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Add to My CitationsTo William B. Franklin
28 April 1876 • Hartford, Conn.
(MS, in pencil: CU-MARK, UCCL 01328)
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Hartford April 27th 1876.

Mr. Clemens,

Dear Sir,

Referring to the “Loan of a Lover,” which I understand is to be repeated tonight:—

Would it be possible to render your part with reasonable and satisfactory effect without using a word of such rectangular and severe orthodoxy as “damned”? Do you think cultured and intelligent Christian people would be shocked if you should dare to omit it? Would it be possible to substitute some other, without essentially weakening the piece and disgusting the audience? I fear not, for I noticed that this word was especially approved by them last night, and I presume it should be adhered to. I admit that all the plays I have chanced to hear, in my limited experience, contain this word or its equivalent, as the climax of eloquence and the soul of wit. It is frequently received with applause, and is probably indispensable to a decent public manifestation.

I crave pardon for my impertinence, and should doubtless be ashamed of my scruples.

I would not however be thought so foolish as to wince at anything in the after-piece. The question, asked and re-asked, “Who the devil are you”? is of course entirely prudent and moderate,—“the devil” not being interjected to exalt the sentence, but the purpose of the enquirer being to ascertain which devil is before him;—a legitimate purpose truly.

Yours with profound respect,

H. B. Langdon.1

Dear General:—

They say that this pilgrim (who is a stranger to me,) works for you in your insurance Company. Do you know him? Is he in earnest?—or is he merely ill-bred enough to venture upon facetious impertinences with people who have not the humiliation of his acquaintance, under the delusion that he is conveying a gratification? This mess of pious “rot” was handed to me Dr. Wainwright early yesterday evening with the earnest request that I should read it before going on the stage—a request which I didn’t comply with, I beeing too wise for that.2

Please return this holy idiot’s letter to me—shall have literary use for it one of these days.

Thought I detected your welcome face on the back seats the other night, but couldn’t discover Mrs. Franklin’s.3

Ys sincerely

S. L. Clemens

Mrs. Clemens says she saw Mrs. Franklin & hailed her. I’m glad. Mrs. C. she holds Mr. H. B. Langdon’s views, too. That’s just like a woman’s logic! I haven’t said a word against the man’s views—I’m only objecting to his impertinence in shoving them upon my notice. I don’t care what the man’s views are—it’s a free country.4

Explanatory Notes

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1 The Hartford Courant did not share Langdon’s reservations:

The Amateur Theatricals.

It may safely be said that there has never been given in Hartford a more thoroughly satisfactory amateur entertainment than that last evening at the Dramatic hall. It was in every way a success. To the majority of people at all familiar with private theatricals, the “Loan of a Lover” is a play well known and favorite, but not the “Loan of a Lover” that was given last night. The report that Mr. Clemens had rewritten the play was not correct and yet not altogether wrong. He had in fact rewritten merely the part of Peter Spyk, the Dutch farmer, whose obtuseness is an interesting feature of the original. But as thus amended and acted by Mr. Clemens, the fellow is not incidentally stupid; he is the model blockhead, irresistible in the comicalities that his stupidity leads him into, and wandering in the course of the vagaries incident to his dull mind through a series of mental processes that fairly convulsed the audience without breaking up the continuity of the graceful play as it was originally written. This was Mr. Clemens’s first appearance on the stage, but it was one to congratulate him heartily upon. The rest of the actors also did admirably. It is seldom the case anywhere, least of all in amateur theatricals, that there is not a weak spot only too easy to find in the cast of a play, but this was capital without exception, and the effort to make comparisons would be as difficult as it would be ungracious. The music, broken as the play is by frequent songs, was a peculiar attraction, but of Mr. Clemens’s fitness for the opera, as well as for the unsung drama, this is perhaps not the place to speak.

The after piece of “Turn Him Out” was also capitally given, and kept the house in a roar of laughter.

The whole entertainment was heartily enjoyed throughout. The audience was as large as the hall could hold, and was select and enthusiastically appreciative. (27 Apr 76, 2)

Of Clemens’s performance on Thursday, 27 April, the Courant remarked: “Mr. Clemens’s second appearance was even more satisfactory, if possible, than his first entry upon the stage on Wednesday evening, and certainly both performances have been exceedingly creditable” (“The Amateur Stage,” 28 Apr 76, 2). Annie Fields, who attended the second performance with her husband (see 26 Apr 76 to Howells,n. 6), noted in her diary that

Mr. Clemens’ part was a creation. I see no reason why, if he chose to adopt the profession of actor, he should not be as successful as Jefferson in whatever he might conclude to undertake. It is really amazing to see what a man of genius can do beside what is usually considered his legitimate sphere. (Howe 1922, 247; see 29 Apr 76 to White, n. 2)

(Joseph Jefferson (1829–1905) was one of the leading comic actors of the American stage, renowned for the naturalism of his performances.) Another observer, William W. Ellsworth (1855–1936), who later became a prominent New York publisher, author, and lecturer, admired Clemens’s ability but disapproved of its expression. In 1919, in A Golden Age of Authors, he recalled:

We had an amateur dramatic company in Hartford, of which I became a member, and Mark Twain acted with it once. April 26, 1876, is the date of his first appearance on the dramatic stage. He took the part of the gardener, Peter Spyk, in the “Loan of a Lover,” and the lady I afterwards married was Gertrude. Unfortunately I had no part in the play—unfortunately is a word I can use looking back upon it now, but at the time those of us who were not in the “Loan of a Lover” counted ourselves as fortunate, for our star developed, early in the performance, a propensity to go on with his talk after the other person’s cue came. He would put in lines, which, while very funny to those on the other side of the footlights, were decidedly embarrassing to his fellow actors. At one point I remember he began to tell the audience about the tin roof which he had just put on an ell of his new house and rambled on for a while, ending up that particular gag by asking Gertrude, very much to her embarrassment, if she had ever put a tin roof on her house.

Mark Twain was an actor—there was no doubt of that—and Augustin Daly wanted the company to appear under New York limelights, but its members were too modest. (Ellsworth 1919, 222–23)

Ellsworth’s future wife, Helen Yale Smith, was the female lead in The Loan of a Lover and also appeared in Turn Him Out (see 22 Apr 76 to Howells, n. 1). For Daly’s invitation, see 4 May 76 to Daly.

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2 Franklin (1823–1903), a West Point graduate with an undistinguished record as a Civil War battlefield commander, was vice-president and general manager of the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company and a director of the National Fire Insurance Company, both in Hartford. H. B. Langdon was an employee of the latter firm (see note 4). For Wainwright, see 22 Apr 76 to Howells, n. 1 (Geer 1875, 70, 96, 191, 296; Trumbull 1886, 1:569).

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3 The former Annie L. Clark. She had been married to Franklin since 1852.

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4 Franklin replied (CU-MARK):
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The secretary of the National Fire Insurance Company was James Nichols (Geer 1875, 191).

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, in pencil, CU-MARK.

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glyphglyphProvenance:glyphSee Mark Twain Papers in Description of Provenance.