LETTER FROM "MARK TWAIN."
[FROM THE SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT OF THE ALTA]
A Lively Boat Race -- The Wicked "Wickedest Man" -- On the Wing -- Something About Chicago -- Story of a Rail -- Personal Gossip
International Boat Race.
HARTFORD, October 22, 1868.
I went up to Springfield, Mass., yesterday afternoon, to see the "International boat race" between the Ward brothers and the "St. Johns" crew, of New Brunswick. We left here at noon, and reached Springfield in about an hour. It was raining. It seems like wasting good dictionary words to say that, because it is raining here pretty much all the time, and when it is not absolutely raining, it is letting on to do it. I assembled on the bank of the river along with a rather moderate multitude of other people (moderate considering the greatness of the occasion), and waited. A flat-boat was anchored in midstream, and on it were collected the judges, the boats' crews, and some twenty of their friends. A dozen skiffs and shells were hovering in the vicinity. The conversation of the crowd about me seemed to promise that I had made this journey to little purpose, since all the talk was to the effect that the idea of anybody attempting to conquer the Ward brothers on the water was simply absurd. Everybody appeared to think that the St. John's gentlemen would be so badly beaten that it could hardly be proper to speak of the contest as a race at all. My sympathies always go with the racer that is beaten, anyhow, and so I began to warm toward those New Brunswick strangers in advance. The cries of "Two to one on the Wards!" "Ten to one on the Wards!" "Hundred to five on the Wards!" I felt like resenting as so many personal affronts. Shortly two "shells" were brought to the front -- long, narrow things like telegraph poles shaved and sharpened down to oar blades at both ends. The contestants took their places -- the four St. John's boys dressed in pink shirts and red skull-caps, and the four Ward's in white shirts and with white handkerchiefs bound round their heads. They were all find looking men. They rowed away a hundred yards, easily and comfortably. I had never seen such grace, such poetry of motion, thrown into the handling of an oar before. They ranged up alongside each other, now, abreast the judges. A voice shouted
"Are you ready?"
"Ready!" and the two shells almost leaped bodily out of the water. They darted away as if they had been shot from a bow. The water fairly foamed in their wake. The Wards had a little the start, and made frantic exertions to increase the advantage but it was soon evident that, instead of gaining, they were losing. The race was to be a very long one -- three miles and repeat. When the shells were disappearing around a point of land, half a mile away, the St. John's were already a trifle ahead. The people in my vicinity made light of this circumstance, however. They said "them Ward's" knew what they were about. They were "playing" this thing. When the boats hove in sight again "them Ward's" would be in the lead. And so the betting against my martyrs went on, just as before. Finally, somebody suggested that appearances seemed to indicate that the race was "sold." It had its effect. the most enthusiastic shortly began to show a failing confidence, and to drop anxious remarks about the chances of the race having really been betrayed and sold out by the Wards. But, notwithstanding all this talk was so instructive, the next twenty minutes hung heavily on my hands. There was nothing in the world to look at but five hundred umbrellas and occasionally a fleeting glimpse of the water -- and even umbrellas lose their interest in the long run, I find. there is nothing exciting about umbrellas -- nothing thrilling. One's pulse beats just as calmly in the presence of umbrellas as if they were not there. And they don't really amount to anything for scenery, being monotonous when there are so many. But in the midst of these reflections some one shouted:
"Here they come!"
"Whoop! St. John's ahead!"
"For fifty dollars it's the Wards!"
"Fifty to twenty-five it's the Wards!"
"Take them both! -- hundred to a hundred it's _____"
"Three cheers for -- Oh, the suffering Moses, the St. John's are ahead!"
It was so. It was easy to distinguish the pink shirts, now, flashing back and forth. On they came, dividing the water like a knife, and the white shirts far in the rear. In a few minutes they came flying past the judge's stand, every man of them as fresh and bright and full of life as when they started, and handling the oars with the same easy grace as before. A cheer went up for the gallant triumph, but there was little heart in it. The people on the shore were defeated, in pride and in pocket, as well as the opposing contestants. The Wards came in rather more than a hundred yards behind -- and they looked worn and tired. The race was over, and Great Britain had beaten America. Time, 39:38. there was but one consolation, and that was, that in a six-mile race on the same water, last year, the Wards made it in 39, thus beating the present time by 38 seconds. The Wards went into the contest yesterday in inferior condition. Their mainstay, Joshua, had been sick and was still unwell. However, these boys behaved in an entirely becoming manner. They said that they were badly beaten, and fairly beaten, and they wanted no excuses made to modify their defeat or diminish the brilliancy of the St. John's victory.
The "Wickedest Man."
I do not know whether you have taken as much interest in the "Wickedest Man in New York" as the people in the States have, but of course you have given him some of your attention. If you remember, he was a creation, or rather a discovery, of Mr. Oliver Dyer in Packard's Monthly. He was represented as being descended from excellent stock; the son of a minister, I think, and the brother of several ministers, and as being an educated man himself, and one who remembered feelingly the home teachings and Christian precepts of his youth; a man who made it his voluntary business to keep order at street-corner preachings, and was always ready to enforce respect for the Word and its messengers with his puissant fist. Yet this lost ram -- let us be consistent, if we are nothing else, and surely there was little of the "sheep" in John Allen, lost or otherwise -- this lost ram kept one of the vilest sailor dance-houses in all Water street; a den where congregated women so low that it would be complimentary to them to class them with the beasts of the field and the sty, and where sailors came to caress them and pant out upon them maudlin endearments from hearts swimming in gin and reeking with affection and blasphemy, and then get entirely and unspeakably drunk and be shanghaied. This magazine article showed John Allen up in all his depravity, and all his native goodness of heart which was concealed under it. The article was copied, praised, discussed far and near, and in the twinkling of an eye, as it were, John Allen was famous. His den was crowded day and night with citizens and strangers curious to see what manner of man the very wickedest in a city of a million people could possibly be. Mr. Dyer came out promptly while the excitement was up, with a new article in which he showed how the wickedest man's heart was touched, his pride humbled, his depravity shaken to its very foundations; how he had not only allowed the city missionaries to pray and sing in his dance-house, but had sung with them himself, his women had sung, also, and had even shed tears when the familiar hymns brought home and old friends and a sinless childhood back to their sorrowing memories. What must naturally follow these things? John Allen's conversion, of course. It was announced. Also the closing of his den and his resolve to elevate his rescued life to the reclamation of Water street. Then there were daily and nightly prayer meetings, exhortations and sermons at John Allen's, and the daily papers duly reported them and kept up the excitement. Reformation became popular. Kit Burn threw open his dog-pit in its interest, and in the afternoon, day after day, petitions to the throne of grace ascended from the arena where five hundred rats had met their fate an hour before, and where the blood of the slain still mottled the sawdust. Another person, hungry for fame and jealous of Jno. Allen's brilliant fortune, advertised in ill-tempered language that in the matter of awful and deliberate wickedness the boasted John Allen was an innocent lamb to him, and proceeded to prove it by a series of evidences, either one of which ought to be sufficient to damn him without even a glance at the others. This man was naturally incensed at the injustice that had been done him, and outraged by the spectacle of another man wearing laurels to which he himself was alone entitled, as the guardian of a long lifetime earnestly and unselfishly devoted to the commission of peculiarly revolting crimes. To such a mind, the reflection that after all his life had been a failure, could not be other than agonizing. He invited attention to his case -- insisted on throwing his doors open to prayer -- flaunted his superior sins before the public, and went on railing at the feeble impostor John Allen.
What was the natural result of all this state of things? Simply that religion was dragged in the dirt. Where one person was brought seriously to read his Bible, fifty non-combatants were made mockers and scoffers. I will venture to say that even Elder Knapp, in all his long and well-meant war against sin, has hardly done as much harm as this "revival" in Water street, New York. A religion that comes of thought, and study, and deliberate conviction, sticks best. The revivalized convert who is scared in the direction of heaven because he sees hell yawn suddenly behind him, not only regains confidence when his scare is over, but is ashamed of himself for being scared, and often becomes more hopelessly and malignantly wicked than he was before.
I was coming down the street in New York the other day, when I met Mr. Packard. He was innocently proud of the convert made by his magazine, and proposed that we go and see the animal. So we went down to John Allen's. He was not in. An old man sat at one side of a table in the front room, and a young man at the other side of it. There were only two rooms, and both were small, and rude enough in appearance for any wicked man's den. All the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with white canvas on which were painted hymns in large letters, and precepts from the Testament which were suited to the place -- if there be any precepts in the Testament suited to such a place. A prayer meeting had closed about an hour before. The old man had been present and was still mad about it. He said:
"Do you know this Mr. Dyer, as he calls himself?"
I said I had not met him yet.
"Well, when you do meet him you'll meet a man that's put himself out of the way in the vilest and most malignant manner to traduce and vilify, and hold up to public abuse and derision, a better man than he ever dared to be! -- the wickedest man in New York! He never saw the day when he was worthy to unloose the latches of John Allen's shoes. Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh -- and those are my sentiments about this Dyer. He has made a man a reproach and a by-word who never had done any crime greater than the modest minding of his own affairs. He has ruined him in estate, in prospects and in reputation. He has broken up his business and turned him adrift upon the world I wish I could get my eye on this precious Mr. Dyer! And after doing all this -- which he did out of pure speculation, and with the hope of putting money in his pocket, by lecturing around the country and trotting John Allen out as his "frightful example" -- he put his foot in it. Because, I wouldn't let John Allen make an ass of himself. I said if there was money in it, let John Allen play frightful example on his own hook, and pocket the flimsy. So Mr. Oliver Dyer had to run his little swindle by himself, and take his chances -- and he took Cooper Institute and filled it full of head-head missionaries and made a whooping failure of it, and be d---d to him and all that are like him, I say. John Allen went to Bridgport and Stamford to lecture on his own account, and he'd have done well enough only he got drunk as a piper and knocked the whole thing h--l--west, you know. I was afraid of it -- I was, really -- I was afraid of it. And the last thing I said to John Allen, with my arms around his neck and the tears in my eyes, was, 'John, if you love me; John, don't come the frightful example too strong.' But he did, you know, and busted -- rot them missionaries!"
The young man at the other side of the table remarked that he had acted as Allen's agent, and that the Tribune had accused him of being drunk also, and likewise another Water-street convert who had gone along to introduce Allen to the audiences, but these statements were untrue.
About this time the Wickedest Man himself arrived -- a tall, plain, bony fellow with a good-natured look in his eye, a Water street air all about him, and a touch of Irish in his face. He stood in the door, and a crowd of vagabonds on the sidewalk gaped and stared at him in stupid admiration. He said:
"Don't this sort of thing ever stir up the devil in you -- or may be you don't mind it, being used to being notorious?"
I thanked him for the compliment, and said I wasn't notorious enough to have become an object for people to stare at.
[One line of text missing from microfilm]...at me till I want to knock their heads off. Why, they come here and march right in and ask me -- well, you stand off there and I'll show you how they do. There, now, that's about right."
Then the speaker stepped into the street and returned with his hat in his hand, and walked up gingerly and said:
"Are you the wickedest man in New York?"
And then they walk around me, this way, and then sidle around t'other way, and examine the back of my head, and stoop down and feel my legs. And then they go off mumbling to themselves, as if they can't possibly understand it, anyhow. Now you know that bothered me like sin, at first, but it don't now. I've learned a trick. When they ask me questions, I ask them another. I'm like the Irishman. The priest met him one day, and says:
"How's this, Paddy, that you've not been to the church of late?"
"Be me sowl, seein' it's yer riverence, I can't answer ye -- but if 'twere the Protestant blaggard over beyent, I could do't.
"Very well, then, Paddy," says the priest, walking away a bit; "now, I'm coming toward ye a ripresintive of the Protestant minister, and so ye can answer me. Paddy, how is it ye've not been to the church of late?"
"Moind you own business, and get out of this, ye d--- ould Protestant limb of the divil!"
We are instructed to judge not, but I still question the genuineness of Jno. Allen's conversion. The ways of the worldly sit easy upon him yet.
And now I pick up a New York paper, and find that he has been up before the Police court for keeping a disorderly house -- and from what I can gather from the tenor of the article, he seems to have opened his dance-house again. If so, the belongings of religion have been innocently prostituted by its own servants to the advertising of one of the worst sin-factories in all New York -- one which has now ten-fold power to attract idlers and breed depravity. The wisdom of this Water street "revival" may be gravely questioned.
I have spent six weeks moving from city to city lately, doing nothing whatever but visiting friends. It is very, very pleasant work, and not hard. If there was a salary attached I would never do anything else. What a world of valuable information I could furnish about New York, Brooklyn, Elmira, Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis if I had only been on a tour of observation. But I observed nothing, except that Chicago changes so fast that every time you visit it it seems like going to a new city. they are erecting many fine buildings in St. Louis, but they are erecting many more and finer in Chicago. Chicago is a wonderful place. It probably numbers among its citizens more active, bold, thoroughly enterprising men than any city in the Union save New York. It is the centre, as you know, of a vast railway system, which drains the country in every direction. Other communities have what they consider their own legitimate country about them to back them up, and they regard their sovereignty over such regions as unimpeachable. Chicago recognizes no such sovereignties. She marches right into the enemy's country with her railroads, with an audacity which is delightful, and in a very short time she breaks down the "divine right" prejudices of that region and takes the trade. It is a maxim in less feverish communities that whenever a railroad to any place makes itself a necessity it will be built -- that is, whenever there shall be trade enough to warrant it. Chicago has changed all that. Wherever she finds a place to build a railroad to she builds a railroad to that place. She creates trade there afterwards easily enough. Three out of every five men you meet in Chicago have a live, shrewd, cosmopolitan look in their faces. These are the sort of people who have made the city what it is, and will yet double its wealth, its population and its importance.
I will remark, in passing, that the Sherman House is a good hotel, but
I have seen better. They gave me a room there, away up, I do not know exactly
how high, but water boils up there at 168 degrees. I went up in a dumb
waiter which was attached to a balloon. It was not a suitable place for
a bedchamber, but it was a promising altitude for an observatory. The furniture
consisted of a table, a camp stool, a wash-bowl, a German Dictionary and
a patent medicine Almanac for 1842. I do not know whether there was a bed
or not -- I didn't notice. However, I was glad I got that room, for I stayed
there an hour and took notes of an instructive conversation which was going
on in an adjoining apartment. I overhead the following
No, she wouldn't marry me. You were misinformed. It was broken off, and in the saddest way. I was not in the least to blame., upon my word and honor, though neither the girl nor her father the deacon ever believed me or ever forgave me. It was during the big election canvass when Lincoln ran the first time. Two-thirds of the deacon's honest soul were in religion and the other third was in politics -- Lincoln man. I never was a scoffer at religion in my life, but he half believed I was. Well, there was to be a political pow-wow in the village church where he lived, on a Thursday night, and he was to preside. I never thought anything about the matter, but Williams hailed me one afternoon, offered me a seat in his buggy, and away we started. It was Wednesday -- curse the almanac! -- but we never thought of it. Going into town, some devilish instinct put it into my head that it would help my case along if I marched into church with a rail on my shoulder, seeing that the deacon and the girl would both be there. So I got a rail and we came into town shouting and making a grand to-do generally. As we went by the church windows I caught a glimpse of her bonnet and plenty other bonnets, and I was happy. I shouldered my rail and marched in. The houseful of men and women were all quiet, and the old deacon was standing up in the altar saying something. Splendid! I went a booming up the aisle with my rail, swinging my hat and whooping:
"Hoo-ray for Old Abe --hoo-ray for the Illinois rail-splitter!"
But never a yelp out of that audience. I quit, right in my tracks. The deacon said:
"Sir, we were engaged in addressing the Throne of Grace. This unseemly exhibition is ill-fitted to the solemnities of a prayer-meeting!"
I never felt so sick in my life, John. I never felt so much like taking a walk And don't you know, as I stood up there before that congregation, I'd have given a million dollars for somebody to take that rail out for me. But no -- I had to sneak out with it myself. I threw it down and went up to where there was a board fence and practiced climbing backwards and forwards through a knot hole for as much as an hour. But my goose was cooked, you know. It was all up between me and that family.
And so endeth the legend. Perhaps I had no right to listen to it, but I did, anyhow.
I've visited the tomb of Washington, in Chicago, and also the birth-places of Homer, and Michael Angelo, and then adjourned to Cleveland, a stirring, enterprising young city of a hundred thousand inhabitants. Did you know that they claim 300,000 for Chicago? Cleveland is the center of a great coal, iron and petroleum trade, and this is necessarily bound to move steadily onward, being impelled by such stable and long-winded helpers as commerce and manufactures. Cleveland contains one of the finest streets in America -- Euclid avenue. Euclid is buried at one end of it -- the old original Euclid that invented the algebra, misfortune overtake him! It is devoted to dwelling-houses entirely and it costs you $100,000 to "come in." Therefore none of your poor white trash can live in that street. You have to be redolent of that odor of sanctity which comes with cash. The dwellings are very large, are often pretty pretentious in the matter of architecture, and the grassy and flowery "yards" they stand in are something marvellous -- being from one to three hundred feet front and nine hundred feet deep! -- a front on the avenue and another front on Lake Erie.
I had a very good time, visiting. In another city I fell out of a wagon backwards and broke my neck in two places. Another time I fell in the river, and when I was coming up the bank I got kicked by a horse. Altogether I had a splendid time. I have to lecture a great deal in the West this winter, and I expect to have some more fun.
The New York Tribune of this morning has double-leaded sensation despatches about the earthquakes in California, and from the way they read I think the matter must have been much more serious than the great 8th of October earthquake of '65. I shall be uncomfortable and anxious till the morrow's papers arrive, for our latest intelligence is that more shocks are anticipated. The California earthquakes are all the talk to-day.
Webb (C. H.) is pegging away at his patent "adding machine." A New York wholesale merchant of sense, standing and character, tells me that the machine is so simple, so quick with its work, and so manifestly useful, that it will be in every counting room in the city in less that five years. He says there cannot be any question but Webb will make a fortune out of it. I have not seen Webb to speak to him since I have been back to the States, but I hear of him occasionally. He still corresponds with the Springfield Republican. I saw Mr. Sam Bowles in Springfield yesterday. He is just back from his trip to the Mountains. He says his interest in the Pacific Coast remains unabated. E. R. Sill, who was a Californian -- don't know what or where he is now --is widely spoken of in the Eastern press as the rising young poet of the day; and his name is already so familiarized to the public ear as to enable the papers to print little news paragraphs concerning Mr. Sill's movements, without adding an explanation of who Mr. Sill is. Frank Fuller, ex-Acting Governor of Utah, is located at 19 Park place, New York, and is making money hand over fist in the manufacture and sale of a patent odorless India rubber cloth, which is coming greatly into fashion for buggy-tops and such things. He has a great many friends on the coast, and this news will not grieve them.
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