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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LXIX. A Lecture Tour
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|James Redpath, proprietor of the Boston Lyceum Bureau, was the leading
lecture agent of those days, and controlled all, or nearly all, of the
platform celebrities. Mark Twain's success at the Cooper Union the year
before had interested Redpath. He had offered engagements then and
later, but Clemens had not been free for the regular circuit. Now there
was no longer a reason for postponement of a contract. Redpath was eager
for the new celebrity, and Clemens closed with him for the season of
1868-9. With his new lecture, "The Vandal Abroad," he was presently
earning a hundred dollars and more a night, and making most of the nights
This was affluence indeed. He had become suddenly a person of substance-
an associate of men of consequence, with a commensurate income. He could
help his mother lavishly now, and he did.
His new lecture was immensely popular. It was a resume of the 'Quaker
City' letters--a foretaste of the book which would presently follow.
Wherever he went, he was hailed with eager greetings. He caught such
drifting exclamations as, "There he is! There goes Mark Twain!" People
came out on the street to see him pass. That marvelous miracle which we
variously call "notoriety," "popularity," "fame," had come to him. In
his notebook he wrote, "Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident; the
only, earthly certainty oblivion."
The newspapers were filled with enthusiasm both as to his matter and
method. His delivery was described as a "long, monotonous drawl, with
the fun invariably coming in at the end of a sentence--after a pause."
His appearance at this time is thus set down:
Mark Twain is a man of medium height, about five feet ten, sparsely
built, with dark reddish-brown hair and mustache. His features are
fair, his eyes keen and twinkling. He dresses in scrupulous evening
attire. In lecturing he hangs about the desk, leaning on it or
flirting around the corners of it, then marching and countermarching
in the rear of it. He seldom casts a glance at his manuscript.
No doubt this fairly presents Mark Twain, the lecturer of that day. It
was a new figure on the platform, a man with a new method. As to his
manuscript, the item might have said that he never consulted it at all.
He learned his lecture; what he consulted was merely a series of
hieroglyphics, a set of crude pictures drawn by himself, suggestive of
the subject-matter underneath new head. Certain columns represented the
Parthenon; the Sphinx meant Egypt, and so on. His manuscript lay there
in case of accident, but the accident did not happen.
A number of his engagements were in the central part of New York, at
points not far distant from Elmira. He had a standing invitation to
visit the Langdon home, and he made it convenient to avail himself of
His was not an unruffled courtship. When at last he reached the point of
proposing for the daughter of the house, neither the daughter nor the
household offered any noticeable encouragement to his suit. Many absurd
anecdotes have been told of his first interview with Mr. Langdon on the
subject, but they are altogether without foundation. It was a proper and
dignified discussion of a very serious matter. Mr. Langdon expressed
deep regard for him and friendship but he was not inclined to add him to
the family; the young lady herself, in a general way, accorded with these
views. The applicant for favor left sadly enough, but he could not
remain discouraged or sad. He lectured at Cleveland with vast success,
and the news of it traveled quickly to Elmira. He was referred to by
Cleveland papers as a "lion" and "the coming man of the age." Two days
later, in Pittsburgh (November 19th), he "played" against Fanny Kemble,
the favorite actress of that time, with the result that Miss Kemble had
an audience of two hundred against nearly ten times the number who
gathered to hear Mark Twain. The news of this went to Elmira, too. It
was in the papers there next morning; surely this was a conquering hero--
a gay Lochinvar from out of the West--and the daughter of the house must
be guarded closely, that he did not bear her away. It was on the second
morning following the Pittsburgh triumph, when the Langdon family were
gathered at breakfast, that a bushy auburn head poked fearfully in at the
door, and a low, humble voice said:
"The calf has returned; may the prodigal have some breakfast?"
No one could be reserved or reprovingly distant, or any of those
unfriendly things with a person like that; certainly not Jervis Langdon,
who delighted in the humor and the tricks and turns and oddities of this
eccentric visitor. Giving his daughter to him was another matter, but
even that thought was less disturbing than it had been at the start. In
truth, the Langdon household had somehow grown to feel that he belonged
to them. The elder sister's husband, Theodore Crane, endorsed him fully.
He had long before read some of the Mark Twain sketches that had traveled
eastward in advance of their author, and had recognized, even in the
crudest of them, a classic charm. As for Olivia Langdon's mother and
sister, their happiness lay in hers. Where her heart went theirs went
also, and it would appear that her heart, in spite of herself, had found
its rightful keeper. Only young Langdon was irreconciled, and eventually
set out for a voyage around the world to escape the situation.
There was only a provisional engagement at first. Jervis Langdon
suggested, and Samuel Clemens agreed with him, that it was proper to know
something of his past, as well as of his present, before the official
parental sanction should be given. When Mr. Langdon inquired as to the
names of persons of standing to whom he might write for credentials,
Clemens pretty confidently gave him the name of the Reverend Stebbins and
others of San Francisco, adding that he might write also to Joe Goodman
if he wanted to, but that he had lied for Goodman a hundred times and
Goodman would lie for him if necessary, so his testimony would be of no
value. The letters to the clergy were written, and Mr. Langdon also
wrote one on his own account.
It was a long mail-trip to the Coast and back in those days. It might be
two months before replies would come from those ministers. The lecturer
set out again on his travels, and was radiantly and happily busy. He
went as far west as Illinois, had crowded houses in Chicago, visited
friends and kindred in Hannibal, St. Louis, and Keokuk, carrying the
great news, and lecturing in old familiar haunts.