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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
XCIX. A Typewriter, and a Joke on Aldrich
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was during the trip to Boston with Twichell that Mark Twain saw for
the first time what was then--a brand-new invention, a typewriter; or it
may have been during a subsequent visit, a week or two later. At all
events, he had the machine and was practising on it December 9, 1874, for
he wrote two letters on it that day, one to Howells and the other to
Orion Clemens. In the latter he says:
I am trying to get the hang of this new-fangled writing-machine, but
am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first
attempt I ever have made, and yet I perceive that I shall soon
easily acquire a fine facility in its use. I saw the thing in
Boston the other day and was greatly taken with it.
He goes on to explain the new wonder, and on the whole his first attempt
is a very creditable performance. With his usual enthusiasm over an
innovation, he believes it is going to be a great help to him, and
proclaims its advantages.
This is the letter to Howells, with the errors preserved:
You needn't answer this; I am only practicing to get three; anothe
slip-up there; only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing. I
notice I miss fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters &
punctuation marks. I am simply using you for a target to bang at.
Blame my cats, but this thing requires genius in order to work it
In an article written long after he tells how he was with Nasby when he
first saw the machine in Boston through a window, and how they went in to
see it perform. In the same article he states that he was the first
person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature, and that he
thinks the story of Tom Sawyer was the first type-copied manuscript.
--[Tom Sawyer was not then complete, and had been laid aside. The first
type-copied manuscript was probably early chapters of the Mississippi
story, two discarded typewritten pages of which still exist.]
The new enthusiasm ran its course and died. Three months later, when the
Remington makers wrote him for a recommendation of the machine, he
replied that he had entirely stopped using it. The typewriter was not
perfect in those days, and the keys did not always respond readily.
He declared it was ruining his morals--that it made him "want to swear."
He offered it to Howells because, he said, Howells had no morals anyway.
Howells hesitated, so Clemens traded the machine to Bliss for a side-
saddle. But perhaps Bliss also became afraid of its influence, for in
due time he brought it back. Howells, again tempted, hesitated, and this
time was lost. What eventually became of the machine is not history.
One of those, happy Atlantic dinners which Howells tells of came about
the end of that year. It was at the Parker House, and Emerson was there;
and Aldrich, and the rest of that group.
"Don't you dare to refuse the invitation," said Howells, and naturally
Clemens didn't, and wrote back:
I want you to ask Mrs. Howells to let you stay all night at the
Parker House and tell lies and have an improving time, and take
breakfast with me in the morning. I will have a good room for you
and a fire. Can't you tell her it always makes you sick to go home
late at night or something like that? That sort of thing arouses
Mrs. Clemens's sympathies easily.
Two memories of that old dinner remain to-day. Aldrich and Howells were
not satisfied with the kind of neckties that Mark Twain wore (the old-
fashioned black "string" tie, a Western survival), so they made him a
present of two cravats when he set out on his return for Hartford. Next
day he wrote:
You and Aldrich have made one woman deeply and sincerely grateful--
Mrs. Clemens. For months--I may even say years--she has shown an
unaccountable animosity toward my necktie, even getting up in the
night to take it with the tongs and blackguard it, sometimes also
getting so far as to threaten it.
When I said you and Aldrich had given me two new neckties, and that
they were in a paper in my overcoat pocket, she was in a fever of
happiness until she found I was going to frame them; then all the
venom in her nature gathered itself together; insomuch that I, being
near to a door, went without, perceiving danger.
It is recorded that eventually he wore the neckties, and returned no more
to the earlier mode.
Another memory of that dinner is linked to a demand that Aldrich made of
Clemens that night, for his photograph. Clemens, returning to Hartford,
put up fifty-two different specimens in as many envelopes, with the idea
of sending one a week for a year. Then he concluded that this was too
slow a process, and for a week sent one every morning to "His Grace of
Aldrich stood it for a few days, then protested. "The police," he said,
"are in the habit of swooping down upon a publication of that sort."
On New-Year's no less than twenty pictures came at once--photographs and
prints of Mark Twain, his house, his family, his various belongings.
Aldrich sent a warning then that the perpetrator of this outrage was
known to the police as Mark Twain, alias "The Jumping Frog," a well-known
California desperado, who would be speedily arrested and brought to
Ponkapog to face his victim. This letter was signed "T. Bayleigh, Chief
of Police," and on the outside of the envelope there was a statement that
it would be useless for that person to send any more mail-matter, as the
post-office had been blown up. The jolly farce closed there. It was the
sort of thing that both men enjoyed.
Aldrich was writing a story at this time which contained some Western
mining incident and environment. He sent the manuscript to Clemens for
"expert" consideration and advice. Clemens wrote him at great length and
in careful detail. He was fond of Aldrich, regarding him as one of the
most brilliant of men. Once, to Robert Louis Stevenson, he said:
"Aldrich has never had his peer for prompt and pithy and witty and
humorous sayings. None has equaled him, certainly none has
surpassed him, in the felicity of phrasing with which he clothed
these children of his fancy. Aldrich is always brilliant; he can't
help it; he is a fire-opal set round with rose diamonds; when he is
not speaking you know that his dainty fancies are twinkling and
glimmering around in him; when he speaks the diamonds flash. Yes,
he is always brilliant, he will always be brilliant; he will be
brilliant in hell-you will see."
Stevenson, smiling a chuckly smile, said, "I hope not."
"Well, you will, and he will dim even those ruddy fires and look like a
transfigured Adonis backed against a pink sunset."--[North American
Review, September, 1906.]