The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”

One day during the summer of 1889 a notable meeting took place in Elmira. On a blazing forenoon a rather small and very hot young man, in a slow, sizzling hack made his way up East Hill to Quarry Faun. He inquired for Mark Twain, only to be told that he was at the Langdon home, down in the town which the young man had just left. So he sat for a little time on the pleasant veranda, and Mrs. Crane and Susy Clemens, who were there, brought him some cool milk and listened to him talk in a way which seemed to them very entertaining and wonderful. When he went away he left his card with a name on it strange to them–strange to the world at that time. The name was Rudyard Kipling. Also on the card was the address Allahabad, and Sissy kept it, because, to her, India was fairyland.

Kipling went down into Elmira and found Mark Twain. In his book “American Notes” he has left an account of that visit. He claimed that he had traveled around the world to see Mark Twain, and his article begins:

“You are a contemptible lot over yonder. Some of you are commissioners, and some are lieutenant-governors, and some have the V. C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm with the viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar–no, two cigars–with him, and talked with him for more than two hours!”

But one should read the article entire–it is so worth while. Clemens also, long after, dictated an account of the meeting.

Kipling came down and spent a couple of hours with me, and at the end of that time I had surprised him as much as he had surprised me–and the honors were easy. I believed that he knew more than any person I had met before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had met before. . . When he had gone, Mrs. Langdon wanted to know about my visitor. I said:

“He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man–and I am the other one. Between us we cover all knowledge. He knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.”

He was a stranger to me and all the world, and remained so for twelve months, but then he became suddenly known and universally known. . . George Warner came into our library one morning, in Hartford, with a small book in his hand, and asked me if I had ever heard of Rudyard Kipling. I said “No.”

He said I would hear of him very soon, and that the noise he made would be loud and continuous. . . A day or two later he brought a copy of the London “World” which had a sketch of Kipling in it and a mention of the fact that he had traveled in the United States. According to the sketch he had passed through Elmira. This remark, with the additional fact that he hailed from India, attracted my attention–also Susy’s. She went to her room and brought his card from its place in the frame of her mirror, and the Quarry Farm visitor stood identified.

A theatrical production of “The Prince and the Pauper,” dramatized by Mrs. A. S. Richardson, was one of the events of this period. It was a charming performance, even if not a great financial success, and little Elsie Leslie, who played the double part of the Prince and Tom Canty, became a great favorite in the Clemens home. She was also a favorite of the actor and playwright, William Gillette, [9] and once when Clemens and Gillette were together they decided to give the little girl a surprise–a pair of slippers, in fact, embroidered by themselves. In his presentation letter to her, Mark Twain wrote:

“Either of us could have thought of a single slipper, but it took both of us to think of two slippers. In fact, one of us did think of one slipper, and then, quick as a flash, the other thought of the other one.”

He apologized for his delay:

“You see, it was my first attempt at art, and I couldn’t rightly get the hang of it, along at first. And then I was so busy I couldn’t get a chance to work at home, and they wouldn’t let me embroider on the cars; they said it made the other passengers afraid. . . Take the slippers and wear them next your heart, Elsie dear, for every stitch in them is a testimony of the affection which two of your loyalest friends bear you. Every single stitch cost us blood. I’ve got twice as many pores in me now as I used to have . . . . Do not wear these slippers in public, dear; it would only excite envy; and, as like as not, somebody would try to shoot you.”

For five years Mark Twain had not published a book. Since the appearance of “Huck Finn” at the end of 1884 he had given the public only an occasional magazine story or article. His business struggle and the type-setter had consumed not only his fortune, but his time and energy. Now, at last, however, a book was ready. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” came from the press of Webster & Co. at the end of 1889, a handsome book, elaborately and strikingly illustrated by Dan Beard–a pretentious volume which Mark Twain really considered his last. “It’s my swan-song, my retirement from literature permanently,” he wrote Howells, though certainly he was young, fifty-four, to have reached this conclusion.

The story of the “Yankee"–a fanciful narrative of a skilled Yankee mechanic swept backward through the centuries to the dim day of Arthur and his Round Table–is often grotesque enough in its humor, but under it all is Mark Twain’s great humanity in fierce and noble protest against unjust laws, the tyranny of an individual or of a ruling class– oppression of any sort. As in “The Prince and the Pauper,” the wandering heir to the throne is brought in contact with cruel injustice and misery, so in the “Yankee” the king himself becomes one of a band of fettered slaves, and through degradation and horror of soul acquires mercy and humility.

The “Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” is a splendidly imagined tale. Edmund Clarence Stedman and William Dean Howells have ranked it very high. Howells once wrote: “Of all the fanciful schemes in fiction, it pleases me most.” The “Yankee” has not held its place in public favor with Mark Twain’s earlier books, but it is a wonderful tale, and we cannot afford to leave it unread.

When the summer came again, Mark Twain and his family decided for once to forego Quarry Farm for a season in the Catskills, and presently found themselves located in a cottage at Onteora in the midst of a most delightful colony. Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, then editor of St. Nicholas, was there, and Mrs. Custer and Brander Matthews and Lawrence Hutton and a score of other congenial spirits. There was constant visiting from one cottage to another, with frequent gatherings at the Inn, which was general headquarters. Susy Clemens, now eighteen, was a central figure, brilliant, eager, intense, ambitious for achievement–lacking only in physical strength. She was so flower-like, it seemed always that her fragile body must be consumed by the flame of her spirit. It was a happy summer, but it closed sadly. Clemens was called to Keokuk in August, to his mother’s bedside. A few weeks later came the end, and Jane Clemens had closed her long and useful life. She was in her eighty-eighth year. A little later, at Elmira, followed the death of Mrs. Clemens’s mother, a sweet and gentle woman.

[9] Gillette was originally a Hartford boy. Mark Twain had recognized his ability, advanced him funds with which to complete his dramatic education, and Gillette’s first engagement seems to have been with the Colonel Sellers company. Mark Twain often advanced money in the interest of education. A young sculptor he sent to Paris for two years’ study. Among others, he paid the way of two colored students through college.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
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