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Add to My Citations To Mary Mason Fairbanks
26 and 27 November 1868 • Elmira, N.Y.
(MS: NN-B and CSmH, UCCL 02767)
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{graphic group: 1 vertical slash inline bottom}

Paradise, [Nov]

Elmira, Nov. 26.
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem space Thanksgiving Day.


My Dear Mother—

It is my thanksgiving [ D day], above all other days that ever shone on earth. Because, after twenty-four hours of persecution from me, Mr. & Mrs. L. have yielded a conditional consent—Livy has said, over & over again, the word which is so hard for a maiden to say, & if there were a church near here with a steeple high enough to make it an object I should go & jump over it. What do you think? She felt the first faint symptom Monday night Sunday, & the lecture Monday night brought the disease to the surface.1 She isn’t my sister any more—but some time in the future she is going to be my wife, & I think we shall live in Cleveland.

I think that, because I think you will persuade Mr. Fairbanks to sell me an in a living interest in the Herald on such a credit as will enable me to pay for it by lecturing & other work—for I have no relatives to borrow money of, & wouldn’t do it if I had. And then we shall live in the house next to yours. I am in earnest, now, & you must not cease your eloquence until you have made Mr. Fairbanks yield.2

I do wish you were here. You see it is a grave matter I have so suddenly sprung upon them, & they are bewildered. And yet they are (sensibly) more concerned about what I am likely to be in the future than what I have been in the past. They think you could build up their confidence—I know that is why they so wish you were here.3

Mr. L. has plenty of fun to-day, breaking in on our private drawing-room confidences under pretense of measuring the room to see if it is large enough for three.

Congratulate me, my darling Mother—(that brings the tears to your eyes & a smile of to your lips)—because you know you do congratulate me, away down in the depths of your loving heart.) And you know I am so happy that I am almost beside myself.

I touch no more spirituous liquors after this day (though I have made no promises)—I shall do no act which you or Livy might be pained to hear of—I shall [seeks ]the society of the good—I shall be a Christian. I shall climb—climb—climb—toward this bright sun that is shining in the heaven of my happiness until all that is gross & unworthy is hidden in the mists & the darkness of that lower earth whence you first lifted my ascend ascen aspiring feet. Have no fears, my mother. I shall be worthy—yet. Livy [beli[e]ves ]in me. You believe in me, too, whether you say it or not. I believe in myself. I believe in God—& through the breaking clouds I see the star of Hope rising in the placid blue beyond.

I bow my reverent head. Thy blessing, mother!

For Livy’s sake (not mine,) keep this secret from Allie, & my precious little Mollie,4 & from all. Give my cordial love to Mr. F. & all your blessed household.

Yrs in ecstasy


P.S. Write instantly, for I leave on the 1st. for Rondout5 & then Dan Slote’s.

P.S.—Friday—Dear Mother, you are to understand that we are not absolutely engaged, because of course Livy Livy would not fall in love Sunday & engage herself Thursday—she must have time to prove her heart & make sure that her love is permanent. And I must have time to settle, & create a new & better character, & prove myself in it—& I desire these things, too. That she loves me I would be a fool to doubt. That she shall continue to love me is the thing that I [must ]hope for & labor to secure.

But I must not stay here, & so I leave for New York to-night—for idle tongues will be busy with her name soon enough. I On the score of her health it is better that I should go, too—so her parents think thought, this morning, for they knew she had hardly eaten or slept for 48 hours. But she slept last night, & is not so like a lovely, peerless, radiant ghost to-day. {Laughter & applause.} She is serene & happy, to-day, & ate a roast turkey for luncheon.6 {Cheers.} And for all the old gentleman is so concerned he knows he has not been so jolly himself for months, or had such noble opportunities for poking fun at helpless people. {Hear, hear.} He makes her face [in margin: (over) over] crimson, & enjoys it. But he don’t embarrass me any to speak of. {Vociferous applause.} Mother, I verily & absolutely worship her. {Thunders of applause.} And she knows it & likes it. {[Hip—hip]—hurrah!}

Write me at once—address 121 William st., New York.7

Charley says: “All well, & father better.”

Yrs lovingly


[on back of previous page:]

[ Elmira ] 8

[centered on page:]

P.S. Please come & see the Langdons right away—they are so anxious you should. They want so much to question you about me. Won’t you?

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 According to Paine, Clemens arrived at the Langdons’ on the morning of 21 November, while the family was still at the table, and said, “The calf has returned; may the prodigal have some breakfast?” On Monday evening, 23 November, Clemens delivered “The American Vandal Abroad” at the Elmira Opera House for the benefit of a local volunteer fire company of which Charles Langdon was an active member. With Olivia and her family in the audience, Clemens was nervous enough not to give his best performance; in fact, he was so distressed that he “closed with a fervent apology for my failure” (see the next letter, and SLC to OLL, 13 and 14 Jan 69, CU-MARK, in LLMT, 49). The Elmira Advertiser commented that he “was not in good voice,” but described the lecture as “pleasing and satisfying” and “well received throughout.” On 25 November it reported that the fire company would “clear a very handsome sum from the Mark Twain Lecture of Monday evening” (MTB, 1:375; Jerome and Wisbey, 69; Elmira Advertiser: “Mark Twain and the American Vandal,” 24 Nov 68, 4; “City and Neighborhood,” 25 Nov 68, 4).

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2 For Clemens’s own account of his negotiations with Abel Fairbanks to become a partner in the Cleveland Herald, see 29 Dec 68 to Langdon.

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3 Although the Langdons had been very grateful for Charles’s friendship with Mrs. Fairbanks since at least November 1867, they evidently first met her during her week-long visit to Elmira in June 1868 (17 June 68 to Fairbanks, n. 9). Within a few days of the present letter, Mrs. Langdon wrote the following remarkable letter to Mrs. Fairbanks (ViU):

Elmira Dec 1st 1868

My dear Mrs Fairbanks

I feel drawn to write you today. I WOULD that I could see you for an hour!——In one of your ‘Holy Land’ letters which I cannot conveniently refer to now, you speak of holding your pen, (amid the multitude of things that were eager to be spoken, and perhaps the much greater number, that your own mind, desired should remain unspoken); in indecision about what to write, or where & how to begin. I do not quote your words of course.

But I by no means occupy your situation, as I have but one subject of which to speak.— —— —

By this time you have begun to anticipate of whom I am about to write; and I the more readily ask you to become our confidante, our counselor, as Mr Clemens has told Livia, that you were already his.— — — —

I earnestly desire, (and here my perplexity in writing begins, & the feeling that I could so much better talk with you,) that every word of this communication should be such that the subject of it, could now, or at any future day, read it not only without pain, but with the consciousness that it was prompted by feelings of the highest generosity & kindness toward him.

I cannot, & need not, detail to you the utter surprise & almost astonishment with which Mr Langdon & myself listened to Mr Clemens declaration to us, of his love for our precious child, and how at first our parental hearts said no.—to the bare thought of such a stranger, mining in our hearts for the possession of one of the few jewels we have. All this I must pass by, for today I have to deal with that, with which the judgment only has to do.—

You, my dear friend have known Mr Clemens, more or less intimately since your and his embarkation on the ‘Quaker City’—you knew him first, as a somewhat celebrated personage next you knew him as a fellow-traveller, and as your acquaintance with him increased into the time of weeks & months, you began to look upon him from your higher standpoint of maturer experience & closer estimate & appreciation of men, (out of your Christian heart, that was so earnestly desirous to do good to all around you, God bless & reward you for it) without criticism, but with those counsels, and it may be rebukes that hasten to do men good. And now you have known him in your family, at the fireside day by day, almost as if he were your own son.— — —

Now what I am about to write, must be plainly & frankly spoken. I do not ask as to his standing among men, nor do I need to be assured that he is a man of genius that he possesses a high order of intellectual endowments, nor do I scarcely crave your opinion of his affectional nature, but what I desire is your opinion of him as a man; what the kind of man he has been, and what the man he now is, or is to become.

I have learned from Charlie & I think the same idea has pervaded your conversation, or writing or both,—that a great change had taken place in Mr Clemens, that he seemed to have entered upon a new manner of life, with higher & better purposes actuating his conduct.——

The question, the answer to which, would settle a most weaning anxiety, is,—from what standard of conduct,—from what habitual life, did this change, or improvement, or reformation; commence?

Does this change, so desirably commenced make of an immoral man a moral one, as the world looks at men?—or—does this change make of one, who has been entirely a man of the world, different in this regard, that he resolutely aims to enter upon a new, because a Christian life?——

— — — — — — — —

I think my dear friend that to you my meaning will not be obscure, & that your maternal heart will make every allowance for me I never feel so much the change that has taken place in my physical strength, as when I try to use my brain for any purpose whatever, so soon does my head become weary, & my thoughts indistinct & confused.

Mr Langdon is slowly gathering up his strength but much more slowly than we hoped & expected, but I am confidently hoping that he will now in a short time be comfortably well. Mr & Mrs Crane leave for Florida tomorrow evening, we feel much more encouraged to hope that Sue will be benefitted by the travel & the sojourn in the South than we did a month ago.——

Livia & Charlie (as well as my neice whom we have come to love very much) are well Charlie has now installed himself quite thoroughly in his ‘Hardware business’ & seems quite happy.—I cannot express to you how much I prise your letters to him, nor what a wealth I feel that they are to him.——

We do feel very anxious to see you & Mr Fairbanks here & to have a good long visit from you both, then will it not be delightful to rehearse everything that interests us all. Will you remember us very kindly to Mr & Mrs Severance & please tell them that at the next reunion appointed we confidently expect they will be present.

Our warmest love to all your dear family

Very faithfully yours

Olivia Langdon

An early answer to this letter will increase our already great obligations to you.


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4 Alice and Mary Fairbanks.

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5 See 3 Sept 68 to Crane, n. 3.

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6 Although Olivia is not known to have suffered at this time from a specific ailment, she had become “an invalid at sixteen, through a partial paralysis caused by falling on the ice, and she was never strong again while her life lasted,” as Clemens recalled in 1906:

After that fall she was not able to leave her bed during two years, nor was she able to lie in any position except upon her back. All the great physicians were brought to Elmira, one after another, during that time, but there was no helpful result. In those days both worlds were well acquainted with the name of Dr. Newton, a man who was regarded in both worlds as a quack....

One day Andrew Langdon, a relative of the Langdon family[,] came to the house and said: “You have tried everybody else, now try Dr. Newton, the quack....”

Newton came. He found the young girl upon her back. Over her was suspended a tackle from the ceiling. It had been there a long time, but unused. It was put there in the hope that by its steady motion she might be lifted to a sitting posture, at intervals, for rest. But it proved a failure. Any attempt to raise her brought nausea and exhaustion, and had to be relinquished. Newton made some passes about her head with his hands; then he put an arm behind her shoulders and said “Now we will sit up, my child.”

The family were alarmed, and tried to stop him, but he was not disturbed, and raised her up. She sat several minutes, without nausea or discomfort. Then Newton said that that would do for the present, he would come again next morning; which he did. He made some passes with his hands and said, “Now we will walk a few steps, my child.” He took her out of bed and supported her while she walked several steps; then he said “I have reached the limit of my art. She is not cured. It is not likely that she will ever be cured. She will never be able to walk far, but after a little daily practice she will be able to walk one or two hundred yards, and she can depend on being able to do that for the rest of her life.” (AD, 13 Feb 1906, in MTA, 2:103–5)

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7 Slote’s business address.

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8 Clemens wrote the following postscript on the back of the first page of the previous two-page postscript, centering it as a block in the middle of an otherwise blank page. He abandoned, but did not literally strike out, this word—presumably the beginning of his normal dateline for a letter he must have completed elsewhere, if at all.

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, pages 1–5, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations (NN-B), is copy-text for ‘PRIVATE . . . Slote’s.’ (283.1–285.2); MS, pages 6–[9], Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. (CSmH, call no. HM 14243), is copy-text for ‘P.S. . . . you?’ (285.3–32).

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L2, 283–288; Sotheby, lot 4, excerpt from the first five pages; LLMT, 23, brief excerpt from the first paragraph; MTMF, 48–52, the complete letter.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphThe two parts of this letter have probably been separated since before 1918, when Henry Huntington acquired pages 6–9 among the Clemens letters he purchased from the Fairbanks family (see Huntington Library, p. 512). Pages 1–5 were owned by Mrs. E. A. Beardsley at the time of her death, and were sold by Sotheby of London on 27 June 1932. The Bergs probably purchased them then, or soon thereafter, depositing them at NN in 1940 along with the bulk of their collection.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

Nov[‘v’ partly formed]

D day • [possibly Dday’]

seeks[s doubtful]

beli[e]ves • be-|lives

must • must | must

Hip—hip • [possibly ‘Hip-hip’]

Elmira[deletion implied]