Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCXXXV

A Summer in New Hampshire

He took for the summer a house at Dublin, New Hampshire, the home of Henry Copley Greene, Lone Tree Hill, on the Monadnock slope. It was in a lovely locality, and for neighbors there were artists, literary people, and those of kindred pursuits, among them a number of old friends. Colonel Higginson had a place near by, and Abbott H. Thayer, the painter, and George de Forest Brush, and the Raphael Pumpelly family, and many more.

Colonel Higginson wrote Clemens a letter of welcome as soon as the news got out that he was going to Dublin; and Clemens, answering, said:

I early learned that you would be my neighbor in the summer & I rejoiced, recognizing in you & your family a large asset. I hope for frequent intercourse between the two households. I shall have my youngest daughter with me. The other one will go from the rest-cure in this city to the rest-cure in Norfolk, Connecticut; & we shall not see her before autumn. We have not seen her since the middle of October.

Jean, the younger daughter, went to Dublin & saw the house & came back charmed with it. I know the Thayers of old — manifestly there is no lack of attractions up there. Mrs. Thayer and I were shipmates in a wild excursion perilously near 40 years ago.

Aldrich was here half an hour ago, like a breeze from over the fields, with the fragrance still upon his spirit. I am tired wanting for that man to get old.

They went to Dublin in May, and became at once a part of the summer colony which congregated there. There was much going to and fro among the different houses, pleasant afternoons in the woods, mountain-climbing for Jean, and everywhere a spirit of fine, unpretentious comradeship.

The Copley Greene house was romantically situated, with a charming outlook. Clemens wrote to Twichell:

We like it here in the mountains, in the shadows of Monadnock. It is a woody solitude. We have no near neighbors. We have neighbors and I can see their houses scattered in the forest distances, for we live on a hill. I am astonished to find that I have known 8 of these 14 neighbors a long time; 10 years is the shortest; then seven beginning with 25 years & running up to 37 years’ friendship. It is the most remarkable thing I ever heard of.

This letter was written in July, and he states in it that he has turned out one hundred thousand words of a large manuscript. . It was a fantastic tale entitled “3,000 Years among the Microbes,” a sort of scientific revel — or revelry — the autobiography of a microbe that had been once a man, and through a failure in a biological experiment transformed into a cholera germ when the experimenter was trying to turn him into a bird. His habitat was the person of a disreputable tramp named Blitzowski, a human continent of vast areas, with seething microbic nations and fantastic life problems. It was a satire, of course — Gulliver’s Lilliput outdone — a sort of scientific, socialistic, mathematical jamboree.

He tired of it before it reached completion, though not before it had attained the proportions of a book of size. As a whole it would hardly have added to his reputation, though it is not without fine and humorous passages, and certainly not without interest. Its chief mission was to divert him mentally that summer during, those days and nights when he would otherwise have been alone and brooding upon his loneliness.169

169 [For extracts from “3,000 Years among the Microbes” see Appendix V.]


3000 YEARS

By a Microbe

added by the same Hand
7000 years later

Translated from the Original

Mark Twain

His inability to reproduce faces in his mind’s eye he mourned as an increasing calamity. Photographs were lifeless things, and when he tried to conjure up the faces of his dead they seemed to drift farther out of reach; but now and then kindly sleep brought to him something out of that treasure-house where all our realities are kept for us fresh and fair, perhaps for a day when we may claim them again. Once he wrote to Mrs. Crane:

SUSY DEAR — I have had a lovely dream. Livy, dressed in black, was sitting up in my bed (here) at my right & looking as young & sweet as she used to when she was in health. She said, “What is the name of your sweet sister?” I said,” Pamela.” “Oh yes, that is it, I thought it was —(naming a name which has escaped me) won’t you write it down for me?” I reached eagerly for a pen & pad, laid my hands upon both, then said to myself, “It is only a dream,” and turned back sorrowfully & there she was still. The conviction flamed through me that our lamented disaster was a dream, & this a reality. I said, “How blessed it is, how blessed it is, it was all a dream, only a dream!” She only smiled and did not ask what dream I meant, which surprised me. She leaned her head against mine & kept saying, “I was perfectly sure it was a dream; I never would have believed it wasn’t.” I think she said several things, but if so they are gone from my memory. I woke & did not know I had been dreaming. She was gone. I wondered how she could go without my knowing it, but I did not spend any thought upon that. I was too busy thinking of how vivid & real was the dream that we had lost her, & how unspeakably blessed it was to find that it was not true & that she was still ours & with us.

He had the orchestrelle moved to Dublin, although it was no small undertaking, for he needed the solace of its harmonies; and so the days passed along, and he grew stronger in body and courage as his grief drifted farther behind him. Sometimes, in the afternoon or in the evening; when the neighbors had come in for a little while, he would walk up and down and talk in his old, marvelous way of all the things on land and sea, of the past and of the future, “Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,” of the friends he had known and of the things he had done, of the sorrow and absurdities of the world.

It was the same old scintillating, incomparable talk of which Howells once said:

“We shall never know its like again. When he dies it will die with him.”

It was during the summer at Dublin that Clemens and Rogers together made up a philanthropic ruse on Twichell. Twichell, through his own prodigal charities, had fallen into debt, a fact which Rogers knew. Rogers was a man who concealed his philanthropies when he could, and he performed many of them of which the world will never know: In this case he said:

“Clemens, I want to help Twichell out of his financial difficulty. I will supply the money and you will do the giving. Twichell must think it comes from you.”

Clemens agreed to this on the condition that he be permitted to leave a record of the matter for his children, so that he would not appear in a false light to them, and that Twichell should learn the truth of the gift, sooner or later. So the deed was done, and Twichell and his wife lavished their thanks upon Clemens, who, with his wife, had more than once been their benefactors, making the deception easy enough now. Clemens writhed under these letters of gratitude, and forwarded them to Clara in Norfolk, and later to Rogers himself. He pretended to take great pleasure in this part of the conspiracy, but it was not an unmixed delight. To Rogers he wrote:

I wanted her [Clara] to see what a generous father she’s got. I didn’t tell her it was you, but by and by I want to tell her, when I have your consent; then I shall want her to remember the letters. I want a record there, for my Life when I am dead, & must be able to furnish the facts about the Relief-of-Lucknow-Twichell in case I fall suddenly, before I get those facts with your consent, before the Twichells themselves.

I read those letters with immense pride! I recognized that I had scored one good deed for sure on my halo account. I haven’t had anything that tasted so good since the stolen watermelon.

P. S.-I am hurrying them off to you because I dasn’t read them again! I should blush to my heels to fill up with this unearned gratitude again, pouring out of the thankful hearts of those poor swindled people who do not suspect you, but honestly believe I gave that money.

Mr. Rogers hastily replied:

MY DEAR CLEMENS — The letters are lovely. Don’t breathe. They are so happy! It would be a crime to let them think that you have in any way deceived them. I can keep still. You must. I am sending you all traces of the crime, so that you may look innocent and tell the truth, as you usually do when you think you can escape detection. Don’t get rattled.

Seriously. You have done a kindness. You are proud of it, I know. You have made your friends happy, and you ought to be so glad as to cheerfully accept reproof from your conscience. Joe Wadsworth and I once stole a goose and gave it to a poor widow as a Christmas present. No crime in that. I always put my counterfeit money on the plate. “The passer of the sasser” always smiles at me and I get credit for doing generous things. But seriously again, if you do feel a little uncomfortable wait until I see you before you tell anybody. Avoid cultivating misery. I am trying to loaf ten solid days. We do hope to see you soon.

The secret was kept, and the matter presently (and characteristically) passed out of Clemens’s mind altogether. He never remembered to tell Twichell, and it is revealed here, according to his wish.

The Russian-Japanese war was in progress that summer, and its settlement occurred in August. The terms of it did not please Mark Twain. When a newspaper correspondent asked him for an expression of opinion on the subject he wrote:

Russia was on the highroad to emancipation from an insane and intolerable slavery. I was hoping there would be no peace until Russian liberty was safe. I think that this was a holy war, in the best and noblest sense of that abused term, and that no war was ever charged with a higher mission.

I think there can be no doubt that that mission is now defeated and Russia’s chain riveted; this time to stay. I think the Tsar will now withdraw the small humanities that have been forced from him, and resume his medieval barbarisms with a relieved spirit and an immeasurable joy. I think Russian liberty has had its last chance and has lost it.

I think nothing has been gained by the peace that is remotely comparable to what has been sacrificed by it. One more battle would have abolished the waiting chains of billions upon billions of unborn Russians, and I wish it could have been fought. I hope I am mistaken, yet in all sincerity I believe that this peace is entitled to rank as the most conspicuous disaster in political history.

It was the wisest public utterance on the subject — the deep, resonant note of truth sounding amid a clamor of foolish joy-bells. It was the message of a seer — the prophecy of a sage who sees with the clairvoyance of knowledge and human understanding. Clemens, a few days later, was invited by Colonel Harvey to dine with Baron Rosen and M. Sergius Witte; but an attack of his old malady — rheumatism — prevented his acceptance. His telegram of declination apparently pleased the Russian officials, for Witte asked permission to publish it, and declared that he was going to take it home to show to the Tsar. It was as follows:

To COLONEL HARVEY — I am still a cripple, otherwise I should be more than glad of this opportunity to meet the illustrious magicians who came here equipped with nothing but a pen, & with it have divided the honors of the war with the sword. It is fair to presume that in thirty centuries history will not get done in admiring these men who attempted what the world regarded as the impossible & achieved it.


But this was a modified form. His original draft would perhaps have been less gratifying to that Russian embassy. It read:

To COLONEL HARVEY — I am still a cripple, otherwise I should be more than glad of this opportunity to meet those illustrious magicians who with the pen have annulled, obliterated, & abolished every high achievement of the Japanese sword and turned the tragedy of a tremendous war into a gay & blithesome comedy. If I may, let me in all respect and honor salute them as my fellow-humorists, I taking third place, as becomes one who was not born to modesty, but by diligence & hard work is acquiring it. MARK.

There was still another form, brief and expressive:

DEAR COLONEL — No, this is a love-feast; when you call a lodge of sorrow send for me. MARK.

Clemens’s war sentiment was given the widest newspaper circulation, and brought him many letters, most of them applauding his words. Charles Francis Adams wrote him:

It attracted my attention because it so exactly expresses the views I have myself all along entertained.

And this was the gist of most of the expressed sentiments which came to him.

Clemens wrote a number of things that summer, among them a little essay entitled, “The Privilege of the Grave”— that is to say, free speech. He was looking forward, he said, to the time when he should inherit that privilege, when some of the things he had said, written and laid away, could be published without damage to his friends or family. An article entitled, “Interpreting the Deity,” he counted as among the things to be uttered when he had entered into that last great privilege. It is an article on the reading of signs and auguries in all ages to discover the intentions of the Almighty, with historical examples of God’s judgments and vindications. Here is a fair specimen. It refers to the chronicle of Henry Huntington:

All through this book Henry exhibits his familiarity with the intentions of God and with the reasons for the intentions. Sometimes very often, in fact — the act follows the intention after such a wide interval of time that one wonders how Henry could fit one act out of a hundred to one intention, and get the thing right every time, when there was such abundant choice among acts and intentions. Sometimes a man offends the Deity with a crime, and is punished for it thirty years later; meantime he has committed a million other crimes: no matter, Henry can pick out the one that brought the worms. Worms were generally used in those days for the slaying of particularly wicked people. This has gone out now, but in the old times it was a favorite. It always indicated a case of “wrath.” For instance:

“The just God avenging Robert Fitzhildebrand’s perfidity, a worm grew in his vitals which, gradually gnawing its way through his intestines, fattened on the abandoned man till, tortured with excruciating sufferings and venting himself in bitter moans, he was by a fitting punishment brought to his end” (p. 400).

It was probably an alligator, but we cannot tell; we only know it was a particular breed, and only used to convey wrath. Some authorities think it was an ichthyosaurus, but there is much doubt.

The entire article is in this amusing, satirical strain, and might well enough be printed to-day. It is not altogether clear why it was withheld, even then.

He finished his Eve’s Diary that summer, and wrote a story which was originally planned to oblige Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske, to aid her in a crusade against bullfighting in Spain. Mrs. Fiske wrote him that she had read his dog story, written against the cruelties of vivisection, and urged him to do something to save the horses that, after faithful service, were sacrificed in the bull-ring. Her letter closed:

I have lain awake nights very often wondering if I dare ask you to write a story of an old horse that is finally given over to the bull-ring. The story you would write would do more good than all the laws we are trying to have made and enforced for the prevention of cruelty to animals in Spain. We would translate and circulate the story in that country. I have wondered if you would ever write it.

With most devoted homage, Sincerely yours, MINNIE MADDERN FISKE.

Clemens promptly replied:

DEAR MRS. FISKE, I shall certainly write the story. But I may not get it to suit me, in which case it will go in the fire. Later I will try it again —& yet again —& again. I am used to this. It has taken me twelve years to write a short story — the shortest one I ever wrote, I think. — [Probably “The Death Disk:”]— So do not be discouraged; I will stick to this one in the same way.

Sincerely yours, S. L. CLEMENS.

It was an inspiring subject, and he began work on it immediately. Within a month from the time he received Mrs. Fiske’s letter he had written that pathetic, heartbreaking little story, “A Horse’s Tale,” and sent it to Harper’s Magazine for illustration. In a letter written to Mr. Duneka at the time, he tells of his interest in the narrative, and adds:

This strong interest is natural, for the heroine is my small daughter Susy, whom we lost. It was not intentional — it was a good while before I found it out, so I am sending you her picture to use —& to reproduce with photographic exactness the unsurpassable expression & all. May you find an artist who has lost an idol.

He explains how he had put in a good deal of work, with his secretary, on the orchestrelle to get the bugle-calls.

We are to do these theatricals this evening with a couple of neighbors for audience, and then pass the hat.

It is not one of Mark Twain’s greatest stories, but its pathos brings the tears, and no one can read it without indignation toward the custom which it was intended to oppose. When it was published, a year later, Mrs. Fiske sent him her grateful acknowledgments, and asked permission to have it printed for pamphlet circulation m Spain.

A number of more or less notable things happened in this, Mark Twain’s seventieth year. There was some kind of a reunion going on in California, and he was variously invited to attend. Robert Fulton, of Nevada, was appointed a committee of one to invite him to Reno for a great celebration which was to be held there. Clemens replied that he remembered, as if it were but yesterday, when he had disembarked from the Overland stage in front of the Ormsby Hotel, in Carson City, and told how he would like to accept the invitation.

If I were a few years younger I would accept it, and promptly, and I would go. I would let somebody else do the oration, but as for me I would talk — just talk. I would renew my youth; and talk — and talk — and talk — and have the time of my life! I would march the unforgotten and unforgetable antiques by, and name their names, and give them reverent hail and farewell as they passed — Goodman, McCarthy, Gillis, Curry, Baldwin, Winters, Howard, Nye, Stewart, Neely Johnson, Hal Clayton, North, Root — and my brother, upon whom be peace! — and then the desperadoes, who made life a joy, and the “slaughter-house,” a precious possession: Sam Brown, Farmer Pete, Bill Mayfield, Six-fingered Jake, Jack Williams, and the rest of the crimson discipleship, and so on, and so on. Believe me, I would start a resurrection it would do you more good to look at than the next one will, if you go on the way you are going now.

Those were the days! — those old ones. They will come no more; youth will come no more. They were so full to the brim with the wine of life; there have been no others like them. It chokes me up to think of them. Would you like me to come out there and cry? It would not beseem my white head.

Good-by. I drink to you all. Have a good time-and take an old man’s blessing.

In reply to another invitation from H. H. Bancroft, of San Francisco, he wrote that his wandering days were over, and that it was his purpose to sit by the fire for the rest of his “remnant of life.”

A man who, like me, is going to strike 70 on the 30th of next November has no business to be flitting around the way Howells does — that shameless old fictitious butterfly. (But if he comes don’t tell him I said it, for it would hurt him & I wouldn’t brush a flake of powder from his wing for anything. I only say it in envy of his indestructible youth anyway. Howells will be 88 in October.)

And it was either then or on a similar occasion that he replied after this fashion:

I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old residents. Since I left there it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more — I could have gone earlier — it was suggested.

Which, by the way, is a perfect example of Mark Twain’s humorous manner, the delicately timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would have been contented to end with the statement, “I could have gone earlier.” Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch — “it was suggested.”

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