safe, you had better get
the judgment of a sculptor."
Warner was in New York. I wrote him, and he said he would fetch up Ward
--which he did. Yesterday they went to the Gerhardts and spent two
hours, and Ward came away bewitched with those people and marveling at
the winning innocence of the young wife, who dropped naturally into
model-attitude beside the statue (which is stark naked from head to heel,
now--G. had removed the drapery, fearing Ward would think he was afraid
to try legs and hips) just as she has always done before.
Livy and I had two long talks with Ward yesterday evening. He spoke
strongly. He said, "if any stranger had told me that this apprentice did
not model that thing from plaster casts, I would not have believed it."
He said "it is full of crudities, but it is full of genius, too. It is
such a statue as the man of average talent would achieve after two years
training in the schools. And the boldness of the fellow, in going
straight to nature! He is an apprentice--his work shows that, all over;
but the stuff is in him, sure. Hartford must send him to Paris--two
years; then if the promise holds good, keep him there three more--and
warn him to study, study, work, work, and keep his name out of the
papers, and neither ask for orders nor accept them when offered."
Well, you see, that's all we wanted. After Ward was gone Livy came out
with the thing that was in her mind. She said, "Go privately and start
the Gerhardts off to Paris, and say nothing about it to any one else."
So I tramped down this morning in the snow-storm--and there was a
stirring time. They will sail a week or ten days from now.
As I was starting out at the front door, with Gerhardt beside me and the
young wife dancing and jubilating behind, this latter cried out
impulsively, "Tell Mrs. Clemens I want to hug her--I want to hug you
I gave them my old French book and they were going to tackle the
language, straight off.
Now this letter is a secret--keep it quiet--I don't think Livy would mind
my telling you these things, but then she might, you know, for she is a
Champney was J. Wells Champney, a portrait-painter of distinction;
Ward was the sculptor, J. Q. A. Ward.
The Gerhardts were presently off to Paris, well provided with means
to make their dreams reality; in due time the letters will report
The Uncle Remus tales of Joel Chandler Harris gave Mark Twain great
pleasure. He frequently read them aloud, not only at home but in
public. Finally, he wrote Harris, expressing his warm appreciation,
and mentioning one of the negro stories of his own childhood, "The
Golden Arm," which he urged Harris to look up and add to his
"You have pinned a proud feather in Uncle-Remus's cap," replied
Harris. "I do not know what higher honor he could have than to
appear before the Hartford public arm in arm with Mark Twain."
He disclaimed any originality for the stories, adding, "I understand
that my relations toward Uncle Remus are similar to those that exist
between an almanac maker and the calendar." He had not heard the
"Golden Arm" story and asked for the outlines; also for some
publishing advice, out of Mark Twain's long experience.
To Joel Chandler Harris, in Atlanta:
ELMIRA, N.Y., Aug. 10.
MY DEAR MR. HARRIS,--You can argue yourself into the delusion that the
principle of life is in the stories themselves and not in their setting;
but you will save labor by stopping with that solitary convert, for he is
the only intelligent one you will bag. In reality the stories are only
alligator pears--one merely eats them for the sake of the salad-dressing.
Uncle Remus is most deftly drawn, and is a lovable and delightful
creation; he, and the little boy, and their relations with each other,
are high and fine literature, and worthy to live, for their own sakes;
and certainly the stories are not to be credited with them. But enough
of this; I seem to be proving to the man that made the multiplication
table that twice one are two.
I have been thinking, yesterday and to-day (plenty of chance to think, as
I am abed with lumbago at our little summering farm among the solitudes
of the Mountaintops,) and I have concluded that I can answer one of your
questions with full confidence--thus: Make it a subscription book.
Mighty few books that come strictly under the head of literature will
sell by subscription; but if Uncle Remus won't, the gift of prophecy has
departed out of me. When a book will sell by subscription, it will sell
two or three times as many copies as it would in the trade; and the
profit is bulkier because the retail price is greater.....
You didn't ask me for a subscription-publisher. If you had, I should
have recommended Osgood to you. He inaugurates his subscription
department with my new book in the fall.....
Now the doctor has been here and tried to interrupt my yarn about "The
Golden Arm," but I've got through, anyway.
Of course I tell it in the negro dialect--that is necessary; but I have
not written it so, for I can't spell it in your matchless way. It is
marvelous the way you and Cable spell the negro and creole dialects.
Two grand features are lost in print: the weird wailing, the rising and
falling cadences of the wind, so easily mimicked with one's mouth; and
the impressive pauses and eloquent silences, and subdued utterances,
toward the end of the yarn (which chain the attention of the children
hand and foot, and they sit with parted lips and breathless, to be
wrenched limb from limb with the sudden and appalling "You got it").
Old Uncle Dan'l, a slave of my uncle's' aged 60, used to tell us children
yarns every night by the kitchen fire (no other light;) and the last yarn
demanded, every night, was this one. By this time there was but a
ghastly blaze or two flickering about the back-log. We would huddle
close about the old man, and begin to shudder with the first familiar
words; and under the spell of his impressive delivery we always fell a
prey to that climax at the end when the rigid black shape in the twilight
sprang at us with a shout.
When you come to glance at the tale you will recollect it--it is as
common and familiar as the Tar Baby. Work up the atmosphere with your
customary skill and it will "go" in print.
Lumbago seems to make a body garrulous--but you'll forgive it.
S. L. CLEMENS
The "Golden Arm" story was one that Clemens often used in his public
readings, and was very effective as he gave it.
In his sketch, "How to Tell a Story," it appears about as he used to
tell it. Harris, receiving the outlines of the old Missouri tale,
presently announced that he had dug up its Georgia relative, an
interesting variant, as we gather from Mark Twain's reply.
To Joel Chandler Harris, in Atlanta:
MY DEAR MR. HARRIS,--I was very sure you would run across that Story
somewhere, and am glad you have. A Drummond light--no, I mean a Brush
light--is thrown upon the negro estimate of values by his willingness to
risk his soul and his mighty peace forever for the sake of a silver
sev'm-punce. And this form of the story seems rather nearer the true
field-hand standard than that achieved by my Florida, Mo., negroes with
their sumptuous arm of solid gold.
I judge you haven't received my new book yet--however, you will in a day
or two. Meantime you must not take it ill if I drop Osgood a hint about
your proposed story of slave life.....
When you come north I wish you would drop me a line and then follow it in
person and give me a day or two at our house in Hartford. If you will,
I will snatch Osgood down from Boston, and you won't have to go there at
all unless you want to. Please to bear this strictly in mind, and don't
S. L. CLEMENS.
Charles Warren Stoddard, to whom the next letter is written, was one
of the old California literary crowd, a graceful writer of verse and
prose, never quite arriving at the success believed by his friends
to be his due. He was a gentle, irresponsible soul, well loved by
all who knew him, and always, by one or another, provided against
want. The reader may remember that during Mark Twain's great
lecture engagement in London, winter of 1873-74, Stoddard lived with
him, acting as his secretary. At a later period in his life he
lived for several years with the great telephone magnate, Theodore
N. Vail. At the time of this letter, Stoddard had decided that in
the warm light and comfort of the Sandwich Islands he could survive
on his literary earnings.
To Charles Warren Stoddard, in the Sandwich Islands:
HARTFORD, Oct. 26 '81.
MY DEAR CHARLIE,--Now what have I ever done to you that you should not
only slide off to Heaven before you have earned a right to go, but must
add the gratuitous villainy of informing me of it?.....
The house is full of carpenters and decorators; whereas, what we really
need here, is an incendiary. If the house would only burn down, we would
pack up the cubs and fly to the isles of the blest, and shut ourselves up
in the healing solitudes of the crater of Haleakala and get a good rest;
for the mails do not intrude there, nor yet the telephone and the
telegraph. And after resting, we would come down the mountain a piece
and board with a godly, breech-clouted native, and eat poi and dirt and
give thanks to whom all thanks belong, for these privileges, and never
house-keep any more.
I think my wife would be twice as strong as she is, but for this wearing
and wearying slavery of house-keeping. However, she thinks she must
submit to it for the sake of the children; whereas, I have always had a
tenderness for parents too, so, for her sake and mine, I sigh for the
incendiary. When the evening comes and the gas is lit and the wear and
tear of life ceases, we want to keep house always; but next morning we
wish, once more, that we were free and irresponsible boarders.
Work?--one can't you know, to any purpose. I don't really get anything
done worth speaking of, except during the three or four months that we
are away in the Summer. I wish the Summer were seven years long. I keep
three or four books on the stocks all the time, but I seldom add a
satisfactory chapter to one of them at home. Yes, and it is all because
my time is taken up with answering the letters of strangers. It can't be
done through a short hand amanuensis--I've tried that--it wouldn't work
--I couldn't learn to dictate. What does possess strangers to write so
many letters? I never could find that out. However, I suppose I did it
myself when I was a stranger. But I will never do it again.
Maybe you think I am not happy? the very thing that gravels me is that I
am. I don't want to be happy when I can't work; I am resolved that
hereafter I won't be. What I have always longed for, was the privilege
of living forever away up on one of those mountains in the Sandwich
Islands overlooking the sea.
That magazine article of yours was mighty good: up to your very best I
think. I enclose a book review written by Howells.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 26 '81.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I am delighted with your review, and so is Mrs.
Clemens. What you have said, there, will convince anybody that reads it;
a body cannot help being convinced by it. That is the kind of a review
to have; the doubtful man; even the prejudiced man, is persuaded and
What a queer blunder that was, about the baronet. I can't quite see how
I ever made it. There was an opulent abundance of things I didn't know;
and consequently no need to trench upon the vest-pocketful of things I
did know, to get material for a blunder.
Charley Warren Stoddard has gone to the Sandwich Islands permanently.
Lucky devil. It is the only supremely delightful place on earth. It
does seem that the more advantage a body doesn't earn, here, the more of
them God throws at his head. This fellow's postal card has set the
vision of those gracious islands before my mind, again, with not a leaf
withered, nor a rainbow vanished, nor a sun-flash missing from the waves,
and now it will be months, I reckon, before I can drive it away again.
It is beautiful company, but it makes one restless and dissatisfied.
With love and thanks,
The review mentioned in this letter was of The Prince and the
Pauper. What the queer" blunder" about the baronet was, the present
writer confesses he does not know; but perhaps a careful reader
could find it, at least in the early edition; very likely it was
corrected without loss of time.
Clemens now and then found it necessary to pay a visit to Canada in
the effort to protect his copyright. He usually had a grand time on
these trips, being lavishly entertained by the Canadian literary
fraternity. In November, 1881, he made one of these journeys in the
interest of The Prince and the Pauper, this time with Osgood, who
was now his publisher. In letters written home we get a hint of his
diversions. The Monsieur Frechette mentioned was a Canadian poet of
considerable distinction. "Clara" was Miss Clara Spaulding, of
Elmira, who had accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Clemens to Europe in 1873,
and again in 1878. Later she became Mrs. John B. Staachfield, of
New York City. Her name has already appeared in these letters many
To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:
MONTREAL, Nov. 28 '81.
Livy darling, you and Clara ought to have been at breakfast in the great
dining room this morning. English female faces, distinctive English
costumes, strange and marvelous English gaits--and yet such honest,
honorable, clean-souled countenances, just as these English women almost
always have, you know. Right away--
But they've come to take me to the top of Mount Royal, it being a cold,
dry, sunny, magnificent day. Going in a sleigh.
To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:
MONTREAL, Sunday, November 27, 1881.
Livy dear, a mouse kept me awake last night till 3 or 4 o'clock--so I am
lying abed this morning. I would not give sixpence to be out yonder in
the storm, although it is only snow.
[The above paragraph is written in the form of a rebus illustrated with
There--that's for the children--was not sure that they could read
writing; especially jean, who is strangely ignorant in some things.
I can not only look out upon the beautiful snow-storm, past the vigorous
blaze of my fire; and upon the snow-veiled buildings which I have
sketched; and upon the churchward drifting umbrellas; and upon the
buffalo-clad cabmen stamping their feet and thrashing their arms on the
corner yonder: but I also look out upon the spot where the first white
men stood, in the neighborhood of four hundred years ago, admiring the
mighty stretch of leafy solitudes, and being admired and marveled at by
an eager multitude of naked savages. The discoverer of this region, and
namer of it, Jacques Cartier, has a square named for him in the city. I
wish you were here; you would enjoy your birthday, I think.
I hoped for a letter, and thought I had one when the mail was handed in,
a minute ago, but it was only that note from Sylvester Baxter. You must
write--do you hear?--or I will be remiss myself.
Give my love and a kiss to the children, and ask them to give you my love
and a kiss from
To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:
QUEBEC, Sunday. '81.
Livy darling, I received a letter from Monsieur Frechette this morning,
in which certain citizens of Montreal tendered me a public dinner next
Thursday, and by Osgood's advice I accepted it. I would have accepted
anyway, and very cheerfully but for the delay of two days--for I was
purposing to go to Boston Tuesday and home Wednesday; whereas, now I go
to Boston Friday and home Saturday. I have to go by Boston on account of
We drove about the steep hills and narrow, crooked streets of this old
town during three hours, yesterday, in a sleigh, in a driving snow-storm.
The people here don't mind snow; they were all out, plodding around on
their affairs--especially the children, who were wallowing around
everywhere, like snow images, and having a mighty good time. I wish I
could describe the winter costume of the young girls, but I can't. It is
grave and simple, but graceful and pretty--the top of it is a brimless
fur cap. Maybe it is the costume that makes pretty girls seem so
monotonously plenty here. It was a kind of relief to strike a homely
You descend into some of the streets by long, deep stairways; and in the
strong moonlight, last night, these were very picturesque. I did wish
you were here to see these things. You couldn't by any possibility sleep
in these beds, though, or enjoy the food.
Good night, sweetheart, and give my respects to the cubs.
It had been hoped that W. D. Howells would join the Canadian
excursion, but Howells was not very well that autumn. He wrote that
he had been in bed five weeks, "most of the time recovering; so you
see how bad I must have been to begin with. But now I am out of any
first-class pain; I have a good appetite, and I am as abusive and
peremptory as Guiteau." Clemens, returning to Hartford, wrote him a
letter that explains itself.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Dec. 16 '81.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--It was a sharp disappointment--your inability to
connect, on the Canadian raid. What a gaudy good time we should have
Disappointed, again, when I got back to Boston; for I was promising
myself half an hour's look at you, in Belmont; but your note to Osgood
showed that that could not be allowed out yet.
The Atlantic arrived an hour ago, and your faultless and delicious Police
Report brought that blamed Joe Twichell powerfully before me. There's a
man who can tell such things himself (by word of mouth,) and has as sure
an eye for detecting a thing that is before his eyes, as any man in the
world, perhaps--then why in the nation doesn't he report himself with a
One of those drenching days last week, he slopped down town with his
cubs, and visited a poor little beggarly shed where were a dwarf, a fat
woman, and a giant of honest eight feet, on exhibition behind tawdry
show-canvases, but with nobody to exhibit to. The giant had a broom, and
was cleaning up and fixing around, diligently. Joe conceived the idea of
getting some talk out of him. Now that never would have occurred to me.
So he dropped in under the man's elbow, dogged him patiently around,
prodding him with questions and getting irritated snarls in return which
would have finished me early--but at last one of Joe's random shafts
drove the centre of that giant's sympathies somehow, and fetched him.
The fountains of his great deep were broken up, and he rained a flood of
personal history that was unspeakably entertaining.
Among other things it turned out that he had been a Turkish (native)
colonel, and had fought all through the Crimean war--and so, for the
first time, Joe got a picture of the Charge of the Six Hundred that made
him see the living spectacle, the flash of flag and tongue-flame, the
rolling smoke, and hear the booming of the guns; and for the first time
also, he heard the reasons for that wild charge delivered from the mouth
of a master, and realized that nobody had "blundered," but that a cold,
logical, military brain had perceived this one and sole way to win an
already lost battle, and so gave the command and did achieve the victory.
And mind you Joe was able to come up here, days afterwards, and reproduce
that giant's picturesque and admirable history. But dern him, he can't
write it--which is all wrong, and not as it should be.
And he has gone and raked up the MS autobiography (written in 1848,) of
Mrs. Phebe Brown, (author of "I Love to Steal a While Away,") who
educated Yung Wing in her family when he was a little boy; and I came
near not getting to bed at all, last night, on account of the lurid
fascinations of it. Why in the nation it has never got into print, I
But, by jings! the postman will be here in a minute; so, congratulations
upon your mending health, and gratitude that it is mending; and love to
Don't answer--I spare the sick.
LETTERS, 1882, MAINLY TO HOWELLS. WASTED FURY. OLD SCENES REVISITED.
THE MISSISSIPPI BOOK
A man of Mark Twain's profession and prominence must necessarily be
the subject of much newspaper comment. Jest, compliment, criticism
--none of these things disturbed him, as a rule. He was pleased
that his books should receive favorable notices by men whose opinion
he respected, but he was not grieved by adverse expressions. Jests
at his expense, if well written, usually amused him; cheap jokes
only made him sad; but sarcasms and innuendoes were likely to enrage
him, particularly if he believed them prompted by malice. Perhaps
among all the letters he ever wrote, there is none more
characteristic than this confession of violence and eagerness for
reprisal, followed by his acknowledgment of error and a manifest
appreciation of his own weakness. It should be said that Mark Twain
and Whitelaw Reid were generally very good friends, and perhaps for
the moment this fact seemed to magnify the offense.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Jan. 28 '82.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Nobody knows better than I, that there are times when
swearing cannot meet the emergency. How sharply I feel that, at this
moment. Not a single profane word has issued from my lips this mornin
--I have not even had the impulse to swear, so wholly ineffectual would
swearing have manifestly been, in the circumstances. But I will tell you
About three weeks ago, a sensitive friend, approaching his revelation
cautiously, intimated that the N. Y. Tribune was engaged in a kind of
crusade against me. This seemed a higher compliment than I deserved; but
no matter, it made me very angry. I asked many questions, and gathered,
in substance, this: Since Reid's return from Europe, the Tribune had
been flinging sneers and brutalities at me with such persistent frequency
"as to attract general remark." I was an angered--which is just as good
an expression, I take it, as an hungered. Next, I learned that Osgood,
among the rest of the "general," was worrying over these constant and
pitiless attacks. Next came the testimony of another friend, that the
attacks were not merely "frequent," but "almost daily." Reflect upon
that: "Almost daily" insults, for two months on a stretch. What would
you have done?
As for me, I did the thing which was the natural thing for me to do, that
is, I set about contriving a plan to accomplish one or the other of two
things: 1. Force a peace; or 2. Get revenge. When I got my plan
finished, it pleased me marvelously. It was in six or seven sections,
each section to be used in its turn and by itself; the assault to begin
at once with No. 1, and the rest to follow, one after the other, to keep
the communication open while I wrote my biography of Reid. I meant to
wind up with this latter great work, and then dismiss the subject for
Well, ever since then I have worked day and night making notes and
collecting and classifying material. I've got collectors at work in
England. I went to New York and sat three hours taking evidence while a
stenographer set it down. As my labors grew, so also grew my
fascination. Malice and malignity faded out of me--or maybe I drove them
out of me, knowing that a malignant book would hurt nobody but the fool
who wrote it. I got thoroughly in love with this work; for I saw that I
was going to write a book which the very devils and angels themselves
would delight to read, and which would draw disapproval from nobody but
the hero of it, (and Mrs. Clemens, who was bitter against the whole
thing.) One part of my plan was so delicious that I had to try my hand
on it right away, just for the luxury of it. I set about it, and sure
enough it panned out to admiration. I wrote that chapter most carefully,
and I couldn't find a fault with it. (It was not for the biography--no,
it belonged to an immediate and deadlier project.)
Well, five days ago, this thought came into my mind(from Mrs. Clemens's):
"Wouldn't it be well to make sure that the attacks have been 'almost
daily'?--and to also make sure that their number and character will
justify me in doing what I am proposing to do?"
I at once set a man to work in New York to seek out and copy every
unpleasant reference which had been made to me in the Tribune from Nov.
1st to date. On my own part I began to watch the current numbers, for I
had subscribed for the paper.
The result arrived from my New York man this morning. O, what a pitiable
wreck of high hopes! The "almost daily" assaults, for two months,
consist of--1. Adverse criticism of P. & P. from an enraged idiot in the
London Atheneum; 2. Paragraph from some indignant Englishman in the Pall
Mall Gazette who pays me the vast compliment of gravely rebuking some
imaginary ass who has set me up in the neighborhood of Rabelais; 3. A
remark of the Tribune's about the Montreal dinner, touched with an almost
invisible satire; 4. A remark of the Tribune's about refusal of Canadian
copyright, not complimentary, but not necessarily malicious--and of
course adverse criticism which is not malicious is a thing which none but
fools irritate themselves about.
There--that is the prodigious bugaboo, in its entirety! Can you conceive
of a man's getting himself into a sweat over so diminutive a provocation?
I am sure I can't. What the devil can those friends of mine have been
thinking about, to spread these 3 or 4 harmless things out into two
months of daily sneers and affronts? The whole offense, boiled down,
amounts to just this: one uncourteous remark of the Tribune about my
book--not me between Nov. 1 and Dec. 20; and a couple of foreign
criticisms (of my writings, not me,) between Nov. 1 and Jan. 26! If I
can't stand that amount of friction, I certainly need reconstruction.
Further boiled down, this vast outpouring of malice amounts to simply
this: one jest from the Tribune (one can make nothing more serious than
that out of it.) One jest--and that is all; for the foreign criticisms do
not count, they being matters of news, and proper for publication in
And to offset that one jest, the Tribune paid me one compliment Dec. 23,
by publishing my note declining the New York New England dinner, while
merely (in the same breath,) mentioning that similar letters were read
from General Sherman and other men whom we all know to be persons of real
Well, my mountain has brought forth its mouse, and a sufficiently small
mouse it is, God knows. And my three weeks' hard work have got to go
into the ignominious pigeon-hole. Confound it, I could have earned ten
thousand dollars with infinitely less trouble. However, I shouldn't have
done it, for I am too lazy, now, in my sere and yellow leaf, to be
willing to work for anything but love..... I kind of envy you people who
are permitted for your righteousness' sake to dwell in a boarding house;
not that I should always want to live in one, but I should like the
change occasionally from this housekeeping slavery to that wild
independence. A life of don't-care-a-damn in a boarding house is what I
have asked for in many a secret prayer. I shall come by and by and
require of you what you have offered me there.
Howells, who had already known something of the gathering storm,
replied: "Your letter was an immense relief to me, for although I
had an abiding faith that you would get sick of your enterprise,
I wasn't easy until I knew that you had given it up."
Joel Chandler Harris appears again in the letters of this period.
Twichell, during a trip South about this time, had called on Harris
with some sort of proposition or suggestion from Clemens that Harris
appear with him in public, and tell, or read, the Remus stories from
the platform. But Harris was abnormally diffident. Clemens later
pronounced him "the shyest full-grown man" he had ever met, and the
word which Twichell brought home evidently did not encourage the
To Joel Chandler Harris, in Atlanta:
HARTFORD, Apl. 2, '82.
MY DEAR MR. HARRIS,--Jo Twichell brought me your note and told me of his
talk with you. He said you didn't believe you would ever be able to
muster a sufficiency of reckless daring to make you comfortable and at
ease before an audience. Well, I have thought out a device whereby I
believe we can get around that difficulty. I will explain when I see
Jo says you want to go to Canada within a month or six weeks--I forget
just exactly what he did say; but he intimated the trip could be delayed
a while, if necessary. If this is so, suppose you meet Osgood and me in
New Orleans early in May--say somewhere between the 1st and 6th?
It will be well worth your while to do this, because the author who goes
to Canada unposted, will not know what course to pursue [to secure
copyright] when he gets there; he will find himself in a hopeless
confusion as to what is the correct thing to do. Now Osgood is the only
man in America, who can lay out your course for you and tell you exactly
what to do. Therefore, you just come to New Orleans and have a talk with
Our idea is to strike across lots and reach St. Louis the 20th of April--
thence we propose to drift southward, stopping at some town a few hours
or a night, every day, and making notes.
To escape the interviewers, I shall follow my usual course and use a
fictitious name (C. L. Samuel, of New York.) I don't know what Osgood's
name will be, but he can't use his own.
If you see your way to meet us in New Orleans, drop me a line, now, and
as we approach that city I will telegraph you what day we shall arrive
I would go to Atlanta if I could, but shan't be able. We shall go back
up the river to St. Paul, and thence by rail X-lots home.
(I am making this letter so dreadfully private and confidential because
my movements must be kept secret, else I shan't be able to pick up the
kind of book-material I want.)
If you are diffident, I suspect that you ought to let Osgood be your
magazine-agent. He makes those people pay three or four times as much as
an article is worth, whereas I never had the cheek to make them pay more
S. L. CLEMENS.
"My backwardness is an affliction," wrote Harris..... "The ordeal
of appearing on the stage would be a terrible one, but my experience
is that when a diffident man does become familiar with his
surroundings he has more impudence than his neighbors. Extremes
He was sorely tempted, but his courage became as water at the
thought of footlights and assembled listeners. Once in New York he
appears to have been caught unawares at a Tile Club dinner and made
to tell a story, but his agony was such that at the prospect of a
similar ordeal in Boston he avoided that city and headed straight
for Georgia and safety.
The New Orleans excursion with Osgood, as planned by Clemens, proved
a great success. The little party took the steamer Gold Dust from
St. Louis down river toward New Orleans. Clemens was quickly
recognized, of course, and his assumed name laid aside. The author
of "Uncle Remus" made the trip to New Orleans. George W. Cable was
there at the time, and we may believe that in the company of Mark
Twain and Osgood those Southern authors passed two or three
delightful days. Clemens also met his old teacher Bixby in New
Orleans, and came back up the river with him, spending most of his
time in the pilot-house, as in the old days. It was a glorious
trip, and, reaching St. Louis, he continued it northward, stopping
off at Hannibal and Quincy.'
To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:
QUINCY, ILL. May 17, '82.
Livy darling, I am desperately homesick. But I have promised Osgood, and
must stick it out; otherwise I would take the train at once and break for
I have spent three delightful days in Hannibal, loitering around all day
long, examining the old localities and talking with the grey-heads who
were boys and girls with me 30 or 40 years ago. It has been a moving
time. I spent my nights with John and Helen Garth, three miles from
town, in their spacious and beautiful house. They were children with me,
and afterwards schoolmates. Now they have a daughter 19 or 20 years old.
Spent an hour, yesterday, with A. W. Lamb, who was not married when I saw
him last. He married a young lady whom I knew. And now I have been
talking with their grown-up sons and daughters. Lieutenant Hickman, the
spruce young handsomely-uniformed volunteer of 1846, called on me--a
grisly elephantine patriarch of 65 now, his grace all vanished.
That world which I knew in its blossoming youth is old and bowed and
melancholy, now; its soft cheeks are leathery and wrinkled, the fire is
gone out in its eyes, and the spring from its step. It will be dust and
ashes when I come again. I have been clasping hands with the moribund-
and usually they said, "It is for the last time."
Now I am under way again, upon this hideous trip to St. Paul, with a
heart brimming full of thoughts and images of you and Susie and Bay and
the peerless Jean. And so good night, my love.
Clemens's trip had been saddened by learning, in New Orleans, the
news of the death of Dr. John Brown, of Edinburgh. To Doctor
Brown's son, whom he had known as "Jock," he wrote immediately on
his return to Hartford.
To Mr. John Brown, in Edinburgh
HARTFORD, June 1, 1882.
MY DEAR MR. BROWN,--I was three thousand miles from home, at breakfast in
New Orleans, when the damp morning paper revealed the sorrowful news
among the cable dispatches. There was no place in America, however
remote, or however rich, or poor or high or humble where words of
mourning for your father were not uttered that morning, for his works had
made him known and loved all over the land. To Mrs. Clemens and me,
the loss is personal; and our grief the grief one feels for one who was
peculiarly near and dear. Mrs. Clemens has never ceased to express
regret that we came away from England the last time without going to see
him, and often we have since projected a voyage across the Atlantic for
the sole purpose of taking him by the hand and looking into his kind eyes
once more before he should be called to his rest.
We both thank you greatly for the Edinburgh papers which you sent. My
wife and I join in affectionate remembrances and greetings to yourself
and your aunt, and in the sincere tender of our sympathies.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Our Susie is still "Megalops." He gave her that name:
Can you spare a photograph of your father? We have none but the one
taken in a group with ourselves.
William Dean Howells, at the age of forty-five, reached what many
still regard his highest point of achievement in American realism.
His novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham, which was running as a Century
serial during the summer of 1882, attracted wide attention, and upon
its issue in book form took first place among his published novels.
Mark Twain, to the end of his life, loved all that Howells wrote.
Once, long afterward, he said: "Most authors give us glimpses of a
radiant moon, but Howells's moon shines and sails all night long."
When the instalments of The Rise of Silas Lapham began to appear, he
overflowed in adjectives, the sincerity of which we need not doubt,
in view of his quite open criticisms of the author's reading
To W. D. Howells, in Belmont, Mass.:
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I am in a state of wild enthusiasm over this July
instalment of your story. It's perfectly dazzling--it's masterly--
incomparable. Yet I heard you read it--without losing my balance.
Well, the difference between your reading and your writing is-remarkable.
I mean, in the effects produced and the impression left behind. Why, the
one is to the other as is one of Joe Twichell's yarns repeated by a
somnambulist. Goodness gracious, you read me a chapter, and it is a
gentle, pearly dawn, with a sprinkle of faint stars in it; but by and by
I strike it in print, and shout to myself, "God bless us, how has that
pallid former spectacle been turned into these gorgeous sunset
Well, I don't care how much you read your truck to me, you can't
permanently damage it for me that way. It is always perfectly fresh and
dazzling when I come on it in the magazine. Of course I recognize the
form of it as being familiar--but that is all. That is, I remember it as
pyrotechnic figures which you set up before me, dead and cold, but ready
for the match--and now I see them touched off and all ablaze with
blinding fires. You can read, if you want to, but you don't read worth a
damn. I know you can read, because your readings of Cable and your
repeatings of the German doctor's remarks prove that.
That's the best drunk scene--because the truest--that I ever read. There
are touches in it that I never saw any writer take note of before. And
they are set before the reader with amazing accuracy. How very drunk,
and how recently drunk, and how altogether admirably drunk you must have
been to enable you to contrive that masterpiece!
Why I didn't notice that that religious interview between Marcia and Mrs.
Halleck was so deliciously humorous when you read it to me--but dear me,
it's just too lovely for anything. (Wrote Clark to collar it for the
Hang it, I know where the mystery is, now; when you are reading, you
glide right along, and I don't get a chance to let the things soak home;
but when I catch it in the magazine, I give a page 20 or 30 minutes in
which to gently and thoroughly filter into me. Your humor is so very
subtle, and elusive--(well, often it's just a vanishing breath of perfume
which a body isn't certain he smelt till he stops and takes another
smell) whereas you can smell other
Among Mark Twain's old schoolmates in Hannibal was little Helen
Kercheval, for whom in those early days he had a very tender spot
indeed. But she married another schoolmate, John Garth, who in time
became a banker, highly respected and a great influence. John and
Helen Garth have already been mentioned in the letter of May 17th.
To John Garth, in Hannibal:
HARTFORD, July 3 '82.
DEAR JOHN,--Your letter of June i9 arrived just one day after we ought to
have been in Elmira, N. Y. for the summer: but at the last moment the
baby was seized with scarlet fever. I had to telegraph and countermand
the order for special sleeping car; and in fact we all had to fly around
in a lively way and undo the patient preparations of weeks--rehabilitate
the dismantled house, unpack the trunks, and so on. A couple of days
later, the eldest child was taken down with so fierce a fever that she
was soon delirious--not scarlet fever, however. Next, I myself was
stretched on the bed with three diseases at once, and all of them fatal.
But I never did care for fatal diseases if I could only have privacy and
room to express myself concerning them.
We gave early warning, and of course nobody has entered the house in all
this time but one or two reckless old bachelors--and they probably wanted
to carry the disease to the children of former flames of theirs. The
house is still in quarantine and must remain so for a week or two yet--at
which time we are hoping to leave for Elmira.
Always your friend
S. L. CLEMENS.
By the end of summer Howells was in Europe, and Clemens, in Elmira,
was trying to finish his Mississippi book, which was giving him a
great deal of trouble. It was usually so with his non-fiction
books; his interest in them was not cumulative; he was prone to grow
weary of them, while the menace of his publisher's contract was
maddening. Howells's letters, meant to be comforting, or at least
entertaining, did not always contribute to his peace of mind. The
Library of American Humor which they had planned was an added
burden. Before sailing, Howells had written: "Do you suppose you
can do your share of the reading at Elmira, while you are writing at
the Mississippi book?"
In a letter from London, Howells writes of the good times he is
having over there with Osgood, Hutton, John Hay, Aldrich, and Alma
Tadema, excursioning to Oxford, feasting, especially "at the Mitre
Tavern, where they let you choose your dinner from the joints
hanging from the rafter, and have passages that you lose yourself in
every time you try to go to your room..... Couldn't you and Mrs.
Clemens step over for a little while?..... We have seen lots of
nice people and have been most pleasantly made of; but I would
rather have you smoke in my face, and talk for half a day just for
pleasure, than to go to the best house or club in London." The
reader will gather that this could not be entirely soothing to a man
shackled by a contract and a book that refused to come to an end.
To W. D. Howells, in London:
HARTFORD, CONN. Oct 30, 1882.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I do not expect to find you, so I shan't spend many
words on you to wind up in the perdition of some European dead-letter
office. I only just want to say that the closing installments of the
story are prodigious. All along I was afraid it would be impossible for
you to keep up so splendidly to the end; but you were only, I see now,
striking eleven. It is in these last chapters that you struck twelve.
Go on and write; you can write good books yet, but you can never match
this one. And speaking of the book, I inclose something which has been
happening here lately.
We have only just arrived at home, and I have not seen Clark on our
matters. I cannot see him or any one else, until I get my book finished.
The weather turned cold, and we had to rush home, while I still lacked
thirty thousand words. I had been sick and got delayed. I am going to
write all day and two thirds of the night, until the thing is done, or
break down at it. The spur and burden of the contract are intolerable to
me. I can endure the irritation of it no longer. I went to work at nine
o'clock yesterday morning, and went to bed an hour after midnight.
Result of the day, (mainly stolen from books, tho' credit given,) 9500
words, so I reduced my burden by one third in one day. It was five days
work in one. I have nothing more to borrow or steal; the rest must all
be written. It is ten days work, and unless something breaks, it will be
finished in five. We all send love to you and Mrs. Howells, and all the
Yours as ever,
Again, from Villeneuve, on lake Geneva, Howells wrote urging him this
time to spend the winter with them in Florence, where they would write
their great American Comedy of 'Orme's Motor,' "which is to enrich us
beyond the dreams of avarice.... We could have a lot of fun writing it,
and you could go home with some of the good old Etruscan malaria in your
bones, instead of the wretched pinch-beck Hartford article that you are
suffering from now.... it's a great opportunity for you. Besides,
nobody over there likes you half as well as I do."
It should be added that 'Orme's Motor' was the provisional title that
Clemens and Howells had selected for their comedy, which was to be built,
in some measure, at least, around the character, or rather from the
peculiarities, of Orion Clemens. The Cable mentioned in Mark Twain's
reply is, of course, George W. Cable, who only a little while before had
come up from New Orleans to conquer the North with his wonderful tales
To W. D. Howells, in Switzerland:
HARTFORD, Nov. 4th, 1882.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Yes, it would be profitable for me to do that, because
with your society to help me, I should swiftly finish this now apparently
interminable book. But I cannot come, because I am not Boss here, and
nothing but dynamite can move Mrs. Clemens away from home in the winter
I never had such a fight over a book in my life before. And the
foolishest part of the whole business is, that I started Osgood to
editing it before I had finished writing it. As a consequence, large
areas of it are condemned here and there and yonder, and I have the
burden of these unfilled gaps harassing me and the thought of the broken
continuity of the work, while I am at the same time trying to build the
last quarter of the book. However, at last I have said with sufficient
positiveness that I will finish the book at no particular date; that I
will not hurry it; that I will not hurry myself; that I will take things
easy and comfortably, write when I choose to write, leave it alone when I
so prefer. The printers must wait, the artists, the canvassers, and all
the rest. I have got everything at a dead standstill, and that is where
it ought to be, and that is where it must remain; to follow any other
policy would be to make the book worse than it already is. I ought to
have finished it before showing to anybody, and then sent it across the
ocean to you to be edited, as usual; for you seem to be a great many
shades happier than you deserve to be, and if I had thought of this thing
earlier, I would have acted upon it and taken the tuck somewhat out of
In the same mail with your letter, arrived the enclosed from Orme the
motor man. You will observe that he has an office. I will explain that
this is a law office and I think it probably does him as much good to
have a law office without anything to do in it, as it would another man
to have one with an active business attached. You see he is on the
electric light lay now. Going to light the city and allow me to take all
the stock if I want to. And he will manage it free of charge. It never
would occur to this simple soul how much less costly it would be to me,
to hire him on a good salary not to manage it. Do you observe the same
old eagerness, the same old hurry, springing from the fear that if he
does not move with the utmost swiftness, that colossal opportunity will
escape him? Now just fancy this same frantic plunging after vast
opportunities, going on week after week with this same man, during fifty
entire years, and he has not yet learned, in the slightest degree, that
there isn't any occasion to hurry; that his vast opportunity will always
wait; and that whether it waits or flies, he certainly will never catch
it. This immortal hopefulness, fortified by its immortal and unteachable
misjudgment, is the immortal feature of this character, for a play; and
we will write that play. We should be fools else. That staccato
postscript reads as if some new and mighty business were imminent, for it
is slung on the paper telegraphically, all the small words left out.
I am afraid something newer and bigger than the electric light is
swinging across his orbit. Save this letter for an inspiration. I have
got a hundred more.
Cable has been here, creating worshipers on all hands. He is a marvelous
talker on a deep subject. I do not see how even Spencer could unwind a
thought more smoothly or orderly, and do it in a cleaner, clearer,
crisper English. He astounded Twichell with his faculty. You know when
it comes down to moral honesty, limpid innocence, and utterly blemishless
piety, the Apostles were mere policemen to Cable; so with this in mind
you must imagine him at a midnight dinner in Boston the other night,
where we gathered around the board of the Summerset Club; Osgood, full,
Boyle O'Reilly, full, Fairchild responsively loaded, and Aldrich and
myself possessing the floor, and properly fortified. Cable told Mrs.
Clemens when he returned here, that he seemed to have been entertaining
himself with horses, and had a dreamy idea that he must have gone to
Boston in a cattle-car. It was a very large time. He called it an orgy.
And no doubt it was, viewed from his standpoint.
I wish I were in Switzerland, and I wish we could go to Florence; but we
have to leave these delights to you; there is no helping it. We all join
in love to you and all the family.
Yours as ever
LETTERS, 1883, TO HOWELLS AND OTHERS. A GUEST OF THE MARQUIS OF LORNE.
THE HISTORY GAME. A PLAY BY HOWELLS AND MARK TWAIN
Mark Twain, in due season, finished the Mississippi book and placed
it in Osgood's hands for publication. It was a sort of partnership
arrangement in which Clemens was to furnish the money to make the
book, and pay Osgood a percentage for handling it. It was, in fact,
the beginning of Mark Twain's adventures as a publisher.
Howells was not as happy in Florence as he had hoped to be. The
social life there overwhelmed him. In February he wrote: "Our two
months in Florence have been the most ridiculous time that ever even
half-witted people passed. We have spent them in chasing round
after people for whom we cared nothing, and being chased by them.
My story isn't finished yet, and what part of it is done bears the
fatal marks of haste and distraction. Of course, I haven't put pen
to paper yet on the play. I wring my hands and beat my breast when
I think of how these weeks have been wasted; and how I have been
forced to waste them by the infernal social circumstances from which
I couldn't escape."
Clemens, now free from the burden of his own book, was light of
heart and full of ideas and news; also of sympathy and appreciation.
Howells's story of this time was "A Woman's Reason." Governor
Jewell, of this letter, was Marshall Jewell, Governor of Connecticut
from 1871 to 1873. Later, he was Minister to Russia, and in 1874
was United States Postmaster-General.
To W. D. Howells, in Florence:
HARTFORD, March 1st, 1883.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--We got ourselves ground up in that same mill, once, in
London, and another time in Paris. It is a kind of foretaste of hell.
There is no way to avoid it except by the method which you have now
chosen. One must live secretly and cut himself utterly off from the
human race, or life in Europe becomes an unbearable burden and work an
impossibility. I learned something last night, and maybe it may
reconcile me to go to Europe again sometime. I attended one of the
astonishingly popular lectures of a man by the name of Stoddard, who
exhibits interesting stereopticon pictures and then knocks the interest
all out of them with his comments upon them. But all the world go there
to look and listen, and are apparently well satisfied. And they ought to
be fully satisfied, if the lecturer would only keep still, or die in the
first act. But he described how retired tradesmen and farmers in Holland
load a lazy scow with the family and the household effects, and then loaf
along the waterways of the low countries all the summer long, paying no
visits, receiving none, and just lazying a heavenly life out in their own
private unpestered society, and doing their literary work, if they have
any, wholly uninterrupted. If you had hired such a boat and sent for us
we should have a couple of satisfactory books ready for the press now
with no marks of interruption, vexatious wearinesses, and other
hellishnesses visible upon them anywhere. We shall have to do this
another time. We have lost an opportunity for the present. Do you
forget that Heaven is packed with a multitude of all nations and that
these people are all on the most familiar how-the-hell-are-you footing
with Talmage swinging around the circle to all eternity hugging the
saints and patriarchs and archangels, and forcing you to do the same
unless you choose to make yourself an object of remark if you refrain?
Then why do you try to get to Heaven? Be warned in time.
We have all read your two opening numbers in the Century, and consider
them almost beyond praise. I hear no dissent from this verdict. I did
not know there was an untouched personage in American life, but I had
forgotten the auctioneer. You have photographed him accurately.
I have been an utterly free person for a month or two; and I do not
believe I ever so greatly appreciated and enjoyed--and realized the
absence of the chains of slavery as I do this time. Usually my first
waking thought in the morning is, "I have nothing to do to-day, I belong
to nobody, I have ceased from being a slave." Of course the highest
pleasure to be got out of freedom, and having nothing to do, is labor.
Therefore I labor. But I take my time about it. I work one hour or four
as happens to suit my mind, and quit when I please. And so these days
are days of entire enjoyment. I told Clark the other day, to jog along
comfortable and not get in a sweat. I said I believed you would not be
able to enjoy editing that library over there, where you have your own
legitimate work to do and be pestered to death by society besides;
therefore I thought if he got it ready for you against your return, that
that would be best and pleasantest.
You remember Governor Jewell, and the night he told about Russia, down in
the library. He was taken with a cold about three weeks ago, and I
stepped over one evening, proposing to beguile an idle hour for him with
a yarn or two, but was received at the door with whispers, and the
information that he was dying. His case had been dangerous during that
day only and he died that night, two hours after I left. His taking off
was a prodigious surprise, and his death has been most widely and
sincerely regretted. Win. E. Dodge, the father-in-law of one of Jewell's
daughters, dropped suddenly dead the day before Jewell died, but Jewell
died without knowing that. Jewell's widow went down to New York, to
Dodge's house, the day after Jewell's funeral, and was to return here day
before yesterday, and she did--in a coffin. She fell dead, of heart
disease, while her trunks were being packed for her return home.
Florence Strong, one of Jewell's daughters, who lives in Detroit, started
East on an urgent telegram, but missed a connection somewhere, and did
not arrive here in time to see her father alive. She was his favorite
child, and they had always been like lovers together. He always sent her
a box of fresh flowers once a week to the day of his death; a custom
which he never suspended even when he was in Russia. Mrs. Strong had
only just reached her Western home again when she was summoned to
Hartford to attend her mother's funeral.
I have had the impulse to write you several times. I shall try to
remember better henceforth.
With sincerest regards to all of you,
Yours as ever,
Mark Twain made another trip to Canada in the interest of copyright-
this time to protect the Mississippi book. When his journey was
announced by the press, the Marquis of Lorne telegraphed an
invitation inviting him to be his guest at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa.
Clemens accepted, of course, and was handsomely entertained by the
daughter of Queen Victoria and her husband, then Governor-General of
On his return to Hartford he found that Osgood had issued a curious
little book, for which Clemens had prepared an introduction. It was
an absurd volume, though originally issued with serious intent, its
title being The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and
English.'--[The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and
English, by Pedro Caxolino, with an introduction by Mark Twain.
Osgood, Boston, 1883. ]--Evidently the "New Guide" was prepared by
some simple Portuguese soul with but slight knowledge of English
beyond that which could be obtained from a dictionary, and his
literal translation of English idioms are often startling, as, for
instance, this one, taken at random:
"A little learneds are happies enough for to may to satisfy their
fancies on the literature."
Mark Twain thought this quaint book might amuse his royal hostess,
and forwarded a copy in what he considered to be the safe and proper
To Col. De Winton, in Ottawa, Canada:
HARTFORD, June 4, '83.
DEAR COLONEL DE WINTON,--I very much want to send a little book to her
Royal Highness--the famous Portuguese phrase book; but I do not know the
etiquette of the matter, and I would not wittingly infringe any rule of
propriety. It is a book which I perfectly well know will amuse her "some
at most" if she has not seen it before, and will still amuse her "some at
least," even if she has inspected it a hundred times already. So I will
send the book to you, and you who know all about the proper observances
will protect me from indiscretion, in case of need, by putting the said
book in the fire, and remaining as dumb as I generally was when I was up
there. I do not rebind the thing, because that would look as if I
thought it worth keeping, whereas it is only worth glancing at and
Will you please present my compliments to Mrs. De Winton and Mrs.
Mackenzie?--and I beg to make my sincere compliments to you, also, for
your infinite kindnesses to me. I did have a delightful time up there,
S. L. CLEMENS.
P. S. Although the introduction dates a year back, the book is only just
now issued. A good long delay.
S. L. C.
Howells, writing from Venice, in April, manifested special interest
in the play project: "Something that would run like Scheherazade,
for a thousand and one nights," so perhaps his book was going
better. He proposed that they devote the month of October to the
work, and inclosed a letter from Mallory, who owned not only a
religious paper, The Churchman, but also the Madison Square Theater,
and was anxious for a Howells play. Twenty years before Howells had
been Consul to Venice, and he wrote, now: "The idea of my being here
is benumbing and silencing. I feel like the Wandering Jew, or the
ghost of the Cardiff giant."
He returned to America in July. Clemens sent him word of welcome,
with glowing reports of his own undertakings. The story on which he
was piling up MS. was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, begun
seven years before at Quarry Farm. He had no great faith in it
then, and though he had taken it up again in 1880, his interest had
not lasted to its conclusion. This time, however, he was in the
proper spirit, and the story would be finished.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, July 20, '83.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--We are desperately glad you and your gang are home
again--may you never travel again, till you go aloft or alow. Charley
Clark has gone to the other side for a run--will be back in August. He
has been sick, and needed the trip very much.
Mrs. Clemens had a long and wasting spell of sickness last Spring, but
she is pulling up, now. The children are booming, and my health is
ridiculous, it's so robust, notwithstanding the newspaper misreports.
I haven't piled up MS so in years as I have done since we came here to
the farm three weeks and a half ago. Why, it's like old times, to step
right into the study, damp from the breakfast table, and sail right in
and sail right on, the whole day long, without thought of running short
of stuff or words.
I wrote 4000 words to-day and I touch 3000 and upwards pretty often, and
don't fall below 1600 any working day. And when I get fagged out, I lie
abed a couple of days and read and smoke, and then go it again for 6 or 7
days. I have finished one small book, and am away along in a big 433
one that I half-finished two or three years ago. I expect to complete it
in a month or six weeks or two months more. And I shall like it, whether
anybody else does or not.
It's a kind of companion to Tom Sawyer. There's a raft episode from it
in second or third chapter of life on the Mississippi.....
I'm booming, these days--got health and spirits to waste--got an
overplus; and if I were at home, we would write a play. But we must do
it anyhow by and by.
We stay here till Sep. 10; then maybe a week at Indian Neck for sea air,
We are powerful glad you are all back; and send love according.
To Onion Clemens and family, in Keokuk, Id.:
ELMIRA, July 22, '83.
DEAR MA AND ORION AND MOLLIE,--I don't know that I have anything new to
report, except that Livy is still gaining, and all the rest of us
flourishing. I haven't had such booming working-days for many years.
I am piling up manuscript in a really astonishing way. I believe I shall
complete, in two months, a book which I have been fooling over for
7 years. This summer it is no more trouble to me to write than it is to
Day before yesterday I felt slightly warned to knock off work for one
day. So I did it, and took the open air. Then I struck an idea for the
instruction of the children, and went to work and carried it out. It
took me all day. I measured off 817 feet of the road-way in our farm
grounds, with a foot-rule, and then divided it up among the English
reigns, from the Conqueror down to 1883, allowing one foot to the year.
I whittled out a basket of little pegs and drove one in the ground at the
beginning of each reign, and gave it that King's name--thus:
I measured all the reigns exactly as many feet to the reign as there were
years in it. You can look out over the grounds and see the little pegs
from the front door--some of them close together, like Richard II,
Richard Cromwell, James II, &c; and some prodigiously wide apart, like
Henry III, Edward III, George III, &c. It gives the children a realizing
sense of the length or brevity of a reign. Shall invent a violent game
to go with it.
And in bed, last night, I invented a way to play it indoors--in a far
more voluminous way, as to multiplicity of dates and events--on a
Hello, supper's ready.
Love to all.
Onion Clemens would naturally get excited over the idea of the game
and its commercial possibilities. Not more so than his brother,
however, who presently employed him to arrange a quantity of
historical data which the game was to teach. For a season, indeed,
interest in the game became a sort of midsummer madness which
pervaded the two households, at Keokuk and at Quarry Farm. Howells
wrote his approval of the idea of "learning history by the running
foot," which was a pun, even if unintentional, for in its out-door
form it was a game of speed as well as knowledge.
Howells adds that he has noticed that the newspapers are exploiting
Mark Twain's new invention of a history game, and we shall presently
see how this happened.
Also, in this letter, Howells speaks of an English nobleman to whom
he has given a letter of introduction. "He seemed a simple, quiet,
gentlemanly man, with a good taste in literature, which he evinced
by going about with my books in his pockets, and talking of yours."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--How odd it seems, to sit down to write a letter with
the feeling that you've got time to do it. But I'm done work, for this
season, and so have got time. I've done two seasons' work in one, and
haven't anything left to do, now, but revise. I've written eight or nine
hundred MS pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn't name the
number of days; I shouldn't believe it myself, and of course couldn't
expect you to. I used to restrict myself to 4 or 5 hours a day and
5 days in the week, but this time I've wrought from breakfast till
5.15 p.m. six days in the week; and once or twice I smouched a Sunday
when the boss wasn't looking. Nothing is half so good as literature
hooked on Sunday, on the sly.
I wrote you and Twichell on the same night, about the game, and was
appalled to get a note from him saying he was going to print part of my
letter, and was going to do it before I could get a chance to forbid it.
I telegraphed him, but was of course too late.
If you haven't ever tried to invent an indoor historical game, don't.
I've got the thing at last so it will work, I guess, but I don't want any
more tasks of that kind. When I wrote you, I thought I had it; whereas I
was only merely entering upon the initiatory difficulties of it. I might
have known it wouldn't be an easy job, or somebody would have invented a
decent historical game long ago--a thing which nobody had done. I think
I've got it in pretty fair shape--so I have caveated it.
Earl of Onston--is that it? All right, we shall be very glad to receive
them and get acquainted with them. And much obliged to you, too.
There's plenty of worse people than the nobilities. I went up and spent
a week with the Marquis and the Princess Louise, and had as good a time
as I want.
I'm powerful glad you are all back again; and we will come up there if
our little tribe will give us the necessary furlough; and if we can't get
it, you folks must come to us and give us an extension of time. We get
home Sept. 11.
Hello, I think I see Waring coming!
Good-by-letter from Clark, which explains for him.
Love to you all from the
No--it wasn't Waring. I wonder what the devil has become of that man.
He was to spend to-day with us, and the day's most gone, now.
We are enjoying your story with our usual unspeakableness; and I'm right
glad you threw in the shipwreck and the mystery--I like it. Mrs. Crane
thinks it's the best story you've written yet. We--but we always think
the last one is the best. And why shouldn't it be? Practice helps.
P. S. I thought I had sent all our loves to all of you, but Mrs. Clemens
says I haven't. Damn it, a body can't think of everything; but a woman
thinks you can. I better seal this, now--else there'll be more
I perceive I haven't got the love in, yet. Well, we do send the love of
all the family to all the Howellses.
S. L. C.
There had been some delay and postponement in the matter of the play
which Howells and Clemens agreed to write. They did not put in the
entire month of October as they had planned, but they did put in a
portion of that month, the latter half, working out their old idea.
In the end it became a revival of Colonel Sellers, or rather a caricature
of that gentle hearted old visionary. Clemens had always complained that
the actor Raymond had never brought out the finer shades of Colonel
Sellers's character, but Raymond in his worst performance never belied
his original as did Howells and Clemens in his dramatic revival. These
two, working together, let their imaginations run riot with disastrous
results. The reader can judge something of this himself, from The
American Claimant the book which Mark Twain would later build from the
But at this time they thought it a great triumph. They had "cracked
their sides" laughing over its construction, as Howells once said, and
they thought the world would do the same over its performance. They
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