Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 5 (1901-1906)

Author: Mark Twain

XLIII Letters of 1904. to Various Persons. Life in Villa Quarto. Death of Mrs. Clemens. the Return to America

Mrs. Clemens stood the voyage to Italy very well and, in due time, the family were installed in the Villa Reale di Quarto, the picturesque old Palace of Cosimo, a spacious, luxurious place, even if not entirely cheerful or always comfortable during the changeable Tuscan winter. Congratulated in a letter from MacAlister in being in the midst of Florentine sunshine, he answered: "Florentine sunshine? Bless you, there isn’t any. We have heavy fogs every morning, and rain all day. This house is not merely large, it is vast—therefore I think it must always lack the home feeling."

Neither was their landlady, the American wife of an Italian count, all that could be desired. From a letter to Twichell, however, we learn that Mark Twain’s work was progressing well.

To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:

FLORENCE, Jan. 7, ’04. DEAR JOE,—. . . I have had a handsome success, in one way, here. I left New York under a sort of half promise to furnish to the Harper magazines 30,000 words this year. Magazining is difficult work because every third page represents 2 pages that you have put in the fire; (because you are nearly sure to start wrong twice) and so when you have finished an article and are willing to let it go to print it represents only 10 cents a word instead of 30.

But this time I had the curious (and unprecedented) luck to start right in each case. I turned out 37,000 words in 25 working days; and the reason I think I started right every time is, that not only have I approved and accepted the several articles, but the court of last resort (Livy) has done the same.

On many of the between-days I did some work, but only of an idle and not necessarily necessary sort, since it will not see print until I am dead. I shall continue this (an hour per day) but the rest of the year I expect to put in on a couple of long books (half-completed ones.) No more magazine-work hanging over my head.

This secluded and silent solitude this clean, soft air and this enchanting view of Florence, the great valley and the snow-mountains that frame it are the right conditions for work. They are a persistent inspiration. To-day is very lovely; when the afternoon arrives there will be a new picture every hour till dark, and each of them divine—or progressing from divine to diviner and divinest. On this (second) floor Clara’s room commands the finest; she keeps a window ten feet high wide open all the time and frames it in. I go in from time to time, every day and trade sass for a look. The central detail is a distant and stately snow-hump that rises above and behind blackforested hills, and its sloping vast buttresses, velvety and sun-polished with purple shadows between, make the sort of picture we knew that time we walked in Switzerland in the days of our youth.

I wish I could show your letter to Livy—but she must wait a week or so for it. I think I told you she had a prostrating week of tonsilitis a month ago; she has remained very feeble ever since, and confined to the bed of course, but we allow ourselves to believe she will regain the lost ground in another month. Her physician is Professor Grocco—she could not have a better. And she has a very good trained nurse.

Love to all of you from all of us. And to all of our dear Hartford friends.

P. S. 3 days later.

Livy is as remarkable as ever. The day I wrote you—that night, I mean— she had a bitter attack of gout or rheumatism occupying the whole left arm from shoulder to fingers, accompanied by fever. The pains racked her 50 or 6o hours; they have departed, now—and already she is planning a trip to Egypt next fall, and a winter’s sojourn there! This is life in her yet.

You will be surprised that I was willing to do so much magazine-writing— a thing I have always been chary about—but I had good reasons. Our expenses have been so prodigious for a year and a half, and are still so prodigious, that Livy was worrying altogether too much about them, and doing a very dangerous amount of lying awake on their account. It was necessary to stop that, and it is now stopped.

Yes, she is remarkable, Joe. Her rheumatic attack set me to cursing and swearing, without limit as to time or energy, but it merely concentrated her patience and her unconquerable fortitude. It is the difference between us. I can’t count the different kinds of ailments which have assaulted her in this fiendish year and a half—and I forgive none of them—but here she comes up again as bright and fresh and enterprising as ever, and goes to planning about Egypt, with a hope and a confidence which are to me amazing.

Clara is calling for me—we have to go into town and pay calls.


In Florence, that winter, Clemens began dictating to his secretary
some autobiographical chapters. This was the work which was "not to
see print until I am dead." He found it a pleasant, lazy occupation
and wrote his delight in it to Howells in a letter which seems not
to have survived. In his reply, Howells wrote: "You do stir me
mightily with the hope of dictating and I will try it when I get the
chance. But there is the tempermental difference. You are dramatic
and unconscious; you count the thing more than yourself; I am cursed
with consciousness to the core, and can’t say myself out; I am
always saying myself in, and setting myself above all that I say, as
of more worth. Lately I have felt as if I were rotting with
egotism. I don’t admire myself; I am sick of myself; but I can’t
think of anything else. Here I am at it now, when I ought to be
rejoicing with you at the blessing you have found .... I’d like,
immensely, to read your autobiography. You always rather bewildered
me by your veracity, and I fancy you may tell the truth about
yourself. But all of it? The black truth which we all know of
ourselves in our hearts, or only the whity-brown truth of the
pericardium, or the nice, whitened truth of the shirtfront? Even
you won’t tell the black heart’s—truth. The man who could do it
would be famed to the last day the sun shone upon."

We gather from Mark Twain’s answer that he was not deceiving himself
in the matter of his confessions.

To W. D. Howells, in New York:

March 14, ’04. DEAR HOWELLS,—Yes, I set up the safeguards, in the first day’s dictating; taking this position: that an autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines, where the author is raking dust upon it, the result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily diligences.

The summer in England! you can’t ask better luck than that. Then you will run over to Florence; we shall all be hungry to see you-all. We are hunting for another villa, (this one is plenty large enough but has no room in it) but even if we find it I am afraid it will be months before we can move Mrs. Clemens. Of course it will. But it comforts us to let on that we think otherwise, and these pretensions help to keep hope alive in her.
Good-bye, with love, Amen.
Yours ever

News came of the death of Henry M. Stanley, one of Mark Twain’s
oldest friends. Clemens once said that he had met Stanley in St.
Louis where he (Clemens) had delivered a lecture which Stanley had
reported. In the following letter he fixes the date of their
meeting as early in 1867, which would be immediately after Mark
Twain’s return from California, and just prior to the Quaker City
excursion—a fact which is interesting only because it places the
two men together when each was at the very beginning of a great

To Lady Stanley, in England:

VILLA DI QUARTO, FIRENZE, May 11, ’04. DEAR LADY STANLEY,—I have lost a dear and honored friend—how fast they fall about me now, in my age! The world has lost a tried and proved hero. And you—what have you lost? It is beyond estimate—we who know you, and what he was to you, know that. How far he stretches across my life! I knew him when his work was all before him five years before the great day that he wrote his name far-away up on the blue of the sky for the world to see and applaud and remember; I have known him as friend and intimate ever since. It is 37 years. I have known no other friend and intimate so long, except John Hay—a friendship which dates from the same year and the same half of it, the first half of 1867. I grieve with you and with your family, dear Lady Stanley, it is all I can do; but that I do out of my heart. It would be we, instead of I, if Mrs. Clemens knew, but in all these 20 months that she has lain a prisoner in her bed we have hidden from her all things that could sadden her. Many a friend is gone whom she still asks about and still thinks is living.

In deepest sympathy I beg the privilege of signing myself
Your friend,

To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:

VILLA DI QUARTO, May 11, ’04 DEAR JOE,—Yours has this moment arrived—just as I was finishing a note to poor Lady Stanley. I believe the last country-house visit we paid in England was to Stanley’s. Lord, how my friends and acquaintances fall about me now, in my gray-headed days! Vereschagin, Mommsen, Dvorak, Lenbach, Jokai—all so recently, and now Stanley. I had known Stanley 37 years. Goodness, who is it I haven’t known! As a rule the necrologies find me personally interested—when they treat of old stagers. Generally when a man dies who is worth cabling, it happens that I have run across him somewhere, some time or other.

Oh, say! Down by the Laurentian Library there’s a marble image that has been sitting on its pedestal some 450 Years, if my dates are right— Cosimo I. I’ve seen the back of it many a time, but not the front; but yesterday I twisted my head around after we had driven by, and the profane exclamation burst from my mouth before I could think: "there’s Chauncey Depew!"

I mean to get a photo of it—and use it if it confirms yesterday’s conviction. That’s a very nice word from the Catholic Magazine and I am glad you sent it. I mean to show it to my priest—we are very fond of him. He is a stealing man, and is also learnedly scientific. He invented the thing which records the seismatic disturbances, for the peoples of the earth. And he’s an astronomer and has an observatory of his own.

Ah, many’s the cry I have, over reflecting that maybe we could have had Young Harmony for Livy, and didn’t have wit enough to think of it.

Speaking of Livy reminds me that your inquiry arrives at a good time (unberufen) It has been weeks (I don’t know how many!) since we could have said a hopeful word, but this morning Katy came the minute the daynurse came on watch and said words of a strange and long-forgotten sound: "Mr. Clemens, Mrs. Clemens is really and truly better!—anybody can see it; she sees it herself; and last night at 9 o’clock she said it."

There—it is heart-warming, it is splendid, it is sublime; let us enjoy it, let us make the most of it today—and bet not a farthing on tomorrow. The tomorrows have nothing for us. Too many times they have breathed the word of promise to our ear and broken it to our hope. We take no tomorrow’s word any more.

You’ve done a wonder, Joe: you’ve written a letter that can be sent in to Livy—that doesn’t often happen, when either a friend or a stranger writes. You did whirl in a P. S. that wouldn’t do, but you wrote it on a margin of a page in such a way that I was able to clip off the margin clear across both pages, and now Livy won’t perceive that the sheet isn’t the same size it used to was. It was about Aldrich’s son, and I came near forgetting to remove it. It should have been written on a loose strip and enclosed. That son died on the 5th of March and Aldrich wrote me on the night before that his minutes were numbered. On the 18th Livy asked after that patient, and I was prepared, and able to give her a grateful surprise by telling her "the Aldriches are no longer uneasy about him."

I do wish I could have been present and heard Charley Clark. When he can’t light up a dark place nobody can.
With lots of love to you all.

Mrs. Clemens had her bad days and her good days-days when there
seemed no ray of light, and others that seemed almost to promise
recovery. The foregoing letter to Twichell, and the one which
follows, to Richard Watson Gilder, reflect the hope and fear that
daily and hourly alternated at Villa Quarto

To Richard Watson Gilder, in New York:

May 12, ’04. DEAR GILDER,—A friend of ours (the Baroness de Nolda) was here this afternoon and wanted a note of introduction to the Century, for she has something to sell to you in case you’ll want to make her an offer after seeing a sample of the goods. I said "With pleasure: get the goods ready, send the same to me, I will have Jean type-write them, then I will mail them to the Century and tonight I will write the note to Mr. Gilder and start it along. Also write me a letter embodying what you have been saying to me about the goods and your proposed plan of arranging and explaining them, and I will forward that to Gilder too."

As to the Baroness. She is a German; 30 years old; was married at 17; is very pretty-indeed I might say very pretty; has a lot of sons (5) running up from seven to 12 years old. Her husband is a Russian. They live half the time in Russia and the other half in Florence, and supply population alternately to the one country and then to the other. Of course it is a family that speaks languages. This occurs at their table—I know it by experience: It is Babel come again. The other day, when no guests were present to keep order, the tribes were all talking at once, and 6 languages were being traded in; at last the littlest boy lost his temper and screamed out at the top of his voice, with angry sobs: "Mais, vraiment, io non capisco gar nichts."

The Baroness is a little afraid of her English, therefore she will write her remarks in French—I said there’s a plenty of translators in New York. Examine her samples and drop her a line.

For two entire days, now, we have not been anxious about Mrs. Clemens (unberufen). After 20 months of bed-ridden solitude and bodily misery she all of a sudden ceases to be a pallid shrunken shadow, and looks bright and young and pretty. She remains what she always was, the most wonderful creature of fortitude, patience, endurance and recuperative power that ever was. But ah, dear, it won’t last; this fiendish malady will play new treacheries upon her, and I shall go back to my prayers again—unutterable from any pulpit!
With love to you and yours,
S. L. C.

May 13 10 A.M. I have just paid one of my pair of permitted 2 minutes visits per day to the sick room. And found what I have learned to expect—retrogression, and that pathetic something in the eye which betrays the secret of a waning hope.

The year of the World’s Fair had come, and an invitation from Gov.
Francis, of Missouri, came to Mark Twain in Florence, personally
inviting him to attend the great celebration and carry off first
prize. We may believe that Clemens felt little in the spirit of
humor, but to such an invitation he must send a cheerful, even if
disappointing, answer.

To Gov. Francis, of Missouri:

May 26, 1904. DEAR GOVERNOR FRANCIS,—It has been a dear wish of mine to exhibit myself at the Great Fair and get a prize, but circumstances beyond my control have interfered, and I must remain in Florence. Although I have never taken prizes anywhere else I used to take them at school in Missouri half a century ago, and I ought to be able to repeat, now, if I could have a chance. I used to get the medal for good spelling, every week, and I could have had the medal for good conduct if there hadn’t been so much curruption in Missouri in those days; still, I got it several times by trading medals and giving boot. I am willing to give boot now, if— however, those days are forever gone by in Missouri, and perhaps it is better so. Nothing ever stops the way it was in this changeable world. Although I cannot be at the Fair, I am going to be represented there anyway, by a portrait, by Professor Gelli. You will find it excellent. Good judges here say it is better than the original. They say it has all the merits of the original and keeps still, besides. It sounds like flattery, but it is just true.

I suppose you will get a prize, because you have created the most prodigious and in all ways most wonderful Fair the planet has ever seen. Very well, you have indeed earned it: and with it the gratitude of the State and the nation.
Sincerely yours,

It was only a few days after the foregoing was written that death
entered Villa Quarto—unexpectedly at last—for with the first June
days Mrs. Clemens had seemed really to improve. It was on Sunday,
June 5th, that the end came. Clemens, with his daughter Jean, had
returned from a long drive, during which they had visited a Villa
with the thought of purchase. On their return they were told that
their patient had been better that afternoon than for three months.
Yet it was only a few hours later that she left them, so suddenly
and quietly that even those near her did not at first realize that
she was gone.

To W. D. Howells, in New York.

June 6, ’94. [1904] DEAR HOWELLS,—Last night at 9.20 I entered Mrs. Clemens’s room to say the usual goodnight—and she was dead—tho’ no one knew it. She had been cheerfully talking, a moment before. She was sitting up in bed—she had not lain down for months—and Katie and the nurse were supporting her. They supposed she had fainted, and they were holding the oxygen pipe to her mouth, expecting to revive her. I bent over her and looked in her face, and I think I spoke—I was surprised and troubled that she did not notice me. Then we understood, and our hearts broke. How poor we are today!

But how thankful I am that her persecutions are ended. I would not call her back if I could.

Today, treasured in her worn old Testament, I found a dear and gentle letter from you, dated Far Rockaway, Sept. 13, 1896, about our poor Susy’s death. I am tired and old; I wish I were with Livy.

I send my love-and hers-to you all.
S. L. C.

In a letter to Twichell he wrote: "How sweet she was in death; how
young, how beautiful, how like her dear, girlish self cf thirty
years ago; not a gray hair showing."

The family was now without plans for the future until they
remembered the summer home of R. W. Gilder, at Tyringham,
Massachusetts, and the possibility of finding lodgment for
themselves in that secluded corner of New England. Clemens wrote
without delay, as follows:

To R. W. Gilder, in New York:

June 7, ’04. DEAR GILDER FAMILY,—I have been worrying and worrying to know what to do: at last I went to the girls with an idea: to ask the Gilders to get us shelter near their summer home. It was the first time they have not shaken their heads. So to-morrow I will cable to you and shall hope to be in time.

An, hour ago the best heart that ever beat for me and mine went silent out of this house, and I am as one who wanders and has lost his way. She who is gone was our head, she was our hands. We are now trying to make plans—we: we who have never made a plan before, nor ever needed to. If she could speak to us she would make it all simple and easy with a word, and our perplexities would vanish away. If she had known she was near to death she would have told us where to go and what to do: but she was not suspecting, neither were we. (She had been chatting cheerfully a moment before, and in an instant she was gone from us and we did not know it. We were not alarmed, we did not know anything had happened. It was a blessed death—she passed away without knowing it.) She was all our riches and she is gone: she was our breath, she was our life and now we are nothing.

We send you our love—and with it the love of you that was in her heart when she died.

Howells wrote his words of sympathy, adding: "The character which
now remains a memory was one of the most perfect ever formed on the
earth," and again, after having received Clemens’s letter: "I cannot
speak of your wife’s having kept that letter of mine where she did.
You know how it must humiliate a man in his unworthiness to have
anything of his so consecrated. She hallowed what she touched, far
beyond priests."

To W. D. Howells, in New York:

June 12, 6 p. m. DEAR HOWELLS,—We have to sit and hold our hands and wait—in the silence and solitude of this prodigious house; wait until June 25, then we go to Naples and sail in the Prince Oscar the 26th. There is a ship 12 days earlier (but we came in that one.) I see Clara twice a day—morning and evening—greeting—nothing more is allowed. She keeps her bed, and says nothing. She has not cried yet. I wish she could cry. It would break Livy’s heart to see Clara. We excuse ourselves from all the friends that call—though of course only intimates come. Intimates—but they are not the old old friends, the friends of the old, old times when we laughed.

Shall we ever laugh again? If I could only see a dog that I knew in the old times! and could put my arms around his neck and tell him all, everything, and ease my heart.

Think-in 3 hours it will be a week!—and soon a month; and by and by a year. How fast our dead fly from us.

She loved you so, and was always as pleased as a child with any notice you took of her.

Soon your wife will be with you, oh fortunate man! And John, whom mine was so fond of. The sight of him was such a delight to her. Lord, the old friends, how dear they are.
S. L. C.

To Rev. J. R. Twichell, in Hartford:

June 18, ’04. DEAR JOE,—It is 13 days. I am bewildered and must remain so for a time longer. It was so sudden, so unexpected. Imagine a man worth a hundred millions who finds himself suddenly penniless and fifty million in debt in his old age.

I was richer than any other person in the world, and now I am that pauper without peer. Some day I will tell you about it, not now.

A tide of condolence flowed in from all parts of the world. It was
impossible to answer all. Only a few who had been their closest
friends received a written line, but the little printed
acknowledgment which was returned was no mere formality. It was a
heartfelt, personal word.

They arrived in America in July, and were accompanied by Twichell to
Elmira, and on the 14th Mrs. Clemens was laid to rest by the side of
Susy and little Langdon. R. W. Gilder had arranged for them to
occupy, for the summer, a cottage on his place at Tyringham, in the
Berkshire Hills. By November they were at the Grosvenor, in New
York, preparing to establish themselves in a house which they had
taken on the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue—Number 21.

To F. N. Doubleday, in New York:

DEAR DOUBLEDAY,—I did not know you were going to England: I would have freighted you with such messages of homage and affection to Kipling. And I would have pressed his hand, through you, for his sympathy with me in my crushing loss, as expressed by him in his letter to Gilder. You know my feeling for Kipling and that it antedates that expression.

I was glad that the boys came here to invite me to the house-warming and I think they understood why a man in the shadow of a calamity like mine could not go.

It has taken three months to repair and renovate our house—corner of 9th and 5th Avenue, but I shall be in it in io or 15 days hence. Much of the furniture went into it today (from Hartford). We have not seen it for 13 years. Katy Leary, our old housekeeper, who has been in our service more than 24 years, cried when she told me about it to-day. She said "I had forgotten it was so beautiful, and it brought Mrs. Clemens right back to me—in that old time when she was so young and lovely."

Jean and my secretary and the servants whom we brought from Italy because Mrs. Clemens liked them so well, are still keeping house in the Berkshire hills—and waiting. Clara (nervously wrecked by her mother’s death) is in the hands of a specialist in 69th St., and I shall not be allowed to have any communication with her—even telephone—for a year. I am in this comfortable little hotel, and still in bed—for I dasn’t budge till I’m safe from my pet devil, bronchitis.

Isn’t it pathetic? One hour and ten minutes before Mrs. Clemens died I was saying to her "To-day, after five months search, I’ve found the villa that will content you: to-morrow you will examine the plans and give it your consent and I will buy it." Her eyes danced with pleasure, for she longed for a home of her own. And there, on that morrow, she lay white and cold. And unresponsive to my reverent caresses—a new thing to me and a new thing to her; that had not happened before in five and thirty years.

I am coming to see you and Mrs. Doubleday by and bye. She loved and honored Mrs. Doubleday and her work.
Always yours,

It was a presidential year and the air was thick with politics.
Mark Twain was no longer actively interested in the political
situation; he was only disheartened by the hollowness and pretense
of office-seeking, and the methods of office-seekers in general.
Grieved that Twichell should still pin his faith to any party when
all parties were so obviously venal and time-serving, he wrote in
outspoken and rather somber protest.

To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:

THE GROSVENOR, Nov. 4, ’04. Oh, dear! get out of that sewer—party politics—dear Joe. At least with your mouth. We hail only two men who could make speeches for their parties and preserve their honor and their dignity. One of them is dead. Possibly there were four. I am sorry for John Hay; sorry and ashamed. And yet I know he couldn’t help it. He wears the collar, and he had to pay the penalty. Certainly he had no more desire to stand up before a mob of confiding human incapables and debauch them than you had. Certainly he took no more real pleasure in distorting history, concealing facts, propagating immoralities, and appealing to the sordid side of human nature than did you; but he was his party’s property, and he had to climb away down and do it.

It is interesting, wonderfully interesting—the miracles which partypolitics can do with a man’s mental and moral make-up. Look at McKinley, Roosevelt, and yourself: in private life spotless in character; honorable, honest, just, humane, generous; scorning trickeries, treacheries, suppressions of the truth, mistranslations of the meanings of facts, the filching of credit earned by another, the condoning of crime, the glorifying of base acts: in public political life the reverse of all this.

McKinley was a silverite—you concealed it. Roosevelt was a silverite— you concealed it. Parker was a silverite—you publish it. Along with a shudder and a warning: "He was unsafe then. Is he any safer now?"

Joe, even I could be guilty of such a thing as that—if I were in partypolitics; I really believe it.

Mr. Cleveland gave the country the gold standard; by implication you credit the matter to the Republican party.

By implication you prove the whole annual pension-scoop, concealing the fact that the bulk of the money goes to people who in no way deserve it. You imply that all the batteners upon this bribery-fund are Republicans. An indiscreet confession, since about half of them must have been Democrats before they were bought.

You as good as praise Order 78. It is true you do not shout, and you do not linger, you only whisper and skip—still, what little you do in the matter is complimentary to the crime.

It means, if it means anything, that our outlying properties will all be given up by the Democrats, and our flag hauled down. All of them? Not only the properties stolen by Mr. McKinley and Mr. Roosevelt, but the properties honestly acquired? Joe, did you believe that hardy statement when you made it? Yet you made it, and there it stands in permanent print. Now what moral law would suffer if we should give up the stolen ones? But—

"You know our standard-bearer. He will maintain all that we have gained"—by whatever process. Land, I believe you!

By George, Joe, you are as handy at the game as if you had been in training for it all your life. Your campaign Address is built from the ground up upon the oldest and best models. There isn’t a paragraph in it whose facts or morals will wash—not even a sentence, I believe.

But you will soon be out of this. You didn’t want to do it—that is sufficiently apparent, thanks be!—but you couldn’t well get out of it. In a few days you will be out of it, and then you can fumigate yourself and take up your legitimate work again and resume your clean and wholesome private character once more and be happy—and useful.

I know I ought to hand you some guff, now, as propitiation and apology for these reproaches, but on the whole I believe I won’t.

I have inquired, and find that Mitsikuri does not arrive here until tomorrow night. I shall watch out, and telephone again, for I greatly want to see him.
Always Yours,

P-S- Nov, 4. I wish I could learn to remember that it is unjust and dishonorable to put blame upon the human race for any of its acts. For it did not make itself, it did not make its nature, it is merely a machine, it is moved wholly by outside influences, it has no hand in creating the outside influences nor in choosing which of them it will welcome or reject, its performance is wholly automatic, it has no more mastership nor authority over its mind than it has over its stomach, which receives material from the outside and does as it pleases with it, indifferent to it’s proprietor’s suggestions, even, let alone his commands; wherefore, whatever the machine does—so called crimes and infamies included—is the personal act of its Maker, and He, solely, is responsible. I wish I could learn to pity the human race instead of censuring it and laughing at it; and I could, if the outside influences of old habit were not so strong upon my machine. It vexes me to catch myself praising the clean private citizen Roosevelt, and blaming the soiled President Roosevelt, when I know that neither praise nor blame is due to him for any thought or word or deed of his, he being merely a helpless and irresponsible coffee-mill ground by the hand of God.

Through a misunderstanding, Clemens, something more than a year
earlier, had severed his connection with the Players’ Club, of which
he had been one of the charter members. Now, upon his return to New
York, a number of his friends joined in an invitation to him to
return. It was not exactly a letter they sent, but a bit of an old
Scotch song—

"To Mark Twain
The Clansmen.
Will ye no come back again,
Will ye no come back again?
Better lo’ed ye canna be.
Will ye no come back again?"

Those who signed it were David Monroe, of the North American Review;
Robert Reid, the painter, and about thirty others of the Round Table
Group, so called because its members were accustomed to lunching at
a large round table in a bay window of the Player dining-room. Mark
Twain’s reply was prompt and heartfelt. He wrote:

To Robt. Reid and the Others:

WELL-BELOVED,—Surely those lovely verses went to Prince Charley’s heart, if he had one, and certainly they have gone to mine. I shall be glad and proud to come back again after such a moving and beautiful compliment as this from comrades whom I have loved so long. I hope you can poll the necessary vote; I know you will try, at any rate. It will be many months before I can foregather with you, for this black border is not perfunctory, not a convention; it symbolizes the loss of one whose memory is the only thing I worship.

It is not necessary for me to thank you—and words could not deliver what I feel, anyway. I will put the contents of your envelope in the small casket where I keep the things which have become sacred to me.

S. L. C.

A year later, Mark Twain did "come back again," as an honorary life member, and was given a dinner of welcome by those who had signed the lines urging his return.


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Chicago: Mark Twain, "XLIII Letters of 1904. To Various Persons. Life in Villa Quarto. Death of Mrs. Clemens. The Return to America," Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 5 (1901-1906), ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 5 (1901-1906) (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed July 14, 2024,

MLA: Twain, Mark. "XLIII Letters of 1904. To Various Persons. Life in Villa Quarto. Death of Mrs. Clemens. The Return to America." Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 5 (1901-1906), edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 5 (1901-1906), Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 14 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'XLIII Letters of 1904. To Various Persons. Life in Villa Quarto. Death of Mrs. Clemens. The Return to America' in Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 5 (1901-1906), ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 5 (1901-1906), A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 14 July 2024, from