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Add to My Citations To Henry Clemens
5 August 1856 • Keokuk, Iowa
(MS: NPV, UCCL 00012)
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Keokuk, August 5th

My Dear Brother:

Annie is well.1 Got your letter, postmarked 5th about two hours ago—come d—d quick, (to be a little profane.)2 Ward and I have held a long consultation, Sunday morning, and the result was that us two have determined to start to Brazil, if possible, in six weeks from now, in order to look carefully into matters there (by the way, I forgot to mention that Annie is well,) and report to Dr. Martin in time for him to follow on the first of March.3 We propose going via. New York. Now, between you and I and the fence you must say nothing about this to Orion, for he thinks that Ward is to go clear through alone, and that I am to stop at New York or New Orleans until he reports. But that don’t suit me. My confidence in human nature does not extend quite that far. I won’t depend upon Ward’s judgment, or anybody’s [else.]I want to see with my own eyes, and form my own opinion. But you know what Orion is. When he gets a notion into his head, and more especially if it is an erroneous one, the Devil can’t get it out again. So I [ nev knew ]better than to combat his arguments long, but apparently yielded, inwardly determined to go clear through. Ma knows my determination, but even she counsels me to keep it from [Orion. She ]says I can treat him as I did her when I started to St. Louis and went to New York—I can start to New York and go to South America.! (This reminds me that—Annie is well.) Although Orion talks grandly about furnishing me with [ a h fifty ]or a hundred dollars in six weeks, I am not such an ass as to think he will retain the same opinion such an eternity of time—in all probability he will be entirely out of the notion by that [time. Though ]I don’t like to attribute selfish motives to him, you could see yourself that his object in favoring my [wishcaretescaret ing ] was that I might take all the hell of pioneering in a foreign land, and then when everything was placed on a firm basis, and beyond all risk, he could follow himself. But you would soon discover, when the time arrived, that he couldn’t leave Mollie and that [ lu “love ] of a baby.”4 With these facts before my eyes, (I must not forget to say that Annie is well,) I could not depend upon Orion for ten dollars, so I have “feelers” out in several directions, and have already asked for a hundred dollars from one source (keep it to yourself.)5 I will lay on my oars for a while, and see how the wind sets, when I may probably try to get more. Mrs. Creel is a great friend of mine, and has some influence [ over with ]Ma and Orion, though I reckon they would not acknowledge it.6 I am going up there to-morrow, to press her into my service. I shall take care that Ma and Orion are plentifully supplied with South American books. They have Herndon’s [Report. now.] 7 Ward and the Dr. and myself will hold a grand consultation [to-night. at ]the office. We have agreed that no more shall be admitted into our company.

Emma Graham has got home, and Bettie Barrett has gone up the country.8 I may as well remark that Annie is well. I spent Sunday afternoon up there,9 and brought away a [ bo big ]bouquet of Ete’s d—d stinking flowers, (I mean no disrespect [ for to ]her, or her taste,)[.] Any [ sink single ]one of the lot smells worse than a Sebastopol “stink-pot.”10 Between you and I, [ be I] believe that the secret of Ma’s willingness to [ w allow ]me to go to South America lies in the fact that she is afraid I am going to get married! Success to the hallucination. Annie has not heard from the girls yet. I believe the Guards went down to Quincy to-day to escort our first locomotive home.11

The report that Belle and Isbell are about to be married, is still going.12 Dick was engaged in sticking up Whig office hand bills at last accounts.13

Write soon.

Your Brother,

Sam

P. S. I will just add that Annie is WELL.

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 Annie Taylor, apparently now in Keokuk for the summer, her college term having ended in the first week of July (“Commencement exercises . . .,” Keokuk Gate City, 7 July 56, 2). (Samuel C. Webster mistakenly identified “Annie” as Annie Moffett in MTBus, 28.)

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2 Henry was presumably in St. Louis, with his mother and sister.

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3 The proposed expedition reflected Clemens’s recent reading (see note 7). Joseph S. Martin, a Keokuk physician, board-of-health member, and “Lecturer on Chemistry and Toxicology” at the Iowa Medical College in Keokuk, was evidently to be one of his companions. The 1856–57 Keokuk directory has partial listings for three persons named Ward, but it is impossible to say which was Clemens’s prospective partner (OC 1856, 45, 103, and advertisements, 35; Harris, 214). Paine reported that Martin and Ward “gave up the plan, probably for lack of means” (MTL, 1:35); Clemens, however, apparently nursed his interest in Brazil until 1857, when he became a cub pilot.

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4 Orion and Mollie’s daughter, Jennie, was born on 14 September 1855 (MEC, 6).

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5 The potential source mentioned here has not been identified. By the time Clemens left Keokuk in mid-October 1856, however, he had made an arrangement to write travel letters for the Keokuk Post. He was to be paid five dollars per letter, a rate he subsequently negotiated up to seven and a half dollars (Lorch 1929, 434–38; Rees, 399–400). In fact he wrote only three letters, dated 18 October 1856 from St. Louis, and 14 November 1856 and 14 March 1857 from Cincinnati (SLC 1856, 1856, 1857). Written in the guise of a loutish bumpkin, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, the letters were among his first efforts to sustain the vernacular voice that he perfected in his mature writings. Not long after the last of them appeared, Clemens gave up the idea of a Brazilian excursion in favor of becoming a pilot.

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6 Mary Ann Creel (b. 1822 or 1823), Mollie Clemens’s cousin, was the eldest daughter of Colonel William S. Patterson (1802–89), Iowa pioneer and legislator and Keokuk pork packer, postmaster, and later three-time mayor. She was married to Jane Clemens’s cousin Robert P. Creel (b. 1815), a brickmason who owned a successful construction business. In 1856 he was a member of the Iowa legislature, and in 1862 became mayor of Keokuk (Ivins, 64, 96; History of Lee County, 664, 690; Reid, 165; Keokuk Census [1860], 152; OC 1856, 63; OC 1857, 21, 167; Biographical Review, 489–92; JLC to “Livy Children & Sam,” 24 Jan 85, Davis 1981, 2; “Death of T. B. Patterson,” Keokuk Gate City, 29 July 90, clipping in Scrapbook 20:107, CU-MARK).

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7 Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Made under Direction of the Navy Department (1853–54), in two volumes, by William Lewis Herndon and Lardner Gibbon. Clemens evidently read only the first volume, by Herndon. In 1910, in “The Turning Point of My Life,” he recalled that it “told an astonishing tale about coca, a vegetable product of miraculous powers; asserting that it was so nourishing and so strength-giving that the native of the mountains of the Madeira region would tramp up-hill and down all day on a pinch of powdered coca and require no other sustenance.” As a result, Clemens “was fired with a longing to ascend the Amazon. Also with a longing to open up a trade in coca with all the world. During months I dreamed that dream, and tried to contrive ways to get to Para and spring that splendid enterprise upon an unsuspecting planet” (WIM, 459; see also AD, 29 Mar 1906, CU-MARK, in MTA, 2:289). This ambition must also have been fed by newspaper reports of the Amazon Valley. Between 1853 and 1856 dozens of articles published in the cities where Clemens lived extolled the wonders and opportunities of the region and urged that it be opened to commerce.

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8 Emma Graham may be Emaline Graham, aged about sixteen, the daughter of James B. Graham, a carpenter (Keokuk Census [1860], 145). Bettie Barrett has not been identified.

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9 Hawkins Taylor owned a tract of land in a fashionable area on the Mississippi, a few miles above Keokuk. Clemens evidently had gone “up there” to visit Annie Taylor. His remark that he intended “going up there” to visit Mrs. Creel suggests that the spot was a summer retreat for prominent Keokuk families, including the Pattersons and the Creels.

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10 The allusion has not been precisely identified. A “stink-pot” was either a weapon designed to release acrid vapors when burned, or a device similarly used to combat cholera by fumigation. Both devices might have been used in the siege of Sevastopol (October 1854–September 1855) in the Crimean War, but no specific reference has been found to either in the voluminous contemporary reports of that battle. “Ete” was Esther Taylor.

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11 Escorted by the Keokuk Guards and welcomed by a booming cannon and exultant speeches by the city fathers, Keokuk’s first steam locomotive, the J. K. Hornish, arrived at the levee at 9:00 A.M. on 8 August, via barge from Quincy, Illinois. The Hornish was intended for the Keokuk, Mount Pleasant, and Muscatine Railroad. It was named for the company’s general agent, who had been instrumental in obtaining construction financing for the line. By reducing the cost of transporting freight around the Keokuk rapids from two dollars to fifty cents per ton, the railroad greatly benefited the town’s economy (“Steam Engine J. K. Hornish,” Keokuk Post, 9 Aug 56, 3; “Hurrah for the Iron Horse!” Keokuk Saturday Post, 9 Aug 56, 2; “The Locomotive . . . ,” Keokuk Gate City, 9 Aug 56, 3; History of Lee County, 510–11).

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12 Mollie Clemens’s nineteen-year-old sister, Susan Isabella (Belle) Stotts (b. 1837), was a soloist with Keokuk’s Mendelssohn Choral Society, as was its director, Oliver Isbell (“Concert. The Mendelssohn Choral Society,” Keokuk Gate City, 13 Mar 56, 2). The rumor of an attachment between the two apparently was persistent, for in a letter of 28 May 1858, Orion Clemens asked his wife, “What made Mrs. Isbell jealous of Belle? What did Isbell do to make Pa [Mollie’s father, William Stotts] so angry?” (CU-MARK). Belle married Thomas B. Bohon on 1 October 1861.

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13 Richard Higham’s new employer was James B. Howell, one of Orion’s competitors. Howell and Company edited and published two Whig newspapers in Keokuk, the daily Gate City and the weekly Des Moines Valley Whig (OC 1856, 76; OC 1857, 38, 121; Harris, 324).



glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Jean Webster McKinney Family Papers, Vassar College Library (NPV).

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L1, 65–71; MTB, 1:110, brief excerpts and paraphrase; MTL, 1:34–35, with omissions; MTBus, 28–29, including only text not published in MTL.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee McKinney Family Papers, pp. 459–61.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph


else.— • [dash over period]

nev knew • [‘kn’ over ‘nev’]

Orion. She • Orion.— ǀShe

a h fifty • [‘fif’ over ‘a h’]

time. Though • time.— ǀThough

wishcaretescaret ing[‘es’ over ‘ing’]

lu • “love [‘“l’ over ‘lu’]

over with • [‘with’ over ‘over’]

Report. now. • Report. now. [deletion implied]

to-night. at • to-night. at [deletion implied]

bo big • [‘bi’ over ‘bo’]

for to • f tor [‘t’ over ‘f’]

sink single • sinkgle [‘g’ over ‘k’]

be I • [‘I’ over ‘be’]

w allow • [‘a’ over ‘w’]