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Add to My CitationsTo Olivia L. Langdon
19 and 20 December 1868 • Fort Plain, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCCL 00206)
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Fort Plain, Dec. 19.

My Dearest Livy—

Here at dead of night I seem to hear the murmur of the far Pacific—& mingled with the music of the surf the melody of an old familiar hymn is sounding in my ear. It comes like a remembered voice—like the phantom of a form that is gone, a face that is no more. You know the hymn—it is “Oh refresh us.”1 It haunts me now because I am thinking of a steadfast friend whose death I have just learned through the papers—a friend whose face must always appear before me when I think of that hymn—the Rev. Franklin S. Rising. I hear he was lost in the late disaster on the Ohio river.2 He was rector of the Episcopal church in Virginia City, Nevada—a noble young fellow—& for 3 years, there, he & I were fast friends. [ A ] I used to try to [teach] him how he ought to preach in order to get at the better natures of the rough population about him, & he used to try hard to learn—for I knew them & he did not, for he was refined & sensitive & not intended for such a people as that. And {I mentioned him once in an absurd sketch entitled “Information for the Million” in that “Jumping Frog” [book.}] 3 Afterward I stumbled on him in the Sandwich Islands, where he was traveling for his health, & we so arranged it as to return to San Francisco in the same ship. We were at sea five Sundays. He felt it his duty to preach, but of the 15 passengers, none even pretended to sing, & he was so diffident that he hardly knew how he was to get along without a choir. I said, “Go ahead—don’t be afraid—I’ll bac stand by you—I’ll be your [choir.” And] he did go ahead—& I was his choir. We could find only one hymn that I knew. It was “Oh, Refresh us.” Only one—& so for five Sundays in succession he stood in the midst of the assembled people on the quarter-deck & gave out that same hymn twice a day, & I stood up solitary & alone & sang it! And then he went right along, happy & contented, & preached his sermon. We were together all the time—pacing the deck night & day—there was no other congenial company. He tried earnestly to bring me to a knowledge of the true God. In return, I read his manuscripts & made suggestions for their emendation. We got along well together (I never acquired a good man’s friendship & lost it again, in all my [ live life], Livy.) A month ago, after so long a separation, he saw by the Tribune that I was at the Everett House, & came at once & left his card—I was out & did not see him.4 It was the last opportunity I was ever to have on earth. For his wanderings are done, now; his restless feet are still; he is at peace. Now the glories of heaven are about him, & in his ears its mysterious music is sounding—but to me comes no vision but a lonely ship in a great solitude of sky & water; & unto my ears comes no sounds but the complaining of the waves & the softened cadences of that simple old hymn—but Oh, Livy, it comes freighted with infinite pathos!

Tunes are good remembrancers. Almost every one I know am familiar with, summons instantly a face when I hear it. It is so with the Marseillaise, with the Bonny Doon & a score of others; when I hear “We 3 [Kings] of Orient” I think of Mrs Severance, sure—& whenever I hear the “Prodigal” I shall as surely think of you, my loved & honored Livy.5

At Utica, this morning, I saw Miss Anna Dickinson pass along & enter the drawing-room car, & I wanted to follow & talk with her a while, but I was unshaven & very shabby in dress in [consequence] of early rising, & so I just sat still & we traveled many miles together & yet not [together. Scold] me, Livy, dear. I suppose I deserve it. And yet see the sacrifice I made—& all for you: I wouldn’t go [there] & tell her that such a looking object as I was, was regarded with respect & esteem by you & your family.6 Shucks, I am always making sacrifices.

Sunday Night, 10 o’clock. I got that far, late last night, & then felt tired out. So I desisted, & shortly went to bed. And the first thing I noticed when I opened the little Testament, was, that you hadn’t written your name in it anywhere. I was sorry, then, that we tore out that fly-leaf. I wa had been afraid, at the time, that some profane [eye] might see it there & some common tongue make a flippant remark about it & so cause me to insult its owner. But who would ever see it Livy? Nobody [ m ] but me. And so why did we tear it out? Find it, Livy, & send it to me, please. And hurry up the ferrotype, Livy. I am half sorry, now, that I parted with the other, though unquestionably it was a most inferior picture of [you. Already] I yearn to see you again; already I begin to miss you more & more. Last night I dreamed of you—but you were only with me a single moment & then instantly the vision faded & passed away.

I wish we had persuaded Mr. & Mrs. Langdon to visit longer with us in the drawing-room in the afternoon, for we never had a right good visit with them afterward. I thought at the time, that maybe we might not have so pleasant an opportunity again—& yet the temptation to have you all to myself was very, very strong, Livy. I have written Mr. Leland of the Metropolitan7 to forward Mr. Langdon’s letter to me at Lansing, [ W Mich. I] guess there’s a mild scolding in it—but it couldn’t be very severe, coming from him.

Please tell Miss Lewis that I am pining for her, & thinking about her all the time. I was as much distressed as she was, with the fear that our conduct toward each other would attract attention, especially as we were in the room together when the Misses Spaulding came—but never mind, they will think I only came to see Charley. She was out of the way when the Swiss Bell-Hangers8 were there, & so they only saw you & I together. Tell her I dream about her sometimes, & whenever I do I snore. She is a good girl, Livy.9 Now that I think of it, I didn’t even call on Mrs. Ford—but then I had such a short visit, Livy that I couldn’t really afford to see anybody, but you. I should have grudged the time a little, & that would have taken the grace all out of the visit.

I have been the guest, all day, of my poet-friend, Mr. Elliott, & his wife. He is editor of the paper here. They are very handsomely housed, & I have enjoyed their free & hearty hospitality exceedingly. [in margin:] Writing facilities are not good here, & so I use a pencil.]10 Mrs. Elliott is a good, genuine little woman, & although I had never seen her before (she is the original of the “Bonnie Eloise” of the old song so popular ten years ago,) she immediately took a kind motherly interest in me & urged & beseeched me most feelingly to marry—but I said No, no use—I didn’t know but one young woman whom I would like to have for a wife, & she wouldn’t give her consent.11 Then she pitied me, with all her kind heart—& I suppose I have left her in the sad conviction that because that young woman won’t give her consent now, I am going to let her alone. Which is a mistake, my darling Livy, as you will surely find. I have had a venerable ex-Member of Congress praising me so lavishly about the serious passages in the lecture all the evening at Elliott’s that I am half ashamed of being a professional Humorist any more! Such strength hath a compliment. His wife & daughters sent to invite me to come to breakfast & be their guest tomorrow, but unfortunately I leave in the westward train two hours after [midnight].12

If I can [ rel recollect] it, I will send my sister’s letter with this, though somehow it seems to me that I read it to you. You would like her, ever so much. She is a Christian after your own heart.13

I love you, Livy. And I am happy in the possession of half your heart. I would rather hold half of your heart than all of anybody’s else—& so I am tranquil & satisfied. I was wrong to urge you so to give it all to me at this time, but I didn’t mean any harm, Livy, none at all. It was an honest impulse, & honest impulses are always forgivable. I shall have it some day, my dear, dear little tormentor. [in margin: I do not & shall not neglect my prayers, Livy, but somehow they do not seem as full of life as when you or Twichell are by.]

And now I have to bid you good night & good-bye—& so I leave you with fitter comrades—the viewless spirits of the air,14 the ministering angels of God. I kiss your forehead in reverent blessing, & on your dear lips I place the kiss of loving trust & affection. Peace be with you & with all your household, my darling.

With loving devotion,

Sam L. C.

P.S.—I shall get letters from you in all those places in my list of appointments shan’t I? Do try to have it so, Livy! At any time that you are tired or sleepy & can’t write much, write & send a few lines anyhow, Livy—for I could not help feeling a little uneasy about you, otherwise, & it is such a royal pleasure to hear from you. I shall be sure to call on Miss Emma Nye. Do you know you never told me what Mr. & Mrs. Langdon said about my proposed clandestine visit? I didn’t forget to speak to them about it myself, but every time it came to my tongue’s end they were in such a good humor that I hadn’t the heart to spoil it. It was very, very shabby in me, because now you will have to defend me yourself—no, but you mustn’t—you must let them scold me just as much as I deserve. Why, it looks as if I had done a thing I was afraid or ashamed to acknowledge—& I don’t & wouldn’t do anything of that kind, Livy. I was openly doing wrong, but I didn’t mean to shirk any of the blame of it. When you said they would “welcome me with their hearts,” I didn’t begin to take that as forbidding me the house, you little dear—but you seemed to think you had very broadly conveyed that impression to me! You wasn’t quite literal enough, that time if you meant that, you darling little woman.


Miss Olivia L. Langdon | Present. [docketed in ink by OLL:] 13th

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 This hymn, more commonly known by its first line, “Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing,” was written in 1773 by the Reverend John Fawcett (1739–1817), an English Baptist (Sims, 48–49).

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2 Rising was only about thirty-five years old when he perished, along with some eighty-five other passengers and crew, in the 4 December collision of the Ohio River steamboats America and United States. He had been on a tour of official duty as financial secretary of the American Church Missionary Society. Although news of the disaster appeared early and often in the New York newspapers, including telegraphic reports the next day, Rising was not identified as among the fatalities until 10 December, when the Tribune described him as “a clergym[a]n of marked devotion to his work, and one who, during the last few years, has become very widely known by his successful efforts to awaken interest in the field of domestic missions. He was about 30 years of age, and unmarried, of exceedingly pleasing manners, and one whose place cannot easily be supplied.” Clemens may not have learned of Rising’s death until a memorial service in Brooklyn was reported on 18 December (“Dreadful Disaster on the Ohio River,” New York Evening Post, 5 Dec 68, 3; New York Tribune: “The Ohio River Steamboat Disaster,” 10 Dec 68, 5; “The Ohio River Disaster,” 17 Dec 68, 2; “The Ohio Steamboat Disaster—Memorial Meeting,” 18 Dec 68, 5; Annual Cyclopaedia 1868, 583–84; L1, 354 n. 3).

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3 First published as “Washoe.—‘Information Wanted’” in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise sometime in early May 1864 (ET&S1, 365–71, 742–46). Mark Twain referred to Rising, by name, as “our Episcopalian minister,” who had “done as much as any man among us to redeem this community from its pristine state of semi-barbarism” (ET&S1, 369).

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4 Rising could have seen either of two Tribune announcements, on 2 and 5 November, that Clemens was staying at the Everett House (“The City,” New York Tribune, 2 Nov 68, 8, and 5 Nov 68, 5).

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5 The words and music of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, were written in 1792 by Rouget de Lisle. Robert Burns’s “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonie Doon,” a paean to the River Doon, was possibly the most popular of his songs; it was first published in 1792, set to a tune composed by James Miller in the style of a traditional Scots air (Lindsay, 73). The Christmas carol “Kings of Orient” was written and composed in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, rector of Christ’s Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; its connection with Emily Severance is not known (Dearmer, Williams, and Shaw, 451–54). The last song mentioned was probably “Prodigal,” written by Ananias Davisson and published in his 1820 Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (Harrisonburg, Va.):

Afflictions, tho’ they seem severe,

Are oft in mercy sent;

They stopt the prodigal’s career

And caused him to repent,

Altho’ he no relenting felt

Till he had spent his store;

His stubborn heart began to melt

When famine pinch’d him sore.

(George Pullen Jackson, 80–81)

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6 Anna E. Dickinson (1842–1932), a lecturer and author, was a good friend of the Langdons’, with whom she sometimes stayed while lecturing or visiting in Elmira. Born in Philadelphia to a family of poor Quaker abolitionists, by the age of seventeen she was speaking publicly in defense of both abolition and women’s rights. At twenty-three she formally entered the lyceum circuit, where she immediately became the most successful woman in the field, earning $200 a night by 1868. Clemens was correct in his fear that she would not approve of him: she later termed him a “vulgar boor” (Chester, 10, 12, 15–18, 292; Higginson, 54; James Harvey Young, 40–41).

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7 Probably Lewis Leland (1834–97), whom Clemens said on 29 December either was, or was soon to become, “proprietor” of New York’s Metropolitan Hotel, long owned and managed by the Leland family business, Simeon Leland and Company (29 Dec 68 to Langdon; H. Wilson 1868, 634; advertisement, New York Evening Post, 8 Dec 68, 3). Leland had entered the hotel business in 1847 at the Clinton House in New York City (ET&S2, 49, 367; New York Times: “Lewis Leland Retires,” 9 May 89, 2; “Died,” 21 Dec 97, 7; San Francisco City and County 1867, s.v. “Leland, Lewis”).

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8 Unidentified. Clemens may have meant to write “Bell-Ringers.”

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9 Harriet Lewis (later Paff) was the daughter of Mrs. Langdon’s brother, who had moved from New York to Illinois in the 1840s; she was about the same age as Olivia. In the spring of 1868 she came from her home in Ottawa, Illinois, for a year-long visit with the Langdons, during which time she became Olivia’s—and later Clemens’s—confidante (Paff, 1; SLC to OLL, 12 Jan 69, CU-MARK; SLC to Mary Mason Fairbanks, 10 May 69, CSmH, in MTMF, 94–98). In an 1897 reminiscence, she explained that Olivia

had felt sensitive all the time about the public knowing that she was the object of Mr. C’s attentions and would be until she could come to a decision, therefore when guests came or when we were out together Mr. C. and I appeared to be devoted to each other, and unlikely as it may seem, we did succeed in deceiving people, much to the amusement of us all. (Paff, 5)

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10 The entire letter was written in pencil.

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11 Clemens’s hosts in Fort Plain, New York, were George W. Elliott (1830–98) and his wife, the former Mary Bowen. Clemens had known Elliott since sometime in late 1867, when he may have been invited to lecture in Fort Plain (9 Jan 68 to JLC and PAM, n. 1). Elliott, who began his career in journalism on the Rochester (N.Y.) American, was now an associate editor of the Mohawk Valley Register (Diabolis, no page). In addition, he had a reputation as a poet:

His best known production is “Bonny Eloise, the Belle of the Mohawk Vale,” which has become the song of the Valley. It is said he composed the words to this popular melody while on a railroad journey from New York to Fort Plain, addressing his song to his sweetheart, Mary Bowen (with a change of name). The work bears [a] copyright date of 1858 and J. R. Thomas was the composer of the plaintively sweet melody to which Mr. Elliott’s words are sung. “Bonny Eloise” was a favorite air played by the military bands of both the North and South during the Civil war. (Greene, 2:1739)

One week after Clemens’s visit Elliott wrote this account of his arrival:

As the eastward bound express train halted at this station, in that glorious flood of sunlight of last Saturday afternoon, there stepped from the drawing-room car a little merry-eyed, curly-headed, intelligent-looking gentleman, whose age is hardly thirty-five. From one of his overcoat pockets peeped out a copy of Dickens’ “Old Curiosity Shop;” and from the other, as he walked along chatting with a friend, he drew and leisurely shelled and ate a handful of peanuts. This was Mr. Samuel L. Clemens, familiarly known to the reading public as “Mark Twain,” and acknowledged, wherever the English language is spoken, as par excellence the “Humorist of America.” With his calm self-possession and winning geniality of manner, added to a slight “Down East” accent, he is the impersonation of the shrewd, fun-loving, genuine “live Yankee.” . . .

We have an unwavering faith in “Mark Twain.” We count upon his success as confidently as upon the coming of an expected comet. (Elliott, 3)

Of Clemens’s lecture Elliott observed: “Mr. Clemens . . . drew upon the passive minds of his listeners pictures as strongly lined and as indelible as the memory of a delicious dream” (Elliott, 3).

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12 Clemens had probably met Peter Joseph Wagner (1795–1884), a representative from New York in the Twenty-sixth Congress (1839–41). Born in Montgomery County, Wagner moved to Fort Plain at the age of ten, graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1819, and, except for his term in Congress, practiced law continuously in Fort Plain until his retirement in 1873. He and his wife, Margaret, had two daughters: Gozina, aged about twenty-three, and Caroline, aged about twenty-two (Minden Census, 287).

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13 Pamela’s letter has not been found.

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14 An amalgam of “the sightless couriers of the air” (Macbeth, act 1, scene 7, line 23), “the viewless wings of poesy” (John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale,” line 33), and “the viewless spirit of the tempest” (Sir Walter Scott, The Pirate, chapter 6). Clemens had used the phrase at least once before, in 1863 (see ET&S1, 290).

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

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L2, 333–339; MFMT, 22–23, excerpt.

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

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

A[partly formed; possibly N]

teach • teach | teach [corrected miswriting]

book.} • [bracket possibly inserted]

choir.” And • choir.”— |And [period possibly a comma]

live life • liov ve

Kings • [possibly kKings’]

consequence • conse-| quence quence [corrected miswriting]

together. Scold • together.— |Scold

there • there | there

eye • eye eye [corrected miswriting]

m[partly formed]

you. Already • you.— |Already

W Mich. I • W.— |Mich [‘W’ partly formed and doubtful]

midnight • mid-|night

rel recollect • relcollect