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

Contents:
Author: Mark Twain

XVI. Letters, 1876, Chiefly to W. D. Howells. Literature and Politics. Planning a Play With Bret Harte

The Monday Evening Club of Hartford was an association of most of
the literary talent of that city, and it included a number of very
distinguished members. The writers, the editors, the lawyers, and
the ministers of the gospel who composed it were more often than not
men of national or international distinction. There was but one
paper at each meeting, and it was likely to be a paper that would
later find its way into some magazine.

Naturally Mark Twain was one of its favorite members, and his
contributions never failed to arouse interest and discussion. A
"Mark Twain night" brought out every member. In the next letter we
find the first mention of one of his most memorable contributions—a
story of one of life’s moral aspects. The tale, now included in his
collected works, is, for some reason, little read to-day; yet the
curious allegory, so vivid in its seeming reality, is well worth
consideration.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Jan. 11, ’76. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—Indeed we haven’t forgotten the Howellses, nor scored up a grudge of any kind against them; but the fact is I was under the doctor’s hands for four weeks on a stretch and have been disabled from working for a week or so beside. I thought I was well, about ten days ago, so I sent for a short-hand writer and dictated answers to a bushel or so of letters that had been accumulating during my illness. Getting everything shipshape and cleared up, I went to work next day upon an Atlantic article, which ought to be worth $20 per page (which is the price they usually pay for my work, I believe) for although it is only 70 pages MS (less than two days work, counting by bulk,) I have spent 3 more days trimming, altering and working at it. I shall put in one more day’s polishing on it, and then read it before our Club, which is to meet at our house Monday evening, the 24th inst. I think it will bring out considerable discussion among the gentlemen of the Club—though the title of the article will not give them much notion of what is to follow,—this title being "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut"—which reminds me that today’s Tribune says there will be a startling article in the current Atlantic, in which a being which is tangible bud invisible will figure-exactly the case with the sketch of mine which I am talking about! However, mine can lie unpublished a year or two as well as not—though I wish that contributor of yours had not interfered with his coincidence of heroes.

But what I am coming at, is this: won’t you and Mrs. Howells come down Saturday the 22nd and remain to the Club on Monday night? We always have a rattling good time at the Club and we do want you to come, ever so much. Will you? Now say you will. Mrs. Clemens and I are persuading ourselves that you twain will come.

My volume of sketches is doing very well, considering the times; received my quarterly statement today from Bliss, by which I perceive that 20,000 copies have been sold—or rather, 20,000 had been sold 3 weeks ago; a lot more, by this time, no doubt.

I am on the sick list again—and was, day before yesterday—but on the whole I am getting along.
Yrs ever
MARK

Howells wrote that he could not come down to the club meeting,
adding that sickness was "quite out of character" for Mark Twain,
and hardly fair on a man who had made so many other people feel
well. He closed by urging that Bliss "hurry out" ’Tom Sawyer.’
"That boy is going to make a prodigious hit." Clemens answered:

To W. D. Howells, in Boston.

HARTFORD, Jan. 18, ’76. MY DEAR HOWELLS,— Thanks, and ever so many, for the good opinion of ’Tom Sawyer.’ Williams has made about 300 rattling pictures for it—some of them very dainty. Poor devil, what a genius he has and how he does murder it with rum. He takes a book of mine, and without suggestion from anybody builds no end of pictures just from his reading of it.

There was never a man in the world so grateful to another as I was to you day before yesterday, when I sat down (in still rather wretched health) to set myself to the dreary and hateful task of making final revision of Tom Sawyer, and discovered, upon opening the package of MS that your pencil marks were scattered all along. This was splendid, and swept away all labor. Instead of reading the MS, I simply hunted out the pencil marks and made the emendations which they suggested. I reduced the boy battle to a curt paragraph; I finally concluded to cut the Sunday school speech down to the first two sentences, leaving no suggestion of satire, since the book is to be for boys and girls; I tamed the various obscenities until I judged that they no longer carried offense. So, at a single sitting I began and finished a revision which I had supposed would occupy 3 or 4. days and leave me mentally and physically fagged out at the end. I was careful not to inflict the MS upon you until I had thoroughly and painstakingly revised it. Therefore, the only faults left were those that would discover themselves to others, not me—and these you had pointed out.

There was one expression which perhaps you overlooked. When Huck is complaining to Tom of the rigorous system in vogue at the widow’s, he says the servants harass him with all manner of compulsory decencies, and he winds up by saying: "and they comb me all to hell." (No exclamation point.) Long ago, when I read that to Mrs. Clemens, she made no comment; another time I created occasion to read that chapter to her aunt and her mother (both sensitive and loyal subjects of the kingdom of heaven, so to speak) and they let it pass. I was glad, for it was the most natural remark in the world for that boy to make (and he had been allowed few privileges of speech in the book;) when I saw that you, too, had let it go without protest, I was glad, and afraid; too—afraid you hadn’t observed it. Did you? And did you question the propriety of it? Since the book is now professedly and confessedly a boy’s and girl’s hook, that darn word bothers me some, nights, but it never did until I had ceased to regard the volume as being for adults.

Don’t bother to answer now, (for you’ve writing enough to do without allowing me to add to the burden,) but tell me when you see me again!

Which we do hope will be next Saturday or Sunday or Monday. Couldn’t you come now and mull over the alterations which you are going to make in your MS, and make them after you go back? Wouldn’t it assist the work if you dropped out of harness and routine for a day or two and have that sort of revivification which comes of a holiday-forgetfulness of the work-shop? I can always work after I’ve been to your house; and if you will come to mine, now, and hear the club toot their various horns over the exasperating metaphysical question which I mean to lay before them in the disguise of a literary extravaganza, it would just brace you up like a cordial.

(I feel sort of mean trying to persuade a man to put down a critical piece of work at a critical time, but yet I am honest in thinking it would not hurt the work nor impair your interest in it to come under the circumstances.) Mrs. Clemens says, "Maybe the Howellses could come Monday if they cannot come Saturday; ask them; it is worth trying." Well, how’s that? Could you? It would be splendid if you could. Drop me a postal card—I should have a twinge of conscience if I forced you to write a letter, (I am honest about that,)—and if you find you can’t make out to come, tell me that you bodies will come the next Saturday if the thing is possible, and stay over Sunday.
Yrs ever
MARK.

Howells, however, did not come to the club meeting, but promised to
come soon when they could have a quiet time to themselves together.
As to Huck’s language, he declared:

"I’d have that swearing out in an instant. I suppose I didn’t
notice it because the locution was so familiar to my Western sense,
and so exactly the thing that Huck would say." Clemens changed the
phrase to, "They comb me all to thunder," and so it stands to-day.

The "Carnival of Crime," having served its purpose at the club,
found quick acceptance by Howells for the Atlantic. He was so
pleased with it, in fact, that somewhat later he wrote, urging that
its author allow it to be printed in a dainty book, by Osgood, who
made a specialty of fine publishing. Meantime Howells had written
his Atlantic notice of Tom Sawyer, and now inclosed Clemens a proof
of it. We may judge from the reply that it was satisfactory.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

Apl 3, ’76. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—It is a splendid notice and will embolden weak-kneed journalistic admirers to speak out, and will modify or shut up the unfriendly. To "fear God and dread the Sunday school" exactly described that old feeling which I used to have, but I couldn’t have formulated it. I want to enclose one of the illustrations in this letter, if I do not forget it. Of course the book is to be elaborately illustrated, and I think that many of the pictures are considerably above the American average, in conception if not in execution.

I do not re-enclose your review to you, for you have evidently read and corrected it, and so I judge you do not need it. About two days after the Atlantic issues I mean to begin to send books to principal journals and magazines.

I read the "Carnival of Crime " proof in New York when worn and witless and so left some things unamended which I might possibly have altered had I been at home. For instance, "I shall always address you in your own S-n-i-v-e-l-i-n-g d-r-a-w-l, baby." I saw that you objected to something there, but I did not understand what! Was it that it was too personal? Should the language be altered?—or the hyphens taken out? Won’t you please fix it the way it ought to be, altering the language as you choose, only making it bitter and contemptuous?

"Deuced" was not strong enough; so I met you halfway with "devilish."

Mrs. Clemens has returned from New York with dreadful sore throat, and bones racked with rheumatism. She keeps her bed. "Aloha nui!" as the Kanakas say.
MARK.

Henry Irving once said to Mark Twain: "You made a mistake by not
adopting the stage as a profession. You would have made even a
greater actor than a writer."

Mark Twain would have made an actor, certainly, but not a very
tractable one. His appearance in Hartford in "The Loan of a Lover"
was a distinguished event, and his success complete, though he made
so many extemporaneous improvements on the lines of thick-headed
Peter Spuyk, that he kept the other actors guessing as to their
cues, and nearly broke up the performance. It was, of course, an
amateur benefit, though Augustin Daly promptly wrote, offering to
put it on for a long run.

The "skeleton novelette" mentioned in the next letter refers to a
plan concocted by Howells and Clemens, by which each of twelve
authors was to write a story, using the same plot, "blindfolded" as
to what the others had written. It was a regular "Mark Twain"
notion, and it is hard to-day to imagine Howells’s continued
enthusiasm in it. Neither he nor Clemens gave up the idea for a
long time. It appears in their letters again and again, though
perhaps it was just as well for literature that it was never carried
out.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

Apl. 22, 1876. MY DEAR HOWELLS, You’ll see per enclosed slip that I appear for the first time on the stage next Wednesday. You and Mrs. H. come down and you shall skip in free.

I wrote my skeleton novelette yesterday and today. It will make a little under 12 pages.

Please tell Aldrich I’ve got a photographer engaged, and tri-weekly issue is about to begin. Show him the canvassing specimens and beseech him to subscribe.
Ever yours,
S. L. C.

In his next letter Mark Twain explains why Tom Sawyer is not to
appear as soon as planned. The reference to "The Literary
Nightmare" refers to the "Punch, Conductor, Punch with Care" sketch,
which had recently appeared in the Atlantic. Many other versifiers
had had their turn at horse-car poetry, and now a publisher was
anxious to collect it in a book, provided he could use the Atlantic
sketch. Clemens does not tell us here the nature of Carlton’s
insult, forgiveness of which he was not yet qualified to grant, but
there are at least two stories about it, or two halves of the same
incident, as related afterward by Clemens and Canton. Clemens said
that when he took the Jumping Frog book to Carlton, in 1867, the
latter, pointing to his stock, said, rather scornfully: "Books?
I don’t want your book; my shelves are full of books now," though
the reader may remember that it was Carlton himself who had given
the frog story to the Saturday Press and had seen it become famous.
Carlton’s half of the story was that he did not accept Mark Twain’s
book because the author looked so disreputable. Long afterward,
when the two men met in Europe, the publisher said to the now rich
and famous author: "Mr. Clemens, my one claim on immortality is that
I declined your first book."

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Apl. 25, 1876 MY DEAR HOWELLS,—Thanks for giving me the place of honor.

Bliss made a failure in the matter of getting Tom Sawyer ready on time— the engravers assisting, as usual. I went down to see how much of a delay there was going to be, and found that the man had not even put a canvasser on, or issued an advertisement yet—in fact, that the electrotypes would not all be done for a month! But of course the main fact was that no canvassing had been done—because a subscription harvest is before publication, (not after, when people have discovered how bad one’s book is.)

Well, yesterday I put in the Courant an editorial paragraph stating that Tam Sawyer is "ready to issue, but publication is put off in order to secure English copyright by simultaneous publication there and here. The English edition is unavoidably delayed."

You see, part of that is true. Very well. When I observed that my "Sketches" had dropped from a sale of 6 or 7000 a month down to 1200 a month, I said "this ain’t no time to be publishing books; therefore, let Tom lie still till Autumn, Mr. Bliss, and make a holiday book of him to beguile the young people withal."

I shall print items occasionally, still further delaying Tom, till I ease him down to Autumn without shock to the waiting world.

As to that "Literary Nightmare" proposition. I’m obliged to withhold consent, for what seems a good reason—to wit: A single page of horse-car poetry is all that the average reader can stand, without nausea; now, to stack together all of it that has been written, and then add it to my article would be to enrage and disgust each and every reader and win the deathless enmity of the lot.

Even if that reason were insufficient, there would still be a sufficient reason left, in the fact that Mr. Carlton seems to be the publisher of the magazine in which it is proposed to publish this horse-car matter. Carlton insulted me in Feb. 1867, and so when the day arrives that sees me doing him a civility I shall feel that I am ready for Paradise, since my list of possible and impossible forgivenesses will then be complete.

Mrs. Clemens says my version of the blindfold novelette "A Murder and A Marriage" is "good." Pretty strong language—for her.

The Fieldses are coming down to the play tomorrow, and they promise to get you and Mrs. Howells to come too, but I hope you’ll do nothing of the kind if it will inconvenience you, for I’m not going to play either strikingly bad enough or well enough to make the journey pay you.

My wife and I think of going to Boston May 7th to see Anna Dickinson’s debut on the 8th. If I find we can go, I’ll try to get a stage box and then you and Mrs. Howells must come to Parker’s and go with us to the crucifixion.

(Is that spelt right?—somehow it doesn’t look right.)

With our very kindest regards to the whole family.
Yrs ever,
MARK.

The mention of Anna Dickinson, at the end of this letter, recalls a
prominent reformer and lecturer of the Civil War period. She had
begun her crusades against temperance and slavery in 1857, when she
was but fifteen years old, when her success as a speaker had been
immediate and extraordinary. Now, in this later period, at the age
of thirty-four, she aspired to the stage—unfortunately for her, as
her gifts lay elsewhere. Clemens and Howells knew Miss Dickinson,
and were anxious for the success which they hardly dared hope for.
Clemens arranged a box party.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

May 4, ’76. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—I shall reach Boston on Monday the 8th, either at 4:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. (Which is best?) and go straight to Parker’s. If you and Mrs. Howells cannot be there by half past 4, I’ll not plan to arrive till the later train-time (6,) because I don’t want to be there alone—even a minute. Still, Joe Twichell will doubtless go with me (forgot that,) he is going to try hard to. Mrs. Clemens has given up going, because Susy is just recovering from about the savagest assault of diphtheria a child ever did recover from, and therefore will not be entirely her healthy self again by the 8th.

Would you and Mrs. Howells like to invite Mr. and Mrs. Aldrich? I have a large proscenium box—plenty of room. Use your own pleasure about it —I mainly (that is honest,) suggest it because I am seeking to make matters pleasant for you and Mrs. Howells. I invited Twichell because I thought I knew you’d like that. I want you to fix it so that you and the Madam can remain in Boston all night; for I leave next day and we can’t have a talk, otherwise. I am going to get two rooms and a parlor; and would like to know what you decide about the Aldriches, so as to know whether to apply for an additional bedroom or not.

Don’t dine that evening, for I shall arrive dinnerless and need your help.

I’ll bring my Blindfold Novelette, but shan’t exhibit it unless you exhibit yours. You would simply go to work and write a novelette that would make mine sick. Because you would know all about where my weak points lay. No, Sir, I’m one of these old wary birds!

Don’t bother to write a letter—3 lines on a postal card is all that I can permit from a busy man.
Yrs ever
MARK.

P. S. Good! You’ll not have to feel any call to mention that debut in the Atlantic—they’ve made me pay the grand cash for my box!—a thing which most managers would be too worldly-wise to do, with journalistic folks. But I’m most honestly glad, for I’d rather pay three prices, any time, than to have my tongue half paralyw4 with a dead-head ticket.

Hang that Anna Dickinson, a body can never depend upon her debuts! She has made five or six false starts already. If she fails to debut this time, I will never bet on her again.

In his book, My Mark Twain, Howells refers to the "tragedy" of Miss
Dickinson’s appearance. She was the author of numerous plays, some
of which were successful, but her career as an actress was never
brilliant.

At Elmira that summer the Clemenses heard from their good friend
Doctor Brown, of Edinburgh, and sent eager replies.

To Dr. John Brown, in Edinburgh:

ELMIRA, NEW YORK, U. S. June 22, 1876. DEAR FRIEND THE DOCTOR,— It was a perfect delight to see the well-known handwriting again! But we so grieve to know that you are feeling miserable. It must not last—it cannot last. The regal summer is come and it will smile you into high good cheer; it will charm away your pains, it will banish your distresses. I wish you were here, to spend the summer with us. We are perched on a hill-top that overlooks a little world of green valleys, shining rivers, sumptuous forests and billowy uplands veiled in the haze of distance. We have no neighbors. It is the quietest of all quiet places, and we are hermits that eschew caves and live in the sun. Doctor, if you’d only come!

I will carry your letter to Mrs. C. now, and there will be a glad woman, I tell you! And she shall find one of those pictures to put in this for Mrs. Barclays and if there isn’t one here we’ll send right away to Hartford and get one. Come over, Doctor John, and bring the Barclays, the Nicolsons and the Browns, one and all!
Affectionately,
SAML. L. CLEMENS.

From May until August no letters appear to have passed between
Clemens and Howells; the latter finally wrote, complaining of the
lack of news. He was in the midst of campaign activities, he said,
writing a life of Hayes, and gaily added: "You know I wrote the life
of Lincoln, which elected him." He further reported a comedy he had
completed, and gave Clemens a general stirring up as to his own
work.

Mark Twain, in his hillside study, was busy enough. Summer was his
time for work, and he had tried his hand in various directions. His
mention of Huck Finn in his reply to Howells is interesting, in that
it shows the measure of his enthusiasm, or lack of it, as a gauge of
his ultimate achievement

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

ELMIRA, Aug. 9, 1876. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—I was just about to write you when your letter came— and not one of those obscene postal cards, either, but reverently, upon paper.

I shall read that biography, though the letter of acceptance was amply sufficient to corral my vote without any further knowledge of the man. Which reminds me that a campaign club in Jersey City wrote a few days ago and invited me to be present at the raising of a Tilden and Hendricks flag there, and to take the stand and give them some "counsel." Well, I could not go, but gave them counsel and advice by letter, and in the kindliest terms as to the raising of the flag—advised them "not to raise it."

Get your book out quick, for this is a momentous time. If Tilden is elected I think the entire country will go pretty straight to—Mrs. Howells’s bad place.

I am infringing on your patent—I started a record of our children’s sayings, last night. Which reminds me that last week I sent down and got Susie a vast pair of shoes of a most villainous pattern, for I discovered that her feet were being twisted and cramped out of shape by a smaller and prettier article. She did not complain, but looked degraded and injured. At night her mamma gave her the usual admonition when she was about to say her prayers—to wit:

"Now, Susie—think about God."

"Mamma, I can’t, with those shoes."

The farm is perfectly delightful this season. It is as quiet and peaceful as a South Sea Island. Some of the sunsets which we have witnessed from this commanding eminence were marvelous. One evening a rainbow spanned an entire range of hills with its mighty arch, and from a black hub resting upon the hill-top in the exact centre, black rays diverged upward in perfect regularity to the rainbow’s arch and created a very strongly defined and altogether the most majestic, magnificent and startling half-sunk wagon wheel you can imagine. After that, a world of tumbling and prodigious clouds came drifting up out of the West and took to themselves a wonderfully rich and brilliant green color—the decided green of new spring foliage. Close by them we saw the intense blue of the skies, through rents in the cloud-rack, and away off in another quarter were drifting clouds of a delicate pink color. In one place hung a pall of dense black clouds, like compacted pitch-smoke. And the stupendous wagon wheel was still in the supremacy of its unspeakable grandeur. So you see, the colors present in the sky at once and the same time were blue, green, pink, black, and the vari-colored splendors of the rainbow. All strong and decided colors, too. I don’t know whether this weird and astounding spectacle most suggested heaven, or hell. The wonder, with its constant, stately, and always surprising changes, lasted upwards of two hours, and we all stood on the top of the hill by my study till the final miracle was complete and the greatest day ended that we ever saw.

Our farmer, who is a grave man, watched that spectacle to the end, and then observed that it was "dam funny."

The double-barreled novel lies torpid. I found I could not go on with it. The chapters I had written were still too new and familiar to me. I may take it up next winter, but cannot tell yet; I waited and waited to see if my interest in it would not revive, but gave it up a month ago and began another boys’ book—more to be at work than anything else. I have written 400 pages on it—therefore it is very nearly half done. It is Huck Finn’s Autobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn the MS when it is done.

So the comedy is done, and with a "fair degree of satisfaction." That rejoices me, and makes me mad, too—for I can’t plan a comedy, and what have you done that God should be so good to you? I have racked myself baldheaded trying to plan a comedy harness for some promising characters of mine to work in, and had to give it up. It is a noble lot of blooded stock and worth no end of money, but they must stand in the stable and be profitless. I want to be present when the comedy is produced and help enjoy the success.

Warner’s book is mighty readable, I think.
Love to yez.
Yrs ever
MARK

Howells promptly wrote again, urging him to enter the campaign for
Hayes. "There is not another man in this country," he said, "who
could help him so much as you." The "farce" which Clemens refers to
in his reply, was "The Parlor Car," which seems to have been about
the first venture of Howells in that field.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

ELMIRA, August 23, 1876. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—I am glad you think I could do Hayes any good, for I have been wanting to write a letter or make a speech to that end. I’ll be careful not to do either, however, until the opportunity comes in a natural, justifiable and unlugged way; and shall not then do anything unless I’ve got it all digested and worded just right. In which case I might do some good—in any other I should do harm. When a humorist ventures upon the grave concerns of life he must do his job better than another man or he works harm to his cause.

The farce is wonderfully bright and delicious, and must make a hit. You read it to me, and it was mighty good; I read it last night and it was better; I read it aloud to the household this morning and it was better than ever. So it would be worth going a long way to see it well played; for without any question an actor of genius always adds a subtle something to any man’s work that none but the writer knew was there before. Even if he knew it. I have heard of readers convulsing audiences with my "Aurelia’s Unfortunate Young Man." If there is anything really funny in the piece, the author is not aware of it.

All right—advertise me for the new volume. I send you herewith a sketch which will make 3 pages of the Atlantic. If you like it and accept it, you should get it into the December No. because I shall read it in public in Boston the 13th and 14th of Nov. If it went in a month earlier it would be too old for me to read except as old matter; and if it went in a month later it would be too old for the Atlantic—do you see? And if you wish to use it, will you set it up now, and send me three proofs? —one to correct for Atlantic, one to send to Temple Bar (shall I tell them to use it not earlier than their November No.?) and one to use in practising for my Boston readings.

We must get up a less elaborate and a much better skeleton-plan for the Blindfold Novels and make a success of that idea. David Gray spent Sunday here and said we could but little comprehend what a rattling stir that thing would make in the country. He thought it would make a mighty strike. So do I. But with only 8 pages to tell the tale in, the plot must be less elaborate, doubtless. What do you think?

When we exchange visits I’ll show you an unfinished sketch of Elizabeth’s time which shook David Gray’s system up pretty exhaustively.
Yrs ever,
MARK.

The MS. sketch mentioned in the foregoing letter was "The
Canvasser’s Tale," later included in the volume, Tom Sawyer Abroad,
and Other Stories. It is far from being Mark Twain’s best work, but
was accepted and printed in the Atlantic. David Gray was an able
journalist and editor whom Mark Twain had known in Buffalo.

The "sketch of Elizabeth’s time" is a brilliant piece of writing
—an imaginary record of conversation and court manners in the good
old days of free speech and performance, phrased in the language of
the period. Gray, John Hay, Twichell, and others who had a chance
to see it thought highly of it, and Hay had it set in type and a few
proofs taken for private circulation. Some years afterward a West
Point officer had a special font of antique type made for it, and
printed a hundred copies. But the present-day reader would hardly
be willing to include "Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen
Elizabeth" in Mark Twain’s collected works.

Clemens was a strong Republican in those days, as his letters of
this period show. His mention of the "caves" in the next is another
reference to "The Canvasser’s Tale."

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

Sept. 14, 1876. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—Yes, the collection of caves was the origin of it. I changed it to echoes because these being invisible and intangible, constituted a still more absurd species of property, and yet a man could really own an echo, and sell it, too, for a high figure—such an echo as that at the Villa Siminetti, two miles from Milan, for instance. My first purpose was to have the man make a collection of caves and afterwards of echoes; but perceived that the element of absurdity and impracticability was so nearly identical as to amount to a repetition of an idea.....

I will not, and do not, believe that there is a possibility of Hayes’s defeat, but I want the victory to be sweeping.....

It seems odd to find myself interested in an election. I never was before. And I can’t seem to get over my repugnance to reading or thinking about politics, yet. But in truth I care little about any party’s politics—the man behind it is the important thing.

You may well know that Mrs. Clemens liked the Parlor Car—enjoyed it ever so much, and was indignant at you all through, and kept exploding into rages at you for pretending that such a woman ever existed—closing each and every explosion with "But it is just what such a woman would do."— "It is just what such a woman would say." They all voted the Parlor Car perfection—except me. I said they wouldn’t have been allowed to court and quarrel there so long, uninterrupted; but at each critical moment the odious train-boy would come in and pile foul literature all over them four or five inches deep, and the lover would turn his head aside and curse—and presently that train-boy would be back again (as on all those Western roads) to take up the literature and leave prize candy.

Of course the thing is perfect, in the magazine, without the train-boy; but I was thinking of the stage and the groundlings. If the dainty touches went over their heads, the train-boy and other possible interruptions would fetch them every time. Would it mar the flow of the thing too much to insert that devil? I thought it over a couple of hours and concluded it wouldn’t, and that he ought to be in for the sake of the groundlings (and to get new copyright on the piece.)

And it seemed to me that now that the fourth act is so successfully written, why not go ahead and write the 3 preceding acts? And then after it is finished, let me put into it a low-comedy character (the girl’s or the lover’s father or uncle) and gobble a big pecuniary interest in your work for myself. Do not let this generous proposition disturb your rest —but do write the other 3 acts, and then it will be valuable to managers. And don’t go and sell it to anybody, like Harte, but keep it for yourself.

Harte’s play can be doctored till it will be entirely acceptable and then it will clear a great sum every year. I am out of all patience with Harte for selling it. The play entertained me hugely, even in its present crude state.
Love to you all.
Yrs ever,
MARK

Following the Sellers success, Clemens had made many attempts at
dramatic writing. Such undertakings had uniformly failed, but he
had always been willing to try again. In the next letter we get the
beginning of what proved his first and last direct literary
association, that is to say, collaboration, with Bret Harte.
Clemens had great admiration for Harte’s ability and believed that
between them they could turn out a successful play. Whether or not
this belief was justified will appear later. Howells’s biography of
Hayes, meanwhile, had not gone well. He reported that only two
thousand copies had been sold in what was now the height of the
campaign. "There’s success for you," he said; "it makes me despair
of the Republic."

Clemens, on his part, had made a speech for Hayes that Howells
declared had put civil-service reform in a nutshell; he added: "You
are the only Republican orator, quoted without distinction of party
by all the newspapers."

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Oct. 11, 1876. MY DEAR HOWELLS, This is a secret, to be known to nobody but you (of course I comprehend that Mrs. Howells is part of you) that Bret Harte came up here the other day and asked me to help him write a play and divide the swag, and I agreed. I am to put in Scotty Briggs (See Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral, in "Roughing It.") and he is to put in a Chinaman (a, wonderfully funny creature, as Bret presents him—for 5 minutes—in his Sandy Bar play.) This Chinaman is to be the character of the play, and both of us will work on him and develop him. Bret is to draw a plot, and I am to do the same; we shall use the best of the two, or gouge from both and build a third. My plot is built—finished it yesterday—six days’ work, 8 or 9 hours a day, and has nearly killed me.

Now the favor I ask of you is that you will have the words "Ah Sin, a Drama," printed in the middle of a note-paper page and send the same to me, with Bill. We don’t want anybody to know that we are building this play. I can’t get this title page printed here without having to lie so much that the thought of it is disagreeable to one reared as I have been. And yet the title of the play must be printed—the rest of the application for copyright is allowable in penmanship.

We have got the very best gang of servants in America, now. When George first came he was one of the most religious of men. He had but one fault—young George Washington’s. But I have trained him; and now it fairly breaks Mrs. Clemens’s heart to hear George stand at that front door and lie to the unwelcome visitor. But your time is valuable; I must not dwell upon these things.....I’ll ask Warner and Harte if they’ll do Blindfold Novelettes. Some time I’ll simplify that plot. All it needs is that the hanging and the marriage shall not be appointed for the same day. I got over that difficulty, but it required too much MS to reconcile the thing—so the movement of the story was clogged.

I came near agreeing to make political speeches with our candidate for Governor the 16th and 23 inst., but I had to give up the idea, for Harte and I will be here at work then.
Yrs ever,
MARK

Mark Twain was writing few letters these days to any one but
Howells, yet in November he sent one to an old friend of his youth,
Burrough, the literary chair-maker who had roomed with him in the
days when he had been setting type for the St. Louis Evening News.

To Mr. Burrough, of St. Louis:

HARTFORD, Nov. 1, 1876. MY DEAR BURROUGHS,—As you describe me I can picture myself as I was 20 years ago. The portrait is correct. You think I have grown some; upon my word there was room for it. You have described a callow fool, a selfsufficient ass, a mere human tumble-bug.... imagining that he is remodeling the world and is entirely capable of doing it right. Ignorance, intolerance, egotism, self-assertion, opaque perception, dense and pitiful chuckle-headedness—and an almost pathetic unconsciousness of it all. That is what I was at 19 and 20; and that is what the average Southerner is at 60 today. Northerners, too, of a certain grade. It is of children like this that voters are made. And such is the primal source of our government! A man hardly knows whether to swear or cry over it.

I think I comprehend the position there—perfect freedom to vote just as you choose, provided you choose to vote as other people think—social ostracism, otherwise. The same thing exists here, among the Irish. An Irish Republican is a pariah among his people. Yet that race find fault with the same spirit in Know-Nothingism.

Fortunately a good deal of experience of men enabled me to choose my residence wisely. I live in the freest corner of the country. There are no social disabilities between me and my Democratic personal friends. We break the bread and eat the salt of hospitality freely together and never dream of such a thing as offering impertinent interference in each other’s political opinions.

Don’t you ever come to New York again and not run up here to see me. I Suppose we were away for the summer when you were East; but no matter, you could have telegraphed and found out. We were at Elmira N. Y. and right on your road, and could have given you a good time if you had allowed us the chance.

Yes, Will Bowen and I have exchanged letters now and then for several years, but I suspect that I made him mad with my last—shortly after you saw him in St. Louis, I judge. There is one thing which I can’t stand and won’t stand, from many people. That is sham sentimentality—the kind a school-girl puts into her graduating composition; the sort that makes up the Original Poetry column of a country newspaper; the rot that deals in the "happy days of yore," the "sweet yet melancholy past," with its "blighted hopes" and its "vanished dreams" and all that sort of drivel. Will’s were always of this stamp. I stood it years. When I get a letter like that from a grown man and he a widower with a family, it gives me the stomach ache. And I just told Will Bowen so, last summer. I told him to stop being 16 at 40; told him to stop drooling about the sweet yet melancholy past, and take a pill. I said there was but one solitary thing about the past worth remembering, and that was the fact that it is the past—can’t be restored. Well, I exaggerated some of these truths a little—but only a little—but my idea was to kill his sham sentimentality once and forever, and so make a good fellow of him again. I went to the unheard-of trouble of re-writing the letter and saying the same harsh things softly, so as to sugarcoat the anguish and make it a little more endurable and I asked him to write and thank me honestly for doing him the best and kindliest favor that any friend ever had done him —but he hasn’t done it yet. Maybe he will, sometime. I am grateful to God that I got that letter off before he was married (I get that news from you) else he would just have slobbered all over me and drowned me when that event happened.

I enclose photograph for the young ladies. I will remark that I do not wear seal-skin for grandeur, but because I found, when I used to lecture in the winter, that nothing else was able to keep a man warm sometimes, in these high latitudes. I wish you had sent pictures of yourself and family—I’ll trade picture for picture with you, straight through, if you are commercially inclined.
Your old friend,
SAML L. CLEMENS.

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Chicago: Mark Twain, "XVI. Letters, 1876, Chiefly to W. D. Howells. Literature and Politics. Planning a Play With Bret Harte," 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 November 22, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Y31ILK4ZFFDSE9X.

MLA: Twain, Mark. "XVI. Letters, 1876, Chiefly to W. D. Howells. Literature and Politics. Planning a Play With Bret Harte." 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. 22 Nov. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Y31ILK4ZFFDSE9X.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'XVI. Letters, 1876, Chiefly to W. D. Howells. Literature and Politics. Planning a Play With Bret Harte' 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 22 November 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Y31ILK4ZFFDSE9X.