MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.
WASHINGTON, December 4, 1867
EDS. ENTERPRISE: - To write "EDS. ENTERPRISE" seems a good deal like coming home again - a good deal like coming home again - but in a dream wherein your hand takes hold of the same old gate and opens it in the same old way, and you enter and find the homestead as you left it: flowers under window, shrubbery in the front yard, old bottles in the retiracy of the corners. But one never finds home just exactly as he saw it in a dream; and by the same token, although (as you will observe by the slashing way in which I have dashed off that "EDS. ENTERPRISE,") I open the gate as familiarly as ever. I suppose I won't be likely to find any of the other well-remembered ornaments about your front yard but the old bottles. That sounds unkind, may be, but behold, truth is stranger than fiction, and one should be just, before he is generous.
I have been here a matter of ten days, but I do not know much about the place yet. There is too much weather. There is too much of it, and yet that is not the principal trouble. It is the quality rather than the quantity of it that I complain of; and more than against its quantity and its quality combined am I embittered against its character. It is tricky, it is changeable, it is to the last degree unreliable. It has catered for a political atmosphere so long that it has come at last to be thoroughly imbued with the political nature. As politics go, so goes the weather. It trims to suit every phase of sentiment, and is always ready. To-day it is a Democrat, to-morrow a Radical, the next day neither one thing nor the other. If a Johnson man goes over to the other side, it rains; if a Radical deserts to the Administration, it snows; if New York goes Democratic, it blows - naturally enough; if Grant expresses an opinion between two whiffs of smoke, it spits a little sleet uneasily; if all is quiet on the Potomac of politics, one sees only the soft haze of Indian summer from the Capitol windows; if the President is quiet, the sun comes out; if he touches the tender gold market, it turns up cold and freezes out the speculators; if he hints at foreign troubles, it hails; if he threatens Congress, it thunders; if treason and impeachment are broached, lo, there is an earthquake!
If you are posted on politics, you are posted on the weather. I cannot manage either; when I go out with an umbrella, the sun shines; if I go without it, it rains; if I have my overcoat with me, I am bound to roast - if I haven't, I am bound to freeze. Some people like Washington weather. I don't. Some people admire mixed weather. I prefer to take mine "straight."
So I have hardly been anywhere. If you were to bet on a storm and "copper" an earthquake, and lost; and then bet on an earthquake and "coppered" the storm, and lost again, you would let the next deal go by, maybe. You would not want to back your judgment any more for the present. That is about the way I feel. I am waiting for my luck to change.
The Capitol and Congress
I have been to the Capitol, several times, to look at it - almost to worship it; for surely it must be the most exquisitely beautiful edifice that exists on earth to-day. True, there are many buildings that are grander, and statelier, and half a dozen times as large, but if there is one that is so symmetrical, so graceful, so fascinating to the eye, I have not heard of it - unquestionably I have not seen it. A man could no more get tired of looking at it than he could tire of sunset in the mountains or moonlight on the sea.
I have been within, among the law-makers, also. They look well - both houses. I was here fourteen years ago, and remember what I saw then, perfectly well. I saw in the House Mr. Douglas and a few other great men. The mass of the remainder seemed to be a mob of empty headed whipper-snappers that had only come to Congress to make incessant motions, propose eternal amendments, and rise to everlasting points of order. They glances at the galleries oftenor [sic] than they looked at the Speaker; they put their feet on their desks as if they were in a beer-mill; they made more racket than a rookery, and let on to know more than any body of men ever did know or ever could know by any possibility whatsoever.
But the House I find here now is composed chiefly of grave, dignified men beyond the middle age, and look worthy of their high position. General Banks is the handsomest member, perhaps. General Butler is the homeliest. In his comeliness, Banks has competitors. Some of the members embellish a desk with a book, occasionally, but not frequently. Many of them pay only questionable attention while the Chaplain is on duty, but they never catch flies while he is praying. I noticed that, particularly, and was deeply touched by it; I was gratified more than tongue can tell; for the sake of my country, I was proud of it.
The Senate is a fine body of men, and averages well in the matter of brains. Strangely enough, the two Nevada Senators are the handsomest men in the company - the handsomest men in Congress, indeed, for Governor Nye is handsomer than General Banks; and Stewart is handsomer than the balance of the tribe.
A Mining College Proposed.
Which reminds me that Stewart has just introduced a bill for the founding of a national mining school. If it carries, in its present shape, it will be a most excellent thing for the whole mining community, from Pike's Peak tot he Pacific, and from the northern gold fields clear down to Mexico. Because, it ultimately entirely removes the Government tax upon bullion. That tax foots up $300,000, now ($100,000 of it comes out of Nevada's pocket alone), and it must augment, year by year. It is proposed to devote all of next year's tax to the buildings, etc., for the school; after that (say 4 or 5 years), half the tax will be spent on the school and the other half invested in United States securities for the benefit of the school, until the fund shall be large enough to yield sufficient interest to carry on the institution without touching the principal. Then, the Government tax on bullion will be abolished altogether.
The mining school will be free to all. Assays will be made for anybody, at a cost of a few cents, instead of dollars. The mining knowledge of all countries will be gathered together here, tested, classified, and diffused through our mining communities by means of inspections of the mines and free lectures to the miners by the faculty of the college, etc. The Secretary of the Treasury thinks the expense of mining will be materially lessened and the yield of bullion vastly increased by means of such a school as Mr. Stewart has proposed. It is suggested that the institution be located somewhere in your vicinity, on the Truckee, on the line of the Pacific Railroad. Whether the measure will carry or not, no man can tell. That it should carry, every man on the "coast" will unquestionably desire.
The First Effects of the Message.
The President's Message is making a howl among the Republicans - serenity sits upon the brow of Democracy. The Republican Congressmen say it is insolent to Congress; the Democrats say it is a mild, sweet document, free from guile. But one thing is very sure: the message has weakened the President. Impeachment was dead, day before yesterday. It would rise up and make a strong fight to-day if it were pushed with energy and tact. But it won't be done, I suppose. I foresee that the weather is going to throw some double summersets, now, right away. It will keep up with these convulsions in politics or wear out the elements trying. I must stand by with parasols, umbrellas and overcoats until the weather is reconstructed.
S. T. Gage of your Internal Revenue service, is here on business connected with his office. He is a little off color as to his overcoat, but his pantaloons are up to regulation. He looks well, and is attending strictly to business and behaving himself.
John Allman is here also, looking up business in the mail contract line.
I have seen your former Congressman, Harry Worthington. He dresses mighty well for a white man in these universal suffrage times. His home is at Omaha - Omaha the Sublime. When New York and other great States went Democratic, Omaha went handsomely Republican. They say it was because Harry was there. Burke is here, now, attending to business. He has contracts for feeding a tribe of Indians out there on the Plains. He has a great opportunity, now, to teach us what high, unselfish patriotism - and he knows it. He will do it. He will feed those Indians with his country's interest ever in his heart, and his worshipping eyes turned always toward her shrine - and when he gets done feeding them, behold not a devil of a redskin in all his gang will be in a condition to go on the warpath in the spring! Harry Worthington is a first rate fellow, and takes a joke kindly, and we all want to see him prosper. He is going to do well out of this thing. I feel certain of it. Of course he don't want it mentioned, outside of your own circle, but his main business here is to get one more tribe, because, the way he is averaging the rations now, the tribe he has got won't be likely to hold out long, and of course he wants something to fall back on. He thinks he will be perfectly safe if he can get another tribe.
There are plenty more Nevadians here. I will attend to them in my next.
[photocopy available in Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley, CA]
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