Archive for May, 2013
p. 113 – 117
Mark Twain returned to American to find himself scarcely less than famous. His Alta and Tribune letters had been widely copied and were universally known. Not many Americans had traveled in those days, and they eagerly read about ancient lands. They had even read the sanctimonious drivel of certain doctors of theology who had been sent abroad by their “flocks” to see and report – what they carried with them rather than what they found in fact. Mark Twain’s letters had struck a new note. They had the ring of sincerity, truth. They destroyed sham where they found it, and they were sinfully readable. A Big Hartford publisher wanted to make a subscription book of them – the book which would be named The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrim’s Progress, and make his fame secure
He went to Washington, ostensibly as Secretary to Senator Stewart, really to write Washington letters for New York papers. His next notebook begins:
Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.
Didn’t drink much on that ship – was like Congress – prohibit it save in committee rooms – carry it in demijohns and carry it out in demagogues.
Acquainted with General Grant – said I was glad to see him – he said I had the advantage of him.
Brief Impressions of Washington, Senators, and Congressmen
Washburn[e] of Ill. – gray, unshaved, fleshy a little.
Fernando Wood – iron-gray hair – white moustache.
Jas. Brooks – gray and spectacles.
Woodward (Dem.) of Pa. – bald, specs, unshaved.
Eldr[e]dge of Wis. – leading and malignant copperhead.
Alison of Iowa – sack-coat, light-blue pants – looks like a village law student – plays for handsome looks – 30 – hands in pockets – excessively ordinary-looking man – large flat foot – light handsome brown hair – youngest-looking member – essentially ornamental – stands around where woman can see him.
John Buckland (O.) – large bald, never says anything – clothes ungainly on his shapeless body.
Thad. Stevens – very deep eyes, sunken unshaven.
Cheeks, thin lips, long and strong mouth, long, large, sharp nose – whole face sunken and sharp, full of inequalities – dark wavy hair – Indian – club-footed – ablest man.
Logan – black eyebrows – long black implacable straight hair, without a merciful curve in it – big black moustache – pleasant-looking eye often – even makes bad jokes sometimes, but tigers play in a ponderous sort of way. Splendid war record – 15th army corps and Army of Tenn. – 1 of Sherman’s generals – better suited to war than making jokes.
Thomas of Md. – belongs to another age – Whig – old style – hermit in every way – woman-hater – lives up in the mountains along in N.W. Maryland – one of the oldest reps. – is a radical – white hair laid in folks – hair comes Washington forward over his forehead in 2 white converging waves over a bare worn rock.
Judge Shellabarger – able.
Bingham, Ohio – nervous, severe and ready debater.
Garfield – young, able and scholarly – was chief of Rosecrans staff – preacher
Care [ Cary] of Ohio (8 hour) witty speech – large face – a little full – Indian – long iron-gray hair turned back and not parted – heavy, large, portly man – shaven – long, thin, strong mouth – slow of movement – ponderous every way – his strong suit his persistence, no doubt.
Bingham, Conn. [Ohio] – eloquent – commands attention of House – silky very light hair, just touched with gray – kinky or rather curvy – turned back loosely so as to suggest, apparently with a harrow – large, high broad fore-
Head, slightly wrinkled – little gray whiskers – eyes that have a drawn appearance of having been strained to the focus of glasses – a sharp beak of a nose – chews nervously, and when gets fagged out poking around, sits down – is generally around elsewhere than in his seat.
Horace Maynard, Tenn. – one of purest men in Congress – Union from first – very gentlemanly, talented and fine speaker. Remarkable-looking man – very tall and very slim – long black hair, combed flat and behind ears gives him a trim, shrewd,, “cleared for action” old-style look. Indian. Pleasant look in face. Very little black moustache.
John D. Baldwin (of Mass.) – Prop. Worcester Spy – unblemished character – one of the best read men – very large – specs gold – light gray hair – dark goatee and moustache – patriarchal look.
Ben Butler – forward part of his bald skull looks raised like a water-blister – its boundaries at the sides and at its base in front is marked by deep creases – fat face – small dark moustache – considerable hair behind and on the side – one reliable eye. Is short and pursy – fond of standing up with hands in pants pockets and looking around to each speaker with the air of a man who has half a mind to crush them and yet is rather too indifferent. Butler is dismally and drearily homely, and when he smiles it is like the breaking of a hard winter.
Robinson, Brooklyn – hair kinky, thick, pretty long – in odd stripes of rich brown and silver – glossy. [Ed Note: One of the earliest Washington correspondents.]
One wishes these notes might continue – thumb-nail sketches – vivid likenesses. The break off short. Complications over the Alta let-
ters (their book use) seemed to make it advisable for their author to return to San Francisco. He decided to do his book there. If he made any notes of the outward voyage they are lost. He left early in 1868, arranged all matters with the Alta, finished his book, at top speed, lectured in San Francisco on the Quaker City trip, covered his old Nevada circuit and returned triumphantly with his manuscript by midsummer.
“I was in the Navy 30 years, 26 days and 2 hours. Retired as a Rear Admiral. I was an American history major at UCLA. Since I knew I was going into the Navy I thought I ought to know a lot about the country. Then during night-watch I read up on what we were trying to do internationally and how it was influenced by history. I eventually received a Master’s in International Relations from American University. I have been reading non-fiction for 60 years. They don’t teach that sh*t any more. Instead they teach American Studies. Kids nowadays know nothing about their history; it is blended with sociology and American Studies.
I am more like James Guild than Twain. I’m the crotchety old geezer inundated with books. People say I should be nicer to people but the people are just trying to get books from me on the cheap. As you know, I have notes posted throughout the shop.
Rule number 1: The customer is not always right, I am.
I tell these kids who come in my shop saying, ‘Like this,’ and ‘Like that,’ ‘Life is not a simile.’ I give away copies of the thesaurus for free.”
On Thursday, June 9, 1868 Mark Twain lectured at the now lost Metzerott Hall.
A couple years later Washington’s Territorial Government called Metzerott Hall home. Hon. Frederick Douglass, appointed by President Grant, was one of those city legislators. Douglass’s tenure lasted a matter of weeks while the city government closed shop in a blaze of petty theft.
“Mark Twain in Washington” remembered by Hiram J. Ramsdell [San Francisco Bulletin, Feb. 2, 1883, p. 2]
Although short-lived, Mark Twain’s time in Washington City in the winter of 1867-1868 put him in the rarefied air and exclusive fraternity of American journalists known as “Row Boys.” (There were women journalists in Washington at this time but I’ve yet to come across a reference to “Row Girls” or “Row Ladies.”)
The scribes who haunted the galleries and halls of Congress and the “Row” included the ostentatious George Alfred Townsend, Henry V. Boynton, John Henry Riley, Hiram J. Ramsdell, William Swinton, Horace White and many others whom history has largely forgotten.
Twain scholars from Paine to Justin Kaplan have alluded to Twain’s time in Washington while other works such as Donald Ritchie’s award-winning Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents and Mark Wahlgren Summer’s The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878, have diagnosed and analyzed the culture and community of journalists in Washington City following the Civil War. The recent work by Donald Tiffany Bliss, Mark Twain’s Tale of Today: Halley’s Comet Returns–The Celebrated Author Critiques American Politics, is the most thorough accounting of Twain’s more than half-century relationship with Washington, D.C. in the context of juxtaposing Twain’s critiques of Congress and the United States government to the political gridlock, pronounced partisanship and scandals of today.
When Twain was in Washington City as a Capital Correspondent his name rang bells as a journalist, not as an author. He hit the jug, he roamed the city, he attended lavish parties, he toasted and was toasted. He began work on his first book.
In early 1883, Hiram J. Ramsdell remembered Twain’s time in the city a decade and a half after the fact. Here it is in its entirety…
San Francisco Bulletin,
February 2, 1883
MARK TWAIN IN WASHINGTON.
Where, How and Why He Wrote His “Innocents Abroad.”
Well, I was going to speak of the Indiana-avenue House and Mark Twain. It was, I believe, some time in 1868 or ’69 that I happened, with my wife and child to be a boarder in that home. And shall I tell you who were the other boarders. For it was a regular Washington boarding house, with prices and accommodations slightly above the average. Well, there was George Alfred Townsend – to me a most lovable fellow at that time – and his pretty wife; and then there was the handsome and manly Jerome B. Stillson, who was one of the most brilliant of war correspondents, the most intimate friend of President Johnson at that time doing magnificent work for the New York World – dead, now poor fellow, with all his gentleness and sweetness of disposition; then there was Riley of the Alta California, a character equal to any of Dickens’ or Thackeray’s. And then there was Mark Twain in a little back room, with a sheet-iron stove, a dirty, musty carpet of the cheapest description, a bed and two or three common chairs. I had known Twain before. I was a correspondent of the New York Tribune then, and had been assigned to Washington two or three years before, in the good old days of Greeley. After Twain returned from his trip with the Christians on the Quaker City he came to Washington. He had been partly round the world and had seen a good deal. He looked at everything from the standing of a practical American and Western man, and was “green” enough to look at things through his own eyes and weight things with his own common sense. He knocked the old reverence and awe all to thunder.
But I get ahead of my story. After Twain’s return from his great trip he came to Washington. This was, I think, sometime in 1867 or early in 1868. Nobody knew him and nobody cared a rap for him. He was with Riley nearly all the time, and was addicted to John Barleycorn. He made his headquarters at the Tribune Bureau, and was not always welcome, for he was never goodnatured [sic], and was sometimes absolutely offensive, so much so that the correspondents did not always like to see him about – like George H. Butler, for example. I know that John Russell Young, who was then the managing editor of the New York Tribune, happening in Washington, dodged Twain, just as we now dodge Butler under certain circumstances. I believe he was all this time writing letters to the Alta, although Riley was the regular correspondent.
At that time we all did our work in our rooms, and when one of us got tired we went to the room of one of the others. If the other fellow was working hard he snubbed the visitor, if he was idling he welcomed him. At Twain’s room, however, the visitor was always welcomed, for by nature Twain is so lazy that he will not work if there is an excuse for loafing. He had a little back room that was a novelty, a museum, a hermit’s cave, a den for a wild animal, and the wild animal was there. In this room Clemens wrote his “Innocents Abroad.” I wish you could see it today, in the light of Mark Twain’s present reputation and his half million of money. I am rather hardened now, but I remember it shocked me at the time.
The little drum stove was full of ashes, running over on the zine sheet, which was covered all over; the bed seemed to be unmade for a week, the slops had not been carried out for a fortnight, the room was sour with tobacco-smoke, the floor, dirty enough to begin with, was littered with newspapers, from which Twain had cut his letters. Then there were hundreds of pieces of torn manuscripts which had been written and then rejected by the author. A dozen pipes were about the apartment – on the washstand, on the mantel, on the writing table, on the chairs – everywhere that room could be found. And there was tobacco and tobacco everywhere. One thing there were no flies. The smoke killed them, and I am now surprised that it did not kill me, too. Twain would not let a servant come into his room. He would strip down to his suspenders (his coat and vest, of course, being off), and walk back and forward in slippers in his little room and swear and smoke the whole day long. Of course, at times he would work, and when he did work it was like a steam engine at full head. I do believe that if Clemens had not been under contract to write for the Hartford firm his “Innocents Abroad,” he never would have done it.
Of course, at that time Townsend, Stillson, Riley and myself never thought that Twain’s book would amount to anything, and probably, he did not think it would either, but he was writing for the money his naked MS would bring him from his Hartford publisher. He needed that money, and so he wrote. He is glad that he did write now, for that “Innocents Abroad,” written in that little back room on Indiana Avenue in Washington, has been the making of the fame and fortune of Mark Twain. Whether he smokes the same stinking old pipes; whether he wears the same soiled under-shirts; where he heats his room with an old, uncleaned stove; whether he swears at his own or other people’s servants; whether he mopes and snarls and whiles – well, I don’t care. He is rich and aristocratic. He has edited a paper in Buffalo and another in Hartford. He failed in both. Editing is not his forte. Mining is not his forte. Humor is his forte, and you will excuse me if I say that coarse humor should be nobody’s forte. – H. J. R. in Philadelphia Press.