Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter LXVIII

The Rev. “Joe” Twichell

He returned to Hartford to look after the progress of his book. Some of it was being put into type, and with his mechanical knowledge of such things he was naturally interested in the process.

He made his headquarters with the Blisses, then living at 821 Asylum Avenue, and read proof in a little upper room, where the lamp was likely to be burning most of the time, where the atmosphere was nearly always blue with smoke, and the window-sill full of cigar butts. Mrs. Bliss took him into the quiet social life of the neighborhood — to small church receptions, society gatherings and the like — all of which he seemed to enjoy. Most of the dwellers in that neighborhood were members of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, then recently completed; all but the spire. It was a cultured circle, well-off in the world’s goods, its male members, for the most part, concerned in various commercial ventures.

The church stood almost across the way from the Bliss home, and Mark Twain, with his picturesque phrasing, referred to it as the “stub-tailed church,” on account of its abbreviated spire; also, later, with a knowledge of its prosperous membership, as the “Church of the Holy Speculators.” He was at an evening reception in the home of one of its members when he noticed a photograph of the unfinished building framed and hanging on the wall.

“Why, yes,” he commented, in his slow fashion, “this is the ‘Church of the Holy Speculators.’”

“Sh,” cautioned Mrs. Bliss. “Its pastor is just behind you. He knows your work and wants to meet you.” Turning, she said: “Mr. Twichell, this is Mr. Clemens. Most people know him as Mark Twain.”

And so, in this casual fashion, he met the man who was presently to become his closest personal friend and counselor, and would remain so for more than forty years.

Joseph Hopkins Twichell was a man about his own age, athletic and handsome, a student and a devout Christian, yet a man familiar with the world, fond of sports, with an exuberant sense of humor and a wide understanding of the frailties of humankind. He had been “port waist oar” at Yale, and had left college to serve with General “Dan” Sickles as a chaplain who had followed his duties not only in the camp, but on the field.

Mention has already been made of Mark Twain’s natural leaning toward ministers of the gospel, and the explanation of it is easier to realize than to convey. He was hopelessly unorthodox — rankly rebellious as to creeds. Anything resembling cant or the curtailment of mental liberty roused only his resentment and irony. Yet something in his heart always warmed toward any laborer in the vineyard, and if we could put the explanation into a single sentence, perhaps we might say it was because he could meet them on that wide, common ground sympathy with mankind. Mark Twain’s creed, then and always, may be put into three words, “liberty, justice, humanity.” It may be put into one word, “humanity.”

Ministers always loved Mark Twain. They did not always approve of him, but they adored him: The Rev. Mr. Rising, of the Comstock, was an early example of his ministerial friendships, and we have seen that Henry Ward Beecher cultivated his company. In a San Francisco letter of two years before, Mark Twain wrote his mother, thinking it would please her:

I am as thick as thieves with the Reverend Stebbins. I am laying for the Reverend Scudder and the Reverend Doctor Stone. I am running on preachers now altogether, and I find them gay.

So it may be that his first impulse toward Joseph Twichell was due to the fact that he was a young member of that army whose mission is to comfort and uplift mankind. But it was only a little time till the impulse had grown into a friendship that went beyond any profession or doctrine, a friendship that ripened into a permanent admiration and love for “Joe” Twichell himself, as one of the noblest specimens of his race.

He was invited to the Twichell home, where he met the young wife and got a glimpse of the happiness of that sweet and peaceful household. He had a neglected, lonely look, and he loved to gather with them at their fireside. He expressed his envy of their happiness, and Mrs. Twichell asked him why, since his affairs were growing prosperous, he did not establish a household of his own. Long afterward Mr. Twichell wrote:

Mark made no answer for a little, but, with his eyes bent on the floor, appeared to be deeply pondering. Then he looked up, and said slowly, in a voice tremulous with earnestness (with what sympathy he was heard may be imagined): “I am taking thought of it. I am in love beyond all telling with the dearest and best girl in the whole world. I don’t suppose she will marry me. I can’t think it possible. She ought not to. But if she doesn’t I shall be sure that the best thing I ever did was to fall in love with her, and proud to have it known that I tried to win her!”

It was only a brief time until the Twichell fireside was home to him. He came and went, and presently it was “Mark” and “Joe,” as by and by it would be “Livy” and “Harmony,” and in a few years “Uncle Joe” and “Uncle Mark,” “Aunt Livy” and “Aunt Harmony,” and so would remain until the end.

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