Archive for November, 2012

Fundamental books to Mark Twain in Washington #1 _ Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography by Justin Kaplan

The 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning book for Biography / Autobiography was Justin Kaplan’s  Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography.

I am reading through this now and find it quite worthy of its award. Kaplan begins his work with Twain in his early 3o’s and covers his stint in Washington artfully and thoroughly.



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Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart, “Mark Twain becomes my secretary”

Chapter XXIII

Online Nevada Encyclopedia

Mark Twain becomes my secretary – Back from the Holy Land, and he looks it – The landlady terrorized – I interfere with a humorist’s pleasures, and get a black patch – Revenge! Clemens the hero of a Nevada hold-up.

About the winter of 1867, I think, while my family was in Paris, I lived in a rather tumble-down building which at the time stood on the northwest corner of Fourteenth and F Streets, N.W., opposite the old Ebbitt House, where many of my Congressional cronies had quarters. The house was a weather-beaten old place, a relic of early Washington.

Its proprietress was Miss Virginia Wells, an estimable lady about 70 years of age, prim, straight as a ramrod, and with smooth plastered white hair. She belonged to one of the first families of Virginia, which were quite numerous in Washington, and was very aristocratic; but having lost everything in the war, she had come to Washington, and managed to make a precarious living as a lodging-house keeper.

I had the second floor of her residence, one of the rooms, facing upon both streets, a spacious apartment about seventy-five feet long, which I had divided by a curtain drawn across it, making a little chamber at the rear, in which I slept. The front part was my sitting-room. I had a desk there, and tables, with writing materials, and my books, and a sideboard upon which I kept at all times plenty of cigars and a supply of whiskey, for I occasionally smoked a took a drink of liquor.

I was seated at my window one morning when a very disreputable-looking person slouched into the room. He was arrayed in a seedy suit, which hung upon his lean frame in bunches with no style worth mentioning. A sheaf of scraggy black hair leaked out of a battered old slouch hat, like stuffing from an ancient Colonial sofa, and an evil-smelling cigar butt, very much frazzled, protruded from the corner of his mouth. He had a very sinister appearance. He was a man I had known around the Nevada mining camps several years before, and his name was Samuel L. Clemens.

I suppose he was the most lovable scamp and nuisance who ever blighted Nevada. When I first knew him he was a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise, which was otherwise a very reputable paper published in Virginia City, and his brother, Orion Clemens, was a respectable young gentleman, and well liked.

Sam Clemens was a busy person. He went around putting things in the paper about people, and stirring up trouble. He did not care whether the things he wrote were true or not, just so he could write something, and naturally he was not popular. I did not associate with him.

This Clemens one day wrote something about a distinguished citizen of Virginia City, a friend of mine, which was entirely characteristic of Clemens, as it had not the slightest foundation in fact. I remonstrated with him.

“You are getting worse every day,” I said. “Why can’t you be genial, like your brother Orion? You ought to be hung for what you have published this morning.”

“I don’t mean anything by that,” returned Clemens. “I do not know this friend of yours. For all I am aware he may be a very desirable and conscientious man. But I must make a living, and so I must write. My employers demand it, and I am helpless.”

He said he wrote it “because it was humorous.” Maybe it was. I did not undertake to argue with him. I could not see it, and so I let it go at that.

Clemens had a great habit of making fun of the young fellows and girls, and wrote ridiculous pieces about parties and other social events, to which he was never invited. After a while he went over to Carson City, and touched up the people over there, and got everybody down on him. I thought he had faded from our midst forever, but the citizens of Carson drove him away. At any rate, he drifted back to Virginia City in a few weeks. He didn’t have a friend, but the boys got together and said they would give a party, and invite Clemens to it, and make him feel at home, and respectable and decent, and kindly, and generous, and loving, and considerate of the feelings of others. I could have warned them, but I didn’t.

Clemens went to that party and danced with the prettiest girls, and monopolized them, and enjoyed himself, and made a good meal, and then shoved over to the Enterprise office and wrote the whole thing up in an outrageous manner. He lambasted that party for all the English language would allow, and if any of the guests was unfortunate enough to be awkward or had big feet, or a wart on the nose, Clemens did not forget it. He fairly strained his memory.

Of course this made the boys angry, and we decided to get even. There was a stage that ran from Carson to Virginia City, and Clemens was a passenger on it one night. The boys laid in wait, and when the stage lumbered by a lonely spot they swooped out, and upset it, and turned it upside down, and dragged Clemens out and threw him in a canyon, and broke up his portmanteau, and threw that in on top of him. He was the scaredest man west of the Mississippi; but the next morning, when he crawled back to town, and it was day, and light, and safe, he began to swell a little, and pretty soon was bragging about his narrow escape. By and by he began to color it up, and add details that he had overlooked at first, until he made out that he had been in one of the most desperate stage robberies of the West, and it was a pretty poor story that he couldn’t lug that one into, by the nape of the next, sort of casually.

After that he drifted away, and I thought he had been hanged or elected to Congress, or something like that, and I had forgotten him, until he slouched into my room, and then of course I remembered him. I said:

“If you put anything in the paper about me I’ll sue you for libel.” He waved the suggestion aside with easy familiarity.

“Senator,” he said, “I’ve come to see you on important business. I am just back from the Holy Land.”

“That is a mean thing to say of the Holy Land when it isn’t here to defend itself,” I replied, looking him over. “But maybe you didn’t get all the advantages. You ought to go back and take a post-graduate course. Did you walk home?”

“I have a proposition,” said Clemens, not at all ruffled. “There’s millions in it. All I need is a little cash stake. I have been to the Holy Land with a party of innocent and estimable people who are fairly aching to be written up, and I think I could do the job neatly and with dispatch if I were not troubled with other – more – pressing – considerations. I’ve started the book already, and it is a wonder. I can vouch for it.”

“Let me see the manuscript,” I said. He pulled a dozen sheets or so from his pocket and handed them to me. I read what he had written, and saw that it was bully, so I continued, “I’ll appoint you my clerk at the Senate, and you can live on the salary. There’s a little hall bedroom across the way where you can sleep, and you can write your book in here. Help yourself to the whiskey and cigars, and wade in.”

He accepted all of my invitations in the modest and unassuming manner for which he had been noted in Nevada, and became a member of my family, and my clerk.

It was not long before Clemens took notice of Miss Virginia. Her timid, aristocratic nature shrank from him, and I think she was half afraid of him. He did not overlook any opportunities to make her life miserable, and was always playing jokes on her. He would lurch around the halls, pretending to be intoxicated, and would throw her into a fit about six times a day.

He would burn the light in his bedroom all night, and started her figuring up her expense account with a troubled, anxious face. Pretty soon he took to smoking cigars in bed.

She never slept after this discovery, but every night would lie awake, with her clothes handy on a chair, expecting the house to be burned down any minute, and ready to skip out at the first alarm; and she became so pale, and thin, and wasted, and troubled that it would have melted a pirate’s heart to see her. She crept to my room one day, the mere shadow of her former self. She no longer leaned over backward, as she usually did, because of being so straight and dignified, but was badly bent. I was shocked.

“Senator,” she said, “if you don’t ask that friend of yours to leave I shall have to give up my lodging-house, and God knows what will become of me then. He smokes cigars in bed all night, and has ruined my best sheets, and I expect to be burned out any time. I’ve been on the alert now for three weeks, but I can’t keep it up much longer. I need sleep.”

I told her to leave the room, and I called Clemens. He slouched in.

“Clemens,” I said, “if you don’t stop annoying this little lady I’ll give you a sound thrashing – I’ll wait till that book’s finished. I don’t want to interfere with literature – I’ll thrash you after it’s finished.”

He blew smoke in my face.

“You are mighty unreasonable,” he replied. “Why do you want to interfere with my pleasures?”

I thought he would behave himself after that. But one day a week later Miss Virginia staggered into my room again, in a flood of tears. She said:

“Senator, that man will kill me. I can’t stand it. If he doesn’t go I’ll have to ask you to give up your rooms, and the Lord knows whether I’ll be able to rent them again.”

This filled me with alarm. I was very comfortable where I was. I sent her away kindly, and called Clemens. He slouched again.

“You have to got to stop this foolishness,” I said, “If you don’t cease annoying this little lady I’ll amend my former resolution, and give you that thrashing here and now. Then I’ll send you to the hospital, and pay your expenses, and bring you back, and you can finish your book upholstered in bandages.” He saw that I meant business.

“All right,” he replied, “I’ll give up my amusements, but I’ll get even with you.”

He did. When he wrote “Roughing It” he said I had cheated him out of some mining stock or something like that, and that he had given me a sound thrashing; and he printed a picture of me in the book, with a patch over one eye.

Clemens remained with me for some time. He wrote his book in my room, and named it “The Innocents Abroad.” I was confident that he would come to no good end, but I have heard of him from time to time since then, and I understand that he has settled down and become respectable.

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Mark Twain; “the old original first Newspaper Syndicate” in Washington [North American Review, December 1907 _ “Chapters From My Autobiography – XXV]

Newspaper Row _ Jan. 1874 _ New Harper’s Monthly Magazine

“I had just come back from the Quaker City Excursion, and had made a contract with Bliss of Hartford to write, ‘The Innocents Abroad.’ I was out of money, and I went down to Washington to see if I could earn enough there to keep me in bread and butter while I should write the book. I came across William Clinton, brother of the astronomer, and together we invented a scheme for our mutual sustenance; we became the fathers and originators of what is a common feature in the newspaper world now – the syndicate. We became the old original first Newspaper Syndicate on the planet; it was on a small scale, but that is usual with untried new enterprises. We had twelve journals on our list; they were all weeklies, all obscure and poor, and all scattered far away among the back settlements. It was a proud thing for those little newspapers to have a Washington correspondence, and a fortunate thing for us that they felt in that way about it. Each of the twelve took two letters a week from us, at a dollar per letter; each of us wrote one letter per week and sent off six duplicates of it to these benefactors, thus acquiring twenty-four dollars a week to live on – which was all we needed, in our cheap and humble quarters.”

– North American Review, December 1907 _ “Chapters From My Autobiography – XXV” by Mark Twain
[Note: This is the last of the 25 Twain autobiographical sketches that was published from 1906-1907. These sketches have been gathered many places. Along with accessing the original article on JSTOR you can find this extracted quote on page 300 of Mark Twain: Autobiographical Writings, Edited by R. Kent Rasmussen, Penguin Classics, 2012]

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LA Times: With House vote, Mark Twain commemorative coin is no bill of goods

With House vote, Mark Twain commemorative coin is no bill of goods

Mark TwainIn this undated portrait released by The Mark Twain House & Museum, author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is shown. (The Mark Twain House & Museum)
By Danielle RyanNovember 16, 2012, 5:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON — On Jan. 1, 2016, the Treasury Department will begin issuing commemorative coins to celebrate Mark Twain’s contribution to American literary history, thanks to a bill approved by the House on Thursday evening.

Mark Twain was the pen name used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, most famous for writing “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and other American classics.

During 2016, as many as 100,000 gold $5 coins will be issued with a surcharge of $35, while as many as  350,000 silver $1 coins will be issued with a surcharge of $10.

Twain remains one of the best-known and widest-read authors in the world, with more than 6,500 editions of his books translated into 75 languages. Nearly every book Twain wrote remains in print. The Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer books have never been out of print since they were first published more than a century ago.

According to the bill, the $5 coins will have a diameter of 0.85 inches and contain 90% gold and 10% alloy. The $1 coins will have a diameter of 1.5 inches and contain 90% silver and 10% copper.

Displayed on each limited edition coin will be a designation of the value of the coin, along with an inscription of the year 2016.

The surcharges from the coins will be divided equally among: the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn.; the Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library; the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in New York; and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home in Hannibal, Mo.

“We’d like to thank Congress for this wonderful bipartisan achievement,” said Greg Boyko, chairman of the board of trustees at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford. “The passing of the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Bill will help reawaken America’s love of Mark Twain and drive people to visit his beautiful home in Hartford.”

Having also passed in the Senate, the bill will now go to the president for his signature.

In his time, Twain was a harsh critic of government and politicians, often expressing political opinions through his books. One could easily assume that were he here today, he might have had a word or two to say about the partisan deadlock in Congress. Indeed, he might have reiterated some of his earlier thoughts.

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often,” Twain is reputed to have said.

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“Mark Twain in Washington”_notes on city crime & cows [Daily Alta California, February 19, 1868, front page]

Thank you, David Chambers Mearns (1899 – 1981) for your foresight collecting more than 20 newspaper clippings from early 1868 that chronicle “Mark Twain in Washington,” now safeguarded by the LOC’s Manuscript Division. On your shoulders this book will stand.

In your honor, this first post from the clippings you gathered is classic iconoclastic Mark Twain. [Excerpts from the larger Column.]

Daily Alta California

February 19, 1868

Washington Crime.

There is plenty of it, but the two latest cases are peculiar. Night before last a negro man collided with a white man in the street; the negro apologized, but the white man would not be appeased, and grew abusive, and finally stabbed the negro to the heart. Yesterday, in open Court while Judge [Abram B.] Olin was sentencing a man named McCauley, the latter sprang at the principal witness, a boy twelve years old, and made a savage lunge at his breast with a knife. The Judge remanded him at once, of course, to be cited before the Grand Jury. What is your general opinion of the morals of the Capital now? When people get to attempting murder in the Courts of law, it is time to quit abusing Congress. Congress is bad enough, but it has not arrived at such depravity as this. This man who attempted the murder is not in any way connected with Congress. The fact is in every way creditable to that body. I do not deny that I am fond of abusing Congress, but when I get an opportunity like this to compliment them, I am only too happy to do it.

More Washington Morals.

On New Year’s morning, while Mr. George Worley’s front door was standing open, a cow marched into the house – a cow that was out making her annual calls, I suppose – and before she was discovered had eaten up everything on the New Year’s table in the parlor! Mr. Worley was not acquainted with the cow, never saw her before, and is at a loss to account for the honor of her visit. What do you think of a town where cows make New Year’s calls? It may be the correct thing, but it has not been so regarded in the circles in which I have been accustomed to move. Morals are at a low stage in Washington, beyond question.

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Mark Twain & Frederick Douglass “on the bills for speeches in New York” [Washington Post, October 21, 1879 p. 2]

There are many soft and hard connections between Mark Twain and Fred Douglass. While this blog will focus on Mark Twain in Washington, DC there are many other characters that will be introduced in part and in full such as journalists George Alfred Townsend, Jerome B. Stillson,  and John Henry Riley along with political figures such as U.S. Senator William Morris Stewart and President Ulysses Grant.

In the meantime, as we begin this Mark Twain research and writing ride I’ll start out with what I know, Mr. Fred Douglass.

From the Washington Post,


Mark Twain, Fred Douglass, and Mizzer Chandler are all on the bills for speeches in New York, and negotiations are pending with Carl Schurz to complete the quartette. There is nothing in Mark Twain’s humor more ludicrous than this combination. When these four innocents go abroad together, Mr. Evarts solemnly following in their wake, John Sherman bringing up the rear, and all supported by the moral power of the administration, it will be a spectacle not easily duplicated.


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