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MARK TWAIN, A BIOGRAPHY
ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE
Copyright © 2017 by Albert Bigelow Paine.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
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First Edition: January 2017
TABLE OF CONTENTS
MARK TWAIN A BIOGRAPHY THE PERSONAL AND LITERARY LIFE OF SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS BY ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE
TO CLARA CLEMENS GABRILOWITSCH WHO STEADILY UPHELD THE AUTHOR'S PURPOSE TO WRITE HISTORY RATHER THAN EULOGY AS THE STORY OF HER FATHER'S LIFE
Dear William Dean Howells, Joseph Hopkins Twichell, Joseph T. Goodman, and other old friends of Mark Twain:
I cannot let these volumes go to press without some grateful word to you who have helped me during the six years and more that have gone to their making.
First, I want to confess how I have envied you your association with Mark Twain in those days when you and he "went gipsying, a long time ago." Next, I want to express my wonder at your willingness to give me so unstintedly from your precious letters and memories, when it is in the nature of man to hoard such treasures, for himself and for those who follow him. And, lastly, I want to tell you that I do not envy you so much, any more, for in these chapters, one after another, through your grace, I have gone gipsying with you all. Neither do I wonder now, for I have come to know that out of your love for him grew that greater unselfishness (or divine selfishness, as he himself might have termed it), and that nothing short of the fullest you could do for his memory would have contented your hearts.
My gratitude is measureless; and it is world-wide, for there is no land so distant that it does not contain some one who has eagerly contributed to the story. Only, I seem so poorly able to put my thanks into words.
Albert Bigelow Paine.
Certain happenings as recorded in this work will be found to differ materially from the same incidents and episodes as set down in the writings of Mr. Clemens himself. Mark Twain's spirit was built of the very fabric of truth, so far as moral intent was concerned, but in his earlier autobiographical writings--and most of his earlier writings were autobiographical--he made no real pretense to accuracy of time, place, or circumstance--seeking, as he said, "only to tell a good story"--while in later years an ever-vivid imagination and a capricious memory made history difficult, even when, as in his so-called "Autobiography," his effort was in the direction of fact.
"When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not," he once said, quaintly, "but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter."
The reader may be assured, where discrepancies occur, that the writer of this memoir has obtained his data from direct and positive sources: letters, diaries, accountbooks, or other immediate memoranda; also from the concurring testimony of eye-witnesses, supported by a unity of circumstance and conditions, and not from hearsay or vagrant printed items.
On page 492 of the old volume of Suetonius, which Mark Twain read until his very last day, there is a reference to one Flavius Clemens, a man of wide repute "for his want of energy," and in a marginal note he has written:
"I guess this is where our line starts."
It was like him to write that. It spoke in his whimsical fashion the attitude of humility, the ready acknowledgment of shortcoming, which was his chief characteristic and made him lovable--in his personality and in his work.
Historically, we need not accept this identity of the Clemens ancestry. The name itself has a kindly meaning, and was not an uncommon one in Rome. There was an early pope by that name, and it appears now and again in the annals of the Middle Ages. More lately there was a Gregory Clemens, an English landowner who became a member of Parliament under Cromwell and signed the death-warrant of Charles I. Afterward he was tried as a regicide, his estates were confiscated, and his head was exposed on a pole on the top of Westminster Hall.
Tradition says that the family of Gregory Clemens did not remain in England, but emigrated to Virginia (or New Jersey), and from them, in direct line, descended the Virginia Clemenses, including John Marshall Clemens, the father of Mark Twain. Perhaps the line could be traced, and its various steps identified, but, after all, an ancestor more or less need not matter when it is the story of a descendant that is to be written.
Of Mark Twain's immediate forebears, however, there is something to be said. His paternal grandfather, whose name also was Samuel, was a man of culture and literary taste. In 1797 he married a Virginia girl, Pamela Goggin; and of their five children John Marshall Clemens, born August 11, 1798, was the eldest--becoming male head of the family at the age of seven, when his father was accidentally killed at a house-raising. The family was not a poor one, but the boy grew up with a taste for work. As a youth he became a clerk in an iron manufactory, at Lynchburg, and doubtless studied at night. At all events, he acquired an education, but injured his health in the mean time, and somewhat later, with his mother and the younger children, removed to Adair County, Kentucky, where the widow presently married a sweetheart of her girlhood, one Simon Hancock, a good man. In due course, John Clemens was sent to Columbia, the countyseat, to study law. When the living heirs became of age he administered his father's estate, receiving as his own share three negro slaves; also a mahogany sideboard, which remains among the Clemens effects to this day.
This was in 1821. John Clemens was now a young man of twenty-three, never very robust, but with a good profession, plenty of resolution, and a heart full of hope and dreams. Sober, industrious, and unswervingly upright, it seemed certain that he must make his mark. That he was likely to be somewhat too optimistic, even visionary, was not then regarded as a misfortune.
It was two years later that he met Jane Lampton; whose mother was a Casey --a Montgomery-Casey whose father was of the Lamptons (Lambtons) of Durham, England, and who on her own account was reputed to be the handsomest girl and the wittiest, as well as the best dancer, in all Kentucky. The Montgomeries and the Caseys of Kentucky had been Indian fighters in the Daniel Boone period, and grandmother Casey, who had been Jane Montgomery, had worn moccasins in her girlhood, and once saved her life by jumping a fence and out-running a redskin pursuer. The Montgomery and Casey annals were full of blood-curdling adventures, and there is to-day a Casey County next to Adair, with a Montgomery County somewhat farther east. As for the Lamptons, there is an earldom in the English family, and there were claimants even then in the American branch. All these things were worth while in Kentucky, but it was rare Jane Lampton herself--gay, buoyant, celebrated for her beauty and her grace; able to dance all night, and all day too, for that matter--that won the heart of John Marshall Clemens, swept him off his feet almost at the moment of their meeting. Many of the characteristics that made Mark Twain famous were inherited from his mother. His sense of humor, his prompt, quaintly spoken philosophy, these were distinctly her contribution to his fame. Speaking of her in a later day, he once said:
"She had a sort of ability which is rare in man and hardly existent in woman--the ability to say a humorous thing with the perfect air of not knowing it to be humorous."
She bequeathed him this, without doubt; also her delicate complexion; her wonderful wealth of hair; her small, shapely hands and feet, and the pleasant drawling speech which gave her wit, and his, a serene and perfect setting.
It was a one-sided love affair, the brief courtship of Jane Lampton and John Marshall Clemens. All her life, Jane Clemens honored her husband, and while he lived served him loyally; but the choice of her heart had been a young physician of Lexington with whom she had quarreled, and her prompt engagement with John Clemens was a matter of temper rather than tenderness. She stipulated that the wedding take place at once, and on May 6, 1823, they were married. She was then twenty; her husband twenty- five. More than sixty years later, when John Clemens had long been dead, she took a railway journey to a city where there was an Old Settlers' Convention, because among the names of those attending she had noticed the name of the lover of her youth. She meant to humble herself to him and ask forgiveness after all the years. She arrived too late; the convention was over, and he was gone. Mark Twain once spoke of this, and added:
"It is as pathetic a romance as any that has crossed the field of my personal experience in a long lifetime."
THE FORTUNES OF JOHN AND JANE CLEMENS
With all his ability and industry, and with the-best of intentions, John Clemens would seem to have had an unerring faculty for making business mistakes. It was his optimistic outlook, no doubt--his absolute confidence in the prosperity that lay just ahead--which led him from one unfortunate locality or enterprise to another, as long as he lived. About a year after his marriage he settled with his young wife in Gainsborough, Tennessee, a mountain town on the Cumberland River, and here, in 1825, their first child, a boy, was born. They named him Orion--after the constellation, perhaps--though they changed the accent to the first syllable, calling it Orion. Gainsborough was a small place with few enough law cases; but it could hardly have been as small, or furnished as few cases; as the next one selected, which was Jamestown, Fentress County, still farther toward the Eastward Mountains. Yet Jamestown had the advantage of being brand new, and in the eye of his fancy John Clemens doubtless saw it the future metropolis of east Tennessee, with himself its foremost jurist and citizen. He took an immediate and active interest in the development of the place, established the county-seat there, built the first Court House, and was promptly elected as circuit clerk of the court.
It was then that he decided to lay the foundation of a fortune for himself and his children by acquiring Fentress County land. Grants could be obtained in those days at the expense of less than a cent an acre, and John Clemens believed that the years lay not far distant when the land would increase in value ten thousand, twenty, perhaps even a hundred thousandfold. There was no wrong estimate in that. Land covered with the finest primeval timber, and filled with precious minerals, could hardly fail to become worth millions, even though his entire purchase of 75,000 acres probably did not cost him more than $500. The great tract lay about twenty nines to the southward of Jamestown. Standing in the door of the Court House he had built, looking out over the "Knob" of the Cumberland Mountains toward his vast possessions, he said:
"Whatever befalls me now, my heirs are secure. I may not live to see these acres turn into silver and gold, but my children will."
Such was the creation of that mirage of wealth, the "Tennessee land," which all his days and for long afterward would lie just ahead--a golden vision, its name the single watchword of the family fortunes--the dream fading with years, only materializing at last as a theme in a story of phantom riches, The Gilded Age.
Yet for once John Clemens saw clearly, and if his dream did not come true he was in no wise to blame. The land is priceless now, and a corporation of the Clemens heirs is to-day contesting the title of a thin fragment of it--about one thousand acres--overlooked in some survey.
Believing the future provided for, Clemens turned his attention to present needs. He built himself a house, unusual in its style and elegance. It had two windows in each room, and its walls were covered with plastering, something which no one in Jamestown had ever seen before. He was regarded as an aristocrat. He wore a swallow-tail coat of fine blue jeans, instead of the coarse brown native-made cloth. The blue-jeans coat was ornamented with brass buttons and cost one dollar and twenty-five cents a yard, a high price for that locality and time. His wife wore a calico dress for company, while the neighbor wives wore homespun linsey-woolsey. The new house was referred to as the Crystal Palace. When John and Jane Clemens attended balls--there were continuous balls during the holidays--they were considered the most graceful dancers.
Jamestown did not become the metropolis he had dreamed. It attained almost immediately to a growth of twenty-five houses--mainly log houses-- and stopped there. The country, too, was sparsely settled; law practice was slender and unprofitable, the circuit-riding from court to court was very bad for one of his physique. John Clemens saw his reserve of health and funds dwindling, and decided to embark in merchandise. He built himself a store and put in a small country stock of goods. These he exchanged for ginseng, chestnuts, lampblack, turpentine, rosin, and other produce of the country, which he took to Louisville every spring and fall in six-horse wagons. In the mean time he would seem to have sold one or more of his slaves, doubtless to provide capital. There was a second baby now--a little girl, Pamela,--born in September, 1827. Three years later, May 1830, another little girl, Margaret, came. By this time the store and home were in one building, the store occupying one room, the household requiring two--clearly the family fortunes were declining.
About a year after little Margaret was born, John Clemens gave up Jamestown and moved his family and stock of goods to a point nine miles distant, known as the Three Forks of Wolf. The Tennessee land was safe, of course, and would be worth millions some day, but in the mean time the struggle for daily substance was becoming hard.
He could not have remained at the Three Forks long, for in 1832 we find him at still another place, on the right bank of Wolf River, where a post-office called Pall Mall was established, with John Clemens as postmaster, usually addressed as "Squire" or "Judge." A store was run in connection with the postoffice. At Pall Mall, in June, 1832, another boy, Benjamin, was born.
The family at this time occupied a log house built by John Clemens himself, the store being kept in another log house on the opposite bank of the river. He no longer practised law. In The Gilded Age we have Mark Twain's picture of Squire Hawkins and Obedstown, written from descriptions supplied in later years by his mother and his brother Orion; and, while not exact in detail, it is not regarded as an exaggerated presentation of east Tennessee conditions at that time. The chapter is too long and too depressing to be set down here. The reader may look it up for himself, if he chooses. If he does he will not wonder that Jane Clemens's handsome features had become somewhat sharper, and her manner a shade graver, with the years and burdens of marriage, or that John Clemens at thirty-six-out of health, out of tune with his environment-- was rapidly getting out of heart. After all the bright promise of the beginning, things had somehow gone wrong, and hope seemed dwindling away.
A tall man, he had become thin and unusually pale; he looked older than his years. Every spring he was prostrated with what was called "sunpain," an acute form of headache, nerve-racking and destroying to all persistent effort. Yet he did not retreat from his moral and intellectual standards, or lose the respect of that shiftless community. He was never intimidated by the rougher element, and his eyes were of a kind that would disconcert nine men out of ten. Gray and deep-set under bushy brows, they literally looked you through. Absolutely fearless, he permitted none to trample on his rights. It is told of John Clemens, at Jamestown, that once when he had lost a cow he handed the minister on Sunday morning a notice of the loss to be read from the pulpit, according to the custom of that community. For some reason, the minister put the document aside and neglected it. At the close of the service Clemens rose and, going to the pulpit, read his announcement himself to the congregation. Those who knew Mark Twain best will not fail to recall in him certain of his father's legacies.
The arrival of a letter from "Colonel Sellers" inviting the Hawkins family to come to Missouri is told in The Gilded Age. In reality the letter was from John Quarles, who had married Jane Clemens's sister, Patsey Lampton, and settled in Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. It was a momentous letter in The Gilded Age, and no less so in reality, for it shifted the entire scene of the Clemens family fortunes, and it had to do with the birthplace and the shaping of the career of one whose memory is likely to last as long as American history.
A HUMBLE BIRTHPLACE
Florida, Missouri, was a small village in the early thirties--smaller than it is now, perhaps, though in that day it had more promise, even if less celebrity. The West was unassembled then, undigested, comparatively unknown. Two States, Louisiana and Missouri, with less than half a million white persons, were all that lay beyond the great river. St. Louis, with its boasted ten thousand inhabitants and its river trade with the South, was the single metropolis in all that vast uncharted region. There was no telegraph; there were no railroads, no stage lines of any consequence--scarcely any maps. For all that one could see or guess, one place was as promising as another, especially a settlement like Florida, located at the forks of a pretty stream, Salt River, which those early settlers believed might one day become navigable and carry the merchandise of that region down to the mighty Mississippi, thence to the world outside.
In those days came John A. Quarles, of Kentucky, with his wife, who had been Patsey Ann Lampton; also, later, Benjamin Lampton, her father, and others of the Lampton race. It was natural that they should want Jane Clemens and her husband to give up that disheartening east Tennessee venture and join them in this new and promising land. It was natural, too, for John Quarles--happy-hearted, generous, and optimistic--to write the letter. There were only twenty-one houses in Florida, but Quarles counted stables, out-buildings--everything with a roof on it--and set down the number at fifty-four.
Florida, with its iridescent promise and negligible future, was just the kind of a place that John Clemens with unerring instinct would be certain to select, and the Quarles letter could have but one answer. Yet there would be the longing for companionship, too, and Jane Clemens must have hungered for her people. In The Gilded Age, the Sellers letter ends:
"Come!--rush!--hurry!--don't wait for anything!"
The Clemens family began immediately its preparation for getting away. The store was sold, and the farm; the last two wagon-loads of produce were sent to Louisville; and with the aid of the money realized, a few hundred dollars, John Clemens and his family "flitted out into the great mysterious blank that lay beyond the Knobs of Tennessee." They had a two-horse barouche, which would seem to have been preserved out of their earlier fortunes. The barouche held the parents and the three younger children, Pamela, Margaret, anal the little boy, Benjamin. There were also two extra horses, which Orion, now ten, and Jennie, the house-girl, a slave, rode. This was early in the spring of 1835.
They traveled by the way of their old home at Columbia, and paid a visit to relatives. At Louisville they embarked on a steamer bound for St. Louis; thence overland once more through wilderness and solitude into what was then the Far West, the promised land.
They arrived one evening, and if Florida was not quite all in appearance that John Clemens had dreamed, it was at least a haven--with John Quarles, jovial, hospitable, and full of plans. The great Mississippi was less than fifty miles away. Salt River, with a system of locks and dams, would certainly become navigable to the Forks, with Florida as its head of navigation. It was a Sellers fancy, though perhaps it should be said here that John Quarles was not the chief original of that lovely character in The Gilded Age. That was another relative--James Lampton, a cousin--quite as lovable, and a builder of even more insubstantial dreams.
John Quarles was already established in merchandise in Florida, and was prospering in a small way. He had also acquired a good farm, which he worked with thirty slaves, and was probably the rich man and leading citizen of the community. He offered John Clemens a partnership in his store, and agreed to aid him in the selection of some land. Furthermore, he encouraged him to renew his practice of the law. Thus far, at least, the Florida venture was not a mistake, for, whatever came, matters could not be worse than they had been in Tennessee.
In a small frame building near the center of the village, John and Jane Clemens established their household. It was a humble one-story affair, with two main rooms and a lean-to kitchen, though comfortable enough for its size, and comparatively new. It is still standing and occupied when these lines are written, and it should be preserved and guarded as a shrine for the American people; for it was here that the foremost American-born author--the man most characteristically American in every thought and word and action of his life--drew his first fluttering breath, caught blinkingly the light of a world that in the years to come would rise up and in its wide realm of letters hail him as a king.
It was on a bleak day, November 30, 1835, that he entered feebly the domain he was to conquer. Long, afterward, one of those who knew him best said:
"He always seemed to me like some great being from another planet--never quite of this race or kind."
He may have been, for a great comet was in the sky that year, and it would return no more until the day when he should be borne back into the far spaces of silence and undiscovered suns. But nobody thought of this, then.
He was a seven-months child, and there was no fanfare of welcome at his coming. Perhaps it was even suggested that, in a house so small and so sufficiently filled, there was no real need of his coming at all. One Polly Ann Buchanan, who is said to have put the first garment of any sort on him, lived to boast of the fact,--[This honor has been claimed also for Mrs. Millie Upton and a Mrs. Damrell. Probably all were present and assisted.]--but she had no particular pride in that matter then. It was only a puny baby with a wavering promise of life. Still, John Clemens must have regarded with favor this first gift of fortune in a new land, for he named the little boy Samuel, after his father, and added the name of an old and dear Virginia friend, Langhorne. The family fortunes would seem to have been improving at this time, and he may have regarded the arrival of another son as a good omen.
With a family of eight, now, including Jennie, the slavegirl, more room was badly needed, and he began building without delay. The result was not a mansion, by any means, being still of the one-story pattern, but it was more commodious than the tiny two-room affair. The rooms were larger, and there was at least one ell, or extension, for kitchen and dining-room uses. This house, completed in 1836, occupied by the Clemens family during the remainder of the years spent in Florida, was often in later days pointed out as Mark Twain's birthplace. It missed that distinction by a few months, though its honor was sufficient in having sheltered his early childhood.--[This house is no longer standing. When it was torn down several years ago, portions of it were carried off and manufactured into souvenirs. Mark Twain himself disclaimed it as his birthplace, and once wrote on a photograph of it: "No, it is too stylish, it is not my birthplace."]
BEGINNING A LONG JOURNEY
It was not a robust childhood. The new baby managed to go through the winter--a matter of comment among the family and neighbors. Added strength came, but slowly; "Little Sam," as they called him, was always delicate during those early years.
It was a curious childhood, full of weird, fantastic impressions and contradictory influences, stimulating alike to the imagination and that embryo philosophy of life which begins almost with infancy. John Clemens seldom devoted any time to the company of his children. He looked after their comfort and mental development as well as he could, and gave advice on occasion. He bought a book now and then--sometimes a picture-book-- and subscribed for Peter Parley's Magazine, a marvel of delight to the older children, but he did not join in their amusements, and he rarely, or never, laughed. Mark Twain did not remember ever having seen or heard his father laugh. The problem of supplying food was a somber one to John Clemens; also, he was working on a perpetual-motion machine at this period, which absorbed his spare time, and, to the inventor at least, was not a mirthful occupation. Jane Clemens was busy, too. Her sense of humor did not die, but with added cares and years her temper as well as her features became sharper, and it was just as well to be fairly out of range when she was busy with her employments.
Little Sam's companions were his brothers and sisters, all older than himself: Orion, ten years his senior, followed by Pamela and Margaret at intervals of two and three years, then by Benjamin, a kindly little lad whose gentle life was chiefly devoted to looking after the baby brother, three years his junior. But in addition to these associations, there were the still more potent influences Of that day and section, the intimate, enveloping institution of slavery, the daily companionship of the slaves. All the children of that time were fond of the negroes and confided in them. They would, in fact, have been lost without such protection and company.
It was Jennie, the house-girl, and Uncle Ned, a man of all work-- apparently acquired with the improved prospects--who were in real charge of the children and supplied them with entertainment. Wonderful entertainment it was. That was a time of visions and dreams, small. gossip and superstitions. Old tales were repeated over and over, with adornments and improvements suggested by immediate events. At evening the Clemens children, big and little, gathered about the great open fireplace while Jennie and Uncle Ned told tales and hair-lifting legends. Even a baby of two or three years could follow the drift of this primitive telling and would shiver and cling close with the horror and delight of its curdling thrill. The tales always began with "Once 'pon a time," and one of them was the story of the "Golden Arm" which the smallest listener would one day repeat more elaborately to wider audiences in many lands. Briefly it ran as follows:
"Once 'Pon a time there was a man, and he had a wife, and she had a' arm of pure gold; and she died, and they buried her in the graveyard; and one night her husband went and dug her up and cut off her golden arm and tuck it home; and one night a ghost all in white come to him; and she was his wife; and she says:
"W-h-a-r-r's my golden arm? W-h-a-r-r's my golden arm? W-h-a-r-r's my g-o-l-den arm?"
As Uncle Ned repeated these blood-curdling questions he would look first one and then another of his listeners in the eyes, with his bands drawn up in front of his breast, his fingers turned out and crooked like claws, while he bent with each question closer to the shrinking forms before him. The tone was sepulchral, with awful pause as if waiting each time for a reply. The culmination came with a pounce on one of the group, a shake of the shoulders, and a shout of:
"YOU'VE got it!' and she tore him all to pieces!"
And the children would shout "Lordy!" and look furtively over their shoulders, fearing to see a woman in white against the black wall; but, instead, only gloomy, shapeless shadows darted across it as the flickering flames in the fireplace went out on one brand and flared up on another. Then there was a story of a great ball of fire that used to follow lonely travelers along dark roads through the woods.
"Once 'pon a time there was a man, and he was riding along de road and he come to a ha'nted house, and he heard de chains'a-rattlin' and a-rattlin' and a-rattlin', and a ball of fire come rollin' up and got under his stirrup, and it didn't make no difference if his horse galloped or went slow or stood still, de ball of fire staid under his stirrup till he got plum to de front do', and his wife come out and say: 'My Gord, dat's devil fire!' and she had to work a witch spell to drive it away."
"How big was it, Uncle Ned?"
"Oh, 'bout as big as your head, and I 'spect it's likely to come down dis yere chimney 'most any time."
Certainly an atmosphere like this meant a tropic development for the imagination of a delicate child. All the games and daily talk concerned fanciful semi-African conditions and strange primal possibilities. The children of that day believed in spells and charms and bad-luck signs, all learned of their negro guardians.
But if the negroes were the chief companions and protectors of the children, they were likewise one of their discomforts. The greatest real dread children knew was the fear of meeting runaway slaves. A runaway slave was regarded as worse than a wild beast, and treated worse when caught. Once the children saw one brought into Florida by six men who took him to an empty cabin, where they threw him on the floor and bound him with ropes. His groans were loud and frequent. Such things made an impression that would last a lifetime.
Slave punishment, too, was not unknown, even in the household. Jennie especially was often saucy and obstreperous. Jane Clemens, with more strength of character than of body, once undertook to punish her for insolence, whereupon Jennie snatched the whip from her hand. John Clemens was sent for in haste. He came at once, tied Jennie's wrists together with a bridle rein, and administered chastisement across the shoulders with a cowhide. These were things all calculated to impress a sensitive child.
In pleasant weather the children roamed over the country, hunting berries and nuts, drinking sugar-water, tying knots in love-vine, picking the petals from daisies to the formula "Love me-love me not," always accompanied by one or more, sometimes by half a dozen, of their small darky followers. Shoes were taken off the first of April. For a time a pair of old woolen stockings were worn, but these soon disappeared, leaving the feet bare for the summer. One of their dreads was the possibility of sticking a rusty nail into the foot, as this was liable to cause lockjaw, a malady regarded with awe and terror. They knew what lockjaw was--Uncle John Quarles's black man, Dan, was subject to it. Sometimes when he opened his mouth to its utmost capacity he felt the joints slip and was compelled to put down the cornbread, or jole and greens, or the piece of 'possum he was eating, while his mouth remained a fixed abyss until the doctor came and restored it to a natural position by an exertion of muscular power that would have well-nigh lifted an ox.
Uncle John Quarles, his home, his farm, his slaves, all were sources of never-ending delight. Perhaps the farm was just an ordinary Missouri farm and the slaves just average negroes, but to those children these things were never apparent. There was a halo about anything that belonged to Uncle John Quarles, and that halo was the jovial, hilarious kindness of that gentle-hearted, humane man. To visit at his house was for a child to be in a heaven of mirth and pranks continually. When the children came for eggs he would say:
"Your hens won't lay, eh? Tell your maw to feed 'em parched corn and drive 'em uphill," and this was always a splendid stroke of humor to his small hearers.
Also, he knew how to mimic with his empty hands the peculiar patting and tossing of a pone of corn-bread before placing it in the oven. He would make the most fearful threats to his own children, for disobedience, but never executed any of them. When they were out fishing and returned late he would say:
"You--if I have to hunt you again after dark, I will make you smell like a burnt horn!"
Nothing could exceed the ferocity of this threat, and all the children, with delightful terror and curiosity, wondered what would happen--if it ever did happen--that would result in giving a child that peculiar savor. Altogether it was a curious early childhood that Little Sam had--at least it seems so to us now. Doubtless it was commonplace enough for that time and locality.
THE WAY OF FORTUNE
Perhaps John Quarles's jocular, happy-go-lucky nature and general conduct did not altogether harmonize with John Clemens's more taciturn business methods. Notwithstanding the fact that he was a builder of dreams, Clemens was neat and methodical, with his papers always in order. He had a hearty dislike for anything resembling frivolity and confusion, which very likely were the chief features of John Quarles's storekeeping. At all events, they dissolved partnership at the end of two or three years, and Clemens opened business for himself across the street. He also practised law whenever there were cases, and was elected justice of the peace, acquiring the permanent title of "Judge." He needed some one to assist in the store, and took in Orion, who was by this time twelve or thirteen years old; but, besides his youth, Orion--all his days a visionary--was a studious, pensive lad with no taste for commerce. Then a partnership was formed with a man who developed neither capital nor business ability, and proved a disaster in the end. The modest tide of success which had come with John Clemens's establishment at Florida had begun to wane. Another boy, Henry, born in July, 1838, added one more responsibility to his burdens.
There still remained a promise of better things. There seemed at least a good prospect that the scheme for making Salt River navigable was likely to become operative. With even small boats (bateaux) running as high as the lower branch of the South Fork, Florida would become an emporium of trade, and merchants and property-owners of that village would reap a harvest. An act of the Legislature was passed incorporating the navigation company, with Judge Clemens as its president. Congress was petitioned to aid this work of internal improvement. So confident was the company of success that the hamlet was thrown into a fever of excitement by the establishment of a boatyard and, the actual construction of a bateau; but a Democratic Congress turned its back on the proposed improvement. No boat bigger than a skiff ever ascended Salt River, though there was a wild report, evidently a hoax, that a party of picnickers had seen one night a ghostly steamer, loaded and manned, puffing up the stream. An old Scotchman, Hugh Robinson, when he heard of it, said:
"I don't doubt a word they say. In Scotland, it often happens that when people have been killed, or are troubled, they send their spirits abroad and they are seen as much like themselves as a reflection in a looking- glass. That was a ghost of some wrecked steamboat."
But John Quarles, who was present, laughed:
"If ever anybody was in trouble, the men on that steamboat were," he said. "They were the Democratic candidates at the last election. They killed Salt River improvements, and Salt River has killed them. Their ghosts went up the river on a ghostly steamboat."
It is possible that this comment, which was widely repeated and traveled far, was the origin of the term "Going up Salt River," as applied to defeated political candidates.--[The dictionaries give this phrase as probably traceable to a small, difficult stream in Kentucky; but it seems more reasonable to believe that it originated in Quarles's witty comment.]
No other attempt was ever made to establish navigation on Salt River. Rumors of railroads already running in the East put an end to any such thought. Railroads could run anywhere and were probably cheaper and easier to maintain than the difficult navigation requiring locks and dams. Salt River lost its prestige as a possible water highway and became mere scenery. Railroads have ruined greater rivers than the Little Salt, and greater villages than Florida, though neither Florida nor Salt River has been touched by a railroad to this day. Perhaps such close detail of early history may be thought unnecessary in a work of this kind, but all these things were definite influences in the career of the little lad whom the world would one day know as Mark Twain.
A NEW HOME
The death of little Margaret was the final misfortune that came to the Clemens family in Florida. Doubtless it hastened their departure. There was a superstition in those days that to refer to health as good luck, rather than to ascribe it to the kindness of Providence, was to bring about a judgment. Jane Clemens one day spoke to a neighbor of their good luck in thus far having lost no member of their family. That same day, when the sisters, Pamela and Margaret, returned from school, Margaret laid her books on the table, looked in the glass at her flushed cheeks, pulled out the trundle-bed, and lay down.
She was never in her right mind again. The doctor was sent for and diagnosed the case "bilious fever." One evening, about nine o'clock, Orion was sitting on the edge of the trundle-bed by the patient, when the door opened and Little Sam, then about four years old, walked in from his bedroom, fast asleep. He came to the side of the trundle-bed and pulled at the bedding near Margaret's shoulder for some time before he woke. Next day the little girl was "picking at the coverlet," and it was known that she could not live. About a week later she died. She was nine years old, a beautiful child, plump in form, with rosy cheeks, black hair, and bright eyes. This was in August, 1839. It was Little Sam's first sight of death--the first break in the Clemens family: it left a sad household. The shoemaker who lived next door claimed to have seen several weeks previous, in a vision, the coffin and the funeral- procession pass the gate by the winding road, to the cemetery, exactly as it happened.
Matters were now going badly enough with John Clemens. Yet he never was without one great comforting thought--the future of the Tennessee land. It underlaid every plan; it was an anodyne for every ill.
"When we sell the Tennessee land everything will be all right," was the refrain that brought solace in the darkest hours. A blessing for him that this was so, for he had little else to brighten his days. Negotiations looking to the sale of the land were usually in progress. When the pressure became very hard and finances were at their lowest ebb, it was offered at any price--at five cents an acre, sometimes. When conditions improved, however little, the price suddenly advanced even to its maximum of one thousand dollars an acre. Now and then a genuine offer came along, but, though eagerly welcomed at the moment, it was always refused after a little consideration.
"We will struggle along somehow, Jane," he would say. "We will not throw away the children's fortune."
There was one other who believed in the Tennessee land--Jane Clemens's favorite cousin, James Lampton, the courtliest, gentlest, most prodigal optimist of all that guileless race. To James Lampton the land always had "millions in it"--everything had. He made stupendous fortunes daily, in new ways. The bare mention of the Tennessee land sent him off into figures that ended with the purchase of estates in England adjoining those of the Durham Lamptons, whom he always referred to as "our kindred," casually mentioning the whereabouts and health of the "present earl." Mark Twain merely put James Lampton on paper when he created Colonel Sellers, and the story of the Hawkins family as told in The Gilded Age reflects clearly the struggle of those days. The words "Tennessee land," with their golden promise, became his earliest remembered syllables. He grew to detest them in time, for they came to mean mockery.
One of the offers received was the trifling sum of two hundred and fifty dollars, and such was the moment's need that even this was considered. Then, of course, it was scornfully refused. In some autobiographical chapters which Orion Clemens left behind he said:
"If we had received that two hundred and fifty dollars, it would have been more than we ever made, clear of expenses, out of the whole of the Tennessee land, after forty years of worry to three generations."
What a less speculative and more logical reasoner would have done in the beginning, John Clemens did now; he selected a place which, though little more than a village, was on a river already navigable--a steamboat town with at least the beginnings of manufacturing and trade already established--that is to say, Hannibal, Missouri--a point well chosen, as shown by its prosperity to-day.
He did not delay matters. When he came to a decision, he acted quickly. He disposed of a portion of his goods and shipped the remainder overland; then, with his family and chattels loaded in a wagon, he was ready to set out for the new home. Orion records that, for some reason, his father did not invite him to get into the wagon, and how, being always sensitive to slight, he had regarded this in the light of deliberate desertion.
"The sense of abandonment caused my heart to ache. The wagon had gone a few feet when I was discovered and invited to enter. How I wished they had not missed me until they had arrived at Hannibal. Then the world would have seen how I was treated and would have cried 'Shame!'"
This incident, noted and remembered, long after became curiously confused with another, in Mark Twain's mind. In an autobiographical chapter published in The North American Review he tells of the move to Hannibal and relates that he himself was left behind by his absentminded family. The incident of his own abandonment did not happen then, but later, and somewhat differently. It would indeed be an absent-minded family if the parents, and the sister and brothers ranging up to fourteen years of age, should drive off leaving Little Sam, age four, behind.
--[As mentioned in the Prefatory Note, Mark Twain's memory played him many tricks in later life. Incidents were filtered through his vivid imagination until many of them bore little relation to the actual occurrence. Some of these lapses were only amusing, but occasionally they worked an unintentional injustice. It is the author's purpose in every instance, so far as is possible, to keep the record straight.]
THE LITTLE TOWN OF HANNIBAL
Hannibal in 1839 was already a corporate community and had an atmosphere of its own. It was a town with a distinct Southern flavor, though rather more astir than the true Southern community of that period; more Western in that it planned, though without excitement, certain new enterprises and made a show, at least, of manufacturing. It was somnolent (a slave town could not be less than that), but it was not wholly asleep--that is to say, dead--and it was tranquilly content. Mark Twain remembered it as "the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer morning,. . . the great Mississippi, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along; . . . the dense forest away on the other side."
The little city was proud of its scenery, and justly so: circled with bluffs, with Holliday's Hill on the north, Lover's Leap on the south, the shining river in the foreground, there was little to be desired in the way of setting.
The river, of course, was the great highway. Rafts drifted by; steamboats passed up and down and gave communication to the outside world; St. Louis, the metropolis, was only one hundred miles away. Hannibal was inclined to rank itself as of next importance, and took on airs accordingly. It had society, too--all kinds--from the negroes and the town drunkards ("General" Gaines and Jimmy Finn; later, Old Ben Blankenship) up through several nondescript grades of mechanics and tradesmen to the professional men of the community, who wore tall hats, ruffled shirt-fronts, and swallow-tail coats, usually of some positive color-blue, snuff-brown, and green. These and their families constituted the true aristocracy of the Southern town. Most of them had pleasant homes--brick or large frame mansions, with colonnaded entrances, after the manner of all Southern architecture of that period, which had an undoubted Greek root, because of certain drawing-books, it is said, accessible to the builders of those days. Most of them, also, had means --slaves and land which yielded an income in addition to their professional earnings. They lived in such style as was considered fitting to their rank, and had such comforts as were then obtainable.
It was to this grade of society that judge Clemens and his family belonged, but his means no longer enabled him to provide either the comforts or the ostentation of his class. He settled his family and belongings in a portion of a house on Hill Street--the Pavey Hotel; his merchandise he established modestly on Main Street, with Orion, in a new suit of clothes, as clerk. Possibly the clothes gave Orion a renewed ambition for mercantile life, but this waned. Business did not begin actively, and he was presently dreaming and reading away the time. A little later he became a printer's apprentice, in the office of the Hannibal Journal, at his father's suggestion.
Orion Clemens perhaps deserves a special word here. He was to be much associated with his more famous brother for many years, and his personality as boy and man is worth at least a casual consideration. He was fifteen now, and had developed characteristics which in a greater or less degree were to go with him through life. Of a kindly, loving disposition, like all of the Clemens children, quick of temper, but always contrite, or forgiving, he was never without the fond regard of those who knew him best. His weaknesses were manifold, but, on the whole, of a negative kind. Honorable and truthful, he had no tendency to bad habits or unworthy pursuits; indeed, he had no positive traits of any sort. That was his chief misfortune. Full of whims and fancies, unstable, indeterminate, he was swayed by every passing emotion and influence. Daily he laid out a new course of study and achievement, only to fling it aside because of some chance remark or printed paragraph or bit of advice that ran contrary to his purpose. Such a life is bound to be a succession of extremes--alternate periods of supreme exaltation and despair. In his autobiographical chapters, already mentioned, Orion sets down every impulse and emotion and failure with that faithful humility which won him always the respect, if not always the approval, of men.
Printing was a step downward, for it was a trade, and Orion felt it keenly. A gentleman's son and a prospective heir of the Tennessee land, he was entitled to a profession. To him it was punishment, and the disgrace weighed upon him. Then he remembered that Benjamin Franklin had been a printer and had eaten only an apple and a bunch of grapes for his dinner. Orion decided to emulate Franklin, and for a time he took only a biscuit and a glass of water at a meal, foreseeing the day when he should electrify the world with his eloquence. He was surprised to find how clear his mind was on this low diet and how rapidly he learned his trade.
Of the other children Pamela, now twelve, and Benjamin, seven, were put to school. They were pretty, attractive children, and Henry, the baby, was a sturdy toddler, the pride of the household. Little Sam was the least promising of the flock. He remained delicate, and developed little beyond a tendency to pranks. He was a queer, fanciful, uncommunicative child that detested indoors and would run away if not watched--always in the direction of the river. He walked in his sleep, too, and often the rest of the household got up in the middle of the night to find him fretting with cold in some dark corner. The doctor was summoned for him oftener than was good for the family purse--or for him, perhaps, if we may credit the story of heavy dosings of those stern allopathic days.
Yet he would appear not to have been satisfied with his heritage of ailments, and was ambitious for more. An epidemic of measles--the black, deadly kind--was ravaging Hannibal, and he yearned for the complaint. He yearned so much that when he heard of a playmate, one of the Bowen boys, who had it, he ran away and, slipping into the house, crept into bed with the infection. The success of this venture was complete. Some days later, the Clemens family gathered tearfully around Little Sam's bed to see him die. According to his own after-confession, this gratified him, and he was willing to die for the glory of that touching scene. However, he disappointed them, and was presently up and about in search of fresh laurels.--[In later life Mr. Clemens did not recollect the precise period of this illness. With habitual indifference he assigned it to various years, as his mood or the exigencies of his theme required. Without doubt the "measles" incident occurred when he was very young.]--
He must have been a wearing child, and we may believe that Jane Clemens, with her varied cares and labors, did not always find him a comfort.
"You gave me more uneasiness than any child I had," she said to him once, in her old age.
"I suppose you were afraid I wouldn't live," he suggested, in his tranquil fashion.
She looked at him with that keen humor that had not dulled in eighty years. "No; afraid you would," she said. But that was only her joke, for she was the most tenderhearted creature in the world, and, like mothers in general, had a weakness for the child that demanded most of her mother's care.
It was mainly on his account that she spent her summers on John Quarles's farm near Florida, and it was during the first summer that an incident already mentioned occurred. It was decided that the whole family should go for a brief visit, and one Saturday morning in June Mrs. Clemens, with the three elder children and the baby, accompanied by Jennie, the slave- girl, set out in a light wagon for the day's drive, leaving Judge Clemens to bring Little Sam on horseback Sunday morning. The hour was early when Judge Clemens got up to saddle his horse, and Little Sam was still asleep. The horse being ready, Clemens, his mind far away, mounted and rode off without once remembering the little boy, and in the course of the afternoon arrived at his brother-in-law's farm. Then he was confronted by Jane Clemens, who demanded Little Sam.
"Why," said the judge, aghast, "I never once thought of him after I left him asleep."
Wharton Lampton, a brother of Jane Clemens and Patsey Quarles, hastily saddled a horse and set out, helter-skelter, for Hannibal. He arrived in the early dusk. The child was safe enough, but he was crying with loneliness and hunger. He had spent most of the day in the locked, deserted house playing with a hole in the meal-sack where the meal ran out, when properly encouraged, in a tiny stream. He was fed and comforted, and next day was safe on the farm, which during that summer and those that followed it, became so large a part of his boyhood and lent a coloring to his later years.
We have already mentioned the delight of the Clemens children in Uncle John Quarles's farm. To Little Sam it was probably a life-saver. With his small cousin, Tabitha,--[Tabitha Quarles, now Mrs. Greening, of Palmyra, Missouri, has supplied most of the material for this chapter.]-- just his own age (they called her Puss), he wandered over that magic domain, fording new marvels at every step, new delights everywhere. A slave-girl, Mary, usually attended them, but she was only six years older, and not older at all in reality, so she was just a playmate, and not a guardian to be feared or evaded. Sometimes, indeed, it was necessary for her to threaten to tell "Miss Patsey" or "Miss Jane," when her little charges insisted on going farther or staying later than she thought wise from the viewpoint of her own personal safety; but this was seldom, and on the whole a stay at the farm was just one long idyllic dream of summer-time and freedom.
The farm-house stood in the middle of a large yard entered by a stile made of sawed-off logs of graduated heights. In the corner of the yard were hickory trees, and black walnut, and beyond the fence the hill fell away past the barns, the corn-cribs, and the tobacco-house to a brook-- a divine place to wade, with deep, dark, forbidden pools. Down in the pasture there were swings under the big trees, and Mary swung the children and ran under them until their feet touched the branches, and then took her turn and "balanced" herself so high that their one wish was to be as old as Mary and swing in that splendid way. All the woods were full of squirrels--gray squirrels and the red-fox species--and many birds and flowers; all the meadows were gay with clover and butterflies, and musical with singing grasshoppers and calling larks; there were blackberries in the fence rows, apples and peaches in the orchard, and watermelons in the corn. They were not always ripe, those watermelons, and once, when Little Sam had eaten several pieces of a green one, he was seized with cramps so severe that most of the household expected him to die forthwith.
Jane Clemens was not heavily concerned.
"Sammy will pull through," she said; "he wasn't born to die that way."
It is the slender constitution that bears the strain. "Sammy" did pull through, and in a brief time was ready for fresh adventure.
There were plenty of these: there were the horses to ride to and from the fields; the ox-wagons to ride in when they had dumped their heavy loads; the circular horsepower to ride on when they threshed the wheat. This last was a dangerous and forbidden pleasure, but the children would dart between the teams and climb on, and the slave who was driving would pretend not to see. Then in the evening when the black woman came along, going after the cows, the children would race ahead and set the cows running and jingling their bells--especially Little Sam, for he was a wild-headed, impetuous child of sudden ecstasies that sent him capering and swinging his arms, venting his emotions in a series of leaps and shrieks and somersaults, and spasms of laughter as he lay rolling in the grass.
His tendency to mischief grew with this wide liberty, improved health, and the encouragement of John Quarles's good-natured, fun-loving slaves.