Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter LXX

Innocents at Home — And “The Innocents Abroad”

He was in Jacksonville, Illinois, at the end of January (1869), and in a letter to Bliss states that he will be in Elmira two days later, and asks that proofs of the book be sent there. He arrived at the Langdon home, anxious to hear the reports that would make him, as the novels might say, “the happiest or the most miserable of men.” Jervis Langdon had a rather solemn look when they were alone together. Clemens asked:

“You’ve heard from those gentlemen out there?”

“Yes, and from another gentleman I wrote concerning you.”

“They don’t appear to have been very enthusiastic, from your manner.”

“Well, yes, some of them were.”

“I suppose I may ask what particular form their emotion took?”

“Oh yes, yes; they agree unanimously that you are a brilliant, able man, a man with a future, and that you would make about the worst husband on record.”

The applicant for favor had a forlorn look.

“There’s nothing very evasive about that,” he said:

There was a period of reflective silence. It was probably no more than a few seconds, but it seemed longer.

“Haven’t you any other friend that you could suggest?” Langdon said.

“Apparently none whose testimony would be valuable.”

Jervis Langdon held out his hand. “You have at least one,” he said. “I believe in you. I know you better than they do.”

And so came the crown of happiness. The engagement of Samuel Langhorne Clemens and Olivia Lewis Langdon was ratified next day, February 4, 1869.

But if the friends of Mark Twain viewed the idea of the carnage with scant favor, the friends of Miss Langdon regarded it with genuine alarm. Elmira was a conservative place — a place of pedigree and family tradition; that a stranger, a former printer, pilot, miner, wandering journalist and lecturer, was to carry off the daughter of one of the oldest and wealthiest families, was a thing not to be lightly permitted. The fact that he had achieved a national fame did not count against other considerations. The social protest amounted almost to insurrection, but it was not availing. The Langdon family had their doubts too, though of a different sort. Their doubts lay in the fear that one, reared as their daughter had been, might be unable to hold a place as the wife of this intellectual giant, whom they felt that the world was preparing to honor. That this delicate, sheltered girl could have the strength of mind and body for her position seemed hard to believe. Their faith overbore such questionings, and the future years proved how fully it was justified.

To his mother Samuel Clemens wrote:

She is only a little body, but she hasn’t her peer in Christendom. I gave her only a plain gold engagement ring, when fashion imperatively demands a two-hundred-dollar diamond one, and told her it was typical of her future life-namely, that she would have to flourish on substance, rather than luxuries (but you see I know the girl — she don’t care anything about luxuries). . . . She spends no money but her astral year’s allowance, and spends nearly every cent of that on other people. She will be a good, sensible little wife, without any airs about her. I don’t make intercession for her beforehand, and ask you to love her, for there isn’t any use in that — you couldn’t help it if you were to try. I warn you that whoever comes within the fatal influence of her beautiful nature is her willing slave forevermore.

To Mrs. Crane, absent in March, her father wrote:

DEAR SUE — I received your letter yesterday with a great deal of pleasure, but the letter has gone in pursuit of one S. L. Clemens, who has been giving us a great deal of trouble lately. We cannot have a joy in our family without a feeling, on the part of the little incorrigible in our family, that this wanderer must share it, so, as soon as read, into her pocket and off upstairs goes your letter, and in the next two minutes into the mail, so it is impossible for me now to refer to it, or by reading it over gain an inspiration in writing you. . .

Clemens closed his lecture tour in March, and went immediately to Elmira. He had lectured between fifty and sixty times, with a return of something more than $8,000, not a bad aggregate for a first season on the circuit. He had planned to make a spring tour to California, but the attraction at Elmira was of a sort that discouraged distant travel. Furthermore, he disliked the platform, then and always. It was always a temptation to him because of its quick and abundant return, but it was none the less distasteful. In a letter of that spring he wrote:

I most cordially hate the lecture field. And after all, I shudder to think I may never get out of it. In all conversation with Gough, and Anna Dickinson, Nasby, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Wendell Phillips, and the other old stagers, I could not observe that they ever expected or hoped to get out of the business. I don’t want to get wedded to it as they are.

He declined further engagements on the excuse that he must attend to getting out his book. The revised proofs were coming now, and he and gentle Livy Langdon read them together. He realized presently that with her sensitive nature she had also a keen literary perception. What he lacked in delicacy — and his lack was likely to be large enough in that direction — she detected, and together they pruned it away. She became his editor during those happy courtship days — a position which she held to her death. The world owed a large debt of gratitude to Mark Twain’s wife, who from the very beginning — and always, so far as in her strength she was able — inspired him to give only his worthiest to the world, whether in written or spoken word, in counsel or in deed. Those early days of their close companionship, spiritual and mental, were full of revelation to Samuel Clemens, a revelation that continued from day to day, and from year to year, even to the very end.

The letter to Bliss and the proofs were full of suggested changes that would refine and beautify the text. In one of them he settles the question of title, which he says is to be:


and we may be sure that it was Olivia Langdon’s voice that gave the deciding vote for the newly adopted chief title, which would take any suggestion of irreverence out of the remaining words.

The book was to have been issued in the spring, but during his wanderings proofs had been delayed, and there was now considerable anxiety about it, as the agencies had become impatient for the canvass. At the end of April Clemens wrote: “Your printers are doing well. I will hurry the proofs”; but it was not until the early part of June that the last chapters were revised and returned. Then the big book, at last completed, went to press on an edition of twenty thousand, a large number for any new book, even to-day.

In later years, through some confusion of circumstance, Mark Twain was led to believe that the publication of The Innocents Abroad was long and unnecessarily delayed. But this was manifestly a mistake. The book went to press in June. It was a big book and a large edition. The first copy was delivered July 20 (1869), and four hundred and seventeen bound volumes were shipped that month. Even with the quicker mechanical processes of to-day a month or more is allowed for a large book between the final return of proofs and the date of publication. So it is only another instance of his remembering, as he once quaintly put it, “the thing that didn’t happen.”61

61 [In an article in the North American Review (September 21, 1906) Mr. Clemens stated that he found it necessary to telegraph notice that he would bring suit if the book was not immediately issued. In none of the letters covering this period is there any suggestion of delay on the part of the publishers, and the date of the final return of proofs, together with the date of publication, preclude the possibility of such a circumstance. At some period of his life he doubtless sent, or contemplated sending, such a message, and this fact, through some curious psychology, became confused in his mind with the first edition of The Innocents Abroad.]

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