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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCVI. A Summer in Sweden
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|A part of the tragedy of their trip around the world had been the
development in Jean Clemens of a malady which time had identified as
epilepsy. The loss of one daughter and the invalidism of another was the
burden which this household had now to bear. Of course they did not for
a moment despair of a cure for the beautiful girl who had been so cruelly
stricken, and they employed any agent that promised relief.
They decided now to go to London, in the hope of obtaining beneficial
treatment. They left Vienna at the end of May, followed to the station
by a great crowd, who loaded their compartment with flowers and lingered
on the platform waving and cheering, some of them in tears, while the
train pulled away. Leschetizky himself was among them, and Wilbrandt,
the author of the Master of Palmyra, and many artists and other notables,
"most of whom," writes Mrs. Clemens, "we shall probably never see again
in this world."
Their Vienna sojourn had been one of the most brilliant periods of their
life, as well as one of the saddest. The memory of Susy had been never
absent, and the failing health of Jean was a gathering cloud.
They stopped a day or two at Prague, where they were invited by the
Prince of Thurn and Taxis to visit his castle. It gave them a glimpse of
the country life of the Bohemian nobility which was most interesting.
The Prince's children were entirely familiar with Tom Sawyer and
Huckleberry Finn, which they had read both in English and in the
They journeyed to London by way of Cologne, arriving by the end of May.
Poultney Bigelow was there, and had recently been treated with great
benefit by osteopathy (then known as the Swedish movements), as practised
by Heinrick Kellgren at Sanna, Sweden. Clemens was all interest
concerning Kellgren's method and eager to try it for his daughter's
malady. He believed she could be benefited, and they made preparation to
spend some months at least in Sanna. They remained several weeks in
London, where they were welcomed with hospitality extraordinary. They
had hardly arrived when they were invited by Lord Salisbury to Hatfield
House, and by James Bryce to Portland Place, and by Canon Wilberforce to
Dean's Yard. A rather amusing incident happened at one of the luncheon-
parties. Canon Wilberforce was there and left rather early. When
Clemens was ready to go there was just one hat remaining. It was not
his, and he suspected, by the initials on the inside, that it belonged to
Canon Wilberforce. However, it fitted him exactly and he wore it away.
That evening he wrote:
PRINCE OF WALES HOTEL, DE VERE GARDENS,
DEAR CANON WILBERFORCE,--It is 8 P.M. During the past four hours I have
not been able to take anything that did not belong to me; during all that
time I have not been able to stretch a fact beyond the frontiers of truth
try as I might, & meantime, not only my morals have moved the
astonishment of all who have come in contact with me, but my manners have
gained more compliments than they have been accustomed to. This mystery
is causing my family much alarm. It is difficult to account for it.
I find I haven't my own hat. Have you developed any novelties of conduct
since you left Mr. Murray's, & have they been of a character to move the
concern of your friends? I think it must be this that has put me under
this happy charm; but, oh dear! I tremble for the other man!
S. L. CLEMENS.
Scarcely was this note on its way to Wilberforce when the following one
arrived, having crossed it in transit:
July 3, 1899.
DEAR MR. CLEMENS,--I have been conscious of a vivacity and facility of
expression this afternoon beyond the normal and I have just discovered
the reason!! I have seen the historic signature "Mark Twain" in my hat!!
Doubtless you have been suffering from a corresponding dullness & have
wondered why. I departed precipitately, the hat stood on my umbrella and
was a new Lincoln & Bennett--it fitted me exactly and I did not discover
the mistake till I got in this afternoon. Please forgive me. If you
should be passing this way to-morrow will you look in and change hats?
or shall I send it to the hotel?
I am, very sincerely yrs.,
20 Dean's Yard. BASIL WILBERFORCE.
Clemens was demanded by all the bohemian clubs, the White Friars, the
Vagabonds, the Savage, the Beefsteak, and the Authors. He spoke to them,
and those "Mark Twain Evenings" have become historic occasions in each of
the several institutions that gave him welcome. At the Vagabonds he told
them the watermelon story, and at the White Friars he reviewed the old
days when he had been elected to that society; "days," he said, "when all
Londoners were talking about nothing else than that they had discovered
Livingstone, and that the lost Sir Roger Tichborne had been found and
they were trying him for it."
At the Savage Club, too, he recalled old times and old friends, and
particularly that first London visit, his days in the club twenty-seven
"I was 6 feet 4 in those days," he said. "Now I am 5 feet 8 1/2 and
daily diminishing in altitude, and the shrinkage of my principles goes on
. . . . Irving was here then, is here now. Stanley is here, and Joe
Hatton, but Charles Reade is gone and Tom Hood and Harry Lee and Canon
Kingsley. In those days you could have carried Kipling around in a
lunch-basket; now he fills the world. I was young and foolish then; now
I am old and foolisher."
At the Authors Club he paid a special tribute to Rudyard Kipling, whose
dangerous illness in New York City and whose daughter's death had aroused
the anxiety and sympathy of the entire American nation. It had done much
to bring England and America closer together, Clemens said. Then he
added that he had been engaged the past eight days compiling a pun and
had brought it there to lay at their feet, not to ask for their
indulgence, but for their applause. It was this:
"Since England and America have been joined in Kipling, may they not be
severed in Twain."
Hundreds of puns had been made on his pen-name, but this was probably his
first and only attempt, and it still remains the best.
They arrived in Sweden early in July and remained until October. Jean
was certainly benefited by the Kellgren treatment, and they had for a
time the greatest hopes of her complete recovery. Clemens became
enthusiastic over osteopathy, and wrote eloquently to every one, urging
each to try the great new curative which was certain to restore universal
health. He wrote long articles on Kellgren and his science, largely
justified, no doubt, for certainly miraculous benefits were recorded;
though Clemens was not likely to underestimate a thing which appealed to
both his imagination and his reason. Writing to Twichell he concluded,
with his customary optimism over any new benefit:
Ten years hence no sane man will call a doctor except when the knife
must be used--& such cases will be rare. The educated physician
will himself be an osteopath. Dave will become one after he has
finished his medical training. Young Harmony ought to become one
now. I do not believe there is any difference between Kellgren's
science and osteopathy; but I am sending to America to find out. I
want osteopathy to prosper; it is common sense & scientific, & cures
a wider range of ailments than the doctor's methods can reach.
Twichell was traveling in Europe that summer, and wrote from Switzerland:
I seemed ever and anon to see you and me swinging along those
glorious Alpine woods, staring at the new unfoldings of splendor
that every turn brought into view-talking, talking, endlessly
talking the days through-days forever memorable to me. That was
twenty-one years ago; think of it! We were youngsters then, Mark,
and how keen our relish of everything was! Well, I can enjoy myself
now; but not with that zest and rapture. Oh, a lot of items of our
tramp travel in 1878 that I had long forgotten came back to me as we
sped through that enchanted region, and if I wasn't on duty with
Venice I'd stop and set down some of them, but Venice must be
attended to. For one thing, there is Howells's book to be read at
such intervals as can be snatched from the quick-time march on which
our rustling leader keeps us. However, in Venice so far we want to
be gazing pretty steadily from morning till night, and by the grace
of the gondola we can do it without exhaustion. Really I am drunk
But Clemens was full of Sweden. The skies there and the sunsets be
thought surpassed any he had ever known. On an evening in September he
DEAR JOE,--I've no business in here-I ought to be outside. I shall
never see another sunset to begin with it this side of heaven.
Venice? land, what a poor interest that is! This is the place to
be. I have seen about 60 sunsets here; & a good 40 of them were
away & beyond anything I had ever imagined before for dainty &
exquisite & marvelous beauty & infinite change & variety. America?
Italy? the tropics? They have no notion of what a sunset ought to
be. And this one--this unspeakable wonder! It discounts all the
rest. It brings the tears, it is so unutterably beautiful.
Clemens read a book during his stay in Sweden which interested him
deeply. It was the Open Question, by Elizabeth Robbins--a fine study of
life's sterner aspects. When he had finished he was moved to write the
author this encouraging word:
DEAR MISS ROBBINS,--A relative of Matthew Arnold lent us your 'Open
Question' the other day, and Mrs. Clemens and I are in your debt. I
am not able to put in words my feeling about the book--my admiration
of its depth and truth and wisdom and courage, and the fine and
great literary art and grace of the setting. At your age you cannot
have lived the half of the things that are in the book, nor
personally penetrated to the deeps it deals in, nor covered its wide
horizons with your very own vision--and so, what is your secret?
how have you written this miracle? Perhaps one must concede that
genius has no youth, but starts with the ripeness of age and old
Well, in any case, I am grateful to you. I have not been so
enriched by a book for many years, nor so enchanted by one. I seem
to be using strong language; still, I have weighed it.
S. L. CLEMENS.