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Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 online

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personalities attributed to them, but it seems to be an open
question. Two of my friends, gentlemen of education and the highest
social standing, were infinitely amused by your speech, and stoutly
defended it against the charge of impropriety. More than this, one
of the cleverest and best-known ladies we have among us was highly
delighted with it.

Miss Emerson's letter was to Mrs. Clemens and its homelike New England
fashion did much to lift the gloom.

DEAR MRS. CLEMENS, - At New Year's our family always meets, to spend
two days together. To-day my father came last, and brought with him
Mr. Clemens's letter, so that I read it to the assembled family, and
I have come right up-stairs to write to you about it. My sister
said, "Oh, let father write!" but my mother said, "No, don't wait
for him. Go now; don't stop to pick that up. Go this minute and
write. I think that is a noble letter. Tell them so." First let
me say that no shadow of indignation has ever been in any of our
minds. The night of the dinner, my father says, he did not hear Mr.
Clemens's speech. He was too far off, and my mother says that when
she read it to him the next day it amused him. But what you will
want is to know, without any softening, how we did feel. We were
disappointed. We have liked almost everything we have ever seen
over Mark Twain's signature. It has made us like the man, and we
have delighted in the fun. Father has often asked us to repeat
certain passages of The Innocents Abroad, and of a speech at a
London dinner in 1872, and we all expect both to approve and to
enjoy when we see his name. Therefore, when we read this speech it
was a real disappointment. I said to my brother that it didn't seem
good or funny, and he said, "No, it was unfortunate. Still some of
those quotations were very good"; and he gave them with relish and
my father laughed, though never having seen a card in his life, he
couldn't understand them like his children. My mother read it
lightly and had hardly any second thoughts about it. To my father
it is as if it had not been; he never quite heard, never quite
understood it, and he forgets easily and entirely. I think it
doubtful whether he writes to Mr. Clemens, for he is old and long
ago gave up answering letters, I think you can see just how bad, and
how little bad, it was as far as we are concerned, and this lovely
heartbreaking letter makes up for our disappointment in our much-
liked author, and restores our former feeling about him.


The sorrow dulled a little as the days passed. Just after Christmas
Clemens wrote to Howells:

I haven't done a stroke of work since the Atlantic dinner. But I'm
going to try to-morrow. How could I ever - -

Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God's fool,
and all his work must be contemplated with respect.

So long as that unfortunate speech is remembered there will be
differences of opinion as to its merits and propriety. Clemens himself,
reading it for the first time in nearly thirty years, said:

"I find it gross, coarse - well, I needn't go on with particulars. I
don't like any part of it, from the beginning to the end. I find it
always offensive and detestable. How do I account for this change of
view? I don't know."

But almost immediately afterward he gave it another consideration and
reversed his opinion completely. All the spirit and delight of his old
first conception returned, and preparing it for publication, he wrote:

- [North American Review, December, 1907, now with comment included in
the volume of "Speeches." (Also see Appendix O, at the end of last
volume.) - I have read it twice, and unless I am an idiot it hasn't a
single defect in it, from the first word to the last. It is just as good
as good can be. It is smart; it is saturated with humor. There isn't a
suggestion of coarseness or vulgarity in it anywhere.]

It was altogether like Mark Twain to have those two absolutely opposing
opinions in that brief time; for, after all, it was only a question of
the human point of view, and Mark Twain's points of view were likely to
be as extremely human as they were varied.

Of course the first of these impressions, the verdict of the fresh mind
uninfluenced by the old conception, was the more correct one. The speech
was decidedly out of place in that company. The skit was harmless
enough, but it was of the Comstock grain. It lacked refinement, and,
what was still worse, it lacked humor, at least the humor of a kind
suited to that long-ago company of listeners. It was another of those
grievous mistakes which genius (and not talent) can make, for genius is a
sort of possession. The individual is pervaded, dominated for a time by
an angel or an imp, and he seldom, of himself, is able to discriminate
between his controls. A literary imp was always lying in wait for Mark
Twain; the imp of the burlesque, tempting him to do the 'outre', the
outlandish, the shocking thing. It was this that Olivia Clemens had to
labor hardest against: the cheapening of his own high purpose with an
extravagant false note, at which sincerity, conviction, and artistic
harmony took wings and fled away. Notably he did a good burlesque now
and then, but his fame would not have suffered if he had been delivered
altogether from his besetting temptation.



Clemens was never much inclined to work, away from his Elmira study.
"Magnanimous Incident Literature" (for the Atlantic) was about his only
completed work of the winter of 1877-78. He was always tinkering with
the "Visit to Heaven," and after one reconstruction Howells suggested
that he bring it out as a book, in England, with Dean Stanley's
indorsement, though this may have been only semi-serious counsel. The
story continued to lie in seclusion.

Clemens had one new book in the field - a small book, but profitable. Dan
Slote's firm issued for him the Mark Twain Scrap-book, and at the end of
the first royalty period rendered a statement of twenty-five thousand
copies sold, which was well enough for a book that did not contain a
single word that critics could praise or condemn. Slote issued another
little book for him soon after Punch, Brothers, Punch! - which, besides
that lively sketch, contained the "Random Notes" and seven other

Mark Twain was tempted to go into the lecture field that winter, not by
any of the offers, though these were numerous enough, but by the idea of
a combination which he thought night be not only profitable but pleasant.
Thomas Nast had made a great success of his caricature lectures, and
Clemens, recalling Nast's long-ago proposal, found it newly attractive.
He wrote characteristically:

MY DEAR NAST, - I did not think I should ever stand on a platform
again until the time was come for me to say, "I die innocent." But
the same old offers keep arriving. I have declined them all, just
as usual, though sorely tempted, as usual.

Now, I do not decline because I mind talking to an audience, but
because (1) traveling alone is so heartbreakingly dreary, and (2)
shouldering the whole show is such a cheer-killing responsibility.

Therefore, I now propose to you what you proposed to me in 1867, ten
years ago (when I was unknown) - viz., that you stand on the platform
and make pictures, and I stand by you and blackguard the audience.
I should enormously enjoy meandering around (to big towns - don't
want to go to the little ones), with you for company.

My idea is not to fatten the lecture agents and lyceums on the
spoils, but to put all the ducats religiously into two equal piles,
and say to the artist and lecturer, "absorb these."

For instance, [here follows a plan and a possible list of the cities
to be visited]. The letter continues:

Call the gross receipts $100,00 for four months and a half, and the
profit from $60,000 to $75,000 (I try to make the figures large
enough, and leave it to the public to reduce them).

I did not put in Philadelphia because Pugh owns that town, and last
winter, when I made a little reading-trip, he only paid me $300, and
pretended his concert (I read fifteen minutes in the midst of a
concert) cost him a vast sum, and so he couldn't afford any more.
I could get up a better concert with a barrel of cats.

I have imagined two or three pictures and concocted the accompanying
remarks, to see how the thing would go. I was charmed.

Well, you think it over, Nast, and drop me a line. We should have
some fun.

Undoubtedly this would have been a profitable combination, but Nast had a
distaste for platforming - had given it up, as he thought, for life. So
Clemens settled down to the fireside days, that afforded him always the
larger comfort. The children were at an age "to be entertaining, and to
be entertained." In either case they furnished him plenty of diversion
when he did not care to write. They had learned his gift as a romancer,
and with this audience he might be as extravagant as he liked. They
sometimes assisted by furnishing subjects. They would bring him a
picture, requiring him to invent a story for it without a moment's delay.
Sometimes they suggested the names of certain animals or objects, and
demanded that these be made into a fairy tale. If they heard the name of
any new creature or occupation they were likely to offer them as
impromptu inspiration. Once he was suddenly required to make a story out
of a plumber and a "bawgunstrictor," but he was equal to it. On one side
of the library, along the book-shelves that joined the mantelpiece, were
numerous ornaments and pictures. At one end was the head of a girl, that
they called "Emeline," and at the other was an oil-painting of a cat.
When other subjects failed, the romancer was obliged to build a story
impromptu, and without preparation, beginning with the cat, working along
through the bric-a-brac, and ending with "Emeline." This was the
unvarying program. He was not allowed to begin with "Emeline" and end
with the cat, and he was not permitted to introduce an ornament from any
other portion of the room. He could vary the story as much as he liked.
In fact, he was required to do that. The trend of its chapters, from the
cat to "Emeline," was a well-trodden and ever-entertaining way.

He gave up his luxurious study to the children as a sort of nursery and
playroom, and took up his writing-quarters, first in a room over the
stables, then in the billiard-room, which, on the whole, he preferred to
any other place, for it was a third-story remoteness, and he could knock
the balls about for inspiration.

The billiard-room became his headquarters. He received his callers there
and impressed them into the game. If they could play, well and good; if
they could not play, so much the better - he could beat them
extravagantly, and he took a huge delight in such conquests. Every
Friday evening, or oftener, a small party of billiard-lovers gathered,
and played until a late hour, told stories, and smoked till the room was
blue, comforting themselves with hot Scotch and general good-fellowship.
Mark Twain always had a genuine passion for billiards. He was never
tired of the game. He could play all night. He would stay till the last
man gave out from sheer weariness; then he would go on knocking the balls
about alone. He liked to invent new games and new rules for old games,
often inventing a rule on the spur of the moment to fit some particular
shot or position on the table. It amused him highly to do this, to make
the rule advantage his own play, and to pretend a deep indignation when
his opponents disqualified his rulings and rode him down. S. C. Dunham
was among those who belonged to the "Friday Evening Club," as they called
it, and Henry C. Robinson, long dead, and rare Ned Bunce, and F. G.
Whitmore; and the old room there at the top of the house, with its little
outside balcony, rang with their voices and their laughter in that day
when life and the world for them was young. Clemens quoted to them

Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of spring
Your winter garment of repentance fling;
The bird of time has but a little way
To flutter, and the bird is on the wing.

Omar was new then on this side of the Atlantic, and to his serene "eat,
drink, and be merry" philosophy, in Fitzgerald's rhyme, these were early
converts. Mark Twain had an impressive, musical delivery of verse; the
players were willing at any moment to listen as he recited:

For some we loved, the loveliest and best
That from his vintage rolling time has prest,
Have drunk their cup a round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the dust descend;
Dust unto dust, and under dust to lie,
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and - sans End.'

- [The 'Rubaiyat' had made its first appearance, in Hartford, a little
before in a column of extracts published in the Courant.] Twichell
immediately wrote Clemens a card:

"Read (if you haven't) the extracts from Oman Khayyam, on the first page
of this morning's Courant. I think we'll have to get the book. I never
yet came across anything that uttered certain thoughts of mine so.
adequately. And it's only a translation. Read it, and we'll talk it
over. There is something in it very like the passage of Emerson you read
me last night, in fact identical with it in thought.

"Surely this Omar was a great poet. Anyhow, he has given me an immense
revelation this morning.

"Hoping that you are better,

J. H. T."

Twichell's "only a translation" has acquired a certain humor with time.



The German language became one of the interests of the Clemens home
during the early months of 1878. The Clemenses had long looked forward
to a sojourn in Europe, and the demand for another Mark Twain book of
travel furnished an added reason for their going. They planned for the
spring sailing, and to spend a year or more on the Continent, making
their headquarters in Germany. So they entered into the study of the
language with an enthusiasm and perseverance that insured progress. There
was a German nurse for the children, and the whole atmosphere of the
household presently became lingually Teutonic. It amused Mark Twain, as
everything amused him, but he was a good student; he acquired a working
knowledge of the language in an extraordinarily brief time, just as in an
earlier day he had picked up piloting. He would never become a German
scholar, but his vocabulary and use of picturesque phrases, particularly
those that combined English and German words, were often really
startling, not only for their humor, but for their expressiveness.

Necessarily the new study would infect his literature. He conceived a
plan for making Captain Wakeman (Stormfield) come across a copy of
Ollendorf in Heaven, and proceed to learn the language of a near-lying

They arranged to sail early in April, and, as on their former trip,
persuaded Miss Clara Spaulding, of Elmira, to accompany them. They wrote
to the Howellses, breaking the news of the journey, urging them to come
to Hartford for a good-by visit. Howells and his wife came. The
Twichells, Warners, and other Hartford friends paid repeated farewell
calls. The furniture was packed, the rooms desolated, the beautiful home
made ready for closing.

They were to have pleasant company on the ship. Bayard Taylor, then
recently appointed Minister to Germany, wrote that he had planned to sail
on the same vessel; Murat Halstead's wife and daughter were listed among
the passengers. Clemens made a brief speech at Taylor's "farewell

The "Mark Twain" party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Clemens, Miss
Spaulding, little Susy and Clara ("Bay"), and a nurse-maid, Rosa, sailed
on the Holsatia, April 11, 1878. Bayard Taylor and the Halstead ladies
also sailed, as per program; likewise Murat Halstead himself, for whom no
program had been made. There was a storm outside, and the Holsatia
anchored down the bay to wait until the worst was over. As the weather
began to moderate Halstead and others came down in a tug for a final word
of good-by. When the tug left, Halstead somehow managed to get
overlooked, and was presently on his way across the ocean with only such
wardrobe as he had on, and what Bayard Taylor, a large man like himself,
was willing to lend him. Halstead was accused of having intentionally
allowed himself to be left behind, and his case did have a suspicious
look; but in any event they were glad to have him along.

In a written word of good-by to Howells, Clemens remembered a debt of
gratitude, and paid it in the full measure that was his habit.

And that reminds me, ungrateful dog that I am, that I owe as much to
your training as the rude country job-printer owes to the city boss
who takes him in hand and teaches him the right way to handle his
art. I was talking to Mrs. Clemens about this the other day, and
grieving because I never mentioned it to you, thereby seeming to
ignore it or to be unaware of it. Nothing that has passed under
your eye needs any revision before going into a volume, while all my
other stuff does need so much.

In that ancient day, before the wireless telegraph, the voyager, when the
land fell away behind him, felt a mighty sense of relief and rest, which
to some extent has gone now forever. He cannot entirely escape the world
in this new day; but then he had a complete sense of dismissal from all
encumbering cares of life. Among the first note-book entries Mark Twain

To go abroad has something of the same sense that death brings - "I am no
longer of ye; what ye say of me is now of no consequence - but of how much
consequence when I am with ye and of ye. I know you will refrain from
saying harsh things because they cannot hurt me, since I am out of reach
and cannot hear them. This is why we say no harsh things of the dead."

It was a rough voyage outside, but the company made it pleasant within.
Halstead and Taylor were good smoking-room companions. Taylor had a
large capacity for languages and a memory that was always a marvel. He
would repeat for them Arabian, Hungarian, and Russian poetry, and show
them the music and construction of it. He sang German folk-lore songs
for them, and the "Lorelei," then comparatively unknown in America. Such
was his knowledge of the language that even educated Germans on board
submitted questions of construction to him and accepted his decisions. He
was wisely chosen for the mission he had to fill, but unfortunately he
did not fill it long. Both Halstead and Taylor were said to have heart
trouble. Halstead, however, survived many years. Taylor died December
19, 1878.



From the note-book:

It is a marvel that never loses its surprise by repetition, this
aiming a ship at a mark three thousand miles away and hitting the
bull's-eye in a fog - as we did. When the fog fell on us the captain
said we ought to be at such and such a spot (it had been eighteen
hours since an observation was had), with the Scilly islands bearing
so and so, and about so many miles away. Hove the lead and got
forty-eight fathoms; looked on the chart, and sure enough this depth
of water showed that we were right where the captain said we were.

Another idea. For ages man probably did not know why God carpeted
the ocean bottom with sand in one place, shells in another, and so
on. But we see now; the kind of bottom the lead brings up shows
where a ship is when the soundings don't, and also it confirms the

They reached Hamburg after two weeks' stormy sailing. They rested a few
days there, then went to Hanover and Frankfort, arriving at Heidelberg
early in May.

They had no lodgings selected in Heidelberg, and leaving the others at an
inn, Clemens set out immediately to find apartments. Chance or
direction, or both, led him to the beautiful Schloss Hotel, on a hill
overlooking the city, and as fair a view as one may find in all Germany.
He did not go back after his party. He sent a message telling them to
take carriage and drive at once to the Schloss, then he sat down to enjoy
the view.

Coming up the hill they saw him standing on the veranda, waving his hat
in welcome. He led them to their rooms - spacious apartments - and pointed
to the view. They were looking down on beautiful Heidelberg Castle,
densely wooded hills, the far-flowing Neckar, and the haze-empurpled
valley of the Rhine. By and by, pointing to a small cottage on the
hilltop, he said:

"I have been picking out my little house to work in; there it is over
there; the one with the gable in the roof. Mine is the middle room on
the third floor."

Mrs. Clemens thought the occupants of the house might be surprised if he
should suddenly knock and tell them he had come to take possession of his
room. Nevertheless, they often looked over in that direction and
referred to it as his office. They amused themselves by watching his
"people" and trying to make out what they were like. One day he went
over there, and sure enough there was a sign out, "Moblirte Wohnung zu
Vermiethen." A day or two later he was established in the very room he
had selected, it being the only room but one vacant.

In A Tramp Abroad Mark Twain tells of the beauty of their Heidelberg
environment. To Howells he wrote:

Our bedroom has two great glass bird-cages (inclosed balconies), one
looking toward the Rhine Valley and sunset, the other looking up the
Neckar cul-de-sac, and naturally we spend pearly all our time in
these. We have tables and chairs in them; we do our reading,
writing, studying, smoking, and suppering in them . . . . It
must have been a noble genius who devised this hotel. Lord, how
blessed is the repose, the tranquillity of this place! Only two
sounds: the happy clamor of the birds in the groves and the muffled
music of the Neckar tumbling over the opposing dikes. It is no
hardship to lie awake awhile nights, for this subdued roar has
exactly the sound of a steady rain beating upon a roof. It is so
healing to the spirit; and it bears up the thread of one's
imaginings as the accompaniment bears up a song....

I have waited for a "call" to go to work - I knew it would come.
Well, it began to come a week ago; my note-book comes out more and
more frequently every day since; three days ago I concluded to move
my manuscripts over to my den. Now the call is loud and decided at
last. So to-morrow I shall begin regular, steady work, and stick to
it till the middle of July or August 1st, when I look for Twichell;
we will then walk about Germany two or three weeks, and then I'll go
to work again (perhaps in Munich).

The walking tour with Twichell had been contemplated in the scheme for
gathering book material, but the plan for it had not been completed when
he left Hartford. Now he was anxious that they should start as soon as
possible. Twichell, receiving the news in Hartford, wrote that it was a
great day for him: that his third son had been happily born early that
morning, and now the arrival of this glorious gift of a tramp through
Germany and Switzerland completed his blessings.

I am almost too joyful for pleasure [he wrote]. I labor with my
felicities. How I shall get to sleep to-night I don't know, though
I have had a good start, in not having slept much last night. Oh,
my! do you realize, Mark, what a symposium it is to be? I do. To
begin with, I am thoroughly tired and the rest will be worth
everything. To walk with you and talk with you for weeks together
- why, it's my dream of luxury. Harmony, who at sunrise this morning
deemed herself the happiest woman on the Continent when I read your
letter to her, widened her smile perceptibly, and revived another
degree of strength in a minute. She refused to consider her being
left alone; but: only the great chance opened to me.

SHOES - Mark, remember that ever so much of our pleasure depends upon
your shoes. Don't fail to have adequate preparation made in that

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 4 of 20)