Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Appendix M

Letter Written to Mrs. Clemens from Boston, November, 1874, Prophesying a Monarchy in Sixty-One Years

(See Chapter xcvii)

BOSTON, November 16, 1935.

DEAR LIVY — You observe I still call this beloved old place by the name it had when I was young. Limerick! It is enough to make a body sick.

The gentlemen-in-waiting stare to see me sit here telegraphing this letter to you, and no doubt they are smiling in their sleeves. But let them! The slow old fashions are good enough for me, thank God, and I will none other. When I see one of these modern fools sit absorbed, holding the end of a telegraph wire in his hand, and reflect that a thousand miles away there is another fool hitched to the other end of it, it makes me frantic with rage; and then I am more implacably fixed and resolved than ever to continue taking twenty minutes to telegraph you what I might communicate in ten seconds by the new way if I would so debase myself. And when I see a whole silent, solemn drawing-room full of idiots sitting with their hands on each other’s foreheads “communing” I tug the white hairs from my head and curse till my asthma brings me the blessed relief of suffocation. In our old day such a gathering talked pure drivel and “rot,” mostly, but better that, a thousand times, than these dreary conversational funerals that oppress our spirits in this mad generation.

It is sixty years since I was here before. I walked hither then with my precious old friend. It seems incredible now that we did it in two days, but such is my recollection. I no longer mention that we walked back in a single day, it makes me so furious to see doubt in the face of the hearer. Men were men in those old times. Think of one of the puerile organisms in this effeminate age attempting such a feat.

My air-ship was delayed by a collision with a fellow from China loaded with the usual cargo of jabbering, copper-colored missionaries, and so I was nearly an hour on my journey. But by the goodness of God thirteen of the missionaries were crippled and several killed, so I was content to lose the time. I love to lose time anyway because it brings soothing reminiscences of the creeping railroad days of old, now lost to us forever.

Our game was neatly played, and successfully. None expected us, of course. You should have seen the guards at the ducal palace stare when I said, “Announce his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin and the Right Honorable the Earl of Hartford.” Arrived within, we were all eyes to see the Duke of Cambridge and his Duchess, wondering if we might remember their faces and they ours. In a moment they came tottering in; he, bent and withered and bald; she, blooming with wholesome old age. He peered through his glasses a moment, then screeched in a reedy voice, “Come to my arms! Away with titles — I’ll know ye by no names but Twain and Twichell!” Then fell he on our necks and jammed his trumpet in his ear, the which we filled with shoutings to this effect: “God bless you, old Howells, what is left of you!”

We talked late that night — none of your silent idiot “communings” for us — of the olden time. We rolled a stream of ancient anecdotes over our tongues and drank till the Lord Archbishop grew so mellow in the mellow past that Dublin ceased to be Dublin to him, and resumed its sweeter, forgotten name of New York. In truth he almost got back into his ancient religion, too, good Jesuit as he has always been since O’Mulligan the First established that faith in the empire.

And we canvassed everybody. Bailey Aldrich, Marquis of Ponkapog, came in, got nobly drunk, and told us all about how poor Osgood lost his earldom and was hanged for conspiring against the second Emperor; but he didn’t mention how near he himself came to being hanged, too, for engaging in the same enterprise. He was as chaffy as he was sixty years ago, too, and swore the Archbishop and I never walked to Boston; but there was never a day that Ponkapog wouldn’t lie, so be it by the grace of God he got the opportunity.

The Lord High Admiral came in, a hale gentleman close upon seventy and bronzed by the suns and storms of many climes and scarred by the wounds got in many battles, and I told him how I had seen him sit in a high-chair and eat fruit and cakes and answer to the name of Johnny. His granddaughter (the eldest) is but lately married to the youngest of the Grand Dukes, and so who knows but a day may come when the blood of the Howellses may reign in the land? I must not forget to say, while I think of it, that your new false teeth are done, my dear, and your wig. Keep your head well bundled with a shawl till the latter comes, and so cheat your persecuting neuralgias and rheumatisms. Would you believe it? — the Duchess of Cambridge is deafer than you — deafer than her husband. They call her to breakfast with a salvo of artillery; and usually when it thunders she looks up expectantly and says, “Come in.” But she has become subdued and gentle with age and never destroys the furniture now, except when uncommonly vexed. God knows, my dear, it would be a happy thing if you and old Lady Harmony would imitate this spirit. But indeed the older you grow the less secure becomes the furniture. When I throw chairs through the window I have sufficient reason to back it. But you — you are but a creature of passion.

The monument to the author of ‘Gloverson and His Silent Partners’ is finished.205 It is the stateliest and the costliest ever erected to the memory of any man. This noble classic has now been translated into all the languages of the earth and is adored by all nations and known to all creatures. Yet I have conversed as familiarly with the author of it as I do with my own great-grandchildren.

205 [Ralph Keeler. See chap. lxxxiii.]

I wish you could see old Cambridge and Ponkapog. I love them as dearly as ever, but privately, my dear, they are not much improvement on idiots. It is melancholy to hear them jabber over the same pointless anecdotes three and four times of an evening, forgetting that they had jabbered them over three or four times the evening before. Ponkapog still writes poetry, but the old-time fire has mostly gone out of it. Perhaps his best effort of late years is this:

O soul, soul, soul of mine! Soul, soul, soul of throe! Thy soul, my soul, two souls entwine, And sing thy lauds in crystal wine!

This he goes about repeating to everybody, daily and nightly, insomuch that he is become a sore affliction to all that know him.

But I must desist. There are draughts here everywhere and my gout is something frightful. My left foot hath resemblance to a snuff-bladder. God be with you.


These to Lady Hartford, in the earldom of Hartford, in the upper portion of the city of Dublin.

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