Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CXX

In Munich

That winter in Munich was not recalled as an unpleasant one in after-years. His work went well enough — always a chief source of gratification. Mrs. Clemens and Miss Spaulding found interest in the galleries, in quaint shops, in the music and picturesque life of that beautiful old Bavarian town. The children also liked Munich. It was easy for them to adopt any new environment or custom. The German Christmas, with its lavish tree and toys and cakes, was an especial delight. The German language they seemed fairly to absorb. Writing to his mother Clemens said:

I cannot see but that the children speak German as well as they do English. Susy often translates Livy’s orders to the servants. I cannot work and study German at the same time; so I have dropped the latter and do not even read the language, except in the morning paper to get the news.

In Munich — as was the case wherever they were known — there were many callers. Most Americans and many foreigners felt it proper to call on Mark Twain. It was complimentary, but it was wearying sometimes. Mrs. Clemens, in a letter written from Venice, where they had received even more than usual attention, declared there were moments when she almost wished she might never see a visitor again.

Originally there was a good deal about Munich in the new book, and some of the discarded chapters might have been retained with advantage. They were ruled out in the final weeding as being too serious, along with the French chapters. Only a few Italian memories were left to follow the Switzerland wanderings.

The book does record one Munich event, though transferring it to Heilsbronn. It is the incident of the finding of the lost sock in the vast bedroom. It may interest the reader to compare what really happened, as set down in a letter to Twichell, with the story as written for publication:

Last night I awoke at three this morning, and after raging to myself for two interminable hours I gave it up. I rose, assumed a catlike stealthiness, to keep from waking Livy, and proceeded to dress in the pitch-dark. Slowly but surely I got on garment after garment — all down to one sock; I had one slipper on and the other in my hand. Well, on my hands and knees I crept softly around, pawing and feeling and scooping along the carpet, and among chair-legs, for that missing sock, I kept that up, and still kept it up, and kept it up. At first I only said to myself, “Blame that sock,” but that soon ceased to answer. My expletives grew steadily stronger and stronger, and at last, when I found I was lost, I had to sit flat down on the floor and take hold of something to keep from lifting the roof off with the profane explosion that was trying to get out of me. I could see the dim blur of the window, but of course it was in the wrong place and could give me no information as to where I was. But I had one comfort — I had not waked Livy; I believed I could find that sock in silence if the night lasted long enough. So I started again and softly pawed all over the place, and sure enough, at the end of half an hour I laid my hand on the missing article. I rose joyfully up and butted the washbowl and pitcher off the stand, and simply raised —— so to speak. Livy screamed, then said, “Who is it? What is the matter?” I said, “There ain’t anything the matter. I’m hunting for my sock.” She said, “Are you hunting for it with a club?”

I went in the parlor and lit the lamp, and gradually the fury subsided and the ridiculous features of the thing began to suggest themselves. So I lay on the sofa with note-book and pencil, and transferred the adventure to our big room in the hotel at Heilsbronn, and got it on paper a good deal to my satisfaction.

He wrote with frequency to Howells, and sent him something for the magazine now and then: the “Gambetta Duel” burlesque, which would make a chapter in the book later, and the story of “The Great Revolution in Pitcairn.”96

96 [Included in The Stolen White Elephant volume. The “Pitcairn” and “Elephant” tales were originally chapters in ‘A Tramp Abroad’; also the unpleasant “Coffin-box” yarn, which Howells rejected for the Atlantic and generally condemned, though for a time it remained a favorite with its author.]

Howells’s novel, ‘The Lady of the Aroostook’, was then running through the ‘Atlantic’, and in one of his letters Clemens expresses the general deep satisfaction of his household in that tale:

If your literature has not struck perfection now we are not able to see what is lacking. It is all such truth — truth to the life; everywhere your pen falls it leaves a photograph . . . . Possibly you will not be a fully accepted classic until you have been dead one hundred years — it is the fate of the Shakespeares of all genuine professions — but then your books will be as common as Bibles, I believe. In that day I shall be in the encyclopedias too, thus: “Mark Twain, history and occupation unknown; but he was personally acquainted with Howells.”

Though in humorous form, this was a sincere tribute. Clemens always regarded with awe William Dean Howells’s ability to dissect and photograph with such delicacy the minutiae of human nature; just as Howells always stood in awe of Mark Twain’s ability to light, with a single flashing sentence, the whole human horizon.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00