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Add to My CitationsTo William Dean Howells
4 May 1876 • Hartford, Conn.
(MS: NN-BGC, UCCL 02502)
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May 4.

My Dear Howells:

I shall reach Boston on Monday the 8th either at 4. 30 P.M. or 6 P.M., (which is best?) (wWhich is best?) & go straight to Parker’s. If you & Mrs. Howells cannot be there by half past 4, I’ll not plan to arrive till the later train-time (6), because I don’t want to be there alone—even a minute. Still, Joe Twichell is will doubtless go with me (forgot that,)—is going to try hard to. Mrs. Clemens has given up going, because Susie is just recovering from about the savagest assault of diphtheria a child ever did recover from, & therefore will not be entirely her healthy self again by the 8th.

Would you & Mrs. Howells like to invite Mr. & Mrs. Aldrich ? I have a large proscenium box—plenty of room. Use your own pleasure about it—I mainly (that is honest,) suggest it because I am seeking to make matters pleasant for you & Mrs. Howells. I invited Twichell because I thought I knew you’d like that. I want you to try fix it so that you & the madam can remain in Boston all night; for I leave next day & we can’t have a talk, other wise. I am going to get two rooms & a parlor; & would like to know what you decide about the Aldrich’s in so as to know whether to apply for an additional bedroom or not.

Don’t dine that evening, for I shall arrive dinnerless & need your help.1

I’ll bring my Blindfold Novelette, but shan’t exhibit it unless you exhibit yours. You would simply go to work & write a novelette that would make mine sick. Because you would know all about where my weak points lay. No, sir, I’m one of these old wary birds!

Don’t bother to write a letter—3 lines on a postal card is all that I can permit from a busy man.

Yrs Ever


P.S.—Good! You’ll left white bracket[ over ]right white bracket not have to feel any call to mention that debut in the Atlantic—they’ve made me pay the grand cash for my box!—a thing which most managers would be too worldly-wise to do, with journalistic [folks. But] I’m most honestly glad, for I’d rather pay three prices, any time, than to have my tongue half paralyzed with a dead-head ticket.

Hang that Anna Dickinson, a body never can depend upon her debuts! She has made five or six false starts already. If she fails to debut this time, I will never bet on her again.2

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 Howells replied (CU-MARK):
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On 8 May Howells and Thomas Bailey Aldrich shared Clemens’s box at Boston’s Globe Theatre, but it is not known if their wives accompanied them. Neither Olivia Clemens nor Joseph H. Twichell attended. Twichell canceled in a letter to Clemens that morning, pleading the imminent arrival of house guests (see 12 and 14 May 76 to Howells, n. 2). Clemens returned to Hartford at midday on 10 May (Twichell to SLC, 8 May 76, CU-MARK; Lilly Warner to George Warner, 9 May 76,10 May 76, CU-MARK).

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2 Anna Dickinson’s debut as Anne Boleyn received mixed reviews from the Boston press and decidedly negative ones from “special reporters” sent from New York:

The Boston Post is full of praise, and says that, barring a few petty defects, the debut was “a magnificent success.” The Advertiser with its best wishes does not consider the play a success. It is too condensed, and there is a tendency to sacrilege in the title, “Crown of Thorns.” The Herald says she has safely passed the ordeal, and the debut was a great success. The Globe thinks that more time must be taken to judge her fairly, and that a first appearance is no criterion, especially where she is evidently unfamiliar with the stage, and embarrassed by her surroundings. The Journal says she has the elements of success, but must cast away a good many of her present ways and notions. The Transcript calls it a real success. The Traveller thinks she has much to learn, in order to succeed, but that she will surely learn it.

The New York papers incline to show that sentiment that they have been heard to express for what is outside of New York. They avoid praise. The Tribune says the piece is tedious. “Its scenes come over like the paddle wheels of a steamboat and are cut off at the caprice of the man at the wheel,” whatever that may mean. The World thinks she acted moderately well, but had a poor play. The Times, bitter throughout, says she “won no laurels as a playwright and her impersonation must be accounted a failure.” The Sun thinks she has not had sufficient dramatic training and has hurt her voice lecturing. The Herald thinks she has yet to learn the rudiments of acting. (“Miss Dickinson’s Debut,” Hartford Courant, 10 May 76, 1)

On 9 May Howells wrote Augustin Daly: “I went with Clemens to see poor Miss Dickinson make her début. It was sorrowfully bad, the acting, and the heaps of cut flowers for the funeral only made the gloom heavier” (Joseph Francis Daly 1917,233). Clemens’s 10 May account of the play was reported by his neighbor Lilly Warner, in an 11 May letter to her husband, George (CU-MARK):

Mr. Clemens brought a pretty poor report of Anna’s acting— He agrees entirely with the Boston Advertiser in its report—only thinks it hardly severe enough! He says her voice was the worst thing—dreadful a squeal & a shriek—& that her gestures were awkward her walk bad, & that she scolded a good part of the time—her dresses, though magnificent, unbecoming—& her face old—“never so old.” Oh dear—he did not see her at all to speak to her, did not wish to. I think he over stated everything, in his way—so many good things are said of her. He thinks her play fine—“almost great”—& he says she began delightfully—the opening scene was that with the love letter—& that 3 other love scenes were exquisitely, remarkably done—but in everything else she failed.

He thinks it the greatest mistake that she didn’t begin low, & spend a year or more in practise, not trying to be anything or anybody—says she must do it now—to succeed—& then he thinks she will.

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