〚Don’t you let any of this private
letter get into print, old fellow.〛
slc/mt farmington 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. This 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 ǀ Dallas ǀ Texas. ǀ [flourish] Care Messrs. Bowser & Lemmon. ǀ [flourish] [return address:] Return to S. L. Clemens, Hartford, Conn., if not called for. ǀ [rule] [postmarked:] hartford conn. mar 20 6pm
Emendations and textual notes:
be • be be [corrected miswriting]