Complete Letters of Mark Twain
The letters of Mark Twain are peculiarly of the revealing sort. He was a man of few restraints and of no affectations. In his correspondence, as in his talk, he spoke what was in his mind, untrammeled by literary conventions.
Mark Twain's Letters
Arranged With Comment
by Albert Bigelow Paine
Nowhere is the human being more truly revealed than in his letters. Not in literary letters – prepared with care, and the thought of possible publication – but in those letters wrought out of the press of circumstances, and with no idea of print in mind. A collection of such documents, written by one whose life has become of interest to mankind at large, has a value quite aside from literature, in that it reflects in some degree at least the soul of the writer.
The letters of Mark Twain are peculiarly of the revealing sort. He was a man of few restraints and of no affectations. In his correspondence, as in his talk, he spoke what was in his mind, untrammeled by literary conventions.
Necessarily such a collection does not constitute a detailed life story, but is supplementary to it. An extended biography of Mark Twain has already been published. His letters are here gathered for those who wish to pursue the subject somewhat more exhaustively from the strictly personal side. Selections from this correspondence were used in the biography mentioned. Most of these are here reprinted in the belief that an owner of the “Letters” will wish the collection to be reasonably complete.
Mark Twain A Biographical Summary
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for nearly half a century known and celebrated as “Mark Twain,” was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He was one of the foremost American philosophers of his day; he was the world’s most famous humorist of any day. During the later years of his life he ranked not only as America’s chief man of letters, but likewise as her best known and best loved citizen.
The beginnings of that life were sufficiently unpromising. The family was a good one, of old Virginia and Kentucky stock, but its circumstances were reduced, its environment meager and disheartening. The father, John Marshall Clemens – a lawyer by profession, a merchant by vocation – had brought his household to Florida from Jamestown, Tennessee, somewhat after the manner of judge Hawkins as pictured in The Gilded Age. Florida was a small town then, a mere village of twenty-one houses located on Salt River, but judge Clemens, as he was usually called, optimistic and speculative in his temperament, believed in its future. Salt River would be made navigable; Florida would become a metropolis. He established a small business there, and located his family in the humble frame cottage where, five months later, was born a baby boy to whom they gave the name of Samuel – a family name – and added Langhorne, after an old Virginia friend of his father.
The child was puny, and did not make a very sturdy fight for life. Still he weathered along, season after season, and survived two stronger children, Margaret and Benjamin. By 1839 Judge Clemens had lost faith in Florida. He removed his family to Hannibal, and in this Mississippi River town the little lad whom the world was to know as Mark Twain spent his early life. In Tom Sawyer we have a picture of the Hannibal of those days and the atmosphere of his boyhood there.
His schooling was brief and of a desultory kind. It ended one day in 1847, when his father died and it became necessary that each one should help somewhat in the domestic crisis. His brother Orion, ten years his senior, was already a printer by trade. Pamela, his sister; also considerably older, had acquired music, and now took a few pupils. The little boy Sam, at twelve, was apprenticed to a printer named Ament. His wages consisted of his board and clothes—“more board than clothes,” as he once remarkd to the writer.
He remained with Ament until his brother Orion bought out a small paper in Hannibal in 1850. The paper, in time, was moved into a part of the Clemens home, and the two brothers ran it, the younger setting most of the type. A still younger brother, Henry, entered the office as an apprentice. The Hannibal journal was no great paper from the beginning, and it did not improve with time. Still, it managed to survive – country papers nearly always manage to survive – year after year, bringing in some sort of return. It was on this paper that young Sam Clemens began his writings – burlesque, as a rule, of local characters and conditions – usually published in his brother’s absence; generally resulting in trouble on his return. Yet they made the paper sell, and if Orion had but realized his brother’s talent he might have turned it into capital even then.
In 1853 (he was not yet eighteen) Sam Clemens grew tired of his limitations and pined for the wider horizon of the world. He gave out to his family that he was going to St. Louis, but he kept on to New York, where a World’s Fair was then going on. In New York he found employment at his trade, and during the hot months of 1853 worked in a printing-office in Cliff Street. By and by he went to Philadelphia, where he worked a brief time; made a trip to Washington, and presently set out for the West again, after an absence of more than a year.
Onion, meanwhile, had established himself at Muscatine, Iowa, but soon after removed to Keokuk, where the brothers were once more together, till following their trade. Young Sam Clemens remained in Keokuk until the winter of 1856-57, when he caught a touch of the South-American fever then prevalent; and decided to go to Brazil. He left Keokuk for Cincinnati, worked that winter in a printing-office there, and in April took the little steamer, Paul Jones, for New Orleans, where he expected to find a South-American vessel. In Life on the Mississippi we have his story of how he met Horace Bixby and decided to become a pilot instead of a South American adventurer – jauntily setting himself the stupendous task of learning the twelve hundred miles of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans – of knowing it as exactly and as unfailingly, even in the dark, as one knows the way to his own features. It seems incredible to those who knew Mark Twain in his later years – dreamy, unpractical, and indifferent to details – that he could have acquired so vast a store of minute facts as were required by that task. Yet within eighteen months he had become not only a pilot, but one of the best and most careful pilots on the river, intrusted with some of the largest and most valuable steamers. He continued in that profession for two and a half years longer, and during that time met with no disaster that cost his owners a single dollar for damage.
Then the war broke out. South Carolina seceded in December, 1860 and other States followed. Clemens was in New Orleans in January, 1861, when Louisiana seceded, and his boat was put into the Confederate service and sent up the Red River. His occupation gone, he took steamer for the North – the last one before the blockade closed. A blank cartridge was fired at them from Jefferson Barracks when they reached St. Louis, but they did not understand the signal, and kept on. Presently a shell carried away part of the pilot-house and considerably disturbed its inmates. They realized, then, that war had really begun.
In those days Clemens’s sympathies were with the South. He hurried up to Hannibal and enlisted with a company of young fellows who were recruiting with the avowed purpose of “throwing off the yoke of the invader.” They were ready for the field, presently, and set out in good order, a sort of nondescript cavalry detachment, mounted on animals more picturesque than beautiful. Still, it was a resolute band, and might have done very well, only it rained a good deal, which made soldiering disagreeable and hard. Lieutenant Clemens resigned at the end of two weeks, and decided to go to Nevada with Orion, who was a Union abolitionist and had received an appointment from Lincoln as Secretary of the new Territory.
In ‘Roughing It’ Mark Twain gives us the story of the overland journey made by the two brothers, and a picture of experiences at the other end – true in aspect, even if here and there elaborated in detail. He was Orion’s private secretary, but there was no private-secretary work to do, and no salary attached to the position. The incumbent presently went to mining, adding that to his other trades.
He became a professional miner, but not a rich one. He was at Aurora, California, in the Esmeralda district, skimping along, with not much to eat and less to wear, when he was summoned by Joe Goodman, owner and editor of the Virginia City Enterprise, to come up and take the local editorship of that paper. He had been contributing sketches to it now and then, under the pen, name of “Josh,” and Goodman, a man of fine literary instincts, recognized a talent full of possibilities. This was in the late summer of 1862. Clemens walked one hundred and thirty miles over very bad roads to take the job, and arrived way-worn and travel-stained. He began on a salary of twenty-five dollars a week, picking up news items here and there, and contributing occasional sketches, burlesques, hoaxes, and the like. When the Legislature convened at Carson City he was sent down to report it, and then, for the first time, began signing his articles “Mark Twain,” a river term, used in making soundings, recalled from his piloting days. The name presently became known up and down the Pacific coast. His articles were, copied and commented upon. He was recognized as one of the foremost among a little coterie of overland writers, two of whom, Mark Twain and Bret Harte, were soon to acquire a world-wide fame.
He left Carson City one day, after becoming involved in a duel, the result of an editorial squib written in Goodman’s absence, and went across the Sierras to San Francisco. The duel turned out farcically enough, but the Nevada law, which regarded even a challenge or its acceptance as a felony, was an inducement to his departure. Furthermore, he had already aspired to a wider field of literary effort. He attached himself to the Morning Call, and wrote occasionally for one or two literary papers – the Golden Era and the Californian – prospering well enough during the better part of the year. Bret Harte and the rest of the little Pacific-slope group were also on the staff of these papers, and for a time, at least, the new school of American humor mustered in San Francisco.
The connection with the Call was not congenial. In due course it came to a natural end, and Mark Twain arranged to do a daily San Francisco letter for his old paper, the Enterprise. The Enterprise letters stirred up trouble. They criticized the police of San Francisco so severely that the officials found means of making the writer’s life there difficult and comfortless. With Jim Gillis, brother of a printer of whom he was fond, and who had been the indirect cause of his troubles, he went up into Calaveras County, to a cabin on jackass Hill. Jim Gillis, a lovable, picturesque character (the Truthful James of Bret Harte), owned mining claims. Mark Twain decided to spend his vacation in pocket-mining, and soon added that science to his store of knowledge. It was a halcyon, happy three months that he lingered there, but did not make his fortune; he only laid the corner-stone.
They tried their fortune at Angel’s Camp, a place well known to readers of Bret Harte. But it rained pretty steadily, and they put in most of their time huddled around the single stove of the dingy hotel of Angel’s, telling yarns. Among the stories was one told by a dreary narrator named Ben Coon. It was about a frog that had been trained to jump, but failed to win a wager because the owner of a rival frog had surreptitiously loaded him with shot. The story had been circulated among the camps, but Mark Twain had never heard it until then. The tale and the tiresome fashion of its telling amused him. He made notes to remember it.
Their stay in Angel’s Camp came presently to an end. One day, when the mining partners were following the specks of gold that led to a pocket somewhere up the hill, a chill, dreary rain set in. Jim, as usual was washing, and Clemens was carrying water. The “color” became better and better as they ascended, and Gillis, possessed with the mining passion, would have gone on, regardless of the rain. Clemens, however, protested, and declared that each pail of water was his last. Finally he said, in his deliberate drawl:
“Jim, I won’t carry any more water. This work is too disagreeable. Let’s go to the house and wait till it clears up.”
Gillis had just taken out a pan of earth. “Bring one more pail, Sam,” he pleaded.
“I won’t do it, Jim! Not a drop! Not if I knew there was a million dollars in that pan!”
They left the pan standing there and went back to Angel’s Camp. The rain continued and they returned to jackass Hill without visiting their claim again. Meantime the rain had washed away the top of the pan of earth left standing on the slope above Angel’s, and exposed a handful of nuggets-pure gold. Two strangers came along and, observing it, had sat down to wait until the thirty-day claim-notice posted by Jim Gillis should expire. They did not mind the rain – not with that gold in sight – and the minute the thirty days were up they followed the lead a few pans further, and took out-some say ten, some say twenty, thousand dollars. It was a good pocket. Mark Twain missed it by one pail of water. Still, it is just as well, perhaps, when one remembers The Jumping Frog.
Matters having quieted down in San Francisco, he returned and took up his work again. Artemus Ward, whom he had met in Virginia City, wrote him for something to use in his (Ward’s) new book. Clemens sent the frog story, but he had been dilatory in preparing it, and when it reached New York, Carleton, the publisher, had Ward’s book about ready for the press. It did not seem worth while to Carleton to include the frog story, and handed it over to Henry Clapp, editor of the Saturday Press – a perishing sheet-saying:
“Here, Clapp, here’s something you can use.”
The story appeared in the Saturday Press of November 18, 1865. According to the accounts of that time it set all New York in a roar, which annoyed, rather than gratified, its author. He had thought very little of it, indeed, yet had been wondering why some of his more highly regarded work had not found fuller recognition.
But The Jumping Frog did not die. Papers printed it and reprinted it, and it was translated into foreign tongues. The name of “Mark Twain” became known as the author of that sketch, and the two were permanently associated from the day of its publication.
Such fame as it brought did not yield heavy financial return. Its author continued to win a more or less precarious livelihood doing miscellaneous work, until March, 1866, when he was employed by the Sacramento Union to contribute a series of letters from the Sandwich Islands. They were notable letters, widely read and freely copied, and the sojourn there was a generally fortunate one. It was during his stay in the islands that the survivors of the wrecked vessel, the Hornet, came in, after long privation at sea. Clemens was sick at the time, but Anson Burlingame, who was in Honolulu, on the way to China, had him carried in a cot to the hospital, where he could interview the surviving sailors and take down their story. It proved a great “beat” for the Union, and added considerably to its author’s prestige. On his return to San Francisco he contributed an article on the Hornet disaster to Harper’s Magazine, and looked forward to its publication as a beginning of a real career. But, alas! when it appeared the printer and the proof-reader had somehow converted “Mark Twain” into “Mark Swain,” and his dreams perished.
Undecided as to his plans, he was one day advised by a friend to deliver a lecture. He was already known as an entertaining talker, and his adviser judged his possibilities well. In Roughing It we find the story of that first lecture and its success. He followed it with other lectures up and down the Coast. He had added one more profession to his intellectual stock in trade.
Mark Twain, now provided with money, decided to pay a visit to his people. He set out for the East in December, 1866, via Panama, arriving in New York in January. A few days later he was with his mother, then living with his sister, in St. Louis. A little later he lectured in Keokuk, and in Hannibal, his old home.
It was about this time that the first great Mediterranean steamship excursion began to be exploited. No such ocean picnic had ever been planned before, and it created a good deal of interest East and West. Mark Twain heard of it and wanted to go. He wrote to friends on the ‘Alta California,’ of San Francisco, and the publishers of that paper had sufficient faith to advance the money for his passage, on the understanding that he was to contribute frequent letters, at twenty dollars apiece. It was a liberal offer, as rates went in those days, and a godsend in the fullest sense of the word to Mark Twain.
Clemens now hurried to New York in order to be there in good season for the sailing date, which was in June. In New York he met Frank Fuller, whom he had known as territorial Governor of Utah, an energetic and enthusiastic admirer of the Western humorist. Fuller immediately proposed that Clemens give a lecture in order to establish his reputation on the Atlantic coast. Clemens demurred, but Fuller insisted, and engaged Cooper Union for the occasion. Not many tickets were sold. Fuller, however, always ready for an emergency, sent out a flood of complimentaries to the school-teachers of New York and adjacent territory, and the house was crammed. It turned out to be a notable event. Mark Twain was at his best that night; the audience laughed until, as some of them declared when the lecture was over, they were too weak to leave their seats. His success as a lecturer was assured.
The Quaker City was the steamer selected for the great oriental tour. It sailed as advertised, June 8, 1867, and was absent five months, during which Mark Twain contributed regularly to the ‘Alta-California’, and wrote several letters for the New York Tribune. They were read and copied everywhere. They preached a new gospel in travel literature – a gospel of seeing with an overflowing honesty; a gospel of sincerity in according praise to whatever he considered genuine, and ridicule to the things believed to be shams. It was a gospel that Mark Twain continued to preach during his whole career. It became, in fact, his chief literary message to the world, a world ready for that message.
He returned to find himself famous. Publishers were ready with plans for collecting the letters in book form. The American Publishing Company, of Hartford, proposed a volume, elaborately illustrated, to be sold by subscription. He agreed with them as to terms, and went to Washington’ to prepare copy. But he could not work quietly there, and presently was back in San Francisco, putting his book together, lecturing occasionally, always to crowded houses. He returned in August, 1868, with the manuscript of the Innocents Abroad, and that winter, while his book was being manufactured, lectured throughout the East and Middle West, making his headquarters in Hartford, and in Elmira, New York.
He had an especial reason for going to Elmira. On the Quaker City he had met a young man by the name of Charles Langdon, and one day, in the Bay of Smyrna, had seen a miniature of the boy’s sister, Olivia Langdon, then a girl of about twenty-two. He fell in love with that picture, and still more deeply in love with the original when he met her in New York on his return. The Langdon home was in Elmira, and it was for this reason that as time passed he frequently sojourned there. When the proofs of the Innocents Abroad were sent him he took them along, and he and sweet “Livy” Langdon read them together. What he lacked in those days in literary delicacy she detected, and together they pruned it away. She became his editor that winter – a position which she held until her death.
The book was published in July, 1869, and its success was immediate and abundant. On his wedding-day, February 2, 1870, Clemens received a check from his publishers for more than four thousand dollars, royalty accumulated during the three months preceding. The sales soon amounted to more than fifty thousand copies, and had increased to very nearly one hundred thousand at the end of the first three years. It was a book of travel, its lowest price three dollars and fifty cents. Even with our increased reading population no such sale is found for a book of that description to-day. And the Innocents Abroad holds its place – still outsells every other book in its particular field.
Mark Twain now decided to settle down. He had bought an interest in the Express, of Buffalo, New York, and took up his residence in that city in a house presented to the young couple by Mr. Langdon. It did not prove a fortunate beginning. Sickness, death, and trouble of many kinds put a blight on the happiness of their first married year and gave, them a distaste for the home in which they had made such a promising start. A baby boy, Langdon Clemens, came along in November, but he was never a strong child. By the end of the following year the Clemenses had arranged for a residence in Hartford, temporary at first, later made permanent. It was in Hartford that little Langdon died, in 1872.
Clemens, meanwhile, had sold out his interest in the Express, severed his connection with the Galaxy, a magazine for which he was doing a department each month, and had written a second book for the American Publishing Company, Roughing It, published in 1872. In August of the same year he made a trip to London, to get material for a book on England, but was too much sought after, too continuously feted, to do any work. He went alone, but in November returned with the purpose of taking Mrs. Clemens and the new baby, Susy, to England the following spring. They sailed in April, 1873, and spent a good portion of the year in England and Scotland. They returned to America in November, and Clemens hurried back to London alone to deliver a notable series of lectures under the management of George Dolby, formerly managing agent for Charles Dickens. For two months Mark Twain lectured steadily to London audiences – the big Hanover Square rooms always filled. He returned to his family in January, 1874.
Meantime, a home was being built for them in Hartford, and in the autumn of 1874 they took up residence in ita happy residence, continued through seventeen years – well-nigh perfect years. Their summers they spent in Elmira, on Quarry Farm – a beautiful hilltop, the home of Mrs. Clemens’s sister. It was in Elmira that much of Mark Twain’s literary work was done. He had a special study there, some distance from the house, where he loved to work out his fancies and put them into visible form.
It was not so easy to work at Hartford; there was too much going on. The Clemens home was a sort of general headquarters for literary folk, near and far, and for distinguished foreign visitors of every sort. Howells and Aldrich used it as their half-way station between Boston and New York, and every foreign notable who visited America made a pilgrimage to Hartford to see Mark Twain. Some even went as far as Elmira, among them Rudyard Kipling, who recorded his visit in a chapter of his American Notes. Kipling declared he had come all the way from India to see Mark Twain.
Hartford had its own literary group. Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived near the Clemens home; also Charles Dudley Warner. The Clemens and Warner families were constantly associated, and The Gilded Age, published in 1873, resulted from the friendship of Warner and Mark Twain. The character of Colonel Sellers in that book has become immortal, and it is a character that only Mark Twain could create, for, though drawn from his mother’s cousin, James Lampton, it embodies – and in no very exaggerated degree – characteristics that were his own. The tendency to make millions was always imminent; temptation was always hard to resist. Money-making schemes are continually being placed before men of means and prominence, and Mark Twain, to the day of his death, found such schemes fatally attractive.
It was because of the Sellers characteristics in him that he invested in a typesetting-machine which cost him nearly two hundred thousand dollars and helped to wreck his fortunes by and by. It was because of this characteristic that he invested in numberless schemes of lesser importance, but no less disastrous in the end. His one successful commercial venture was his association with Charles L. Webster in the publication of the Grant Memoirs, of which enough copies were sold to pay a royalty of more than four hundred thousand dollars to Grant’s widow – the largest royalty ever paid from any single publication. It saved the Grant family from poverty. Yet even this triumph was a misfortune to Mark Twain, for it led to scores of less profitable book ventures and eventual disaster.
Meanwhile he had written and published a number of books. Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court were among the volumes that had entertained the world and inspired it with admiration and love for their author. In 1878-79 he had taken his family to Europe, where they spent their time in traveling over the Continent. It was during this period that he was joined by his intimate friend, the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, of Hartford, and the two made a journey, the story of which is told in A Tramp Abroad.
In 1891 the Hartford house was again closed, this time indefinitely, and the family, now five in number, took up residence in Berlin. The typesetting-machine and the unfortunate publishing venture were drawing heavily on the family finances at this period, and the cost of the Hartford establishment was too great to be maintained. During the next three years he was distracted by the financial struggle which ended in April, 1894, with the failure of Charles L. Webster & Co. Mark Twain now found himself bankrupt, and nearly one hundred thousand dollars in debt. It had been a losing fight, with this bitter ending always in view; yet during this period of hard, hopeless effort he had written a large portion of the book which of all his works will perhaps survive the longest – his tender and beautiful story of Joan of Arc. All his life Joan had been his favorite character in the world’s history, and during those trying months and years of the early nineties – in Berlin, in Florence, in Paris – he was conceiving and putting his picture of that gentle girl-warrior into perfect literary form. It was published in Harper’s Magazine – anonymously, because, as he said, it would not have been received seriously had it appeared over his own name. The authorship was presently recognized. Exquisitely, reverently, as the story was told, it had in it the touch of quaint and gentle humor which could only have been given to it by Mark Twain.
It was only now and then that Mark Twain lectured during these years. He had made a reading tour with George W. Cable during the winter of 1884-85, but he abominated the platform, and often vowed he would never appear before an audience again. Yet, in 1895, when he was sixty years old, he decided to rebuild his fortunes by making a reading tour around the world. It was not required of him to pay his debts in full. The creditors were willing to accept fifty per cent of the liabilities, and had agreed to a settlement on that basis. But this did not satisfy Mrs. Clemens, and it did not satisfy him. They decided to pay dollar for dollar. They sailed for America, and in July, 1895, set out from Elmira on the long trail across land and sea. Mrs. Clemens, and Clara Clemens, joined this pilgrimage, Susy and Jean Clemens remaining at Elmira with their aunt. Looking out of the car windows, the travelers saw Susy waving them an adieu. It was a picture they would long remember.
The reading tour was one of triumph. High prices and crowded houses prevailed everywhere. The author-reader visited Australia, New Zealand, India, Ceylon, South Africa, arriving in England, at last, with the money and material which would pay off the heavy burden of debt and make him once more free before the world. And in that hour of triumph came the heavy blow. Susy Clemens, never very strong, had been struck down. The first cable announced her illness. The mother and Clara sailed at once. Before they were half-way across the ocean a second cable announced that Susy was dead. The father had to meet and endure the heartbreak alone; he could not reach America, in time for the burial. He remained in England, and was joined there by the sorrowing family.
They passed that winter in London, where he worked at the story of his travels, Following the Equator, the proofs of which he read the next summer in Switzerland. The returns from it, and from his reading venture, wiped away Mark Twain’s indebtedness and made him free. He could go back to America; as he said, able to look any man in the face again.
Yet he did not go immediately. He could live more economically abroad, and economy was still necessary. The family spent two winters in Vienna, and their apartments there constituted a veritable court where the world’s notables gathered. Another winter in England followed, and then, in the latter part of 1900, they went home – that is, to America. Mrs. Clemens never could bring herself to return to Hartford, and never saw their home there again.
Mark Twain’s return to America, was in the nature of a national event. Wherever he appeared throngs turned out to bid him welcome. Mighty banquets were planned in his honor.
In a house at 14 West Tenth Street, and in a beautiful place at Riverdale, on the Hudson, most of the next three years were passed. Then Mrs. Clemens’s health failed, and in the autumn of 1903 the family went to Florence for her benefit. There, on the 5th of June, 1904, she died. They brought her back and laid her beside Susy, at Elmira. That winter the family took up residence at 21 Fifth Avenue, New York, and remained there until the completion of Stormfield, at Redding, Connecticut, in 1908.
In his later life Mark Twain was accorded high academic honors. Already, in 1888, he had received from Yale College the degree of Master of Arts, and the same college made him a Doctor of Literature in 1901. A year later the university of his own State, at Columbia, Missouri, conferred the same degree, and then, in 1907, came the crowning honor, when venerable Oxford tendered him the doctor’s robe.
“I don’t know why they should give me a degree like that,” he said, quaintly. “I never doctored any literature – I wouldn’t know how.”
He had thought never to cross the ocean again, but he declared he would travel to Mars and back, if necessary, to get that Oxford degree. He appreciated its full meaning-recognition by the world’s foremost institution of learning of the achievements of one who had no learning of the institutionary kind. He sailed in June, and his sojourn in England was Mark.d by a continuous ovation. His hotel was besieged by callers. Two secretaries were busy nearly twenty hours a day attending to visitors and mail. When he appeared on the street his name went echoing in every direction and the multitudes gathered. On the day when he rose, in his scarlet robe and black mortar-board, to receive his degree (he must have made a splendid picture in that dress, with his crown of silver hair), the vast assembly went wild. What a triumph, indeed, for the little Missouri printer-boy! It was the climax of a great career.
Mark Twain’s work was always of a kind to make people talk, always important, even when it was mere humor. Yet it was seldom that; there was always wisdom under it, and purpose, and these things gave it dynamic force and enduring life. Some of his aphorisms – so quaint in form as to invite laughter – are yet fairly startling in their purport. His paraphrase, “When in doubt, tell the truth,” is of this sort. “Frankness is a jewel; only the young can afford it,” he once said to the writer, apropos of a little girl’s remarkHis daily speech was full of such things. The secret of his great charm was his great humanity and the gentle quaintness and sincerity of his utterance.
His work did not cease when the pressing need of money came to an end. He was full of ideas, and likely to begin a new article or story at any time. He wrote and published a number of notable sketches, articles, stories, even books, during these later years, among them that marvelous short story—“The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.” In that story, as in most of his later work, he proved to the world that he was much more than a humorist – that he was, in fact, a great teacher, moralist, philosopher – the greatest, perhaps, of his age.
His life at Stormfield – he had never seen the place until the day of his arrival, June 18, 1908—was a peaceful and serene old age. Not that he was really old; he never was that. His step, his manner, his point of view, were all and always young. He was fond of children and frequently had them about him. He delighted in games – especially in billiards – and in building the house at Stormfield the billiard-room was first considered. He had a genuine passion for the sport; without it his afternoon was not complete. His mornings he was likely to pass in bed, smoking – he was always smoking – and attending to his correspondence and reading. History and the sciences interested him, and his bed was strewn with biographies and stories of astronomical and geological research. The vastness of distances and periods always impressed him. He had no head for figures, but he would labor for hours over scientific calculations, trying to compass them and to grasp their gigantic import. I remember once finding him highly elated over the fact that he had figured out for himself the length in hours and minutes of a “light year.” He showed me the pages covered with figures, and was more proud of them than if they had been the pages of an immortal story. Then we played billiards, but even his favorite game could not make him altogether forget his splendid achievement.
It was on the day before Christmas, 1909, that heavy bereavement once more came into the life of Mark Twain. His daughter Jean, long subject to epileptic attacks, was seized with a convulsion while in her bath and died before assistance reached her. He was dazed by the suddenness of the blow. His philosophy sustained him. He was glad, deeply glad for the beautiful girl that had been released.
“I never greatly envied anybody but the dead,” he said, when he had looked at her. “I always envy the dead.”
The coveted estate of silence, time’s only absolute gift, it was the one benefaction he had ever considered worth while.
Yet the years were not unkindly to Mark Twain. They brought him sorrow, but they brought him likewise the capacity and opportunity for large enjoyment, and at the last they laid upon him a kind of benediction. Naturally impatient, he grew always more gentle, more generous, more tractable and considerate as the seasons passed. His final days may be said to have been spent in the tranquil light of a summer afternoon.
His own end followed by a few months that of his daughter. There were already indications that his heart was seriously affected, and soon after Jean’s death he sought the warm climate of Bermuda. But his malady made rapid progress, and in April he returned to Stormfield. He died there just a week later, April 21, 1910.
Any attempt to designate Mark Twain’s place in the world’s literary history would be presumptuous now. Yet I cannot help thinking that he will maintain his supremacy in the century that produced him. I think so because, of all the writers of that hundred years, his work was the most human his utterances went most surely to the Mark. In the long analysis of the ages it is the truth that counts, and he never approximated, never compromised, but pronounced those absolute verities to which every human being of whatever rank must instantly respond.
His understanding of subjective human nature – the vast, unwritten life within – was simply amazing. Such knowledge he acquired at the fountainhead – that is, from himself. He recognized in himself an extreme example of the human being with all the attributes of power and of weakness, and he made his exposition complete.
The world will long miss Mark Twain; his example and his teaching will be neither ignored nor forgotten. Genius defies the laws of perspective and looms larger as it recedes. The memory of Mark Twain remains to us a living and intimate presence that today, even more than in life, constitutes a stately moral bulwark reared against hypocrisy and superstition – a mighty national menace to sham.
Mark Twain’s Letters
I. Early letters, 1853. New York And Philadelphia
We have no record of Mark Twain’s earliest letters. Very likely they were soiled pencil notes, written to some school sweetheart – to “Becky Thatcher,” perhaps – and tossed across at lucky moments, or otherwise, with happy or disastrous results. One of those smudgy, much-folded school notes of the Tom Sawyer period would be priceless to-day, and somewhere among forgotten keepsakes it may exist, but we shall not be likely to find it. No letter of his boyhood, no scrap of his earlier writing, has come to light except his penciled name, Sam Clemens, laboriously inscribed on the inside of a small worn purse that once held his meager, almost non-existent wealth. He became a printer’s apprentice at twelve, but as he received no salary, the need of a purse could not have been urgent. He must have carried it pretty steadily, however, from its appearance – as a kind of symbol of hope, maybe – a token of that Sellers-optimism which dominated his early life, and was never entirely subdued.
No other writing of any kind has been preserved from Sam Clemens’s boyhood, none from that period of his youth when he had served his apprenticeship and was a capable printer on his brother’s paper, a contributor to it when occasion served. Letters and manuscripts of those days have vanished – even his contributions in printed form are unobtainable. It is not believed that a single number of Orion Clemens’s paper, the Hannibal Journal, exists to-day.
It was not until he was seventeen years old that Sam Clemens wrote a letter any portion of which has survived. He was no longer in Hannibal. Orion’s unprosperous enterprise did not satisfy him. His wish to earn money and to see the world had carried him first to St. Louis, where his sister Pamela was living, then to New York City, where a World’s Fair in a Crystal Palace was in progress. The letter tells of a visit to this great exhibition. It is not complete, and the fragment bears no date, but it was written during the summer of 1853.
Fragment of a letter from Sam L. Clemens to his sister Pamela Moffett, in St. Louis, summer of 1853:
… From the gallery (second floor) you have a glorious sight – the flags of the different countries represented, the lofty dome, glittering jewelry, gaudy tapestry, &c., with the busy crowd passing to and fro – tis a perfect fairy palace – beautiful beyond description.
The Machinery department is on the main floor, but I cannot enumerate any of it on account of the lateness of the hour (past 8 o’clock.) It would take more than a week to examine everything on exhibition; and as I was only in a little over two hours tonight, I only glanced at about one-third of the articles; and having a poor memory; I have enumerated scarcely any of even the principal objects. The visitors to the Palace average 6,000 daily – double the population of Hannibal. The price of admission being 50 cents, they take in about ,000.
The Latting Observatory (height about 280 feet) is near the Palace – from it you can obtain a grand view of the city and the country round. The Croton Aqueduct, to supply the city with water, is the greatest wonder yet. Immense sewers are laid across the bed of the Hudson River, and pass through the country to Westchester county, where a whole river is turned from its course, and brought to New York. From the reservoir in the city to the Westchester county reservoir, the distance is thirty-eight miles! and if necessary, they could supply every family in New York with one hundred barrels of water per day!
I am very sorry to learn that Henry has been sick. He ought to go to the country and take exercise; for he is not half so healthy as Ma thinks he is. If he had my walking to do, he would be another boy entirely. Four times every day I walk a little over one mile; and working hard all day, and walking four miles, is exercise – I am used to it, now, though, and it is no trouble. Where is it Orion’s going to? Tell Ma my promises are faithfully kept, and if I have my health I will take her to Ky. in the spring – I shall save money for this. Tell Jim and all the rest of them to write, and give me all the news. I am sorry to hear such bad news from Will and Captain Bowen. I shall write to Will soon. The Chatham-square Post Office and the Broadway office too, are out of my way, and I always go to the General Post Office; so you must write the direction of my letters plain, “New York City, N. Y.,” without giving the street or anything of the kind, or they may go to some of the other offices. (It has just struck 2 A.M. and I always get up at 6, and am at work at 7.) You ask me where I spend my evenings. Where would you suppose, with a free printers’ library containing more than 4,000 volumes within a quarter of a mile of me, and nobody at home to talk to? I shall write to Ella soon. Write soon,
Truly your Brother,
P. S. I have written this by a light so dim that you nor Ma could not read by it.
He was lodging in a mechanics’ cheap boarding-house in Duane Street, and we may imagine the bareness of his room, the feeble poverty of his lamp.
“Tell Ma my promises are faithfully kept.” It was the day when he had left Hannibal. His mother, Jane Clemens, a resolute, wiry woman of forty-nine, had put together his few belongings. Then, holding up a little Testament:
“I want you to take hold of the end of this, Sam,” she said, “and make me a promise. I want you to repeat after me these words: ’I do solemnly swear that I will not throw a card, or drink a drop of liquor while I am gone.’”
It was this oath, repeated after her, that he was keeping faithfully. The Will Bowen mentioned is a former playmate, one of Tom Sawyer’s outlaw band. He had gone on the river to learn piloting with an elder brother, the “Captain.” What the bad news was is no longer remembered, but it could not have been very serious, for the Bowen boys remained on the river for many years. “Ella” was Samuel Clemens’s cousin and one-time sweetheart, Ella Creel. “Jim” was Jim Wolfe, an apprentice in Orion’s office, and the hero of an adventure which long after Mark Twain wrote under the title of, “Jim Wolfe and the Cats.”
There is scarcely a hint of the future Mark Twain in this early letter. It is the letter of a boy of seventeen who is beginning to take himself rather seriously – who, finding himself for the first time far from home and equal to his own responsibilities, is willing to carry the responsibility of others. Henry, his brother, three years younger, had been left in the printing-office with Orion, who, after a long, profitless fight, is planning to remove from Hannibal. The young traveler is concerned as to the family outlook, and will furnish advice if invited. He feels the approach of prosperity, and will take his mother on a long-coveted trip to her old home in the spring. His evenings? Where should he spend them, with a free library of four thousand volumes close by? It is distinctly a youthful letter, a bit pretentious, and wanting in the spontaneity and humor of a later time. It invites comment, now, chiefly because it is the first surviving document in the long human story.
He was working in the printing-office of John A. Gray and Green, on Cliff Street, and remained there through the summer. He must have written more than once during this period, but the next existing letter – also to Sister Pamela – was written in October. It is perhaps a shade more natural in tone than the earlier example, and there is a hint of Mark Twain in the first paragraph.
To Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
New York…, Oct. Saturday ’53.
My dear sister, – I have not written to any of the family for some time, from the fact, firstly, that I didn’t know where they were, and secondly, because I have been fooling myself with the idea that I was going to leave New York every day for the last two weeks. I have taken a liking to the abominable place, and every time I get ready to leave, I put it off a day or so, from some unaccountable cause. It is as hard on my conscience to leave New York, as it was easy to leave Hannibal. I think I shall get off Tuesday, though.
Edwin Forrest has been playing, for the last sixteen days, at the Broadway Theatre, but I never went to see him till last night. The play was the “Gladiator.” I did not like parts of it much, but other portions were really splendid. In the latter part of the last act, where the “Gladiator” (Forrest) dies at his brother’s feet, (in all the fierce pleasure of gratified revenge,) the man’s whole soul seems absorbed in the part he is playing; and it is really startling to see him. I am sorry I did not see him play “Damon and Pythias” the former character being his greatest. He appears in Philadelphia on Monday night.
I have not received a letter from home lately, but got a “‘Journal’” the other day, in which I see the office has been sold. I suppose Ma, Orion and Henry are in St. Louis now. If Orion has no other project in his head, he ought to take the contract for getting out some weekly paper, if he cannot get a foremanship. Now, for such a paper as the “Presbyterian” (containing about 60,000,—[Sixty thousand ems, type measurement.]) he could get or per week, and he and Henry could easily do the work; nothing to do but set the type and make up the forms….
If my letters do not come often, you need not bother yourself about me; for if you have a brother nearly eighteen years of age, who is not able to take care of himself a few miles from home, such a brother is not worth one’s thoughts: and if I don’t manage to take care of No. 1, be assured you will never know it. I am not afraid, however; I shall ask favors from no one, and endeavor to be (and shall be) as “independent as a wood-sawyer’s clerk.”
I never saw such a place for military companies as New York. Go on the street when you will, you are sure to meet a company in full uniform, with all the usual appendages of drums, fifes, &c. I saw a large company of soldiers of 1812 the other day, with a ’76 veteran scattered here and there in the ranks. And as I passed through one of the parks lately, I came upon a company of boys on parade. Their uniforms were neat, and their muskets about half the common size. Some of them were not more than seven or eight years of age; but had evidently been well-drilled.
Passage to Albany (160 miles) on the finest steamers that ply’ the Hudson, is now 25 cents – cheap enough, but is generally cheaper than that in the summer.
I want you to write as soon as I tell you where to direct your letter. I would let you know now, if I knew myself. I may perhaps be here a week longer; but I cannot tell. When you write tell me the whereabouts of the family. My love to Mr. Moffett and Ella. Tell Ella I intend to write to her soon, whether she wants me to nor not.
Truly your Brother,
Sam L. Clemens.
He was in Philadelphia when he wrote the nest letter that has come down to us, and apparently satisfied with the change. It is a letter to Orion Clemens, who had disposed of his paper, but evidently was still in Hannibal. An extended description of a trip to Fairmount Park is omitted because of its length, its chief interest being the tendency it shows to descriptive writing – the field in which he would make his first great fame. There is, however, no hint of humor, and only a mild suggestion of the author of the Innocents Abroad in this early attempt. The letter as here given is otherwise complete, the omissions being indicated.
To Orion Clemens, in Hannibal:
Philadelphia, Pa. Oct. 26,1853.
My dear brother, – It was at least two weeks before I left New York, that I received my last letter from home: and since then, not a word have I heard from any of you. And now, since I think of it, it wasn’t a letter, either, but the last number of the “Daily Journal,” saying that that paper was sold, and I very naturally supposed from that, that the family had disbanded, and taken up winter quarters in St. Louis. Therefore, I have been writing to Pamela, till I’ve tired of it, and have received no answer. I have been writing for the last two or three weeks, to send Ma some money, but devil take me if I knew where she was, and so the money has slipped out of my pocket somehow or other, but I have a dollar left, and a good deal owing to me, which will be paid next Monday. I shall enclose the dollar in this letter, and you can hand it to her. I know it’s a small amount, but then it will buy her a handkerchief, and at the same time serve as a specimen of the kind of stuff we are paid with in Philadelphia, for you see it’s against the law, in Pennsylvania, to keep or pass a bill of less denomination than . I have only seen two or three bank bills since I have been in the State. On Monday the hands are paid off in sparkling gold, fresh from the Mint; so your dreams are not troubled with the fear of having doubtful money in your pocket.
I am subbing at the Inquirer office. One man has engaged me to work for him every Sunday till the first of next April, (when I shall return home to take Ma to Ky;) and another has engaged my services for the 24th of next month; and if I want it, I can get subbing every night of the week. I go to work at 7 o’clock in the evening, and work till 3 o’clock the next morning. I can go to the theatre and stay till 12 o’clock and then go to the office, and get work from that till 3 the next morning; when I go to bed, and sleep till 11 o’clock, then get up and loaf the rest of the day. The type is mostly agate and minion, with some bourgeois; and when one gets a good agate take
he is sure to make money. I made .50 last Sunday, and was laughed at by all the hands, the poorest of whom sets 11,000 on Sunday; and if I don’t set 10,000, at least, next Sunday, I’ll give them leave to laugh as much as they want to. Out of the 22 compositors in this office, 12 at least, set 15,000 on Sunday.
Unlike New York, I like this Philadelphia amazingly, and the people in it. There is only one thing that gets my “dander” up – and that is the hands are always encouraging me: telling me—“it’s no use to get discouraged – no use to be down-hearted, for there is more work here than you can do!” “Down-hearted,” the devil! I have not had a particle of such a feeling since I left Hannibal, more than four months ago. I fancy they’ll have to wait some time till they see me down-hearted or afraid of starving while I have strength to work and am in a city of 400,000 inhabitants. When I was in Hannibal, before I had scarcely stepped out of the town limits, nothing could have convinced me that I would starve as soon as I got a little way from home….
The grave of Franklin is in Christ Church-yard, corner of Fifth and Arch streets. They keep the gates locked, and one can only see the flat slab that lies over his remains and that of his wife; but you cannot see the inscription distinctly enough to read it. The inscription, I believe, reads thus:
“Benjamin | and | Franklin” Deborah |
I counted 27 cannons (6 pounders) planted in the edge of the sidewalk in Water St. the other day. They are driven into the ground, about a foot, with the mouth end upwards. A ball is driven fast into the mouth of each, to exclude the water; they look like so many posts. They were put there during the war. I have also seen them planted in this manner, round the old churches, in N. Y…..
There is one fine custom observed in Phila. A gentleman is always expected to hand up a lady’s money for her. Yesterday, I sat in the front end of the ’bus, directly under the driver’s box – a lady sat opposite me. She handed me her money, which was right. But, Lord! a St. Louis lady would think herself ruined, if she should be so familiar with a stranger. In St. Louis a man will sit in the front end of the stage, and see a lady stagger from the far end, to pay her fare. The Phila ’bus drivers cannot cheat. In the front of the stage is a thing like an office clock, with figures from 0 to 40, Mark.d on its face. When the stage starts, the hand of the clock is turned toward the 0. When you get in and pay your fare, the driver strikes a bell, and the hand moves to the figure 1—that is, “one fare, and paid for,” and there is your receipt, as good as if you had it in your pocket. When a passenger pays his fare and the driver does not strike the bell immediately, he is greeted “Strike that bell! will you?”
I must close now. I intend visiting the Navy Yard, Mint, etc., before I write again. You must write often. You see I have nothing to write interesting to you, while you can write nothing that will not interest me. Don’t say my letters are not long enough. Tell Jim Wolfe to write. Tell all the boys where I am, and to write. Jim Robinson, particularly. I wrote to him from N. Y. Tell me all that is going on in H – l.
Truly your brother,
Those were primitive times. Imagine a passenger in these easy-going days calling to a driver or conductor to “Strike that bell!”
“H – l” is his abbreviation for Hannibal. He had first used it in a title of a poem which a few years before, during one of Orion’s absences, he had published in the paper. “To Mary in Hannibal” was too long to set as a display head in single column. The poem had no great merit, but under the abbreviated title it could hardly fail to invite notice. It was one of several things he did to liven up the circulation during a brief period of his authority.
The doubtful money he mentions was the paper issued by private banks, “wild cat,” as it was called. He had been paid with it in New York, and found it usually at a discount – sometimes even worthless. Wages and money were both better in Philadelphia, but the fund for his mother’s trip to Kentucky apparently did not grow very rapidly.
The next letter, written a month later, is also to Orion Clemens, who had now moved to Muscatine, Iowa, and established there a new paper with an old title, ’The Journal’.
To Orion Clemens, in Muscatine, Iowa:
Philadelphia, Nov. 28th, 1853.
My dear brother, – I received your letter today. I think Ma ought to spend the winter in St. Louis. I don’t believe in that climate – it’s too cold for her.
The printers’ annual ball and supper came off the other night. The proceeds amounted to about ,000. The printers, as well as other people, are endeavoring to raise money to erect a monument to Franklin, but there are so many abominable foreigners here (and among printers, too,) who hate everything American, that I am very certain as much money for such a purpose could be raised in St. Louis, as in Philadelphia. I was in Franklin’s old office this morning – the “North American” (formerly “Philadelphia Gazette”) and there was at least one foreigner for every American at work there.
How many subscribers has the Journal got? What does the job-work pay? and what does the whole concern pay?…
I will try to write for the paper occasionally, but I fear my letters will be very uninteresting, for this incessant night-work dulls one’s ideas amazingly.
From some cause, I cannot set type nearly so fast as when I was at home. Sunday is a long day, and while others set 12 and 15,000, yesterday, I only set 10,000. However, I will shake this laziness off, soon, I reckon….
How do you like “free-soil?”—I would like amazingly to see a good old-fashioned negro.
My love to all,
Truly your brother,
We may believe that it never occurred to the young printer, looking up landmark of Ben Franklin, that time would show points of resemblance between the great Franklin’s career and his own. Yet these seem now rather striking. Like Franklin, he had been taken out of school very young and put at the printer’s trade; like Franklin, he had worked in his brother’s office, and had written for the paper. Like him, too, he had left quietly for New York and Philadelphia to work at the trade of printing, and in time Samuel Clemens, like Benjamin Franklin, would become a world-figure, many-sided, human, and of incredible popularity. The boy Sam Clemens may have had such dreams, but we find no trace of them.
There is but one more letter of this early period. Young Clemens spent some time in Washington, but if he wrote from there his letters have disappeared. The last letter is from Philadelphia and seems to reflect homesickness. The novelty of absence and travel was wearing thin.
To Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Philadelphia, Dec. 5, ’53.
My dear sister, – I have already written two letters within the last two hours, and you will excuse me if this is not lengthy. If I had the money, I would come to St. Louis now, while the river is open; but within the last two or three weeks I have spent about thirty dollars for clothing, so I suppose I shall remain where I am. I only want to return to avoid night-work, which is injuring my eyes. I have received one or two letters from home, but they are not written as they should be, and I know no more about what is going on there than the man in the moon. One only has to leave home to learn how to write an interesting letter to an absent friend when he gets back. I suppose you board at Mrs. Hunter’s yet – and that, I think, is somewhere in Olive street above Fifth. Philadelphia is one of the healthiest places in the Union. I wanted to spend this winter in a warm climate, but it is too late now. I don’t like our present prospect for cold weather at all.
Truly your brother,
But he did not return to the West for another half year. The letters he wrote during that period have not survived. It was late in the summer of 1854 when he finally started for St. Louis. He sat up for three days and nights in a smoking-car to make the journey, and arrived exhausted. The river packet was leaving in a few hours for Muscatine, Iowa, where his mother and his two brothers were now located. He paid his sister a brief visit, and caught the boat. Worn-out, he dropped into his berth and slept the thirty-six hours of the journey.
It was early when-he arrived – too early to arouse the family. In the office of the little hotel where he waited for daylight he found a small book. It contained portraits of the English rulers, with the brief facts of their reigns. Young Clemens entertained himself by learning this information by heart. He had a fine memory for such things, and in an hour or two had the printed data perfectly and permanently committed. This incidentally acquired knowledge proved of immense value to him. It was his groundwork for all English history.
II. Letters 1856-61. Keokuk, And The River. End Of Piloting
There comes a period now of nearly four years, when Samuel Clemens was either a poor correspondent or his letters have not been preserved. Only two from this time have survived – happily of intimate biographical importance.
Young Clemens had not remained in Muscatine. His brother had no inducements to offer, and he presently returned to St. Louis, where he worked as a compositor on the Evening News until the following spring, rooming with a young man named Burrough, a journeyman chair-maker with a taste for the English classics. Orion Clemens, meantime, on a trip to Keokuk, had casually married there, and a little later removed his office to that city. He did not move the paper; perhaps it did not seem worth while, and in Keokuk he confined himself to commercial printing. The Ben Franklin Book and Job Office started with fair prospects. Henry Clemens and a boy named Dick Hingham were the assistants, and somewhat later, when brother Sam came up from St. Louis on a visit, an offer of five dollars a week and board induced him to remain. Later, when it became increasingly difficult to pay the five dollars, Orion took his brother into partnership, which perhaps relieved the financial stress, though the office methods would seem to have left something to be desired. It is about at this point that the first of the two letters mentioned was written. The writer addressed it to his mother and sister – Jane Clemens having by this time taken up her home with her daughter, Mrs. Moffett.
To Mrs. Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Keokuk, Iowa, June 10th, 1856.
My dear mother & sister, – I have nothing to write. Everything is going on well. The Directory is coming on finely. I have to work on it occasionally, which I don’t like a particle I don’t like to work at too many things at once. They take Henry and Dick away from me too. Before we commenced the Directory, I could tell before breakfast just how much work could be done during the day, and manage accordingly – but now, they throw all my plans into disorder by taking my hands away from their work. I have nothing to do with the book – if I did I would have the two book hands do more work than they do, or else I would drop it. It is not a mere supposition that they do not work fast enough – I know it; for yesterday the two book hands were at work all day, Henry and Dick all the afternoon, on the advertisements, and they set up five pages and a half – and I set up two pages and a quarter of the same matter after supper, night before last, and I don’t work fast on such things. They are either excessively slow motioned or very lazy. I am not getting along well with the job work. I can’t work blindly – without system. I gave Dick a job yesterday, which I calculated he would set in two hours and I could work off in three, and therefore just finish it by supper time, but he was transferred to the Directory, and the job, promised this morning, remains untouched. Through all the great pressure of job work lately, I never before failed in a promise of the kind.
Excuse brevity this is my 3rd letter to-night.
Samuel Clemens was never celebrated for his patience; we may imagine that the disorder of the office tried his nerves. He seems, on the whole, however, to have been rather happy in Keokuk. There were plenty of young people there, and he was a favorite among them. But he had grown dissatisfied, and when one day some weeks later there fell into His hands an account of the riches of the newly explored regions of the upper Amazon, he promptly decided to find his fortune at the headwaters of the great South-American river. The second letter reports this momentous decision. It was written to Henry Clemens, who was temporarily absent-probably in Hannibal.
To Henry Clemens:
Keokuk, August 5th, ’56.
My dear brother,—…. Ward and I held a long consultation, Sunday morning, and the result was that we two have determined to start to Brazil, if possible, in six weeks from now, in order to look carefully into matters there and report to Dr. Martin in time for him to follow on the first of March. We propose going via New York. Now, between you and I and the fence you must say nothing about this to Orion, for he thinks that Ward is to go clear through alone, and that I am to stop at New York or New Orleans until he reports. But that don’t suit me. My confidence in human nature does not extend quite that far. I won’t depend upon Ward’s judgment, or anybody’s else – I want to see with my own eyes, and form my own opinion. But you know what Orion is. When he gets a notion into his head, and more especially if it is an erroneous one, the Devil can’t get it out again. So I know better than to combat his arguments long, but apparently yielded, inwardly determined to go clear through. Ma knows my determination, but even she counsels me to keep it from Orion. She says I can treat him as I did her when I started to St. Louis and went to New York – I can start to New York and go to South America! Although Orion talks grandly about furnishing me with fifty or a hundred dollars in six weeks, I could not depend upon him for ten dollars, so I have “feelers” out in several directions, and have already asked for a hundred dollars from one source (keep it to yourself.) I will lay on my oars for awhile, and see how the wind sets, when I may probably try to get more. Mrs. Creel is a great friend of mine, and has some influence with Ma and Orion, though I reckon they would not acknowledge it. I am going up there tomorrow, to press her into my service. I shall take care that Ma and Orion are plentifully supplied with South American books. They have Herndon’s Report now. Ward and the Dr. and myself will hold a grand consultation tonight at the office. We have agreed that no more shall be admitted into our company.
I believe the Guards went down to Quincy today to escort our first locomotive home.
Readers familiar with the life of Mark Twain know that none of the would-be adventurers found their way to the Amazon: His two associates gave up the plan, probably for lack of means. Young Clemens himself found a fifty-dollar bill one bleak November day blowing along the streets of Keokuk, and after duly advertising his find without result, set out for the Amazon, by way of Cincinnati and New Orleans.
“I advertised the find and left for the Amazon the same day,” he once declared, a statement which we may take with a literary discount.
He remained in Cincinnati that winter (1856-57) working at his trade. No letters have been preserved from that time, except two that were sent to a Keokuk weekly, the Saturday Post, and as these were written for publication, and are rather a poor attempt at burlesque humor – their chief feature being a pretended illiteracy – they would seem to bear no relation to this collection. He roomed that winter with a rugged, self-educated Scotchman – a mechanic, but a man of books and philosophies, who left an impress on Mark Twain’s mental life.
In April he took up once more the journey toward South America, but presently forgot the Amazon altogether in the new career that opened to him. All through his boyhood and youth Samuel Clemens had wanted to be a pilot. Now came the long-deferred opportunity. On the little Cincinnati steamer, the Paul Jones, there was a pilot named Horace Bixby. Young Clemens idling in the pilot-house was one morning seized with the old ambition, and laid siege to Bixby to teach him the river. The terms finally agreed upon specified a fee to Bixby of five hundred dollars, one hundred down, the balance when the pupil had completed the course and was earning money. But all this has been told in full elsewhere, and is only summarized here because the letters fail to complete the story.
Bixby soon made some trips up the Missouri River, and in his absence turned his apprentice, or “cub,” over to other pilots, such being the river custom. Young Clemens, in love with the life, and a favorite with his superiors, had a happy time until he came under a pilot named Brown. Brown was illiterate and tyrannical, and from the beginning of their association pilot and apprentice disliked each other cordially.
It is at this point that the letters begin once more – the first having been written when young Clemens, now twenty-two years old, had been on the river nearly a year. Life with Brown, of course, was not all sorrow, and in this letter we find some of the fierce joy of adventure which in those days Samuel Clemens loved.
To Onion Clemens and Wife, in Keokuk, Iowa:
Saint Louis, March 9th, 1858.
Dear brother and sister, – I must take advantage of the opportunity now presented to write you, but I shall necessarily be dull, as I feel uncommonly stupid. We have had a hard trip this time. Left Saint Louis three weeks ago on the Pennsylvania. The weather was very cold, and the ice running densely. We got 15 miles below town, landed the boat, and then one pilot. Second Mate and four deck hands took the sounding boat and shoved out in the ice to hunt the channel. They failed to find it, and the ice drifted them ashore. The pilot left the men with the boat and walked back to us, a mile and a half. Then the other pilot and myself, with a larger crew of men started out and met with the same fate. We drifted ashore just below the other boat. Then the fun commenced. We made fast a line 20 fathoms long, to the bow of the yawl, and put the men (both crews) to it like horses, on the shore. Brown, the pilot, stood in the bow, with an oar, to keep her head out, and I took the tiller. We would start the men, and all would go well till the yawl would bring up on a heavy cake of ice, and then the men would drop like so many ten-pins, while Brown assumed the horizontal in the bottom of the boat. After an hour’s hard work we got back, with ice half an inch thick on the oars. Sent back and warped up the other yawl, and then George (the first mentioned pilot,) and myself, took a double crew of fresh men and tried it again. This time we found the channel in less than half an hour, and landed on an island till the Pennsylvania came along and took us off. The next day was colder still. I was out in the yawl twice, and then we got through, but the infernal steamboat came near running over us. We went ten miles further, landed, and George and I cleared out again – found the channel first trial, but got caught in the gorge and drifted helplessly down the river. The Ocean Spray came along and started into the ice after us, but although she didn’t succeed in her kind intention of taking us aboard, her waves washed us out, and that was all we wanted. We landed on an island, built a big fire and waited for the boat. She started, and ran aground! It commenced raining and sleeting, and a very interesting time we had on that barren sandbar for the next four hours, when the boat got off and took us aboard. The next day was terribly cold. We sounded Hat Island, warped up around a bar and sounded again – but in order to understand our situation you will have to read Dr. Kane. It would have been impossible to get back to the boat. But the Maria Denning was aground at the head of the island – they hailed us – we ran alongside and they hoisted us in and thawed us out. We had then been out in the yawl from 4 o’clock in the morning till half past 9 without being near a fire. There was a thick coating of ice over men, yawl, ropes and everything else, and we looked like rock-candy statuary. We got to Saint Louis this morning, after an absence of 3 weeks – that boat generally makes the trip in 2.
Henry was doing little or nothing here, and I sent him to our clerk to work his way for a trip, by measuring wood piles, counting coal boxes, and other clerkly duties, which he performed satisfactorily. He may go down with us again, for I expect he likes our bill of fare better than that of his boarding house.
I got your letter at Memphis as I went down. That is the best place to write me at. The post office here is always out of my route, somehow or other. Remember the direction: “S.L.C., Steamer Pennsylvania Care Duval & Algeo, Wharfboat, Memphis.” I cannot correspond with a paper, because when one is learning the river, he is not allowed to do or think about anything else.
I am glad to see you in such high spirits about the land, and I hope you will remain so, if you never get richer. I seldom venture to think about our landed wealth, for “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”
I did intend to answer your letter, but I am too lazy and too sleepy now. We have had a rough time during the last 24 hours working through the ice between Cairo and Saint Louis, and I have had but little rest.
I got here too late to see the funeral of the 10 victims by the burning of the Pacific hotel in 7th street. Ma says there were 10 hearses, with the fire companies (their engines in mourning – firemen in uniform,) the various benevolent societies in uniform and mourning, and a multitude of citizens and strangers, forming, altogether, a procession of 30,000 persons! One steam fire engine was drawn by four white horses, with crape festoons on their heads.
Well I am – just – about – asleep—
Among other things, we gather from this letter that Orion Clemens had faith in his brother as a newspaper correspondent, though the two contributions from Cincinnati, already mentioned, were not promising. Furthermore, we get an intimation of Orion’s unfailing confidence in the future of the “land”—that is to say, the great tract of land in Eastern Tennessee which, in an earlier day, his father had bought as a heritage for his children. It is the same Tennessee land that had “millions in it” for Colonel Sellers – the land that would become, as Orion Clemens long afterward phrased it, “the worry of three generations.”
The Doctor Kane of this letter is, of course, Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, the American Arctic explorer. Any book of exploration always appealed to Mark Twain, and in those days Kane was a favorite.
The paragraph concerning Henry, and his employment on the Pennsylvania, begins the story of a tragedy. The story has been fully told elsewhere,
and need only be sketched briefly here. Henry, a gentle, faithful boy, shared with his brother the enmity of the pilot Brown. Some two months following the date of the foregoing letter, on a down trip of the Pennsylvania, an unprovoked attack made by Brown upon the boy brought his brother Sam to the rescue. Brown received a good pummeling at the hands of the future humorist, who, though upheld by the captain, decided to quit the Pennsylvania at New Orleans and to come up the river by another boat. The Brown episode has no special bearing on the main tragedy, though now in retrospect it seems closely related to it. Samuel Clemens, coming up the river on the A. T. Lacey, two days behind the Pennsylvania, heard a voice shout as they approached the Greenville, Mississippi, landing:
“The Pennsylvania is blown up just below Memphis, at Ship Island!
One hundred and fifty lives lost!”
It was a true report. At six o’clock of a warm, mid-June morning, while loading wood, sixty miles below Memphis, the Pennsylvania’s boilers had exploded with fearful results. Henry Clemens was among the injured. He was still alive when his brother reached Memphis on the Lacey, but died a few days later. Samuel Clemens had idolized the boy, and regarded himself responsible for his death. The letter that follows shows that he was overwrought by the scenes about him and the strain of watching, yet the anguish of it is none the less real.
To Mrs. Onion Clemens:
Memphis, Tenn., Friday, June 18th, 1858.
Dear sister Mollie, – Long before this reaches you, my poor Henry my darling, my pride, my glory, my all, will have finished his blameless career, and the light of my life will have gone out in utter darkness. (O, God! this is hard to bear.) Hardened, hopeless, – aye, lost – lost – lost and ruined sinner as I am – I, even I, have humbled myself to the ground and prayed as never man prayed before, that the great God might let this cup pass from me – that he would strike me to the earth, but spare my brother – that he would pour out the fulness of his just wrath upon my wicked head, but have mercy, mercy, mercy upon that unoffending boy. The horrors of three days have swept over me – they have blasted my youth and left me an old man before my time. Mollie, there are gray hairs in my head tonight. For forty-eight hours I labored at the bedside of my poor burned and bruised, but uncomplaining brother, and then the star of my hope went out and left me in the gloom of despair. Men take me by the hand and congratulate me, and call me “lucky” because I was not on the Pennsylvania when she blew up! May God forgive them, for they know not what they say.
Mollie you do not understand why I was not on that boat – I will tell you. I left Saint Louis on her, but on the way down, Mr. Brown, the pilot that was killed by the explosion (poor fellow,) quarreled with Henry without cause, while I was steering. Henry started out of the pilot-house – Brown jumped up and collared him – turned him half way around and struck him in the face! – and him nearly six feet high – struck my little brother. I was wild from that moment. I left the boat to steer herself, and avenged the insult – and the Captain said I was right – that he would discharge Brown in N. Orleans if he could get another pilot, and would do it in St. Louis, anyhow. Of course both of us could not return to St. Louis on the same boat – no pilot could be found, and the Captain sent me to the A. T. Lacey, with orders to her Captain to bring me to Saint Louis. Had another pilot been found, poor Brown would have been the “lucky” man.
I was on the Pennsylvania five minutes before she left N. Orleans, and I must tell you the truth, Mollie – three hundred human beings perished by that fearful disaster. Henry was asleep – was blown up – then fell back on the hot boilers, and I suppose that rubbish fell on him, for he is injured internally. He got into the water and swam to shore, and got into the flatboat with the other survivors.
He had nothing on but his wet shirt, and he lay there burning up with a southern sun and freezing in the wind till the Kate Frisbee came along. His wounds were not dressed till he got to Memphis, 15 hours after the explosion. He was senseless and motionless for 12 hours after that. But may God bless Memphis, the noblest city on the face of the earth. She has done her duty by these poor afflicted creatures – especially Henry, for he has had five – aye, ten, fifteen, twenty times the care and attention that any one else has had. Dr. Peyton, the best physician in Memphis (he is exactly like the portraits of Webster) sat by him for 36 hours. There are 32 scalded men in that room, and you would know Dr. Peyton better than I can describe him, if you could follow him around and hear each man murmur as he passes, “May the God of Heaven bless you, Doctor!” The ladies have done well, too. Our second Mate, a handsome, noble hearted young fellow, will die. Yesterday a beautiful girl of 15 stooped timidly down by his side and handed him a pretty bouquet. The poor suffering boy’s eyes kindled, his lips quivered out a gentle “God bless you, Miss,” and he burst into tears. He made them write her name on a card for him, that he might not forget it.
Pray for me, Mollie, and pray for my poor sinless brother.
Your unfortunate Brother,
Sam L. Clemens.
P. S. I got here two days after Henry.
It is said that Mark Twain never really recovered from the tragedy of his brother’s death – that it was responsible for the serious, pathetic look that the face of the world’s greatest laugh-maker always wore in repose.
He went back to the river, and in September of the same year, after an apprenticeship of less than eighteen months, received his license as a St. Louis and New Orleans pilot, and was accepted by his old chief, Bixby, as full partner on an important boat. In Life on the Mississippi Mark Twain makes the period of his study from two to two and a half years, but this is merely an attempt to magnify his dullness. He was, in fact, an apt pupil and a pilot of very high class.
Clemens was now suddenly lifted to a position of importance. The Mississippi River pilot of those days was a person of distinction, earning a salary then regarded as princely. Certainly two hundred and fifty dollars a month was large for a boy of twenty-three. At once, of course, he became the head of the Clemens family. His brother Orion was ten years older, but he had not the gift of success. By common consent the younger brother assumed permanently the position of family counselor and financier. We expect him to feel the importance of his new position, and he is too human to disappoint us. Incidentally, we notice an improvement in his English. He no longer writes “between you and I.”
Fragment of a letter to Orion Clemens. Written at St. Louis in 1859:
… I am not talking nonsense, now – I am in earnest, I want you to keep your troubles and your plans out of the reach of meddlers, until the latter are consummated, so that in case you fail, no one will know it but yourself.
Above all things (between you and me) never tell Ma any of your troubles; she never slept a wink the night your last letter came, and she looks distressed yet. Write only cheerful news to her. You know that she will not be satisfied so long as she thinks anything is going on that she is ignorant of – and she makes a little fuss about it when her suspicions are awakened; but that makes no difference—. I know that it is better that she be kept in the dark concerning all things of an unpleasant nature. She upbraids me occasionally for giving her only the bright side of my affairs (but unfortunately for her she has to put up with it, for I know that troubles that I curse awhile and forget, would disturb her slumbers for some time.) (Parenthesis No. 2—Possibly because she is deprived of the soothing consolation of swearing.) Tell her the good news and me the bad.
Putting all things together, I begin to think I am rather lucky than otherwise – a notion which I was slow to take up. The other night I was about to round to for a storm – but concluded that I could find a smoother bank somewhere. I landed 5 miles below. The storm came – passed away and did not injure us. Coming up, day before yesterday, I looked at the spot I first chose, and half the trees on the bank were torn to shreds. We couldn’t have lived 5 minutes in such a tornado. And I am also lucky in having a berth, while all the young pilots are idle. This is the luckiest circumstance that ever befell me. Not on account of the wages – for that is a secondary consideration – but from the fact that the City of Memphis is the largest boat in the trade and the hardest to pilot, and consequently I can get a reputation on her, which is a thing I never could accomplish on a transient boat. I can “bank” in the neighborhood of 0 a month on her, and that will satisfy me for the present (principally because the other youngsters are sucking their fingers.) Bless me! what a pleasure there is in revenge! and what vast respect Prosperity commands! Why, six months ago, I could enter the “Rooms,” and receive only a customary fraternal greeting – but now they say, “Why, how are you, old fellow – when did you get in?”
And the young pilots who used to tell me, patronizingly, that I could never learn the river cannot keep from showing a little of their chagrin at seeing me so far ahead of them. Permit me to “blow my horn,” for I derive a living pleasure from these things, and I must confess that when I go to pay my dues, I rather like to let the d – d rascals get a glimpse of a hundred dollar bill peeping out from amongst notes of smaller dimensions, whose face I do not exhibit! You will despise this egotism, but I tell you there is a “stern joy” in it…..
Pilots did not remain long on one boat, as a rule; just why it is not so easy to understand. Perhaps they liked the experience of change; perhaps both captain and pilot liked the pursuit of the ideal. In the light-hearted letter that follows – written to a friend of the family, formerly of Hannibal – we get something of the uncertainty of the pilot’s engagements.
To Mrs. Elizabeth W. Smith, in Jackson, Cape Girardeau County, Mo.:
Dear aunt Betsey, – Ma has not written you, because she did not know when I would get started down the river again….
You see, Aunt Betsey, I made but one trip on the packet after you left, and then concluded to remain at home awhile. I have just discovered this morning that I am to go to New Orleans on the “Col. Chambers”—fine, light-draught, swift-running passenger steamer – all modern accommodations and improvements – through with dispatch – for freight or passage apply on board, or to – but – I have forgotten the agent’s name – however, it makes no difference – and as I was saying, or had intended to say, Aunt Betsey, probably, if you are ready to come up, you had better take the “Ben Lewis,” the best boat in the packet line. She will be at Cape Girardeau at noon on Saturday (day after tomorrow,) and will reach here at breakfast time, Sunday. If Mr. Hamilton is chief clerk, – very well, I am slightly acquainted with him. And if Messrs. Carter Gray and Dean Somebody (I have forgotten his other name,) are in the pilot-house – very well again-I am acquainted with them. Just tell Mr. Gray, Aunt Betsey – that I wish him to place himself at your command.
All the family are well – except myself – I am in a bad way again – disease, Love, in its most malignant form. Hopes are entertained of my recovery, however. At the dinner table – excellent symptom – I am still as “terrible as an army with banners.”
Aunt Betsey – the wickedness of this world – but I haven’t time to moralize this morning.
As we do not hear of this “attack” again, the recovery was probably prompt. His letters are not frequent enough for us to keep track of his boats, but we know that he was associated with Bixby from time to time, and now and again with one of the Bowen boys, his old Hannibal schoolmates. He was reveling in the river life, the ease and distinction and romance of it. No other life would ever suit him as well. He was at the age to enjoy just what it brought him – at the airy, golden, overweening age of youth.
To Orion Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa:
St. Louis, Mch. 1860.
My dear Bro., – Your last has just come to hand. It reminds me strongly of Tom Hood’s letters to his family, (which I have been reading lately). But yours only remind me of his, for although there is a striking likeness, your humour is much finer than his, and far better expressed. Tom Hood’s wit, (in his letters) has a savor of labor about it which is very disagreeable. Your letter is good. That portion of it wherein the old sow figures is the very best thing I have seen lately. Its quiet style resembles Goldsmith’s “Citizen of the World,” and “Don Quixote,”—which are my beau ideals of fine writing.
You have paid the preacher! Well, that is good, also. What a man wants with religion in these breadless times, surpasses my comprehension.
Pamela and I have just returned from a visit to the most wonderfully beautiful painting which this city has ever seen – Church’s “Heart of the Andes”—which represents a lovely valley with its rich vegetation in all the bloom and glory of a tropical summer – dotted with birds and flowers of all colors and shades of color, and sunny slopes, and shady corners, and twilight groves, and cool cascades – all grandly set off with a majestic mountain in the background with its gleaming summit clothed in everlasting ice and snow! I have seen it several times, but it is always a new picture – totally new – you seem to see nothing the second time which you saw the first. We took the opera glass, and examined its beauties minutely, for the naked eye cannot discern the little wayside flowers, and soft shadows and patches of sunshine, and half-hidden bunches of grass and jets of water which form some of its most enchanting features. There is no slurring of perspective effect about it – the most distant – the minutest object in it has a Mark.d and distinct personality – so that you may count the very leaves on the trees. When you first see the tame, ordinary-looking picture, your first impulse is to turn your back upon it, and say “Humbug”—but your third visit will find your brain gasping and straining with futile efforts to take all the wonder in – and appreciate it in its fulness – and understand how such a miracle could have been conceived and executed by human brain and human hands. You will never get tired of looking at the picture, but your reflections – your efforts to grasp an intelligible Something – you hardly know what – will grow so painful that you will have to go away from the thing, in order to obtain relief. You may find relief, but you cannot banish the picture – It remains with you still. It is in my mind now – and the smallest feature could not be removed without my detecting it. So much for the “Heart of the Andes.”
Ma was delighted with her trip, but she was disgusted with the girls for allowing me to embrace and kiss them – and she was horrified at the Schottische as performed by Miss Castle and myself. She was perfectly willing for me to dance until 12 o’clock at the imminent peril of my going to sleep on the after watch – but then she would top off with a very inconsistent sermon on dancing in general; ending with a terrific broadside aimed at that heresy of hérésies, the Schottische.
I took Ma and the girls in a carriage, round that portion of New Orleans where the finest gardens and residences are to be seen, and although it was a blazing hot dusty day, they seemed hugely delighted. To use an expression which is commonly ignored in polite society, they were “hell-bent” on stealing some of the luscious-looking oranges from branches which overhung the fences, but I restrained them. They were not aware before that shrubbery could be made to take any queer shape which a skilful gardener might choose to twist it into, so they found not only beauty but novelty in their visit. We went out to Lake Pontchartrain in the cars.
We have not before heard of Miss Castle, who appears to have been one of the girls who accompanied Jane Clemens on the trip which her son gave her to New Orleans, but we may guess that the other was his cousin and good comrade, Ella Creel. One wishes that he might have left us a more extended account of that long-ago river journey, a fuller glimpse of a golden age that has vanished as completely as the days of Washington.
We may smile at the natural youthful desire to air his reading, and his art appreciation, and we may find his opinions not without interest. We may even commend them – in part. Perhaps we no longer count the leaves on Church’s trees, but Goldsmith and Cervantes still deserve the place assigned them.
He does not tell us what boat he was on at this time, but later in the year he was with Bixby again, on the Alonzo Child. We get a bit of the pilot in port in his next.
To Orion Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa:
“Alonzo child,” N. Orleans, Sep. 28th 1860.
Dear brother, – I just received yours and Mollies letter yesterday – they had been here two weeks – forwarded from St. Louis. We got here yesterday – will leave at noon to-day. Of course I have had no time, in 24 hours, to do anything. Therefore I’ll answer after we are under way again. Yesterday, I had many things to do, but Bixby and I got with the pilots of two other boats and went off dissipating on a ten dollar dinner at a French restaurant breathe it not unto Ma! – where we ate sheep-head, fish with mushrooms, shrimps and oysters – birds – coffee with brandy burnt in it, &c &c, – ate, drank and smoked, from 2 p.m. until 5 o’clock, and then – then the day was too far gone to do any thing.
Please find enclosed and acknowledge receipt of—.00
It should be said, perhaps, that when he became pilot Jane Clemens had released her son from his pledge in the matter of cards and liquor. This license did not upset him, however. He cared very little for either of these dissipations. His one great indulgence was tobacco, a matter upon which he was presently to receive some grave counsel. He reports it in his next letter, a sufficiently interesting document. The clairvoyant of this visit was Madame Caprell, famous in her day. Clemens had been urged to consult her, and one idle afternoon concluded to make the experiment. The letter reporting the matter to his brother is fragmentary, and is the last remaining to us of the piloting period.
Fragment of a letter to Orion Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa:
New Orleans February 6, 1862.
… She’s a very pleasant little lady – rather pretty – about 28,—say 5 feet 2 and one quarter – would weigh 116—has black eyes and hair – is polite and intelligent – used good language, and talks much faster than I do.
She invited me into the little back parlor, closed the door; and we were alone. We sat down facing each other. Then she asked my age. Then she put her hands before her eyes a moment, and commenced talking as if she had a good deal to say and not much time to say it in. Something after this style:
Madame. Yours is a watery planet; you gain your livelihood on the water; but you should have been a lawyer – there is where your talents lie: you might have distinguished yourself as an orator, or as an editor; you have written a great deal; you write well – but you are rather out of practice; no matter – you will be in practice some day; you have a superb constitution, and as excellent health as any man in the world; you have great powers of endurance; in your profession your strength holds out against the longest sieges, without flagging; still, the upper part of your lungs, the top of them is slightly affected – you must take care of yourself; you do not drink, but you use entirely too much tobacco; and you must stop it; mind, not moderate, but stop the use of it totally; then I can almost promise you 86 when you will surely die; otherwise look out for 28, 31, 34, 47, and 65; be careful – for you are not of a long-lived race, that is on your father’s side; you are the only healthy member of your family, and the only one in it who has anything like the certainty of attaining to a great age – so, stop using tobacco, and be careful of yourself….. In some respects you take after your father, but you are much more like your mother, who belongs to the long-lived, energetic side of the house…. You never brought all your energies to bear upon any subject but what you accomplished it – for instance, you are self-made, self-educated.
S. L. C. Which proves nothing.
Madame. Don’t interrupt. When you sought your present occupation you found a thousand obstacles in the way – obstacles unknown – not even suspected by any save you and me, since you keep such matters to yourself – but you fought your way, and hid the long struggle under a mask of cheerfulness, which saved your friends anxiety on your account. To do all this requires all the qualities I have named.
S. L. C. You flatter well, Madame.
Madame. Don’t interrupt: Up to within a short time you had always lived from hand to mouth-now you are in easy circumstances – for which you need give credit to no one but yourself. The turning point in your life occurred in 1840-7-8.
S. L. C. Which was?
Madame. A death perhaps, and this threw you upon the world and made you what you are; it was always intended that you should make yourself; therefore, it was well that this calamity occurred as early as it did. You will never die of water, although your career upon it in the future seems well sprinkled with misfortune. You will continue upon the water for some time yet; you will not retire finally until ten years from now…. What is your brother’s age? 35—and a lawyer? and in pursuit of an office? Well, he stands a better chance than the other two, and he may get it; he is too visionary – is always flying off on a new hobby; this will never do – tell him I said so. He is a good lawyer – a, very good lawyer – and a fine speaker – is very popular and much respected, and makes many friends; but although he retains their friendship, he loses their confidence by displaying his instability of character….. The land he has now will be very valuable after a while—
S. L. C. Say a 50 years hence, or thereabouts. Madame—
Madame. No – less time-but never mind the land, that is a secondary consideration – let him drop that for the present, and devote himself to his business and politics with all his might, for he must hold offices under the Government…..
After a while you will possess a good deal of property – retire at the end of ten years – after which your pursuits will be literary – try the law – you will certainly succeed. I am done now. If you have any questions to ask – ask them freely – and if it be in my power, I will answer without reserve – without reserve.
I asked a few questions of minor importance – paid her —and left, under the decided impression that going to the fortune teller’s was just as good as going to the opera, and the cost scarcely a trifle more – ergo, I will disguise myself and go again, one of these days, when other amusements fail. Now isn’t she the devil? That is to say, isn’t she a right smart little woman?
When you want money, let Ma know, and she will send it. She and Pamela are always fussing about change, so I sent them a hundred and twenty quarters yesterday – fiddler’s change enough to last till I get back, I reckon.
It is not so difficult to credit Madame Caprell with clairvoyant powers when one has read the letters of Samuel Clemens up to this point. If we may judge by those that have survived, her prophecy of literary distinction for him was hardly warranted by anything she could have known of his past performance. These letters of his youth have a value to-day only because they were written by the man who later was to become Mark Twain. The squibs and skits which he sometimes contributed to the New Orleans papers were bright, perhaps, and pleasing to his pilot associates, but they were without literary value. He was twenty-five years old. More than one author has achieved reputation at that age. Mark Twain was of slower growth; at that age he had not even developed a definite literary ambition: Whatever the basis of Madame Caprell’s prophecy, we must admit that she was a good guesser on several matters, “a right smart little woman,” as Clemens himself phrased it.
She overlooked one item, however: the proximity of the Civil War. Perhaps it was too close at hand for second sight. A little more than two months after the Caprell letter was written Fort Sumter was fired upon. Mask Twain had made his last trip as a pilot up the river to St. Louis – the nation was plunged into a four years’ conflict.
There are no letters of this immediate period. Young Clemens went to Hannibal, and enlisting in a private company, composed mainly of old schoolmates, went soldiering for two rainy, inglorious weeks, by the end of which he had had enough of war, and furthermore had discovered that he was more of a Union abolitionist than a slave-holding secessionist, as he had at first supposed. Convictions were likely to be rather infirm during those early days of the war, and subject to change without notice. Especially was this so in a border State.
III. Letters 1861-62. On The Frontier. Mining Adventures. Journalistic Beginnings
Clemens went from the battle-front to Keokuk, where Orion was preparing to accept the appointment prophesied by Madame Caprell. Orion was a stanch Unionist, and a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet had offered him the secretaryship of the new Territory of Nevada. Orion had accepted, and only needed funds to carry him to his destination. His pilot brother had the funds, and upon being appointed “private” secretary, agreed to pay both passages on the overland stage, which would bear them across the great plains from St. Jo to Carson City. Mark Twain, in Roughing It, has described that glorious journey and the frontier life that followed it. His letters form a supplement of realism to a tale that is more or less fictitious, though marvelously true in color and background. The first bears no date, but it was written not long after their arrival, August 14, 1861. It is not complete, but there is enough of it to give us a very fair picture of Carson City, “a wooden town; its population two thousand souls.”
Part of a letter to Mrs. Jane Clemens, in St. Louis:
(Date not given, but Sept, or Oct., 1861.)
My dear mother, – I hope you will all come out here someday. But I shan’t consent to invite you, until we can receive you in style. But I guess we shall be able to do that, one of these days. I intend that Pamela shall live on Lake Bigler until she can knock a bull down with her fist – say, about three months.
“Tell everything as it is – no better, and no worse.”
Well, “Gold Hill” sells at ,000 per foot, cash down; “Wild cat” isn’t worth ten cents. The country is fabulously rich in gold, silver, copper, lead, coal, iron, quick silver, marble, granite, chalk, plaster of Paris, (gypsum,) thieves, murderers, desperadoes, ladies, children, lawyers, Christians, Indians, Chinamen, Spaniards, gamblers, sharpers, coyotes (pronounced Ki-yo-ties,) poets, preachers, and jackass rabbits. I overheard a gentleman say, the other day, that it was “the d – dest country under the sun.”—and that comprehensive conception I fully subscribe to. It never rains here, and the dew never falls. No flowers grow here, and no green thing gladdens the eye. The birds that fly over the land carry their provisions with them. Only the crow and the raven tarry with us. Our city lies in the midst of a desert of the purest – most unadulterated, and compromising sand – in which infernal soil nothing but that fag-end of vegetable creation, “sage-brush,” ventures to grow. If you will take a Lilliputian cedar tree for a model, and build a dozen imitations of it with the stiffest article of telegraph wire – set them one foot apart and then try to walk through them, you’ll understand (provided the floor is covered 12 inches deep with sand,) what it is to wander through a sage-brush desert. When crushed, sage brush emits an odor which isn’t exactly magnolia and equally isn’t exactly polecat but is a sort of compromise between the two. It looks a good deal like grease-wood, and is the ugliest plant that was ever conceived of. It is gray in color. On the plains, sage-brush and grease-wood grow about twice as large as the common geranium – and in my opinion they are a very good substitute for that useless vegetable. Grease-wood is a perfect – most perfect imitation in miniature of a live oak tree-barring the color of it. As to the other fruits and flowers of the country, there ain’t any, except “Pulu” or “Tuler,” or what ever they call it, – a species of unpoetical willow that grows on the banks of the Carson – a river, 20 yards wide, knee deep, and so villainously rapid and crooked, that it looks like it had wandered into the country without intending it, and had run about in a bewildered way and got lost, in its hurry to get out again before some thirsty man came along and drank it up. I said we are situated in a flat, sandy desert – true. And surrounded on all sides by such prodigious mountains, that when you gaze at them awhile, – and begin to conceive of their grandeur – and next to feel their vastness expanding your soul – and ultimately find yourself growing and swelling and spreading into a giant – I say when this point is reached, you look disdainfully down upon the insignificant village of Carson, and in that instant you are seized with a burning desire to stretch forth your hand, put the city in your pocket, and walk off with it.
As to churches, I believe they have got a Catholic one here, but like that one the New York fireman spoke of, I believe “they don’t run her now:” Now, although we are surrounded by sand, the greatest part of the town is built upon what was once a very pretty grassy spot; and the streams of pure water that used to poke about it in rural sloth and solitude, now pass through on dusty streets and gladden the hearts of men by reminding them that there is at least something here that hath its prototype among the homes they left behind them. And up “King’s Canon,” (please pronounce canyon, after the manner of the natives,) there are “ranches,” or farms, where they say hay grows, and grass, and beets and onions, and turnips, and other “truck” which is suitable for cows – yes, and even Irish potatoes; also, cabbage, peas and beans.
The houses are mostly frame, unplastered, but “papered” inside with flour-sacks sewed together, and the handsomer the “brand” upon the sacks is, the neater the house looks. Occasionally, you stumble on a stone house. On account of the dryness of the country, the shingles on the houses warp till they look like short joints of stove pipe split lengthwise.
In this letter is something of the “wild freedom of the West,” which later would contribute to his fame. The spirit of the frontier – of Mark Twain – was beginning to stir him.
There had been no secretary work for him to do, and no provision for payment. He found his profit in studying human nature and in prospecting native resources. He was not interested in mining not yet. With a boy named John Kinney he made an excursion to Lake Bigler – now Tahoe – and located a timber claim, really of great value. They were supposed to build a fence around it, but they were too full of the enjoyment of camp-life to complete it. They put in most of their time wandering through the stately forest or drifting over the transparent lake in a boat left there by lumbermen. They built themselves a brush house, but they did not sleep in it. In ‘Roughing It’ he writes, “It never occurred to us, for one thing; and, besides, it was built to hold the ground, and that was enough. We did not wish to strain it.”
They were having a glorious time, when their camp-fire got away from them and burned up their claim. His next letter, of which the beginning is missing, describes the fire.
Fragment of a letter to Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
… The level ranks of flame were relieved at intervals by the standard-bearers, as we called the tall dead trees, wrapped in fire, and waving their blazing banners a hundred feet in the air. Then we could turn from this scene to the Lake, and see every branch, and leaf, and cataract of flame upon its bank perfectly reflected as in a gleaming, fiery mirror. The mighty roaring of the conflagration, together with our solitary and somewhat unsafe position (for there was no one within six miles of us,) rendered the scene very impressive. Occasionally, one of us would remove his pipe from his mouth and say, “Superb! magnificent! Beautiful! but-by the Lord God Almighty, if we attempt to sleep in this little patch tonight, we’ll never live till morning! for if we don’t burn up, we’ll certainly suffocate.” But he was persuaded to sit up until we felt pretty safe as far as the fire was concerned, and then we turned in, with many misgivings. When we got up in the morning, we found that the fire had burned small pieces of drift wood within six feet of our boat, and had made its way to within 4 or 5 steps of us on the South side. We looked like lava men, covered as we were with ashes, and begrimed with smoke. We were very black in the face, but we soon washed ourselves white again.
John D. Kinney, a Cincinnati boy, and a first-rate fellow, too, who came out with judge Turner, was my comrade. We staid at the Lake four days – I had plenty of fun, for John constantly reminded me of Sam Bowen when we were on our campaign in Missouri. But first and foremost, for Annie’s, Mollies, and Pamela’s comfort, be it known that I have never been guilty of profane language since I have been in this Territory, and Kinney hardly ever swears. – But sometimes human nature gets the better of him. On the second day we started to go by land to the lower camp, a distance of three miles, over the mountains, each carrying an axe. I don’t think we got lost exactly, but we wandered four hours over the steepest, rockiest and most dangerous piece of country in the world. I couldn’t keep from laughing at Kinney’s distress, so I kept behind, so that he could not see me. After he would get over a dangerous place, with infinite labor and constant apprehension, he would stop, lean on his axe, and look around, then behind, then ahead, and then drop his head and ruminate awhile. – Then he would draw a long sigh, and say: “Well – could any Billygoat have scaled that place without breaking his – neck?” And I would reply, “No, – I don’t think he could.” “No – you don’t think he could—” (mimicking me,) “Why don’t you curse the infernal place? You know you want to. – I do, and will curse the – thieving country as long as I live.” Then we would toil on in silence for awhile. Finally I told him—“Well, John, what if we don’t find our way out of this today – we’ll know all about the country when we do get out.” “Oh stuff – I know enough – and too much about the d – d villainous locality already.” Finally, we reached the camp. But as we brought no provisions with us, the first subject that presented itself to us was, how to get back. John swore he wouldn’t walk back, so we rolled a drift log apiece into the Lake, and set about making paddles, intending to straddle the logs and paddle ourselves back home sometime or other. But the Lake objected – got stormy, and we had to give it up. So we set out for the only house on this side of the Lake – three miles from there, down the shore. We found the way without any trouble, reached there before sundown, played three games of cribbage, borrowed a dug-out and pulled back six miles to the upper camp. As we had eaten nothing since sunrise, we did not waste time in cooking our supper or in eating it, either. After supper we got out our pipes – built a rousing camp fire in the open air-established a faro bank (an institution of this country,) on our huge flat granite dining table, and bet white beans till one o’clock, when John went to bed. We were up before the sun the next morning, went out on the Lake and caught a fine trout for breakfast. But unfortunately, I spoilt part of the breakfast. We had coffee and tea boiling on the fire, in coffee-pots and fearing they might not be strong enough, I added more ground coffee, and more tea, but – you know mistakes will happen. – I put the tea in the coffee-pot, and the coffee in the teapot – and if you imagine that they were not villainous mixtures, just try the effect once.
And so Bella is to be married on the 1st of Oct. Well, I send her and her husband my very best wishes, and – I may not be here – but wherever I am on that night, we’ll have a rousing camp-fire and a jollification in honor of the event.
In a day or two we shall probably go to the Lake and build another cabin and fence, and get everything into satisfactory trim before our trip to Esmeralda about the first of November.
What has become of Sam Bowen? I would give my last shirt to have him out here. I will make no promises, but I believe if John would give him a thousand dollars and send him out here he would not regret it. He might possibly do very well here, but he could do little without capital.
Remember me to all my St. Louis and Keokuk friends, and tell Challie and Hallie Renson that I heard a military band play “What are the Wild Waves Saying?” the other night, and it reminded me very forcibly of them. It brought Ella Creel and Belle across the Desert too in an instant, for they sang the song in Orion’s yard the first time I ever heard it. It was like meeting an old friend. I tell you I could have swallowed that whole band, trombone and all, if such a compliment would have been any gratification to them.
Love to the young folks,
The reference in the foregoing letter to Esmeralda has to do with mining plans. He was beginning to be mildly interested, and, with his brother Orion, had acquired “feet” in an Esmeralda camp, probably at a very small price – so small as to hold out no exciting prospect of riches. In his next letter he gives us the size of this claim, which he has visited. His interest, however, still appears to be chiefly in his timber claim on Lake Bigler (Tahoe), though we are never to hear of it again after this letter.
To Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Carson city, Oct. 25, 1861.
My dear sister, – I have just finished reading your letter and Ma’s of Sept. 8th. How in the world could they have been so long coming? You ask me if I have for gotten my promise to lay a claim for Mr. Moffett. By no means. I have already laid a timber claim on the borders of a lake (Bigler) which throws Como in the shade – and if we succeed in getting one Mr. Jones, to move his saw-mill up there, Mr. Moffett can just consider that claim better than bank stock. Jones says he will move his mill up next spring. In that claim I took up about two miles in length by one in width – and the names in it are as follows: “Sam. L Clemens, Wm. A. Moffett, Thos. Nye” and three others. It is situated on “Sam Clemens Bay”—so named by Capt. Nye – and it goes by that name among the inhabitants of that region. I had better stop about “the Lake,” though, – for whenever I think of it I want to go there and die, the place is so beautiful. I’ll build a country seat there one of these days that will make the Devil’s mouth water if he ever visits the earth. Jim Lampton will never know whether I laid a claim there for him or not until he comes here himself. We have now got about 1,650 feet of mining ground – and if it proves good, Mr. Moffett’s name will go in – if not, I can get “feet” for him in the Spring which will be good. You see, Pamela, the trouble does not consist in getting mining ground – for that is plenty enough – but the money to work it with after you get it is the mischief. When I was in Esmeralda, a young fellow gave me fifty feet in the “Black Warrior”—an unprospected claim. The other day he wrote me that he had gone down eight feet on the ledge, and found it eight feet thick – and pretty good rock, too. He said he could take out rock now if there were a mill to crush it – but the mills are all engaged (there are only four of them) so, if I were willing, he would suspend work until Spring. I wrote him to let it alone at present – because, you see, in the Spring I can go down myself and help him look after it. There will then be twenty mills there. Orion and I have confidence enough in this country to think that if the war will let us alone we can make Mr. Moffett rich without its ever costing him a cent of money or particle of trouble. We shall lay plenty of claims for him, but if they never pay him anything, they will never cost him anything, Orion and I are not financiers. Therefore, you must persuade Uncle Jim to come out here and help us in that line. I have written to him twice to come. I wrote him today. In both letters I told him not to let you or Ma know that we dealt in such romantic nonsense as “brilliant prospects,” because I always did hate for anyone to know what my plans or hopes or prospects were – for, if I kept people in ignorance in these matters, no one could be disappointed but myself, if they were not realized. You know I never told you that I went on the river under a promise to pay Bixby 0, until I had paid the money and cleared my skirts of the possibility of having my judgment criticised. I would not say anything about our prospects now, if we were nearer home. But I suppose at this distance you are more anxious than you would be if you saw us every month-and therefore it is hardly fair to keep you in the dark. However, keep these matters to yourselves, and then if we fail, we’ll keep the laugh in the family.
What we want now is something that will commence paying immediately. We have got a chance to get into a claim where they say a tunnel has been run 150 feet, and the ledge struck. I got a horse yesterday, and went out with the Attorney-General and the claim-owner – and we tried to go to the claim by a new route, and got lost in the mountains – sunset overtook us before we found the claim – my horse got too lame to carry me, and I got down and drove him ahead of me till within four miles of town – then we sent Rice on ahead. Bunker, (whose horse was in good condition,) undertook, to lead mine, and I followed after him. Darkness shut him out from my view in less than a minute, and within the next minute I lost the road and got to wandering in the sage brush. I would find the road occasionally and then lose it again in a minute or so. I got to Carson about nine o’clock, at night, but not by the road I traveled when I left it. The General says my horse did very well for awhile, but soon refused to lead. Then he dismounted, and had a jolly time driving both horses ahead of him and chasing them here and there through the sage brush (it does my soul good when I think of it) until he got to town, when both animals deserted him, and he cursed them handsomely and came home alone. Of course the horses went to their stables.
Tell Sammy I will lay a claim for him, and he must come out and attend to it. He must get rid of that propensity for tumbling down, though, for when we get fairly started here, I don’t think we shall have time to pick up those who fall…..
That is Stoughter’s house, I expect, that Cousin Jim has moved into. This is just the country for Cousin Jim to live in. I don’t believe it would take him six months to make 0,000 here, if he had 3,000 dollars to commence with. I suppose he can’t leave his family though.
Tell Mrs. Benson I never intend to be a lawyer. I have been a slave several times in my life, but I’ll never be one again. I always intend to be so situated (unless I marry,) that I can “pull up stakes” and clear out whenever I feel like it.
We are very thankful to you, Pamela, for the papers you send. We have received half a dozen or more, and, next to letters, they are the most welcome visitors we have.
Write oftener, Pamela.
The “Cousin Jim” mentioned in this letter is the original of the character of Colonel Sellers. Whatever Mark Twain’s later opinion of Cousin Jim Lampton’s financial genius may have been, he seems to have respected it at this time.
More than three months pass until we have another letter, and in that time the mining fever had become well seated. Mark Twain himself was full of the Sellers optimism, and it was bound to overflow, fortify as he would against it.
He met with little enough encouragement. With three companions, in midwinter, he made a mining excursion to the much exploited Humboldt region, returning empty-handed after a month or two of hard experience. This is the trip picturesquely described in Chapters XXVII to XXXIII of Roughing It.
He, mentions the Humboldt in his next letter, but does not confess his failure.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Carson city, Feb. 8, 1862.
My dear mother and sister, – By George Pamela, I begin to fear that I have invoked a Spirit of some kind or other which I will find some difficulty in laying. I wasn’t much terrified by your growing inclinations, but when you begin to call presentiments to your aid, I confess that I “weaken.” Mr. Moffett is right, as I said before – and I am not much afraid of his going wrong. Men are easily dealt with – but when you get the women started, you are in for it, you know. But I have decided on two things, viz: Any of you, or all of you, may live in California, for that is the Garden of Eden reproduced – but you shall never live in Nevada; and secondly, none of you, save Mr. Moffett, shall ever cross the Plains. If you were only going to Pike’s Peak, a little matter of 700 miles from St. Jo, you might take the coach, and I wouldn’t say a word. But I consider it over 2,000 miles from St. Jo to Carson, and the first 6 or 800 miles is mere Fourth of July, compared to the balance of the route. But Lord bless you, a man enjoys every foot of it. If you ever come here or to California, it must be by sea. Mr. Moffett must come by overland coach, though, by all means. He would consider it the jolliest little trip he ever took in his life. Either June, July, or August are the proper months to make the journey in. He could not suffer from heat, and three or four heavy army blankets would make the cold nights comfortable. If the coach were full of passengers, two good blankets would probably be sufficient. If he comes, and brings plenty of money, and fails to invest it to his entire satisfaction; I will prophesy no more.
But I will tell you a few things which you wouldn’t have found out if I hadn’t got myself into this scrape. I expect to return to St. Louis in July – per steamer. I don’t say that I will return then, or that I shall be able to do it – but I expect to – you bet. I came down here from Humboldt, in order to look after our Esmeralda interests, and my sore-backed horse and the bad roads have prevented me from making the journey. Yesterday one of my old Esmeralda friends, Bob Howland, arrived here, and I have had a talk with him. He owns with me in the “Horatio and Derby” ledge. He says our tunnel is in 52 feet, and a small stream of water has been struck, which bids fair to become a “big thing” by the time the ledge is reached – sufficient to supply a mill. Now, if you knew anything of the value of water, here; you would perceive, at a glance that if the water should amount to 50 or 100 inches, we wouldn’t care whether school kept or not. If the ledge should prove to be worthless, we’d sell the water for money enough to give us quite a lift. But you see, the ledge will not prove to be worthless. We have located, near by, a fine site for a mill; and when we strike the ledge, you know, we’ll have a mill-site, water power, and pay-rock, all handy. Then we shan’t care whether we have capital or not. Mill-folks will build us a mill, and wait for their pay. If nothing goes wrong, we’ll strike the ledge in June – and if we do, I’ll be home in July, you know.
Pamela, don’t you know that undemonstrated human calculations won’t do to bet on? Don’t you know that I have only talked, as yet, but proved nothing? Don’t you know that I have expended money in this country but have made none myself? Don’t you know that I have never held in my hands a gold or silver bar that belonged to me? Don’t you know that it’s all talk and no cider so far? Don’t you know that people who always feel jolly, no matter where they are or what happens to them – who have the organ of hope preposterously developed – who are endowed with an uncongealable sanguine temperament – who never feel concerned about the price of corn – and who cannot, by any possibility, discover any but the bright side of a picture – are very apt to go to extremes, and exaggerate with 40-horse microscopic power? Of course I never tried to raise these suspicions in your mind, but then your knowledge of the fact that some people’s poor frail human nature is a sort of crazy institution anyhow, ought to have suggested them to you. Now, if I hadn’t thoughtlessly got you into the notion of coming out here, and thereby got myself into a scrape, I wouldn’t have given you that highly-colored paragraph about the mill, etc., because, you know, if that pretty little picture should fail, and wash out, and go the Devil generally, it wouldn’t cost me the loss of an hour’s sleep, but you fellows would be so much distressed on my account as I could possibly be if “circumstances beyond my control” were to prevent my being present at my own funeral. But – but—
“In the bright lexicon of youth,
There’s no such word as Fail—” and I’ll prove it!
And look here. I came near forgetting it. Don’t you say a word to me about “trains” across the plains. Because I am down on that arrangement. That sort of thing is “played out,” you know. The Overland Coach or the Mail Steamer is the thing.
You want to know something about the route between California and Nevada Territory? Suppose you take my word for it, that it is exceedingly jolly. Or take, for a winter view, J. Ross Brown’s picture, in Harper’s Monthly, of pack mules tumbling fifteen hundred feet down the side of a mountain. Why bless you, there’s scenery on that route. You can stand on some of those noble peaks and see Jerusalem and the Holy Land. And you can start a boulder, and send it tearing up the earth and crashing over trees-down-down-down-to the very devil, Madam. And you would probably stand up there and look, and stare and wonder at the magnificence spread out before you till you starved to death, if let alone. But you should take someone along to keep you moving.
Since you want to know, I will inform you that an eight-stamp water mill, put up and ready for business would cost about ,000 to ,000. Then, the water to run it with would cost from ,000 to ,000—and even more, according to the location. What I mean by that, is, that water powers in this vicinity, are immensely valuable. So, also, in Esmeralda. But Humboldt is a new country, and things don’t cost so much there yet. I saw a good water power sold there for 0.00. But here is the way the thing is managed. A man with a good water power on Carson river will lean his axe up against a tree (provided you find him chopping cord-wood at a day,) and taking his chalk pipe out of his mouth to afford him an opportunity to answer your questions, will look you coolly in the face and tell you his little property is worth forty or fifty thousand dollars! But you can easily fix him. You tell him that you’ll build a quartz mill on his property, and make him a fourth or a third, or half owner in said mill in consideration of the privilege of using said property – and that will bring him to his milk in a jiffy. So he spits on his hands, and goes in again with his axe, until the mill is finished, when lo! out pops the quondam wood-chopper, arrayed in purple and fine linen, and prepared to deal in bank-stock, or bet on the races, or take government loans, with an air, as to the amount, of the most don’t care a-d – dest unconcern that you can conceive of. By George, if I just had a thousand dollars – I’d be all right! Now there’s the “Horatio,” for instance. There are five or six shareholders in it, and I know I could buy half of their interests at, say per foot, now that flour is worth per barrel and they are pressed for money. But I am hard up myself, and can’t buy – and in June they’ll strike the ledge and then “good-bye canary.” I can’t get it for love or money. Twenty dollars a foot! Think of it. For ground that is proven to be rich. Twenty dollars, Madam – and we wouldn’t part with a foot of our 75 for five times the sum. So it will be in Humboldt next summer. The boys will get pushed and sell ground for a song that is worth a fortune. But I am at the helm, now. I have convinced Orion that he hasn’t business talent enough to carry on a peanut stand, and he has solemnly promised me that he will meddle no more with mining, or other matters not connected with the Secretary’s office. So, you see, if mines are to be bought or sold, or tunnels run, or shafts sunk, parties have to come to me – and me only. I’m the “firm,” you know.
“How long does it take one of those infernal trains to go through?” Well, anywhere between three and five months.
Tell Margaret that if you ever come to live in California, that you can promise her a home for a hundred years, and a bully one – but she wouldn’t like the country. Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, that he would come here – and look sadly around, awhile, and then get homesick and go back to hell again. But I hardly believe it, you know. I am saying, mind you, that Margaret wouldn’t like the country, perhaps – nor the devil either, for that matter, or any other man but I like it. When it rains here, it never lets up till it has done all the raining it has got to do – and after that, there’s a dry spell, you bet. Why, I have had my whiskers and moustaches so full of alkali dust that you’d have thought I worked in a starch factory and boarded in a flour barrel.
Since we have been here there has not been a fire – although the houses are built of wood. They “holler” fire sometimes, though, but I am always too late to see the smoke before the fire is out, if they ever have any. Now they raised a yell here in front of the office a moment ago. I put away my papers, and locked up everything of value, and changed my boots, and pulled off my coat, and went and got a bucket of water, and came back to see what the matter was, remarkng to myself, “I guess I’ll be on hand this time, any way.” But I met a friend on the pavement, and he said, “Where you been? Fire’s out half an hour ago.”
Ma says Axtele was above “suspition”—but I have searched through Webster’s Unabridged, and can’t find the word. However, it’s of no consequence – I hope he got down safely. I knew Axtele and his wife as well as I know Dan Haines. Mrs. A. once tried to embarrass me in the presence of company by asking me to name her baby, when she was well aware that I didn’t know the sex of that Phenomenon. But I told her to call it Frances, and spell it to suit herself. That was about nine years ago, and Axtele had no property, and could hardly support his family by his earnings. He was a pious cuss, though. Member of Margaret Sexton’s Church.
And Ma says “it looks like a man can’t hold public office and be honest.” Why, certainly not, Madam. A man can’t hold public office and be honest. Lord bless you, it is a common practice with Orion to go about town stealing little things that happen to be lying around loose. And I don’t remember having heard him speak the truth since we have been in Nevada. He even tries to prevail upon me to do these things, Ma, but I wasn’t brought up in that way, you know. You showed the public what you could do in that line when you raised me, Madam. But then you ought to have raised me first, so that Orion could have had the benefit of my example. Do you know that he stole all the stamps out of an 8 stamp quartz mill one night, and brought them home under his over-coat and hid them in the back room?
A little later he had headed for the Esmeralda Hills. Some time in February he was established there in a camp with a young man by the name of Horatio Phillips (Raish). Later he camped with Bob Howland, who, as City Marshal of Aurora, became known as the most fearless man in the Territory, and, still later, with Calvin H. Higbie (Cal), to whom ‘Roughing It’ would one day be dedicated. His own funds were exhausted by this time, and Orion, with his rather slender salary, became the financial partner of the firm.
It was a comfortless life there in the Esmeralda camp. Snow covered everything. There was nothing to do, and apparently nothing to report; for there are no letters until April. Then the first one is dated Carson City, where he seems to be making a brief sojourn. It is a rather heavy attempt to be light-hearted; its playfulness suggests that of a dancing bear.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens, in St. Louis:
Carson city, April 2, 1862.
My dear mother, – Yours of March 2nd has just been received. I see I am in for it again – with Annie. But she ought to know that I was always stupid. She used to try to teach me lessons from the Bible, but I never could understand them. Doesn’t she remember telling me the story of Moses, one Sunday, last Spring, and how hard she tried to explain it and simplify it so that I could understand it – but I couldn’t? And how she said it was strange that while her ma and her grandma and her uncle Orion could understand anything in the world, I was so dull that I couldn’t understand the “ea-siest thing?” And doesn’t she remember that finally a light broke in upon me and I said it was all right – that I knew old Moses himself – and that he kept a clothing store in Market Street? And then she went to her ma and said she didn’t know what would become of her uncle Sam he was too dull to learn anything – ever! And I’m just as dull yet. Now I have no doubt her letter was spelled right, and was correct in all particulars – but then I had to read it according to my lights; and they being inferior, she ought to overlook the mistakes I make specially, as it is not my fault that I wasn’t born with good sense. I am sure she will detect an encouraging ray of intelligence in that last argument…..
I am waiting here, trying to rent a better office for Orion. I have got the refusal after next week of a room on first floor of a fire-proof brick-rent, eighteen hundred dollars a year. Don’t know yet whether we can get it or not. If it is not rented before the week is up, we can.
I was sorry to hear that Dick was killed. I gave him his first lesson in the musket drill. We had half a dozen muskets in our office when it was over Isbell’s Music Rooms.
I hope I am wearing the last white shirt that will embellish my person for many a day – for I do hope that I shall be out of Carson long before this reaches you.
Love to all.
The “Annie” in this letter was his sister Pamela’s little daughter; long years after, she would be the wife of Charles L. Webster, Mark Twain’s publishing partner. “Dick” the reader may remember as Dick Hingham, of the Keokuk printing-office; he was killed in charging the works at Fort Donelson.
Clemens was back in Esmeralda when the next letter was written, and we begin now to get pictures of that cheerless mining-camp, and to know something of the alternate hopes and discouragements of the hunt for gold – the miner one day soaring on wings of hope, on the next becoming excited, irritable, profane. The names of new mines appear constantly and vanish almost at a touch, suggesting the fairy-like evanescence of their riches.
But a few of the letters here will best speak for themselves; not all of them are needed. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that there is no intentional humor in these documents.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Esmeralda, 13th April, 1862.
My dear brother, – Wasson got here night before last “from the wars.” Tell Lockhart he is not wounded and not killed – is altogether unhurt. He says the whites left their stone fort before he and Lieut. Noble got there. A large amount of provisions and ammunition, which they left behind them, fell into the hands of the Indians. They had a pitched battle with the savages some fifty miles from the fort, in which Scott (sheriff) and another man was killed. This was the day before the soldiers came up with them. I mean Noble’s men, and those under Cols. Evans and Mayfield, from Los Angeles. Evans assumed the chief command – and next morning the forces were divided into three parties, and marched against the enemy. Col. Mayfield was killed, and Sergeant Gillespie, also Noble’s colonel was wounded. The California troops went back home, and Noble remained, to help drive the stock over here. And, as Cousin Sally Dillard says, this is all I know about the fight.
Work not yet begun on the H. and Derby – haven’t seen it yet. It is still in the snow. Shall begin on it within 3 or 4 weeks – strike the ledge in July. Guess it is good – worth from to a foot in California.
Why didn’t you send the “Live Yankee” deed-the very one I wanted? Have made no inquiries about it, much. Don’t intend to until I get the deed. Send it along – by mail– d – n the Express– have to pay three times for all express matter; once in Carson and twice here. I don’t expect to take the saddle-bags out of the express office. I paid twenty-five cts. for the Express deeds.
Man named Gebhart shot here yesterday while trying to defend a claim on Last Chance Hill. Expect he will die.
These mills here are not worth a d – n-except Clayton’s – and it is not in full working trim yet.
Send me or —by mail – immediately.
The Red Bird is probably good – can’t work on the tunnel on account of snow. The “Pugh” I have thrown away – shan’t re-locate it. It is nothing but bed-rock croppings – too much work to find the ledge, if there is one. Shan’t record the “Farnum” until I know more about it – perhaps not at all.
“Governor” under the snow.
“Douglas” and “Red Bird” are both recorded.
I have had opportunities to get into several ledges, but refused all but three – expect to back out of two of them.
Stir yourself as much as possible, and lay up 0 or ,000, subject to my call. I go to work to-morrow, with pick and shovel. Something’s got to come, by G—, before I let go, here.
Col. Youngs says you must rent Kinkead’s room by all means – Government would rather pay 0 a month for your office than for Gen. North’s. Says you are playing your hand very badly, for either the Government’s good opinion or anybody’s else, in keeping your office in a shanty. Says put Gov. Nye in your place and he would have a stylish office, and no objections would ever be made, either. When old Col. Youngs talks this way, I think it time to get a fine office. I wish you would take that office, and fit it up handsomely, so that I can omit telling people that by this time you are handsomely located, when I know it is no such thing.
I am living with “Ratio Phillips.” Send him one of those black portfolios – by the stage, and put a couple of pen-holders and a dozen steel pens in it.
If you should have occasion to dispose of the long desk before I return, don’t forget to break open the middle drawer and take out my things. Envelop my black cloth coat in a newspaper and hang it in the back room.
Don’t buy anything while I am here – but save up some money for me. Don’t send any money home. I shall have your next quarter’s salary spent before you get it, I think. I mean to make or break here within the next two or three months.
The “wars” mentioned in the opening paragraph of this letter were incident to the trouble concerning the boundary line between California and Nevada. The trouble continued for some time, with occasional bloodshed. The next letter is an exultant one. There were few enough of this sort. We cannot pretend to keep track of the multiplicity of mines and shares which lure the gold-hunters, pecking away at the flinty ledges, usually in the snow. It has been necessary to abbreviate this letter, for much of it has lost all importance with the years, and is merely confusing. Hope is still high in the writer’s heart, and confidence in his associates still unshaken. Later he was to lose faith in “Raish,” whether with justice or not we cannot know now.
To Orion Clowns, in Carson City:
Esmeralda, May 11, 1862.
My dear Bro., – To use a French expression I have “got my d – d satisfy” at last. Two years’ time will make us capitalists, in spite of anything. Therefore, we need fret and fume, and worry and doubt no more, but just lie still and put up with privations for six months. Perhaps three months will “let us out.” Then, if Government refuses to pay the rent on your new office we can do it ourselves. We have got to wait six weeks, anyhow, for a dividend, maybe longer – but that it will come there is no shadow of a doubt, I have got the thing sifted down to a dead moral certainty. I own one-eighth of the new “Monitor Ledge, Clemens Company,” and money can’t buy a foot of it; because I know it to contain our fortune. The ledge is six feet wide, and one needs no glass to see gold and silver in it. Phillips and I own one half of a segregated claim in the “Flyaway” discovery, and good interests in two extensions on it. We put men to work on our part of the discovery yesterday, and last night they brought us some fine specimens. Rock taken from ten feet below the surface on the other part of the discovery, has yielded 0.00 to the ton in the mill and we are at work 300 feet from their shaft.
May 12—Yours by the mail received last night. “Eighteen hundred feet in the C. T. Rice’s Company!” Well, I am glad you did not accept of the 200 feet. Tell Rice to give it to some poor man.
But hereafter, when anybody holds up a glittering prospect before you, just argue in this wise, viz: That, if all spare change be devoted to working the “Monitor” and “Flyaway,” 12 months, or 24 at furthest, will find all our earthly wishes satisfied, so far as money is concerned – and the more “feet” we have, the more anxiety we must bear – therefore, why not say “No – d – n your ‘prospects,’ I wait on a sure thing – and a man is less than a man, if he can’t wait 2 years for a fortune?” When you and I came out here, we did not expect ’63 or ’64 to find us rich men – and if that proposition had been made, we would have accepted it gladly. Now, it is made.
Well, I am willing, now, that “Neary’s tunnel,” or anybody else’s tunnel shall succeed. Some of them may beat us a few months, but we shall be on hand in the fullness of time, as sure as fate. I would hate to swap chances with any member of the “tribe”—in fact, I am so lost to all sense and reason as to be capable of refusing to trade “Flyaway” (with but 200 feet in the Company of four,) foot for foot for that splendid “Lady Washington,” with its lists of capitalist proprietors, and its 35,000 feet of Priceless ground.
I wouldn’t mind being in some of those Clear Creek claims, if I lived in Carson and we could spare the money. But I have struck my tent in Esmeralda, and I care for no mines but those which I can superintend myself. I am a citizen here now, and I am satisfied – although R. and I are strapped and we haven’t three days’ rations in the house.
Raish is looking anxiously for money and so am I. Send me whatever you can spare conveniently – I want it to work the Flyaway with. My fourth of that claim only cost me , (which isn’t paid yet, though,) and I suppose I could sell it here in town for ten times that amount today, but I shall probably hold onto it till the cows come home. I shall work the “Monitor” and the other claims with my own hands. I prospected of a pound of “M,” yesterday, and Raish reduced it with the blow-pipe, and got about ten or twelve cents in gold and silver, besides the other half of it which we spilt on the floor and didn’t get. The specimen came from the croppings, but was a choice one, and showed much free gold to the naked eye.
Well, I like the corner up-stairs office amazingly – provided, it has one fine, large front room superbly carpeted, for the safe and a 0 desk, or such a matter – one handsome room amidships, less handsomely gotten up, perhaps, for records and consultations, and one good-sized bedroom and adjoining it a kitchen, neither of which latter can be entered by anybody but yourself – and finally, when one of the ledges begins to pay, the whole to be kept in parlor order by two likely contrabands at big wages, the same to be free of expense to the Government. You want the entire second story – no less room than you would have had in Harris and Co’s. Make them fix for you before the 1st of July-for maybe you might want to “come out strong” on the 4th, you know.
No, the Post Office is all right and kept by a gentleman but W. F. Express isn’t. They charge 25 cts to express a letter from here, but I believe they have quit charging twice for letters that arrive prepaid.
The “Flyaway” specimen I sent you, (taken by myself from DeKay’s shaft, 300 feet from where we are going to sink) cannot be called “choice,” exactly – say something above medium, to be on the safe side. But I have seen exceedingly choice chunks from that shaft. My intention at first in sending the Antelope specimen was that you might see that it resembles the Monitor – but, come to think, a man can tell absolutely nothing about that without seeing both ledges themselves. I tried to break a handsome chunk from a huge piece of my darling Monitor which we brought from the croppings yesterday, but it all splintered up, and I send you the scraps. I call that “choice”—any d – d fool would. Don’t ask if it has been assayed, for it hasn’t. It don’t need it. It is amply able to speak for itself. It is six feet wide on top, and traversed through and through with veins whose color proclaims their worth. What the devil does a man want with any more feet when he owns in the Flyaway and the invincible bomb-proof Monitor?
If I had anything more to say I have forgotten what it was, unless, perhaps, that I want a sum of money – anywhere from to 0, as soon as possible.
Raish sends regards. He or I, one will drop a line to the “Age” occasionally. I suppose you saw my letters in the “Enterprise.”
P. S. I suppose Pamela never will regain her health, but she could improve it by coming to California – provided the trip didn’t kill her.
You see Bixby is on the flag-ship. He always was the best pilot on the Mississippi, and deserves his “posish.” They have done a reckless thing, though, in putting Sam Bowen on the “Swan”—for if a bomb-shell happens to come his way, he will infallibly jump overboard.
Send me another package of those envelopes, per Bagley’s coat pocket.
We see how anxious he was for his brother to make a good official showing. If a niggardly Government refused to provide decent quarters – no matter; the miners, with gold pouring in, would themselves pay for a suite “superbly carpeted,” and all kept in order by “two likely contrabands”—that is to say, negroes. Samuel Clemens in those days believed in expansion and impressive surroundings. His brother, though also mining mad, was rather inclined to be penny wise in the matter of office luxury – not a bad idea, as it turned out.
Orion, by the way, was acquiring “feet” on his own account, and in one instance, at least, seems to have won his brother’s commendation.
The ‘Enterprise’ letters mentioned we shall presently hear of again.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Esmeralda, Sunday, May—, 1862.
My dear brother, – Well, if you haven’t “struck it rich—” that is, if the piece of rock you sent me came from a bona fide ledge – and it looks as if it did. If that is a ledge, and you own 200 feet in it, why, it’s a big thing – and I have nothing more to say. If you have actually made something by helping to pay somebody’s prospecting expenses it is a wonder of the first magnitude, and deserves to rank as such.
If that rock came from a well-defined ledge, that particular vein must be at least an inch wide, judging from this specimen, which is fully that thick.
When I came in the other evening, hungry and tired and ill-natured, and threw down my pick and shovel, Raish gave me your specimen – said Bagley brought it, and asked me if it were cinnabar. I examined it by the waning daylight, and took the specks of fine gold for sulphurets – wrote you I did not think much of it – and posted the letter immediately.
But as soon as I looked at it in the broad light of day, I saw my mistake. During the week, we have made three horns, got a blow-pipe, &c, and yesterday, all prepared, we prospected the “Mountain House.” I broke the specimen in two, and found it full of fine gold inside. Then we washed out one-fourth of it, and got a noble prospect. This we reduced with the blow-pipe, and got about two cents (herewith enclosed) in pure gold.
As the fragment prospected weighed rather less than an ounce, this would give about 0 to the ton. We were eminently well satisfied. Therefore, hold on to the “Mountain House,” for it is a “big thing.” Touch it lightly, as far as money is concerned, though, for it is well to reserve the code of justice in the matter of quartz ledges – that is, consider them all (and their owners) guilty (of “shenanigan”) until they are proved innocent.
P. S. – Monday – Ratio and I have bought one-half of a segregated claim in the original “Flyaway,” for 0— down. We haven’t a cent in the house. We two will work the ledge, and have full control, and pay all expenses. If you can spare 0 conveniently, let me have it – or , anyhow, considering that I own one fourth of this, it is of course more valuable than one 1/7 of the “Mountain House,” although not so rich….
There is too much of a sameness in the letters of this period to use all of them. There are always new claims, and work done, apparently without system or continuance, hoping to uncover sudden boundless affluence.
In the next letter and the one following it we get a hint of an episode, or rather of two incidents which he combined into an episode in Roughing It. The story as told in that book is an account of what might have happened, rather than history. There was never really any money in the “blind lead” of the Wide West claim, except that which was sunk in it by unfortunate investors. Only extracts from these letters are given. The other portions are irrelevant and of slight value.
Extract from a letter to Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Two or three of the old “Salina” company entered our hole on the Monitor yesterday morning, before our men got there, and took possession, armed with revolvers. And according to the d – d laws of this forever d – d country, nothing but the District Court (and there ain’t any) can touch the matter, unless it assumes the shape of an infernal humbug which they call “forcible entry and detainer,” and in order to bring that about, you must compel the jumpers to use personal violence toward you! We went up and demanded possession, and they refused. Said they were in the hole, armed and meant to die for it, if necessary.
I got in with them, and again demanded possession. They said I might stay in it as long as I pleased, and work but they would do the same. I asked one of our company to take my place in the hole, while I went to consult a lawyer. He did so. The lawyer said it was no go. They must offer some “force.”
Our boys will try to be there first in the morning – in which case they may get possession and keep it. Now you understand the shooting scrape in which Gebhart was killed the other day. The Clemens Company – all of us – hate to resort to arms in this matter, and it will not be done until it becomes a forced hand – but I think that will be the end of it, never-the-less.
The mine relocated in this letter was not the “Wide West,” but it furnished the proper incident. The only mention of the “Wide West” is found in a letter written in July.
Extract from a letter to Orion Clemens, in Carson City: 1862
If I do not forget it, I will send you, per next mail, a pinch of decom. (decomposed rock) which I pinched with thumb and finger from “Wide West” ledge awhile ago. Raish and I have secured 200 out of a 400 ft. in it, which perhaps (the ledge, I mean) is a spur from the W. W. – our shaft is about 100 ft. from the W. W. shaft. In order to get in, we agreed to sink 30 ft. We have sub-let to another man for 50 ft., and we pay for powder and sharpening tools.
The “Wide West” claim was forfeited, but there is no evidence to show that Clemens and his partners were ever, except in fiction, “millionaires for ten days.” The background, the local color, and the possibilities are all real enough, but Mark Twain’s aim in this, as in most of his other reminiscent writing, was to arrange and adapt his facts to the needs of a good story.
The letters of this summer (1862) most of them bear evidence of waning confidence in mining as a source of fortune – the miner has now little faith in his own judgment, and none at all in that of his brother, who was without practical experience.
Letter to Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
My dear Bro., – Yours of the 17th, per express, just received. Part of it pleased me exceedingly, and part of it didn’t. Concerning the letter, for instance: You have promised me that you would leave all mining matters, and everything involving an outlay of money, in my hands.
Sending a man fooling around the country after ledges, for God’s sake! when there are hundreds of feet of them under my nose here, begging for owners, free of charge. I don’t want any more feet, and I won’t touch another foot – so you see, Orion, as far as any ledges of Perry’s are concerned, (or any other except what I examine first with my own eyes,) I freely yield my right to share ownership with you.
The balance of your letter, I say, pleases me exceedingly. Especially that about the H. and D. being worth from to in Cal. It pleases me because, if the ledges prove to be worthless, it will be a pleasant reflection to know that others were beaten worse than ourselves. Raish sold a man 30 feet, yesterday, at a foot, although I was present at the sale, and told the man the ground wasn’t worth a d – n. He said he had been hankering after a few feet in the H. and D. for a long time, and he had got them at last, and he couldn’t help thinking he had secured a good thing. We went and looked at the ledges, and both of them acknowledged that there was nothing in them but good “indications.” Yet the owners in the H. and D. will part with anything else sooner than with feet in these ledges. Well, the work goes slowly – very slowly on, in the tunnel, and we’ll strike it some day. But – if we “strike it rich,”—I’ve lost my guess, that’s all. I expect that the way it got so high in Cal. was, that Raish’s brother, over there was offered 0.00 for 20 feet of it, and he refused…..
Couldn’t go on the hill today. It snowed. It always snows here, I expect.
Don’t you suppose they have pretty much quit writing, at home?
When you receive your next 1/4 yr’s salary, don’t send any of it here until after you have told me you have got it. Remember this. I am afraid of that H. and D.
They have struck the ledge in the Live Yankee tunnel, and I told the President, Mr. Allen, that it wasn’t as good as the croppings. He said that was true enough, but they would hang to it until it did prove rich. He is much of a gentleman, that man Allen.
And ask Gaslerie why the devil he don’t send along my commission as Deputy Sheriff. The fact of my being in California, and out of his country, wouldn’t amount to a d – n with me, in the performance of my official duties.
I have nothing to report, at present, except that I shall find out all I want to know about this locality before I leave it.
How do the Records pay?
In one of the foregoing letters – the one dated May 11 there is a reference to the writer’s “Enterprise Letters.” Sometimes, during idle days in the camp, the miner had followed old literary impulses and written an occasional burlesque sketch, which he had signed “Josh,” and sent to the Territorial Enterprise, at Virginia City.
The rough, vigorous humor of these had attracted some attention, and Orion, pleased with any measure of success that might come to his brother, had allowed the authorship of them to become known. When, in July, the financial situation became desperate, the Esmeralda miner was moved to turn to literature for relief. But we will let him present the situation himself.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Esmeralda, July 23d, 1862.
My dear Bro., – No, I don’t own a foot in the “Johnson” ledge – I will tell the story some day in a more intelligible manner than Tom has told it. You needn’t take the trouble to deny Tom’s version, though. I own 25 feet (1-16) of the 1st east ex. on it – and Johnson himself has contracted to find the ledge for 100 feet. Contract signed yesterday. But as the ledge will be difficult to find he is allowed six months to find it in. An eighteenth of the Ophir was a fortune to John D. Winters-and the Ophir can’t beat the Johnson any…..
My debts are greater than I thought for; I bought worth of clothing, and sent to Higbie, in the cement diggings. I owe about or , and have got about in my pocket. But how in the h – l I am going to live on something over 0 until October or November, is singular. The fact is, I must have something to do, and that shortly, too…..
Now write to the Sacramento Union folks, or to Marsh, and tell them I’ll write as many letters a week as they want, for a week – my board must be paid. Tell them I have corresponded with the N. Orleans Crescent, and other papers – and the Enterprise. California is full of people who have interests here, and it’s d – d seldom they hear from this country. I can’t write a specimen letter – now, at any rate – I’d rather undertake to write a Greek poem. Tell ’em the mail and express leave three times a week, and it costs from 25 to 50 cents to send letters by the blasted express. If they want letters from here, who’ll run from morning till night collecting materials cheaper. I’ll write a short letter twice a week, for the present, for the “Age,” for per week. Now it has been a long time since I couldn’t make my own living, and it shall be a long time before I loaf another year…..
If I get the other 25 feet in the Johnson ex., I shan’t care a d – n. I’ll be willing to curse awhile and wait. And if I can’t move the bowels of those hills this fall, I will come up and clerk for you until I get money enough to go over the mountains for the winter.
The Territorial Enterprise at Virginia City was at this time owned by Joseph T. Goodman, who had bought it on the eve of the great Comstock silver-mining boom, and from a struggling, starving sheet had converted it into one of the most important – certainly the most picturesque-papers on the coast. The sketches which the Esmeralda miner had written over the name of “Josh” fitted into it exactly, and when a young man named Barstow, in the business office, urged Goodman to invite “Josh” to join their staff, the Enterprise owner readily fell in with the idea. Among a lot of mining matters of no special interest, Clemens, July 30th, wrote his brother: “Barstow has offered me the post as local reporter for the Enterprise at a week, and I have written him that I will let him know next mail, if possible.”
In Roughing It we are told that the miner eagerly accepted the proposition to come to Virginia City, but the letters tell a different story. Mark Twain was never one to abandon any undertaking easily. His unwillingness to surrender in a lost cause would cost him more than one fortune in the years to come. A week following the date of the foregoing he was still undecided.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Esmeralda, Aug. 7, 1862.
My dear Bro, – Barstow wrote that if I wanted the place I could have it. I wrote him that I guessed I would take it, and asked him how long before I must come up there. I have not heard from him since.
Now, I shall leave at mid-night tonight, alone and on foot for a walk of 60 or 70 miles through a totally uninhabited country, and it is barely possible that mail facilities may prove infernally “slow” during the few weeks I expect to spend out there. But do you write Barstow that I have left here for a week or so, and in case he should want me he must write me here, or let me know through you.
The Contractors say they will strike the Fresno next week. After fooling with those assayers a week, they concluded not to buy “Mr. Flower” at , although they would have given five times the sum for it four months ago. So I have made out a deed for one half of all Johnny’s ground and acknowledged and left in judge F. K. Becktel’s hands, and if judge Turner wants it he must write to Becktel and pay him his Notary fee of .50. I would have paid that fee myself, but I want money now as I leave town tonight. However, if you think it isn’t right, you can pay the fee to judge Turner yourself.
Hang to your money now. I may want some when I get back…..
See that you keep out of debt – to anybody. Bully for B.! Write him that I would write him myself, but I am to take a walk tonight and haven’t time. Tell him to bring his family out with him. He can rely upon what I say – and I say the land has lost its ancient desolate appearance; the rose and the oleander have taken the place of the departed sage-bush; a rich black loam, garnished with moss, and flowers, and the greenest of grass, smiles to Heaven from the vanished sand-plains; the “endless snows” have all disappeared, and in their stead, or to repay us for their loss, the mountains rear their billowy heads aloft, crowned with a fadeless and eternal verdure; birds, and fountains, and trees-tropical bees – everywhere! – and the poet dreamt of Nevada when he wrote:
“and Sharon waves, in solemn praise,
Her silent groves of palm.”
and today the royal Raven listens in a dreamy stupor to the songs of the thrush and the nightingale and the canary – and shudders when the gaudy-plumaged birds of the distant South sweep by him to the orange groves of Carson. Tell him he wouldn’t recognize the d – d country. He should bring his family by all means.
I intended to write home, but I haven’t done it.
In this letter we realize that he had gone into the wilderness to reflect – to get a perspective on the situation. He was a great walker in those days, and sometimes with Higbie, sometimes alone, made long excursions. One such is recorded in Roughing It, the trip to Mono Lake. We have no means of knowing where his seventy-mile tour led him now, but it is clear that he still had not reached a decision on his return. Indeed, we gather that he is inclined to keep up the battle among the barren Esmeralda hills.
Last mining letter; written to Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Esmeralda, Cal., Aug. 15, 1862.
My dear sister, – I mailed a letter to you and Ma this morning, but since then I have received yours to Orion and me. Therefore, I must answer right away, else I may leave town without doing it at all. What in thunder are pilot’s wages to me? which question, I beg humbly to observe, is of a general nature, and not discharged particularly at you. But it is singular, isn’t it, that such a matter should interest Orion, when it is of no earthly consequence to me? I never have once thought of returning home to go on the river again, and I never expect to do any more piloting at any price. My livelihood must be made in this country – and if I have to wait longer than I expected, let it be so – I have no fear of failure. You know I have extravagant hopes, for Orion tells you everything which he ought to keep to himself – but it’s his nature to do that sort of thing, and I let him alone. I did think for awhile of going home this fall – but when I found that that was and had been the cherished intention and the darling aspiration every year, of these old care-worn Californians for twelve weary years – I felt a little uncomfortable, but I stole a march on Disappointment and said I would not go home this fall. I will spend the winter in San Francisco, if possible. Do not tell any one that I had any idea of piloting again at present – for it is all a mistake. This country suits me, and – it shall suit me, whether or no….
Dan Twing and I and Dan’s dog, “cabin” together – and will continue to do so for awhile – until I leave for—
The mansion is 10x12, with a “domestic” roof. Yesterday it rained – the first shower for five months. “Domestic,” it appears to me, is not water-proof. We went outside to keep from getting wet. Dan makes the bed when it is his turn to do it – and when it is my turn, I don’t, you know. The dog is not a good hunter, and he isn’t worth shucks to watch – but he scratches up the dirt floor of the cabin, and catches flies, and makes himself generally useful in the way of washing dishes. Dan gets up first in the morning and makes a fire – and I get up last and sit by it, while he cooks breakfast. We have a cold lunch at noon, and I cook supper – very much against my will. However, one must have one good meal a day, and if I were to live on Dan’s abominable cookery, I should lose my appetite, you know. Dan attended Dr. Chorpenning’s funeral yesterday, and he felt as though he ought to wear a white shirt – and we had a jolly good time finding such an article. We turned over all our traps, and he found one at last – but I shall always think it was suffering from yellow fever. He also found an old black coat, greasy, and wrinkled to that degree that it appeared to have been quilted at some time or other. In this gorgeous costume he attended the funeral. And when he returned, his own dog drove him away from the cabin, not recognizing him. This is true.
You would not like to live in a country where flour was a barrel? Very well; then, I suppose you would not like to live here, where flour was 0 a barrel when I first came here. And shortly afterwards, it couldn’t be had at any price – and for one month the people lived on barley, beans and beef – and nothing beside. Oh, no – we didn’t luxuriate then! Perhaps not. But we said wise and severe things about the vanity and wickedness of high living. We preached our doctrine and practised it. Which course I respectfully recommend to the clergymen of St. Louis.
Where is Beack Jolly? (a pilot) and Bixby?
IV. Letters 1863-64. “Mark Twain.” Comstock Journalism. Artemus Ward
There is a long hiatus in the correspondence here. For a space of many months there is but one letter to continue the story. Others were written, of course, but for some reason they have not survived. It was about the end of August (1862) when the miner finally abandoned the struggle, and with his pack on his shoulders walked the one and thirty miles over the mountains to Virginia City, arriving dusty, lame, and travel-stained to claim at last his rightful inheritance. At the Enterprise office he was welcomed, and in a brief time entered into his own. Goodman, the proprietor, himself a man of great ability, had surrounded himself with a group of gay-hearted fellows, whose fresh, wild way of writing delighted the Comstock pioneers far more than any sober presentation of mere news. Samuel Clemens fitted exactly into this group. By the end of the year he had become a leader of it. When he asked to be allowed to report the coming Carson legislature, Goodman consented, realizing that while Clemens knew nothing of parliamentary procedure, he would at least make the letters picturesque.
It was in the midst of this work that he adopted the name which he was to make famous throughout the world. The story of its adoption has been fully told elsewhere and need not be repeated here
“Mark Twain” was first signed to a Carson letter, February 2, 1863, and from that time was attached to all of Samuel Clemens’s work. The letters had already been widely copied, and the name now which gave them personality quickly obtained vogue. It was attached to himself as well as to the letters; heretofore he had been called Sam or Clemens, now he became almost universally Mark Twain and Mark.
This early period of Mark Twain’s journalism is full of delicious history, but we are permitted here to retell only such of it as will supply connection to the infrequent letters. He wrote home briefly in February, but the letter contained nothing worth preserving. Then two months later he gives us at least a hint of his employment.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Virginia, April 11, 1863.
My dear mother and sister, – It is very late at night, and I am writing in my room, which is not quite as large or as nice as the one I had at home. My board, washing and lodging cost me seventy-five dollars a month.
I have just received your letter, Ma, from Carson – the one in which you doubt my veracity about the statements I made in a letter to you. That’s right. I don’t recollect what the statements were, but I suppose they were mining statistics. I have just finished writing up my report for the morning paper, and giving the Unreliable a column of advice about how to conduct himself in church, and now I will tell you a few more lies, while my hand is in. For instance, some of the boys made me a present of fifty feet in the East India G. and S. M. Company ten days ago. I was offered ninety-five dollars a foot for it, yesterday, in gold. I refused it – not because I think the claim is worth a cent for I don’t but because I had a curiosity to see how high it would go, before people find out how worthless it is. Besides, what if one mining claim does fool me? I have got plenty more. I am not in a particular hurry to get rich. I suppose I couldn’t well help getting rich here some time or other, whether I wanted to or not. You folks do not believe in Nevada, and I am glad you don’t. Just keep on thinking so.
I was at the Gould and Curry mine, the other day, and they had two or three tons of choice rock piled up, which was valued at ,000 a ton. I gathered up a hat-full of chunks, on account of their beauty as specimens – they don’t let everybody supply themselves so liberally. I send Mr. Moffett a little specimen of it for his cabinet. If you don’t know what the white stuff on it is, I must inform you that it is purer silver than the minted coin. There is about as much gold in it as there is silver, but it is not visible. I will explain to you some day how to detect it.
Pamela, you wouldn’t do for a local reporter – because you don’t appreciate the interest that attaches to names. An item is of no use unless it speaks of some person, and not then, unless that person’s name is distinctly mentioned. The most interesting letter one can write, to an absent friend, is one that treats of persons he has been acquainted with rather than the public events of the day. Now you speak of a young lady who wrote to Hollie Benson that she had seen me; and you didn’t mention her name. It was just a mere chance that I ever guessed who she was – but I did, finally, though I don’t remember her name, now. I was introduced to her in San Francisco by Hon. A. B. Paul, and saw her afterwards in Gold Hill. They were a very pleasant lot of girls – she and her sisters.
P. S. I have just heard five pistol shots down street – as such things are in my line, I will go and see about it.
P. S. ¹ 2–5 A.M. – The pistol did its work well – one man – a Jackson County Missourian, shot two of my friends, (police officers,) through the heart – both died within three minutes. Murderer’s name is John Campbell.
The “Unreliable” of this letter was a rival reporter on whom Mark Twain had conferred this name during the legislative session. His real name was Rice, and he had undertaken to criticize Clemens’s reports. The brisk reply that Rice’s letters concealed with a show of parliamentary knowledge a “festering mass of misstatements the author of whom should be properly termed the ’Unreliable,” fixed that name upon him for life. This burlesque warfare delighted the frontier and it did not interfere with friendship. Clemens and Rice were constant associates, though continually firing squibs at each other in their respective papers – a form of personal journalism much in vogue on the Comstock.
In the next letter we find these two journalistic “blades” enjoying themselves together in the coast metropolis. This letter is labeled “No. 2,” meaning, probably, the second from San Francisco, but No. 1 has disappeared, and even No, 2 is incomplete.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
No. 2—(.00 Enclosed)
Lick house, S. F., June 1, ’63.
My dear mother and sister, – The Unreliable and myself are still here, and still enjoying ourselves. I suppose I know at least a thousand people here – a great many of them citizens of San Francisco, but the majority belonging in Washoe – and when I go down Montgomery street, shaking hands with Tom, Dick and Harry, it is just like being in Main street in Hannibal and meeting the old familiar faces. I do hate to go back to Washoe. We fag ourselves completely out every day, and go to sleep without rocking, every night. We dine out and we lunch out, and we eat, drink and are happy – as it were. After breakfast, I don’t often see the hotel again until midnight – or after. I am going to the Dickens mighty fast. I know a regular village of families here in the house, but I never have time to call on them. Thunder! we’ll know a little more about this town, before we leave, than some of the people who live in it. We take trips across the Bay to Oakland, and down to San Leandro, and Alameda, and those places; and we go out to the Willows, and Hayes Park, and Fort Point, and up to Benicia; and yesterday we were invited out on a yachting excursion, and had a sail in the fastest yacht on the Pacific Coast. Rice says: “Oh, no – we are not having any fun, Mark – Oh, no, I reckon not – it’s somebody else – it’s probably the ’gentleman in the wagon’!” (popular slang phrase.) When I invite Rice to the Lick House to dinner, the proprietors send us champagne and claret, and then we do put on the most disgusting airs. Rice says our calibre is too light – we can’t stand it to be noticed!
I rode down with a gentleman to the Ocean House, the other day, to see the sea horses, and also to listen to the roar of the surf, and watch the ships drifting about, here, and there, and far away at sea. When I stood on the beach and let the surf wet my feet, I recollected doing the same thing on the shores of the Atlantic – and then I had a proper appreciation of the vastness of this country – for I had traveled from ocean to ocean across it.
Not far from Virginia City there are some warm springs that constantly send up jets of steam through fissures in the mountainside. The place was a health resort, and Clemens, always subject to bronchial colds, now and again retired there for a cure.
A letter written in the late summer – a gay, youthful document – belongs to one of these periods of convalescence.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
No. 12— enclosed.
Steamboat springs, August 19, ’63.
My dear mother and sister, – Ma, you have given my vanity a deadly thrust. Behold, I am prone to boast of having the widest reputation, as a local editor, of any man on the Pacific coast, and you gravely come forward and tell me “if I work hard and attend closely to my business, I may aspire to a place on a big San Francisco daily, some day.” There’s a comment on human vanity for you! Why, blast it, I was under the impression that I could get such a situation as that any time I asked for it. But I don’t want it. No paper in the United States can afford to pay me what my place on the “Enterprise” is worth. If I were not naturally a lazy, idle, good-for-nothing vagabond, I could make it pay me ,000 a year. But I don’t suppose I shall ever be any account. I lead an easy life, though, and I don’t care a cent whether school keeps or not. Everybody knows me, and I fare like a prince wherever I go, be it on this side of the mountains or the other. And I am proud to say I am the most conceited ass in the Territory.
You think that picture looks old? Well, I can’t help it – in reality I am not as old as I was when I was eighteen.
I took a desperate cold more than a week ago, and I seduced Wilson (a Missouri boy, reporter of the Daily Union,) from his labors, and we went over to Lake Bigler. But I failed to cure my cold. I found the “Lake House” crowded with the wealth and fashion of Virginia, and I could not resist the temptation to take a hand in all the fun going. Those Virginians – men and women both – are a stirring set, and I found if I went with them on all their eternal excursions, I should bring the consumption home with me – so I left, day before yesterday, and came back into the Territory again. A lot of them had purchased a site for a town on the Lake shore, and they gave me a lot. When you come out, I’ll build you a house on it. The Lake seems more supernaturally beautiful now, than ever. It is the masterpiece of the Creation.
The hotel here at the Springs is not so much crowded as usual, and I am having a very comfortable time of it. The hot, white steam puffs up out of fissures in the earth like the jets that come from a steam-boat’s ’scape pipes, and it makes a boiling, surging noise like a steam-boat, too-hence the name. We put eggs in a handkerchief and dip them in the springs – they “soft boil” in 2 Minutes, and boil as hard as a rock in 4 minutes. These fissures extend more than a quarter of a mile, and the long line of steam columns looks very pretty. A large bath house is built over one of the springs, and we go in it and steam ourselves as long as we can stand it, and then come out and take a cold shower bath. You get baths, board and lodging, all for a week – cheaper than living in Virginia without baths…..
It was now the autumn of 1863. Mark Twain was twenty-eight years old. On the Coast he had established a reputation as a gaily original newspaper writer. Thus far, however, he had absolutely no literary standing, nor is there any evidence that he had literary ambitions; his work was unformed, uncultivated – all of which seems strange, now, when we realize that somewhere behind lay the substance of immortality. Rudyard Kipling at twenty-eight had done his greatest work.
Even Joseph Goodman, who had a fine literary perception and a deep knowledge of men, intimately associated with Mark Twain as he was, received at this time no hint of his greater powers. Another man on the staff of the Enterprise, William Wright, who called himself “Dan de Quille,” a graceful humorist, gave far more promise, Goodman thought, of future distinction.
It was Artemus Ward who first suspected the value of Mark Twain’s gifts, and urged him to some more important use of them. Artemus in the course of a transcontinental lecture tour, stopped in Virginia City, and naturally found congenial society on the Enterprise staff. He had intended remaining but a few days, but lingered three weeks, a period of continuous celebration, closing only with the holiday season. During one night of final festivities, Ward slipped away and gave a performance on his own account. His letter to Mark Twain, from Austin, Nevada, written a day or two later, is most characteristic.
Artemus Ward’s letter to Mark Twain:
Austin, Jan. 1, ’64.
My dearest love, – I arrived here yesterday a.m. at 2 o’clock. It is a wild, untamable place, full of lionhearted boys. I speak tonight. See small bills.
Why did you not go with me and save me that night? – I mean the night I left you after that dinner party. I went and got drunker, beating, I may say, Alexander the Great, in his most drinkinist days, and I blackened my face at the Melodeon, and made a gibbering, idiotic speech. God-dam it! I suppose the Union will have it. But let it go. I shall always remember Virginia as a bright spot in my existence, as all others must or rather cannot be, as it were.
Love to Jo. Goodman and Dan. I shall write soon, a powerfully convincing note to my friends of “The Mercury.” Your notice, by the way, did much good here, as it doubtlessly will elsewhere. The miscreants of the Union will be batted in the snout if they ever dare pollute this rapidly rising city with their loathsome presence.
Some of the finest intellects in the world have been blunted by liquor.
Do not, sir – do not flatter yourself that you are the only chastely-humorous writer onto the Pacific slopes.
Good-bye, old boy – and God bless you! The matter of which I spoke to you so earnestly shall be just as earnestly attended to – and again with very many warm regards for Jo. and Dan., and regards to many of the good friends we met.
I am Faithfully, gratefully yours,
The Union which Ward mentions was the rival Virginia. City paper; the Mercury was the New York Sunday Mercury, to which he had urged Mark Twain to contribute. Ward wrote a second letter, after a siege of illness at Salt Lake City. He was a frail creature, and three years later, in London, died of consumption. His genius and encouragement undoubtedly exerted an influence upon Mark Twain. Ward’s second letter here follows.
Artemus Ward to S. L. Clemens:
Salt lake city, Jan. 21, ’64.
My dear Mark. – I have been dangerously ill for the past two weeks here, of congestive fever. Very grave fears were for a time entertained of my recovery, but happily the malady is gone, though leaving me very, very weak. I hope to be able to resume my journey in a week or so. I think I shall speak in the Theater here, which is one of the finest establishments of the kind in America.
The Saints have been wonderfully kind to me, I could not have been better or more tenderly nursed at home – God bless them!
I am still exceedingly weak – can’t write any more. Love to Jo and Dan, and all the rest. Write me at St. Louis.
If one could only have Mark Twain’s letters in reply to these! but they have vanished and are probably long since dust. A letter which he wrote to his mother assures us that he undertook to follow Ward’s advice. He was not ready, however, for serious literary effort. The article, sent to the Mercury, was distinctly of the Comstock variety; it was accepted, but it apparently made no impression, and he did not follow it up.
For one thing, he was just then too busy reporting the Legislature at Carson City and responding to social demands. From having been a scarcely considered unit during the early days of his arrival in Carson Mark Twain had attained a high degree of importance in the little Nevada capital. In the Legislature he was a power; as correspondent for the Enterprise he was feared and respected as well as admired. His humor, his satire, and his fearlessness were dreaded weapons.
Also, he was of extraordinary popularity. Orion’s wife, with her little daughter, Jennie, had come out from the States. The Governor of Nevada had no household in Carson City, and was generally absent. Orion Clemens reigned in his stead, and indeed was usually addressed as “Governor” Clemens. His home became the social center of the capital, and his brilliant brother its chief ornament. From the roughest of miners of a year before he had become, once more, almost a dandy in dress, and no occasion was complete without him. When the two Houses of the Legislature assembled, in January, 1864, a burlesque Third House was organized and proposed to hold a session, as a church benefit. After very brief consideration it was decided to select Mark Twain to preside at this Third House assembly under the title of “Governor,” and a letter of invitation was addressed to him. His reply to it follows:
To S. Pixley and G. A. Sears, Trustees:
Carson city, January 23, 1864.
Gentlemen, Certainly. If the public can find anything in a grave state paper worth paying a dollar for, I am willing that they should pay that amount, or any other; and although I am not a very dusty Christian myself, I take an absorbing interest in religious affairs, and would willingly inflict my annual message upon the Church itself if it might derive benefit thereby. You can charge what you please; I promise the public no amusement, but I do promise a reasonable amount of instruction. I am responsible to the Third House only, and I hope to be permitted to make it exceedingly warm for that body, without caring whether the sympathies of the public and the Church be enlisted in their favor, and against myself, or not.
There is a quality in this letter more suggestive of the later Mark Twain than anything that has preceded it. His Third House address, unfortunately, has not been preserved, but those who heard it regarded it as a classic. It probably abounded in humor of the frontier sort-unsparing ridicule of the Governor, the Legislature, and individual citizens. It was all taken in good part, of course, and as a recognition of his success he received a gold watch, with the case properly inscribed to “The Governor of the Third House.” This was really his first public appearance in a field in which he was destined to achieve very great fame.
V. Letters 1864-66. San Francisco And Hawaii
Life on the Comstock came to an end for Mark Twain in May, 1864. It was the time of The Flour Sack Sanitary Fund, the story of which he has told in Roughing It. He does not, however, refer to the troubles which this special fund brought upon himself. Coming into the Enterprise office one night, after a gay day of “Fund” celebration, Clemens wrote, for next day’s paper, a paragraph intended to be merely playful, but which proved highly offending to certain ladies concerned with the flour-sack enterprise. No files of the paper exist today, so we cannot judge of the quality of humor that stirred up trouble.
The trouble, however, was genuine enough, Virginia’s rival paper seized upon the chance to humiliate its enemy, and presently words were passed back and forth until nothing was left to write but a challenge. The story of this duel, which did not come off, has been quite fully told elsewhere, both by Mark Twain and the present writer; but the following letter – a revelation of his inner feelings in the matter of his offense – has never before been published.
To Mrs. Cutler, in Carson City:
Virginia, May 23rd, 1864.
Mrs. W. K. Cutler:
Madam, – I address a lady in every sense of the term. Mrs. Clemens has informed me of everything that has occurred in Carson in connection with that unfortunate item of mine about the Sanitary Funds accruing from the ball, and from what I can understand, you are almost the only lady in your city who has understood the circumstances under which my fault was committed, or who has shown any disposition to be lenient with me. Had the note of the ladies been properly worded, I would have published an ample apology instantly – and possibly I might even have done so anyhow, had that note arrived at any other time – but it came at a moment when I was in the midst of what ought to have been a deadly quarrel with the publishers of the Union, and I could not come out and make public apologies to any one at such a time. It is bad policy to do it even now (as challenges have already passed between myself and a proprietor of the Union, and the matter is still in abeyance,) but I suppose I had better say a word or two to show the ladies that I did not wilfully and maliciously do them a wrong.
But my chief object, Mrs. Cutler, in writing you this note (and you will pardon the liberty I have taken,) was to thank you very kindly and sincerely for the consideration you have shown me in this matter, and for your continued friendship for Mollie while others are disposed to withdraw theirs on account of a fault for which I alone am responsible.
Very truly yours,
Sam. L. Clemens.
The matter did not end with the failure of the duel. A very strict law had just been passed, making it a felony even to send or accept a challenge. Clemens, on the whole, rather tired of Virginia City and Carson, thought it a good time to go across the mountains to San Francisco. With Steve Gillis, a printer, of whom he was very fond – an inveterate joker, who had been more than half responsible for the proposed duel, and was to have served as his second – he took the stage one morning, and in due time was in the California metropolis, at work on the Morning Call.
Clemens had been several times in San Francisco, and loved the place. We have no letter of that summer, the first being dated several months after his arrival. He was still working on the Call when it was written, and contributing literary articles to the Californian, of which Bret Harte, unknown to fame, was editor. Harte had his office just above the rooms of the Call, and he and Clemens were good friends. San Francisco had a real literary group that, for a time at least, centered around the offices of the Golden Era. In a letter that follows Clemens would seem to have scorned this publication, but he was a frequent contributor to it at one period. Joaquin Miller was of this band of literary pioneers; also Prentice Mulford, Charles Warren Stoddard, Fitzhugh Ludlow, and Orpheus C. Kerr.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Sept. 25, 1864.
My dear mother and sister, – You can see by my picture that this superb climate agrees with me. And it ought, after living where I was never out of sight of snow peaks twenty-four hours during three years. Here we have neither snow nor cold weather; fires are never lighted, and yet summer clothes are never worn – you wear spring clothing the year round.
Steve Gillis, who has been my comrade for two years, and who came down here with me, is to be married, in a week or two, to a very pretty girl worth 0,000 in her own right – and then I shall be alone again, until they build a house, which they will do shortly.
We have been here only four months, yet we have changed our lodgings five times, and our hotel twice. We are very comfortably fixed where we are, now, and have no fault to find with the rooms or with the people – we are the only lodgers in a well-to-do private family, with one grown daughter and a piano in the parlor adjoining our room. But I need a change, and must move again. I have taken rooms further down the street. I shall stay in this little quiet street, because it is full of gardens and shrubbery, and there are none but dwelling houses in it.
I am taking life easy, now, and I mean to keep it up for awhile. I don’t work at night any more. I told the “Call” folks to pay me a week and let me work only in daylight. So I get up at ten every morning, and quit work at five or six in the afternoon. You ask if I work for greenbacks? Hardly. What do you suppose I could do with greenbacks here?
I have engaged to write for the new literary paper – the “Californian”—same pay I used to receive on the “Golden Era”—one article a week, fifty dollars a month. I quit the “Era,” long ago. It wasn’t high-toned enough. The “Californian” circulates among the highest class of the community, and is the best weekly literary paper in the United States – and I suppose I ought to know.
I work as I always did – by fits and starts. I wrote two articles last night for the Californian, so that lets me out for two weeks. That would be about seventy-five dollars, in greenbacks, wouldn’t it?
Been down to San Jose (generally pronounced Sannozay – emphasis on last syllable) – today fifty miles from here, by railroad. Town of 6,000 inhabitants, buried in flowers and shrubbery. The climate is finer than ours here, because it is not so close to the ocean, and is protected from the winds by the coast range.
I had an invitation today, to go down on an excursion to San Luis Obispo, and from thence to the city of Mexico, to be gone six or eight weeks, or possibly longer, but I could not accept, on account of my contract to act as chief mourner or groomsman at Steve’s wedding.
I have triumphed. They refused me and other reporters some information at a branch of the Coroner’s office – Massey’s undertaker establishment, a few weeks ago. I published the wickedest article on them I ever wrote in my life, and you can rest assured we got all the information we wanted after that.
By the new census, San Francisco has a population of 130,000. They don’t count the hordes of Chinamen.
I send a picture for Annie, and one for Aunt Ella – that is, if she will have it.
Relations with the Call ceased before the end of the year, though not in the manner described in Roughing It. Mark Twain loved to make fiction of his mishaps, and to show himself always in a bad light. As a matter of fact, he left the Call with great willingness, and began immediately contributing a daily letter to the Enterprise, which brought him a satisfactory financial return.
In the biographical sketch with which this volume opens, and more extendedly elsewhere, has been told the story of the trouble growing out of the Enterprise letters, and of Mark Twain’s sojourn with James Gillis in the Tuolumne Hills. Also how, in the frowsy hotel at Angel’s Camp, he heard the frog anecdote that would become the corner-stone of his fame. There are no letters of this period – only some note-book entries. It is probable that he did not write home, believing, no doubt, that he had very little to say.
For more than a year there is not a line that has survived. Yet it had been an important year; the jumping frog story, published in New York, had been reprinted East and West, and laughed over in at least a million homes. Fame had not come to him, but it was on the way.
Yet his outlook seems not to have been a hopeful one.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
San Francisco, Jan. 20, 1866.
My dear mother and sister, – I do not know what to write; my life is so uneventful. I wish I was back there piloting up and down the river again. Verily, all is vanity and little worth – save piloting.
To think that, after writing many an article a man might be excused for thinking tolerably good, those New York people should single out a villainous backwoods sketch to compliment me on! “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”—a squib which would never have been written but to please Artemus Ward, and then it reached New York too late to appear in his book.
But no matter. His book was a wretchedly poor one, generally speaking, and it could be no credit to either of us to appear between its covers.
This paragraph is from the New York correspondence of the San Francisco Alta:
(Clipping pasted in.)
“Mark Twain’s story in the Saturday Press of November 18th, called ‘Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,’ has set all New York in a roar, and he may be said to have made his Mark. I have been asked fifty times about it and its author, and the papers are copying it far and near. It is voted the best thing of the day. Cannot the Californian afford to keep Mark all to itself? It should not let him scintillate so widely without first being filtered through the California press.”
The New York publishing house of Carleton & Co. gave the sketch to the Saturday Press when they found it was too late for the book.
Though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers in this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret Harte, I think, though he denies it, along with the rest. He wants me to club a lot of old sketches together with a lot of his, and publish a book. I wouldn’t do it, only he agrees to take all the trouble. But I want to know whether we are going to make anything out of it, first. However, he has written to a New York publisher, and if we are offered a bargain that will pay for a month’s labor we will go to work and prepare the volume for the press.
Bret Harte and Clemens had by this time quit the Californian, expecting to contribute to Eastern periodicals. Clemens, however, was not yet through with Coast journalism. There was much interest just at this time in the Sandwich Islands, and he was selected by the foremost Sacramento paper to spy out the islands and report aspects and conditions there. His letters home were still infrequent, but this was something worth writing.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
San Francisco, March 5th, 1866.
My dear mother and sister, – I start to do Sandwich Islands day after tomorrow, (I suppose Annie is geographer enough by this time to find them on the map), in the steamer “Ajax.” We shall arrive there in about twelve days. My friends seem determined that I shall not lack acquaintances, for I only decided today to go, and they have already sent me letters of introduction to everybody down there worth knowing. I am to remain there a month and ransack the islands, the great cataracts and the volcanoes completely, and write twenty or thirty letters to the Sacramento Union – for which they pay me as much money as I would get if I staid at home.
If I come back here I expect to start straight across the continent by way of the Columbia river, the Pend d’Oreille Lakes, through Montana and down the Missouri river, – only 200 miles of land travel from San Francisco to New Orleans.
Goodbye for the present.
His home letters from the islands are numerous enough; everything there being so new and so delightful that he found joy in telling of it; also, he was still young enough to air his triumphs a little, especially when he has dined with the Grand Chamberlain and is going to visit the King!
The languorous life of the islands exactly suited Mask Twain. All his life he remembered them – always planning to return, some day, to stay there until he died. In one of his note-books he wrote: “Went with Mr. Dam to his cool, vine-shaded home; no care-worn or eager, anxious faces in this land of happy contentment. God, what a contrast with California and the Washoe!”
“Oh, Islands there are on the face of the deep
Where the leaves never fade and the skies never weep.”
The letters tell the story of his sojourn, which stretched itself into nearly five months.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Honolulu, Sandwich islands, April 3, 1866.
My dear mother and sister, – I have been here two or three weeks, and like the beautiful tropical climate better and better. I have ridden on horseback all over this island (Oahu) in the meantime, and have visited all the ancient battle-fields and other places of interest. I have got a lot of human bones which I took from one of these battle-fields – I guess I will bring you some of them. I went with the American Minister and took dinner this evening with the King’s Grand Chamberlain, who is related to the royal family, and although darker than a mulatto, he has an excellent English education and in manners is an accomplished gentleman. The dinner was as ceremonious as any I ever attended in California – five regular courses, and five kinds of wine and one of brandy. He is to call for me in the morning with his carriage, and we will visit the King at the palace – both are good Masons – the King is a Royal Arch Mason. After dinner tonight they called in the “singing girls,” and we had some beautiful music; sung in the native tongue.
The steamer I came here in sails tomorrow, and as soon as she is gone I shall sail for the other islands of the group and visit the great volcano – the grand wonder of the world. Be gone two months.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Wailuku sugar Plantation,
Island of Maui, H. I., May 4,1866.
My dear mother and sister, – 11 O’clock at night. – This is the infernalist darkest country, when the moon don’t shine; I stumbled and fell over my horse’s lariat a minute ago and hurt my leg, so I must stay here tonight.
I got the same leg hurt last week; I said I hadn’t got hold of a spirited horse since I had been on the island, and one of the proprietors loaned me a big vicious colt; he was altogether too spirited; I went to tighten the cinch before mounting him, when he let out with his left leg (?) and kicked me across a ten-acre lot. A native rubbed and doctored me so well that I was able to stand on my feet in half an hour. It was then half after four and I had an appointment to go seven miles and get a girl and take her to a card party at five.
I have been clattering around among the plantations for three weeks, now, and next week I am going to visit the extinct crater of Mount Haleakala – the largest in the world; it is ten miles to the foot of the mountain; it rises 10,000 feet above the valley; the crater is 29 miles in circumference and 1,000 feet deep. Seen from the summit, the city of St. Louis would look like a picture in the bottom of it.
As soon as I get back from Haleakala (pronounced Hally-ekka-lah) I will sail for Honolulu again and thence to the Island of Hawaii (pronounced Hah-wy-ye,) to see the greatest active volcano in the world – that of Kilauea (pronounced Kee-low-way-ah) – and from thence back to San Francisco – and then, doubtless, to the States. I have been on this trip two months, and it will probably be two more before I get back to California.
He was having a glorious time – one of the most happy, carefree adventures of his career. No form of travel or undertaking could discountenance Mark Twain at thirty.
To Mrs. Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Honolulu, May 22, 1866.
My dear sister, – I have just got back from a sea voyage – from the beautiful island of Maui, I have spent five weeks there, riding backwards and forwards among the sugar plantations – looking up the splendid scenery and visiting the lofty crater of Haleakala. It has been a perfect jubilee to me in the way of pleasure.
I have not written a single line, and have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness. Few such months come in a lifetime.
I set sail again, a week hence, for the island of Hawaii, to see the great active volcano of Kilauea. I shall not get back here for four or five weeks, and shall not reach San Francisco before the latter part of July.
So it is no use to wait for me to go home. Go on yourselves.
If I were in the east now, I could stop the publication of a piratical book which has stolen some of my sketches.
It is late-good-bye, Mollie,
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Honolulu, Sandwich islands, June 21,1866.
My dear mother and sister, – I have just got back from a hard trip through the Island of Hawaii, begun on the 26th of May and finished on the 18th of June – only six or seven days at sea – all the balance horse-back, and the hardest mountain road in the world. I staid at the volcano about a week and witnessed the greatest eruption that has occurred for years. I lived well there. They charge a day for board, and a dollar or two extra for guides and horses. I had a pretty good time. They didn’t charge me anything. I have got back sick – went to bed as soon as I arrived here – shall not be strong again for several days yet. I rushed too fast. I ought to have taken five or six weeks on that trip.
A week hence I start for the Island of Kauai, to be gone three weeks and then I go back to California.
The Crown Princess is dead and thousands of natives cry and wail and dance and dance for the dead, around the King’s Palace all night and every night. They will keep it up for a month and then she will be buried.
Hon. Anson Burlingame, U. S. Minister to China, and Gen. Van Valkenburgh, Minister to Japan, with their families and suites, have just arrived here en route. They were going to do me the honor to call on me this morning, and that accounts for my being out of bed now. You know what condition my room is always in when you are not around – so I climbed out of bed and dressed and shaved pretty quick and went up to the residence of the American Minister and called on them. Mr. Burlingame told me a good deal about Hon. Jere Clemens and that Virginia Clemens who was wounded in a duel. He was in Congress years with both of them. Mr. B. sent for his son, to introduce him – said he could tell that frog story of mine as well as anybody. I told him I was glad to hear it for I never tried to tell it myself without making a botch of it. At his request I have loaned Mr. Burlingame pretty much everything I ever wrote. I guess he will be an almighty wise man by the time he wades through that lot.
If the New United States Minister to the Sandwich Islands (Hon. Edwin McCook,) were only here now, so that I could get his views on this new condition of Sandwich Island politics, I would sail for California at once. But he will not arrive for two weeks yet and so I am going to spend that interval on the island of Kauai.
I stopped three days with Hon. Mr. Cony, Deputy Marshal of the Kingdom, at Hilo, Hawaii, last week and by a funny circumstance he knew everybody that I ever knew in Hannibal and Palmyra. We used to sit up all night talking and then sleep all day. He lives like a Prince. Confound that Island! I had a streak of fat and a streak of lean all over it – got lost several times and had to sleep in huts with the natives and live like a dog.
Of course I couldn’t speak fifty words of the language. Take it altogether, though, it was a mighty hard trip.
Burlingame and Van Valkenburgh were on their way to their posts, and their coming to the islands just at this time proved a most important circumstance to Mark Twain. We shall come to this presently, in a summary of the newspaper letters written to the Union. June 27th he wrote to his mother and sister a letter, only a fragment of which survives, in which he tells of the arrival in Honolulu of the survivors of the ship Hornet, burned on the line, and of his securing the first news report of the lost vessel.
Part of a letter to Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Honolulu, June 27, 1866
… with a gill of water a day to each man. I got the whole story from the third mate and two of the sailors. If my account gets to the Sacramento Union first, it will be published first all over the United States, France, England, Russia and Germany – all over the world; I may say. You will see it. Mr. Burlingame went with me all the time, and helped me question the men – throwing away invitations to dinner with the princes and foreign dignitaries, and neglecting all sorts of things to accommodate me. You know how I appreciate that kind of thing – especially from such a man, who is acknowledged to have no superior in the diplomatic circles of the world, and obtained from China concessions in favor of America which were refused to Sir Frederick Bruce and Envoys of France and Russia until procured for them by Burlingame himself – which service was duly acknowledged by those dignitaries. He hunted me up as soon as he came here, and has done me a hundred favors since, and says if I will come to China in the first trip of the great mail steamer next January and make his house in Pekin my home, he will afford me facilities that few men can have there for seeing and learning. He will give me letters to the chiefs of the great Mail Steamship Company which will be of service to me in this matter. I expect to do all this, but I expect to go to the States first – and from China to the Paris World’s Fair.
Don’t show this letter.
P. S. The crown Princess of this Kingdom will be buried tomorrow with great ceremony – after that I sail in two weeks for California.
This concludes Mark Twain’s personal letters from the islands. Of his descriptive news letters there were about twenty, and they were regarded by the readers of the Union as distinctly notable. Re-reading those old letters to-day it is not altogether easy to understand why. They were set in fine nonpareil type, for one thing, which present-day eyes simply refuse at any price, and the reward, by present-day standards, is not especially tempting.
The letters began in the Union with the issue of April the 16th, 1866. The first – of date March 18th – tells of the writer’s arrival at Honolulu. The humor in it is not always of a high order; it would hardly pass for humor today at all. That the same man who wrote the Hawaiian letters in 1866 (he was then over thirty years old) could, two years later, have written that marvelous book, the Innocents Abroad, is a phenomenon in literary development.
The Hawaiian letters, however, do show the transition stage between the rough elemental humor of the Comstock and the refined and subtle style which flowered in the Innocents Abroad. Certainly Mark Twain’s genius was finding itself, and his association with the refined and cultured personality of Anson Burlingame undoubtedly aided in that discovery. Burlingame pointed out his faults to him, and directed him to a better way. No more than that was needed at such a time to bring about a transformation.
The Sandwich Islands letters, however, must have been precisely adapted to their audience – a little more refined than the log Comstock, a little less subtle than the Atlantic public – and they added materially to his Coast prestige. But let us consider a sample extract from the first Sandwich Islands letter:
Our little band of passengers were as well and thoughtfully cared for by the friends they left weeping upon the wharf, as ever were any similar body of pilgrims. The traveling outfit conferred upon me began with a naval uniform, continued with a case of wine, a small assortment of medicinal liquors and brandy, several boxes of cigars, a bunch of matches, a fine-toothed comb, and a cake of soap, and ended with a pair of socks. (N. B. I gave the soap to Brown, who bit into it, and then shook his head and said that, as a general thing, he liked to prospect curious, foreign dishes, and find out what they were made of, but he couldn’t go that, and threw it overboard.)
It is nearly impossible to imagine humor in this extract, yet it is a fair sample of the entire letter.
He improves in his next, at least, in description, and gives us a picture of the crater. In this letter, also, he writes well and seriously, in a prophetic strain, of the great trade that is to be established between San Francisco and Hawaii, and argues for a line of steamers between the ports, in order that the islands might be populated by Americans, by which course European trade in that direction could be superseded. But the humor in this letter, such as it is, would scarcely provoke a smile to-day.
As the letters continue, he still urges the fostering of the island trade by the United States, finds himself impressed by the work of the missionaries, who have converted cannibals to Christians, and gives picturesque bits of the life and scenery.
Hawaii was then dominated chiefly by French and English; though the American interests were by no means small.
Extract from letter No. 4:
Cap. Fitch said “There’s the king. That’s him in the buggy. I know him as far as I can see him.”
I had never seen a king, and I naturally took out a note-book and put him down: “Tall, slender, dark, full-bearded; green frock-coat, with lapels and collar bordered with gold band an inch wide; plug hat, broad gold band around it; royal costume looks too much like livery; this man is not as fleshy as I thought he was.”
I had just got these notes when Cap. Fitch discovered that he’d got hold of the wrong king, or rather, that he’d got hold of the king’s driver, or a carriage driver of one of the nobility. The king wasn’t present at all. It was a great disappointment to me. I heard afterwards that the comfortable, easy-going king, Kamehameha V., had been seen sitting on a barrel on the wharf, the day before, fishing. But there was no consolation in that. That did not restore me my lost king.
This has something of the flavor of the man we were to know later; the quaint, gentle resignation to disappointment which is one of the finest touches in his humor.
Further on he says: “I had not shaved since I left San Francisco. As soon as I got ashore I hunted up a striped pole, and shortly found one. I always had a yearning to be a king. This may never be, I suppose, but, at any rate, it will always be a satisfaction to me to know that, if I am not a king, I am the next thing to it. I have been shaved by the king’s barber.”
Honolulu was a place of cats. He saw cats of every shade and variety. He says: “I saw cats – tomcats, Mary-Ann cats, bobtailed cats, blind cats, one-eyed cats, wall-eyed cats, cross-eyed cats, gray cats, black cats, white cats, yellow cats, striped cats, spotted cats, tame cats, wild cats, singed cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats, and all of them sleek, fat, and lazy, and sound asleep.” Which illustrates another characteristic of the humor we were to know later – the humor of grotesque exaggeration, in which he was always strong.
He found the islands during his periods of inaction conducive to indolence. “If I were not so fond of looking into the rich mass of green leaves,” he says, “that swathe the stately tamarind right before my door, I would idle less, and write more, I think.”
The Union made good use of his letters. Sometimes it printed them on the front page. Evidently they were popular from the beginning. The Union was a fine, handsome paper – beautiful in its minute typography, and in its press-work; more beautiful than most papers of to-day, with their machine-set type, their vulgar illustrations, and their chain-lightning presses. A few more extracts:
“The only cigars here are those trifling, insipid, tasteless, flavorless things they call Manilas – ten for twenty-five cents – and it would take a thousand of them to be worth half the money. After you have smoked about thirty-five dollars’ worth of them in the forenoon, you feel nothing but a desperate yearning to go out somewhere and take a smoke.”
“Captains and ministers form about half the population. The third fourth is composed of Kanakas and mercantile foreigners and their families. The final fourth is made up of high officers of the Hawaiian government, and there are just about enough cats to go round.”
In No. 6, April the 2d, he says: “An excursion to Diamond Head, and the king’s cocoanut grove, was planned to-day, at 4.30 P. M., the party to consist of half a dozen gentlemen and three ladies. They all started at the appointed hour except myself. Somebody remarkd that it was twenty minutes past five o’clock, and that woke me up. It was a fortunate circumstance that Cap. Phillips was there with his ‘turn-out,’ as he calls his top buggy that Cap. Cook brought here in 1778, and a horse that was here when Cap. Cook came.”
This bit has something the savor of his subsequent work, but, as a rule, the humor compares poorly with that which was to come later.
In No. 7 he speaks of the natives singing American songs – not always to his comfort. “Marching Through Georgia” was one of their favorite airs. He says: “If it had been all the same to Gen. Sherman, I wish he had gone around by the way of the Gulf of Mexico, instead of marching through Georgia.”
Letters Nos. 8, 9, and 10 were not of special importance. In No. 10 he gives some advice to San Francisco as to the treatment of whalers. He says:
“If I were going to advise San Francisco as to the best strategy to employ in order to secure the whaling trade, I should say, ’Cripple your facilities for “pulling” sea captains on any pretence that sailors can trump up, and show the whaler a little more consideration when he is in port.’”
In No. 11, May 24th, he tells of a trip to the Kalehi Valley, and through historic points. At one place he looked from a precipice over which old Kamehameha I drove the army of Oahu, three-quarters of a century before.
The vegetation and glory of the tropics attracted him. “In one open spot a vine of a species unknown had taken possession of two tall dead stumps, and wound around and about them, and swung out from their tops, and twined their meeting tendrils together into a faultless arch. Man, with all his art, could not improve upon its symmetry.”
He saw Sam Brannan’s palace, “The Bungalow,” built by one Shillaber of San Francisco at a cost of from thirty to forty thousand dollars. In its day it had outshone its regal neighbor, the palace of the king, but had fallen to decay after passing into Brannan’s hands, and had become a picturesque Theban ruin by the time of Mark Twain’s visit.
In No. 12, June 20th (written May 23d), he tells of the Hawaiian Legislature, and of his trip to the island of Maui, where, as he says, he never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place good-by so regretfully.
In No. 13 he continues the Legislature, and gives this picture of Minister Harris: “He is six feet high, bony and rather slender; long, ungainly arms; stands so straight he leans back a little; has small side whiskers; his head long, up and down; he has no command of language or ideas; oratory all show and pretence; a big washing and a small hang-out; weak, insipid, and a damn fool in general.”
In No. 14, June 22d, published July 16th, he tells of the death and burial ceremonies of the Princess Victoria K. K., and, what was to be of more importance to him, of the arrival of Anson Burlingame, U. S. Minister to China, and Gen. Van Valkenburgh, U. S. Minister to Japan. They were to stay ten or fourteen days, he said, but an effort would be made to have them stay over July 4th.
Speaking of Burlingame: “Burlingame is a man who could be esteemed, respected, and popular anywhere, no matter whether he was among Christians or cannibals.” Then, in the same letter, comes the great incident. “A letter arrived here yesterday, giving a meagre account of the arrival, on the Island of Hawaii, of nineteen poor, starving wretches, who had been buffeting a stormy sea, in an open boat, for forty-three days. Their ship, the Hornet, from New York, with a quantity of kerosene on board had taken fire and burned in Lat. 2d. north, and Long. 35d. west. When they had been entirely out of provisions for a day or two, and the cravings of hunger become insufferable, they yielded to the ship-wrecked mariner’s fearful and awful alternative, and solemnly drew lots to determine who of their number should die, to furnish food for his comrades; and then the morning mists lifted, and they saw land. They are being cared for at Sanpahoe (Not yet corroborated).”
The Hornet disaster was fully told in his letter of June 27th. The survivors were brought to Honolulu, and with the assistance of the Burlingame party, Clemens, laid up with saddle boils, was carried on a stretcher to the hospital, where, aided by Burlingame, he interviewed the shipwrecked men, securing material for the most important piece of serious writing he had thus far performed. Letter No. 15 to the Union – of date June 25th – occupied the most of the first page in the issue of July 19. It was a detailed account of the sufferings of officers and crew, as given by the third officer and members of the crew.
From letter No. 15:
In the postscript of a letter which I wrote two or three days ago, and sent by the ship “Live Yankee,” I gave you the substance of a letter received here from Hilo, by Walker Allen and Co., informing them that a boat, containing fifteen men in a helpless and starving condition, had drifted ashore at Sanpahoe, Island of Hawaii, and that they had belonged to the clipper ship “Hornet”—Cap. Mitchell, master – had been afloat since the burning of that vessel, about one hundred miles north of the equator, on the third of May – forty-three days.
The Third Mate, and ten of the seamen have arrived here, and are now in the hospital. Cap. Mitchell, one seaman named Antonio Passene, and two passengers, Samuel and Henry Ferguson, of New York City, eighteen and twenty-eight years, are still at Hilo, but are expected here within the week. In the Captain’s modest epitome of the terrible romance you detect the fine old hero through it. It reads like Grant.
Here follows the whole terrible narrative, which has since been published in more substantial form, and has been recognized as literature. It occupied three and a half columns on the front page of the Union, and, of course, constituted a great beat for that paper – a fact which they appreciated to the extent of one hundred dollars the column upon the writer’s return from the islands.
In letters Nos. 14. and 15. he gives further particulars of the month of mourning for the princess, and funeral cérémonials. He refers to Burlingame, who was still in the islands. The remaining letters are unimportant.
The Hawaiian episode in Mark Twain’s life was one of those spots that seemed to him always filled with sunlight. From beginning to end it had been a long luminous dream; in the next letter, written on the homeward-bound ship, becalmed under a cloudless sky, we realize the fitting end of the experience.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
On board ship Smyrniote,
At sea, July 30, 1866.
Dear mother and sister, – I write, now, because I must go hard at work as soon as I get to San Francisco, and then I shall have no time for other things – though truth to say I have nothing now to write which will be calculated to interest you much. We left the Sandwich Islands eight or ten days – or twelve days ago – I don’t know which, I have been so hard at work until today (at least part of each day,) that the time has slipped away almost unnoticed. The first few days we came at a whooping gait being in the latitude of the “North-east trades,” but we soon ran out of them. We used them as long as they lasted-hundred of miles – and came dead straight north until exactly abreast of San Francisco precisely straight west of the city in a bee-line – but a long bee-line, as we were about two thousand miles at sea-consequently, we are not a hundred yards nearer San Francisco than you are. And here we lie becalmed on a glassy sea – we do not move an inch-we throw banana and orange peel overboard and it lies still on the water by the vessel’s side. Sometimes the ocean is as dead level as the Mississippi river, and glitters glassily as if polished – but usually, of course, no matter how calm the weather is, we roll and surge over the grand ground-swell. We amuse ourselves tying pieces of tin to the ship’s log and sinking them to see how far we can distinguish them under water—86 feet was the deepest we could see a small piece of tin, but a white plate would show about as far down as the steeple of Dr. Bullard’s church would reach, I guess. The sea is very dark and blue here.
Ever since we got becalmed – five days – I have been copying the diary of one of the young Fergusons (the two boys who starved and suffered, with thirteen others, in an open boat at sea for forty-three days, lately, after their ship, the “Hornet,” was burned on the equator.) Both these boys, and Captain Mitchell, are passengers with us. I am copying the diary to publish in Harper’s Magazine, if I have time to fix it up properly when I get to San Francisco.
I suppose, from present appearances, – light winds and calms, – that we shall be two or three weeks at sea, yet – and I hope so – I am in no hurry to go to work.
Sunday Morning, Aug. 6.
This is rather slow. We still drift, drift, drift along – at intervals a spanking breeze and then – drift again – hardly move for half a day. But I enjoy it. We have such snowy moonlight, and such gorgeous sunsets. And the ship is so easy – even in a gale she rolls very little, compared to other vessels – and in this calm we could dance on deck, if we chose. You can walk a crack, so steady is she. Very different from the Ajax. My trunk used to get loose in the stateroom and rip and tear around the place as if it had life in it, and I always had to take my clothes off in bed because I could not stand up and do it.
There is a ship in sight – the first object we have seen since we left Honolulu. We are still 1300 or 1400 miles from land and so anything like this that varies the vast solitude of the ocean makes all hands light-hearted and cheerful. We think the ship is the “Comet,” which left Honolulu several hours before we did. She is about twelve miles away, and so we cannot see her hull, but the sailors think it is the Comet because of some peculiarity about her fore-top-gallant sails. We have watched her all the forenoon.
Afternoon We had preaching on the quarter-deck by Rev. Mr. Rising, of Virginia City, old friend of mine. Spread a flag on the booby-hatch, which made a very good pulpit, and then ranged the chairs on either side against the bulwarks; last Sunday we had the shadow of the mainsail, but today we were on the opposite tack, close hauled, and had the sun. I am leader of the choir on this ship, and a sorry lead it is. I hope they will have a better opinion of our music in Heaven than I have down here. If they don’t a thunderbolt will come down and knock the vessel endways.
The other ship is the Comet – she is right abreast three miles away, sailing on our course – both of us in a dead calm. With the glasses we can see what we take to be men and women on her decks. I am well acquainted with nearly all her passengers, and being so close seems right sociable.
Monday 7—I had just gone to bed a little after midnight when the 2d mate came and roused up the captain and said “The Comet has come round and is standing away on the other tack.” I went up immediately, and so did all our passengers, without waiting to dress-men, women and children. There was a perceptible breeze. Pretty soon the other ship swept down upon us with all her sails set, and made a fine show in the luminous starlight. She passed within a hundred yards of us, so we could faintly see persons on her decks. We had two minutes’ chat with each other, through the medium of hoarse shouting, and then she bore away to windward.
In the morning she was only a little black peg standing out of the glassy sea in the distant horizon – an almost invisible Mark.in the bright sky. Dead calm. So the ships have stood, all day long – have not moved 100 yards.
Aug. 8—The calm continues. Magnificent weather. The gentlemen have all turned boys. They play boyish games on the poop and quarter-deck. For instance: They lay a knife on the fife-rail of the mainmast – stand off three steps, shut one eye, walk up and strike at it with the fore-finger; (seldom hit it;) also they lay a knife on the deck and walk seven or eight steps with eyes close shut, and try to find it. They kneel – place elbows against knees – extend hands in front along the deck – place knife against end of fingers – then clasp hands behind back and bend forward and try to pick up the knife with their teeth and rise up from knees without rolling over or losing their balance. They tie a string to the shrouds – stand with back against it walk three steps (eyes shut) – turn around three times and go and put finger on the string; only a military man can do it. If you want to know how perfectly ridiculous a grown man looks performing such absurdities in the presence of ladies, get one to try it.
Afternoon – The calm is no more. There are three vessels in sight. It is so sociable to have them hovering about us on this broad waste of water. It is sunny and pleasant, but blowing hard. Every rag about the ship is spread to the breeze and she is speeding over the sea like a bird. There is a large brig right astern of us with all her canvas set and chasing us at her best. She came up fast while the winds were light, but now it is hard to tell whether she gains or not. We can see the people on the forecastle with the glass. The race is exciting. I am sorry to know that we shall soon have to quit the vessel and go ashore if she keeps up this speed.
Friday, Aug. 10—We have breezes and calms alternately. The brig is two miles to three astern, and just stays there. We sail directly east – this brings the brig, with all her canvas set, almost in the eye of the sun, when it sets – beautiful. She looks sharply cut and black as a coal, against a background of fire and in the midst of a sea of blood.
San Francisco, Aug. 20.—We never saw the Comet again till the 13th, in the morning, three miles away. At three o’clock that afternoon, 25 days out from Honolulu, both ships entered the Golden Gate of San Francisco side by side, and 300 yards apart. There was a gale blowing, and both vessels clapped on every stitch of canvas and swept up through the channel and past the fortresses at a magnificent gait.
I have been up to Sacramento and squared accounts with the Union. They paid me a great deal more than they promised me.
VI. Letters 1866-67. The Lecturer. Success On The Coast. In New York. The Great Ocean Excursion
It was August 13th when he reached San Francisco and wrote in his note-book, “Home again. No – not home again – in prison again, and all the wild sense of freedom gone. City seems so cramped and so dreary with toil and care and business anxieties. God help me, I wish I were at sea again!”
The transition from the dreamland of a becalmed sailing-vessel to the dull, cheerless realities of his old life, and the uncertainties of his future, depressed him – filled him with forebodings. At one moment he felt himself on the verge of suicide – the world seemed so little worth while.
He wished to make a trip around the world, a project that required money. He contemplated making a book of his island letters and experiences, and the acceptance by Harper’s Magazine of the revised version of the Hornet Shipwreck story encouraged this thought.
Friends urged him to embody in a lecture the picturesque aspect of Hawaiian life. The thought frightened him, but it also appealed to him strongly. He believed he could entertain an audience, once he got started on the right track. As Governor of the Third House at Carson City he had kept the audience in hand. Men in whom he had the utmost confidence insisted that he follow up the lecture idea and engage the largest house in the city for his purpose. The possibility of failure appalled him, but he finally agreed to the plan.
In Roughing It, and elsewhere, has been told the story of this venture – the tale of its splendid success. He was no longer concerned, now, as to his immediate future. The lecture field was profitable. His audience laughed and shouted. He was learning the flavor of real success and exulting in it. With Dennis McCarthy, formerly one of the partners in the Enterprise, as manager, he made a tour of California and Nevada.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and others, in St. Louis:
Virginia city, Nov. 1, 1866.
All the folks, affectionate greeting, – You know the flush time’s are past, and it has long been impossible to more than half fill the Theatre here, with any sort of attraction, but they filled it for me, night before last – full – dollar all over the house.
I was mighty dubious about Carson, but the enclosed call and some telegrams set that all right – I lecture there tomorrow night.
They offer a full house and no expense in Dayton – go there next. Sandy Baldwin says I have made the most sweeping success of any man he knows of.
I have lectured in San Francisco, Sacramento, Marysville, Grass Valley, Nevada, You Bet, Red Dog and Virginia. I am going to talk in Carson, Gold Hill, Silver City, Dayton, Washoe, San Francisco again, and again here if I have time to re-hash the lecture.
Then I am bound for New York – lecture on the Steamer, maybe.
I’ll leave toward 1st December – but I’ll telegraph you.
Love to all.
His lecture tour continued from October until December, a period of picturesque incident, the story of which has been recorded elsewhere. – [See Mark Twain: A Biography, by the same author] – It paid him well; he could go home now, without shame. Indeed, from his next letter, full of the boyish elation which always to his last years was the complement of his success, we gather that he is going home with special honors – introductions from ministers and the like to distinguished personages of the East.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
SanF., Dec. 4, 1866.
My dear folks, – I have written to Annie and Sammy and Katie some time ago – also, to the balance of you.
I called on Rev. Dr. Wadsworth last night with the City College man, but he wasn’t at home. I was sorry, because I wanted to make his acquaintance. I am thick as thieves with the Rev. Stebbings, and I am laying for the Rev. Scudder and the Rev. Dr. Stone. I am running on preachers, now, altogether. I find them gay. Stebbings is a regular brick. I am taking letters of introduction to Henry Ward Beecher, Rev. Dr. Tyng, and other eminent parsons in the east. Whenever anybody offers me a letter to a preacher, now I snaffle it on the spot. I shall make Rev. Dr. Bellows trot out the fast nags of the cloth for me when I get to New York. Bellows is an able, upright and eloquent man – a man of imperial intellect and matchless power – he is Christian in the truest sense of the term and is unquestionably a brick….
Gen. Drum has arrived in Philadelphia and established his head-quarters there, as Adjutant Genl. to Maj. Gen. Meade. Col. Leonard has received a letter from him in which he offers me a complimentary benefit if I will come there. I am much obliged, really, but I am afraid I shan’t lecture much in the States.
The China Mail Steamer is getting ready and everybody says I am throwing away a fortune in not going in her. I firmly believe it myself.
I sail for the States in the Opposition steamer of the 5th inst., positively and without reserve. My room is already secured for me, and is the choicest in the ship. I know all the officers.
We get no hint of his plans, and perhaps he had none. If his purpose was to lecture in the East, he was in no hurry to begin. Arriving in New York, after an adventurous voyage, he met a number of old Californians – men who believed in him – and urged him to lecture. He also received offers of newspaper engagements, and from Charles Henry Webb, who had published the Californian, which Bret Harte had edited, came the proposal to collect his published sketches, including the jumping Frog story, in book form. Webb himself was in New York, and offered the sketches to several publishers, including Canton, who had once refused the Frog story by omitting it from Artemus Ward’s book. It seems curious that Canton should make a second mistake and refuse it again, but publishers were wary in those days, and even the newspaper success of the Frog story did not tempt him to venture it as the title tale of a book. Webb finally declared he would publish the book himself, and Clemens, after a few weeks of New York, joined his mother and family in St. Louis and gave himself up to a considerable period of visiting, lecturing meantime in both Hannibal and Keokuk.
Fate had great matters in preparation for him. The Quaker City Mediterranean excursion, the first great ocean picnic, was announced that spring, and Mark Twain realized that it offered a possible opportunity for him to see something of the world. He wrote at once to the proprietors of the Alta-California and proposed that they send him as their correspondent. To his delight his proposition was accepted, the Alta agreeing to the twelve hundred dollars passage money, and twenty dollars each for letters.
The Quaker City was not to sail until the 8th of June, but the Alta wished some preliminary letters from New York. Furthermore, Webb had the Frog book in press, and would issue it May 1st. Clemens, therefore, returned to New York in April, and now once more being urged by the Californians to lecture, he did not refuse. Frank Fuller, formerly Governor of Utah, took the matter in hand and engaged Cooper Union for the venture. He timed it for May 6th, which would be a few days after the appearance of Webb’s book. Clemens was even more frightened at the prospect of this lecture than he had been in San Francisco, and with more reason, for in New York his friends were not many, and competition for public favor was very great. There are two letters written May 1st, one to his people, and one to Bret Harte, in San Francisco; that give us the situation.
To Bret Harte, in San Francisco:
Westminster hotel, May 1, 1867.
Dear Bret, – I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same God’s blessing.
The book is out, and is handsome. It is full of damnable errors of grammar and deadly inconsistencies of spelling in the Frog sketch because I was away and did not read the proofs; but be a friend and say nothing about these things. When my hurry is over, I will send you an autograph copy to pisen the children with.
I am to lecture in Cooper Institute next Monday night. Pray for me.
We sail for the Holy Land June 8. Try to write me (to this hotel,) and it will be forwarded to Paris, where we remain 10 or 15 days.
Regards and best wishes to Mrs. Bret and the family.
Truly Yr Friend,
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Westminster hotel, May 1, 1867.
Dear folks, – Don’t expect me to write for a while. My hands are full of business on account of my lecture for the 6th inst., and everything looks shady, at least, if not dark. I have got a good agent – but now after we have hired Cooper Institute and gone to an expense in one way or another of 0, it comes out that I have got to play against Speaker Colfax at Irving Hall, Ristori, and also the double troupe of Japanese jugglers, the latter opening at the great Academy of Music – and with all this against me I have taken the largest house in New York and cannot back water. Let her slide! If nobody else cares I don’t.
I’ll send the book soon. I am awfully hurried now, but not worried.
The Cooper Union lecture proved a failure, and a success. When it became evident to Fuller that the venture was not going to pay, he sent out a flood of complimentaries to the school-teachers of New York City and the surrounding districts. No one seems to have declined them. Clemens lectured to a jammed house and acquired much reputation. Lecture proposals came from several directions, but he could not accept them now. He wrote home that he was eighteen Alta letters behind and had refused everything. Thos. Nast, the cartoonist, then in his first fame, propped a joint tour, Clemens to lecture while he, Nast, would illustrate with “lightning” sketches; but even this could not be considered now. In a little while he would sail, and the days were overfull. A letter written a week before he sailed is full of the hurry and strain of these last days.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Westminster hotel, new York, June 1, 1867.
Dear folks, – I know I ought to write oftener (just got your last,) and more fully, but I cannot overcome my repugnance to telling what I am doing or what I expect to do or propose to do. Then, what have I left to write about? Manifestly nothing.
It isn’t any use for me to talk about the voyage, because I can have no faith in that voyage till the ship is under way. How do I know she will ever sail? My passage is paid, and if the ship sails, I sail in her – but I make no calculations, have bought no cigars, no sea-going clothing – have made no preparation whatever – shall not pack my trunk till the morning we sail. Yet my hands are full of what I am going to do the day before we sail – and what isn’t done that day will go undone.
All I do know or feel, is, that I am wild with impatience to move – move – move! Half a dozen times I have wished I had sailed long ago in some ship that wasn’t going to keep me chained here to chafe for lagging ages while she got ready to go. Curse the endless delays! They always kill me – they make me neglect every duty and then I have a conscience that tears me like a wild beast. I wish I never had to stop anywhere a month. I do more mean things, the moment I get a chance to fold my hands and sit down than ever I can get forgiveness for.
Yes, we are to meet at Mr. Beach’s next Thursday night, and I suppose we shall have to be gotten up regardless of expense, in swallow-tails, white kids and everything en règle.
I am resigned to Rev. Mr. Hutchinson’s or anybody else’s supervision. I don’t mind it. I am fixed. I have got a splendid, immoral, tobacco-smoking, wine-drinking, godless room-mate who is as good and true and right-minded a man as ever lived – a man whose blameless conduct and example will always be an eloquent sermon to all who shall come within their influence. But send on the professional preachers – there are none I like better to converse with. If they’re not narrow minded and bigoted they make good companions.
I asked them to send the N. Y. Weekly to you – no charge. I am not going to write for it. Like all other, papers that pay one splendidly it circulates among stupid people and the ‘canaille.’ I have made no arrangement with any New York paper – I will see about that Monday or Tuesday.
Love to all,
The “immoral” room-mate whose conduct was to be an “eloquent example” was Dan Slote, immortalized in the Innocents as “Dan” – a favorite on the ship, and later beloved by countless readers.
There is one more letter, written the night before the Quaker City sailed-a letter which in a sense mark the close of the first great period of his life – the period of aimless wandering – adventure – youth.
Perhaps a paragraph of explanation should precede this letter. Political changes had eliminated Orion in Nevada, and he was now undertaking the practice of law. “Bill Stewart” was Senator Stewart, of Nevada, of whom we shall hear again. The “Sandwich Island book,” as may be imagined, was made up of his letters to the Sacramento Union. Nothing came of the venture, except some chapters in ‘Roughing It’, rewritten from the material. “Zeb and John Leavenworth” were pilots whom he had known on the river.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family in St. Louis:
New York, June 7th, 1867.
Dear folks, I suppose we shall be many a league at sea tomorrow night, and goodness knows I shall be unspeakably glad of it.
I haven’t got anything to write, else I would write it. I have just written myself clear out in letters to the Alta, and I think they are the stupidest letters that were ever written from New York. Corresponding has been a perfect drag ever since I got to the states. If it continues abroad, I don’t know what the Tribune and Alta folks will think. I have withdrawn the Sandwich Island book – it would be useless to publish it in these dull publishing times. As for the Frog book, I don’t believe that will ever pay anything worth a cent. I published it simply to advertise myself – not with the hope of making anything out of it.
Well, I haven’t anything to write, except that I am tired of staying in one place – that I am in a fever to get away. Read my Alta letters – they contain everything I could possibly write to you. Tell Zeb and John Leavenworth to write me. They can get plenty of gossip from the pilots.
An importing house sent two cases of exquisite champagne aboard the ship for me today—Veuve Clicquot and Lac d’Or. I and my room-mate have set apart every Saturday as a solemn fast day, wherein we will entertain no light matters of frivolous conversation, but only get drunk. (That is a joke.) His mother and sisters are the best and most homelike people I have yet found in a brown stone front. There is no style about them, except in house and furniture.
I wish Orion were going on this voyage, for I believe he could not help but be cheerful and jolly. I often wonder if his law business is going satisfactorily to him, but knowing that the dull season is setting in now (it looked like it had already set in before) I have felt as if I could almost answer the question myself – which is to say in plain words, I was afraid to ask. I wish I had gone to Washington in the winter instead of going West. I could have gouged an office out of Bill Stewart for him, and that would atone for the loss of my home visit. But I am so worthless that it seems to me I never do anything or accomplish anything that lingers in my mind as a pleasant memory. My mind is stored full of unworthy conduct toward Orion and towards you all, and an accusing conscience gives me peace only in excitement and restless moving from place to place. If I could say I had done one thing for any of you that entitled me to your good opinion, (I say nothing of your love, for I am sure of that, no matter how unworthy of it I may make myself, from Orion down you have always given me that, all the days of my life, when God Almighty knows I seldom deserve it,) I believe I could go home and stay there and I know I would care little for the world’s praise or blame. There is no satisfaction in the world’s praise anyhow, and it has no worth to me save in the way of business. I tried to gather up its compliments to send to you, but the work was distasteful and I dropped it.
You observe that under a cheerful exterior I have got a spirit that is angry with me and gives me freely its contempt. I can get away from that at sea, and be tranquil and satisfied – and so, with my parting love and benediction for Orion and all of you, I say goodbye and God bless you all – and welcome the wind that wafts a weary soul to the sunny lands of the Mediterranean!
VII. Letters 1867. The Traveler. The Voyage Of The “Quaker City”
Mark Twain, now at sea, was writing many letters; not personal letters, but those unique descriptive relations of travel which would make him his first great fame – those fresh first impressions preserved to us now as chapters of The Innocents Abroad. Yet here and there in the midst of sight-seeing and reporting he found time to send a brief line to those at home, merely that they might have a word from his own hand, for he had ordered the papers to which he was to contribute – the Alta and the New York Tribune – sent to them, and these would give the story of his travels. The home letters read like notebook entries.
Letters to Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Fayal(Azores,) June 20th, 1867.
Dear folks, – We are having a lively time here, after a stormy trip. We meant to go to San Miguel, but were driven here by stress of weather. Beautiful climate.
Gibraltar, June 30th, 1867.
Dear folks, – Arrived here this morning, and am clear worn out with riding and climbing in and over and around this monstrous rock and its fortifications. Summer climate and very pleasant.
Tangier, Morocco, (Africa), July 1, 1867.
Dear folks, Half a dozen of us came here yesterday from Gibraltar and some of the company took the other direction; went up through Spain, to Paris by rail. We decided that Gibraltar and San Roque were all of Spain that we wanted to see at present and are glad we came here among the Africans, Moors, Arabs and Bedouins of the desert. I would not give this experience for all the balance of the trip combined. This is the infernalest hive of infernally costumed barbarians I have ever come across yet.
At sea, July 2, 1867.
Dr. Folks, – We are far up the intensely blue and ravishingly beautiful Mediterranean. And now we are just passing the island of Minorca. The climate is perfectly lovely and it is hard to drive anybody to bed, day or night. We remain up the whole night through occasionally, and by this means enjoy the rare sensation of seeing the sun rise. But the sunsets are soft, rich, warm and superb!
We had a ball last night under the awnings of the quarter deck, and the share of it of three of us was masquerade. We had full, flowing, picturesque Moorish costumes which we purchased in the bazaars of Tangier.
Marseilles, France, July 5, 1867.
We are here. Start for Paris tomorrow. All well. Had gorgeous 4th of July jollification yesterday at sea.
The reader may expand these sketchy outlines to his heart’s content by following the chapters in The Innocents Abroad, which is very good history, less elaborated than might be supposed. But on the other hand, the next letter adds something of interest to the book-circumstances which a modest author would necessarily omit.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Yalta, Russia, Aug. 25, 1867.
Dear folks, – We have been representing the United States all we knew how today. We went to Sebastopol, after we got tired of Constantinople (got your letter there, and one at Naples,) and there the Commandant and the whole town came aboard and were as jolly and sociable as old friends. They said the Emperor of Russia was at Yalta, 30 miles or 40 away, and urged us to go there with the ship and visit him – promised us a cordial welcome. They insisted on sending a telegram to the Emperor, and also a courier overland to announce our coming. But we knew that a great English Excursion party, and also the Viceroy of Egypt, in his splendid yacht, had been refused an audience within the last fortnight, so we thought it not safe to try it. They said, no difference – the Emperor would hardly visit our ship, because that would be a most extraordinary favor, and one which he uniformly refuses to accord under any circumstances, but he would certainly receive us at his palace. We still declined. But we had to go to Odessa, 250 miles away, and there the Governor General urged us, and sent a telegram to the Emperor, which we hardly expected to be answered, but it was, and promptly. So we sailed back to Yalta.
We all went to the palace at noon, today, (3 miles) in carriages and on horses sent by the Emperor, and we had a jolly time. Instead of the usual formal audience of 15 minutes, we staid 4 hours and were made a good deal more at home than we could have been in a New York drawing-room. The whole tribe turned out to receive our party-Emperor, Empress, the oldest daughter (Grand-Duchess Marie, a pretty girl of 14,) a little Grand Duke, her brother, and a platoon of Admirals, Princes, Peers of the Empire, etc., and in a little while an aid-de-camp arrived with a request from the Grand Duke Michael, the Emperor’s brother, that we would visit his palace and breakfast with him. The Emperor also invited us, on behalf of his absent eldest son and heir (aged 22,) to visit his palace and consider it a visit to him. They all talk English and they were all very neatly but very plainly dressed. You all dress a good deal finer than they were dressed. The Emperor and his family threw off all reserve and showed us all over the palace themselves. It is very rich and very elegant, but in no way gaudy.
I had been appointed chairman of a committee to draught an address to the Emperor in behalf of the passengers, and as I fully expected, and as they fully intended, I had to write the address myself. I didn’t mind it, because I have no modesty and would as soon write to an Emperor as to anybody else – but considering that there were 5 on the committee I thought they might have contributed one paragraph among them, anyway. They wanted me to read it to him, too, but I declined that honor – not because I hadn’t cheek enough (and some to spare,) but because our Consul at Odessa was along, and also the Secretary of our Legation at St. Petersburgh, and of course one of those ought to read it. The Emperor accepted the address – it was his business to do it – and so many others have praised it warmly that I begin to imagine it must be a wonderful sort of document and herewith send you the original draught of it to be put into alcohol and preserved forever like a curious reptile.
They live right well at the Grand Duke Michael’s their breakfasts are not gorgeous but very excellent – and if Mike were to say the word I would go there and breakfast with him tomorrow.
They had told us it would be polite to invite the Emperor to visit the ship, though he would not be likely to do it. But he didn’t give us a chance – he has requested permission to come on board with his family and all his relations tomorrow and take a sail, in case it is calm weather. I can, entertain them. My hand is in, now, and if you want any more Emperors feted in style, trot them out.
The next letter is of interest in that it gives us the program and volume of his work. With all the sight seeing he was averaging a full four letters a week – long letters, requiring careful observation and inquiry. How fresh and impressionable and full of vigor he was, even in that fierce southern heat! No one makes the Mediterranean trip in summer to-day, and the thought of adding constant letter-writing to steady travel through southern France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey in blazing midsummer is stupefying. And Syria and Egypt in September!
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Constantinople, Sept. 1, ’67.
Dear folks, – All well. Do the Alta’s come regularly? I wish I knew whether my letters reach them or not. Look over the back papers and see. I wrote them as follows:
1 Letter from Fayal, in the Azores Islands.
1 from Gibraltar, in Spain.
1 from Tangier, in Africa.
2 from Paris and Marseilles, in France.
1 from Genoa, in Italy.
1 from Milan.
1 from Lake Como.
1 from some little place in Switzerland – have forgotten the name.
4 concerning Lecce, Bergamo, Padua, Verona, Battlefield of Marengo, Pestachio, and some other cities in Northern Italy.
2 from Venice.
1 about Bologna.
1 from Florence.
1 from Pisa.
1 from Leghorn.
1 from Rome and Civita Vecchia.
2 from Naples.
1 about Pazzuoli, where St. Paul landed, the Baths of Nero, and the ruins of Baia, Virgil’s tomb, the Elysian Fields, the Sunken Cities and the spot where Ulysses landed.
1 from Herculaneum and Vesuvius.
1 from Pompeii.
1 from the Island of Ischia.
1 concerning the Volcano of Stromboli, the city and Straits of Messina, the land of Sicily, Scylla and Charybdis etc.
1 about the Grecian Archipelago.
1 about a midnight visit to Athens, the Piraeus and the ruins of the Acropolis.
1 about the Hellespont, the site of ancient Troy, the Sea of Marmara, etc.
2 about Constantinople, the Golden Horn and the beauties of the Bosphorus.
1 from Odessa and Sebastopol in Russia, the Black Sea, etc.
2 from Yalta, Russia, concerning a visit to the Czar. And yesterday I wrote another letter from Constantinople and 1 today about its neighbor in Asia, Scatter. I am not done with Turkey yet. Shall write 2 or 3 more. I have written to the New York Herald 2 letters from Naples, (no name signed,) and 1 from Constantinople. To the New York Tribune I have written.
1 from Fayal. 1 from Civita Vecchia in the Roman States.
2 from Yalta, Russia. And 1 from Constantinople.
I have never seen any of these letters in print except the one to the Tribune from Fayal and that was not worth printing.
We sail hence tomorrow, perhaps, and my next letters will be mailed at Smyrna, in Syria. I hope to write from the Sea of Tiberius, Damascus, Jerusalem, Joppa, and possibly other points in the Holy Land. The letters from Egypt, the Nile and Algiers I will look out for, myself. I will bring them in my pocket.
They take the finest photographs in the world here. I have ordered some. They will be sent to Alexandria, Egypt.
You cannot conceive of anything so beautiful as Constantinople, viewed from the Golden Horn or the Bosphorus. I think it must be the handsomest city in the world. I will go on deck and look at it for you, directly. I am staying in the ship, tonight. I generally stay on shore when we are in port. But yesterday I just ran myself down. Dan Slote, my room-mate, is on shore. He remained here while we went up the Black Sea, but it seems he has not got enough of it yet. I thought Dan had got the state-room pretty full of rubbish at last, but a while ago his dragoman arrived with a bran new, ghastly tomb-stone of the Oriental pattern, with his name handsomely carved and gilded on it, in Turkish characters. That fellow will buy a Circassian slave, next.
I am tired. We are going on a trip, tomorrow. I must to bed. Love to all.
U. S. Consul’s office, Beirut, Syria, Sept. 11. (1867)
Dear folks, – We are here, eight of us, making a contract with a dragoman to take us to Baalbek, then to Damascus, Nazareth, &c. then to Lake Genassareth (Sea of Tiberias,) then South through all the celebrated Scriptural localities to Jerusalem – then to the Dead Sea, the Cave of Macpelah and up to Joppa where the ship will be. We shall be in the saddle three weeks – we have horses, tents, provisions, arms, a dragoman and two other servants, and we pay five dollars a day apiece, in gold.
Love to all, yrs.
We leave tonight, at two o’clock in the morning.
There appear to be no further home letters written from Syria – and none from Egypt. Perhaps with the desert and the delta the heat at last became too fearful for anything beyond the actual requirements of the day. When he began his next it was October, and the fiercer travel was behind him.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Caghari, Sardinia, Oct, 12, 1867.
Dear folks, – We have just dropped anchor before this handsome city and—
Algiers, Africa, Oct. 15.
They would not let us land at Caghari on account of cholera. Nothing to write.
Malaga, Spain, Oct. 17.
The Captain and I are ashore here under guard, waiting to know whether they will let the ship anchor or not. Quarantine regulations are very strict here on all vessels coming from Egypt. I am a little anxious because I want to go inland to Granada and see the Alhambra. I can go on down by Seville and Cordova, and be picked up at Cadiz.
Later: We cannot anchor – must go on. We shall be at Gibraltar before midnight and I think I will go horseback (a long days) and thence by rail and diligence to Cadiz. I will not mail this till I see the Gibraltar lights – I begin to think they won’t let us in anywhere.
11.30 P. M. – Gibraltar.
At anchor and all right, but they won’t let us land till morning – it is a waste of valuable time. We shall reach New York middle of November.
Cadiz, Oct 24, 1867.
Dear folks, – We left Gibraltar at noon and rode to Algeciras, (4 hours) thus dodging the quarantine, took dinner and then rode horseback all night in a swinging trot and at daylight took a caleche (a wheeled vehicle) and rode 5 hours – then took cars and traveled till twelve at night. That landed us at Seville and we were over the hard part of our trip, and somewhat tired. Since then we have taken things comparatively easy, drifting around from one town to another and attracting a good deal of attention, for I guess strangers do not wander through Andalusia and the other Southern provinces of Spain often. The country is precisely as it was when Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were possible characters.
But I see now what the glory of Spain must have been when it was under Moorish domination. No, I will not say that, but then when one is carried away, infatuated, entranced, with the wonders of the Alhambra and the supernatural beauty of the Alcazar, he is apt to overflow with admiration for the splendid intellects that created them.
I cannot write now. I am only dropping a line to let you know I am well. The ship will call for us here tomorrow. We may stop at Lisbon, and shall at the Bermudas, and will arrive in New York ten days after this letter gets there.
This is the last personal letter written during that famous first sea-gipsying, and reading it our regret grows that he did not put something of his Spanish excursion into his book. He never returned to Spain, and he never wrote of it. Only the barest mention of “seven beautiful days” is found in The Innocents Abroad.
VIII. Letters 1867-68. Washington And San Francisco. The Proposed Book Of Travel. A New Lecture
From Mark Twain’s home letters we get several important side-lights on this first famous book. We learn, for in stance, that it was he who drafted the ship address to the Emperor – the opening lines of which became so wearisome when repeated by the sailors. Furthermore, we learn something of the scope and extent of his newspaper correspondence, which must have kept him furiously busy, done as it was in the midst of super-heated and continuous sight-seeing. He wrote fifty three letters to the Alta-California, six to the New York Tribune, and at least two to the New York Herald more than sixty, all told, of an average, length of three to four thousand words each. Mark Twain always claimed to be a lazy man, and certainly he was likely to avoid an undertaking not suited to his gifts, but he had energy in abundance for work in his chosen field. To have piled up a correspondence of that size in the time, and under the circumstances already noted, quality considered, may be counted a record in the history of travel letters.
They made him famous. Arriving in New York, November 19, 1867, Mark Twain found himself no longer unknown to the metropolis, or to any portion of America. Papers East and West had copied his Alta and Tribune letters and carried his name into every corner of the States and Territories. He had preached a new gospel in travel literature, the gospel of frankness and sincerity that Americans could understand. Also his literary powers had awakened at last. His work was no longer trivial, crude, and showy; it was full of dignity, beauty, and power; his humor was finer, worthier. The difference in quality between the Quaker City letters and those written from the Sandwich Islands only a year before can scarcely be measured.
He did not remain in New York, but went down to Washington, where he had arranged for a private secretaryship with Senator William M. Stewart,
whom he had known in Nevada. Such a position he believed would make but little demand upon his time, and would afford him an insight into Washington life, which he could make valuable in the shape of newspaper correspondence.
But fate had other plans for him. He presently received the following letter:
From Elisha Bliss, Jr., in Hartford.
Office of the American publishing company.
Hartford, Conn, Nov 21, 1867.
Samuel L. Clemens Esq.
Tribune Office, New York.
Dr. Sir, – We take the liberty to address you this, in place of a letter which we had recently written and was about to forward to you, not knowing your arrival home was expected so soon. We are desirous of obtaining from you a work of some kind, perhaps compiled from your letters from the East, &c., with such interesting additions as may be proper. We are the publishers of A. D. Richardson’s works, and flatter ourselves that we can give an author as favorable terms and do as full justice to his productions as any other house in the country. We are perhaps the oldest subscription house in the country, and have never failed to give a book an immense circulation. We sold about 100,000 copies of Richardson’s F. D. & E. (Field, Dungeon and Escape) and are now printing 41,000, of “Beyond the Mississippi,” and large orders ahead. If you have any thought of writing a book, or could be induced to do so, we should be pleased to see you; and will do so. Will you do us the favor to reply at once, at your earliest convenience.
Very truly, &c.,
E. Bliss, Jr. Secty.
Clemens had already the idea of a book in mind and welcomed this proposition.
To Elisha Bliss, Jr., in Hartford:
Washington, Dec. 2, 1867.
E. Bliss, Jr. Esq.
Sec’y American Publishing Co. —
Dear sir, – I only received your favor of Nov. 21st last night, at the rooms of the Tribune Bureau here. It was forwarded from the Tribune office, New York, where it had lain eight or ten days. This will be a sufficient apology for the seeming discourtesy of my silence.
I wrote fifty-two (three) letters for the San Francisco “Alta California” during the Quaker City excursion, about half of which number have been printed, thus far. The “Alta” has few exchanges in the East, and I suppose scarcely any of these letters have been copied on this side of the Rocky Mountains. I could weed them of their chief faults of construction and inelegancies of expression and make a volume that would be more acceptable in many respects than any I could now write. When those letters were written my impressions were fresh, but now they have lost that freshness; they were warm then – they are cold, now. I could strike out certain letters, and write new ones wherewith to supply their places. If you think such a book would suit your purpose, please drop me a line, specifying the size and general style of the volume; when the matter ought to be ready; whether it should have pictures in it or not; and particularly what your terms with me would be, and what amount of money I might possibly make out of it. The latter clause has a degree of importance for me which is almost beyond my own comprehension. But you understand that, of course.
I have other propositions for a book, but have doubted the propriety of interfering with good newspaper engagements, except my way as an author could be demonstrated to be plain before me. But I know Richardson, and learned from him some months ago, something of an idea of the subscription plan of publishing. If that is your plan invariably, it looks safe.
I am on the N. Y. Tribune staff here as an “occasional,”, among other things, and a note from you addressed to Very truly &c.
Sam L. Clemens.
New York Tribune Bureau, Washington, will find me, without fail.
The exchange of these two letters Mark.d the beginning of one of the most notable publishing connections in American literary history. The book, however, was not begun immediately. Bliss was in poor health and final arrangements were delayed; it was not until late in January that Clemens went to Hartford and concluded the arrangement.
Meantime, fate had disclosed another matter of even greater importance; we get the first hint of it in the following letter, though to him its beginning had been earlier – on a day in the blue harbor of Smyrna, when young Charles Langdon, a fellow-passenger on the Quaker City, had shown to Mark Twain a miniature of young Langdon’s sister at home:
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
224 F. Street, wash, Jan. 8, 1868.
My dear mother and sister, – And so the old Major has been there, has he? I would like mighty well to see him. I was a sort of benefactor to him once. I helped to snatch him out when he was about to ride into a Mohammedan Mosque in that queer old Moorish town of Tangier, in Africa. If he had got in, the Moors would have knocked his venerable old head off, for his temerity.
I have just arrived from New York-been there ever since Christmas staying at the house of Dan Slote my Quaker City room-mate, and having a splendid time. Charley Langdon, Jack Van Nostrand, Dan and I, (all Quaker City night-hawks,) had a blow-out at Dan’s’ house and a lively talk over old times. We went through the Holy Land together, and I just laughed till my sides ached, at some of our reminiscences. It was the unholiest gang that ever cavorted through Palestine, but those are the best boys in the world. We needed Moulton badly. I started to make calls, New Year’s Day, but I anchored for the day at the first house I came to – Charlie Langdon’s sister was there (beautiful girl,) and Miss Alice Hooker, another beautiful girl, a niece of Henry Ward Beecher’s. We sent the old folks home early, with instructions not to send the carriage till midnight, and then I just staid there and worried the life out of those girls. I am going to spend a few days with the Langdon’s in Elmira, New York, as soon as I get time, and a few days at Mrs. Hooker’s in Hartford, Conn., shortly.
Henry Ward Beecher sent for me last Sunday to come over and dine (he lives in Brooklyn, you know,) and I went. Harriet Beecher Stowe was there, and Mrs. and Miss Beecher, Mrs. Hooker and my old Quaker City favorite, Emma Beach.
We had a very gay time, if it was Sunday. I expect I told more lies than I have told before in a month.
I went back by invitation, after the evening service, and finished the blow-out, and then staid all night at Mr. Beach’s. Henry Ward is a brick.
I found out at 10 o’clock, last night, that I was to lecture tomorrow evening and so you must be aware that I have been working like sin all night to get a lecture written. I have finished it, I call it “Frozen Truth.” It is a little top-heavy, though, because there is more truth in the title than there is in the lecture.
But thunder, I mustn’t sit here writing all day, with so much business before me.
Good by, and kind regards to all.
Sam L. Clemens.
Jack Van Nostrand of this letter is “Jack” of the Innocents. Emma Beach was the daughter of Moses S. Beach, of the ‘New York Sun.’
Later she became the wife of the well-known painter, Abbot H. Thayer.
We do not hear of Miss Langdon again in the letters of that time, but it was not because she was absent from his thoughts. He had first seen her with her father and brother at the old St. Nicholas Hotel, on lower Broadway, where, soon after the arrival of the Quaker City in New York, he had been invited to dine. Long afterward he said: “It is forty years ago; from that day to this she has never been out of my mind.”
From his next letter we learn of the lecture which apparently was delivered in Washington.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Wash. Jan. 9, 1868.
My dear mother and sister, – That infernal lecture is over, thank Heaven! It came near being a villainous failure. It was not advertised at all. The manager was taken sick yesterday, and the man who was sent to tell me, never got to me till afternoon today. There was the dickens to pay. It was too late to do anything – too late to stop the lecture. I scared up a door-keeper, and was ready at the proper time, and by pure good luck a tolerably good house assembled and I was saved! I hardly knew what I was going to talk about, but it went off in splendid style. I was to have preached again Saturday night, but I won’t – I can’t get along without a manager.
I have been in New York ever since Christmas, you know, and now I shall have to work like sin to catch up my correspondence.
And I have got to get up that book, too. Cut my letters out of the Alta’s and send them to me in an envelop. Some, here, that are not mailed yet, I shall have to copy, I suppose.
I have got a thousand things to do, and am not doing any of them. I feel perfectly savage.
On the whole, matters were going well with him. His next letter is full of his success – overflowing with the boyish radiance which he never quite outgrew.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Hartford, Conn. Jan. 24–68.
Dear mother and sister, – This is a good week for me. I stopped in the Herald office as I came through New York, to see the boys on the staff, and young James Gordon Bennett asked me to write twice a week, impersonally, for the Herald, and said if I would I might have full swing, and (write) about anybody and everybody I wanted to. I said I must have the very fullest possible swing, and he said “all right.” I said “It’s a contract—” and that settled that matter.
I’ll make it a point to write one letter a week, any-how.
But the best thing that has happened was here. This great American Publishing Company kept on trying to bargain with me for a book till I thought I would cut the matter short by coming up for a talk. I met Rev. Henry Ward Beecher in Brooklyn, and with his usual whole-souled way of dropping his own work to give other people a lift when he gets a chance, he said, “Now, here, you are one of the talented men of the age – nobody is going to deny that – but in matters of business, I don’t suppose you know more than enough to came in when it rains. I’ll tell you what to do, and how to do it.” And he did.
And I listened well, and then came up here and made a splendid contract for a Quaker City book of 5 or 600 large pages, with illustrations, the manuscript to be placed in the publishers’ hands by the middle of July. My percentage is to be a fifth more than they have ever paid any author, except Horace Greeley. Beecher will be surprised, I guess, when he hears this.
But I had my mind made up to one thing – I wasn’t going to touch a book unless there was money in it, and a good deal of it. I told them so. I had the misfortune to “bust out” one author of standing. They had his manuscript, with the understanding that they would publish his book if they could not get a book from me, (they only publish two books at a time, and so my book and Richardson’s Life of Grant will fill the bill for next fall and winter) – so that manuscript was sent back to its author today.
These publishers get off the most tremendous editions of their books you can imagine. I shall write to the Enterprise and Alta every week, as usual, I guess, and to the Herald twice a week – occasionally to the Tribune and the Magazines (I have a stupid article in the Galaxy, just issued) but I am not going to write to this, that and the other paper any more.
The Chicago Tribune wants letters, but I hope and pray I have charged them so much that they will not close the contract. I am gradually getting out of debt, but these trips to New York do cost like sin. I hope you have cut out and forwarded my printed letters to Washington – please continue to do so as they arrive.
I have had a tip-top time, here, for a few days (guest of Mr. Jno. Hooker’s family – Beecher’s relatives-in a general way of Mr. Bliss, also, who is head of the publishing firm.) Puritans are mighty straight-laced and they won’t let me smoke in the parlor, but the Almighty don’t make any better people.
Love to all-good-bye. I shall be in New York 3 days – then go on to the Capital.
Yrs affly, especially Ma.,
I have to make a speech at the annual Herald dinner on the 6th of May.
No formal contract for the book had been made when this letter was written. A verbal agreement between Bliss and Clemens had been reached, to be ratified by an exchange of letters in the near future. Bliss had made two propositions, viz., ten thousand dollars, cash in hand, or a 5-per-cent royalty on the selling price of the book. The cash sum offered looked very large to Mark Twain, and he was sorely tempted to accept it. He had faith, however, in the book, and in Bliss’s ability to sell it. He agreed, therefore, to the royalty proposition; “The best business judgment I ever displayed” he often declared in after years. Five per cent royalty sounds rather small in these days of more liberal contracts. But the American Publishing Company sold its books only by subscription, and the agents’ commissions and delivery expenses ate heavily into the profits. Clemens was probably correct in saying that his percentage was larger than had been paid to any previous author except Horace Greeley. The John Hooker mentioned was the husband of Henry Ward Beecher’s sister, Isabel. It was easy to understand the Beecher family’s robust appreciation of Mark Twain.
From the office of Dan Slote, his room-mate of the Quaker City—“Dan” of the Innocents – Clemens wrote his letter that closed the agreement with Bliss.
To Elisha Bliss, Jr., in Hartford:
Office of Slote & Woodman, Blank Book Manufacturers,
Nos. 119–121 William St.
New York, January 27, 1868.
Mr. E. Bliss, Jr.
Sec’y American Publishing Co.
Dear sir, Your favor of Jan. 25th is received, and in reply, I will say that I accede to your several propositions, viz: That I furnish to the American Publishing Company, through you, with mss sufficient for a volume of 500 to 600 pages, the subject to be the Quaker City, the voyage, description of places, &c., and also embodying the substance of the letters written by me during that trip, said mss to be ready about the first of August, next, I to give all the usual and necessary attention in preparing said mss for the press, and in preparation of illustrations, in correction of proofs – no use to be made by me of the material for this work in any way which will conflict with its interest – the book to be sold by the American Publishing Co., by subscription – and for said Ms and labor on my part said Company to pay me a copyright of 5 percent, upon the subscription price of the book for all copies sold.
As further proposed by you, this understanding, herein set forth shall be considered a binding contract upon all parties concerned, all minor details to be arranged between us hereafter.
Very truly yours,
Sam. L. Clemens.
(Private and General.)
I was to have gone to Washington tonight, but have held over a day, to attend a dinner given by a lot of newspaper Editors and literary scalliwags, at the Westminster Hotel. Shall go down to-morrow, if I survive the banquet.
Mark Twain, in Washington, was in line for political preferment: His wide acquaintance on the Pacific slope, his new fame and growing popularity, his powerful and dreaded pen, all gave him special distinction at the capital. From time to time the offer of one office or another tempted him, but he wisely, or luckily, resisted. In his letters home are presented some of his problems.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
224 F. Street Washington Feb. 6, 1868.
My dear mother and sister, – For two months there have been some fifty applications before the government for the postmastership of San Francisco, which is the heaviest concentration of political power on the coast and consequently is a post which is much coveted.,
When I found that a personal friend of mine, the Chief Editor of the Alta was an applicant I said I didn’t want it – I would not take ,000 a year out of a friend’s pocket.
The two months have passed, I heard day before yesterday that a new and almost unknown candidate had suddenly turned up on the inside track, and was to be appointed at once. I didn’t like that, and went after his case in a fine passion. I hunted up all our Senators and representatives and found that his name was actually to come from the President early in the morning.
Then Judge Field said if I wanted the place he could pledge me the President’s appointment – and Senator Conness said he would guarantee me the Senate’s confirmation. It was a great temptation, but it would render it impossible to fill my book contract, and I had to drop the idea.
I have to spend August and September in Hartford which isn’t San Francisco. Mr. Conness offers me any choice out of five influential California offices. Now, some day or other I shall want an office and then, just my luck, I can’t get it, I suppose.
They want to send me abroad, as a Consul or a Minister. I said I didn’t want any of the pie. God knows I am mean enough and lazy enough, now, without being a foreign consul.
Sometime in the course of the present century I think they will create a Commissioner of Patents, and then I hope to get a berth for Orion.
I published 6 or 7 letters in the Tribune while I was gone, now I cannot get them. I suppose I must have them copied.
Love to all,
Orion Clemens was once more a candidate for office: Nevada had become a State; with regularly elected officials, and Orion had somehow missed being chosen. His day of authority had passed, and the law having failed to support him, he was again back at his old occupation, setting type in St. Louis. He was, as ever, full of dreams and inventions that would some day lead to fortune. With the gift of the Sellers imagination, inherited by all the family, he lacked the driving power which means achievement. More and more as the years went by he would lean upon his brother for moral and physical support. The chances for him in Washington do not appear to have been bright. The political situation under Andrew Johnson was not a happy one.
To Orion Clemens, in St. Louis:
224 F. Street, wash., Feb. 21. (1868)
My dear Bro., – I am glad you do not want the clerkship, for that Patent Office is in such a muddle that there would be no security for the permanency of a place in it. The same remarkwill apply to all offices here, now, and no doubt will, till the close of the present administration.
Any man who holds a place here, now, stands prepared at all times to vacate it. You are doing, now, exactly what I wanted you to do a year ago.
We chase phantoms half the days of our lives.
It is well if we learn wisdom even then, and save the other half.
I am in for it. I must go on chasing them until I marry – then I am done with literature and all other bosh, – that is, literature wherewith to please the general public.
I shall write to please myself, then. I hope you will set type till you complete that invention, for surely government pap must be nauseating food for a man – a man whom God has enabled to saw wood and be independent. It really seemed to me a falling from grace, the idea of going back to San Francisco nothing better than a mere postmaster, albeit the public would have thought I came with gilded honors, and in great glory.
I only retain correspondence enough, now, to make a living for myself, and have discarded all else, so that I may have time to spare for the book. Drat the thing, I wish it were done, or that I had no other writing to do.
This is the place to get a poor opinion of everybody in. There isn’t one man in Washington, in civil office, who has the brains of Anson Burlingame – and I suppose if China had not seized and saved his great talents to the world, this government would have discarded him when his time was up.
There are more pitiful intellects in this Congress! Oh, geeminy! There are few of them that I find pleasant enough company to visit.
I am most infernally tired of Wash. and its “attractions.” To be busy is a man’s only happiness – and I am – otherwise I should die.
The secretarial position with Senator Stewart was short-lived. One cannot imagine Mark Twain as anybody’s secretary, and doubtless there was little to be gained on either side by the arrangement. They parted without friction, though in later years, when Stewart had become old and irascible, he used to recount a list of grievances and declare that he had been obliged to threaten violence in order to bring Mark to terms; but this was because the author of Roughing It had in that book taken liberties with the Senator, to the extent of an anecdote and portrait which, though certainly harmless enough, had for some reason given deep offense.
Mark Twain really had no time for secretary work. For one thing he was associated with John Swinton in supplying a Washington letter to a list of newspapers, and then he was busy collecting his Quaker City letters, and preparing the copy for his book. Matters were going well enough, when trouble developed from an unexpected quarter. The Alta-California had copyrighted the letters and proposed to issue them in book form. There had been no contract which would prevent this, and the correspondence which Clemens undertook with the Alta management led to nothing. He knew that he had powerful friends among the owners, if he could reach them personally, and he presently concluded to return to San Francisco, make what arrangement he could, and finish his book there. It was his fashion to be prompt; in his next letter we find him already on the way.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
At sea, Sunday, March 15, Lat. 25. (1868)
Dear folks, – I have nothing to write, except that I am well – that the weather is fearfully hot-that the Henry Chauncey is a magnificent ship – that we have twelve hundred, passengers on board – that I have two staterooms, and so am not crowded – that I have many pleasant friends here, and the people are not so stupid as on the Quaker City – that we had Divine Service in the main saloon at 10.30 this morning – that we expect to meet the upward bound vessel in Latitude 23, and this is why I am writing now.
We shall reach Aspinwall Thursday morning at 6 o’clock, and San Francisco less than two weeks later. I worry a great deal about being obliged to go without seeing you all, but it could not be helped.
Dan Slote, my splendid room-mate in the Quaker City and the noblest man on earth, will call to see you within a month. Make him dine with you and spend the evening. His house is my home always in. New York.
The San Francisco trip proved successful. Once on the ground Clemens had little difficulty in convincing the Alta publishers that they had received full value in the newspaper use of the letters, and that the book rights remained with the author. A letter to Bliss conveys the situation.
To Elisha Bliss, Jr., in Hartford:
San Francisco, May 5, ’68.
E. Bliss, Jr. Esq.
Dr. Sir, – The Alta people, after some hesitation, have given me permission to use my printed letters, and have ceased to think of publishing them themselves in book form. I am steadily at work, and shall start East with the completed Manuscript, about the middle of June.
I lectured here, on the trip, the other night-over sixteen hundred dollars in gold in the house – every seat taken and paid for before night.
But he did not sail in June. His friends persuaded him to cover his lecture circuit of two years before, telling the story of his travels. This he did with considerable profit, being everywhere received with great honors. He ended this tour with a second lecture in San Francisco, announced in a droll and characteristic fashion which delighted his Pacific admirers, and insured him a crowded house.
His agreement had been to deliver his Ms. about August 1st. Returning by the Chauncey, July 28th, he was two days later in Hartford, and had placid the copy for the new book in Bliss’s hands. It was by no means a compilation of his newspaper letters. His literary vision was steadily broadening. All of the letters had been radically edited, some had been rewritten, some entirely eliminated. He probably thought very well of the book, an opinion shared by Bliss, but it is unlikely that either of them realized that it was to become a permanent classic, and the best selling book of travel for at least fifty years.
IX. Letters 1868-70. Courtship, And “The Innocents Abroad”
The story of Mark Twain’s courtship has been fully told in the completer story of his life; it need only be briefly sketched here as a setting for the letters of this period. In his letter of January 8th we note that he expects to go to Elmira for a few days as soon as he has time.
But he did not have time, or perhaps did not receive a pressing invitation until he had returned with his Ms. from California. Then, through young Charles Langdon, his Quaker City shipmate, he was invited to Elmira. The invitation was given for a week, but through a subterfuge – unpremeditated, and certainly fair enough in a matter of love-he was enabled to considerably prolong his visit. By the end of his stay he had become really “like one of the family,” though certainly not yet accepted as such. The fragmentary letter that follows reflects something of his pleasant situation. The Mrs. Fairbanks mentioned in this letter had been something more than a “shipmother” to Mark Twain. She was a woman of fine literary taste, and Quaker City correspondent for her husband’s paper, the Cleveland Herald. She had given Mark Twain sound advice as to his letters, which he had usually read to her, and had in no small degree modified his early natural tendency to exaggeration and outlandish humor. He owed her much, and never failed to pay her tribute.
Fragment of a letter to Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Elmira, N.Y. Aug. 26, 1868.
Dear folks, – You see I am progressing – though slowly. I shall be here a week yet maybe two – for Charlie Langdon cannot get away until his father’s chief business man returns from a journey – and a visit to Mrs. Fairbanks, at Cleveland, would lose half its pleasure if Charlie were not along. Moulton of St. Louis ought to be there too. We three were Mrs. F’s “cubs,” in the Quaker City. She took good care that we were at church regularly on Sundays; at the 8-bells prayer meeting every night; and she kept our buttons sewed on and our clothing in order – and in a word was as busy and considerate, and as watchful over her family of uncouth and unruly cubs, and as patient and as long-suffering, withal, as a natural mother. So we expect…..
Didn’t finish yesterday. Something called me away. I am most comfortably situated here. This is the pleasantest family I ever knew. I only have one trouble, and that is they give me too much thought and too much time and invention to the object of making my visit pass delightfully. It needs—
Just how and when he left the Langdon home the letters do not record. Early that fall he began a lecture engagement with James Redpath, proprietor of the Boston Lyceum Bureau, and his engagements were often within reach of Elmira. He had a standing invitation now to the Langdon home, and the end of the week often found him there. Yet when at last he proposed for the hand of Livy Langdon the acceptance was by no means prompt. He was a favorite in the Langdon household, but his suitability as a husband for the frail and gentle daughter was questioned.
However, he was carrying everything, just then, by storm. The largest houses everywhere were crowded to hear him. Papers spoke of him as the coming man of the age, people came to their doors to see him pass. There is but one letter of this period, but it gives us the picture.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Cleveland, Nov. 20, 1868.
Dear folks, – I played against the Eastern favorite, Fanny Kemble, in Pittsburgh, last night. She had 200 in her house, and I had upwards of 1,500. All the seats were sold (in a driving rain storm, 3 days ago,) as reserved seats at 25 cents extra, even those in the second and third tiers – and when the last seat was gone the box office had not been open more than 2 hours. When I reached the theatre they were turning people away and the house was crammed, 150 or 200 stood up, all the evening.
I go to Elmira tonight. I am simply lecturing for societies, at 0 a pop.
It would be difficult for any family to refuse relationship with one whose star was so clearly ascending, especially when every inclination was in his favor, and the young lady herself encouraged his suit. A provisional engagement was presently made, but it was not finally ratified until February of the following year. Then in a letter from one of his lecture points he tells his people something of his happiness.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:
Lockport, N. Y. Feb. 27, 1868.
Dear folks, – I enclose for Ma. I thought I was getting ahead of her little assessments of a month, but find I am falling behind with her instead, and have let her go without money. Well, I did not mean to do it. But you see when people have been getting ready for months in a quiet way to get married, they are bound to grow stingy, and go to saving up money against that awful day when it is sure to be needed. I am particularly anxious to place myself in a position where I can carry on my married life in good shape on my own hook, because I have paddled my own canoe so long that I could not be satisfied now to let anybody help me – and my proposed father-in-law is naturally so liberal that it would be just like him to want to give us a start in life. But I don’t want it that way. I can start myself. I don’t want any help. I can run this institution without any outside assistance, and I shall have a wife who will stand by me like a soldier through thick and thin, and never complain. She is only a little body, but she hasn’t her peer in Christendom. I gave her only a plain gold engagement ring, when fashion imperatively demands a two-hundred dollar diamond one, and told her it was typical of her future lot – namely, that she would have to flourish on substantials rather than luxuries. (But you see I know the girl – she don’t care anything about luxuries.) She is a splendid girl. She spends no money but her usual year’s allowance, and she spends nearly every cent of that on other people. She will be a good sensible little wife, without any airs about her. I don’t make intercession for her beforehand and ask you to love her, for there isn’t any use in that – you couldn’t help it if you were to try.
I warn you that whoever comes within the fatal influence of her beautiful nature is her willing slave for evermore. I take my affidavit on that statement. Her father and mother and brother embrace and pet her constantly, precisely as if she were a sweetheart, instead of a blood relation. She has unlimited power over her father, and yet she never uses it except to make him help people who stand in need of help….
But if I get fairly started on the subject of my bride, I never shall get through – and so I will quit right here. I went to Elmira a little over a week ago, and staid four days and then had to go to New York on business.
No further letters have been preserved until June, when he is in Elmira and with his fiancée reading final proofs on the new book. They were having an idyllic good time, of course, but it was a useful time, too, for Olivia Langdon had a keen and refined literary instinct, and the Innocents Abroad, as well as Mark Twain’s other books, are better to-day for her influence.
It has been stated that Mark Twain loved the lecture platform, but from his letters we see that even at this early date, when he was at the height of his first great vogue as a public entertainer, he had no love for platform life. Undoubtedly he rejoiced in the brief periods when he was actually before his audience and could play upon it with his master touch, but the dreary intermissions of travel and broken sleep were too heavy a price to pay.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis
Elmira, June 4. (1868)
Dear folks, – Livy sends you her love and loving good wishes, and I send you mine. The last 3 chapters of the book came tonight – we shall read it in the morning and then thank goodness, we are done.
In twelve months (or rather I believe it is fourteen,) I have earned just eighty dollars by my pen – two little magazine squibs and one newspaper letter – altogether the idlest, laziest 14 months I ever spent in my life. And in that time my absolute and necessary expenses have been scorchingly heavy – for I have now less than three thousand six hundred dollars in bank out of the eight or nine thousand I have made during those months, lecturing. My expenses were something frightful during the winter. I feel ashamed of my idleness, and yet I have had really no inclination to do anything but court Livy. I haven’t any other inclination yet. I have determined not to work as hard traveling, any more, as I did last winter, and so I have resolved not to lecture outside of the 6 New England States next winter. My Western course would easily amount to ,000, but I would rather make 2 or 3 thousand in New England than submit again to so much wearing travel. (I have promised to talk ten nights for a thousand dollars in the State of New York, provided the places are close together.) But after all if I get located in a newspaper in a way to suit me, in the meantime, I don’t want to lecture at all next winter, and probably shan’t. I most cordially hate the lecture field. And after all, I shudder to think that I may never get out of it.
In all conversations with Gough, and Anna Dickinson, Nasby, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Wendell Phillips and the other old stagers, I could not observe that they ever expected or hoped to get out of the business. I don’t want to get wedded to it as they are. Livy thinks we can live on a very moderate sum and that we’ll not need to lecture. I know very well that she can live on a small allowance, but I am not so sure about myself. I can’t scare her by reminding her that her father’s family expenses are forty thousand dollars a year, because she produces the documents at once to show that precious little of this outlay is on her account. But I must not commence writing about Livy, else I shall never stop. There isn’t such another little piece of perfection in the world as she is.
My time is become so short, now, that I doubt if I get to California this summer. If I manage to buy into a paper, I think I will visit you a while and not go to Cal. at all. I shall know something about it after my next trip to Hartford. We all go there on the 10th – the whole family – to attend a wedding, on the 17th. I am offered an interest in a Cleveland paper which would pay me ,300 to ,500 a year, and a salary added of ,000. The salary is fair enough, but the interest is not large enough, and so I must look a little further. The Cleveland folks say they can be induced to do a little better by me, and urge me to come out and talk business. But it don’t strike me – I feel little or no inclination to go.
I believe I haven’t anything else to write, and it is bed-time. I want to write to Orion, but I keep putting it off – I keep putting everything off. Day after day Livy and I are together all day long and until 10 at night, and then I feel dreadfully sleepy. If Orion will bear with me and forgive me I will square up with him yet. I will even let him kiss Livy.
My love to Mollie and Annie and Sammie and all. Good-bye.
It is curious, with his tendency to optimism and general expansion of futures, that he says nothing of the possible sales of the new book, or of his expectations in that line. It was issued in July, and by June the publishers must have had promising advance orders from their canvassers; but apparently he includes none of these chickens in his financial forecast. Even when the book had been out a full month, and was being shipped at the rate of several hundreds a day, he makes no reference to it in a letter to his sister, other than to ask if she has not received a copy. This, however, was a Mark Twain peculiarity. Writing was his trade; the returns from it seldom excited him. It was only when he drifted into strange and untried fields that he began to chase rainbows, to blow iridescent bubbles, and count unmined gold.
To Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Buffalo, Aug. 20, 1869.
My dear sister, – I have only time to write a line. I got your letter this morning and mailed it to Livy. She will be expecting me tonight and I am sorry to disappoint her so, but then I couldn’t well get away. I will go next Saturday.
I have bundled up Livy’s picture and will try and recollect to mail it tomorrow. It is a porcelaintype and I think you will like it.
I am sorry I never got to St. Louis, because I may be too busy to go, for a long time. But I have been busy all the time and St. Louis is clear out of the way, and remote from the world and all ordinary routes of travel. You must not place too much weight upon this idea of moving the capital from Washington. St. Louis is in some respects a better place for it than Washington, though there isn’t more than a toss-up between the two after all. One is dead and the other in a trance. Washington is in the centre of population and business, while St. Louis is far removed from both. And you know there is no geographical centre any more. The railroads and telegraph have done away with all that. It is no longer a matter of sufficient importance to be gravely considered by thinking men. The only centres, now, are narrowed down to those of intelligence, capital and population. As I said before Washington is the nearest to those and you don’t have to paddle across a river on ferry boats of a pattern popular in the dark ages to get to it, nor have to clamber up vilely paved hills in rascally omnibuses along with a herd of all sorts of people after you are there. Secondly, the removal of the capital is one of those old, regular, reliable dodges that are the bread-and meat of back country congressmen. It is agitated every year. It always has been, it always will be; It is not new in any respect. Thirdly. The Capitol has cost ,000,000 already and lacks a good deal of being finished, yet. There are single stones in the Treasury building (and a good many of them) that cost twenty-seven thousand dollars apiece – and millions were spent in the construction of that and the Patent Office and the other great government buildings. To move to St. Louis, the country must throw away a hundred millions of capital invested in those buildings, and go right to work to spend a hundred millions on new buildings in St. Louis. Shall we ever have a Congress, a majority of whose members are hopelessly insane? Probably not. But it is possible – unquestionably such a thing is possible. Only I don’t believe it will happen in our time; and I am satisfied the capital will not be moved until it does happen. But if St. Louis would donate the ground and the buildings, it would be a different matter. No, Pamela, I don’t see any good reason to believe you or I will ever see the capital moved.
I have twice instructed the publishers to send you a book – it was the first thing I did – long before the proofs were finished. Write me if it is not yet done.
Livy says we must have you all at our marriage, and I say we can’t. It will be at Christmas or New Years, when such a trip across the country would be equivalent to murder & arson & everything else. – And it would cost five hundred dollars – an amount of money she don’t know the value of now, but will before a year is gone. She grieves over it, poor little rascal, but it can’t be helped. She must wait awhile, till I am firmly on my legs, & then she shall see you. She says her father and mother will invite you just as soon as the wedding date is definitely fixed, anyway—& she thinks that’s bound to settle it. But the ice & snow, & the long hard journey, & the injudiciousness of laying out any money except what we are obliged to part with while we are so much in debt, settles the case differently. For it is a debt.
…. Mr. Langdon is just as good as bound for ,000 for me, and has already advanced half of it in cash. I wrote and asked whether I had better send him my note, or a due-bill, or how he would prefer to have the indebtedness made of record and he answered every other topic in the letter pleasantly but never replied to that at all. Still, I shall give my note into the hands of his business agent here, and pay him the interest as it falls due. We must “go slow.” We are not in the Cleveland Herald. We are a hundred thousand times better off, but there isn’t so much money in it.
In spite of the immediate success of his book – a success the like of which had scarcely been known in America – Mark Twain held himself to be, not a literary man, but a journalist: He had no plans for another book; as a newspaper owner and editor he expected, with his marriage, to settle down and devote the rest of his life to journalism. The paper was the Buffalo Express; his interest in it was one-third – the purchase price, twenty-five thousand dollars, of which he had paid a part, Jervis Langdon, his future father-in-law, having furnished cash and security for the remainder. He was already in possession in August, but he was not regularly in Buffalo that autumn, for he had agreed with Redpath to deliver his Quaker City lecture, and the tour would not end until a short time before his wedding-day, February 2, 1870.
Our next letter hardly belongs in this collection; as it was doubtless written with at least the possibility of publication in view. But it is too amusing, too characteristic of Mark Twain, to be omitted. It was sent in response to an invitation from the New York Society of California Pioneers to attend a banquet given in New York City, October 13, 1869, and was, of course, read to the assembled diners.
To the New York Society of California Pioneers, in New York City:
Elmira, October 11, 1869.
Gentlemen, – Circumstances render it out of my power to take advantage of the invitation extended to me through Mr. Simonton, and be present at your dinner at New York. I regret this very much, for there are several among you whom I would have a right to join hands with on the score of old friendship, and I suppose I would have a sublime general right to shake hands with the rest of you on the score of kinship in California ups and downs in search of fortune.
If I were to tell some of my experience, you would recognize California blood in me; I fancy the old, old story would sound familiar, no doubt. I have the usual stock of reminiscences. For instance: I went to Esmeralda early. I purchased largely in the “Wide West,” “Winnemucca,” and other fine claims, and was very wealthy. I fared sumptuously on bread when flour was 0 a barrel and had beans for dinner every Sunday, when none but bloated aristocrats could afford such grandeur. But I finished by feeding batteries in a quartz mill at a week, and wishing I was a battery myself and had somebody to feed me. My claims in Esmeralda are there yet. I suppose I could be persuaded to sell.
I went to Humboldt District when it was new; I became largely interested in the “Alba Nueva” and other claims with gorgeous names, and was rich again – in prospect. I owned a vast mining property there. I would not have sold out for less than 0,000 at that time. But I will now. Finally I walked home—200 miles partly for exercise, and partly because stage fare was expensive. Next I entered upon an affluent career in Virginia City, and by a judicious investment of labor and the capital of friends, became the owner of about all the worthless wild cat mines there were in that part of the country. Assessments did the business for me there. There were a hundred and seventeen assessments to one dividend, and the proportion of income to outlay was a little against me. My financial barometer went down to 32 Fahrenheit, and the subscriber was frozen out.
I took up extensions on the main lead-extensions that reached to British America, in one direction, and to the Isthmus of Panama in the other – and I verily believe I would have been a rich man if I had ever found those infernal extensions. But I didn’t. I ran tunnels till I tapped the Arctic Ocean, and I sunk shafts till I broke through the roof of perdition; but those extensions turned up missing every time. I am willing to sell all that property and throw in the improvements.
Perhaps you remember that celebrated “North Ophir?” I bought that mine. It was very rich in pure silver. You could take it out in lumps as large as a filbert. But when it was discovered that those lumps were melted half dollars, and hardly melted at that, a painful case of “salting” was apparent, and the undersigned adjourned to the poorhouse again.
I paid assessments on “Hale and Norcross” until they sold me out, and I had to take in washing for a living – and the next month that infamous stock went up to ,000 a foot.
I own millions and millions of feet of affluent silver leads in Nevada – in fact the entire undercrust of that country nearly, and if Congress would move that State off my property so that I could get at it, I would be wealthy yet. But no, there she squats – and here am I. Failing health persuades me to sell. If you know of any one desiring a permanent investment, I can furnish one that will have the virtue of being eternal.
I have been through the California mill, with all its “dips, spurs and angles, variations and sinuosities.” I have worked there at all the different trades and professions known to the catalogues. I have been everything, from a newspaper editor down to a cow-catcher on a locomotive, and I am encouraged to believe that if there had been a few more occupations to experiment on, I might have made a dazzling success at last, and found out what mysterious designs Providence had in creating me.
But you perceive that although I am not a Pioneer, I have had a sufficiently variegated time of it to enable me to talk Pioneer like a native, and feel like a Forty-Niner. Therefore, I cordially welcome you to your old-remembered homes and your long deserted firesides, and close this screed with the sincere hope that your visit here will be a happy one, and not embittered by the sorrowful surprises that absence and lapse of years are wont to prepare for wanderers; surprises which come in the form of old friends missed from their places; silence where familiar voices should be; the young grown old; change and decay everywhere; home a delusion and a disappointment; strangers at hearthstone; sorrow where gladness was; tears for laughter; the melancholy-pomp of death where the grace of life has been!
With all good wishes for the Returned Prodigals, and regrets that I cannot partake of a small piece of the fatted calf (rare and no gravy,)
I am yours, cordially,
In the next letter we find him in the midst of a sort of confusion of affairs, which, in one form or another, would follow him throughout the rest of his life. It was the price of his success and popularity, combined with his general gift for being concerned with a number of things, and a natural tendency for getting into hot water, which becomes more evident as the years and letters pass in review. Orion Clemens, in his attempt to save money for the government, had employed methods and agents which the officials at Washington did not understand, and refused to recognize. Instead of winning the credit and commendation he had expected, he now found himself pursued by claims of considerable proportions. The “land” referred to is the Tennessee tract, the heritage which John Clemens had provided for his children. Mark Twain had long since lost faith in it, and was not only willing, but eager to renounce his rights.
“Nasby” is, of course, David R. Locke, of the Toledo Blade, whose popularity at this time both as a lecturer and writer was very great. Clemens had met him here and there on their platform tour, and they had become good friends. Clemens, in fact, had once proposed to Nasby a joint trip to the Pacific coast.
The California idea had been given up, but both Mark Twain and Nasby found engagements enough, and sufficient profit east of the Mississippi. Boston was often their headquarters that winter (’69 and ’70), and they were much together. “Josh Billings,” another of Redpath’s lecturers, was likewise often to be found in the Lyceum offices. There is a photograph of Mark Twain, Nasby, and Josh Billings together.
Clemens also, that winter, met William Dean Howells, then in the early days of his association with the Atlantic Monthly. The two men, so widely different, became firm friends at sight, and it was to Howells in the years to come that Mark Twain would write more letters, and more characteristic letters, than to any other living man. Howells had favorably reviewed ‘The Innocents Abroad,’ and after the first moment of their introduction had passed Clemens said: “When I read that review of yours I felt like the woman who said that she was so glad that her baby had come white.” It was not the sort of thing that Howells would have said, but it was the sort of thing that he could understand and appreciate from Mark Twain.
In company with Nasby Clemens, that season, also met Oliver Wendell Holmes. Later he had sent Holmes a copy of his book and received a pleasantly appreciative reply. “I always like,” wrote Holmes, “to hear what one of my fellow countrymen, who is not a Hebrew scholar, or a reader of hiero-glyphics, but a good-humored traveler with a pair of sharp, twinkling Yankee (in the broader sense) eyes in his head, has to say about the things that learned travelers often make unintelligible, and sentimental ones ridiculous or absurd…. I hope your booksellers will sell a hundred thousand copies of your travels.” A wish that was realized in due time, though it is doubtful if Doctor Holmes or any one else at the moment believed that a book of that nature and price (it was .50 a copy) would ever reach such a sale.
To Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Boston, Nov. 9, 1869.
My dear sister, – Three or four letters just received from home. My first impulse was to send Orion a check on my publisher for the money he wants, but a sober second thought suggested that if he has not defrauded the government out of money, why pay, simply because the government chooses to consider him in its debt? No: Right is right. The idea don’t suit me. Let him write the Treasury the state of the case, and tell them he has no money. If they make his sureties pay, then I will make the sureties whole, but I won’t pay a cent of an unjust claim. You talk of disgrace. To my mind it would be just as disgraceful to allow one’s self to be bullied into paying that which is unjust.
Ma thinks it is hard that Orion’s share of the land should be swept away just as it is right on the point (as it always has been) of becoming valuable. Let her rest easy on that point. This letter is his ample authority to sell my share of the land immediately and appropriate the proceeds – giving no account to me, but repaying the amount to Ma first, or in case of her death, to you or your heirs, whenever in the future he shall be able to do it. Now, I want no hesitation in this matter. I renounce my ownership from this date, for this purpose, provided it is sold just as suddenly as he can sell it.
In the next place – Mr. Langdon is old, and is trying hard to withdraw from business and seek repose. I will not burden him with a purchase – but I will ask him to take full possession of a coal tract of the land without paying a cent, simply conditioning that he shall mine and throw the coal into Mark.t at his own cost, and pay to you and all of you what he thinks is a fair portion of the profits accruing – you can do as you please with the rest of the land. Therefore, send me (to Elmira,) information about the coal deposits so framed that he can comprehend the matter and can intelligently instruct an agent how to find it and go to work.
Tomorrow night I appear for the first time before a Boston audience—4,000 critics – and on the success of this matter depends my future success in New England. But I am not distressed. Nasby is in the same boat. Tonight decides the fate of his brand-new lecture. He has just left my room – been reading his lecture to me – was greatly depressed. I have convinced him that he has little to fear.
I get just about five hundred more applications to lecture than I can possibly fill – and in the West they say “Charge all you please, but come.” I shan’t go West at all. I stop lecturing the 22d of January, sure. But I shall talk every night up to that time. They flood me with high-priced invitations to write for magazines and papers, and publishers besiege me to write books. Can’t do any of these things.
I am twenty-two thousand dollars in debt, and shall earn the money and pay it within two years – and therefore I am not spending any money except when it is necessary.
I had my life insured for ,000 yesterday (what ever became of Mr. Moffett’ s life insurance?) “for the benefit of my natural heirs”—the same being my mother, for Livy wouldn’t claim it, you may be sure of that. This has taken 0 out of my pocket which I was going to send to Ma. But I will send her some, soon. Tell Orion to keep a stiff upper lip – when the worst comes to the worst I will come forward. Must talk in Providence, R. I., tonight. Must leave now. I thank Mollie and Orion and the rest for your letters, but you see how I am pushed – ought to have 6 clerks.
By the end of January, 1870 more than thirty thousand copies of the Innocents had been sold, and in a letter to his publisher the author expressed his satisfaction.
To Elisha Bliss, in Hartford:
Elmira, Jan. 28 ’70.
Friend bliss,—…. Yes, I am satisfied with the way you are running the book. You are running it in staving, tip-top, first-class style. I never wander into any corner of the country but I find that an agent has been there before me, and many of that community have read the book. And on an average about ten people a day come and hunt me up to thank me and tell me I’m a benefactor! I guess this is a part of the programme we didn’t expect in the first place.
I think you are rushing this book in a manner to be proud of; and you will make the finest success of it that has ever been made with a subscription book, I believe. What with advertising, establishing agencies, &c., you have got an enormous lot of machinery under way and hard at work in a wonderfully short space of time. It is easy to see, when one travels around, that one must be endowed with a deal of genuine generalship in order to maneuvre a publication whose line of battle stretches from end to end of a great continent, and whose foragers and skirmishers invest every hamlet and besiege every village hidden away in all the vast space between.
I’ll back you against any publisher in America, Bliss – or elsewhere.
Yrs as ever,
There is another letter written just at this time which of all letters must not be omitted here. Only five years earlier Mark Twain, poor, and comparatively unknown, had been carrying water while Jim Gillis and Dick Stoker washed out the pans of dirt in search of the gold pocket which they did not find. Clemens must have received a letter from Gillis referring to some particular occasion, but it has disappeared; the reply, however, always remained one of James Gillis’s treasured possessions.
To James Gillis, in his cabin on Jackass Hill, Tuolumne Co., California:
Elmira, N.Y. Jan. 26, ’70.
Dear Jim, – I remember that old night just as well! And somewhere among my relics I have your remembrance stored away. It makes my heart ache yet to call to mind some of those days. Still, it shouldn’t – for right in the depths of their poverty and their pocket-hunting vagabondage lay the germ of my coming good fortune. You remember the one gleam of jollity that shot across our dismal sojourn in the rain and mud of Angels’ Camp I mean that day we sat around the tavern stove and heard that chap tell about the frog and how they filled him with shot. And you remember how we quoted from the yarn and laughed over it, out there on the hillside while you and dear old Stoker panned and washed. I jotted the story down in my note-book that day, and would have been glad to get ten or fifteen dollars for it – I was just that blind. But then we were so hard up! I published that story, and it became widely known in America, India, China, England – and the reputation it made for me has paid me thousands and thousands of dollars since. Four or five months ago I bought into the Express (I have ordered it sent to you as long as you live – and if the book keeper sends you any bills, you let me hear of it.) I went heavily in debt never could have dared to do that, Jim, if we hadn’t heard the jumping Frog story that day.
And wouldn’t I love to take old Stoker by the hand, and wouldn’t I love to see him in his great specialty, his wonderful rendition of “Rinalds” in the “Burning Shame!” Where is Dick and what is he doing? Give him my fervent love and warm old remembrances.
A week from today I shall be married to a girl even better, and lovelier than the peerless “Chapparal Quails.” You can’t come so far, Jim, but still I cordially invite you to come, anyhow – and I invite Dick, too. And if you two boys were to land here on that pleasant occasion, we would make you right royally welcome.
Truly your friend,
Sam L. Clemens.
P. S. “California plums are good, Jim – particularly when they are stewed.”
Steve Gillis, who sent a copy of his letter to the writer, added: “Dick Stoker – dear, gentle unselfish old Dick-died over three years ago, aged 78. I am sure it will be a melancholy pleasure to Mark to know that Dick lived in comfort all his later life, sincerely loved and respected by all who knew him. He never left Jackass Hill. He struck a pocket years ago containing enough not only to build himself a comfortable house near his old cabin, but to last him, without work, to his painless end. He was a Mason, and was buried by the Order in Sonora.
“The ’Quails’—the beautiful, the innocent, the wild little Quails – lived way out in the Chapparal; on a little ranch near the Stanislaus River, with their father and mother. They were famous for their beauty and had many suitors.”
The mention of “California plums” refers to some inedible fruit which Gillis once, out of pure goodness of heart, bought of a poor wandering squaw, and then, to conceal his motive, declared that they were something rare and fine, and persisted in eating them, though even when stewed they nearly choked him.
X. Letters 1870-71. Mark Twain In Buffalo. Marriage. The Buffalo Express. “Memoranda.” Lectures. A New Book
Samuel L. Clemens and Olivia Langdon were married in the Langdon home at Elmira, February 2, 1870, and took up their residence in Buffalo in a beautiful home, a wedding present from the bride’s father. The story of their wedding, and the amusing circumstances connected with their establishment in Buffalo, have been told elsewhere.
Mark Twain now believed that he was through with lecturing. Two letters to Redpath, his agent, express his comfortable condition.
To James Redpath, in Boston:
Buffalo, March 22, 1890.
Dear red, – I am not going to lecture any more forever. I have got things ciphered down to a fraction now. I know just about what it will cost us to live and I can make the money without lecturing. Therefore old man, count me out.
S. L. Clemens.
To James Redpath, in Boston:
Elmira, N. Y. May 10, 1870.
Friend Redpath, – I guess I am out of the field permanently.
Have got a lovely wife; a lovely house, bewitchingly furnished; a lovely carriage, and a coachman whose style and dignity are simply awe-inspiring – nothing less – and I am making more money than necessary – by considerable, and therefore why crucify myself nightly on the platform. The subscriber will have to be excused from the present season at least.
Remember me to Nasby, Billings and Fall.
Luck to you! I am going to print your menagerie, Parton and all, and make comments.
In next Galaxy I give Nasby’s friend and mine from Philadelphia (John Quill, a literary thief) a “hyste.”
Yours always and after.
The reference to the Galaxy in the foregoing letter has to do with a department called Memoranda, which he had undertaken to conduct for the new magazine. This work added substantially to his income, and he believed it would be congenial. He was allowed free hand to write and print what he chose, and some of his best work at this time was published in the new department, which he continued for a year.
Mark Twain now seemed to have his affairs well regulated. His mother and sister were no longer far away in St. Louis. Soon after his marriage they had, by his advice, taken up residence at Fredonia, New York, where they could be easily visited from Buffalo.
Altogether, the outlook seemed bright to Mark Twain and his wife, during the first months of their marriage. Then there came a change. In a letter which Clemens wrote to his mother and sister we get the first chapter of disaster.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens, and Mrs. Moffett, in Fredonia, N. Y.:
Elmira, N. Y. June 25, 1870.
My dear mother and sister, – We were called here suddenly by telegram, 3 days ago. Mr. Langdon is very low. We have well-nigh lost hope – all of us except Livy.
Mr. Langdon, whose hope is one of his most prominent characteristics, says himself, this morning, that his recovery is only a possibility, not a probability. He made his will this morning – that is, appointed executors – nothing else was necessary. The household is sad enough Charley is in Bavaria. We telegraphed Munroe & Co. Paris, to notify Charley to come home – they sent the message to Munich. Our message left here at 8 in the morning and Charley’s answer arrived less than eight hours afterward. He sailed immediately.
He will reach home two weeks from now. The whole city is troubled. As I write (at the office,) a dispatch arrives from Charley who has reached London, and will sail thence on 28th. He wants news. We cannot send him any.
P. S. I sent 0 to Fredonia Bank for Ma – It is in her name.
Mrs. Clemens, herself, was not in the best of health at this time, but devotion to her father took her to his bedside, where she insisted upon standing long, hard watches, the strain of which told upon her severely. Meantime, work must go on; the daily demand of the newspaper and the monthly call of the Memoranda could not go unheeded. Also, Bliss wanted a new book, and met Mark Twain at Elmira to arrange for it. In a letter to Orion we learn of this project.
To Orion Clemens, in St. Louis:
Elmira, July 15, 1870
My dear Bro., – Per contract I must have another 600-page book ready for my publisher Jan. 2, and I only began it today. The subject of it is a secret, because I may possibly change it. But as it stands, I propose to do up Nevada and Cal., beginning with the trip across the country in the stage. Have you a memorandum of the route we took – or the names of any of the Stations we stopped at? Do you remember any of the scenes, names, incidents or adventures of the coach trip? – for I remember next to nothing about the matter. Jot down a foolscap page of items for me. I wish I could have two days’ talk with you.
I suppose I am to get the biggest copyright, this time, ever paid on a subscription book in this country.
Give our love to Mollie. – Mr. Langdon is very low.
The “biggest copyright,” mentioned in this letter, was a royalty of 7 1/2 per cent., which Bliss had agreed to pay, on the retail price of the book. The book was Roughing It, though this title was not decided upon until considerably later. Orion Clemens eagerly furnished a detailed memorandum of the route of their overland journey, which brought this enthusiastic acknowledgment:
To Orion Clemens, in St. Louis:
Dear Bro., – I find that your little memorandum book is going to be ever so much use to me, and will enable me to make quite a coherent narrative of the Plains journey instead of slurring it over and jumping 2,000 miles at a stride. The book I am writing will sell. In return for the use of the little memorandum book I shall take the greatest pleasure in forwarding to you the third ,000 which the publisher of the forthcoming work sends me or the first ,000, I am not particular – they will both be in the first quarterly statement of account from the publisher.
In great haste,
Yr Obliged Bro.
Love to Mollie. We are all getting along tolerably well.
Mr. Langdon died early in August, and Mrs. Clemens returned to Buffalo, exhausted in mind and body. If she hoped for rest now, in the quiet of her own home, she was disappointed, as the two brief letters that follow clearly show.
To Mrs. Moffett, in Fredonia, N. Y.:
Buffalo, Aug. 31, 70.
My dear sister, – I know I ought to be thrashed for not writing you, but I have kept putting it off. We get heaps of letters every day; it is a comfort to have somebody like you that will let us shirk and be patient over it. We got the book and I did think I wrote a line thanking you for it-but I suppose I neglected it.
We are getting along tolerably well. Mother [Mrs. Langdon] is here, and Miss Emma Nye. Livy cannot sleep since her father’s death – but I give her a narcotic every night and make her. I am just as busy as I can be – am still writing for the Galaxy and also writing a book like the “Innocents” in size and style. I have got my work ciphered down to days, and I haven’t a single day to spare between this and the date which, by written contract I am to deliver the M.S. of the book to the publisher.
– In a hurry,
To Orion Clemens, in St, Louis:
BUF. Sept. 9th, 1870.
My dear Bro, – O here! I don’t want to be consulted at all about Tenn. I don’t want it even mentioned to me. When I make a suggestion it is for you to act upon it or throw it aside, but I beseech you never to ask my advice, opinion or consent about that hated property. If it was because I felt the slightest personal interest in the infernal land that I ever made a suggestion, the suggestion would never be made.
Do exactly as you please with the land – always remember this – that so trivial a percentage as ten per cent will never sell it.
It is only a bid for a somnambulist.
I have no time to turn round, a young lady visitor (schoolmate of Livy’s) is dying in the house of typhoid fever (parents are in South Carolina) and the premises are full of nurses and doctors and we are all fagged out.
Miss Nye, who had come to cheer her old schoolmate, had been prostrated with the deadly fever soon after her arrival. Another period of anxiety and nursing followed. Mrs. Clemens, in spite of her frail health, devoted much time to her dying friend, until by the time the end came she was herself in a precarious condition. This was at the end of September. A little more than a month later, November 7th, her first child, Langdon Clemens, was prematurely born. To the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and wife, of Hartford, Mark Twain characteristically announced the new arrival.
To Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and wife, in Hartford, Conn.:
Buffalo, Nov 12, ’70.
Dear uncle and aunt, – I came into the world on the 7th inst., and consequently am about five days old, now. I have had wretched health ever since I made my appearance. First one thing and then another has kept me under the weather, and as a general thing I have been chilly and uncomfortable.
I am not corpulent, nor am I robust in any way. At birth I only weighed 4 1/2 pounds with my clothes on – and the clothes were the chief feature of the weight, too, I am obliged to confess. But I am doing finely, all things considered. I was at a standstill for 3 days and a half, but during the last 24 hours I have gained nearly an ounce, avoirdupois.
They all say I look very old and venerable – and I am aware, myself, that I never smile. Life seems a serious thing, what I have seen of it – and my observation teaches me that it is made up mainly of hiccups, unnecessary washings, and colic. But no doubt you, who are old, have long since grown accustomed and reconciled to what seems to me such a disagreeable novelty.
My father said, this morning, when my face was in repose and thoughtful, that I looked precisely as young Edward Twichell of Hartford used to look some is months ago – chin, mouth, forehead, expression – everything.
My little mother is very bright and cheery, and I guess she is pretty happy, but I don’t know what about. She laughs a great deal, notwithstanding she is sick abed. And she eats a great deal, though she says that is because the nurse desires it. And when she has had all the nurse desires her to have, she asks for more. She is getting along very well indeed.
My aunt Susie Crane has been here some ten days or two weeks, but goes home today, and Granny Fairbanks of Cleveland arrives to take her place
P. S. Father said I had better write because you would be more interested in me, just now, than in the rest of the family.
Clemens had made the acquaintance of the Rev. Joseph Hopkins Twichell and his wife during his several sojourns in Hartford, in connection with his book publication, and the two men had immediately become firm friends. Twichell had come to Elmira in February to the wedding to assist Rev. Thos. K. Beecher in the marriage ceremony. Joseph Twichell was a devout Christian, while Mark Twain was a doubter, even a scoffer, where orthodoxy was concerned, yet the sincerity and humanity of the two men drew them together; their friendship was lifelong.
A second letter to Twichell, something more than a month later, shows a somewhat improved condition in the Clemens household.
To Rev. Twichell, in Hartford:
BUF. Dec. 19th, 1870.
Dear J. H., – All is well with us, I believe – though for some days the baby was quite ill. We consider him nearly restored to health now, however. Ask my brother about us – you will find him at Bliss’s publishing office, where he is gone to edit Bliss’s new paper – left here last Monday. Make his and his wife’s acquaintance. Take Mrs. T. to see them as soon as they are fixed.
Livy is up, and the prince keeps her busy and anxious these latter days and nights, but I am a bachelor up stairs and don’t have to jump up and get the soothing syrup – though I would as soon do it as not, I assure you. (Livy will be certain to read this letter.)
Tell Harmony (Mrs. T.) that I do hold the baby, and do it pretty handily, too, although with occasional apprehensions that his loose head will fall off. I don’t have to quiet him – he hardly ever utters a cry. He is always thinking about something. He is a patient, good little baby.
Smoke? I always smoke from 3 till 5 Sunday afternoons – and in New York the other day I smoked a week, day and night. But when Livy is well I smoke only those two hours on Sunday. I’m “boss” of the habit, now, and shall never let it boss me any more. Originally, I quit solely on Livy’s account, (not that I believed there was the faintest reason in the matter, but just as I would deprive myself of sugar in my coffee if she wished it, or quit wearing socks if she thought them immoral), and I stick to it yet on Livy’s account, and shall always continue to do so, without a pang. But somehow it seems a pity that you quit, for Mrs. T. didn’t mind it if I remember rightly. Ah, it is turning one’s back upon a kindly Providence to spurn away from us the good creature he sent to make the breath of life a luxury as well as a necessity, enjoyable as well as useful, to go and quit smoking when then ain’t any sufficient excuse for it! Why, my old boy, when they use to tell me I would shorten my life ten years by smoking, they little knew the devotee they were wasting their puerile word upon – they little knew how trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it! But I won’t persuade you, Twichell – I won’t until I see you again – but then we’ll smoke for a week together, and then shut off again.
I would have gone to Hartford from New York last Saturday, but I got so homesick I couldn’t. But maybe I’ll come soon.
No, Sir, catch me in the metropolis again, to get homesick.
I didn’t know Warner had a book out.
We send oceans and continents of love – I have worked myself down, today.
With his establishment in Buffalo, Clemens, as already noted, had persuaded his sister, now a widow, and his mother, to settle in Fredonia, not far away. Later, he had found a position for Orion, as editor of a small paper which Bliss had established. What with these several diversions and the sorrows and sicknesses of his own household, we can readily imagine that literary work had been performed under difficulties. Certainly, humorous writing under such disturbing conditions could not have been easy, nor could we expect him to accept an invitation to be present and make a comic speech at an agricultural dinner, even though Horace Greeley would preside. However, he sent to the secretary of the association a letter which might be read at the gathering:
To A. B. Crandall, in Woodberry Falls, N. Y., to be read at an agricultural dinner:
Buffalo, Dec. 26, 1870.
Gentlemen, – I thank you very much for your invitation to the Agricultural dinner, and would promptly accept it and as promptly be there but for the fact that Mr. Greeley is very busy this month and has requested me to clandestinely continue for him in The Tribune the articles “What I Know about Farming.” Consequently the necessity of explaining to the readers of that journal why buttermilk cannot be manufactured profitably at 8 cents a quart out of butter that costs 60 cents a pound compels my stay at home until the article is written.
With reiterated thanks, I am,
In this letter Mark Twain made the usual mistake as to the title of the Greeley farming series, “What I Know of Farming” being the correct form.
The Buffalo Express, under Mark Twain’s management, had become a sort of repository for humorous efforts, often of an indifferent order. Some of these things, signed by nom de plumes, were charged to Mark Twain. When Bret Harte’s “Heathen Chinee” devastated the country, and was so widely parodied, an imitation of it entitled, “Three Aces,” and signed “Carl Byng,” was printed in the Express. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, then editor of Every Saturday, had not met Mark Twain, and, noticing the verses printed in the exchanges over his signature, was one of those who accepted them as Mark Twain’s work. He wrote rather an uncomplimentary note in Every Saturday concerning the poem and its authorship, characterizing it as a feeble imitation of Bret Harte’s “Heathen Chinee.” Clemens promptly protested to Aldrich, then as promptly regretted having done so, feeling that he was making too much of a small matter. Hurriedly he sent a second brief note.
To Thomas Bailey Aldrich, editor of “Every Saturday,” Boston, Massachusetts:
Buffalo, Jan. 22, 1870.
Dear sir, – Please do not publish the note I sent you the other day about “Hy. Slocum’s” plagiarism entitled “Three Aces”—it is not important enough for such a long paragraph. Webb writes me that he has put in a paragraph about it, too – and I have requested him to suppress it. If you would simply state, in a line and a half under “Literary Notes,” that you mistook one “Hy. Slocum” (no, it was one “Carl Byng,” I perceive) “Carl Byng” for Mark Twain, and that it was the former who wrote the plagiarism entitled “Three Aces,” I think that would do a fair justice without any unseemly display. But it is hard to be accused of plagiarism – a crime I never have committed in my life.
But this came too late. Aldrich replied that he could not be prevented from doing him justice, as forty-two thousand copies of the first note, with the editor’s apology duly appended, were already in press. He would withdraw his apology in the next number of Every Saturday, if Mark Twain said so. Mark Twain’s response this time assumed the proportions of a letter.
To Thomas Bailey Aldrich, in Boston:
472 Delaware st., Buffalo, Jan. 28.
Dear Mr. Aldrich, – No indeed, don’t take back the apology! Hang it, I don’t want to abuse a man’s civility merely because he gives me the chance.
I hear a good deal about doing things on the “spur of the moment”—I invariably regret the things I do on the spur of the moment. That disclaimer of mine was a case in point. I am ashamed every time I think of my bursting out before an unconcerned public with that bombastic pow-wow about burning publishers’ letters, and all that sort of imbecility, and about my not being an imitator, etc. Who would find out that I am a natural fool if I kept always cool and never let nature come to the surface? Nobody.
But I did hate to be accused of plagiarizing Bret Harte, who trimmed and trained and schooled me patiently until he changed me from an awkward utterer of coarse grotesquenesses to a writer of paragraphs and chapters that have found a certain favor in the eyes of even some of the very decentest people in the land – and this grateful remembrance of mine ought to be worth its face, seeing that Bret broke our long friendship a year ago without any cause or provocation that I am aware of.
Well, it is funny, the reminiscences that glare out from murky corners of one’s memory, now and then, without warning. Just at this moment a picture flits before me: Scene – private room in Barnum’s Restaurant, Virginia, Nevada; present, Artemus Ward, Joseph T. Goodman, (editor and proprietor Daily “Enterprise"), and “Dan de Quille” and myself, reporters for same; remnants of the feast thin and scattering, but such tautology and repetition of empty bottles everywhere visible as to be offensive to the sensitive eye; time, 2.30 A.M.; Artemus thickly reciting a poem about a certain infant you wot of, and interrupting himself and being interrupted every few lines by poundings of the table and shouts of “Splendid, by Shorzhe!” Finally, a long, vociferous, poundiferous and vitreous jingling of applause announces the conclusion, and then Artemus: “Let every man ’at loves his fellow man and ’preciates a poet ‘at loves his fellow man, stan’ up! – Stan’ up and drink health and long life to Thomas Bailey Aldrich! – and drink it stanning!” (On all hands fervent, enthusiastic, and sincerely honest attempts to comply.) Then Artemus: “Well – consider it stanning, and drink it just as ye are!” Which was done.
You must excuse all this stuff from a stranger, for the present, and when I see you I will apologize in full.
Do you know the prettiest fancy and the neatest that ever shot through Harte’s brain? It was this: When they were trying to decide upon a vignette for the cover of the Overland, a grizzly bear (of the arms of the State of California) was chosen. Nahl Bras. carved him and the page was printed, with him in it, looking thus:
As a bear, he was a success – he was a good bear—. But then, it was objected, that he was an objectless bear – a bear that meant nothing in particular, signified nothing, – simply stood there snarling over his shoulder at nothing – and was painfully and manifestly a boorish and ill-natured intruder upon the fair page. All hands said that – none were satisfied. They hated badly to give him up, and yet they hated as much to have him there when there was no paint to him. But presently Harte took a pencil and drew these two simple lines under his feet and behold he was a magnificent success! – the ancient symbol of California savagery snarling at the approaching type of high and progressive Civilization, the first Overland locomotive!
I just think that was nothing less than inspiration itself.
Once more I apologize, and this time I do it “stanning!”
Saml. L. Clemens.
The “two simple lines,” of course, were the train rails under the bear’s feet, and completed the striking cover design of the Overland monthly.
The brief controversy over the “Three Aces” was the beginning of along and happy friendship between Aldrich and Mark Twain. Howells, Aldrich, Twichell, and Charles Dudley Warner – these were Mark Twain’s intimates, men that he loved, each for his own special charm and worth.
Aldrich he considered the most brilliant of living men.
In his reply to Clemens’s letter, Aldrich declared that he was glad now that, for the sake of such a letter, he had accused him falsely, and added:
“Mem. Always abuse people.
“When you come to Boston, if you do not make your presence manifest to me, I’ll put in a!! in ‘Every Saturday’ to the effect that though you are generally known as Mark Twain your favorite nom de plume is ‘Barry Gray.’”
Clemens did not fail to let Aldrich know when he was in Boston again, and the little coterie of younger writers forgathered to give him welcome.
Buffalo agreed with neither Mrs. Clemens nor the baby. What with nursing and anguish of mind, Mark Twain found that he could do nothing on the new book, and that he must give up his magazine department. He had lost interest in his paper and his surroundings in general. Journalism and authorship are poor yoke-mates. To Onion Clemens, at this time editing Bliss’s paper at Hartford, he explained the situation.
To Onion Clemens, in Hartford:
Buffalo, 4th 1871.
My dear Bro, – What I wanted of the “Liar” Sketch, was to work it into the California book – which I shall do. But day before yesterday I concluded to go out of the Galaxy on the strength of it, so I have turned it into the last Memoranda I shall ever write, and published it as a “specimen chapter” of my forthcoming book.
I have written the Galaxy people that I will never furnish them another article long or short, for any price but 0.00 cash – and have requested them not to ask me for contributions any more, even at that price.
I hope that lets them out, for I will stick to that. Now do try and leave me clear out of the ‘Publisher’ for the present, for I am endangering my reputation by writing too much – I want to get out of the public view for awhile.
I am still nursing Livy night and day and cannot write anything. I am nearly worn out. We shall go to Elmira ten days hence (if Livy can travel on a mattress then,) and stay there till I have finished the California book – say three months. But I can’t begin work right away when I get there – must have a week’s rest, for I have been through 30 days’ terrific siege.
That makes it after the middle of March before I can go fairly to work – and then I’ll have to hump myself and not lose a moment. You and Bliss just put yourselves in my place and you will see that my hands are full and more than full.
When I told Bliss in N. Y. that I would write something for the Publisher I could not know that I was just about to lose fifty days. Do you see the difference it makes? Just as soon as ever I can, I will send some of the book M.S. but right in the first chapter I have got to alter the whole style of one of my characters and re-write him clear through to where I am now. It is no fool of a job, I can tell you, but the book will be greatly bettered by it. Hold on a few days – four or five – and I will see if I can get a few chapters fixed to send to Bliss.
I have offered this dwelling house and the Express for sale, and when we go to Elmira we leave here for good. I shall not select a new home till the book is finished, but we have little doubt that Hartford will be the place.
We are almost certain of that. Ask Bliss how it would be to ship our furniture to Hartford, rent an upper room in a building and unbox it and store it there where somebody can frequently look after it. Is not the idea good? The furniture is worth ,000 or ,000 and must not be jammed into any kind of a place and left unattended to for a year.
The first man that offers ,000 for our house can take it – it cost that. What are taxes there? Here, all bunched together – of all kinds, they are 7 per cent – simply ruin.
The things you have written in the Publisher are tip-top.
There are no further letters until the end of April, by which time the situation had improved. Clemens had sold his interest in the Express (though at a loss), had severed his magazine connection, and was located at Quarry Farm, on a beautiful hilltop above Elmira, the home of Mrs. Clemens’s sister, Mrs. Theodore Crane. The pure air and rest of that happy place, where they were to spend so many idyllic summers, had proved beneficial to the sick ones, and work on the new book progressed in consequence. Then Mark Twain’s old editor, “Joe” Goodman, came from Virginia City for a visit, and his advice and encouragement were of the greatest value. Clemens even offered to engage Goodman on a salary, to remain until he had finished his book. Goodman declined the salary, but extended his visit, and Mark Twain at last seems to have found himself working under ideal conditions. He jubilantly reports his progress.
To Elisha Bliss, in Hartford:
Elmira, Monday. May 15th 1871
Friend bliss, – Yrs rec’d enclosing check for 3.35 The old “Innocents” holds out handsomely.
I have Ms. enough on hand now, to make (allowing for engravings) about 400 pages of the book – consequently am two-thirds done. I intended to run up to Hartford about the middle of the week and take it along; because it has chapters in it that ought by all means to be in the prospectus; but I find myself so thoroughly interested in my work, now (a thing I have not experienced for months) that I can’t bear to lose a single moment of the inspiration. So I will stay here and peg away as long as it lasts. My present idea is to write as much more as I have already written, and then cull from the mass the very best chapters and discard the rest. I am not half as well satisfied with the first part of the book as I am with what I am writing now. When I get it done I want to see the man who will begin to read it and not finish it. If it falls short of the “Innocents” in any respect I shall lose my guess.
When I was writing the “Innocents” my daily stunt was 30 pages of Ms and I hardly ever got beyond it; but I have gone over that nearly every day for the last ten. That shows that I am writing with a red-hot interest. Nothing grieves me now – nothing troubles me, nothing bothers me or gets my attention – I don’t think of anything but the book, and I don’t have an hour’s unhappiness about anything and don’t care two cents whether school keeps or not. It will be a bully book. If I keep up my present lick three weeks more I shall be able and willing to scratch out half of the chapters of the Overland narrative – and shall do it.
You do not mention having received my second batch of Ms, sent a week or two ago – about 100 pages.
If you want to issue a prospectus and go right to canvassing, say the word and I will forward some more Ms—or send it by hand – special messenger. Whatever chapters you think are unquestionably good, we will retain of course, so they can go into a prospectus as well one time as another. The book will be done soon, now. I have 1200 pages of Ms already written and am now writing 200 a week – more than that, in fact; during the past week wrote 23 one day, then 30, 33, 35, 52, and 65.—How’s that?
It will be a starchy book, and should be full of snappy pictures – especially pictures worked in with the letterpress. The dedication will be worth the price of the volume – thus:
To the Late Cain.
This Book is Dedicated:
Not on account of respect for his memory, for it merits little respect; not on account of sympathy with him, for his bloody deed placed him without the pale of sympathy, strictly speaking: but out of a mere human commiseration for him that it was his misfortune to live in a dark age that knew not the beneficent Insanity Plea.
I think it will do. Yrs. Clemens.
P. S. – The reaction is beginning and my stock is looking up. I am getting the bulliest offers for books and almanacs; am flooded with lecture invitations, and one periodical offers me ,000 cash for 12 articles, of any length and on any subject, treated humorously or otherwise.
The suggested dedication “to the late Cain” may have been the humoristic impulse of the moment. At all events, it did not materialize.
Clemens’s enthusiasm for work was now such that he agreed with Redpath to return to the platform that autumn, and he began at once writing lectures. His disposal of the Buffalo paper had left him considerably in debt, and platforming was a sure and quick method of retrenchment. More than once in the years ahead Mark Twain would return to travel and one-night stands to lift a burden of debt. Brief letters to Redpath of this time have an interest and even a humor of their own.
Letters to James Redpath, in Boston:
Elmira, June 27, 1871.
Dear red, – Wrote another lecture – a third one-today. It is the one I am going to deliver. I think I shall call it “Reminiscences of Some Pleasant Characters Whom I Have Met,” (or should the “whom” be left out?) It covers my whole acquaintance – kings, lunatics, idiots and all. Suppose you give the item a start in the Boston papers. If I write fifty lectures I shall only choose one and talk that one only.
No sir: Don’t you put that scarecrow (portrait) from the Galaxy in, I won’t stand that nightmare.
Elmira, July 10, 1871. Dear Redpath, – I never made a success of a lecture delivered in a church yet. People are afraid to laugh in a church. They can’t be made to do it in any possible way.
Success to Fall’s carbuncle and many happy returns.
To Mr. Fall, in Boston:
Elmira, N. Y. July 20, 1871.
Friend fall, – Redpath tells me to blow up. Here goes! I wanted you to scare Rondout off with a big price. 5 ain’t big. I got 0 the first time I ever talked there and now they have a much larger hall. It is a hard town to get to – I run a chance of getting caught by the ice and missing next engagement. Make the price 0 and let them draw out.
Letters to James Redpath, in Boston:
Hartford, Tuesday Aug. 8, 1871.
Dear red, – I am different from other women; my mind changes oftener. People who have no mind can easily be steadfast and firm, but when a man is loaded down to the guards with it, as I am, every heavy sea of foreboding or inclination, maybe of indolence, shifts the cargo. See? Therefore, if you will notice, one week I am likely to give rigid instructions to confine me to New England; next week, send me to Arizona; the next week withdraw my name; the next week give you full untrammelled swing; and the week following modify it. You must try to keep the run of my mind, Redpath, it is your business being the agent, and it always was too many for me. It appears to me to be one of the finest pieces of mechanism I have ever met with. Now about the West, this week, I am willing that you shall retain all the Western engagements. But what I shall want next week is still with God.
Let us not profane the mysteries with soiled hands and prying eyes of sin.
P. S. Shall be here 2 weeks, will run up there when Nasby comes.
Elmira, N. Y. Sept. 15, 1871.
Dear Redpath, – I wish you would get me released from the lecture at Buffalo. I mortally hate that society there, and I don’t doubt they hired me. I once gave them a packed house free of charge, and they never even had the common politeness to thank me. They left me to shift for myself, too, a la Bret Harte at Harvard. Get me rid of Buffalo! Otherwise I’ll have no recourse left but to get sick the day I lecture there. I can get sick easy enough, by the simple process of saying the word – well never mind what word – I am not going to lecture there.
Buffalo, Sept. 26, 1871.
Dear Redpath, – We have thought it all over and decided that we can’t possibly talk after Feb. 2.
We shall take up our residence in Hartford 6 days from now.
XI. Letters 1871-72. Removal To Hartford. A Lecture Tour. “Roughing It.” First Letter To Howells
The house they had taken in Hartford was the Hooker property on Forest Street, a handsome place in a distinctly literary neighborhood. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dudley Warner, and other well-known writers were within easy walking distance; Twichell was perhaps half a mile away.
It was the proper environment for Mark Twain. He settled his little family there, and was presently at Redpath’s office in Boston, which was a congenial place, as we have seen before. He did not fail to return to the company of Nasby, Josh Billings, and those others of Redpath’s “attractions” as long and as often as distance would permit. Bret Harte, who by this time had won fame, was also in Boston now, and frequently, with Howells, Aldrich, and Mark Twain, gathered in some quiet restaurant corner for a luncheon that lasted through a dim winter afternoon – a period of anecdote, reminiscence, and mirth. They were all young then, and laughed easily. Howells, has written of one such luncheon given by Ralph Keeler, a young Californian – a gathering at which James T. Fields was present “Nothing remains to me of the happy time but a sense of idle and aimless and joyful talk-play, beginning and ending nowhere, of eager laughter, of countless good stories from Fields, of a heat-lightning shimmer of wit from Aldrich, of an occasional concentration of our joint mockeries upon our host, who took it gladly.”
But a lecture circuit cannot be restricted to the radius of Boston. Clemens was presently writing to Redpath from Washington and points farther west.
To James Redpath, in Boston:
Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 1871.
Dear red, – I have come square out, thrown “Reminiscences” overboard, and taken “Artemus Ward, Humorist,” for my subject. Wrote it here on Friday and Saturday, and read it from Ms last night to an enormous house. It suits me and I’ll never deliver the nasty, nauseous “Reminiscences” any more.
The Artemus Ward lecture lasted eleven days, then he wrote:
To Redpath and Fall, in Boston:
Buffalo depot, Dec. 8, 1871.
Redpath & fall, Boston, – Notify all hands that from this time I shall talk nothing but selections from my forthcoming book “Roughing It.” Tried it last night. Suits me tip-top.
SAM’L L. Clemens.
The “Roughing It” chapters proved a success, and continued in high favor through the rest of the season.
To James Redpath, in Boston:
Logansport, Ind. Jan. 2, 1872.
Friend Redpath, – Had a splendid time with a splendid audience in Indianapolis last night – a perfectly jammed house, just as I have had all the time out here. I like the new lecture but I hate the “Artemus Ward” talk and won’t talk it any more. No man ever approved that choice of subject in my hearing, I think.
Give me some comfort. If I am to talk in New York am I going to have a good house? I don’t care now to have any appointments cancelled. I’ll even “fetch” those Dutch Pennsylvanians with this lecture.
Have paid up 00 indebtedness. You are the last on my list. Shall begin to pay you in a few days and then I shall be a free man again.
With his debts paid, Clemens was anxious to be getting home. Two weeks following the above he wrote Redpath that he would accept no more engagements at any price, outside of New England, and added, “The fewer engagements I have from this time forth the better I shall be pleased.” By the end of February he was back in Hartford, refusing an engagement in Boston, and announcing to Redpath, “If I had another engagement I’d rot before I’d fill it.” From which we gather that he was not entirely happy in the lecture field.
As a matter of fact, Mark Twain loathed the continuous travel and nightly drudgery of platform life. He was fond of entertaining, and there were moments of triumph that repaid him for a good deal, but the tyranny of a schedule and timetables was a constant exasperation.
Meantime, Roughing It had appeared and was selling abundantly. Mark Twain, free of debt, and in pleasant circumstances, felt that the outlook was bright. It became even more so when, in March, the second child, a little girl, Susy, was born, with no attending misfortunes. But, then, in the early summer little Langdon died. It was seldom, during all of Mark Twain’s life, that he enjoyed more than a brief period of unmixed happiness.
It was in June of that year that Clemens wrote his first letter to William Dean Howells the first of several hundred that would follow in the years to come, and has in it something that is characteristic of nearly all the Clemens-Howells letters – a kind of tender playfulness that answered to something in Howells’s make-up, his sense of humor, his wide knowledge of a humanity which he pictured so amusingly to the world.
To William Dean Howells, in Boston:
Hartford, June 15, 1872.
Friend Howells, – Could you tell me how I could get a copy of your portrait as published in Hearth and Home? I hear so much talk about it as being among the finest works of art which have yet appeared in that journal, that I feel a strong desire to see it. Is it suitable for framing? I have written the publishers of H & H time and again, but they say that the demand for the portrait immediately exhausted the edition and now a copy cannot be had, even for the European demand, which has now begun. Bret Harte has been here, and says his family would not be without that portrait for any consideration. He says his children get up in the night and yell for it. I would give anything for a copy of that portrait to put up in my parlor. I have Oliver Wendell Holmes and Bret Harte’s, as published in Every Saturday, and of all the swarms that come every day to gaze upon them none go away that are not softened and humbled and made more resigned to the will of God. If I had yours to put up alongside of them, I believe the combination would bring more souls to earnest reflection and ultimate conviction of their lost condition, than any other kind of warning would. Where in the nation can I get that portrait? Here are heaps of people that want it, – that need it. There is my uncle. He wants a copy. He is lying at the point of death. He has been lying at the point of death for two years. He wants a copy – and I want him to have a copy. And I want you to send a copy to the man that shot my dog. I want to see if he is dead to every human instinct.
Now you send me that portrait. I am sending you mine, in this letter; and am glad to do it, for it has been greatly admired. People who are judges of art, find in the execution a grandeur which has not been equalled in this country, and an expression which has not been approached in any.
S. L. Clemens.
P. S. 62,000 copies of “Roughing It” sold and delivered in 4 months.
The Clemens family did not spend the summer at Quarry Farm that year. The sea air was prescribed for Mrs. Clemens and the baby, and they went to Saybrook, Connecticut, to Fenwick Hall. Clemens wrote very little, though he seems to have planned Tom Sawyer, and perhaps made its earliest beginning, which was in dramatic form.
His mind, however, was otherwise active. He was always more or less given to inventions, and in his next letter we find a description of one which he brought to comparative perfection.
He had also conceived the idea of another book of travel, and this was his purpose of a projected trip to England.
To Orion Clemens, in Hartford:
Fenwick hall, Saybrook, Conn.
Aug. 11, 1872.
My dear Bro. – I shall sail for England in the Scotia, Aug. 21.
But what I wish to put on record now, is my new invention – hence this note, which you will preserve. It is this – a self-pasting scrap-book – good enough idea if some juggling tailor does not come along and ante-date me a couple of months, as in the case of the elastic veststrap.
The nuisance of keeping a scrap-book is: 1. One never has paste or gum tragacanth handy; 2. Mucilage won’t stick, or stay, 4 weeks; 3. Mucilage sucks out the ink and makes the scraps unreadable; 4. To daub and paste 3 or 4 pages of scraps is tedious, slow, nasty and tiresome. My idea is this: Make a scrap-book with leaves veneered or coated with gum-stickum of some kind; wet the page with sponge, brush, rag or tongue, and dab on your scraps like postage stamps.
Lay on the gum in columns of stripes.
Each stripe of gum the length of say 20 ems, small pica, and as broad as your finger; a blank about as broad as your finger between each 2 stripes – so in wetting the paper you need not wet any more of the gum than your scrap or scraps will cover – then you may shut up the book and the leaves won’t stick together.
Preserve, also, the envelope of this letter – postmark ought to be good evidence of the date of this great humanizing and civilizing invention.
I’ll put it into Dan Slote’s hands and tell him he must send you all over America, to urge its use upon stationers and booksellers – so don’t buy into a newspaper. The name of this thing is “Mark Twain’s Self-Pasting Scrapbook.”
All well here. Shall be up a P. M. Tuesday. Send the carriage.
S. L. Clemens.
The Dan Slote of this letter is, of course, his old Quaker City shipmate, who was engaged in the blank-book business, the firm being Slote & Woodman, located at 119 and 121 William Street, New York.
XII. Letters 1872-73. Mark Twain In England. London Honors. Acquaintance With Dr. John Brown. A Lecture Triumph. “The Gilded Age”
Clemens did, in fact, sail for England on the given date, and was lavishly received there. All literary London joined in giving him a good time. He had not as yet been received seriously by the older American men of letters, but England made no question as to his title to first rank. Already, too, they classified him as of the human type of Lincoln, and reveled in him without stint. Howells writes: “In England, rank, fashion, and culture rejoiced in him. Lord Mayors, Lord Chief justices, and magnates of many kinds were his hosts.”
He was treated so well and enjoyed it all so much that he could not write a book – the kind of book he had planned. One could not poke fun at a country or a people that had welcomed him with open arms. He made plenty of notes, at first, but presently gave up the book idea and devoted himself altogether to having a good time.
He had one grievance – a publisher by the name of Hotten, a sort of literary harpy, of which there were a great number in those days of defective copyright, not merely content with pilfering his early work, had reprinted, under the name of Mark Twain, the work of a mixed assortment of other humorists, an offensive volume bearing the title, Screamers and Eye-openers, by Mark Twain.
They besieged him to lecture in London, and promised him overflowing houses. Artemus Ward, during his last days, had earned London by storm with his platform humor, and they promised Mark Twain even greater success. For some reason, however, he did not welcome the idea; perhaps there was too much gaiety. To Mrs. Clemens he wrote:
This in 1917. D.W.
"Agate,” “minion,” etc., sizes of type; “take,” a piece of work. Type measurement is by ems, meaning the width of the letter ’m’.
Mark Twain: A Biography, by same author.
Henry had returned once to the Pennsylvania to render assistance to the passengers. Later he had somehow made his way to the flatboat.
It is set down historically in Mark Twain ‘A Biography.’ Harper & brothers.
One contribution was sent to a Keokuk paper, The Gate City, and a letter written by Mrs. Jane Clemens at the time would indicate that Mark Twain’s mother did not always approve of her son’s literary efforts. She hopes that he will do better, and some time write something “that his kin will be proud of."
See Mark Twain: A Biography, by the same author; Chapter XL.
Written across the face of the last page.
The “Bill” Stewart mentioned in the preceding chapter.
See Mark Twain: A Biography, chap XLVI, and Appendix H.
Mark Twain: A Biography, chap. LXXIVL.
Redpath’s partner in the lecture lyceum.
Mrs. Fairbanks, of the Quaker City excursion.