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Add to My Citations To Mary E. (Mollie) Clemens
20 May 1864 • Virginia City, Nev. Terr.
(MS: CU-MARK, 00078)
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Virginia, May 20.

My Dear Mollie:

I have had nothing but trouble & vexation since the Sanitary trip, & now this letter comes to aggravate me a [thousand ]times worse. If it were from a man, I would answer it with a challenge, as the easiest way of getting out of a bad scrape, although I know I am in the wrong & would not be justified in doing such a thing. I wrote the squib the [ladies ]letter refers to, & although I could give the names of the parties who made the offensive remarks I shall not do it, because they were said in drunken jest and no harm was meant by them. But for a misfortune of my own, they never would have seen the light. That misfortune was, that that item about the sack of flour slipped into the paper without either my consent or Dan’s.1 We kept that Sanitary spree up for several days, & I wrote & laid that [ I item ] before Dan when I was not sober (I shall not get drunk again, Mollie,)—and said he, “Is this a joke?” I told him “Yes.” He said he would not like such a joke as that to be perpetrated upon him, & that it would wound the feelings of the ladies of Carson. He asked me if I wanted to do that, & I said “No, of course not.” He threw it on the table While we were talking, the manuscript lay on the table, & we forgot it & left it there when we went to the theatre, & we I never thought of it again until I received this letter tonight, for I have not read a copy of the Enterprise for a week. I suppose the foreman, prospecting for copy, found it, & seeing that it was in my [handwriting, ] thought it was to be published, & carried it off.2

Now Mollie, whatever blame there is, rests with me alone, for if I had not been just had just sense enough to submit the article to Dan’s better judgment, it would have been published all the same, & not by any mistake, either. Since it has made the ladies angry, I am sorry the thing occurred, & that is all I can do, for you will see yourself that their communication is altogether unanswerable. I cannot publish that, & explain it by saying the affair was a silly joke, & that I & all concerned were drunk. No—I’ll die first.

Therefore, do one of two things: Either satisfy those ladies that I [dealt ]honorably by them when I consented to let Dan suppress that article upon his assertion that its would publication would [wound ]their feelings—or else make them appoint a man to avenge the wrong done them, with weapons in fair & open field.

They will understand at a glance that I cannot submit to the humiliation of publishing myself as a liar (according to the terms of their letter,) & they will also understand so long as I have the other alternative of either challenging or being challenged.

Mollie, the Sanitary expedition has been very disastrous to me. Aside from this trouble, (which I feel worst,) deepest,) I have two other quarrels on my hands, engendered on that [day., ]& as yet I cannot tell how either of them is to end.3

Mollie, I shall say nothing about this business until I hear from you. If they insist upon [ pu the ]publication of that letter, I shall still refuse, but Dr Ross shall hear from me, for I suspect that he is at the bottom of the whole business.4

Your affectionate
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceBrother,


Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

Add to My Citations

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1 Dan De Quille.

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2 Clemens’s “joke”—ostensibly reporting an offensive rumor about the proceeds of a ball held in Carson City on 5 May for the benefit of the United States Sanitary Commission—appeared in the Enterprise on 17 May. The following day the members of the event’s organizing committee sent a letter of protest to the Enterprise, which never printed it. The exchange survives only as published in the Virginia City Union (2), in the form of a public notice, on 25, 26, and 27 May:


Carson City, May 21st, 1864.

Virginia Daily Union: The following communication, in reply to a libelous article which appeared in the Enterprise of the 18th inst. [actually 17 May], was sent to that journal for publication, but thus far no notice has been taken of it. By inserting it in your columns, you will confer a favor upon the ladies whose names are appended, and, perhaps, draw a reply from “Mark Twain,” the author of the scurrilous item.


Carson City, May 18th, 1864.

Editors of Enterprise: In your issue of yesterday, you state “that the reason the Flour Sack was not taken from Dayton to Carson, was because it was stated that the money raised at the Sanitary Fancy Dress Ball, recently held in Carson for the St. Louis Fair, had been diverted from its legitimate course, and was to be sent to aid a Miscegenation Society somewhere in the East; and it was feared the proceeds of the sack might be similarly disposed of.” You apparently mollify the statement by saying “that it was a hoax, but not all a hoax, for an effort is being made to divert those funds from their proper course.”

In behalf of the ladies who originated and assisted in carrying out the programme, let us say that the whole statement is a tissue of falsehoods, made for malicious purposes, and we demand the name of the author. The ball was gotten up in aid of the Sanitary Commission, and not for the St. Louis Fair. At a meeting of the ladies, held in this city last week, no decision was arrived at as to whether the proceeds of the ball should be sent to St. Louis or New York, but one thing was decided, that they should go to the aid of the sick and wounded soldiers, who are fighting the battles of our country, and for no other purpose. The only discussion had upon the subject was, whether the funds should be forwarded to St. Louis or New York, and this grew out of a circular received from St. Louis, by one of the members, stating “that a portion of the proceeds of the St. Louis Fair, were to be applied to the aid of the Freedmen’s Society.” In order to have no mistake in the matter, and that the funds should all be applied to the Sanitary Commission, it was proposed by some of the ladies that the money be sent to New York, but no final decision was arrived at. In conclusion, let us say that the ladies having the matter in charge, consider themselves capable of deciding as to what shall be done with the money, without the aid of outsiders, who are probably desirous of acquiring some glory by appropriating the efforts of the ladies to themselves.

Mrs. W. K. Cutler, President.

Mrs. H. F. Rice, Vice President.

Mrs. S. D. King, Treasurer.

Mrs. H. H. Ross, Sec’y San. Ball.

The ladies signing the above card, sent it to the editors of the “Enterprise,” and not to any individual. The assumption in “Enterprise” of May 24th, that they were expecting an answer from “Mark Twain,” except through the “Enterprise,” is his, not theirs.


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3 Only one of these quarrels has been identified. It was the result of Clemens’s “How Is It?” (see the preceding letter, n. 18). On 19 May the Virginia City Union had responded with a long and bitter editorial that reprinted “How Is It?” and included a 17 May receipt for the Union’s sanitary-fund contributions, pointing out that the Enterprise had not yet fulfilled its own pledges, a “characteristic” omission:

When a question is first sounded it [ the Enterprise] inhales much of the wind of the occasion, bubbles up high, shows out empty, braggart-like, and then goes down sniveling or sneering. In the instance of patriotism and philanthropy its sensibility is excited while the drums beat, then it is irrepressibly prominent and liberal. Returning to the even course of its instincts, it regrets its gifts and sublimates its manners into the most contemptible self praise, introduced through falsifying insinuations against its neighbors.

Calling the Enterprise’s insinuations “despicable” and without “parallel in unmanly public journalism,” the Union charged: “Such an item could only emanate from a person whose employer can find in his services a machine very suitable to his own manliness” (“‘How Is It?’—How It is,” Virginia City Union, 19 May 64, 2). Clemens immediately replied with an Enterprise editorial, which provoked the responses he protests in the next letter.

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4 Dr. H. H. Ross was husband of the secretary of the Sanitary Ball committee. Clemens may have believed that Ross was “Citizen.”

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (CU-MARK).

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L1, 287–290; MTEnt, 190–91.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphProbably Moffett Collection; see p. 462.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

thousand • thou-| ssand [‘s’ over ‘s’]

ladies • [sic]

I item • [‘i’ over ‘I’]

handwriting • hand-|writing

dealt • dealltt [‘t’ over ‘lt’]

wound • woulnd [‘n’ over ‘l’]

day., • [comma over period]

pu the • [‘the’ over ‘pu’]