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Add to My Citations To Olivia L. Langdon with a note to Charles J. Langdon
12 December 1868 • Norwich, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCCL 00205)
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Norwich, Dec. 12.

My Dearest Livy—

It is splendid! gorgeous! unspeakably magnificent! I am to see you, you, YOU on the 17th! “Move [eastward], happy earth,” as Tennyson according to Twichell, says.1 Familiarity with disappointment has taught me to school myself to expect nothing, & then I am fortified when [No ]is the answer to any petition I offer—& when Yes is the answer the joy is all the wilder & happier for the delicious surprise of it. {I But for the human egotism that is in me, I would not have put that forward as a system of philosophy original with myself, but would have said “Familiarity with disappointment teaches us”—for it does teach that lesson to all but absolute fools, sooner or later—& now having lectured myself my conscience is easy again.} So I shall be there the 17th, if God permits, & shall try to arrive very early in the morning, in order to make the most of my visit—& in order that I may go into the closet in my room & bang on the door till you get up in time for breakfast once—& then I will go down with you to make sure of you, my little angel by brevet. {It did tickle Twichell excessively to hear me speak of you as an angel by brevet, for he was a chaplain in the army & so he recognized the felicity of the expression & enjoyed it as only a military man could. I told him anybody could see that you were are an angel by brevet, & that you are in the line of promotion”—but that I was glad & happy to know that you couldn’t attain your full rank on this earth—otherwise I should be a miserable wretch who must drag through this weary life unmated.}

Why Livy! (Oh, Charlie!”) Don’t scare a body that way again. I always look at the end of a letter first, to see how it is signed (because the mood of the writer crops out there & you know what to expect,)—& behold, there was your entire name displayed in frozen & awful solemnity! I expected what I so love to see (& if must confess such lack of decorum, kiss,) viz., [“Lovingly], Livy”—& found (as I thought,) only “Livy L. Langdon.” I imagined all kinds of horrors at once. I am the guest of Judge Mason & family for 2 or 3 days, & had just been introduced to two young ladies at the moment your letter was handed me in the parlor. And I had begun a most brilliant conversation, [ tw too], (as I thought,) but I said, “Excuse me, please, till I open this & see who it is from & whether the business is pressing or not”—as if I didn’t know perfectly well who it was from. But that name took the life all out of me, & I couldn’t keep my attention on the conversation after that—I did wonder what was in a letter signed so portentously! But [I ]was only tortured with a very mildly painful curiosity, not distress—& merely said to myself: “In my infamous heedlessness I w have written something which has hurt her feelings—possibly angered her—but never mind, it is all right—long before this her calm judgment has told her that it was not deliberate & intentional & could not be—& so, even if her letter be grieved or angry she is neither, now.” And so, with what I supposed was your written punishment for high crime & misdemeanor2 in my pocket, Livy, I had the hardihood to march down to the church crowded church & deliver as cheerful a lecture as ever you listened to in all your life! I knew you couldn’t keep angry feelings, any more than I could. Somehow they will slide off, you know, do what one will to remain dignifiedly malignant! Anger won’t stick unless you know that the offender meant to offend—& the idea of my meaning to offend you, was just simply preposterous.

Well, I can’t tell how thankful I am to Mr & Mrs. Langdon for their generous permission, because there are no words in the dictionary long enough or strong enough; & so I will be content to feel thankful—all over!

I went to bed at the Delavan House, in Albany,3 night before last, with my cigar & my library at my elbow—which library consisted of the Bible, your last letter & a Harper’s Monthly. And I read the 27th Psalm, & pondered long over the probable meaning of the last verse.4

Wait on the Lord”—[ Unil Until]: Selfish motives are gone from you; until your heart is purified of evil passions, your hands grown unaccustomed to evil deeds, your brain become unused to framing evil thoughts, your lips no longer prone to utter tainted speeches; until the pride of your own might is humbled; [until its] impotency is demonstrated; until that strength which comes from God’s puissance is recognized as the only strength that can avail; until struggling hath exhausted you; until your finite wisdom is proven folly; until hope is dead within you; [until patient] study & patient groping in the dark has brought you at last to the eminence whence you can see the light, & comprehension of the Word dawns upon you; [until you] learn you are nothing of yourself alone; until finally you dimly perceive what a tremendous, what a colossal thing it is you are have been so complacently asking, as if it were a cheap & common favor—[ETERNAL LIFE]!—a life whose drifting years are as the sands of the sea drawn out into infinite procession, & each a lingering century of light, & love, & unimaginable bliss! “Wait” till you are thus prepared to vaguely appreciate the magnitude of this prodigious favor you are seeking, & then “He will strengthen your heart”—He will revive it with His Spirit—He will lift it up out of its humiliation, & all will be well. And so, conning my lesson with “good courage” & with firm faith, I “wait.” I “wait”—in His own good time my hope will be crowned with its fruition. And then! my life will have an object! What an amazing value the thought gives to this life of mine, which was so perfectly valueless before! Perhaps you may appreciate that last remark when I tell you that for many years, & up to much less than a year ago I absolutely loved to look upon dead men & envy them! I couldn’t keep from envying them—& in all moods—joy & sorrow the same. I was well nigh a savage, Livy.

Last night I went to bed & took my library along, [again. ]—your new letter, a book,5 & a Bible which I found in my room. I looked immediately for the passages referred to in your letter, but alas! the Bible was German! I couldn’t read a word. However, to-night the matter shall be different. I do not carry my own Bible with me because it is a little too large for convenience, & besides I can always get one in the hotels. I am rather sorry I left mine, though, for it isn’t always merely in one’s room that he wishes to read. It is well to keep at a thing if one hopes to accomplish an end. I appreciate that, by old experience.

Livy, you are the best little encourager in the world. W One couldn’t lose hope, with your earnest trust & confidence to inspire him. I can only be grateful, Livy, & I am—such services are beyond the possibility of adequate repayment. Bless your brave, true heart, you are so dear to me, Livy, & I am so unworthy. And I am so proud of you, my peerless!

“Which have been sounding in my ears much of the time [since.”] Livy, don’t say that. It makes me feel as if I have grieved you, wounded you, by speaking of your faults. I cannot bear that. I had rather hurt myself, five hundred times over. Oh, I would have you always, always happy—for you so well earn such a state—you so well deserve it, Livy. For you do right—as nearly as any human being can. Forgive me, Livy—I am sorry. “Help” you? Whensoever I can help you, & do not, I shall have changed my nature. My strong love shall help you in whatsoever love can help. Our love shall be make us strong to guide, sustain & help each other in all circumstances, at all times & in all seasons. With religion to order life, & love to fulfill its [ deg decrees], what life could be a failure, what life unworthy?

I know you are proud, Livy (God pity all men & women who are not, for they shall need it!) & I am glad you feel that it does not shame it that pride to open your heart to me—for nothing shows such exalted confidence in one as to fearlessly lay bare one’s pride before him. I can tell you anything, without any fear, or any misgivings—& that you have this tr sort of trust in me in such a large degree, is very, very gratifying.

But they hurry me to go visiting. And so I bid you a loving good-bye, & go—to talk to other people, but thinking of you all the time, & loving & honoring you above all created things.—for I shall bear you with me. I waft a phantom kiss upon this messenger breeze that is journeying toward you. To think that I shall see you so soon! Oh! happiness!

Yrs forever & always,

Samuel Langhorne Clemens!


figure“Put it there, Charlie!”



Miss Olivia L. Langdon


[docketed by OLL:] 12th [OLL, in pencil:] Wait on the Lord

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 “Move Eastward, Happy Earth” appeared in Poems (1842). It expresses a lover’s yearning for the dawn, his “marriage-morn” (Tennyson 1862, 371–72).

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2 From article 2, section 4, of the Constitution of the United States, which defines the grounds for removal of federal officers: “impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” President Johnson’s impeachment trial in the Senate had ended with his acquittal on 26 May 1868.

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3 Charles E. Leland (1843–1906) became sole proprietor of the Delavan House in late 1867, remaining in that position for twenty years. He belonged to the second generation of Lelands in the hotel business, and may have been the brother of Clemens’s friend Lewis Leland (“Topics Uppermost,” Elmira Advertiser, 2 Dec 67, 1; New York Times: “Charles E. Leland,” 1 Mar 1906, 9; “Mrs. Agnes Leland,” 1 Jan 1909, 11).

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4 “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalms 27:14).

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5 Possibly Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop (1841), since, one week later, Clemens arrived in Fort Plain with a copy in his pocket (19 and 20 Dec 68 to OLL, n. 11).

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6 Clemens presumably offered his congratulations for Charles’s successful negotiation of his engagement to Ida Clark. The hand is reproduced in facsimile from the manuscript (cf. L1, xxx).

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

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L2, 327–331.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee Samossoud Collection, pp. 515–16.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

eastward • eastaward

No • [ possibly ‘NO’]

“Lovingly • “Lov | “Lovingly [corrected miswriting]

tw too • twoo [‘w’ partly formed]

I • I I [corrected miswriting]

Unil Until • Uniltil

until its • untlil its

until patient • untlil patient

until you • untlil you

ETERNAL LIFE • [block capitals, not underscored]

again.[deletion implied]

since.” Livy • since.”—|Livy

deg decrees • degcrees