Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCLXXI

Death of “Sam” Moffett

Clemens’ next absence from Redding came on August 1, 1908, when the sudden and shocking news was received of the drowning of his nephew, Samuel E. Moffett, in the surf of the Jersey shore. Moffett was his nearest male relative, and a man of fine intellect and talents. He was superior in those qualities which men love — he was large-minded and large-hearted, and of noble ideals. With much of the same sense of humor which had made his uncle’s fame, he had what was really an abnormal faculty of acquiring and retaining encyclopedic data. Once as a child he had visited Hartford when Clemens was laboring over his history game. The boy was much interested, and asked permission to help. His uncle willingly consented, and referred him to the library for his facts. But he did not need to consult the books; he already had English history stored away, and knew where to find every detail of it. At the time of his death Moffett held an important editorial position on Collier’s Weekly.

Clemens was fond and proud of his nephew. Returning from the funeral, he was much depressed, and a day or two later became really ill. He was in bed for a few days, resting, he said, after the intense heat of the journey. Then he was about again and proposed billiards as a diversion. We were all alone one very still, warm August afternoon playing, when he suddenly said:

“I feel a little dizzy; I will sit down a moment.”

I brought him a glass of water and he seemed to recover, but when he rose and started to play I thought he had a dazed look. He said:

“I have lost my memory. I don’t know which is my ball. I don’t know what game we are playing.”

But immediately this condition passed, and we thought little of it, considering it merely a phase of biliousness due to his recent journey. I have been told since, by eminent practitioners, that it was the first indication of a more serious malady.

He became apparently quite himself again and showed his usual vigor-light of step and movement, able to skip up and down stairs as heretofore. In a letter to Mrs. Crane, August 12th, he spoke of recent happenings:

DEAR AUNT SUE — It was a most moving, a most heartbreaking sight, the spectacle of that stunned & crushed & inconsolable family. I came back here in bad shape, & had a bilious collapse, but I am all right again, though the doctor from New York has given peremptory orders that I am not to stir from here before frost. O fortunate Sam Moffett! fortunate Livy Clemens! doubly fortunate Susy! Those swords go through & through my heart, but there is never a moment that I am not glad, for the sake of the dead, that they have escaped.

How Livy would love this place! How her very soul would steep itself thankfully in this peace, this tranquillity, this deep stillness, this dreamy expanse of woodsy hill & valley! You must come, Aunt Sue, & stay with us a real good visit. Since June 26 we have had 21 guests, & they have all liked it and said they would come again.

To Howells, on the same day, he wrote:

Won’t you & Mrs. Howells & Mildred come & give us as many days as you can spare & examine John’s triumph? It is the most satisfactory house I am acquainted with, & the most satisfactorily situated . . . . I have dismissed my stenographer, & have entered upon a holiday whose other end is the cemetery.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05