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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886|
CXXIX. Further Affairs at the Farm
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was at Elmira, in July (1880), that the third little girl came--Jane
Lampton, for her grandmother, but always called Jean. She was a large,
lovely baby, robust and happy. When she had been with them a little more
than a month Clemens, writing to Twichell, said:
DEAR OLD JOE,--Concerning Jean Clemens, if anybody said he "didn't
see no pints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog," I
should think he was convicting himself of being a pretty poor sort
of observer. She is the comeliest and daintiest and perfectest
little creature the continents and archipelagos have seen since the
Bay and Susy were her size. I will not go into details; it is not
necessary; you will soon be in Hartford, where I have already hired
a hall; the admission fee will be but a trifle.
It is curious to note the change in the stock-quotations of the
Affection Board brought about by throwing this new security on the
market. Four weeks ago the children still put Mama at the head of
the list right along, where she had always been. But now:
That is the way it stands now. Mama is become No. 2; I have dropped
from No. 4, and am become No. 5. Some time ago it used to be nip
and tuck between me and the cats, but after the cats "developed" I
didn't stand any more show.
Been reading Daniel Webster's Private Correspondence. Have read a
hundred of his diffuse, conceited, "eloquent," bathotic (or
bathostic) letters, written in that dim (no, vanished) past, when he
was a student. And Lord! to think that this boy, who is so real to
me now, and so booming with fresh young blood and bountiful life,
and sappy cynicisms about girls, has since climbed the Alps of fame
and stood against the sun one brief, tremendous moment with the
world's eyes on him, and then---- fzt! where is he? Why, the only
long thing, the only real thing about the whole shadowy business, is
the sense of the lagging dull and hoary lapse of time that has
drifted by since then; a vast, empty level, it seems, with a
formless specter glimpsed fitfully through the smoke and mist that
lie along its remote verge.
Well, we are all getting along here first-rate. Livy gains strength
daily and sits up a deal; the baby is five weeks old and---- But no
more of this. Somebody may be reading this letter eighty years
hence. And so, my friend (you pitying snob, I mean, who are holding
this yellow paper in your hand in 1960), save yourself the trouble
of looking further. I know how pathetically trivial our small
concerns would seem to you, and I will not let your eye profane
them. No, I keep my news; you keep your compassion. Suffice it you
to know, scoffer and ribald, that the little child is old and blind
now, and once more tooth less; and the rest of us are shadows these
many, many years. Yes, and your time cometh!
It is the ageless story. He too had written his youthful letters, and
later had climbed the Alps of fame and was still outlined against the
sun. Happily, the little child was to evade that harsher penalty--the
unwarranted bitterness and affront of a lingering, palsied age.
Mrs. Clemens, in a letter somewhat later, set down a thought similar to
"We are all going so fast. Pretty soon we shall have been dead a hundred
Clemens varied his work that summer, writing alternately on 'The Prince
and the Pauper' and on the story about 'Huck Finn', which he had begun
four years earlier.
He read the latter over and found in it a new interest. It did not
fascinate him, as did the story of the wandering prince. He persevered
only as the spirit moved him, piling up pages on both the tales.
He always took a boy's pride in the number of pages he could complete at
a sitting, and if the day had gone well he would count them triumphantly,
and, lighting a fresh cigar, would come tripping down the long stair that
led to the level of the farm-house, and, gathering his audience, would
read to them the result of his industry; that is to say, he proceeded
with the story of the Prince. Apparently he had not yet acquired
confidence or pride enough in poor Huck to exhibit him, even to friends.
The reference (in the letter to Twichell) to the cats at the farm
introduces one of the most important features of that idyllic resort.
There were always cats at the farm. Mark Twain himself dearly loved
cats, and the children inherited this passion. Susy once said:
"The difference between papa and mama is, that mama loves morals and papa
The cats did not always remain the same, but some of the same ones
remained a good while, and were there from season to season, always
welcomed and adored. They were commendable cats, with such names as
Fraulein, Blatherskite, Sour Mash, Stray Kit, Sin, and Satan, and when,
as happened now and then, a vacancy occurred in the cat census there
followed deep sorrow and elaborate ceremonies.
Naturally, there would be stories about cats: impromptu bedtime stories,
which began anywhere and ended nowhere, and continued indefinitely
through a land inhabited only by cats and dreams. One of these stories,
as remembered and set down later, began:
Once upon a time there was a noble, big cat whose christian name was
Catasaqua, because she lived in that region; but she didn't have any
surname, because she was a short-tailed cat, being a manx, and
didn't need one. It is very just and becoming in a long-tailed cat
to have a surname, but it would be very ostentatious, and even
dishonorable, in a manx. Well, Catasaqua had a beautiful family of
cattings; and they were of different colors, to harmonize with their
characters. Cattaraugus, the eldest, was white, and he had high
impulses and a pure heart; Catiline, the youngest, was black, and he
had a self-seeking nature, his motives were nearly always base, he
was truculent and insincere. He was vain and foolish, and often
said that he would rather be what he was, and live like a bandit,
yet have none above him, than be a cat-o'-nine-tails and eat with
And so on without end, for the audience was asleep presently and the end
There was less enthusiasm over dogs at Quarry Farm.
Mark Twain himself had no great love for the canine breed. To a woman
who wrote, asking for his opinion on dogs, he said, in part:
By what right has the dog come to be regarded as a "noble" animal?
The more brutal and cruel and unjust you are to him the more your
fawning and adoring slave he becomes; whereas, if you shamefully
misuse a cat once she will always maintain a dignified reserve
toward you afterward you can never get her full confidence again.
He was not harsh to dogs; occasionally he made friends with them. There
was once at the farm a gentle hound, named Bones, that for some reason
even won his way into his affections. Bones was always a welcome
companion, and when the end of summer came, and Clemens, as was his
habit, started down the drive ahead of the carriage, Bones, half-way to
the entrance, was waiting for him. Clemens stooped down, put his arms
around him, and bade him an affectionate good-by. He always recalled
Bones tenderly, and mentioned him in letters to the farm.