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Add to My CitationsTo David Watt Bowser
20 March 1880 • Hartford, Conn.
(MS: TxU-Hu, UCCL 01772)
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〚Don’t you let any of this private
letter get into print, old fellow.〛

figure slc/mt em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spacefarmington avenue, hartford.

March 20, 1880.

My Dear Master Bowser:

I haven’t read the composition, yet—I have only read your letter. I find it isn’t wise for ordinary folks to have two interests in their minds at once, else neither of them will get more than a weak & divided attention. left white bracketThis is a marvelously wretched pen, & I will change it. I wrote all day yesterday with it on the fifteenth chapter of a story for boys entitled “The Little Prince & the Little Pauper,”—laid in the time of Edward VI of England—so it is time to change. And speaking of that book, if you will drop me a reminder, say about next New Year’s, I will send you the first copy of it that is printed〛

Would I be a boy again? I will answer:

1. Without any modifying stipulations at all, but just simply be a boy again and start fresh? NO!

2. I have almost always been happy, & singularly usually fortunate. This has been my case, both as boy & man. There is not a cheerfuller person in the world, today, than I am. I have not the slightest fault to find with my lot. Yet I have no desire to live my life over again. I really am not able to tell why, for I don’t know the reasons myself, but that is the way I feel about it.

2. Would I live it over again under certain conditions? Certainly I would! The main condition would be that I should emerge from boyhood as a cub pilot” on a Mississippi boat, & that I should by & by become a pilot, & remain one. The minor conditions would be these: Summer always; the magnolias at Rifle Point always in bloom, so that the dreamy twilight should have the added charm of their perfume; the oleanders on the “coast” always in bloom, likewise; the sugar cane always green—never any “bagasse” burnings; the river always bank-full, so we could run every chu all the chutes—how heavenly that would be!—then in the foot of 63, & in a thousand other places, we should see the thick banks of young willows dipping their burde leaves into the currentless water, & we could thrash right along against them without any danger of hurting anything; & I would require a new “cut-off” to experiment on, every season—we tried one about a dozen times, one rainy night, & then had to go around, after all—but it was a noble circus while we had it; I should require that there be a dog-watch in the evening, but none in the morning—for a dog-watch in the morning is pure foolishness; I would rule out the middle watch in the night, except on moonlight nights, because it makes one feel so dreary & low-spirited & forlorn to rouse out of a pleasant sleep & go at dead midnight & go & perch away up there in the pilot house in the midst of the wide darkness, with apparently nobody alive in the deserted world but him; but the middle watch in so summer moonlit nights is a gracious time, especially if the boat steers like a duck, & friends have staid up to keep one company, & sing, & smoke, & spin yarns, and blow the whistle when other boats are met (though I remember that the unpracticed friend from the mainland never blew it right, & consequently always made a little trouble;) & I would have the trips long, & the stays in port short; & my boat should be a big dignified freight boat, that with a stately contempt for passenger-hails & a tranquil willingness to “lay up” for fog—being never in a hurry; & her crew should never change, nor ever die;—one such crew I have in mind, & can call their names & see their faces, now: but twen two decades have done therir work upon them, & half are dead, the rest scattered, & the boat’s bones are rotting five fathom deep in Madrid Bend. That is the way I would have it all. And in addition, I should require to be notiorious be notorious among speakers of the English tongue—because I should want to be invited around, a little, you know, & have nice little kindly attentions in cars & ships & other places where such things help out, you see, & keep a body from feeling homesick. And when strangers were introduced I should have them repeat “Mr. Clemens?” doubtfully, & with the rising inflection—& when they were informed that I was the celebrated “Master Pilot of the Mississippi,” & immediately took me by the hand & wrung it with effusion, & exclaimed, “O, I know that name very well!” I should feel a pleasurable emotion trickling down my spine & know I had not lived in vain.

Yes, under such conditions I would most glad[l]y “be a boy” & live this long stretch of time all over again—but not under any other conditions, Master Wattie—I mean I wouldn’t care to risk re-living my 45 years without conditions of a protective nature. It is a hundred to one that in trying to make a better job of the thing on a second trial, I should do worse than I have done this time. I don’t wish to run take stock in any such risky speculation. If you had reached the threshold of college, would you want to go back & do your schooling all over again?

Do you suppose I shall get that sixteenth chapter revised get any work done to-day if I go gossiping along much longer in this way? Certainly not. Therefore I will stop—though I had just got down to where I was about to get the hang of this subject, & experience “liberty” in the handling of it, as the preachers say.

No indeed, I have not forgotten your principal at all. She was a very little girl, with a very large spirit, a long memory, a wise head, a great appetite for books, a good mental digestion, with grave ways, & inclined to introspection—an unusual girl. How long ago it was! Another flight backward like this, & I shall begin to realize that I am cheating the cemetery.

Your friend & well-wisher

S. L. Clemens.

P.S. Now I have read your composition, & I think it is a very creditable performance. I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, & brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way, & the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff & flowers & verbosity ceep in. creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean that, utterly, but kill the most of them—then the rest will [be] valuable. They weaken when they are close together, they give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective-habit, or a wordy, diffuse, or flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

I thank you very much for the pleasant things you have said of me.

S. L. C.

P.P.S. I have been looking at your report-card, & find it remarkable. Why, I never was marked up 100 in my life, when I was a boy, except for one or two commonplace things, like Good Spelling, & Troublesomeness. You seem to be tolerably slim in the matter of History (5), but you make up for it in the other things. I notice you do not go over 100 in Absence & Tardiness; that is very good indeed; I used to strike 1,000 in those studies, sometimes, when I had my hand in. But between you & me, my boy, I can’t seem to have the fullest confidence in that diploma. The teacher’s name isn’t signed to it; nor your parents’; there haven’t been 5 months in 1880, yet; & you couldn’t carry all that load of “Deportment” at 45, let alone 12. What do you mean by such conduct as those?


Master D. W. Bowser | Dallas | Texas. | [flourish] Care Messrs. Bowser & Lemmon. | [flourish] [return address:] Return to S. L. Clemens, Hartford, Conn., if not called for. | [rule] [postmarked:] hartford conn. mar 20 6pm

Textual Commentary

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, TxU-Hu.

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyphHerzberg 1940, 2–3, partial publication; “A Letter from Mark Twain,” Houston Post, 7 February 1960; Section 7, 1; Covici 1960, 106–9; Davis 1960, 2–3.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphAs of 1960, the letters to Bowser were “in the possession of Bowser’s niece, Mrs. E. C. Stradley” and destined “for eventual deposit in the manuscript archives” at TxU (Covici 1960, 105).

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

be • be be [corrected miswriting]