“The Scupper Nong Letters – From the National Capital – An Interview with General Grant.” [NY Times, 29 November 1867, p. 1] Never before published Washington correspondence of Mark Twain?

General-Grant-002The Scupper Nong Letters – From the National Capital – An Interview with General Grant.

Washington, Thursday, Nov. 28 – 12 M.

I have not observed the announcement by any of the “Specials” of my arrival in this political metropolis (which to my mind is rather a drink-opolis) as your occasional correspondent. Of course, I do not employ “occasional” in the Forney sense, which is daily, and not unfrequently [sic] twice a day, but in the regular dictionary sense of now and then. But though unheralded, like many greater men, I did arrive on time and on the train early Wednesday morning last, which fact in itself would be neither here nor there, were it not not for what is to follow. Having read the papers pretty generally, considering my limited opportunities among your exchanges, I of course had learned enough to know that the first duty of any Washington correspondent, of whatever grade or rank, is to ascertain the views of the General of our armies on political matters. It was rather early in the morning, it is true, for a formal call, but business is ever before pleasure. And as the train whirled into the Baltimore depot at 6 o’clock, I made ready for my descent upon the General. The Douglas row, where he resides, is, as you know, nearly directly north of the depot and the Capitol, cornering upon New Jersey avenue.

Hastening out of the depot I started on a fast walk, with satchel in hand, disguised in a patent paper shirt-bosom and cuffs, directly towards the General’s house, which I suppose I ought to call a mansion. What was my surprise to discover six other correspondent-looking individuals like myself, bound in the same direction. They walked fast, but I walked faster. It was evident that we instinctively understood each other. Directly we all broke into a run, and, being somewhat given to running, I am free to say that your correspondent fairly distanced the others and made the first and only quarter in a very fair time. The man-servant stood on the steps with broom in hand. I was the first to break the silence before the others were in hearing, and hurriedly asked for General Grant. “He is just waking himself,” was the reply, “with his second cigar and by looking to see what the Chronicle found out about him yesterday.” “Tell him,” said, I assuming a Senatorial aspect, “that a gentleman, who has always been a friend of his and of his father’s first cousin, desires to see him on very special business.” The major-domo, I suppose he was, instantly disappeared, after showing me into a private room on the left, which was guarded by a miniature cannon in each corner, probably captured at Donelson. I chuckled to myself at hearing soon after, the gentlemen, who had meanwhile arrived, ushered into a larger room together in front. It seemed a full half hour, and it doubtless was that long before the General appeared. He was clad in full uniform, and had buckled on his sword from the sanitary fairs, to do honor to the occasion. As he entered I arose and introduced myself as Hon. Scupper Nong, late of New York, presenting my credentials from your office. He bowed me to a seat very formally, and took my papers, saying not a word. I thought he did not seem very happy nor as cordial as an old friend could have wished. But I attributed it to the early hour, and the possible lack of his morning coffee. After glancing at my papers, he sat down and looked at me as if to say, “Well, what do you want?” though he actually said nothing. Whereupon I spoke. “It is a fine morning,” said I. He merely glanced out of the window, but sat pensively silent. He did not appear to be in his usual communicative mood, and felt my ardor rather dampened. Thinking the shortest way to be the quickest, after twisting my thumbs and crossing my feet, and putting on my most winning and fraternal expression, I came sideways to the point. “Gen. Grant,” said I, “the whole country, indeed, I may say the world, is very anxious to know just what you think on the reconstruction question and on politics generally. The nation is breathlessly waiting to hear you speak. Now I am a friend of yours; I have no personal ends in view. I have always been a friend of your family. You may speak to me in perfect confidence. Let me humbly, (here I laid my hand on my paper dicky, inadverntly soiling it and displacing it) – let me humbly suggest that you say something to relieve this immense pressure on the minds of men in general and of myself in particular. Just say one word, a single word. Do you sustain the President or do you stand by Congress?” I thought it was time for me to pause for a reply. He twitched nervously in his chair for a minute, pushed his hands down deep into his pockets, and looked as if he was absorbed in thought. After sitting a few moments he looked up at his desk still unopened before him and said, “Have you seen the Jeff Davis pony? I captured it at Vicksburg.” I was disappointed, and looking him full in the face, said, “General Grant, you needn’t think to put off an old friend, who sincerely desires your welfare, with talking horse. I know nothing of horses. I have only my country (rolling my eyes lovingly to an American flag which hung over the mantel), my dear country in view – I may say I love it. I would have willingly died for it, only I had a small contract for furnishing blankets in the army which made my life dear to me, and occupied all my spare time during the late alienation of my brethren.” Seeing I would not be put off, he reached out his hand to a side drawer and took out a couple of very prominent Havanas. I surely thought he would have given me one; but putting one in each corner of his expressive mouth, he proceeded to light both at once with a single match, and to puff away as he loved to smoke. Then my spirit was stirred within me, and I returned to the attack. “General,” said I, “will you not answer me explicitly?” Then he knew his man, and turning around and looking at me as if I were General Lee, and we were settling terms of amicable adjustment, he responded as follows: – “Have you had your breakfast?” I may say that I was somewhat discouraged. But knowing that he admired pluck, and remembering what he once said (though I suppose others may not have heard of it) about fighting it out on that line, I resolved to die there on that spot before I would give it up. So I merely replied: – “Won’t you trust me, General?” Can’t you confide in a friend who would fain be your bosom companion? I’ll tell you all I know if you’ll only ask me. Then answer my question.” He seemed to be moved by. Indeed he moved himself rather uneasily upon his chair, smoking still more vigorously; and after a painful silence of ten minutes he spoke again: “Have you seen Mr. Forney?” said he. “No,” I replied. “Nor, Mr. Blair?” “No.” “Nor the editor from down South?” “No.” “Then I would advise you see them.” “But they know nothing.” I answered. “Neither do I,” said he, and he smiled until his left cigar fell, and he caught it, only spilling the ashes over his vest. I felt badly. My confidence has been misplaced. My feelings were wounded in the house of a friend. I was going to tell him so. But on second thought I determined not, and came anew fresh to the attack. “General Grant,” said I, “do you not mean to tell me what you think? Reflect upon the wants of the people. They are all all looking to you. The nation is waiting for your nod. Won’t you speak? speak one; speak for all.” I was conscious of speaking in an imploring manner. Waited for a moment – for five minutes. Then I said, raising: – “General Grant, this is the last call, positively third and last call; won’t you speak?” “No,” he said, very emphatically, as if he was getting angry. Then he rang the bell, and said to the servant, “Show the other anxious inquirers in.” It was too much for me. Hastily taking my hat to leave, I turned to make one last appeal. But he smiled on me so blandly, without ever removing either of the cigars, and said between his teeth as he bowed rather coldly and triumphantly, “Won’t you stop to breakfast, Mr. Scipio” (naturally mistaking my name) that I could not stand it any longer, and was about to decline when the door opened, and the others came pouring in, nearly pushing me over. I may say I left rather hurriedly, and went to my room on the eighth floor of Willard’s, a better if not wiser man. After reflecting upon the subject of my interview, I felt warranted in saying, and saying truthfully, that General Grant knows what he is about. And I think, I may add, that if anybody else knows what he knows, I don’t see how they found it out. I may call again, but perhaps, it would be as well as not. And so I leave it.

P.S. – After closing up this letter I have been down on the avenue and met the other six, who have just returned from the interview. All I could get from them was to this effect, that General Grant has gone to breakfast. I asked them what General Grant thought on the reconstruction question. But a heavy draft of air passing that way just then fell upon them, as they seemed rather warm, and they all simultaneously sneezed, and I passed on. In conclusion, the more I think of it the more I am convinced that General Grant’s opinions are all right, and you may so announce to the country upon my authority. And you may say that I am fresh from an interview with him.

– N. Y. Times.      SCUPPER NONG.


The Evening Telegraph. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 30 Nov. 1867. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025925/1867-11-30/ed-1/seq-6/>

ED Note 1: The “Scupper Nong” letter was published on the front page of the New York Times 29 November, 1867. It was the one and only “Scupper Nong” letter ever published.

ED Note 2: The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia would have reprinted this piece, most likely, because it mentions John W. Forney, a prominent Philadelphia journalist and editor, multiple times. Forney published the Morning Chronicle which Twain’s article cites Grant as reading in the morning.

* I have been researching Twain, specifically, his time in Washington over the past 9 – 10 months (with large breaks due to matters concerning my first book on Frederick Douglass in D.C.) and I have yet to come across this interview. I believe this interview has never been published and/or attributed to or credited to Twain. *

ED Note 3: Not on Twainquotes.com New York Times article index

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