Part 5 out of 5
Once more I welcome you to Hartford, Raymond, but as for me let me stay
at home and blush.
Yours truly, MARK.
The play was equally successful wherever it went. It made what in that
day was regarded as a fortune. One hundred thousand dollars is hardly
too large an estimate of the amount divided between author and actor.
Raymond was a great actor in that part, as he interpreted it, though he
did not interpret it fully, or always in its best way. The finer side,
the subtle, tender side of Colonel Sellers, he was likely to overlook.
Yet, with a natural human self-estimate, Raymond believed he had created
a much greater part than Mark Twain had written. Doubtless from the
point of view of a number of people this was so, though the idea, was
naturally obnoxious to Clemens. In course of time their personal
Clemens that winter gave another benefit for Father Hawley. In reply to
an invitation to appear in behalf of the poor, he wrote that he had quit
the lecture field, and would not return to the platform unless driven
there by lack of bread. But he added:
By the spirit of that remark I am debarred from delivering this proposed
lecture, and so I fall back upon the letter of it, and emerge upon the
platform for this last and final time because I am confronted by a lack
of bread-among Father Hawley's flock.
He made an introductory speech at an old-fashioned spelling-bee, given at
the Asylum Hill Church; a breezy, charming talk of which the following is
I don't see any use in spelling a word right--and never did. I mean
I don't see any use in having a uniform and arbitrary way of
spelling words. We might as well make all clothes alike and cook
all dishes alike. Sameness is tiresome; variety is pleasing. I
have a correspondent whose letters are always a refreshment to me;
there is such a breezy, unfettered originality about his
orthography. He always spells "kow" with a large "K." Now that is
just as good as to spell it with a small one. It is better. It
gives the imagination a broader field, a wider scope. It suggests
to the mind a grand, vague, impressive new kind of a cow.
He took part in the contest, and in spite of his early reputation,
was spelled down on the word "chaldron," which he spelled
"cauldron," as he had been taught, while the dictionary used as
authority gave that form as second choice.
Another time that winter, Clemens read before the Monday Evening Club a
paper on "Universal Suffrage," which is still remembered by the surviving
members of that time. A paragraph or two will convey its purport:
Our marvelous latter-day statesmanship has invented universal
suffrage. That is the finest feather in our cap. All that we
require of a voter is that he shall be forked, wear pantaloons
instead of petticoats, and bear a more or less humorous resemblance
to the reported image of God. He need not know anything whatever;
he may be wholly useless and a cumberer of the earth; he may even be
known to be a consummate scoundrel. No matter. While he can steer
clear of the penitentiary his vote is as weighty as the vote of a
president, a bishop, a college professor, a merchant prince. We
brag of our universal, unrestricted suffrage; but we are shams after
all, for we restrict when we come to the women.
The Monday Evening Club was an organization which included the best minds
of Hartford. Dr. Horace Bushnell, Prof. Calvin E. Stowe, and J. Hammond
Trumbull founded it back in the sixties, and it included such men as Rev.
Dr. Parker, Rev. Dr. Burton, Charles H. Clark, of the Courant, Warner,
and Twichell, with others of their kind. Clemens had been elected after
his first sojourn in England (February, 1873), and had then read a paper
on the "License of the Press." The club met alternate Mondays, from
October to May. There was one paper for each evening, and, after the
usual fashion of such clubs, the reading was followed by discussion.
Members of that time agree that Mark Twain's association with the club
had a tendency to give it a life, or at least an exhilaration, which it
had not previously known. His papers were serious in their purpose he
always preferred to be serious--but they evidenced the magic gift which
made whatever he touched turn to literary jewelry.
Psychic theories and phenomena always attracted Mark Twain. In thought-
transference, especially, he had a frank interest--an interest awakened
and kept alive by certain phenomena--psychic manifestations we call them
now. In his association with Mrs. Clemens it not infrequently happened
that one spoke the other's thought, or perhaps a long-procrastinated
letter to a friend would bring an answer as quickly as mailed; but these
are things familiar to us all. A more startling example of thought-
communication developed at the time of which we are writing, an example
which raised to a fever-point whatever interest he may have had in the
subject before. (He was always having these vehement interests--rages we
may call them, for it would be inadequate to speak of them as fads,
inasmuch as they tended in the direction of human enlightenment, or
progress, or reform.)
Clemens one morning was lying in bed when, as he says, suddenly a red-hot
new idea came whistling down into my camp." The idea was that the time
was ripe for a book that would tell the story of the Comstock-of the
Nevada silver mines. It seemed to him that the person best qualified for
the work was his old friend William Wright--Dan de Quille. He had not
heard from Dan, or of him, for a long time, but decided to write and urge
him to take up the idea. He prepared the letter, going fully into the
details of his plan, as was natural for him to do, then laid it aside
until he could see Bliss and secure his approval of the scheme from a
publishing standpoint. Just a week later, it was the 9th of March, a
letter came--a thick letter bearing a Nevada postmark, and addressed in a
handwriting which he presently recognized as De Quille's. To a visitor
who was present he said:
"Now I will do a miracle. I will tell you everything this letter
contains--date, signature, and all without breaking the seal."
He stated what he believed was in the letter. Then he opened it and
showed that he had correctly given its contents, which were the same in
all essential details as those of his own letter, not yet mailed.
In an article on "Mental Telegraphy" (he invented the name) he relates
this instance, with others, and in 'Following the Equator' and elsewhere
he records other such happenings. It was one of the "mysteries" in which
he never lost interest, though his concern in it in time became a passive
The result of the De Quille manifestation, however, he has not recorded.
Clemens immediately wrote, urging Dan to come to Hartford for an extended
visit. De Quille came, and put in a happy spring in his old comrade's
luxurious home, writing 'The Big Bonanza', which Bliss successfully
published a year later.
Mark Twain was continually inviting old friends to share his success with
him. Any comrade of former days found welcome in his home as often as he
would come, and for as long as he would stay. Clemens dropped his own
affairs to advise in their undertakings; and if their undertakings were
literary he found them a publisher. He did this for Joaquin Miller and
for Bret Harte, and he was always urging Goodman to make his house a
The Beecher-Tilton trial was the sensation of the spring of 1875, and
Clemens, in common with many others, was greatly worked up over it. The
printed testimony had left him decidedly in doubt as to Beecher's
innocence, though his blame would seem to have been less for the possible
offense than because of the great leader's attitude in the matter. To
Twichell he said:
"His quibbling was fatal. Innocent or guilty, he should have made an
unqualified statement in the beginning."
Together they attended one of the sessions, on a day when Beecher himself
was on the witness-stand. The tension was very great; the excitement was
painful. Twichell thought that Beecher appeared well under the stress of
examination and was deeply sorry for him; Clemens was far from convinced.
The feeling was especially strong in Hartford, where Henry Ward Beecher's
relatives were prominent, and animosities grew out of it. They are all
forgotten now; most of those who cherished bitterness are dead. Any
feeling that Clemens had in the matter lasted but a little while.
Howells tells us that when he met him some months after the trial ended,
and was tempted to mention it, Clemens discouraged any discussion of the
event. Says Howells:
He would only say the man had suffered enough; as if the man had
expiated his wrong, and he was not going to do anything to renew his
penalty. I found that very curious, very delicate. His continued
blame could not come to the sufferer's knowledge, but he felt it his
duty to forbear it.
It was one hundred years, that 19th of April, since the battles of
Lexington and Concord, and there was to be a great celebration. The
Howellses had visited Hartford in March, and the Clemenses were invited
to Cambridge for the celebration. Only Clemens could go, which in the
event proved a good thing perhaps; for when Clemens and Howells set out
for Concord they did not go over to Boston to take the train, but decided
to wait for it at Cambridge. Apparently it did not occur to them that
the train would be jammed the moment the doors were opened at the Boston
station; but when it came along they saw how hopeless was their chance.
They had special invitations and passage from Boston, but these were only
mockeries now. It yeas cold and chilly, and they forlornly set out in
search of some sort of a conveyance. They tramped around in the mud and
raw wind, but vehicles were either filled or engaged, and drivers and
occupants were inclined to jeer at them. Clemens was taken with an acute
attack of indigestion, which made him rather dismal and savage. Their
effort finally ended with his trying to run down a tally-ho which was
empty inside and had a party of Harvard students riding atop. The
students, who did not recognize their would-be fare, enjoyed the race.
They encouraged their pursuer, and perhaps their driver, with merriment
and cheers. Clemens was handicapped by having to run in the slippery
mud, and soon "dropped by the wayside."
"I am glad," says Howells, "I cannot recall what he said when he came
back to me."
They hung about a little longer, then dragged themselves home, slipped
into the house, and built up a fine, cheerful fire on the hearth. They
proposed to practise a deception on Mrs. Howells by pretending they had
been to Concord and returned. But it was no use. Their statements were
flimsy, and guilt was plainly written on their faces. Howells recalls
this incident delightfully, and expresses the belief that the humor of
the situation was finally a greater pleasure to Clemens than the actual
visit to Concord would have been.
Twichell did not have any such trouble in attending the celebration. He
had adventures (he was always having adventures), but they were of a more
successful kind. Clemens heard the tale of them when he returned to
Hartford. He wrote it to Howells:
Joe Twichell preached morning and evening here last Sunday; took
midnight train for Boston; got an early breakfast and started by
rail at 7.30 A.M. for Concord; swelled around there until 1 P.M.,
seeing everything; then traveled on top of a train to Lexington; saw
everything there; traveled on top of a train to Boston (with
hundreds in company), deluged with dust, smoke, and cinders; yelled
and hurrahed all the way like a school-boy; lay flat down, to dodge
numerous bridges, and sailed into the depot howling with excitement
and as black as a chimneysweep; got to Young's Hotel at 7 P.M.; sat
down in the reading-room and immediately fell asleep; was promptly
awakened by a porter, who supposed he was drunk; wandered around an
hour and a half; then took 9 P.M. train, sat down in a smoking-car,
and remembered nothing more until awakened by conductor as the train
came into Hartford at 1.30 A.M. Thinks he had simply a glorious
time, and wouldn't have missed the Centennial for the world. He
would have run out to see us a moment at Cambridge but he was too
dirty. I wouldn't have wanted him there; his appalling energy would
have been an insufferable reproach to mild adventurers like you and
CONCLUDING "TOM SAWYER"--MARK TWAIN's "EDITORS"
Meantime the "inspiration tank," as Clemens sometimes called it, had
filled up again. He had received from somewhere new afflatus for the
story of Tom and Huck, and was working on it steadily. The family
remained in Hartford, and early in July, under full head of steam, he
brought the story to a close. On the 5th he wrote Howells:
I have finished the story and didn't take the chap beyond boyhood.
I believe it would be fatal to do it in any shape but
autobiographically, like Gil Blas. I perhaps made a mistake in not
writing it in the first person. If I went on now, and took him into
manhood, he would just lie, like all the one-horse men in
literature, and the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him.
It is not a boy's book at all. It will only be read by adults. It
is only written for adults.
He would like to see the story in the Atlantic, he said, but doubted the
wisdom of serialization.
"By and by I shall take a boy of twelve and run him through life (in the
first person), but not Tam Sawyer, he would not make a good character for
it." From which we get the first glimpse of Huck's later adventures.
Of course he wanted Howells to look at the story. It was a tremendous
favor to ask, he said, and added, "But I know of no other person whose
judgment I could venture to take, fully and entirely. Don't hesitate to
say no, for I know how your time is taxed, and I would have honest need
to blush if you said yes."
"Send on your MS.," wrote Howells. "You've no idea what I may ask you to
do for me some day."
But Clemens, conscience-stricken, "blushed and weakened," as he said.
When Howells insisted, he wrote:
But I will gladly send it to you if you will do as follows:
dramatize it, if you perceive that you can, and take, for your
remuneration, half of the first $6,000 which I receive for its
representation on the stage. You could alter the plot entirely if
you chose. I could help in the work most cheerfully after you had
arranged the plot. I have my eye upon two young girls who can play
Tom and Huck.
Howells in his reply urged. Clemens to do the playwriting himself. He
could never find time, he said, and he doubted whether he could enter
into the spirit of another man's story. Clemens did begin a
dramatization then or a little later, but it was not completed. Mrs.
Clemens, to whom he had read the story as it proceeded, was as anxious as
her husband for Howells's opinion, for it was the first extended piece of
fiction Mark Twain had undertaken alone. He carried the manuscript over
to Boston himself, and whatever their doubts may have been, Howells's
subsequent letter set them at rest. He wrote that he had sat up till one
in the morning to get to the end of it, simply because it was impossible
to leave off.
It is altogether the best boy story I ever read. It will be an immense
success, but I think you ought to treat it explicitly as a boy's story;
grown-ups will enjoy it just as much if you do, and if you should put it
forth as a story of boys' character from the grown-up point of view you
give the wrong key to it.
Viewed in the light of later events, there has never been any better
literary opinion than that--none that has been more fully justified.
Clemens was delighted. He wrote concerning a point here and there, one
inquiry referring to the use of a certain strong word. Howells's reply
left no doubt:
I'd have that swearing out in an instant. I suppose I didn't notice
it because the location was so familiar to my Western sense, and so
exactly the thing Huck would say, but it won't do for children.
It was in the last chapter, where Huck relates to Tom the sorrows of
reform and tells how they comb him "all to thunder." In the original,
"They comb me all to hell," says Huck; which statement, one must agree,
is more effective, more the thing Huck would be likely to say.
Clemens's acknowledgment of the correction was characteristic:
Mrs. Clemens received the mail this morning, and the next minute she
lit into the study with danger in her eye and this demand on her
tongue, "Where is the profanity Mr. Howells speaks of?" Then I had
to miserably confess that I had left it out when reading the MS. to
her. Nothing but almost inspired lying got me out of this scrape
with my scalp. Does your wife give you rats, like that, when you go
a little one-sided?
The Clemens family did not, go to Elmira that year. The children's
health seemed to require the sea-shore, and in August they went to
Bateman's Point, Rhode Island, where Clemens most of the time played
tenpins in an alley that had gone to ruin. The balls would not stay on
the track; the pins stood at inebriate angles. It reminded him of the
old billiard-tables of Western mining-camps, and furnished the same
uncertainty of play. It was his delight, after he had become accustomed
to the eccentricities of the alley, to invite in a stranger and watch his
suffering and his frantic effort to score.
"SKETCHES NEW AND OLD"
The long-delayed book of Sketches, contracted for five years before, was
issued that autumn. "The Jumping Frog," which he had bought from Webb,
was included in the volume, also the French translation which Madame
Blanc (Th. Bentzon) had made for the Revue des deux mondes, with Mark
Twain's retranslation back into English, a most astonishing performance
in its literal rendition of the French idiom. One example will suffice
here. It is where the stranger says to Smiley, "I don't see no p'ints
about that frog that's any better'n any other frog."
Says the French, retranslated:
"Eh bien! I no saw not that that frog had nothing of better than each
frog" (Je ne vois pas que cette grenouille ait mieux qu'aucune
grenouille). (If that isn't grammar gone to seed then I count myself no
"Possible that you not it saw not," said Smiley; "possible that you you
comprehend frogs; possible that you not you there comprehend nothing;
possible that you had of the experience, and possible that you not be but
an amateur. Of all manner (de toute maniere) I bet forty dollars that
she batter in jumping, no matter which frog of the county of Calaveras."
He included a number of sketches originally published with the Frog, also
a selection from the "Memoranda" and Buffalo Express contributions, and
he put in the story of Auntie Cord, with some matter which had never
hitherto appeared. True Williams illustrated the book, but either it
furnished him no inspiration or he was allowed too much of another sort,
for the pictures do not compare with his earlier work.
Among the new matter in the book were-"Some Fables for Good Old Boys and
Girls," in which certain wood creatures are supposed to make a scientific
excursion into a place at some time occupied by men. It is the most
pretentious feature of the book, and in its way about as good as any.
Like Gulliver's Travels, its object was satire, but its result is also
Clemens was very anxious that Howells should be first to review this
volume. He had a superstition that Howells's verdicts were echoed by the
lesser reviewers, and that a book was made or damned accordingly; a
belief hardly warranted, for the review has seldom been written that
meant to any book the difference between success and failure. Howells's
review of Sketches may be offered as a case in point. It was highly
commendatory, much more so than the notice of the 'Innocents' had been,
or even that of 'Roughing It', also more extensive than the latter. Yet
after the initial sale of some twenty thousand copies, mainly on the
strength of the author's reputation, the book made a comparatively poor
showing, and soon lagged far behind its predecessors.
We cannot judge, of course, the taste of that day, but it appears now an
unattractive, incoherent volume. The pictures were absurdly bad, the
sketches were of unequal merit. Many of them are amusing, some of them
delightful, but most of them seem ephemeral. If we except "The Jumping
Frog," and possibly "A True Story" (and the latter was altogether out of
place in the collection), there is no reason to suppose that any of its
contents will escape oblivion. The greater number of the sketches, as
Mark Twain himself presently realized and declared, would better have
been allowed to die.
Howells did, however, take occasion to point out in his review, or at
least to suggest, the more serious side of Mark Twain. He particularly
called attention to "A True Story," which the reviewers, at the time of
its publication in the Atlantic, had treated lightly, fearing a lurking
joke in it; or it may be they had not read it, for reviewers are busy
people. Howells spoke of it as the choicest piece of work in the volume,
and of its "perfect fidelity to the tragic fact." He urged the reader to
turn to it again, and to read it as a "simple dramatic report of
reality," such as had been equaled by no other American writer.
It was in this volume of sketches that Mark Twain first spoke in print
concerning copyright, showing the absurd injustice of discriminating
against literary ownership by statute of limitation. He did this in the
form of an open petition to Congress, asking that all property, real and
personal, should be put on the copyright basis, its period of ownership
limited to a "beneficent term of forty-two years." Generally this was
regarded as a joke, as in a sense it was; but like most of Mark Twain's
jokes it was founded on reason and justice.
The approval with which it was received by his literary associates led
him to still further flights. He began a determined crusade for
international copyright laws. It was a transcendental beginning, but it
contained the germ of what, in the course of time, he would be largely
instrumental in bringing to a ripe and magnificent conclusion. In this
first effort he framed a petition to enact laws by which the United
States would declare itself to be for right and justice, regardless of
other nations, and become a good example to the world by refusing to
pirate the books of any foreign author. He wrote to Howells, urging him
to get Lowell, Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, and others to sign this
I will then put a gentlemanly chap under wages, and send him personally
to every author of distinction in the country and corral the rest of the
signatures. Then I'll have the whole thing lithographed (about one
thousand copies), and move upon the President and Congress in person, but
in the subordinate capacity of the party who is merely the agent of
better and wiser men, or men whom the country cannot venture to laugh at.
I will ask the President to recommend the thing in his message (and if he
should ask me to sit down and frame the paragraph for him I should blush,
but still I would frame it). And then if Europe chooses to go on
stealing from us we would say, with noble enthusiasm, "American lawmakers
do steal, but not from foreign authors--not from foreign authors,"....
If we only had some God in the country's laws, instead of being in such a
sweat to get Him into the Constitution, it would be better all around.
The petition never reached Congress. Holmes agreed to sign it with a
smile, and the comment that governments were not in the habit of setting
themselves up as high moral examples, except for revenue. Longfellow
also pledged himself, as did a few others; but if there was any general
concurrence in the effort there is no memory of it now. Clemens
abandoned the original idea, but remained one of the most persistent and
influential advocates of copyright betterment, and lived to see most of
his dream fulfilled.--[For the petition concerning copyright term in the
United States, see Sketches New and Old. For the petition concerning
international copyright and related matters, see Appendix N, at the end
of last volume.]
It was about this period that Mark Twain began to exhibit openly his more
serious side; that is to say his advocacy of public reforms. His paper
on "Universal Suffrage" had sounded a first note, and his copyright
petitions were of the same spirit. In later years he used to say that he
had always felt it was his mission to teach, to carry the banner of moral
reconstruction, and here at forty we find him furnishing evidences of
this inclination. In the Atlantic for October, 1875, there was published
an unsigned three-page article entitled, "The Curious Republic of
Gondour." In this article was developed the idea that the voting
privilege should be estimated not by the individuals, but by their
intellectual qualifications. The republic of Gondour was a Utopia, where
this plan had been established:
It was an odd idea and ingenious. You must understand the
constitution gave every man a vote; therefore that vote was a vested
right, and could not be taken away. But the constitution did not
say that certain individuals might not be given two votes or ten.
So an amendatory clause was inserted in a quiet way, a clause which
authorized the enlargement of the suffrage in certain cases to be
specified by statute....
The victory was complete. The new law was framed and passed. Under
it every citizen, howsoever poor or ignorant, possessed one vote, so
universal suffrage still reigned; but if a man possessed a good
common-school education and no money he had two votes, a high-school
education gave him four; if he had property, likewise, to the value
of three thousand sacos he wielded one more vote; for every fifty
thousand sacos a man added to his property, he was entitled to
another vote; a University education entitled a man to nine votes,
even though he owned no property.
The author goes on to show the beneficent results of this enaction; how
the country was benefited and glorified by this stimulus toward
enlightenment and industry. No one ever suspected that Mark Twain was
the author of this fable. It contained almost no trace of his usual
literary manner. Nevertheless he wrote it, and only withheld his name,
as he did in a few other instances, in the fear that the world might
refuse to take him seriously over his own signature or nom de plume.
Howells urged him to follow up the "Gondour" paper; to send some more
reports from that model land. But Clemens was engaged in other things by
that time, and was not pledged altogether to national reforms.
He was writing a skit about a bit of doggerel which was then making
nights and days unhappy for many undeserving persons who in an evil
moment had fallen upon it in some stray newspaper corner. A certain car
line had recently adopted the "punch system," and posted in its cars, for
the information of passengers and conductor, this placard:
A Blue Trip Slip for an 8 Cents Fare,
A Buff Trip Slip for a 6 Cents Fare,
A Pink Trip Slip for a 3 Cents Fare,
For Coupon And Transfer, Punch The Tickets.
Noah Brooks and Isaac Bromley were riding down-town one evening on the
Fourth Avenue line, when Bromley said:
"Brooks, it's poetry. By George, it's poetry!"
Brooks followed the direction of Bromley's finger and read the card of
instructions. They began perfecting the poetic character of the notice,
giving it still more of a rhythmic twist and jingle; arrived at the
Tribune office, W. C. Wyckoff, scientific editor, and Moses P. Handy lent
intellectual and poetic assistance, with this result:
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare.
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch, brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
It was printed, and street-car poetry became popular. Different papers
had a turn at it, and each usually preceded its own effort with all other
examples, as far as perpetrated. Clemens discovered the lines, and on
one of their walks recited them to Twichell. "A Literary Nightmare" was
written a few days later. In it the author tells how the jingle took
instant and entire possession of him and went waltzing through his brain;
how, when he had finished his breakfast, he couldn't tell whether he had
eaten anything or not; and how, when he went to finish the novel he was
writing, and took up his pen, he could only get it to say:
Punch in the presence of the passenjare.
He found relief at last in telling it to his reverend friend, that is,
Twichell, upon whom he unloaded it with sad results.
It was an amusing and timely skit, and is worth reading to-day. Its
publication in the Atlantic had the effect of waking up horse-car poetry
all over the world. Howells, going to dine at Ernest Longfellow's the
day following its appearance, heard his host and Tom Appleton urging each
other to "Punch with care." The Longfellow ladies had it by heart.
Boston was devastated by it. At home, Howells's children recited it to
him in chorus. The streets were full of it; in Harvard it became an
It was transformed into other tongues. Even Swinburne, the musical, is
said to have done a French version for the 'Revue des deux mondes'*. A
St. Louis magazine, The Western, found relief in a Latin anthem with this
Pungite, fratres, pungite,
Pungite cum amore,
Pungite pro vectore,
* LE CHANT DU CONDUCTEUR
Ayant ete paye, le conducteur
Percera en pleine vue du voyageur,
Quand il regoit trois sous un coupon vert,
Un coupon jaune pour six sous c'est l'affaire,
Et pour huit sous c'est un coupon couleur
De rose, en pleine vue du voyageur.
Donc, percez soigneusement, mes freres
Tout en pleine vue des voyageurs, etc.
MARK TWAIN AND HIS WIFE
Clemens and his wife traveled to Boston for one of those happy fore-
gatherings with the Howellses, which continued, at one end of the journey
or another, for so many years. There was a luncheon with Longfellow at
Craigie House, and, on the return to Hartford, Clemens reported to
Howells how Mrs. Clemens had thrived on the happiness of the visit. Also
he confesses his punishment for the usual crimes:
I "caught it" for letting Mrs. Howells bother and bother about her
coffee, when it was a "good deal better than we get at home." I
"caught it" for interrupting Mrs. C. at the last moment and losing
her the opportunity to urge you not to forget to send her that MS.
when the printers are done with it. I "caught it" once more for
personating that drunken Colonel James. I "caught it" for
mentioning that Mr. Longfellow's picture was slightly damaged; and
when, after a lull in the storm, I confessed, shamefacedly, that I
had privately suggested to you that we hadn't any frames, and that
if you wouldn't mind hinting to Mr. Houghton, etc., etc., etc., the
madam was simply speechless for the space of a minute. Then she
"How could you, Youth! The idea of sending Mr. Howells, with his
sensitive nature, upon such a repulsive er--"
"Oh, Howells won't mind it! You don't know Howells. Howells is a
She was gone. But George was the first person she stumbled on in
the hall, so she took it out of George. I am glad of that, because
it saved the babies.
Clemens used to admit, at a later day, that his education did not advance
by leaps and bounds, but gradually, very gradually; and it used to give
him a pathetic relief in those after-years, when that sweet presence had
gone out of his life, to tell the way of it, to confess over-fully,
perhaps, what a responsibility he had been to her.
He used to tell how, for a long time, he concealed his profanity from
her; how one morning, when he thought the door was shut between their
bedroom and the bathroom, he was in there dressing and shaving,
accompanying these trying things with language intended only for the
strictest privacy; how presently, when he discovered a button off the
shirt he intended to put on, he hurled it through the window into the
yard with appropriate remarks, followed it with another shirt that was in
the same condition, and added certain collars and neckties and bath-room
requisites, decorating the shrubbery outside, where the people were going
by to church; how in this extreme moment he heard a slight cough and
turned to find that the door was open! There was only one door to the
bath-room, and he knew he had to pass her. He felt pale and sick, and
sat down for a few moments to consider. He decided to assume that she
was asleep, and to walk out and through the room, head up, as if he had
nothing on his conscience. He attempted it, but without success. Half-
way across the room he heard a voice suddenly repeat his last terrific
remark. He turned to see her sitting up in bed, regarding him with a
look as withering as she could find in her gentle soul. The humor of it
"Livy," he said, "did it sound like that?"
"Of course it did," she said, "only worse. I wanted you to hear just how
"Livy," he said, "it would pain me to think that when I swear it sounds
like that. You got the words right, Livy, but you don't know the tune."
Yet he never willingly gave her pain, and he adored her and gloried in
her dominion, his life long. Howells speaks of his beautiful and tender
loyalty to her as the "most moving quality of his most faithful soul."
It was a greater part of him than the love of most men for their wives,
and she merited all the worship he could give her, all the devotion, all
the implicit obedience, by her surpassing force and beauty of character.
She guarded his work sacredly; and reviewing the manuscripts which he was
induced to discard, and certain edited manuscripts, one gets a partial
idea of what the reading world owes to Olivia Clemens. Of the discarded.
manuscripts (he seems seldom to have destroyed them) there are a
multitude, and among them all scarcely one that is not a proof of her
sanity and high regard for his literary honor. They are amusing--some of
them; they are interesting--some of them; they are strong and virile--
some of them; but they are unworthy--most of them, though a number remain
unfinished because theme or interest failed.
Mark Twain was likely to write not wisely but too much, piling up
hundreds of manuscript pages only because his brain was thronging as with
a myriad of fireflies, a swarm of darting, flashing ideas demanding
release. As often as not he began writing with only a nebulous idea of
what he proposed to do. He would start with a few characters and
situations, trusting in Providence to supply material as needed. So he
was likely to run ashore any time. As for those other attempts--stories
"unavailable" for one reason or another--he was just as apt to begin
those as the better sort, for somehow he could never tell the difference.
That is one of the hall-marks of genius--the thing which sharply
differentiates genius from talent. Genius is likely to rate a literary
disaster as its best work. Talent rarely makes that mistake.
Among the abandoned literary undertakings of these early years of
authorship there is the beginning of what was doubtless intended to
become a book, "The Second Advent," a story which opens with a very
doubtful miraculous conception in Arkansas, and leads only to grotesquery
and literary disorder. There is another, "The Autobiography of a Damn
Fool," a burlesque on family history, hopelessly impossible; yet he began
it with vast enthusiasm and, until he allowed her to see the manuscript,
thought it especially good. "Livy wouldn't have it," he said, "so I gave
it up." There is another, "The Mysterious Chamber," strong and fine in
conception, vividly and intensely interesting; the story of a young lover
who is accidentally locked behind a secret door in an old castle and
cannot announce himself. He wanders at last down into subterranean
passages beneath the castle, and he lives in this isolation for twenty
years. The question of sustenance was the weak point in the story.
Clemens could invent no way of providing it, except by means of a waste
or conduit from the kitchen into which scraps of meat, bread, and other
items of garbage were thrown. This he thought sufficient, but Mrs.
Clemens did not highly regard such a literary device. Clemens could
think of no good way to improve upon it, so this effort too was consigned
to the penal colony, a set of pigeonholes kept in his study. To Howells
and others, when they came along, he would read the discarded yarns, and
they were delightful enough for such a purpose, as delightful as the
sketches which every artist has, turned face to the wall.
"Captain Stormfield" lay under the ban for many a year, though never
entirely abandoned. This manuscript was even recommended for publication
by Howells, who has since admitted that it would not have done then; and
indeed, in its original, primitive nakedness it would hardly have done
even in this day of wider toleration.
It should be said here that there is not the least evidence (and the
manuscripts are full of evidence) that Mrs. Clemens was ever super-
sensitive, or narrow, or unliterary in her restraints. She became his
public, as it were, and no man ever had a more open-minded, clear-headed
public than that. For Mark Twain's reputation it would have been better
had she exercised her editorial prerogative even more actively--if, in
her love for him and her jealousy of his reputation, she had been even
more severe. She did all that lay in her strength, from the beginning to
the end, and if we dwell upon this phase of their life together it is
because it is so large a part of Mark Twain's literary story. On her
birthday in the year we are now closing (1875) he wrote her a letter
which conveys an acknowledgment of his debt.
LIVY DARLING,--Six years have gone by since I made my first great success
in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made
preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world. Every
day we live together adds to the security of my confidence that we can
never any more wish to be separated than we can imagine a regret that we
were ever joined. You are dearer to me to-day, my child, than you were
upon the last anniversary of this birthday; you were dearer then than you
were a year before; you have grown more and more dear from the first of
those anniversaries, and I do not doubt that this precious progression
will continue on to the end.
Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their
gray hairs, without fear and without depression, trusting and believing
that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed.
So, with abounding affection for you and our babies I hail this day that
brings you the matronly grace and dignity of three decades!