LETTER FROM "MARK TWAIN."
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE ALTA CALIFORNIA]
Shipboard Amusements -- At Panama without a Revolution -- A Monkey Sharp -- From Aspinwall to New York -- Some Personal Notes -- A Picture of Hartford, Conn. -- Evading the Blue Laws -- Novel Views Concerning Mountains -- A Central American Yarn.
HARTFORD, Conn., August, Recently, 1868
The Proper Time to Sail.
EDITORS ALTA: I think the middle of summer must be the pleasantest season of the year to come East by sea. Going down to the Isthmus in the Montana, in the very geographical centre of July, we had smooth water and cool breezes all the time. We enjoyed life very well. We could not easily have done otherwise. There were a hundred and eighty-five quiet, orderly passengers, and ten or fifteen who were willing to be cheerful. These latter were equally divided into a stag party and a Dorcas Society. The stag party held its court on the after guard, and the Dorcas Society, presided over by a gentleman, amused itself in the little social hall amidships. There was considerable talent on the after guard, and some of our little private entertainments were exceedingly creditable. Read one of our programmes -- it speaks for itself:
PORT GUARD THEATRE.
New Bill, New Scenery, New Cast.
Dazzling Array of Talent.
The management take pleasure in informing the public that on this evening, July 10, will be presented, for the first time on any ship, the thrilling tragedy of the
COUNTRY SCHOOL EXHIBITION.
Dominie, Mr. J. L.
Oration -- You'd Scarce expect one of my age ... Mr. G. W.
Recitation -- The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck, with his Baggage Checked for Troy ... Mr. M.
Duett -- Give me Three Grains of Corn, Mother ... Messrs. L. & H.
Composition -- The Cow ... "M.T."
Declamation -- Patrick Henry on War ... Mr. R. R.
Poem -- Mary Had a little Lamb ... Mr. O. G.
Chorus -- Old John Brown had One little Injun ... School
Instrumental Duett -- Comb and Jewsharp ... Messrs. J. B. & J. T.
Poem -- Twinkle, twinkle, little Star ... Mr. H. M. T.
Recitation -- Not a leaf stirred ... Mr. W. W. J.
Any pupil detected in catching flies or throwing spit-balls at the Dominie during the solemnities will be punished. The making of mud pies during school hours is strictly prohibited. Pop-guns and potato-quills are barred. No pupil will be allowed to "go out," unless he shall state what he wants to go out for.
I have seen many theatrical exhibitions, but none that equalled the above. If any of your sea-going friends imagine it is barren of fun, let them get themselves up in boys' costume and try it on the quarater-deck some dull night when other amusements are worn out -- or in the way of private party performances in town. The hint is worth a good deal of money. We had a spelling, a reading and a geography class, but their performances were too execrable for complimentary mention. The spelling class spelt cow with a K, and the other two classes were not behind it much in ignorance.
When the Pacific voyage drew to a close, a large delegation of the passengers were sent, with a spokesman, to thank Captain Caverly, with all due ceremony but very heartily, for his watchful care of the comfort and well-being of the people on board, and likewise to thank his officers, through him, for their unfailing politeness, patience, and accommodating spirit toward the passengers (when they did not get a cent more for it than if they had never gone beyond the strict line of their official duties to do kindnesses and favors to the strangers within their ship). Was not that a neater and a more graceful thing to do than it would have been to publish one of those tiresome, stupid newspaper cards, signed by unknown people, and filled with cheap flattery of Captain and officers for "efficiency and attention to duty"? We owe no officers a deluge of compliments for being efficient and minding their business -- they are paid in cash for all that and we expect it of them; but distinguished urbanity and gentlemanly conduct are rare and precious things on land and sea, and are not to be had for mere wages or estimated by any standard of dollars and cents, and these it is a pleasure to compliment; only these can make a long sea voyage cheerful and comfortable; and these were the subject of our well-meant and well-received speech-making on board the P.M.S.S. Montana at the time I have mentioned.
Captain Ned Wakeman, Mariner.
We found Panama in the same place. It has not changed perceptibly. They had no revolution while we were there. I do not know why, but it is true that there had not been a revolution for as much as two weeks. The very same President was at the head of the Government that was at the head of it a fortnight before. It was very curious. I suppose they have hanged him before this, however. While I was standing in the bar of the Grand Hotel talking with a citizen about Admiral Shubry (who is one of the most enterprising Americans on the Isthmus, and has had a steamer built in New York at a cost of $100,000 for the purpose of bringing live stock down from his ranch for the steamers, I heard a familiar voice holding forth in this wise:
"Monkeys! don't tell me nothing about monkeys, sir! I know all about 'em! Didn't I take the Mary Ann through the Monkey Islands? -- snakes as big as a ship's mainmast, sir! -- and monkeys! -- God bless my soul, sir, just at daylight she fetched up at a dead stand-still, sir! -- what do you suppose it was, sir? It was monkeys! Millions of 'em, sir! -- banked up as high as the cat-heads, sir! -- trying to swim across the channel, sir, and crammed it full! I took my glass to see thirteen mile of monkeys, two mile wide and sixty fathom deep, sir! -- counted, ninety-seven million of 'em, and the mate set 'em down, sir -- kept tally till his pencils was all used up and his arm was paralyzed, sir! Don't tell me nothing about monkeys, sir -- because I've been there -- I know all about 'em, sir!"
It is hardly possible,but still there may be people who are so ignorant as not to know that this voice belonged to Captain Ned Wakeman, of the steamship America. Cheerful as ever, as big-hearted as ever, as splendid an old salt as walks the deck of any ship -- this is Wakeman. But he is failing under that Panama sun. They have had him lying up for months in charge of a spare ship, and it has been pretty severe on him. They ought to let him go to sea a while, now, and recuperate. He says the sun gets so hot in Panama, sometimes, it is as much as a man can do to tell the truth.
Dissipation of Aspinwall.
Aspinwall looked the same as usual -- the same combination of negroes, natives, sows, monkeys, parroquets, dirt, jiggers, and groceries in the small shops far up town; the same clusters of steamships in the harbor; the same business stir about the steamship office; the same crowded sidewalk of the main street, and, alas! the same dissipation prevalent. Why will these people persist in drinking? There is no enemy so insidious as intemperance -- none that sooner robs us of the esteem of our friends or the respect of the world -- none that leads so surely to the destruction of health, good name, and happiness. It is a pregnant subject.
On this side we came up with Captain Gray, and had fine weather all the voyage except the first two days out. Very singularly, all those people who did not get sick in the smooth Pacific, and who had ventured to say, toward the last, that they never did get sea-sick, got a very great deal in that condition during the first two days on this side. Some how, the best of people will lie about seasickness when they get a chance. Even our three gentlemen from China -- Boyd, Dolan and Captain Simmons -- after crossing the entire Pacific, got dreadfully sick on the Atlantic, while God permitted mean men to escape entirely. However, all of us arrived in good condition in New York, and found the superb new steamer we ought to have come up in, the Alaska, just ready to go to sea on her first voyage. She is the largest ship that sails out of New York, and probably the finest, also. Captain Gray commands. All the Chauncey's officers are transferred to the Alaska.
One of the first things that fell under our notice was one of Lotta's posters,which bore the information that she would begin a star engagement at Wallack's within a few days. It is wonderful what a firm hold that young girl has secured upon the good will of the people and the press of the metropolis -- I might say, of the rest of the country also, but you know that that follows, of course. Critics speak guardedly of other actresses, but they praise her without stint. The Tribune and the other great dailies are her friends. She draws surprisingly. I see nothing and hear nothing of her enterprising father. Lotta is to appear in a new play, "The Fire-Fly," written especially for her. After speaking of her former successes in New York, the Tribune says:
"She is aptly typical of that luminous and erratic insect, glancing and gleaming in the night air of summer. The fact the new drama in which she will appear comes from the practiced pen of Mr. Edmund Falconer, is a guarantee of its theatrical merit. 'The Fire-Fly' is the novelty of the week, moreover, in theatrical life, and public attention naturally centres upon it. Mr. Moss, the manager, is understood to have got up the new play with uncommon care. Should it prove a success, it will undoubtedly run along till the close of the summer season."
The seats are secured six days in advance.
Mr. Hooper, Utah Delegate to Congress, was in New York, getting ready to start over the Plains with Senator Stewart. Hooper's contestant, Mr. McGrorty, made a failure of his attempt to oust him from his seat. I remember the McGrorty war in Washington last winter, but did not suppose there was anything serious in that gentleman's pretensions. I though he was considered crazy at the time -- a lunatic of the harmless kind. However, it seems that he was in earnest in claiming Hooper's seat. He failed, and left it in the possession of an able, honest and hard-working man -- the best representative Utah has had yet.
Mr. Stenhouse was in New York. Several other distinguished Salt Lakers are cruising around here in the East, on business and pleasure combined.
Jake Smith, formerly of Virginia City, latterly of Montana, is sojourning in New York for the present.
Hartford -- The "Blue Laws."
I have been here several days. Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this is the chief. It is a city of 40,000 inhabitants, and seems to be composed almost entirely of dwelling houses -- not single-shaped affairs, stood on end and packed together like a "deck" of cards, but massive private hotels, scattered along the broad, straight streets, from fifty all the way up to two hundred yards apart. Each house sits in the midst of about an acre of green grass, or flower beds or ornamental shrubbery, guarded on all sides by the trimmest hedges of of arbor-vitae, and by files of huge forest trees that cast a shadow like a thunder-cloud. Some of these stately dwellings are almost buried from sight in parks and forests of these noble trees. Everywhere the eye turns it is blessed with a vision of refreshing green. You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.
I am able to follow Main street, from the State House to Spring Grove Cemetery, and Asylum street and Farmington avenue, from the railway depot to their terminations. I have learned that much of the city from constant and tireless practice in going over the ground. These streets answer the description of Hartford which I have given above. The large dwellings all stand far apart, each in the centre of its great grass-plat and its forest trees. There is not a mean building or slovenly piece of ground to offend the eye in all the wide area I have traversed as above. To live in this style one must have his bank account, of course. Then, where are the poor of Hartford? I confess I do not know. They are "corralled," doubtless -- corralled in some unsanctified corner of this paradise whither my feet have not yet wandered, I suppose.
The reason for this uniform grandeur is easily explained. The Blue-Law spirit is not utterly dead in Connecticut yet. The law prohibiting the harboring of sinful playing-cards in dwelling houses was annulled only something over a year ago. Up to that time, conscientious people whose instincts forbade them to break the law, would no more think of keeping an entire pack of cards in their dwellings than they would have thought of driving for pleasure in these beautiful streets on the blessed Sabbath. Therefore, they never entered into a friendly game of "draw," "old sledge," or anything of that kind,without first taking a couple of cards from the pack and destroying them. There was not a whole pack of cards in any house in Hartford. Thus was the majesty of the law upheld -- thus was its purity secured against taint. Another blue-law of the city preserves the beauty and uniformity of the streets and buildings. By its terms you must obtain permission from the city government before you build on your lot -- before you construct an addition to your house -- before you erect a stable. You cannot buiild a house just when you please, and you cannot build just any sort of a house you please either.
If you propose to put up a plain brick dwelling, 25 by 40, on your ground, the lord of the palace next you may complain to the Aldermen that your small enterprise will spoil the appearance of the street and diminsh the value of his property. That finishes you. If you propose to build an addition to the rear of your house, your neighbor may complain that it will obstruct his view of the railway, or the church, or the river, or something, and thus bring down his gray hairs in sorrow to the grave. And that closes out that proposition. If you decide to build a stable on your premises for your horses and your carriage, the party next door may affirm "with many holiday and lady terms," that the fragrance of a stable doth offend his nostrils unto death -- and then you will find that you must build your blasphemous stable elsewhere. You must get permission of the authorities before you attempt to build -- and that you cannot get permission to build an edifice that will detract from the comeliness of the street, is a thing you may safely setting in your mind beforehand. By this means hath Hartford become a most beautiful city. People accustomed to large liberties will call this an unjust, unrighteous law. Very well, they are entitled to their opinion, and I to mine. I don't care how unrighteous a thing is, so long as it is pleasant -- I like this law. I exult in it every time I walk abroad in these delightful streets. I hope it will never be repealed.
Morality and Huckleberries.
I never saw any place before where morality and huckleberries flourished as they do here. I do not know which has the ascendancy. Possibly the huckleberries, in their season, but the morality holds out the longest. The huckleberries are in season, now. They are a new beverage to me. This is my first acquaintance with them, and certainly it is a pleasant one. They are excellent. I had always thought a huckleberry was something like a turnip. On the contrary, they are no larger than buckshot. They are better than buckshot, though, and more digestible. The farmers boys and girls in the mountains near here turn out in their full strength, at this season of the year, and devote their whole talents to the gathering of huckleberries. They bring them to town and sell them for fifteen cents a quart. This is not a sudden and violent means of acquiring wealth. I spoke just now of the mountains near here, and if I had done it on my own responsibility I would apologize -- but I get the term from the public -- they call them mountains, and I think they do it with a deliberate intent to deceive. I think so because those mountains are not six hundred feet high. There is an amount of sin in this world that a man could hardly conceive of who had never been in it.
But the morality of this locality is something marvellous. I have only heard one man swear and seen only one man drunk in the ten days I have been here. And the same man that did the swearing was the man that contained the drunk. It was after midnight. Everybody else was in bed -- otherwise they would have hanged him, no doubt. This sample gives you the complexion of male morality in Hartford. Young ladies walk these streets along as late as ten o'clock at night, and are not insulted. That is a specimen of both male and female morality, and of good order. I meet young ladies marching cheerfully along in the loneliest places, in the obscurity of the night and the added darkness of the sombre shadows of the trees -- but I don't dare to speak to them. I should be scalped, sure. I see the whole female element of the community apparently -- hundreds and hundreds of pretty girls marching arm-in-arm -- turn out about eight o'clock in the evening and swarmback and forth through Main street with a happy effrontery that is in the last degree entertaining to a stranger. What would you think of respectable young girls marching back and forth at night and unattended, from the head of Montgomery street to the top of the hill, or from the wharves of the city front half way to the Mission San Dolores? It is said that ladies of the highest respectability go freely to lectures and concerts at night in this city of 40,000 souls, without other escort than members of their own sex. We may expect the lion and the lamb to lie down together shortly in Connecticut, if it be constitutional for the Millenium to come in small doses. To me, a sinner, the prospect is anything but inviting.
Two or three of the churches here have massive steeples -- or what were originally intended to be steeples -- run up a few feet above the roof and then chopped square off. The natives call them "stump-tails." These churches would be exceedingly attractive edificies if they wre finished, but in their present condition they are the saddest looking affairs you can imagine. A departed Christian must feel absurd enough, reporting himself in Paradise from a stump-tail church. But I suppose the people go on the principle of not standing on small matters so they get to Paradise -- getting there being the main thing. If such be the case, they are something like the Minister of the Navy of one of those one-horse Central American Republics -- a republic with a hundred thousand inhabitants, grand officials enough for a hundred millions, an "army" of five hundred ragamuffins and a "navy" consisting of one solitary 60-ton schooner. In Panama I heard
In this connection. There was war in one of those little republics -- the one I have been describing. The General-in-Chief asked the President for three hundred men; the President ordered the Minister of War to furnish them; the forces --- just the number wanted -- were down on the sea coast somewhere; the Minister of War requested the Minister of the Navy to place the navy of the republic at the disposal of the troops, so that they might have transportation to the seat of war; the Minister of the Navy (an official who had seen as little of ships and oceans as even Mr. Secretary Welles,) sent a courier to where the schooner was, with the necessary order for the Lord High Admiral. The Lord High Admiral wrote back:
"Your Excellency: It is impossible. You must be aware that this is a 60-ton schooner. There is not room for 300 men in her."
The stern old salt in the Navy office wrote back:
"Impossible -- nonsense. Make room. Heave the tons overboard and bring the sailors."
Any way to get them there so they got them there, was all this brave sea-horse cared for.
Return to Alta index
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search