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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCXVI. Riverdale - A Yale Degree
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The Clemens household did not return to 14 West Tenth Street. They spent
a week in Elmira at the end of September, and after a brief stop in New
York took up their residence on the northern metropolitan boundary, at
Riverdale-on-the-Hudson, in the old Appleton home. They had permanently
concluded not to return to Hartford. They had put the property there
into an agent's hands for sale. Mrs. Clemens never felt that she had the
strength to enter the house again.
They had selected the Riverdale place with due consideration. They
decided that they must have easy access to the New York center, but they
wished also to have the advantage of space and spreading lawn and trees,
large rooms, and light. The Appleton homestead provided these things.
It was a house built in the first third of the last century by one of the
Morris family, so long prominent in New York history. On passing into
the Appleton ownership it had been enlarged and beautified and named
"Holbrook Hall." It overlooked the Hudson and the Palisades. It had
associations: the Roosevelt family had once lived there, Huxley, Darwin,
Tyndall, and others of their intellectual rank had been entertained there
during its occupation by the first Appleton, the founder of the
publishing firm. The great hall of the added wing was its chief feature.
Clemens once remembered:
"We drifted from room to room on our tour of inspection, always with a
growing doubt as to whether we wanted that house or not; but at last,
when we arrived in a dining-room that was 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and
had two great fireplaces in it, that settled it."
There were pleasant neighbors at Riverdale, and had it not been for the
illnesses that seemed always ready to seize upon that household the home
there might have been ideal. They loved the place presently, so much so
that they contemplated buying it, but decided that it was too costly.
They began to prospect for other places along the Hudson shore. They
were anxious to have a home again--one that they could call their own.
Among the many pleasant neighbors at Riverdale were the Dodges, the
Quincy Adamses, and the Rev. Mr. Carstensen, a liberal-minded minister
with whom Clemens easily affiliated. Clemens and Carstensen visited back
and forth and exchanged views. Once Mr. Carstensen told him that he was
going to town to dine with a party which included the Reverend Gottheil,
a Catholic bishop, an Indian Buddhist, and a Chinese scholar of the
Confucian faith, after which they were all going to a Yiddish theater.
"Well, there's only one more thing you need to make the party complete--
that is, either Satan or me."
Howells often came to Riverdale. He was living in a New York apartment,
and it was handy and made an easy and pleasant outing for him. He says:
"I began to see them again on something like the sweet old terms. They
lived far more unpretentiously than they used, and I think with a notion
of economy, which they had never very successfully practised. I recall
that at the end of a certain year in Hartford, when they had been saving
and paying cash for everything, Clemens wrote, reminding me of their
avowed experiment, and asking me to guess how many bills they had at New-
Year's; he hastened to say that a horse-car would not have held them. At
Riverdale they kept no carriage, and there was a snowy night when I drove
up to their handsome old mansion in the station carryall, which was
crusted with mud, as from the going down of the Deluge after transporting
Noah and his family from the Ark to whatever point they decided to settle
provisionally. But the good talk, the rich talk, the talk that could
never suffer poverty of mind or soul was there, and we jubilantly found
ourselves again in our middle youth."
Both Howells and Clemens were made doctors of letters by Yale that year
and went over in October to receive their degrees. It was Mark Twain's
second Yale degree, and it was the highest rank that an American
institution of learning could confer.
I want you to understand, old fellow, that it will be in its intention
the highest public compliment, and emphatically so in your case, for it
will be tendered you by a corporation of gentlemen, the majority of whom
do not at all agree with the views on important questions which you have
lately promulgated in speech and in writing, and with which you are
identified to the public mind. They grant, of course, your right to hold
and express those views, though for themselves they don't like 'em; but
in awarding you the proposed laurel they will make no count of that
whatever. Their action will appropriately signify simply and solely
their estimate of your merit and rank as a man of letters, and so, as I
say, the compliment of it will be of the pure, unadulterated quality.
Howells was not especially eager to go, and tried to conspire with
Clemens to arrange some excuse which would keep them at home.
I remember with satisfaction [he wrote] our joint success in keeping away
from the Concord Centennial in 1875, and I have been thinking we might
help each other in this matter of the Yale Anniversary. What are your
plans for getting left, or shall you trust to inspiration?
Their plans did not avail. Both Howells and Clemens went to New Haven to
receive their honors.
When they had returned, Howells wrote formally, as became the new rank:
DEAR SIR,--I have long been an admirer of your complete works,
several of which I have read, and I am with you shoulder to shoulder
in the cause of foreign missions. I would respectfully request a
personal interview, and if you will appoint some day and hour most
inconvenient to you I will call at your baronial hall. I cannot
doubt, from the account of your courtesy given me by the Twelve
Apostles, who once visited you in your Hartford home and were
mistaken for a syndicate of lightning-rod men, that our meeting will
be mutually agreeable.
W. D. HOWELLS.