Twain in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

Twain in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

by Gary Scharnhorst (Editor)

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Overview

Never one to suffer fools gladly, especially if they wore crinolines, Mark Twain lost as many friends as he made, and he targeted them all indiscriminately. The first major American writer born west of the Mississippi River, he enjoys a reputation unrivaled in American literary history, and from the beginning of his career he tried to control that reputation by fiercely protecting his public persona. Not a debunking account of Twain’s life but refreshingly immune from his relentless image making, Gary Scharnhorst’s Twain in His Own Time offers an anecdotal version of Twain’s life over which the master spin-doctor had virtually no control.

The ninety-four recollections gathered in Twain in His Own Time form an unsanitized, collaborative biography designed to provide a multitude of perspectives on the iconic author. Opening with an interview with his mother that has never been reprinted, it includes memoirs by his daughters and by men who knew him when he was roughing it in Nevada and California, an interview with the pilot who taught him to navigate the Mississippi River, reminiscences from his illustrators E. M. Kemble and Dan Beard and two of his so-called adolescent angelfish, contributions from politicians and from such literary figures as Dan De Quille and George Bernard Shaw, and one of the most damning assessments of his character—by the author Frank Harris—ever published.

Each entry is introduced by a brief explanation of its historical and cultural context; explanatory notes provide further information about people and places; and Scharnhorst’s introduction and chronology of Twain’s eventful life are comprehensive and detailed. Dozens of lively primary sources published incrementally over more than eighty years, most recorded after his death, illustrate the complexities of this flamboyant, outspoken personality in a way that no single biographer could.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781587299148
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 11/28/2010
Series: Writers in Their Own Time
Edition description: 1
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Gary Scharnhorst is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Mexico. Coeditor of the journal American Literary Realism and editor every other year of the research annual American Literary Scholarship, he is the author or editor of eighteen books, most recently Bret Harte: Opening the American Literary West, selected by the Western Literature Association as the Outstanding Book in Western American Literary Criticism for 2000, and Interviews with Mark Twain, 1871-1910.

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TWAIN in His Own Time

A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2010 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58729-914-8


Chapter One

"Mark Twain's Boyhood: An Interview with Mrs. Jane Clemens" (1885)

Anonymous

* * *

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was born in a cabin near Florida, Missouri, on 30 November 1835 and at the age of four moved with his slaveholding family thirty miles northeast to the port village of Hannibal on the Mississippi River. There his father, John Marshall Clemens, kept a store and served as a justice of the peace before dying of pneumonia in 1847 at the age of forty-eight. His widow, Jane Lampton Clemens (1803-90), lived in her later years with her oldest son, Orion (1825-97), and his wife, Mollie (1834-1904), in Keokuk, Iowa. "She was of a sunshine disposition," her son Sam remembered, "and her long life was mainly a holiday for her. She always had the heart of a young girl. Through all of the family troubles she maintained a kind of perky stoicism which was lighted considerably by her love of gossip, gaudy spectacles like parades and funerals, bright colors, and animals" (Skandera Trombley, Company of Women, 14). In 1885 she granted what is her only known interview on the subject of her famous son's hardscrabble boyhood.

IN AN UNPRETENTIOUS two-story brick dwelling, at the intersection of High and Seventh streets, Keokuk, Iowa, lives Orion Clemens and his wife.... With them resides Mr. Clemens's mother, who will be 82 years of age next June. The writer, being stranded in Keokuk for a few hours, improved the opportunity to make a call upon the venerable lady, and in the course of an hour's pleasant conversation, which followed, received from her lips many anecdotes concerning her most noted son, which will be new to the generality of readers.

"Sam was always a good-hearted boy," said Mrs. Clemens, "but he was a very wild and mischievous one, and do what we would we could never make him go to school. This used to trouble his father and me dreadfully, and we were convinced that he would never amount to as much in the world as his brothers, because he was not near so steady and sober-minded as they were."

"I suppose, Mrs. Clemens, that your son in his boyhood days somewhat resembled his own Tom Sawyer, and that a fellow feeling is what made him so kind to the many hair-breadth escapades of that celebrated youth?"

"Ah, no," replied the old lady with a merry twinkle in her eye. "He was more like Huckleberry Finn than Tom Sawyer. Often his father would start him off to school and in a little while would follow him to ascertain his whereabouts. There was a large stump on the way to the schoolhouse, and Sam would take his position behind that and as his father went past would gradually circle around it in such a way as to keep out of sight. Finally his father and the teacher both said it was of no use to try to teach Sam anything, because he was determined not to learn. But I never gave up. He was always a great boy for history and could never get tired of that kind of reading, but he hadn't any use for schoolhouses and textbooks."

"It must have been a great trial to you."

"Indeed it was," rejoined the mother, "and when Sam's father died, which occurred when Sam was 11 years of age, I thought then, if ever, was the proper time to make a lasting impression on the boy and work a change in him, so I took him by the hand and went with him into the room where the coffin was and in which the father lay, and with it between Sam and me I said to him that here in this presence I had some serious requests to make of him, and that I knew his word once given was never broken. For Sam never told a falsehood. He turned his streaming eyes upon me and cried out, 'Oh, mother, I will do anything, anything you ask of me except to go to school; I can't do that!' That was the very request I was going to make. Well, we afterward had a sober talk, and I concluded to let him go into a printing office to learn the trade, as I couldn't have him running wild. He did so, and has gradually picked up enough education to enable him to do about as well as those who were more studious in early life. He was about 20 years old when he went on the Mississippi as a pilot. I gave him up then, for I always thought steamboating was a wicked business, and was sure he would meet bad associates. I asked him if he would promise me on the Bible not to touch intoxicating liquors, nor swear, and he said, 'Yes, mother, I will.' He repeated the words after me, with my hand and his clasped on the holy book, and I believe he always kept that promise. But Sam has a good wife now who would soon bring him back if he was inclined to stray away from the right. He obtained for his brother Henry a place on the same boat as clerk, and soon after Sam left the river Henry was blown up with the boat by an explosion and killed."

The dear old lady gave me the last reminiscences in a trembling voice and with eyes filled with tears, but in a moment recovered her wonted serenity of expression and told many more incidents and entertaining stories of the then embryo humorist of which my memory is not sufficiently accurate to enable me to reliably reproduce, though the general idea will always remain in my mind as an indelible photograph of Mark Twain, not as the world knows him, but as he was and is to the mother whose idol he evidently is, and whose strong good sense and wise counsel in his youth undoubtedly has contributed largely to his success. Mrs. Clemens, aside from a deafness which necessitates the use of an ear trumpet, is well preserved and sprightly for her years.

Mark Twain inherited the humor and the talents which have made him famous from his mother, stated the younger Mrs. Clemens. "He is all 'Lampton,'" and resembles her as strongly in person as in mind. Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly and Mrs. Hawkins in Gilded Age are direct portraits of his mother.

Mrs. Clemens was Miss Jane Lampton before her marriage, and was a native of Kentucky. Mr. Clemens was of the F.F.V.'s of Virginia. They did not accumulate property, and the father left the family at his death nothing but, in Mark's own words, "a sumptuous stock of pride and a good old name," which, it will be allowed, has proved in this case at least a suffi cient inheritance.

"Mark Twain's Childhood Sweetheart Recalls Their Romance" (1918)

[Laura Frazier]

* * *

Anna Laura Hawkins Frazier (1837-1938), whose name is sometimes spelled "Frazer" like it is in the following piece, was the model for the character of Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). She reminisced about their childhood in Hannibal some seventy-five years after Sam and Laura attended Samuel Cross's frame schoolhouse on the square and Elizabeth Horr (d. 1873) "taught the children in a small log house at the southern end of Main street" (Neider 31-32).

"YES, I WAS THE Becky Thatcher of Mr. Clemens's book," Mrs. Frazer said the other day as she sat in the big second-floor parlor of the old-time mansion in Hannibal, which is now the Home for the Friendless. Mrs. Frazer is the matron of the home.

"Of course I suspected it when I first read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," she went on. "There were so many incidents which I recalled as happening to Sam Clemens and myself that I felt he had drawn a picture of his memory of me in the character of Judge Thatcher's little daughter. But I never confided my belief to anyone. I felt that it would be a presumption to take the honor to myself.

"There were other women who had no such scruples-some of them right here in Hannibal-and they attempted to gain a little reflected notoriety by asserting that they were the prototypes of the character. When Albert Bigelow Paine, Mr. Clemens's biographer, gathered the material for his life of the author he found no fewer than twenty-five women in Missouri and elsewhere, each of whom declared she was Becky Thatcher, but he settled the controversy for all time on Mr. Clemens's authority when the biography was published. In it you will find that Becky Thatcher was Laura Hawkins, which was my maiden name.

"We were boy and girl sweethearts, Sam Clemens and I," Mrs. Frazer said with a gentle little laugh.

It was seventy years ago that her friendship with Mark Twain began, and her hair is gray. But her heart is young, and she finds in her work of mothering the twenty-five boys and girls in her charge the secret of defying age. On this particular afternoon she wore black-and-white striped silk, the effect of which was a soft gray to match her hair, and her placid face was lighted with smiles of reminiscence.

"Children are wholly unartificial, you know," she explained. "They do not learn to conceal their feelings until they begin to grow up. The courtship of childhood, therefore, is a matter of preference and of comradeship. I liked Sam better than the other boys, and he liked me better than the other girls, and that was all there was to it....

"I must have been six or seven years old when we moved to Hannibal," Mrs. Frazer said. "My father had owned a big mill and a store and a plantation worked by many negro slaves farther inland, but he found the task of managing all too heavy for him, and so he bought a home in Hannibal and was preparing to move to it when he died. My mother left the mill and the plantation in the hands of my grown brothers-I was one of ten children, by the way-and came to Hannibal. Our house stood at the corner of Hill and Main streets, and just a few doors west, on Hill Street, lived the Clemens family.

"I think I must have liked Sam Clemens the very first time I saw him. He was different from the other boys. I didn't know then, of course, what it was that made him different, but afterward, when my knowledge of the world and its people grew, I realized that it was his natural refinement. He played hooky from school, he cared nothing at all for his books, and he was guilty of all sorts of mischievous pranks, just as Tom Sawyer is in the book, but I never heard a coarse word from him in all our childhood acquaintance.

"Hannibal was a little town which hugged the steamboat landing in those days. If you will go down through the old part of the city now you will find it much as it was when I was a child, for the quaint old weather-beaten buildings still stand, proving how thoroughly the pioneers did their work. We went to school, we had picnics, we explored the big cave-they call it the Mark Twain Cave now, you know."

In response to a query as to whether the story of the two children being lost in the cave were a record of actual fact, Mrs. Frazer replied in the negative. That is part of the fiction of the book, but the description of the cave is real enough-

"As a matter of fact, some older persons always went with us. Usually my elder sister and Sam Clemens's elder sister, who were great friends, were along to see that we didn't get lost among the winding passages where our candles lighted up the great stalagmites and stalactites, and where water was dripping from the stone roof overhead, just as Mr. Clemens has described it."

Then she went on to explain that the "little red schoolhouse" was also one of the great humorist's interpolations, picturesque, but non-existent in her childhood days in Hannibal.

"In those early days we had only private schools," Mrs. Frazer said. "If there were public schools I never heard of them. The first school I went to was taught by Mr. Cross, who had canvassed the town and obtained perhaps twenty-five private pupils at a stated price for the tuition of each. I do not know how much Mr. Cross charged, but when I was older I remember that a young woman teacher opened a school after getting twenty-five pupils at $25 each for the year's tuition. I will never forget that Mr. Cross did not belie his name, however, or that Sam Clemens wrote a bit of doggerel about him."

She quoted it this way:

Cross by name and Cross by nature, Cross hopped out of an Irish potato.

"The schoolhouse was a two-story frame-building with a gallery across the entire front," she resumed. "After a year together in that school Sam and I went to the school taught by Mrs. Horr. It was then he used to write notes to me and bring apples to school and put them on my desk. And once, as a punishment for some prank, he had to sit with the girls and occupied a vacant seat by me. He didn't seem to mind the penalty at all," Mrs. Frazer added with another laugh, "so I don't know whether it was effective as a punishment or not.

"We hadn't reached the dancing age then, but we went to many 'play parties' together and romped through 'Going to Jerusalem,' 'King William was King George's Son,' and 'Green Grow the Rushes-O.'"

She then told of the causes that led to the breaking off of the friendship between the two families and brought about the parting of the ways for Becky and Tom-

"Judge Clemens, Sam's father, died and left the family in straitened circumstances, and Sam's schooling ended there. He began work in the printing-office to help out and when he was seventeen or eighteen he left Hannibal to go to work in St. Louis. He never returned to live, but he visited here often in the years that followed."

"Mark Twain as a Cub Pilot: A Talk with Captain Horace Bixby" (1899)

Homer Bassford

* * *

After working as a journeyman printer in St. Louis, New York, and Philadelphia, Twain embarked from Cincinnati aboard the steamboat Paul Jones on 16 February 1857, intending to sail to Brazil to seek his fortune. (Though he later derided the steamer as an "ancient tub" in Life on the Mississippi [70], it had in fact been launched only two years earlier.) Rather than travel to South America, he soon asked the pilot, Horace Bixby (1826-1912), to take him on as an apprentice and teach him the river. Before the boat arrived in New Orleans on 28 February, the two men had reached an agreement. Twain worked for Bixby as a cub pilot for the next several months, a period he chronicled in his series of essays "Old Times on the Mississippi" (January-August 1875). On his part, Bixby was interviewed about his "cub" over forty years later.

CAPTAIN HORACE BIXBY, hard upon seventy years of age, is a pilot on the Mississippi River. For half a century he has held the wheels on this and other navigable streams in the West. Today he is quite as good a pilot as he was twenty-five years ago.... In 1856-it may have been 1857-Captain Bixby was in charge of the pilot-house of the Paul Jones, which plied between Cincinnati and New Orleans. One day, as the boat was about to leave Cincinnati, a tall young man, stooped of shoulders and shaggy as to hair, stumbled up into the pilot-house and took a seat on the big bench at the back. Pilots, as a rule, are not especially communicative. In those days Captain Bixby was particularly slow to begin a conversation with his passengers. After the boat had steamed several miles on her muddy course the young stranger began to talk. He asked twenty-five questions before Bixby turned around. At length he got an audience by observing:

"I think I'd like to learn your trade."

"We hear that a good many times," replied Captain Bixby.

"But I'm in earnest," the young man continued.

"Are you in earnest enough to pay?" the pilot asked.

"I reckon. How much will you charge?"

"Well, in the first place, who are you?" inquired Bixby, his foot on the wheel, his eye squinting at the young man.

"My name's Samuel Clemens," the youth said, "and I'm a printer by trade."

"And where are you going?"

"I've started for Central America for my health, but I've thought I'd like to see how steamboating would go. There might be some health in that."

(Continues...)



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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction....................xiii
Chronology....................xxi
Anonymous, "Mark Twain's Boyhood: An Interview with Mrs. Jane Clemens" (1885)....................1
[Laura Frazier], "Mark Twain's Childhood Sweetheart Recalls Their Romance" (1918)....................4
Homer Bassford, "Mark Twain as a Cub Pilot: A Talk with Captain Horace Bixby" (1899)....................8
Grant Marsh, "Mark Twain" (1878)....................13
Tom Fitch, "Fitch Recalls Mark Twain in Bonanza Times" (1919)....................14
C. C. Goodwin, From As I Remember Them (1913)....................16
[Joseph T. Goodman], "Jos. Goodman's Memories of Humorist's Early Days" (1910)....................20
Arthur McEwen, "In the Heroic Days" (1893)....................22
Dan De Quille, "Salad Days of Mark Twain" (1893)....................25
Dan De Quille, From Archibald Henderson, Mark Twain (1910)....................38
George E. Barnes, "Memories of Mark Twain" (1915)....................40
Tom Fitch, "Fitch Recalls Mark Twain in Bonanza Times" (1919)....................42
Tom Fitch, From Western Carpetbagger: The Extraordinary Memoirs of "Senator" Tom Fitch (1978)....................44
George E. Barnes, "Mark Twain as He Was Known during His Stay on the Pacific Slope" (1887)....................47
William R. Gillis, From Memories of Mark Twain and Steve Gillis (1924)....................50
Henry J. W. Dam, "A Morning with Bret Harte" (1894)....................52
George E. Barnes, "Mark Twain as He Was Known during His Stay on the Pacific Slope" (1887)....................54
Franklin H. Austin, "Mark Twain Incognito-A Reminiscence" (1926)....................55
George E. Barnes, "Mark Twain as He Was Known during His Stay on the Pacific Slope" (1887)....................59
Tom Fitch, "Fitch Recalls Mark Twain in Bonanza Times" (1919)....................63
Edward H. House, "Mark Twain as a Lecturer" (1867)....................64
Noah Brooks, "Mark Twain in California" (1898)....................67
Mary Mason Fairbanks, "The Cruise of the Quaker City" (1892)....................69
Anonymous, "About Mark Twain" (1877)....................71
William M. Stewart, From Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada (1908)....................73
Noah Brooks, "Mark Twain in California" (1898)....................77
J. N. Larned, "Mark Twain" (1910)....................79
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................80
Moncure D. Conway, "Mark Twain in London" (1872)....................82
Moncure D. Conway, From Autobiography (1904)....................87
Charles Warren Stoddard, "In Old Bohemia" (1908)....................89
Henry Watterson, "Mark Twain-An Intimate Portrait" (1910)....................92
Lilian Aldrich, From Crowding Memories (1920)....................95
Annie Adams Fields, From Memories of a Hostess: A Chronicle of Eminent Friendships (1922)....................99
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................105
Edmund Yates, From Celebrities at Home (1879)....................112
Norman Hapgood, From The Changing Years (1930)....................116
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................118
Frank Harris, From Contemporary Portraits, Fourth Series (1923)....................123
Charles H. Clark, "Mark Twain at 'Nook Farm' (Hartford) and Elmira" (1885)....................127
Clara Clemens, From My Father Mark Twain (1931)....................131
Jervis Langdon, From Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1910)....................133
J. Henry Harper, From I Remember (1934)....................134
E. W. Kemble, "Illustrating Huck Finn" (1930)....................137
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................141
Will M. Clemens, "Mark Twain on the Lecture Platform" (1900)....................143
George Washington Cable, From Arlin Turner, Mark Twain and George W. Cable: The Record of a Literary Friendship (1960)....................145
Susy Clemens, From Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain (1985)....................148
George Cary Eggleston, From Recollections of a Varied Life (1910)....................150
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................152
Irving Bacheller, From Opinions of a Cheerful Yankee (1926)....................154
Brander Matthews, "Memories of Mark Twain" (1920)....................157
Dan Beard, From Hardly a Man Is Now Alive (1939)....................163
Daniel Frohman, From Daniel Frohman Presents: An Autobiography (1935)....................169
J. Henry Harper, From I Remember (1934)....................171
Dan Beard, From Hardly a Man Is Now Alive (1939)....................176
Grace King, From Memories of a Southern Woman of Letters (1932)....................178
William H. Rideing, "Mark Twain in Clubland" (1910)....................183
James B. Pond, From Eccentricities of Genius (1900)....................189
R. C. B., "Mark Twain on the Platform" (1896)....................202
Natalie Hammond, From A Woman's Part in a Revolution (1897)....................205
John Hay Hammond, From Autobiography (1935)....................207
Poultney Bigelow, From Seventy Summers (1925)....................210
Frank Marshall White, "Mark Twain as a Newspaper Reporter" (1910)....................213
James Ross Clemens, M.D., "Some Reminiscences of Mark Twain" (1929)....................222
Hamlin Garland, From Roadside Meetings (1931)....................225
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................229
Mary Lawton, From A Lifetime with Mark Twain: The Memories of Katy Leary (1925)....................233
Winston Churchill, From A Roving Commission (1930)....................237
Andrew Carnegie, From Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie (1920)....................238
James Montgomery Flagg, From Roses and Buckshot (1946)....................241
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................243
George Ade, From One Afternoon with Mark Twain (1939)....................246
Hamlin Garland, From Companions on the Trail: A Literary Chronicle (1931)....................251
Henry M. Alden, "Mark Twain: Personal Impressions" (1910)....................253
Norman Hapgood, From The Changing Years (1930)....................255
Raffaele Simboli, "Mark Twain from an Italian Point of View" (1904)....................257
Samuel P. Davis, "Mark Twain on Friends and Fighters" (1906)....................260
Dan Beard, From Hardly a Man Is Now Alive (1939)....................263
Albert Bigelow Paine, "Innocents at Home" (1925)....................266
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................273
Archibald Henderson, From Mark Twain (1910)....................275
Joseph G. Cannon and L. White Busbey, From Uncle Joe Cannon (1927)....................277
James B. Morrow, "Mark Twain's Exclusive Publisher Tells What the Humorist Is Paid" (1907)....................280
George Bernard Shaw, "Letters to the Editor" (1944)....................282
Sir George Ian MacAlister, "Mark Twain, Some Personal Reminiscences" (1938)....................283
E. V. Lucas, "E. V. Lucas and Twain at a 'Punch Dinner'" (1910)....................285
Dorothy Quick, "A Little Girl's Mark Twain" (1935)....................287
Elizabeth Wallace, From Mark Twain and the Happy Island (1914)....................293
Dorothy Sturgis Harding, "Mark Twain Lands an Angel Fish" (1967)....................296
Albert Bigelow Paine, "Mark Twain at Stormfield" (1909)....................299
Dan Beard, From Hardly a Man Is Now Alive (1939)....................305
Helen Keller, "Mark Twain" (1929)....................308
Mary Louise Howden, "Mark Twain as His Secretary at Stormfield Remembers Him" (1925)....................318
W. D. Howells, From My Mark Twain (1910)....................326
Works Cited....................329
Index....................337

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