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26 June, 2013
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LXXXV. A Birth, a Death, and a Voyage
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The year 1872 was an eventful one in Mark Twain's life. At Elmira, on
March 19th, his second child, a little girl, whom they named Susan
Olivia, was born. On June 2d, in the new home in Hartford, to which they
had recently moved, his first child, a little boy, Langdon, died. He had
never been strong, his wavering life had often been uncertain, always
more of the spirit than the body, and in Elmira he contracted a heavy
cold, or perhaps it was diphtheria from the beginning. In later years,
whenever Clemens spoke of the little fellow, he never failed to accuse
himself of having been the cause of the child's death. It was Mrs.
Clemens's custom to drive out each morning with Langdon, and once when
she was unable to go Clemens himself went instead.
"I should not have been permitted to do it," he said, remembering.
"I was not qualified for any such responsibility as that. Some one
should have gone who had at least the rudiments of a mind. Necessarily
I would lose myself dreaming. After a while the coachman looked around
and noticed that the carriage-robes had dropped away from the little
fellow, and that he was exposed to the chilly air. He called my
attention to it, but it was too late. Tonsilitis or something of the
sort set in, and he did not get any better, so we took him to Hartford.
There it was pronounced diphtheria, and of course he died."
So, with or without reason, he added the blame of another tragedy to the
heavy burden of remorse which he would go on piling up while he lived.
The blow was a terrible one to Mrs. Clemens; even the comfort of the
little new baby on her arm could not ease the ache in her breast. It
seemed to her that death was pursuing her. In one of her letters she
"I feel so often as if my path is to be lined with graves," and she
expresses the wish that she may drop out of life herself before her
sister and her husband--a wish which the years would grant.
They did not return to Elmira, for it was thought that the air of the
shore would be better for the little girl; so they spent the summer at
Saybrook, Connecticut, at Fenwick Hall, leaving Orion and his wife in
charge of the house at Hartford.
Beyond a few sketches, Clemens did very little literary work that summer,
but he planned a trip to Europe, and he invented what is still known and
sold as the "Mark Twain Scrap-Book."
He wrote to Orion of his proposed trip to England, and dilated upon his
scrap-book with considerable enthusiasm. The idea had grown out of the
inconvenience of finding a paste-jar, and the general mussiness of scrap-
book keeping. His new plan was a self-pasting scrap-book with the gum
laid on in narrow strips, requiring only to be dampened with a sponge or
other moist substance to be ready for the clipping. He states that he
intends to put the invention into the hands of Slote, Woodman & Co., of
whom Dan Slote, his old Quaker City room-mate, was the senior partner,
and have it manufactured for the trade.
About this time began Mark Twain's long and active interest in copyright.
Previously he had not much considered the subject; he had taken it for
granted there was no step that he could take, while international piracy
was a recognized institution. On both sides of the water books were
appropriated, often without profit, sometimes even without credit, to the
author. To tell the truth, Clemens had at first regarded it rather in
the nature of a compliment that his books should be thought worth
pirating in England, but as time passed he realized that he was paying
heavily for this recognition. Furthermore, he decided that he was
forfeiting a right; rather that he was being deprived of it: something
which it was in his nature to resent.
When 'Roughing It' had been ready for issue he agreed with Bliss that
they should try the experiment of copyrighting it in England, and see how
far the law would protect them against the voracious little publisher,
who thus far had not only snapped up everything bearing Mark Twain's
signature, but had included in a volume of Mark Twain sketches certain
examples of very weak humor with which Mark Twain had been previously
Whatever the English pirate's opinion of the copyright protection of
'Roughing It' may have been, he did not attempt to violate it. This was
gratifying. Clemens came to regard England as a friendly power. He
decided to visit it and spy out the land. He would make the acquaintance
of its people and institutions and write a book, which would do these
He gave out no word of his real purpose. He merely said that he was
going over to see his English publishers, and perhaps to arrange for a
few lectures. He provided himself with some stylographic note-books, by
which he could produce two copies of his daily memoranda--one for himself
and one to mail to Mrs. Clemens--and sailed on the Scotia August 21,
Arriving in Liverpool he took train for London, and presently the
wonderful charm of that old, finished country broke upon him. His "first
hour in England was an hour of delight," he records; "of rapture and
ecstasy. These are the best words I can find, but they are not adequate;
they are not strong enough to convey the feeling which this first vision
of rural England brought me." Then he noticed that the gentleman
opposite in his compartment paid no attention to the scenery, but was
absorbed in a green-covered volume. He was so absorbed in it that, by
and by, Clemens's curiosity was aroused. He shifted his position a
little and his eye caught the title. It was the first volume of the
English edition of The Innocents Abroad. This was gratifying for a
moment; then he remembered that the man had never laughed, never even
smiled during the hour of his steady reading. Clemens recalled what he
had heard of the English lack of humor. He wondered if this was a fair
example of it, and if the man could be really taking seriously every word
he was reading. Clemens could not look at the scenery any more for
watching his fellow-passenger, waiting with a fascinated interest for the
paragraph that would break up that iron-clad solemnity. It did not come.
During all the rest of the trip to London the atmosphere of the
compartment remained heavy with gloom.
He drove to the Langham Hotel, always popular with Americans, established
himself, and went to look up his publishers. He found the Routledges
about to sit down to luncheon in a private room, up-stairs, in their
publishing house. He joined them, and not a soul stirred from that table
again until evening. The Routledges had never heard Mark Twain talk
before, never heard any one talk who in the least resembled him. Various
refreshments were served during the afternoon, came and went, while this
marvelous creature talked on and they listened, reveling, and wondering
if America had any more of that sort at home. By and by dinner was
served; then after a long time, when there was no further excuse for
keeping him there, they took him to the Savage Club, where there were yet
other refreshments and a gathering of the clans to welcome this new
arrival as a being from some remote and unfamiliar star.
Tom Hood, the younger, was there, and Harry Lee, and Stanley the
explorer, who had but just returned from finding Livingstone, and Henry
Irving, and many another whose name remains, though the owners of those
names are all dead now, and their laughter and their good-fellowship are
only a part of that intangible fabric which we call the past.'--[Clemens
had first known Stanley as a newspaper man. "I first met him when he
reported a lecture of mine in St. Louis," he said once in a conversation
where the name of Stanley was mentioned.]