Eighteen hundred and eighty was a Presidential year. General Garfield was nominated on the Republican ticket (against General Hancock), and Clemens found him satisfactory.
Garfield suits me thoroughly and exactly [he wrote Howells] . I prefer him to Grant’s friends. The Presidency can’t add anything to Grant; he will shine on without it. It is ephemeral; he is eternal.
That was the year when the Republican party became panicky over the disaffection in its ranks, due to the defeat of Grant in the convention, and at last, by pleadings and promises, conciliated Platt and Conkling and brought them into the field. General Grant also was induced to save the party from defeat, and made a personal tour of oratory for that purpose. He arrived in Hartford with his family on the 16th of October, and while his reception was more or less partizan, it was a momentous event. A vast procession passed in review before him, and everywhere houses and grounds were decorated. To Mrs. Clemens, still in Elmira, Clemens wrote:
I found Mr. Beals hard at work in the rain with his decorations. With a ladder he had strung flags around our bedroom balcony, and thence around to the porte-cochere, which was elaborately flagged; thence the flags of all nations were suspended from a line which stretched past the greenhouse to the limit of our grounds. Against each of the two trees on the mound, half-way down to our gate, stands a knight in complete armor. Piles of still-bundled flags clutter up the ombra (to be put up), also gaudy shields of various shapes (arms of this and other countries), also some huge glittering arches and things done in gold and silver paper, containing mottoes in big letters. I broke Mr. Beals’s heart by persistently and inflexibly annulling and forbidding the biggest and gorgeousest of the arches — it had on it, in all the fires of the rainbow, “The Home of Mark Twain,” in letters as big as your head. Oh, we’re going to be decorated sufficient, don’t you worry about that, madam.
Clemens was one of those delegated to receive Grant and to make a speech of welcome. It was a short speech but an effective one, for it made Grant laugh. He began:
“I am among those deputed to welcome you to the sincere and cordial hospitalities of Hartford, the city of the historic and revered Charter Oak, of which most of the town is built.” He seemed to be at loss what to say next, and, leaning over, pretended to whisper to Grant; then, as if he had obtained the information he wanted, he suddenly straightened up and poured out the old-fashioned eulogy on Grant’s achievements, adding, in an aside, as he finished:
“I nearly forgot that part of my speech,” which evoked roars of laughter from the assembly and a grim smile from Grant. He spoke of Grant as being out of public employment, with private opportunities closed against him, and added, “But your country will reward you, never fear.”
Then he closed:
When Wellington won Waterloo, a battle about on a level with any one of a dozen of your victories, sordid England tried to pay him for that service with wealth and grandeurs. She made him a duke and gave him $4,000,000. If you had done and suffered for any other country what you have done and suffered for your own you would have been affronted in the same sordid way. But, thank God! this vast and rich and mighty republic is imbued to the core with a delicacy which will forever preserve her from so degrading you.
Your country loves you — your country’s proud of you — your country is grateful to you. Her applauses, which have been many, thundering in your ears all these weeks and months, will never cease while the flag you saved continues to wave.
Your country stands ready from this day forth to testify her measureless love and pride and gratitude toward you in every conceivable — inexpensive way. Welcome to Hartford, great soldier, honored statesman, unselfish citizen.
Grant’s grim smile showed itself more than once during the speech, and when Clemens reached the sentence that spoke of his country rewarding him in “every conceivable — inexpensive way” his composure broke up completely and he “nearly laughed his entire head off,” according to later testimony, while the spectators shouted their approval.
Grant’s son, Col. Fred Grant, 105 dined at the Clemens home that night, and Rev. Joseph Twichell and Henry C. Robinson. Twichell’s invitation was in the form of a telegram. It said:
105 [Maj.-Gen’l, U. S. Army, 1906. Died April, 1912.]
I want you to dine with us Saturday half past five and meet Col. Fred Grant. No ceremony. Wear the same shirt you always wear.
The campaign was at its height now, and on the evening of October 26th there was a grand Republican rally at the opera-house with addresses by Charles Dudley Warner, Henry C. Robinson, and Mark Twain. It was an unpleasant, drizzly evening, but the weather had no effect on their audience. The place was jammed and packed, the aisles, the windows, and the gallery railings full. Hundreds who came as late as the hour announced for the opening were obliged to turn back, for the building had been thronged long before. Mark Twain’s speech that night is still remembered in Hartford as the greatest effort of his life. It was hardly that, except to those who were caught in the psychology of the moment, the tumult and the shouting of patriotism, the surge and sweep of the political tide. The roaring delight of the audience showed that to them at least it was convincing. Howells wrote that he had read it twice, and that he could not put it out of his mind. Whatever its general effect was need not now be considered. Garfield was elected, and perhaps Grant’s visit to Hartford and the great mass-meeting that followed contributed their mite to that result.
Clemens saw General Grant again that year, but not on political business. The Educational Mission, which China had established in Hartford — a thriving institution for eight years or more — was threatened now by certain Chinese authorities with abolishment. Yung Wing (a Yale graduate), the official by whom it had been projected and under whose management it had prospered, was deeply concerned, as was the Rev. Joseph Twichell, whose interest in the mission was a large and personal one. Yung Wing declared that if influence could be brought upon Li Hung Chang, then the most influential of Chinese counselors, the mission might be saved. Twichell, remembering the great honors which Li Hung Chang had paid to General Grant in China, also Grant’s admiration of Mark Twain, went to the latter without delay. Necessarily Clemens would be enthusiastic, and act promptly. He wrote to Grant, and Grant replied by telegraph, naming a day when he would see them in New York.
They met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Grant was in fine spirits, and by no means the “silent man” of his repute.
He launched at once into as free and flowing talk as I have ever heard [says Twichell], marked by broad and intelligent views on the subject of China, her wants, disadvantages, etc. Now and then he asked a question, but kept the lead of the conversation. At last he proposed, of his own accord, to write a letter to Li Hung Chang, advising the continuance of the Mission, asking only that I would prepare him some notes, giving him points to go by. Thus we succeeded easily beyond our expectations, thanks, very largely, to Clemens’s assistance.
Clemens wrote Howells of the interview, detailing at some length Twichell’s comical mixture of delight and chagrin at not being given time to air the fund of prepared statistics with which he had come loaded. It was as if he had come to borrow a dollar and had been offered a thousand before he could unfold his case.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00