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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CXCIV. Winter in Tedworth Square
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Mrs. Clemens, Clara, and Jean, with Katie Leary, sailed for England
without delay. Arriving there, they gave up the house in Guildford, and
in a secluded corner of Chelsea, on the tiny and then almost unknown
Tedworth Square (No. 23), they hid themselves away for the winter. They
did not wish to be visited; they did not wish their whereabouts known
except to a few of their closest friends. They wanted to be alone with
their sorrow, and not a target for curious attention. Perhaps not a
dozen people in London knew their address and the outside world was
ignorant of it altogether. It was through this that a wild report
started that Mark Twain's family had deserted him--that ill and in
poverty he was laboring alone to pay his debts. This report--exploited
in five-column head-lines by a hyper-hysterical paper of that period
received wide attention.
James Ross Clemens, of the St. Louis branch, a nephew of Frau von Versen,
was in London just then, and wrote at once, through Chatto & Windus,
begging Mark Twain to command his relative's purse. The reply to this
kind offer was an invitation to tea, and "Young Doctor Jim," as he was
called, found his famous relative by no means abandoned or in want, but
in pleasant quarters, with his family still loyal. The general
impression survived, however, that Mark Twain was sorely pressed, and the
New York Herald headed a public benefit fund for the payment of his
debts. The Herald subscribed one thousand dollars on its own account,
and Andrew Carnegie followed with another thousand, but the enterprise
was barely under way when Clemens wrote a characteristic letter, in which
he declared that while he would have welcomed the help offered, being
weary of debt, his family did not wish him to accept and so long as he
was able to take care of them through his own efforts.
Meantime he was back into literary harness; a notebook entry for
October 24, 1896, says:
"Wrote the fist chapter of the book to-day-'Around the World'."
He worked at it uninterruptedly, for in work; there was respite, though
his note-books show something of his mental torture, also his spiritual
heresies. His series of mistakes and misfortunes, ending with the death
of Susy, had tended to solidify his attitude of criticism toward things
in general and the human race in particular.
"Man is the only animal that blushes, or that needs to," was one of his
maxims of this period, and in another place he sets down the myriad
diseases which human flesh is heir to and his contempt for a creature
subject to such afflictions and for a Providence that could invent them.
Even Mrs. Clemens felt the general sorrow of the race. "Poor, poor human
nature," she wrote once during that long, gloomy winter.
Many of Mark Twain's notes refer to Susy. In one he says:
"I did not hear her glorious voice at its supremest--that was in Hartford
a month or two before the end."
Notes of heavy regret most of them are, and self-reproach and the
hopelessness of it all. In one place he records her accomplishment of
"And I felt like saying 'you marvelous child,' but never said it; to my
sorrow I remember it now. But I come of an undemonstrative race."
He wrote to Twichell:
But I have this consolation: that dull as I was I always knew enough
to be proud when she commended me or my work--as proud as if Livy
had done it herself--& I took it as the accolade from the hand of
genius. I see now--as Livy always saw--that she had greatness in
her, & that she herself was dimly conscious of it.
And now she is dead--& I can never tell her.
And closing a letter to Howells:
Good-by. Will healing ever come, or life have value again?
And shall we see Susy? Without doubt! without a shadow of doubt if
it can furnish opportunity to break our hearts again.
On November 26th, Thanksgiving, occurs this note:
"We did not celebrate it. Seven years ago Susy gave her play for
the first time."
And on Christmas:
London, 11.30 Xmas morning. The Square & adjacent streets are not
merely quiet, they are dead. There is not a sound. At intervals a
Sunday-looking person passes along. The family have been to
breakfast. We three sat & talked as usual, but the name of the day
was not mentioned. It was in our minds, but we said nothing.
And a little later:
Since bad luck struck us it is risky for people to have to do with
us. Our cook's sweetheart was healthy. He is rushing for the grave
now. Emily, one of the maids, has lost the sight of one eye and the
other is in danger. Wallace carried up coal & blacked the boots two
months--has suddenly gone to the hospital--pleurisy and a bad case.
We began to allow ourselves to see a good deal of our friends, the
Bigelows--straightway their baby sickened & died. Next Wilson got
his skull fractured.
January 23, 1897. I wish the Lord would disguise Himself in
citizen's clothing & make a personal examination of the sufferings
of the poor in London. He would be moved & would do something for