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26 June, 2013
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LXXXIX. Planning a New Home
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Clemens and his wife bought a lot for the new home that winter, a fine,
sightly piece of land on Farmington Avenue--table-land, slopingdown to a
pretty stream that wound through the willows and among the trees. They
were as delighted as children with their new purchase and the prospect of
building. To her sister Mrs. Clemens wrote:
Mr. Clemens seems to glory in his sense of possession; he goes daily
into the lot, has had several falls trying to lay off the land by
sliding around on his feet....
For three days the ice has covered the trees, and they have been
glorious. We could do nothing but watch the beauty outside; if you
looked at the trees as the sun struck them, with your back toward
the sun, they were covered with jewels. If you looked toward the
sun it was all crystal whiteness, a perfect fairy-land. Then the
nights were moonlight, and that was a great beauty, the moon giving
us the same prismatic effect.
This was the storm of which Mark Twain wrote his matchless description,
given first in his speech on New England weather, and later preserved in
'Following the Equator', in more extended form. In that book he likens
an ice-storm to his impressions derived from reading descriptions of the
Taj Mahal, that wonderful tomb of a fair East Indian queen. It is a
marvelous bit of word-painting--his description of that majestic vision:
"When every bough and twig is strung with ice-beads, frozen dewdrops, and
the whole tree sparkles cold and white, like the Shah of Persia's diamond
plume." It will pay any one to look up that description and read it all,
though it has been said, by the fortunate one or two who heard him first
give it utterance as an impromptu outburst, that in the subsequent
process of writing the bloom of its original magnificence was lost.
The plans for the new house were drawn forthwith by that gentle architect
Edward Potter, whose art to-day may be considered open to criticism, but
not because of any lack of originality. Hartford houses of that period
were mainly of the goods-box form of architecture, perfectly square,
typifying the commercial pursuits of many of their owners. Potter agreed
to get away from this idea, and a radical and even frenzied departure was
the result. Certainly his plans presented beautiful pictures, and all
who saw them were filled with wonder and delight. Architecture has
lavished itself in many florescent forms since then, but we may imagine
that Potter's "English violet" order of design, as he himself designated
it, startled, dazzled, and captivated in a day, when most houses were
mere habitations, built with a view to economy and the largest possible
amount of room.
Workmen were put on the ground without delay, to prepare for the
builders, and work was rapidly pushed along. Then in May the whole
matter was left in the hands of the architect and the carpenters (with
Lawyer Charles E. Perkins to stand between Potter and the violent
builder, who roared at Potter and frightened him when he wanted changes),
while the Clemens household, with Clara Spaulding, a girlhood friend of
Mrs. Clemens, sailed away to England for a half-year holiday.