Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCVI

A Summer in Sweden

A part of the tragedy of their trip around the world had been the development in Jean Clemens of a malady which time had identified as epilepsy. The loss of one daughter and the invalidism of another was the burden which this household had now to bear. Of course they did not for a moment despair of a cure for the beautiful girl who had been so cruelly stricken, and they employed any agent that promised relief.

They decided now to go to London, in the hope of obtaining beneficial treatment. They left Vienna at the end of May, followed to the station by a great crowd, who loaded their compartment with flowers and lingered on the platform waving and cheering, some of them in tears, while the train pulled away. Leschetizky himself was among them, and Wilbrandt, the author of the Master of Palmyra, and many artists and other notables, “most of whom,” writes Mrs. Clemens, “we shall probably never see again in this world.”

Their Vienna sojourn had been one of the most brilliant periods of their life, as well as one of the saddest. The memory of Susy had been never absent, and the failing health of Jean was a gathering cloud.

They stopped a day or two at Prague, where they were invited by the Prince of Thurn and Taxis to visit his castle. It gave them a glimpse of the country life of the Bohemian nobility which was most interesting. The Prince’s children were entirely familiar with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which they had read both in English and in the translation.

They journeyed to London by way of Cologne, arriving by the end of May. Poultney Bigelow was there, and had recently been treated with great benefit by osteopathy (then known as the Swedish movements), as practised by Heinrick Kellgren at Sanna, Sweden. Clemens was all interest concerning Kellgren’s method and eager to try it for his daughter’s malady. He believed she could be benefited, and they made preparation to spend some months at least in Sanna. They remained several weeks in London, where they were welcomed with hospitality extraordinary. They had hardly arrived when they were invited by Lord Salisbury to Hatfield House, and by James Bryce to Portland Place, and by Canon Wilberforce to Dean’s Yard. A rather amusing incident happened at one of the luncheon-parties. Canon Wilberforce was there and left rather early. When Clemens was ready to go there was just one hat remaining. It was not his, and he suspected, by the initials on the inside, that it belonged to Canon Wilberforce. However, it fitted him exactly and he wore it away. That evening he wrote:


DEAR CANON WILBERFORCE — It is 8 P.M. During the past four hours I have not been able to take anything that did not belong to me; during all that time I have not been able to stretch a fact beyond the frontiers of truth try as I might, & meantime, not only my morals have moved the astonishment of all who have come in contact with me, but my manners have gained more compliments than they have been accustomed to. This mystery is causing my family much alarm. It is difficult to account for it. I find I haven’t my own hat. Have you developed any novelties of conduct since you left Mr. Murray’s, & have they been of a character to move the concern of your friends? I think it must be this that has put me under this happy charm; but, oh dear! I tremble for the other man!

Sincerely yours, S. L. CLEMENS.

Scarcely was this note on its way to Wilberforce when the following one arrived, having crossed it in transit:

July 3, 1899.

DEAR MR. CLEMENS — I have been conscious of a vivacity and facility of expression this afternoon beyond the normal and I have just discovered the reason!! I have seen the historic signature “Mark Twain” in my hat!! Doubtless you have been suffering from a corresponding dullness & have wondered why. I departed precipitately, the hat stood on my umbrella and was a new Lincoln & Bennett — it fitted me exactly and I did not discover the mistake till I got in this afternoon. Please forgive me. If you should be passing this way to-morrow will you look in and change hats? or shall I send it to the hotel?

I am, very sincerely yrs., 20 Dean’s Yard. BASIL WILBERFORCE.

Clemens was demanded by all the bohemian clubs, the White Friars, the Vagabonds, the Savage, the Beefsteak, and the Authors. He spoke to them, and those “Mark Twain Evenings” have become historic occasions in each of the several institutions that gave him welcome. At the Vagabonds he told them the watermelon story, and at the White Friars he reviewed the old days when he had been elected to that society; “days,” he said, “when all Londoners were talking about nothing else than that they had discovered Livingstone, and that the lost Sir Roger Tichborne had been found and they were trying him for it.”

At the Savage Club, too, he recalled old times and old friends, and particularly that first London visit, his days in the club twenty-seven years before.

“I was 6 feet 4 in those days,” he said. “Now I am 5 feet 8 1/2 and daily diminishing in altitude, and the shrinkage of my principles goes on . . . . Irving was here then, is here now. Stanley is here, and Joe Hatton, but Charles Reade is gone and Tom Hood and Harry Lee and Canon Kingsley. In those days you could have carried Kipling around in a lunch-basket; now he fills the world. I was young and foolish then; now I am old and foolisher.”

At the Authors Club he paid a special tribute to Rudyard Kipling, whose dangerous illness in New York City and whose daughter’s death had aroused the anxiety and sympathy of the entire American nation. It had done much to bring England and America closer together, Clemens said. Then he added that he had been engaged the past eight days compiling a pun and had brought it there to lay at their feet, not to ask for their indulgence, but for their applause. It was this:

“Since England and America have been joined in Kipling, may they not be severed in Twain.”

Hundreds of puns had been made on his pen-name, but this was probably his first and only attempt, and it still remains the best.

They arrived in Sweden early in July and remained until October. Jean was certainly benefited by the Kellgren treatment, and they had for a time the greatest hopes of her complete recovery. Clemens became enthusiastic over osteopathy, and wrote eloquently to every one, urging each to try the great new curative which was certain to restore universal health. He wrote long articles on Kellgren and his science, largely justified, no doubt, for certainly miraculous benefits were recorded; though Clemens was not likely to underestimate a thing which appealed to both his imagination and his reason. Writing to Twichell he concluded, with his customary optimism over any new benefit:

Ten years hence no sane man will call a doctor except when the knife must be used —& such cases will be rare. The educated physician will himself be an osteopath. Dave will become one after he has finished his medical training. Young Harmony ought to become one now. I do not believe there is any difference between Kellgren’s science and osteopathy; but I am sending to America to find out. I want osteopathy to prosper; it is common sense & scientific, & cures a wider range of ailments than the doctor’s methods can reach.

Twichell was traveling in Europe that summer, and wrote from Switzerland:

I seemed ever and anon to see you and me swinging along those glorious Alpine woods, staring at the new unfoldings of splendor that every turn brought into view-talking, talking, endlessly talking the days through-days forever memorable to me. That was twenty-one years ago; think of it! We were youngsters then, Mark, and how keen our relish of everything was! Well, I can enjoy myself now; but not with that zest and rapture. Oh, a lot of items of our tramp travel in 1878 that I had long forgotten came back to me as we sped through that enchanted region, and if I wasn’t on duty with Venice I’d stop and set down some of them, but Venice must be attended to. For one thing, there is Howells’s book to be read at such intervals as can be snatched from the quick-time march on which our rustling leader keeps us. However, in Venice so far we want to be gazing pretty steadily from morning till night, and by the grace of the gondola we can do it without exhaustion. Really I am drunk with Venice.

But Clemens was full of Sweden. The skies there and the sunsets be thought surpassed any he had ever known. On an evening in September he wrote:

DEAR JOE — I’ve no business in here-I ought to be outside. I shall never see another sunset to begin with it this side of heaven. Venice? land, what a poor interest that is! This is the place to be. I have seen about 60 sunsets here; & a good 40 of them were away & beyond anything I had ever imagined before for dainty & exquisite & marvelous beauty & infinite change & variety. America? Italy? the tropics? They have no notion of what a sunset ought to be. And this one — this unspeakable wonder! It discounts all the rest. It brings the tears, it is so unutterably beautiful.

Clemens read a book during his stay in Sweden which interested him deeply. It was the Open Question, by Elizabeth Robbins — a fine study of life’s sterner aspects. When he had finished he was moved to write the author this encouraging word:

DEAR MISS ROBBINS — A relative of Matthew Arnold lent us your ‘Open Question’ the other day, and Mrs. Clemens and I are in your debt. I am not able to put in words my feeling about the book — my admiration of its depth and truth and wisdom and courage, and the fine and great literary art and grace of the setting. At your age you cannot have lived the half of the things that are in the book, nor personally penetrated to the deeps it deals in, nor covered its wide horizons with your very own vision — and so, what is your secret? how have you written this miracle? Perhaps one must concede that genius has no youth, but starts with the ripeness of age and old experience.

Well, in any case, I am grateful to you. I have not been so enriched by a book for many years, nor so enchanted by one. I seem to be using strong language; still, I have weighed it.

Sincerely yours, S. L. CLEMENS.

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