Letters to Livy

Clinton, Mass. Nov. 15, 1869

LIVY DARLING--I had to submit to the customary & exasperating drive around town in a freezing open buggy this morning (at Norwich) to see the wonders of the village.

(Mem.--They always consist of the mayor's house; the ex-mayor's house; the house of a State Senator; house of an ex-governor; house of a former member of Congress; the public school with its infernal architecture; the female seminary; paper mill or factory of some kind or other; the cemetery; the court house; the plaza; the place where the park is going to be--& I must sit & shiver & stare at a melancholy grove of skeleton trees & listen while my friend gushes enthusiastic statistics & dimensions. All towns are alike--all have the same stupid trivialities to show, & all demand an impossible interest at the suffering stranger's hands. Why won't these insane persecutors believe me when I protest pleadingly that I don't care two cents for all the thrilling wonders the village can boast.--

(How I gloat in secret when one of those people regrets that I cannot "remain over" & see his accursed village! And how unblushingly I repeat the threadbare lie that I am sorry!

(After the natural wonders are all visited, then we have to call on other inanimated wonders with dull faces, but with legs to them that show them to be human: the mayor; the richest man; the wag of the village (who instantly assails me with old stale jokes & humorous profanity); the village editor--& a lot more of people I take no possible interest in & don't want to see. And when by some divine accident one of them isn't at home what a fervent prayer of thankfulness rises up in my heart!)

I only have to submit to these inflictions when I am the guest of somebody & cannot refuse to suffer in return for his hospitality. When I am paying my own bills at a hotel, I talk out & say No Sir--not any village wonders for the subscriber, if you please.


Pawtucket, Dec. 14, 1869

The other night at Meriden I struck upon an entirely new manner of telling a favorite anecdote of mine,--& now, without altering a single word, it shortly becomes so absurd that I have to laugh, myself. Last night I got to one particular point in it 3 different times before I could get by it & go on. Every time I lifted my hand aloft & took up the thread of the narrative in the same old place the audience exploded again & so did I--But I got through at last, & it was very funny. This teaches me that a man might tell that Jumping Frog story fifty times without knowing how to tell it--but between you & I, privately Livy dear, it is the best humorous sketch America has produced, yet, & I must read it in public some day, in order that people may know what there is in it.


Boston, Dec. 21, 1869

I talked last night in Canton, & had the hospitalities of Mr. Ames (son of Oakes Ames the P.R.R. Mogul) inflicted on me--& it is the last time I will stop in a New England private house. Their idea of hospitality is to make themselves comfortable first, & leave the guest to get along if he can. No smoking allowed on the premises. The next New Englander that receives me into his house will take me as I am, not as I ought to be. To curtail a guest's liberties & demand that he shall come up to the host's peculiar self-righteous ideas of virtue is simply pitiful & contemptible. I hate Mr. Ames with all my heart.


Boston, Dec. 25, 1869

I had a delightful time of it last night, with the lecture (in Slatersville--the place was changed) & was really hospitably entertained in a private family--a rare thing in New England. The night before, the dog at whose house I staid took advantage of his hospitality (I was undressing & could not leave) to ask me to abate ten dollars on my lecture piece--asked it as a charity to his society. I told him I wouldn't--that I hated the dishonored name of charity in the questionable shape it usually comes in. He said they had liked the lecture, & they wanted to keep the society alive so that they could hear me next winter. I said that when I jammed their hall full of people & then they had the cheek to ask me to abate their price, they hadn't money enough to hire me to talk to such a place again. In the morning he called me to breakfast, but I said as it was only 7 o'clock I would manage to do without breakfast until I could get it in some other town.--And when I went down stairs I said, "Doctor Sanborn, here are ten dollars for my night's lodging." He said he was much obliged, & would hand it to the committee. I said he would do nothing of the kind--I would not abate one cent on my price, & he must accept the ten dollars for his New England hospitality or not take it at all. He took it with a world of servile thanks. (He was the chief physician of Rockport & a very prominent citizen.)


Troy, Jan. 14, 1870

And this is a bad time for me to write about exciting matters, for my nerves, & my whole physical economy, are shattered with the wear & tear of travel, lecturing, ten thousand petty annoyances & vexations & an unusual loss of sleep. When things get to going wrong, they keep it up. Yesterday afternoon I arrived at Cambridge & drove to the hotel through a driving storm of sleet--it was dreary & cold. My spirits began to ebb. Then the Committee (with customary brilliancy of judgment) informed me that the Troy Times had published my entire lecture, praising it highly, & using numberless dashes & hyphens to imitate my drawling manner of speaking [see this review]--& further informed me that the Times had a large circulation in Cambridge.--My spirits fell lower--my anger began to rise. I abused my informant in no minced language for knowing no better than to tell me I was to talk to an audience to whom my speech would be no news. Then he left (to return after supper) & I was alone in my fury. I opened your letter, & lo, even the darling of my heart could not be spared! You had received another shot upon that old, old subject whose bare mention by any lips but yours is getting to be sufficient to make my hair rise. For I am a full grown man with gray hairs in my head, & have all a man's repugnance to being [per . . .]

There I go again. Well, I had but little time to spare, & so I must have written as I felt--I must have copied my condition. And it was not a happy condition. In due time the Chairman returned, & at 7 the fire bells rang, & he sprang to his feet, & exclaimed, "My God, there is the lecture-hall in flames!"

Mentally I uttered a Thanksgiving so fervent that if ever prayer of mine pierced the vault of Heaven that one did. I did not move from my chair, & so my wild excited chairman halted in his mad flight to the door. I said: "You can see by the blinding glare from the windows that nothing can save your hall--why need you rush there for nothing?"

He cooled a little & sat down--& as the fires glowed through those tall windows my spirits came up till I felt that all I needed to be entirely happy was to see the Troy Times editors & this chairman locked up in that burning building.

But my rising spirits were crushed to earth, & exasperation came again. The house was saved. It was burned a little, & flooded with water. But within the hour they scrubbed the floors, let out the smoke & warmed the place up again--& I lectured.

Of course, after the lecture, a lot of committeemen invited themselves to my room--although they knew I must rise at 7 in the morning--& presently I grew cheerful & kept them there till 12 o'clock.


Hornellsville [New York], Jan. 20, 1870

We did have a most delightful audience at Fredonia, & I was just as happy as a lord from the first word of the lecture to the last. I thought it was about as good a lecture as I ever listened to--but some of the serious passages were impromptu--never been written.


SOURCE: The Love Letters of Mark Twain, ed. Dixon Wecter (New York: Harper, 1949).