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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCXI. Dollis Hill and Home
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was early in July, 1900, that they removed to Dollis Hill House, a
beautiful old residence surrounded by trees on a peaceful hilltop, just
outside of London. It was literally within a stone's-throw of the city
limits, yet it was quite rural, for the city had not overgrown it then,
and it retained all its pastoral features--a pond with lily-pads, the
spreading oaks, the wide spaces of grassy lawn. Gladstone, an intimate
friend of the owner, had made it a favorite retreat at one period of his
life, and the place to-day is converted into a public garden called
Gladstone Park. The old English diplomat used to drive out and sit in
the shade of the trees and read and talk and translate Homer, and pace
the lawn as he planned diplomacy, and, in effect, govern the English
empire from that retired spot.
Clemens, in some memoranda made at the moment, doubts if Gladstone was
always at peace in his mind in this retirement.
"Was he always really tranquil within," he says, "or was he only
externally so--for effect? We cannot know; we only know that his rustic
bench under his favorite oak has no bark on its arms. Facts like this
speak louder than words."
The red-brick residential wave of London was still some distance away in
1900. Clemens says:
The rolling sea of green grass still stretches away on every hand,
splotches with shadows of spreading oaks in whose black coolness
flocks of sheep lie peacefully dreaming. Dreaming of what? That
they are in London, the metropolis of the world, Post-office
District, N. W.? Indeed no. They are not aware of it. I am aware
of it, but that is all. It is not possible to realize it. For
there is no suggestion of city here; it is country, pure & simple,
& as still & reposeful as is the bottom of the sea.
They all loved Dollis Hill. Mrs. Clemens wrote as if she would like to
remain forever in that secluded spot.
It is simply divinely beautiful & peaceful; . . . the great old
trees are beyond everything. I believe nowhere in the world do you
find such trees as in England . . . . Jean has a hammock swung
between two such great trees, & on the other side of a little pond,
which is full of white & yellow pond-lilies, there is tall grass &
trees & Clara & Jean go there in the afternoons, spread down a rug
on the grass in the shade & read & sleep.
They all spent most of their time outdoors at Dollis Hill under those
Clemens to Twichell in midsummer wrote:
I am the only person who is ever in the house in the daytime, but I
am working & deep in the luxury of it. But there is one tremendous
defect. Livy is all so enchanted with the place & so in love with
it that she doesn't know how she is going to tear herself away from
Much company came to them at Dollis Hill. Friends drove out from London,
and friends from America came often, among them--the Sages, Prof.
Willard Fiske, and Brander Matthews with his family. Such callers were
served with tea and refreshment on the lawn, and lingered, talking and
talking, while the sun got lower and the shadows lengthened, reluctant to
leave that idyllic spot.
"Dollis Hill comes nearer to being a paradise than any other home I ever
occupied," he wrote when the summer was about over.
But there was still a greater attraction than Dollis Hill. Toward the
end of summer they willingly left that paradise, for they had decided at
last to make that home-returning voyage which had invited them so long.
They were all eager enough to go--Clemens more eager than the rest,
though he felt a certain sadness, too, in leaving the tranquil spot which
in a brief summer they had so learned to love.
Writing to W. H. Helm, a London newspaper man who had spent pleasant
hours with him chatting in the shade, he said:
. . . The packing & fussing & arranging have begun, for the
removal to America &, by consequence, the peace of life is marred &
its contents & satisfactions are departing. There is not much
choice between a removal & a funeral; in fact, a removal is a
funeral, substantially, & I am tired of attending them.
They closed Dollis Hill, spent a few days at Brown's Hotel, and sailed
for America, on the Minnehaha, October 6, 1900, bidding, as Clemens
believed, and hoped, a permanent good-by to foreign travel. They reached
New York on the 15th, triumphantly welcomed after their long nine years
of wandering. How glad Mark Twain was to get home may be judged from his
remark to one of the many reporters who greeted him.
"If I ever get ashore I am going to break both of my legs so I
can't, get away again."