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Add to My Citations To William Bowen
6 February 1870 • Buffalo, N.Y.
(MS and transcript: TxU and CU-MARK, UCCL 02464)
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c

Sunday Afternoon,0
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceAt Home, 472 Delaware Avenue,
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceBuffalo Feb. [6,] [1870.]

My First, & Oldest & Dearest Friend,

My heart goes out to you just the same as [ever!] Your letter has stirred me to the bottom.1 The fountains of my great deep are broken up & I have rained reminiscences for four & twenty hours.2 The old life has swept before me like a panorama; the old days have trooped by in their old glory, [again;] the old faces have looked out of the mists of the past; old footsteps have sounded in my listening ears; old hands have clasped mine, old voices have greeted me, & the songs I loved ages & ages ago have come wailing down the centuries! Heavens what eternities have swung their hoary cycles about us since those days were new!—What Since we tore down Dick Hardy’s stable; since you had the measles & I went to your house purposely to catch them; since Henry Beebe kept that envied [slaughter-house], & Joe Craig sold him cats to kill in it; since old General Gaines used to say, “Whoop! Bow your neck & spread!;” since Jimmy [Finn] was town drunkard & we stole his dinner while he slept in the vat & fed it to the hogs in order to keep them still till we could mount them & have a ride; since Clint Levering was drowned; since we taught that one-legged nigger, Higgins, to offend Bill League’s dignity by hailing him in [publici ] with his exasperating “Hello, League!”—since we used to undress & play Robin Hood wi in our shirt-tails, with lath swords, in the woods on Holliday’s Hill on those long summer days; since we used to go in swimming above the still-house branch—& at mighty intervals wandered on vagrant o fishing excursions clear up to “the Bay,” & wondered what was curtained away in the great world beyond that remote point;3 since I jumped overboard from the ferry boat in the middle of the river that stormy day to get my hat, & swam two or three miles after it (& got it,) while all the town collected on the wharf & for an hour or so looked out across the angry waste of “white‐caps” toward where people said Sam. Clemens was last seen before he went down; since we got up a mutiny rebellion against Miss Newcomb, under Ed. Stevens’ leadership, (to force her to let us all go over to Miss Torry’s side of the schoolroom,) & gallantly “sassed” Laura Hawkins when she came out the third time to call us in, & then afterward marched in caretincaret threatening & bloodthirsty [array,]& meekly yielded, & took each his little thrashing, [& resumed] his old seat entirely “reconstructed;” since we used to indulge in that very peculiar performance on that old bench outside the [school-house] to drive good old Bill Brown crazy while he was eating his dinner; since we used to remain at school at noon & go hungry, in order to persecute Bill Brown in all possible ways—poor old Bill, who could be driven to such extremity of vindictiveness as to call us “You infernal fools!” & chase us round & round the school-house—& yet who never had the heart to hurt us when he caught us, & who always loved us & always took our part when the big boys wanted to thrash us; since we used to lay in wait for Bill Pitts at the pump & whale him; (I saw him two or three years ago, & I was awful polite to his six feet two, & mentioned no reminiscences); since we used to be in Dave Garth’s class in Sunday school & on week-days stole his leaf tobacco to run our miniature tobacco presses with; since Owsley shot Smar; since Ben Hawkins shot off his finger; since we accidentally burned up that poor fellow in the calaboose; since we used to shoot spool cannons;, & cannons made of keys, while that envied & hated Henry Beebe drowned out our poor little pop-guns with his booming brazen little artillery on wheels; since Laura Hawkins was my [sweetheart——————] 4

Hold! That rouses me out of my dream, & brings me violently back unto this day & this generation. For behold I have at this moment the only sweetheart I ever loved, & bless her old heart she is lying asleep upstairs in a bed that I sleep in every night, & for four whole days she has been Mrs. Samuel L. Clemens! 5

I am 34 & she is 24; I am young & very handsome (I make the statement with the fullest confidence, for I got it from her,) & she is much the most beautiful girl I ever saw (I said that before she was anything to me, & so it is worthy of all belief) & she is the best girl, & the sweetest, & the gentlest, & the daintiest, & the most modest & unpretentious, & the wisest in all things she should be wise in & the most ignorant in all matters it would not grace her to know, & she is sensible & quick, & loving & faithful, forgiving, full of charity—& her beautiful life is ordered by a religion that is all kindliness & unselfishness. Before the gentle majesty of her purity all evil things & evil ways & evil deeds stand abashed,—then surrender. Wherefore without effort, or struggle, or spoken exorcism, all the old vices & shameful habits that have possessed me these many many years, are falling away, one by one, & departing into the darkness.

Bill, I know whereof I speak. I am too old & have moved about too much, & rubbed against too many people not to know human beings as well as we used to know “boils” from “[breaks.”] 6

She is the very most perfect gem of womankind that ever I saw in my life—& I will stand by that remark till I die.

William, old boy, her father surprised us a little, the other night. We all arrived here in a night train (my little wife & I were going to board,) & under pretense of taking us to the private boarding house that had been selected for me while I was absent lecturing in New England, my new father-in-law & some old friends drove us in sleighs to the [daintiest,] darlingest, loveliest little palace in America—& when I said “Oh, this [won’t do]—people who can afford to live in this sort of style won’t take boarders,” that same blessed father-in-law let out the secret that this was all our property—a present from [himself.] House & furniture cost $40,000 in cash, (including stable, horse & carriage), & is a most exquisite little palace (I saw no apartment in Europe so lovely as our little drawing-room.)

Come along, you & Mollie,7 just whenever you can, & pay us a visit, (giving us a little notice [beforehand],) & if we don’t make you comfortable nobody in the world can.

[{And] now caretmycaret princess has come down for dinner (bless me, isn’t it cosy, nobody but just us two, & three servants to wait on us & respectfully call us “Mr.” and “Mrs. Clemens” instead of “Sam.” & “Livy!”) It took me many a year to work up to where I can put on style, but now I’ll do [it. My] book gives me an income like a small lord, & my paper is not a good [ po profitable] concern.8

Dinner’s ready. Good bye & g God bless you, old friend, & keep your heart fresh & your memory green for the old days that will never come again.

Yrs always

Sam. Clemens.

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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0This letter also appears in the Mark Twain Library series in Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer among the Indians, and Other Unfinished Stories.

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1 A year younger than Clemens, Bowen was his closest boyhood friend and partner in mischief. The two were Mississippi riverboat pilots together between 1859 and 1861, then were estranged for five years after a misunderstanding about Bowen’s repayment of a two-hundred-dollar loan, and a clash over his prosecession views at the onset of the Civil War. Clemens made his peace with Bowen, who eventually became a pilot for the North during the war, in letters of 7 May and 25 August 1866 (L1, 338–41, 357–60). After leaving the river in September 1868, Bowen joined the Hannibal insurance firm of his brother-in-law, Moses P. Green. By March 1870 he had moved to St. Louis, where he was employed by the Phoenix Insurance Company. Subsequently he established his own agency there before relocating to Austin, Texas, around 1880 (Hornberger, 7; Bowen to SLC, 31 Mar 70, CU-MARK). Clemens based Tom Sawyer partly on Bowen and also used him as the model for Joe Harper in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (for more details of Clemens’s friendship with Bowen and his family see L1, passim, and Inds, 303–6).

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2 Genesis 7:11: “the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”

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3 Holliday’s Hill, which became Cardiff Hill in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, overlooked the Mississippi River, just north of Hannibal, and was probably named for the family that owned it; the “still-house branch” was a stream that emptied into the Mississippi near Holliday’s Hill, furnishing water for a Hannibal distillery; the Bay de Charles was a large inlet on the Mississippi some two miles above Hannibal (Inds, 269, 325).

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4 The Hannibal acquaintances mentioned in this passage were: Richard Hardy, an artist and sign painter; Henry Beebe, a schoolboy bully; Joe Craig, son of a tanyard owner; “General” Gaines, a town drunkard; James Finn (d. 1845), another town drunkard and the prototype for Huck Finn’s father; Clint Levering (1837?–47); Higgins, a slave owned by the family of Clemens’s Sunday School teacher, David J. Garth (1822–1912), a prosperous tobacconist in Hannibal in the 1850s and later nationally; William T. League (1832–70), Clemens’s fellow apprentice printer at the Hannibal Missouri Courier, who in 1851 helped found the Hannibal Whig Messenger and in 1853 purchased Orion Clemens’s Hannibal Journal; Mary Ann Newcomb (1809–94), whose Select School Clemens attended; Edmund C. Stevens (b. 1834?), a classmate and then, in 1861, a member of the Marion Rangers, the feckless band of would-be Confederate volunteers Clemens joined briefly before decamping for Nevada Territory; Miss Torrey (or Torry), a teacher at Mary Ann Newcomb’s school; Anna Laura Hawkins, Clemens’s first sweetheart, and her older brother Benjamin (see 6? Feb 70 to Frazer); William Lee Brown (1831?–1903), whom Clemens later remembered as having drawn attention by being much larger, and also older, than his classmates; William R. Pitts (b. 1832?), who became a prosperous harness maker and saddler and in 1870 helped found a Hannibal bank; William Perry Owsley (b. 1813) and Sam Smarr (1788?–1845), a merchant and a farmer, respectively, who in 1845 figured in a Hannibal street murder that became the basis of the Sherburn-Boggs incident in chapter 21 of Huckleberry Finn; and Dennis McDermid, who died in 1853 in a fire he accidentally started in the Hannibal “calaboose,” where he was imprisoned, using matches Clemens had given to him. For further biographical detail about these individuals and Clemens’s literary uses of them, see Inds, 299–351.

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5 Olivia’s sense of those first four days is preserved in the following letter to her parents (CtHMTH):
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Clemens was at the Lafayette Street Presbyterian Church, which he and Olivia attended regularly during their first few months in Buffalo (13 Feb 70 to Fairbanks; 19 June 70 to the Langdons; Reigstad 1990, 1–2). Mentioned by Olivia: domestics Ellen White and Harriet, the former a Langdon family servant who, according to Olivia’s cousin Hattie Lewis, was “installed as housekeeper” (Paff, 7), but also seems to have been the cook; coachman Patrick McAleer (1846–1906), who served the Clemenses almost without interruption until 1891; four of the remaining Langdon household staff (Laura, Mary Crossey, Mary Green, Mrs. Barnes); Emma Sayles; John D. F. Slee; Eunice Ford; Susan and Theodore Crane; and, possibly, Anna Marsh Brown (16 Apr 70 to Crane; 11 June 70 to White; MTB, 1:396; 15 May 72 and 10 June 74, both to OC and MEC, CU-MARK; 26–27? July 72 to MEC, CU-MARK; “Coachman Many Years for Mark Twain,” Hartford Courant, 26 Feb 1906, 6).

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6 A boil is a turbulent swirl or eddy in a river. A break, which looks like a streak on the water’s surface, is an ominous sign of a snag or other submerged obstacle (Inds, 269).

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7 Mary Cunningham Bowen (d. 1873), Bowen’s first wife. They had been married since 1857 (Inds, 305).

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8 See 28 Jan 70 to Bliss, n. 2.



glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin (TxU), is copy-text where extant; a photocopy of TS, a transcription typed by William Bowen and sent to his friend Albert Richardson Gunnison on 31 May 1887, is copy-text for the remainder. Even where MS survives, however, it has deteriorated, the paper is discolored, and the ink is faded in places to illegibility or near illegibility. Where the MS is extant but illegible, the Bowen TS serves as a source for emended readings. The TS was made on an all-capitals typewriter and shows a number of typographical quirks (intermittent failure to space words after punctuation, letters typed over each other, portions of words canceled at the ends of lines when there was not enough room to complete the word). Where TS serves as copy-text, the capital letters are silently rendered as lowercase except for “I,” proper names and titles, place names, and words at the beginning of sentences. In addition, the strictly typographical quirks described above are not recorded. All other emendations are listed below.

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L4, 50–55; In 1989, before the Bowen TS was discovered, the Mark Twain Project published a text in Inds, 20–23, which was based in part on three transcripts: a typed transcription at CtHMTH, and two published transcriptions, SLC 1938, 8–10, and SLC 1941, 18–21. All derive directly or indirectly from the Bowen TS.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphThe surviving MS was donated to TxU in the summer of 1940 by Eva Laura Bowen (Mrs. Louis Knox), daughter of William Bowen (Hornberger, 7 n. 12, 10). A photocopy of William Bowen’s TS was given to the Mark Twain Papers in 1993 by Gunnison’s granddaughters, Barbara Gunnison Anderson, Alberta Gunnison Stock, and Marion Gunnison Weygers.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph MS is copy-text for ‘ c . . . back’ (50.1–51.26) TS is copy-text for ‘unto . . . father-in-law’ (51.27–52.19) MS is copy-text for ‘let out . . . Clemens.’ (52.19–37)


6, • 6[white diamond] [ink faded and paper discolored]

1870. (TS) • [white diamondwhite diamond]70[.] [ink faded and paper discolored]

ever! (TS) • ever[white diamond] [faded]

again; • again; [doubtful canceled question mark]

slaughter-house • slaughter-ǀhouse

Finn • Finn Finn [corrected miswriting]

publici[i partly formed]

array,— • [deletion implied]

& resumed • & & resumed

school-house • school-ǀhouse

sweetheart—————— • sweetheart——— ǀ ———

breaks.” • breaks”.

daintiest, • daintiestcaret

won’t do • wont do

himself. • himself. [period over doubtful, unrecovered character]

beforehand • before-ǀhand

{And • [no closing bracket]

it. My • it.— ǀ My

po profitable • porofitable