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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886|
CXXI. Paris, England, and Homeward Bound
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|They decided to spend the spring months in Paris, so they gave up their
pleasant quarters with Fraulein Dahlweiner, and journeyed across Europe,
arriving at the French capital February 28, 1879. Here they met another
discouraging prospect, for the weather was cold and damp, the cabmen
seemed brutally ill-mannered, their first hotel was chilly, dingy,
uninviting. Clemens, in his note-book, set down his impressions of their
rooms. A paragraph will serve:
Ten squatty, ugly arm-chairs, upholstered in the ugliest and
coarsest conceivable scarlet plush; two hideous sofas of the same--
uncounted armless chairs ditto. Five ornamental chairs, seats
covered with a coarse rag, embroidered in flat expanse with a
confusion of leaves such as no tree ever bore, six or seven a dirty
white and the rest a faded red. How those hideous chairs do swear
at the hideous sofa near them! This is the very hatefulest room I
have seen in Europe.
Oh, how cold and raw and unwarmable it is!
It was better than that when the sun came out, and they found happier
quarters presently at the Hotel Normandy, rue de l'Echelle.
But, alas, the sun did not come out often enough. It was one of those
French springs and summers when it rains nearly every day, and is
distressingly foggy and chill between times. Clemens received a bad
impression of France and the French during that Parisian-sojourn, from
which he never entirely recovered. In his note-book he wrote: "France
has neither winter, nor summer, nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks
it is a fine country."
The weather may not have been entirely accountable for his prejudice, but
from whatever cause Mark Twain, to the day of his death, had no great
love for the French as a nation. Conversely, the French as a nation did
not care greatly for Mark Twain. There were many individual Frenchmen
that Mark Twain admired, as there were many Frenchmen who admired the
work and personality of Mark Twain; but on neither side was there the
warm, fond, general affection which elsewhere throughout Europe he
invited and returned.
His book was not yet finished. In Paris he worked on it daily, but
without enthusiasm. The city was too noisy, the weather too dismal.
His note-book says:
May 7th. I wish this terrible winter would come to an end. Have had
rain almost without intermission for two months and one week.
May 28th. This is one of the coldest days of this most damnable and
It was not all gloom and discomfort. There was congenial company in
Paris, and dinner-parties, and a world of callers. Aldrich the
scintillating --[ Of Aldrich Clemens used to say: "When Aldrich speaks it
seems to me he is the bright face of the moon, and I feel like the other
side." Aldrich, unlike Clemens, was not given to swearing. The Parisian
note-book has this memorandum: "Aldrich gives his seat in the horse-car
to a crutched cripple, and discovers that what he took for a crutch is
only a length of walnut beading and the man not lame; whereupon Aldrich
uses the only profanity that ever escaped his lips: 'Damn a dam'd man who
would carry a dam'd piece of beading under his dam'd arm!'"]-- was there,
also Gedney Bunce, of Hartford, Frank Millet and his wife, Hjalinar
Hjorth Boyesen and his wife, and a Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, artist
people whom the Clemenses had met pleasantly in Italy. Turgenieff, as in
London, came to call; also Baron Tauchnitz, that nobly born
philanthropist of German publishers, who devoted his life, often at his
personal cost, to making the literature of other nations familiar to his
own. Tauchnitz had early published the 'Innocents', following it with
other Mark Twain volumes as they appeared, paying always, of his own will
and accord, all that he could afford to pay for this privilege; which was
not really a privilege, for the law did not require him to pay at all.
He traveled down to Paris now to see the author, and to pay his respects
to him. "A mighty nice old gentleman," Clemens found him. Richard
Whiteing was in Paris that winter, and there were always plenty of young
American painters whom it was good to know.
They had what they called the Stomach Club, a jolly organization, whose
purpose was indicated by its name. Mark Twain occasionally attended its
sessions, and on one memorable evening, when Edwin A. Abbey was there,
speeches were made which never appeared in any printed proceedings. Mark
Twain's address that night has obtained a wide celebrity among the clubs
of the world, though no line of it, or even its title has ever found its
way into published literature.
Clemens had a better time in Paris than the rest of his party. He could
go and come, and mingle with the sociabilities when the abnormal weather
kept the others housed in. He did a good deal of sight-seeing of his own
kind, and once went up in a captive balloon. They were all studying
French, more or less, and they read histories and other books relating to
France. Clemens renewed his old interest in Joan of Arc, and for the
first time appears to have conceived the notion of writing the story of
that lovely character.
The Reign of Terror interested him. He reread Carlyle's Revolution, a
book which he was never long without reading, and they all read 'A Tale
of Two Cities'. When the weather permitted they visited the scenes of
that grim period.
In his note-book he comments:
"The Reign of Terror shows that, without distinction or rank, the
people were savages. Marquises, dukes, lawyers, blacksmiths, they
each figure in due proportion to their crafts."
"For 1,000 years this savage nation indulged itself in massacre;
every now and then a big massacre or a little one. The spirit is
peculiar to France--I mean in Christendom--no other state has had
it. In this France has always walked abreast, kept her end up with
her brethren, the Turks and the Burmese. Their chief traits--love
of glory and massacre."
Yet it was his sense of fairness that made him write, as a sort of
"You perceive I generalize with intrepidity from single instances.
It is the tourists' custom. When I see a man jump from the Vendome
Column I say, 'They like to do that in Paris.'"
Following this implied atonement, he records a few conclusions, drawn
doubtless from Parisian reading and observation:
"Childish race and great."
"I'm for cremation."
"I disfavor capital punishment."
"Samson was a Jew, therefore not a fool. The Jews have the best
average brain of any people in the world. The Jews are the only
race in the world who work wholly with their brains, and never with
their hands. There are no Jew beggars, no Jew tramps, no Jew
ditchers, hod-carriers, day-laborers, or followers of toilsome
"They are peculiarly and conspicuously the world's intellectual
"Communism is idiocy. They want to divide up the property. Suppose
they did it. It requires brains to keep money as well as to make
it. In a precious little while the money would be back in the
former owner's hands and the communist would be poor again. The
division would have to be remade every three years or it would do
the communist no good."
A curious thing happened one day in Paris. Boyesen; in great excitement,
came to the Normandy and was shown to the Clemens apartments. He was
pale and could hardly speak, for his emotion. He asked immediately if.
his wife had come to their rooms. On learning that she had not, he
declared that she was lost or had met with an accident. She had been
gone several hours, he said, and had sent no word, a thing which she had
never done before. He besought Clemens to aid him in his search for her,
to do something to help him find her. Clemens, without showing the least
emotion or special concentration of interest, said quietly:
"Where will you go first," Boyesen demanded.
Still in the same even voice Clemens said:
"To the elevator."
He passed out of the room, with Boyesen behind him, into the hall. The
elevator was just coming up, and as they reached it, it stopped at their
landing, and Mrs. Boyesen stepped out. She had been delayed by a
breakdown and a blockade. Clemens said afterward that he had a positive
conviction that she would be on the elevator when they reached it. It
was one of those curious psychic evidences which we find all along during
his life; or, if the skeptics prefer to call them coincidences, they are
privileged to do so.
Paris, June 1, 1879. Still this vindictive winter continues. Had a
raw, cold rain to-day. To-night we sit around a rousing wood fire.
They stood it for another month, and then on the 10th of July, when it
was still chilly and disagreeable, they gave it up and left for Brussels,
which he calls "a dirty, beautiful (architecturally), interesting town."
Two days in Brussels, then to Antwerp, where they dined on the Trenton
with Admiral Roan, then to Rotterdam, Dresden, Amsterdam, and London,
arriving there the 29th of July, which was rainy and cold, in keeping
with all Europe that year.
Had to keep a rousing big cannel-coal fire blazing in the grate all
day. A remarkable summer, truly!
London meant a throng of dinners, as always: brilliant, notable affairs,
too far away to recall. A letter written by Mrs. Clemens at the time
preserves one charming, fresh bit of that departed bloom.
Clara [Spaulding] went in to dinner with Mr. Henry James; she
enjoyed him very much. I had a little chat with him before dinner,
and he was exceedingly pleasant and easy to talk with. I had
expected just the reverse, thinking one would feel looked over by
him and criticized.
Mr. Whistler, the artist, was at the dinner, but he did not attract
me. Then there was a lady, over eighty years old, a Mrs. Stuart,
who was Washington Irving's love, and she is said to have been his
only love, and because of her he went unmarried to his grave. --
[Mrs. Clemens was misinformed. Irving's only "love" was a Miss
Hoffman.]-- She was also an intimate friend of Madame Bonaparte.
You would judge Mrs. Stuart to be about fifty, and she was the life
of the drawing-room after dinner, while the ladies were alone,
before the gentlemen came up. It was lovely to see such a sweet old
age; every one was so fond of her, every one deferred to her, yet
every one was joking her, making fun of her, but she was always
equal to the occasion, giving back as bright replies as possible;
you had not the least sense that she was aged. She quoted French in
her stories with perfect ease and fluency, and had all the time such
a kindly, lovely way. When she entered the room, before dinner, Mr.
James, who was then talking with me, shook hands with her and said,
"Good evening, you wonderful lady." After she had passed . . .
he said, "She is the youngest person in London. She has the
youngest feelings and the youngest interests . . . . She is
It was a perfect delight to hear her and see her.
For more than two years they had had an invitation from Reginald
Cholmondeley to pay him another visit.
So they went for a week to Condover, where many friends were gathered,
including Millais, the painter, and his wife (who had been the wife of
Ruskin), numerous relatives, and other delightful company. It was one of
the happiest chapters of their foreign sojourn. --[Moncure D. Conway, who
was in London at the time, recalls, in his Autobiography, a visit which
he made with Mr. and Mrs. Clemens to Stratford-on-Avon. "Mrs. Clemens
was an ardent Shakespearian, and Mark Twain determined to give her a
surprise. He told her that we were going on a journey to Epworth, and
persuaded me to connive with the joke by writing to Charles Flower not to
meet us himself, but send his carriage. On arrival at the station we
directed the driver to take us straight to the church. When we entered,
and Mrs. Clemens read on Shakespeare's grave, 'Good friend, for Jesus'
sake, forbear,' she started back, exclaiming, 'where am I?' Mark
received her reproaches with an affluence of guilt, but never did lady
enjoy a visit more than that to Avonbank. Mrs. Charles Flower (nee
Martineau) took Mrs. Clemens to her heart, and contrived that every
social or other attraction of that region should surround her."]
From the note-book:
Sunday, August 17,'79. Raw and cold, and a drenching rain. Went to
hear Mr. Spurgeon. House three-quarters full-say three thousand
people. First hour, lacking one minute, taken up with two prayers,
two ugly hymns, and Scripture-reading. Sermon three-quarters of an
hour long. A fluent talker, good, sonorous voice. Topic treated in
the unpleasant, old fashion: Man a mighty bad child, God working at
him in forty ways and having a world of trouble with him.
A wooden-faced congregation; just the sort to see no incongruity in
the majesty of Heaven stooping to plead and sentimentalize over
such, and see in their salvation an important matter.
Tuesday, August 19th. Went up Windermere Lake in the steamer.
Talked with the great Darwin.
They had planned to visit Dr. Brown in Scotland. Mrs. Clemens, in
particular, longed to go, for his health had not been of the best, and
she felt that they would never have a chance to see him again. Clemens
in after years blamed himself harshly for not making the trip, declaring
that their whole reason for not going was an irritable reluctance on his
part to take the troublesome journey and a perversity of spirit for which
there was no real excuse. There is documentary evidence against this
harsh conclusion. They were, in fact, delayed here and there by
misconnections and the continued terrific weather, barely reaching
Liverpool in time for their sailing date, August 23d. Unquestionably he
was weary of railway travel, far he always detested it. Time would
magnify his remembered reluctance, until, in the end, he would load his
conscience with the entire burden of blame.
Their ship was the Gallia, and one night, when they were nearing the
opposite side of the Atlantic, Mark Twain, standing on deck, saw for the
third time in his experience a magnificent lunar rainbow: a complete
arch, the colors part of the time very brilliant, but little different
from a day rainbow. It is not given to many persons in this world to see
even one of these phenomena. After each previous vision there had come
to him a period of good-fortune. Perhaps this also boded well for him.