Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885)

Author: Mark Twain

XXI. Letters 1881, to Howells and Others. Assisting a Young Sculptor. Literary Plans

With all of Mark Twain’s admiration for Grant, he had opposed him as a third-term President and approved of the nomination of Garfield. He had made speeches for Garfield during the campaign just ended, and had been otherwise active in his support. Upon Garfield’s election, however, he felt himself entitled to no special favor, and the single request which he preferred at length could hardly be classed as, personal, though made for a "personal friend."

To President-elect James A. Garfield, in Washington:


DEAR SIR,—Several times since your election persons wanting office have asked me "to use my influence" with you in their behalf.

To word it in that way was such a pleasant compliment to me that I never complied. I could not without exposing the fact that I hadn’t any influence with you and that was a thing I had no mind to do.

It seems to me that it is better to have a good man’s flattering estimate of my influence—and to keep it—than to fool it away with trying to get him an office. But when my brother—on my wife’s side—Mr. Charles J. Langdon—late of the Chicago Convention—desires me to speak a word for Mr. Fred Douglass, I am not asked "to use my influence" consequently I am not risking anything. So I am writing this as a simple citizen. I am not drawing on my fund of influence at all. A simple citizen may express a desire with all propriety, in the matter of a recommendation to office, and so I beg permission to hope that you will retain Mr. Douglass in his present office of Marshall of the District of Columbia, if such a course will not clash with your own preferences or with the expediencies and interest of your administration. I offer this petition with peculiar pleasure and strong desire, because I so honor this man’s high and blemishless character and so admire his brave, long crusade for the liberties and elevation of his race.

He is a personal friend of mine, but that is nothing to the point, his history would move me to say these things without that, and I feel them too.
With great respect
I am, General,
Yours truly,

Clemens would go out of his way any time to grant favor to the
colored race. His childhood associations were partly accountable
for this, but he also felt that the white man owed the negro a debt
for generations of enforced bondage. He would lecture any time in a
colored church, when he would as likely as not refuse point-blank to
speak for a white congregation. Once, in Elmira, he received a
request, poorly and none too politely phrased, to speak for one of
the churches. He was annoyed and about to send a brief refusal,
when Mrs. Clemens, who was present, said:

"I think I know that church, and if so this preacher is a colored
man; he does not know how to write a polished letter—how should
he?" Her husband’s manner changed so suddenly that she added:
"I will give you a motto, and it will be useful to you if you will
adopt it: Consider every man colored until he is proved white."

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Feb. 27, 1881. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—I go to West Point with Twichell tomorrow, but shall be back Tuesday or Wednesday; and then just as soon thereafter as you and Mrs. Howells and Winny can come you will find us ready and most glad to see you—and the longer you can stay the gladder we shall be. I am not going to have a thing to do, but you shall work if you want to. On the evening of March 10th, I am going to read to the colored folk in the African Church here (no whites admitted except such as I bring with me), and a choir of colored folk will sing jubilee songs. I count on a good time, and shall hope to have you folks there, and Livy. I read in Twichell’s chapel Friday night and had a most rattling high time—but the thing that went best of all was Uncle Remus’s Tar Baby. I mean to try that on my dusky audience. They’ve all heard that tale from childhood— at least the older members have.

I arrived home in time to make a most noble blunder—invited Charley Warner here (in Livy’s name) to dinner with the Gerhardts, and told him Livy had invited his wife by letter and by word of mouth also. I don’t know where I got these impressions, but I came home feeling as one does who realizes that he has done a neat thing for once and left no flaws or loop-holes. Well, Livy said she had never told me to invite Charley and she hadn’t dreamed of inviting Susy, and moreover there wasn’t any dinner, but just one lean duck. But Susy Warner’s intuitions were correct—so she choked off Charley, and staid home herself—we waited dinner an hour and you ought to have seen that duck when he was done drying in the oven.

Clemens and his wife were always privately assisting worthy and
ambitious young people along the way of achievement. Young actors
were helped through dramatic schools; young men and women were
assisted through college and to travel abroad. Among others Clemens
paid the way of two colored students, one through a Southern
institution and another through the Yale law school.

The mention of the name of Gerhardt in the preceding letter
introduces the most important, or at least the most extensive, of
these benefactions. The following letter gives the beginning of the

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

Private and Confidential.
HARTFORD, Feb. 21, 1881. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—Well, here is our romance.

It happened in this way. One morning, a month ago—no, three weeks— Livy, and Clara Spaulding and I were at breakfast, at 10 A.M., and I was in an irritable mood, for the barber was up stairs waiting and his hot water getting cold, when the colored George returned from answering the bell and said: "There’s a lady in the drawing-room wants to see you." "A book agent!" says I, with heat. "I won’t see her; I will die in my tracks, first."

Then I got up with a soul full of rage, and went in there and bent scowling over that person, and began a succession of rude and raspy questions—and without even offering to sit down.

Not even the defendant’s youth and beauty and (seeming) timidity were able to modify my savagery, for a time—and meantime question and answer were going on. She had risen to her feet with the first question; and there she stood, with her pretty face bent floorward whilst I inquired, but always with her honest eyes looking me in the face when it came her turn to answer.

And this was her tale, and her plea-diffidently stated, but straightforwardly; and bravely, and most winningly simply and earnestly: I put it in my own fashion, for I do not remember her words:

Mr. Karl Gerhardt, who works in Pratt & Whitney’s machine shops, has made a statue in clay, and would I be so kind as to come and look at it, and tell him if there is any promise in it? He has none to go to, and he would be so glad.

"O, dear me," I said, "I don’t know anything about art—there’s nothing I could tell him."

But she went on, just as earnestly and as simply as before, with her plea—and so she did after repeated rebuffs; and dull as I am, even I began by and by to admire this brave and gentle persistence, and to perceive how her heart of hearts was in this thing, and how she couldn’t give it up, but must carry her point. So at last I wavered, and promised in general terms that I would come down the first day that fell idle—and as I conducted her to the door, I tamed more and more, and said I would come during the very next week—"We shall be so glad—but—but, would you please come early in the week?—the statue is just finished and we are so anxious—and—and—we did hope you could come this week—and"—well, I came down another peg, and said I would come Monday, as sure as death; and before I got to the dining room remorse was doing its work and I was saying to myself, "Damnation, how can a man be such a hound? why didn’t I go with her now?" Yes, and how mean I should have felt if I had known that out of her poverty she had hired a hack and brought it along to convey me. But luckily for what was left of my peace of mind, I didn’t know that.

Well, it appears that from here she went to Charley Warner’s. There was a better light, there, and the eloquence of her face had a better chance to do its office. Warner fought, as I had done; and he was in the midst of an article and very busy; but no matter, she won him completely. He laid aside his MS and said, "Come, let us go and see your father’s statue. That is—is he your father?" "No, he is my husband." So this child was married, you see.

This was a Saturday. Next day Warner came to dinner and said "Go!—go tomorrow—don’t fail." He was in love with the girl, and with her husband too, and said he believed there was merit in the statue. Pretty crude work, maybe, but merit in it.

Patrick and I hunted up the place, next day; the girl saw us driving up, and flew down the stairs and received me. Her quarters were the second story of a little wooden house—another family on the ground floor. The husband was at the machine shop, the wife kept no servant, she was there alone. She had a little parlor, with a chair or two and a sofa; and the artist-husband’s hand was visible in a couple of plaster busts, one of the wife, and another of a neighbor’s child; visible also in a couple of water colors of flowers and birds; an ambitious unfinished portrait of his wife in oils: some paint decorations on the pine mantel; and an excellent human ear, done in some plastic material at 16.

Then we went into the kitchen, and the girl flew around, with enthusiasm, and snatched rag after rag from a tall something in the corner, and presently there stood the clay statue, life size—a graceful girlish creature, nude to the waist, and holding up a single garment with one hand the expression attempted being a modified scare—she was interrupted when about to enter the bath.

Then this young wife posed herself alongside the image and so remained —a thing I didn’t understand. But presently I did—then I said:

"O, it’s you!"

"Yes," she said, "I was the model. He has no model but me. I have stood for this many and many an hour—and you can’t think how it does tire one! But I don’t mind it. He works all day at the shop; and then, nights and Sundays he works on his statue as long as I can keep up."

She got a big chisel, to use as a lever, and between us we managed to twist the pedestal round and round, so as to afford a view of the statue from all points. Well, sir, it was perfectly charming, this girl’s innocence and purity---exhibiting her naked self, as it were, to a stranger and alone, and never once dreaming that there was the slightest indelicacy about the matter. And so there wasn’t; but it will be many along day before I run across another woman who can do the like and show no trace of self-consciousness.

Well, then we sat down, and I took a smoke, and she told me all about her people in Massachusetts—her father is a physician and it is an old and respectable family—(I am able to believe anything she says.) And she told me how "Karl" is 26 years old; and how he has had passionate longings all his life toward art, but has always been poor and obliged to struggle for his daily bread; and how he felt sure that if he could only have one or two lessons in—

"Lessons? Hasn’t he had any lessons?"

No. He had never had a lesson.

And presently it was dinner time and "Karl" arrived—a slender young fellow with a marvelous head and a noble eye—and he was as simple and natural, and as beautiful in spirit as his wife was. But she had to do the talking—mainly—there was too much thought behind his cavernous eyes for glib speech.

I went home enchanted. Told Livy and Clara Spaulding all about the paradise down yonder where those two enthusiasts are happy with a yearly expense of $350. Livy and Clara went there next day and came away enchanted. A few nights later the Gerhardts kept their promise and came here for the evening. It was billiard night and I had company and so was not down; but Livy and Clara became more charmed with these children than ever.

Warner and I planned to get somebody to criticise the statue whose judgment would be worth something. So I laid for Champney, and after two failures I captured him and took him around, and he said "this statue is full of faults—but it has merits enough in it to make up for them"— whereat the young wife danced around as delighted as a child. When we came away, Champney said, "I did not want to say too much there, but the truth is, it seems to me an extraordinary performance for an untrained hand. You ask if there is promise enough there to justify the Hartford folk in going to an expense of training this young man. I should say, yes, decidedly; but still, to make everything safe, you had better get the judgment of a sculptor."

Warner was in New York. I wrote him, and he said he would fetch up Ward —which he did. Yesterday they went to the Gerhardts and spent two hours, and Ward came away bewitched with those people and marveling at the winning innocence of the young wife, who dropped naturally into model-attitude beside the statue (which is stark naked from head to heel, now—G. had removed the drapery, fearing Ward would think he was afraid to try legs and hips) just as she has always done before.

Livy and I had two long talks with Ward yesterday evening. He spoke strongly. He said, "if any stranger had told me that this apprentice did not model that thing from plaster casts, I would not have believed it." He said "it is full of crudities, but it is full of genius, too. It is such a statue as the man of average talent would achieve after two years training in the schools. And the boldness of the fellow, in going straight to nature! He is an apprentice—his work shows that, all over; but the stuff is in him, sure. Hartford must send him to Paris—two years; then if the promise holds good, keep him there three more—and warn him to study, study, work, work, and keep his name out of the papers, and neither ask for orders nor accept them when offered."

Well, you see, that’s all we wanted. After Ward was gone Livy came out with the thing that was in her mind. She said, "Go privately and start the Gerhardts off to Paris, and say nothing about it to any one else."

So I tramped down this morning in the snow-storm—and there was a stirring time. They will sail a week or ten days from now.

As I was starting out at the front door, with Gerhardt beside me and the young wife dancing and jubilating behind, this latter cried out impulsively, "Tell Mrs. Clemens I want to hug her—I want to hug you both!"

I gave them my old French book and they were going to tackle the language, straight off.

Now this letter is a secret—keep it quiet—I don’t think Livy would mind my telling you these things, but then she might, you know, for she is a queer girl.
Yrs ever,

Champney was J. Wells Champney, a portrait-painter of distinction;
Ward was the sculptor, J. Q. A. Ward.

The Gerhardts were presently off to Paris, well provided with means
to make their dreams reality; in due time the letters will report
them again.

The Uncle Remus tales of Joel Chandler Harris gave Mark Twain great
pleasure. He frequently read them aloud, not only at home but in
public. Finally, he wrote Harris, expressing his warm appreciation,
and mentioning one of the negro stories of his own childhood, "The
Golden Arm," which he urged Harris to look up and add to his

"You have pinned a proud feather in Uncle-Remus’s cap," replied
Harris. "I do not know what higher honor he could have than to
appear before the Hartford public arm in arm with Mark Twain."

He disclaimed any originality for the stories, adding, "I understand
that my relations toward Uncle Remus are similar to those that exist
between an almanac maker and the calendar." He had not heard the
"Golden Arm" story and asked for the outlines; also for some
publishing advice, out of Mark Twain’s long experience.

To Joel Chandler Harris, in Atlanta:

ELMIRA, N.Y., Aug. 10. MY DEAR MR. HARRIS,—You can argue yourself into the delusion that the principle of life is in the stories themselves and not in their setting; but you will save labor by stopping with that solitary convert, for he is the only intelligent one you will bag. In reality the stories are only alligator pears—one merely eats them for the sake of the salad-dressing. Uncle Remus is most deftly drawn, and is a lovable and delightful creation; he, and the little boy, and their relations with each other, are high and fine literature, and worthy to live, for their own sakes; and certainly the stories are not to be credited with them. But enough of this; I seem to be proving to the man that made the multiplication table that twice one are two.

I have been thinking, yesterday and to-day (plenty of chance to think, as I am abed with lumbago at our little summering farm among the solitudes of the Mountaintops,) and I have concluded that I can answer one of your questions with full confidence—thus: Make it a subscription book. Mighty few books that come strictly under the head of literature will sell by subscription; but if Uncle Remus won’t, the gift of prophecy has departed out of me. When a book will sell by subscription, it will sell two or three times as many copies as it would in the trade; and the profit is bulkier because the retail price is greater.....

You didn’t ask me for a subscription-publisher. If you had, I should have recommended Osgood to you. He inaugurates his subscription department with my new book in the fall.....

Now the doctor has been here and tried to interrupt my yarn about "The Golden Arm," but I’ve got through, anyway.

Of course I tell it in the negro dialect—that is necessary; but I have not written it so, for I can’t spell it in your matchless way. It is marvelous the way you and Cable spell the negro and creole dialects.

Two grand features are lost in print: the weird wailing, the rising and falling cadences of the wind, so easily mimicked with one’s mouth; and the impressive pauses and eloquent silences, and subdued utterances, toward the end of the yarn (which chain the attention of the children hand and foot, and they sit with parted lips and breathless, to be wrenched limb from limb with the sudden and appalling "You got it").

Old Uncle Dan’l, a slave of my uncle’s’ aged 60, used to tell us children yarns every night by the kitchen fire (no other light;) and the last yarn demanded, every night, was this one. By this time there was but a ghastly blaze or two flickering about the back-log. We would huddle close about the old man, and begin to shudder with the first familiar words; and under the spell of his impressive delivery we always fell a prey to that climax at the end when the rigid black shape in the twilight sprang at us with a shout.

When you come to glance at the tale you will recollect it—it is as common and familiar as the Tar Baby. Work up the atmosphere with your customary skill and it will "go" in print.

Lumbago seems to make a body garrulous—but you’ll forgive it.
Truly yours

The "Golden Arm" story was one that Clemens often used in his public
readings, and was very effective as he gave it.

In his sketch, "How to Tell a Story," it appears about as he used to
tell it. Harris, receiving the outlines of the old Missouri tale,
presently announced that he had dug up its Georgia relative, an
interesting variant, as we gather from Mark Twain’s reply.

To Joel Chandler Harris, in Atlanta:

HARTFORD, ’81. MY DEAR MR. HARRIS,—I was very sure you would run across that Story somewhere, and am glad you have. A Drummond light—no, I mean a Brush light—is thrown upon the negro estimate of values by his willingness to risk his soul and his mighty peace forever for the sake of a silver sev’m-punce. And this form of the story seems rather nearer the true field-hand standard than that achieved by my Florida, Mo., negroes with their sumptuous arm of solid gold.

I judge you haven’t received my new book yet—however, you will in a day or two. Meantime you must not take it ill if I drop Osgood a hint about your proposed story of slave life.....

When you come north I wish you would drop me a line and then follow it in person and give me a day or two at our house in Hartford. If you will, I will snatch Osgood down from Boston, and you won’t have to go there at all unless you want to. Please to bear this strictly in mind, and don’t forget it.
Sincerely yours

Charles Warren Stoddard, to whom the next letter is written, was one
of the old California literary crowd, a graceful writer of verse and
prose, never quite arriving at the success believed by his friends
to be his due. He was a gentle, irresponsible soul, well loved by
all who knew him, and always, by one or another, provided against
want. The reader may remember that during Mark Twain’s great
lecture engagement in London, winter of 1873-74, Stoddard lived with
him, acting as his secretary. At a later period in his life he
lived for several years with the great telephone magnate, Theodore
N. Vail. At the time of this letter, Stoddard had decided that in
the warm light and comfort of the Sandwich Islands he could survive
on his literary earnings.

To Charles Warren Stoddard, in the Sandwich Islands:

HARTFORD, Oct. 26 ’81. MY DEAR CHARLIE,—Now what have I ever done to you that you should not only slide off to Heaven before you have earned a right to go, but must add the gratuitous villainy of informing me of it?.....

The house is full of carpenters and decorators; whereas, what we really need here, is an incendiary. If the house would only burn down, we would pack up the cubs and fly to the isles of the blest, and shut ourselves up in the healing solitudes of the crater of Haleakala and get a good rest; for the mails do not intrude there, nor yet the telephone and the telegraph. And after resting, we would come down the mountain a piece and board with a godly, breech-clouted native, and eat poi and dirt and give thanks to whom all thanks belong, for these privileges, and never house-keep any more.

I think my wife would be twice as strong as she is, but for this wearing and wearying slavery of house-keeping. However, she thinks she must submit to it for the sake of the children; whereas, I have always had a tenderness for parents too, so, for her sake and mine, I sigh for the incendiary. When the evening comes and the gas is lit and the wear and tear of life ceases, we want to keep house always; but next morning we wish, once more, that we were free and irresponsible boarders.

Work?—one can’t you know, to any purpose. I don’t really get anything done worth speaking of, except during the three or four months that we are away in the Summer. I wish the Summer were seven years long. I keep three or four books on the stocks all the time, but I seldom add a satisfactory chapter to one of them at home. Yes, and it is all because my time is taken up with answering the letters of strangers. It can’t be done through a short hand amanuensis—I’ve tried that—it wouldn’t work —I couldn’t learn to dictate. What does possess strangers to write so many letters? I never could find that out. However, I suppose I did it myself when I was a stranger. But I will never do it again.

Maybe you think I am not happy? the very thing that gravels me is that I am. I don’t want to be happy when I can’t work; I am resolved that hereafter I won’t be. What I have always longed for, was the privilege of living forever away up on one of those mountains in the Sandwich Islands overlooking the sea.
Yours ever

That magazine article of yours was mighty good: up to your very best I think. I enclose a book review written by Howells.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Oct. 26 ’81. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—I am delighted with your review, and so is Mrs. Clemens. What you have said, there, will convince anybody that reads it; a body cannot help being convinced by it. That is the kind of a review to have; the doubtful man; even the prejudiced man, is persuaded and succumbs.

What a queer blunder that was, about the baronet. I can’t quite see how I ever made it. There was an opulent abundance of things I didn’t know; and consequently no need to trench upon the vest-pocketful of things I did know, to get material for a blunder.

Charley Warren Stoddard has gone to the Sandwich Islands permanently. Lucky devil. It is the only supremely delightful place on earth. It does seem that the more advantage a body doesn’t earn, here, the more of them God throws at his head. This fellow’s postal card has set the vision of those gracious islands before my mind, again, with not a leaf withered, nor a rainbow vanished, nor a sun-flash missing from the waves, and now it will be months, I reckon, before I can drive it away again. It is beautiful company, but it makes one restless and dissatisfied.

With love and thanks,
Yrs ever,

The review mentioned in this letter was of The Prince and the
Pauper. What the queer" blunder" about the baronet was, the present
writer confesses he does not know; but perhaps a careful reader
could find it, at least in the early edition; very likely it was
corrected without loss of time.

Clemens now and then found it necessary to pay a visit to Canada in
the effort to protect his copyright. He usually had a grand time on
these trips, being lavishly entertained by the Canadian literary
fraternity. In November, 1881, he made one of these journeys in the
interest of The Prince and the Pauper, this time with Osgood, who
was now his publisher. In letters written home we get a hint of his
diversions. The Monsieur Frechette mentioned was a Canadian poet of
considerable distinction. "Clara" was Miss Clara Spaulding, of
Elmira, who had accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Clemens to Europe in 1873,
and again in 1878. Later she became Mrs. John B. Staachfield, of
New York City. Her name has already appeared in these letters many

To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:

MONTREAL, Nov. 28 ’81. Livy darling, you and Clara ought to have been at breakfast in the great dining room this morning. English female faces, distinctive English costumes, strange and marvelous English gaits—and yet such honest, honorable, clean-souled countenances, just as these English women almost always have, you know. Right away—

But they’ve come to take me to the top of Mount Royal, it being a cold, dry, sunny, magnificent day. Going in a sleigh.
Yours lovingly,

To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:

MONTREAL, Sunday, November 27, 1881. Livy dear, a mouse kept me awake last night till 3 or 4 o’clock—so I am lying abed this morning. I would not give sixpence to be out yonder in the storm, although it is only snow.

[The above paragraph is written in the form of a rebus illustrated with various sketches.]

There—that’s for the children—was not sure that they could read writing; especially jean, who is strangely ignorant in some things.

I can not only look out upon the beautiful snow-storm, past the vigorous blaze of my fire; and upon the snow-veiled buildings which I have sketched; and upon the churchward drifting umbrellas; and upon the buffalo-clad cabmen stamping their feet and thrashing their arms on the corner yonder: but I also look out upon the spot where the first white men stood, in the neighborhood of four hundred years ago, admiring the mighty stretch of leafy solitudes, and being admired and marveled at by an eager multitude of naked savages. The discoverer of this region, and namer of it, Jacques Cartier, has a square named for him in the city. I wish you were here; you would enjoy your birthday, I think.

I hoped for a letter, and thought I had one when the mail was handed in, a minute ago, but it was only that note from Sylvester Baxter. You must write—do you hear?—or I will be remiss myself.

Give my love and a kiss to the children, and ask them to give you my love and a kiss from

To Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:

QUEBEC, Sunday. ’81. Livy darling, I received a letter from Monsieur Frechette this morning, in which certain citizens of Montreal tendered me a public dinner next Thursday, and by Osgood’s advice I accepted it. I would have accepted anyway, and very cheerfully but for the delay of two days—for I was purposing to go to Boston Tuesday and home Wednesday; whereas, now I go to Boston Friday and home Saturday. I have to go by Boston on account of business.

We drove about the steep hills and narrow, crooked streets of this old town during three hours, yesterday, in a sleigh, in a driving snow-storm. The people here don’t mind snow; they were all out, plodding around on their affairs—especially the children, who were wallowing around everywhere, like snow images, and having a mighty good time. I wish I could describe the winter costume of the young girls, but I can’t. It is grave and simple, but graceful and pretty—the top of it is a brimless fur cap. Maybe it is the costume that makes pretty girls seem so monotonously plenty here. It was a kind of relief to strike a homely face occasionally.

You descend into some of the streets by long, deep stairways; and in the strong moonlight, last night, these were very picturesque. I did wish you were here to see these things. You couldn’t by any possibility sleep in these beds, though, or enjoy the food.

Good night, sweetheart, and give my respects to the cubs.


It had been hoped that W. D. Howells would join the Canadian
excursion, but Howells was not very well that autumn. He wrote that
he had been in bed five weeks, "most of the time recovering; so you
see how bad I must have been to begin with. But now I am out of any
first-class pain; I have a good appetite, and I am as abusive and
peremptory as Guiteau." Clemens, returning to Hartford, wrote him a
letter that explains itself.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Dec. 16 ’81. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—It was a sharp disappointment—your inability to connect, on the Canadian raid. What a gaudy good time we should have had!

Disappointed, again, when I got back to Boston; for I was promising myself half an hour’s look at you, in Belmont; but your note to Osgood showed that that could not be allowed out yet.

The Atlantic arrived an hour ago, and your faultless and delicious Police Report brought that blamed Joe Twichell powerfully before me. There’s a man who can tell such things himself (by word of mouth,) and has as sure an eye for detecting a thing that is before his eyes, as any man in the world, perhaps—then why in the nation doesn’t he report himself with a pen?

One of those drenching days last week, he slopped down town with his cubs, and visited a poor little beggarly shed where were a dwarf, a fat woman, and a giant of honest eight feet, on exhibition behind tawdry show-canvases, but with nobody to exhibit to. The giant had a broom, and was cleaning up and fixing around, diligently. Joe conceived the idea of getting some talk out of him. Now that never would have occurred to me. So he dropped in under the man’s elbow, dogged him patiently around, prodding him with questions and getting irritated snarls in return which would have finished me early—but at last one of Joe’s random shafts drove the centre of that giant’s sympathies somehow, and fetched him. The fountains of his great deep were broken up, and he rained a flood of personal history that was unspeakably entertaining.

Among other things it turned out that he had been a Turkish (native) colonel, and had fought all through the Crimean war—and so, for the first time, Joe got a picture of the Charge of the Six Hundred that made him see the living spectacle, the flash of flag and tongue-flame, the rolling smoke, and hear the booming of the guns; and for the first time also, he heard the reasons for that wild charge delivered from the mouth of a master, and realized that nobody had "blundered," but that a cold, logical, military brain had perceived this one and sole way to win an already lost battle, and so gave the command and did achieve the victory.

And mind you Joe was able to come up here, days afterwards, and reproduce that giant’s picturesque and admirable history. But dern him, he can’t write it—which is all wrong, and not as it should be.

And he has gone and raked up the MS autobiography (written in 1848,) of Mrs. Phebe Brown, (author of "I Love to Steal a While Away,") who educated Yung Wing in her family when he was a little boy; and I came near not getting to bed at all, last night, on account of the lurid fascinations of it. Why in the nation it has never got into print, I can’t understand.

But, by jings! the postman will be here in a minute; so, congratulations upon your mending health, and gratitude that it is mending; and love to you all.
Yrs Ever

Don’t answer—I spare the sick.


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Chicago: Mark Twain, "XXI. Letters 1881, to Howells and Others. Assisting a Young Sculptor. Literary Plans," Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885), ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 3 (1876-1885) (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024,

MLA: Twain, Mark. "XXI. Letters 1881, to Howells and Others. Assisting a Young Sculptor. Literary Plans." Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885), edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 3 (1876-1885), Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'XXI. Letters 1881, to Howells and Others. Assisting a Young Sculptor. Literary Plans' in Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885), ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 3 (1876-1885), A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from