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Add to My CitationsTo William Dean Howells
9 August 1876 • Elmira, N.Y.
(MS: NN-BGC, UCCL 02503)
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Elmira, Aug. 9.

My Dear Howells:

I was just about to write you, when your letter came—& not on one of those obscene postal cards, either, but reverently, upon paper.1

I shall read that biography, though the letter of acceptance was amply sufficient to corral my vote without any further knowledge of the man.2 Which reminds me that a campaign club in Jersey City wrote a few days ago & invited me to be present at the raising of a Tilden & Hendricks flag there & take the stand & give them some “counsel.” Well, I could not go, but gave them counsel & advice by letter, & in the kindliest terms as to the raising of the flag—advised them “not to raise it.”

Get your book out quick, for this is a momentous time. If Tilden is elected I think the entire country will go pretty straight to the bad Mrs. Howells’s bad place.

I am infringing on your patent—I started a record of our children’s sayings, last night. Which reminds me that last week I sent down & got Susie a vast pair of shoes of a most villainous pattern, for I discovered that her feet were being twisted & cramped out of shape by a smaller & prettier article. She did not complain, but looked only degraded & injured. At night her mamma gave her the usual advice caretadmonitioncaret when she was about to say her prayers—to-wit:

“Now, Susie—think about God.”

“Mamma, I can’t, with these shoes.”3

The farm is perfectly delightful, this season. It is as quiet & peaceful as a South-sea island. Some of the sun-sets which we have witnessed from this commanding eminence were marvelous. One evening a rainbow spanned an entire range of hills with its mighty arch, & from a black hub resting upon the hill-top under top in the exact centre, black rays diverged caretupwardcaret in perfect regularity to the rainbow’s arch & created a very strongly defined & altogether the most majestic, magnificent, & startling half-sunk wagon wheel you can imagine. After that, a world of p tumbling & prodigious clouds came drifting up out of the west & took to themselves a wonderfully rich & brilliant green color—the decided green of new spring foliage. Close by them we saw the intense blue of the skies, through rents in the cloud-rack, & away off in another quarter were drifting clouds of a delicate pink color. In one place was han hung a pall of dense black clouds, like compacted pitch-smoke. And the stupendous wagon wheel was still in the supremacy of its unspeakable grandeur. So you see, the colors present in the sky at one & the same time were blue, green, pink, black, & the [varicolored] splendors of the rainbow. All strong & decided colors, too. I don’t know whether this [wierd] & astounding spectacle most suggested heaven, or hell. The wonder, with its constant, striking, caretstately,caret & always surprising changes, lasted upwards of two hours, & we all stood on the top of our caretthecaret hill by my study till the final miracle was complete & the greatest day ended that we ever saw. [in margin: Our farmer, who is a grave man, observed watched that spectacle to the end, & then observed that it was “dam funny.”] 4

The double-barreled novel lies torpid. I found I could not go on with it. The chapters I had written were still too new & familiar to me.5 I may take it up next winter, but cannot tell yet. I waited & waited, to see if my interest in it would not revive, but gave it up a month ago & began another boys’ book—more to be at work than anything else. I have written 400 pages on it—therefore it is very nearly half done. It is Huck Finn’s Autobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have got, & may possibly [pigeon-hole] or burn the MS when it is done.

So the comedy is done, & with a “fair degree of satisfaction.” That rejoices me, & makes me mad, too—for I can’t plan a comedy, & what have you done that God should be so good to you? I have racked myself baldheaded trying to plan a comedy-harness for some promising characters of mine to work in, & had to give it up. It is a noble lot of blooded stock & worth no end of money, but they must stand in the stable & be profl itless. I want to be present when the comedy is produced, & help enjoy the [success.6

Warner’s] book is mighty readable, I think.7 Love to ye’s.

Yrs Ever

Mark.

Mrs. Clemens sends her love & warm regards to the two of you respectively. That is what I understood her to mean.


You better give that campaign book to Bliss—but don’t tell Houghton I suggested it. It’s my sentiments, though.8

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 Clemens answered the following letter (CU-MARK):
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For Howells’s “long and affectionate letter” see 12 and 14 May 76 to Howells, n. 6. Clemens’s postcard reply to it is not known to survive. Out of the Question was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly from February through May 1877 and was published in late April 1877 as a book. Howells’s Life of Abraham Lincoln had been published on 5 June 1860 by Follett, Foster and Company. His Sketch of the Life and Character of Rutherford B. Hayes was published on 15 September 1876 by Henry H. Houghton and Company. In 1875 Houghton had tried to persuade Clemens to serialize Tom Sawyer in the Atlantic Monthly before its publication as a book. Houghton had promised then, as he did again now, to forestall the newspaper reprintings that reduced magazine as well as book sales (see L6, 339–40 n. 1, 503–5; Howells 1860; Howells 1876; Howells 1877; Howells 1877; Howells 1979, 75 n. 3, 375; Howells 1979, 137 n. 1).

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2 See 6 or 7 Aug 76 to McDermott.

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3 Clemens included this incident in “A Record of The Small Foolishnesses of Susie & ‘Bay’ Clemens (Infants.),” which he continued to compile through 7 June 1885 (SLC 1876–85, 21).

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4 John T. Lewis (1835–1906), born in Carroll County, Maryland, where he lived as a black freeman, had settled in Elmira in 1864. He worked as a coachman for Jervis Langdon, then as a blacksmith, and was now the tenant farmer at Quarry Farm (Thomasson 1985, 17, 19).

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5 Possibly the unidentified work Clemens had begun in November 1875 (see L6, 585 n. 9).

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6 Out of the Question was never produced (Howells 1960, 34; Howells 1979, 206).

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7 Mummies and Moslems.

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8 Sales of the biography of Hayes did not meet Howells’s expectations (see 11 Oct 76 to Howells, n. 1).



glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, NN-BGC.

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph MTL, 1:281–83; MTHL, 1:143–45.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphSee Howells Letters in Description of Provenance.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph


varicolored • vari-ǀcolored

wierd • [sic]

pigeon-hole • pigeon-ǀhole

success. [¶] Warner’s • success.—ǀ[¶] Warner’s