The American Vandal Backstage

[The various comments below are from letters MT wrote to Livy and others while on tour with the American Vandal. Mark Twain's Letters , Vol. 2, is edited by Harriet Elinor Smith & Richard Bucci; Mark Twain's Letters , Vol. 3, by Victor Fischer & Michael B. Frank; The Love Letters of Mark Twain , by Dixon Wecter. ]

  [CLEVELAND. To Jane Clemens, 18 November 1868]
Made a splendid hit last night & am the "lion" to-day. Awful rainy, sloppy night, but there were 1,200 people present, anyhow -- house full. I captured them, if I do say it myself. I go hence to Pittsburgh -- thence to Elmira, N.Y.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 2: 280]

  [To Joseph & Harmony Twichell, 18 November 1868]
Congratulate me, my often remembered friends -- for lo, the child is born! It was most flatteringly received -- 1200 applausive & appreciative people present.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 2: 282]

  [PITTSBURGH. To Jane Clemens, 20 November 1868]
I played against the eastern favorite, Fanny Kemble, in Pittsburgh, last night. She had 200 in her house, & I had upwards of 1,500. All the seats were sold (in a driving rain storm, 3 days ago,) as reserved seats at 25 cents extra, even those in the second & third tiers -- & when the last seat was gone the box office had not been open more than 2 hours. When I reached the theatre they were turning people away & the house was crammed. 150 or 200 stood up, all the evening. I go to Elmira tonight. I am simply lecturing for societies, at $100 a pop.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 2: 282]

  [ELMIRA. To Olivia Langdon, 28 November 1868]
When I found myself comfortably on board the cars last night . . . I said to myself: "Now whatever others may think, it is my opinion that I am blessed above all other men that live; I have known supreme happiness for two whole days, & now I ought to be ready & willing to pay a little attention to necessary duties, & do it cheerfully." Therefore I resolved to go deliberately through that lecture, without notes, & so impress it upon my memory & my understanding as to secure myself against any such lame delivery of it in future as I thought characterized it in Elmira. But I had little calculated the cost of such a resolution. Never was a lecture so full of parentheses before. It was Livy, Livy, Livy, Livy, all the way through! It was one sentence of Vandal to ten sentences about you. The insignificant lecture was hidden, lost, overwhelmed & buried under a boundless universe of Livy!
      [from Love Letters : 23-24]

  [NEWARK. To Olivia Langdon, 10 December 1868]
I just can't estimate how many thanks I owe you, Livy, for your good, long, delightful letter. It saved me -- saved me from another Elmira failure before a great audience in Newark. I felt so heavy & stupid from want of rest & sleep, & from wearing excitement at Twichell's, that when I went down town at noon it was with many misgivings about to-night's work. So much so that I began to think of leaving some of the serious paragraphs out of the lecture rather than read them badly. . . . [Your letter] brightened me up so much that I knew perfectly well I was entirely safe for every line of the lecture. I said to myself, "I can make that audience laugh whenever I please -- so I will talk the humorous to them; but when I come to the serious passages, I will enthrone my matchless little princess (the same being you,) in the chief seat in the house, & talk that to her. And Livy, I would have given anything if you had really been there. Then you would have heard a lecture delivered as it should be delivered; you would have seen a lecturer perfectly at his ease; you would have seen a brilliant audience pretty completely at the mercy of the speaker, too, & swung "from grave to gay, from lively to serene," without the least perceptible effort in the world. It was splendid. I enjoyed every sentence of the discourse, & was sorry to quit when it was finished. I wished it had been before a metropolitan audience of 5,000; I could have persuaded them with just as much ease -- I could have carried them with me with just the same facility.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 2: 320-21]

  [LANSING. To Olivia Langdon, 23 December 1868]
I was not at all satisfied with my performance in Detroit, for notwithstanding I had the largest audience they had seen there for a long time, I was awkward & constrained -- ill at ease -- & did not satisfy them, I think. But if I had only had your letter in my pocket, then, how different it would have been! . . . I can please any audience when I have a new letter of yours by me. It is because I always feel a tranquil gladness, a glow of happiness, then, & it is easy to impart it to the multitude about me. Now tonight we had the largest audience that has ever attended any lecture here, but Gough's, & I honestly believe I pleased every individual in the house. The applause of the serious passages was cordial & unstinted. The gentlemen of the Society pledged me to come again (in case I lecture another season -- I always make that reservation, because I don't want to run about any more unless I must.)
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 2: 342]

  [AKRON. To Olivia Langdon, 31 December 1868]
Your Christmas letter arrived an hour before I went on the stage at Akron, last night, & of course I captured that audience. It was much the largest gathering a lecture had called out since Gough talked there 2 years ago. It couldn't have been larger, for all standing room was filled. Then I went to a large private dancing party & stayed till 12:30, though I only danced, 3 times. I made it up talking & making friends. There were a large number of comely & companionable young ladies there, & the young gentlemen were cordial, intelligent & agreeable. . . . I escaped a serenade by a brass band by going to the party, & so escaped making a speech. I liked the friendly idea of the serenade, but wouldn't have enjoyed being so pointedly lionized.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 2: 367-68]

  [FORT WAYNE. To Olivia Langdon, 2 January 1869]
(Through a failure in his records, MT had stood up the people of Fort Wayne on 29 December 1868. The 2 January lecture was a make up date.)
How they have abused me in this town, for the last two or three days! But they couldn't get the newspapers to do it. They said there was some mistake, & steadfastly refused -- for which I am grateful. The night I should have lectured here, the house was crowded, & yet there was not room for all who came. To-night it was rainy, slushy & sloppy, & only two-thirds of a house came. They were very cool, & did not welcome me to the stage. They were still offended, & showed it. But as soon as I saw that, all my distress of mind, all my wavering confidence, all my down-heartedness vanished, & I never felt happier or better satisfied on a stage before. And so, within ten minutes we were splendid friends -- they unbent, banished their frowns, & the affair went off gallantly. A really hearty opposition is inspiring, sometimes. . . .
      [from Mark Twain'sTwain's Letters 3: 2-3]

  [EL PASO, ILLINOIS. To Olivia Langdon, 12 January 1869]
I talked in Peoria, last night, to a large audience, & one whose intellectual faces surprised as well as pleased me, for I certainly had expected no such experience in Peoria. They want me to come again next season, & I am sure I shall like to do it if I am so unhappy as to be still in the lecture field. That audience reminded me of my Michigan audiences. Do you know, that with the exception, perhaps, of Mrs. Fairbanks', the Michigan reviews of the lecture were the best-written I have seen yet. . . .
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 24-25]

  [OTTAWA. To Olivia Langdon, 13 January 1869]
Another botch of a lecture! -- even worse than Elmira, I think. And it was such a pity -- for we had a beautiful church entirely full of handsome, well-dressed, intellectual ladies & gentlemen. They say I didn't botch it, but I should think I ought to know. I closed with a fervent apology for my failure, just as I did in Elmira -- & the apology was the only thing in the lecture that had any life or feeling in it. It cuts me to the very quick to make a failure. I did feel so ashamed of myself. I even distressed the committee -- I touched their hearts with my genuine suffering, & real good fellows as they are, they came up to my room to comfort me. The failure was chiefly owing to an idiot president, who insisted upon introducing me while the people were still pouring in -- & they kept on coming in till one-fourth of the lecture had been delivered to an audience who were exclusively engaged in watching the newcomers to their seats -- it seemed that I never would get their attention. I grew so exasperated at last, that I shouted to the doorkeeper to close the doors & not open them again on any account. But my confidence was gone. The church was harder to speak in than an empty barrel would have been. I was angry, wearied to death with travel, & I just hobbled miserably through, apologized, bade the house good-night, & then gave the President a piece of my mind, without any butter or sugar on it. And now I have to pray for forgiveness for these things --
[from Love Letters : 49]
(Later in this letter MT mentions a fact that might provide another reason for his unsatisfying performance--)
Lost my baggage somewhere, day before yesterday -- heard of it to-day, but can't get it before I arrive in Toledo -- am lecturing in my bob-tail coat & that makes me feel awkward & uncomfortable before an audience.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 31]

  [CHICAGO. To Olivia Langdon, 16 January 1869]
I have just been doing that thing which is sometimes so hard to do -- making an apology. Yesterday morning, at the hotel in Iowa City, the landlord called me at 9 o'clock, & it made me so mad I stormed at him with some little violence. I tried for an hour to go to sleep again & couldn't -- I wanted that sleep particularly, because I wanted to write a certain thing that would require a clear head & choice language. Finally I thought a cup of coffee might help the matter, & was going to ring up for it -- no bell. I was mad again. When I did get the landlord up there at last, by slamming the door till I annoyed everybody on my floor, I showed temper again -- & he didn't. See the advantage it gave him. His mild replies shamed me into silence, but I was still too obstinate, too proud, to ask his pardon. But last night, in the cars, the more I thought of it the more I repented & the more ashamed I was; & so resolved to make the repentance good by apologizing -- which I have done, in the most ample & unmincing form, by letter, this morning. I feel satisfied & jolly, now.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 45]

  [TOLEDO. To Olivia Langdon. 20 January 1869]
It was splendid, to-night -- the great hall was crowded full of the pleasantest & handsomest people, & I did the very best I possibly could -- & did better than I ever did before -- I felt the importance of the occasion, for I knew that, this being Nasby's residence, every person in the audience would be comparing & contrasting me with him -- & I am satisfied with the performance. The audience were quiet & critical at first, but presently they became warmly enthusiastic, & remained so to the very close. They applauded the serious passages handsomely. I have carried off the honors on the Rev. Nasby's own ground -- you can believe that, Livy.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 51-52]

  [GALENA. To Olivia Langdon. 29 January 1869]
Livy darling, I have received your letter, & am perfectly delighted with it. I have finished my lecture tonight, the people are satisfied, your kiss has comforted me, & I am as happy & contented as anybody in the world to-night. And I am not sick yet, & even believe I shall not be -- though for many days I have believed that only the will to finish my allotted task was really keeping me up, -- & have felt sometimes that if I were delivering the last lecture of the list, and knew all responsibility was at last removed, that with the passing away of the tense strain I would surely drop to the floor without strength enough to rise again for weeks.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 81-82]

  [RAVENNA. To Olivia Langdon, 13 February 1869]
I am able to inform the blessedest girl in all the world that the lecture to-night was a complete success -- & they said, as usual, that it was the largest audience of the season, a thing that necessarily gratifies me, for you know one naturally likes to be popular. And it is Saturday night, too -- think of it! -- & I need not hide to-morrow, but can go to church morning & evening. Somehow I don't often make a Saturday success.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 94-95]

  [ROCHESTER. To Olivia Langdon, 28 February 1869]
(The Lockport lecture was originally scheduled for 27 February, but had to be postponed, as MT explains to Livy--)
For the first time, I had to dismiss an audience last night without lecturing. It was a fearful storm, & the people could not get out. Not more than a hundred were present. Perhaps I ought to have gone on & lectured, but then the gentlemen of the Grand Army of the Republic had treated me so well (& besides there was a much-prized old California friend or so among them,) that I hated to see them lose money, & so I said I would foot the expense-bills & dismiss the house -- but they wouldn't permit me to pay anything, or depart without my regular salary -- & I rebelled against that. So we compromised -- that is, I talked to the audience a minute or two about the weather & got them to laughing, & so dismissed them in a good humor & invited them to come back Wednesday night & hear "the rest of the discourse" -- an invitation which nearly all of them accepted, for they took their tickets back, as they went out, instead of their money.
(After returning and giving the performance, he wrote this--)
[LOCKPORT. To Olivia Langdon, 4 March 1869]
My last lecture (for some time, at least) is delivered, & I am so glad that I must fly to you (on paper,) & make you help me hurrah. The long seige is over, & I may rest at last. I feel like a captive set free.
      [from Mark Twain's Letters 3: 126 & 134]

  [GENESEO. To Olivia Langdon, 1 March 1869]
Half a dozen young gentlemen 20 to 25 years of age, received me at the depot with a handsome open sleigh, & drove me to the hotel in style -- & then took possession of my room, & invited a dozen more in, & ordered cigars, & made themselves entirely happy & contented. But they were hard to entertain, for they took me for a lion, & I had to carry the bulk of the conversation myself . . . Then I rose & said, "Boys, I shall have to bid you a good-afternoon, for I am stupid & sleepy -- & you must pardon my bluntness but I must go to bed." Poor fellows, they were stricken speechless . . . I undressed & went to bed, & tried to go to sleep -- but again & again my conscience smote me -- again & again I thought of how mean & how shameful a return I had made for their well-meant & whole-hearted friendliness to me a stranger within their gates . . . And then I said to myself, I'll make amends for this -- & so got up & dressed & gave the boys all of my time till midnight -- & also from this noon till I left at four this afternoon. And so, if any man is thoroughly popular with the young people of Geneseo to-day, it is I. We had a full house last night, & a fine success.
      [from Love Letters: 72-73]

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