They went to Elmira, that summer of '76, to be "hermits and eschew caves
and live in the sun," as Clemens wrote in a letter to Dr. Brown. They
returned to the place as to Paradise: Clemens to his study and the books
which he always called for, Mrs. Clemens to a blessed relief from social
obligations, the children to the shady play-places, the green, sloping
hill, where they could race and tumble, and to all their animal friends.
Susy was really growing up. She had had several birthdays, quite grand
affairs, when she had been brought down in the morning, decked, and with
proper ceremonies, with subsequent celebration. She was a strange,
thoughtful child, much given to reflecting on the power and presence of
infinity, for she was religiously taught. Down in the city, one night,
there was a grand display of fireworks, and the hilltop was a good place
from which to enjoy it; but it grew late after a little, and Susy was
ordered to bed. She said, thoughtfully:
"I wish I could sit up all night, as God does."
The baby, whom they still called "Bay," was a tiny, brown creature who
liked to romp in the sun and be rocked to sleep at night with a song.
Clemens often took them for extended' walks, pushing Bay in her carriage.
Once, in a preoccupied moment, he let go of the little vehicle and it
started downhill, gaining speed rapidly.
He awoke then, and set off in wild pursuit. Before he could overtake the
runaway carriage it had turned to the roadside and upset. Bay was lying
among the stones and her head was bleeding. Hastily binding the wound
with a handkerchief he started full speed with her up the hill toward the
house, calling for restoratives as he came. It was no serious matter.
The little girl was strong and did not readily give way to affliction.
The children were unlike: Susy was all contemplation and nerves; Bay
serene and practical. It was said, when a pet cat died--this was some
years later--that Susy deeply reflected as to its life here and
hereafter, while Bay was concerned only as to the style of its funeral.
Susy showed early her father's quaintness of remark. Once they bought
her a heavier pair of shoes than she approved of. She was not in the
best of humors during the day, and that night, when at prayer-time her
mother said, "Now, Susy, put your thoughts on God," she answered, " Mama,
I can't with those shoes."
Clemens worked steadily that summer and did a variety of things. He had
given up a novel, begun with much enthusiasm, but he had undertaken
another long manuscript. By the middle of August he had written several
hundred pages of a story which was to be a continuation of Tom Sawyer--
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, here is a curious phase of
genius. The novel which for a time had filled him with enthusiasm and
faith had no important literary value, whereas, concerning this new tale,
"I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have gone, and may possibly
pigeonhole or burn the manuscript when it is done"--this of the story
which, of his books of pure fiction, will perhaps longest survive. He
did, in fact, give the story up, and without much regret, when it was
about half completed, and let it lie unfinished for years.
He wrote one short tale, "The Canvasser's Story," a burlesque of no
special distinction, and he projected for the Atlantic a scheme of
"blindfold novelettes," a series of stories to be written by well-known
authors and others, each to be constructed on the same plot. One can
easily imagine Clemens's enthusiasm over a banal project like that; his
impulses were always rainbow-hued, whether valuable or not; but it is
curious that Howells should welcome and even encourage an enterprise so
far removed from all the traditions of art. It fell to pieces, at last,
of inherent misconstruction. The title was to be, "A Murder and a
Marriage." Clemens could not arrive at a logical climax that did not
bring the marriage and the hanging on the same day.
The Atlantic started its "Contributors' Club," and Howells wrote to
Clemens for a paragraph or more of personal opinion on any subject,
assuring him that he could "spit his spite" out at somebody or something
as if it were a passage from a letter. That was a fairly large
permission to give Mark Twain. The paragraph he sent was the sort of
thing he would write with glee, and hug himself over in the thought of
Howells's necessity of rejecting it. In the accompanying note he said:
Say, Boss, do you want this to lighten up your old freight-train with?
I suppose you won't, but then it won't take long to say so.
He was always sending impossible offerings to the magazines; innocently
enough sometimes, but often out of pure mischievousness. Yet they were
constantly after him, for they knew they were likely to get a first-water
gem. Mary Mopes Dodge, of St. Nicholas, wrote time and again, and
"I know a man who was persecuted by an editor till he went distracted."
In his reading that year at the farm he gave more than customary
attention to one of his favorite books, Pepys' Diary, that captivating
old record which no one can follow continuously without catching the
infection of its manner and the desire of imitation. He had been reading
diligently one day, when he determined to try his hand on an imaginary
record of conversation and court manners of a bygone day, written in the
phrase of the period. The result was Fireside Conversation in the Time
of Queen Elizabeth, or, as he later called it, 1601. The "conversation,"
recorded by a supposed Pepys of that period, was written with all the
outspoken coarseness and nakedness of that rank day, when fireside
sociabilities were limited only by the range of loosened fancy,
vocabulary, and physical performance, and not by any bounds of
convention. Howells has spoken of Mark Twain's "Elizabethan breadth of
parlance," and how he, Howells, was always hiding away in discreet holes
and corners the letters in which Clemens had "loosed his bold fancy to
stoop on rank suggestion." " I could not bear to burn them," he
declares, "and I could not, after the first reading, quite bear to look
In the 1601 Mark Twain outdid himself in the Elizabethan field. It was
written as a letter to that robust divine, Rev. Joseph Twichell, who had
no special scruples concerning Shakespearian parlance and customs.
Before it was mailed it was shown to David Gray, who was spending a
Sunday at Elmira. Gray said:
"Print it and put your name to it, Mark. You have never done a greater
piece of work than that."
John Hay, whom it also reached in due time, pronounced it a classic--a
"most exquisite bit of old English morality." Hay surreptitiously
permitted some proofs to be made of it, and it has been circulated
privately, though sparingly, ever since. At one time a special font of
antique type was made for it and one hundred copies were taken on hand-
made paper. They would easily bring a hundred dollars each to-day.
1601 is a genuine classic, as classics of that sort go. It is better
than the gross obscenities of Rabelais, and perhaps, in some day to come,
the taste that justified Gargantua and the Decameron will give this
literary refugee shelter and setting among the more conventional writings
of Mark Twain. Human taste is a curious thing; delicacy is purely a
matter of environment and point of view. --[In a note-book of a later
period Clemens himself wrote: "It depends on who writes a thing whether
it is coarse or not. I once wrote a conversation between Elizabeth,
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Sir W. Raleigh, Lord Bacon, Sir
Nicholas Throckmorton, and a stupid old nobleman--this latter being cup-
bearer to the queen and ostensible reporter of the talk.
"There were four maids of honor present and a sweet young girl two years
younger than the boy Beaumont. I built a conversation which could have
happened--I used words such as were used at that time--1601. I sent it
anonymously to a magazine, and how the editor abused it and the sender!
But that man was a praiser of Rabelais, and had been saying, 'O that we
had a Rabelais!' I judged that I could furnish him one."]
Eighteen hundred and seventy-six was a Presidential year--the year of the
Hayes-Tilden campaign. Clemens and Howells were both warm Republicans
and actively interested in the outcome, Clemens, as he confessed, for the
first time in his life. Before his return to Hartford he announced
himself publicly as a Hayes man, made so by Governor Hayes's letter of
acceptance, which, he said, "expresses my own political convictions."
His politics had not been generally known up to that time, and a Tilden
and Hendricks club in Jersey City had invited him to be present and give
them some political counsel, at a flag-raising. He wrote, declining
pleasantly enough, then added:
"You have asked me for some political counsel or advice: In view of Mr.
Tilden's Civil War record my advice is not to raise the flag."
He wrote Howells: "If Tilden is elected I think the entire country will
go pretty straight to--Mrs. Howells's bad place."
Howells was writing a campaign biography of Hayes, which he hoped would
have a large sale, and Clemens urged him to get it out quickly and save
the country. Howells, working like a beaver, in turn urged Clemens to
take the field in the cause. Returning to Hartford, Clemens presided at
a political rally and made a speech, the most widely quoted of the
campaign. All papers, without distinction as to party, quoted it, and
all readers, regardless of politics, read it with joy.
Yet conditions did not improve. When Howells's book had been out a
reasonable length of time he wrote that it had sold only two thousand
"There's success for you," he said. "It makes me despair of the
Republic, I can tell you."
Clemens, however, did not lose faith, and went on shouting for Hayes and
damning Tilden till the final vote was cast. In later life he changed
his mind about Tilden (as did many others) through sympathy. Sympathy
could make--Mark Twain change his mind any time. He stood for the right,
but, above all, for justice. He stood for the wronged, regardless of all