Gerhardt returned from Paris that summer, after three years of study, a qualified sculptor. He was prepared to take commissions, and came to Elmira to model a bust of his benefactor. The work was finished after four or five weeks of hard effort and pronounced admirable; but Gerhardt, attempting to make a cast one morning, ruined it completely. The family gathered round the disaster, which to them seemed final, but the sculptor went immediately to work, and in an amazingly brief time executed a new bust even better than the first, an excellent piece of modeling and a fine likeness. It was decided that a cut of it should be used as a frontispiece for the new book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Clemens was at this time giving the final readings to the Huck Finn pages, a labor in which Mrs. Clemens and the children materially assisted. In the childish biography which Susy began of her father, a year later, she says:
Ever since papa and mama were married papa has written his books and then taken them to mama in manuscript, and she has expurgated — [Susy’s spelling is preserved]— them. Papa read Huckleberry Finn to us in manuscript, 111 just before it came out, and then he would leave parts of it with mama to expurgate, while he went off to the study to work, and sometimes Clara and I would be sitting with mama while she was looking the manuscript over, and I remember so well, with what pangs of regret we used to see her turn down the leaves of the pages, which meant that some delightfully terrible part must be scratched out. And I remember one part pertickularly which was perfectly fascinating it was so terrible, that Clara and I used to delight in and oh, with what despair we saw mama turn down the leaf on which it was written, we thought the book would almost be ruined without it. But we gradually came to think as mama did.
111 [Probably meaning proof.]
Commenting on this phase of Huck’s evolution Mark Twain has since written:
I remember the special case mentioned by Susy, and can see the group yet — two-thirds of it pleading for the life of the culprit sentence that was so fascinatingly dreadful, and the other third of it patiently explaining why the court could not grant the prayer of the pleaders; but I do not remember what the condemned phrase was. It had much company, and they all went to the gallows; but it is possible that that especially dreadful one which gave those little people so much delight was cunningly devised and put into the book for just that function, and not with any hope or expectation that it would get by the “expergator” alive. It is possible, for I had that custom.
Little Jean was probably too youthful yet to take part in that literary arbitration. She was four, and had more interest in cows. In some memoranda which her father kept of that period — the “Children’s Book”— he says:
She goes out to the barn with one of us every evening toward six o’clock, to look at the cows — which she adores — no weaker word can express her feeling for them. She sits rapt and contented while David milks the three, making a remark now and then — always about the cows. The time passes slowly and drearily for her attendant, but not for her. She could stand a week of it. When the milking is finished, and “Blanche,” “Jean,” and “the cross cow” are turned into the adjoining little cow-lot, we have to set Jean on a shed in that lot, and stay by her half an hour, till Eliza, the German nurse, comes to take her to bed. The cows merely stand there, and do nothing; yet the mere sight of them is all-sufficient for Jean. She requires nothing more. The other evening, after contemplating them a long time, as they stood in the muddy muck chewing the cud, she said, with deep and reverent appreciation, “Ain’t this a sweet little garden?”
Yesterday evening our cows (after being inspected and worshiped by Jean from the shed for an hour) wandered off down into the pasture and left her bereft. I thought I was going to get back home, now, but that was an error. Jean knew of some more cows in a field somewhere, and took my hand and led me thitherward. When we turned the corner and took the right-hand road, I saw that we should presently be out of range of call and sight; so I began to argue against continuing the expedition, and Jean began to argue in favor of it, she using English for light skirmishing and German for “business.” I kept up my end with vigor, and demolished her arguments in detail, one after the other, till I judged I had her about cornered. She hesitated a moment, then answered up, sharply:
“Wir werden nichts mehr daruber sprechen!” (We won’t talk any more about it.)
It nearly took my breath away, though I thought I might possibly have misunderstood. I said:
“Why, you little rascal! Was hast du gesagt?”
But she said the same words over again, and in the same decided way. I suppose I ought to have been outraged, but I wasn’t; I was charmed.
His own note-books of that summer are as full as usual, but there are fewer literary ideas and more philosophies. There was an excitement, just then, about the trichina germ in pork, and one of his memoranda says:
I think we are only the microscopic trichina concealed in the blood of some vast creature’s veins, and that it is that vast creature whom God concerns himself about and not us.
And there is another which says:
People, in trying to justify eternity, say we can put it in by learning all the knowledge acquired by the inhabitants of the myriads of stars. We sha’n’t need that. We could use up two eternities in learning all that is to be learned about our own world, and the thousands of nations that have risen, and flourished, and vanished from it. Mathematics alone would occupy me eight million years.
He records an incident which he related more fully in a letter to Howells:
Before I forget it I must tell you that Mrs. Clemens has said a bright thing. A drop-letter came to me asking me to lecture here for a church debt. I began to rage over the exceedingly cool wording of the request, when Mrs. Clemens said: “I think I know that church, and, if so, this preacher is a colored man; he doesn’t know how to write a polished letter. How should he?”
My manner changed so suddenly and so radically that Mrs. C. said: “I will give you a motto, and it will be useful to you if you will adopt it: ‘Consider every man colored till he is proved white.’”
It is dern good, I think.
One of the note-books contains these entries:
Talking last night about home matters, I said, “I wish I had said to George when we were leaving home, ‘Now, George, I wish you would take advantage of these three or four months’ idle time while I am away ——’”
“To learn to let my matches alone,” interrupted Livy. The very words I was going to use. Yet George had not been mentioned before, nor his peculiarities.
Several years ago I said:
“Suppose I should live to be ninety-two, and just as I was dying a messenger should enter and say ——”
“You are become Earl of Durham,” interrupted Livy. The very words I was going to utter. Yet there had not been a word said about the earl, or any other person, nor had there been any conversation calculated to suggest any such subject.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00