Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine


The Sad Journey Home

A tidal wave of sympathy poured in. Noble and commoner, friend and stranger — humanity of every station — sent their messages of condolence to the friend of mankind. The cablegrams came first — bundles of them from every corner of the world — then the letters, a steady inflow. Howells, Twichell, Aldrich — those oldest friends who had themselves learned the meaning of grief — spoke such few and futile words as the language can supply to allay a heart’s mourning, each recalling the rarity and beauty of the life that had slipped away. Twichell and his wife wrote:

DEAR, DEAR MARK — There is nothing we can say. What is there to say? But here we are — with you all every hour and every minute — filled with unutterable thoughts; unutterable affection for the dead and for the living.


Howells in his letter said:

She hallowed what she touched far beyond priests . . . . What are you going to do, you poor soul?

A hundred letters crowd in for expression here, but must be denied — not, however, the beam of hope out of Helen Keller’s illumined night:

Do try to reach through grief and feel the pressure of her hand, as I reach through darkness and feel the smile on my friends’ lips and the light in their eyes though mine are closed.

They were adrift again without plans for the future. They would return to America to lay Mrs. Clemens to rest by Susy and little Langdon, but beyond that they could not see. Then they remembered a quiet spot in Massachusetts, Tyringham, near Lee, where the Gilders lived, and so, on June 7th, he wrote:

DEAR GILDER FAMILY — I have been worrying and worrying to know what to do; at last I went to the girls with an idea — to ask the Gilders to get us shelter near their summer home. It was the first time they have not shaken their heads. So to-morrow I will cable to you and shall hope to be in time.

An hour ago the best heart that ever beat for me and mine was carried silent out of this house, and I am as one who wanders and has lost his way. She who is gone was our head, she was our hands. We are now trying to make plans — we: we who have never made a plan before, nor ever needed to. If she could speak to us she would make it all simple and easy with a word, & our perplexities would vanish away. If she had known she was near to death she would have told us where to go and what to do, but she was not suspecting, neither were we. She was all our riches and she is gone; she was our breath, she was our life, and now we are nothing.

We send you our love-and with it the love of you that was in her heart when she died. S. L. CLEMENS.

They arranged to sail on the Prince Oscar on the 29th of June. There was an earlier steamer, but it was the Princess Irene, which had brought them, and they felt they would not make the return voyage on that vessel. During the period of waiting a curious thing happened. Clemens one day got up in a chair in his room on the second floor to pull down the high window-sash. It did not move easily and his hand slipped. It was only by the merest chance that he saved himself from falling to the ground far below. He mentions this in his note-book, and once, speaking of it to Frederick Duneka, he said:

“Had I fallen it would probably have killed me, and in my bereaved circumstances the world would have been convinced that it was suicide. It was one of those curious coincidences which are always happening and being misunderstood.”

The homeward voyage and its sorrowful conclusion are pathetically conveyed in his notes:

June 29, 1904. Sailed last night at 10. The bugle-call to breakfast. I recognized the notes and was distressed. When I heard them last Livy heard them with me; now they fall upon her ear unheeded.

In my life there have been 68 Junes — but how vague & colorless 67 of them are contrasted with the deep blackness of this one!

July 1, 1904. I cannot reproduce Livy’s face in my mind’s eye — I was never in my life able to reproduce a face. It is a curious infirmity —& now at last I realize it is a calamity.

July 2, 1904. In these 34 years we have made many voyages together, Livy dear —& now we are making our last; you down below & lonely; I above with the crowd & lonely.

July 3, 1904. Ship-time, 8 A.M. In 13 hours & a quarter it will be 4 weeks since Livy died.

Thirty-one years ago we made our first voyage together —& this is our last one in company. Susy was a year old then. She died at 24 & had been in her grave 8 years.

July 10, 1904. To-night it will be 5 weeks. But to me it remains yesterday — as it has from the first. But this funeral march — how sad & long it is!

Two days more will end the second stage of it.

July 14, 1904 (ELMIRA). Funeral private in the house of Livy’s young maidenhood. Where she stood as a bride 34 years ago there her coffin rested; & over it the same voice that had made her a wife then committed her departed spirit to God now.

It was Joseph Twichell who rendered that last service. Mr. Beecher was long since dead. It was a simple, touching utterance, closing with this tender word of farewell:

Robert Browning, when he was nearing the end of his earthly days, said that death was the thing that we did not believe in. Nor do we believe in it. We who journeyed through the bygone years in companionship with the bright spirit now withdrawn are growing old. The way behind is long; the way before is short. The end cannot be far off. But what of that? Can we not say, each one:

“So long that power hath blessed me, sure it still Will lead me on; O’er moor and fen; o’er crag and torrent, till The night is gone; And with the morn, their angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!”

And so good-by. Good-by, dear heart! Strong, tender, and true. Good-by until for us the morning break and these shadows fly away.

Dr. Eastman, who had succeeded Mr. Beecher, closed the service with a prayer, and so the last office we can render in this life for those we love was finished.

Clemens ordered that a simple marker should be placed at the grave, bearing, besides the name, the record of birth and death, followed by the German line:

‘Gott sei dir gnadig, O meine Wonne’!

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