LETTER FROM "MARK TWAIN."
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE ALTA CALIFORNIA]
Some Personal Explanations -- A Connecticut Legend -- A Revolutionary Newspaper Relic -- Curious Souvenirs of Old Times -- Concerning McGrorty -- Who is McGrorty?
HARTFORD, October 28th, 1868
E. Pluribus Unim.
I have a boil on one side of my nose and a cold on the other, and whether I sneeze or blow it is all one; I get the lockjaw anyhow. I never fully comprehended before how inscrutable are the ways of Providence. For my feeble finite wisdom is utterly stumped with the simple problem of what great and good end is to be accomplished by the conferring of this boil and this cold on me both at the same time, but Providence understands it easy enough. The ways of Providence are too inscrutable for the subscriber.
I have not been working very hard, but I have got this book of mine ready for the engravers and electrotypers at last, though it will not be issued from the publishing house till March. Not knowing what else to name it, I have called it "THE NEW PILGRIM'S PROGRESS," I am told that Bancroft is to be the agent for it on the Pacific Coast and in China.
This reminds me that I see by the papers that I am going to China in the spring. I was not quite certain of it before, but I am now, I suppose. I start out lecturing the 15th of November, and as my engagements extend far into March, I shall have ample time to think it all over.
I have seen a New England forest in October, and so I suppose I have looked upon almost the fairest vision the earth affords. The first trees to change were the maples, which doffed their robes of green and took to themselves a brilliant bloody red -- and shortly the long walls of shining emerald that bordered the roads were splendid with these random bursts of flame. A distant prospect gave to a forest the resemblance of a garment splotched with blood. the chestnuts changed next, but more slowly, and day after day their rich green panoply fainted away and dissolved into a soft sunset blending of dainty tints -- of gold and purple, touched with a crimson blush here and there -- and finally, some frosty morning, came out in the imperial yellow of China, and stood ready, with the mistaken wisdom of trees the world over, to undress for winter. A great forest mottled from end to end with these changing splendors, these opaline minglings of exquisite dyes, subdued and softened by distance, seems etherealized, stripped of the grossness of earth and suffused with the tender grace of pictures we see in dreams.
Indigent Nomenclature Legend.
Don't direct any more letters to me at Hartford until I find out which Hartford I live in. They mix such things here in New England. I think I am in Hartford proper, but no man may hope to be certain. Because right here in one nest we have Hartford, and Old Hartford, and New Hartford, and West Hartford and East Hartford, and Hartford-on-the-Hill, and Hartford-around-generally. It is the strangest thing -- this paucity of names in Yankee land. You find that it is not a matter confined to Hartford, but is a distemper that afflicts all New England. They get a name that suits them and then hitch distinguishing handles to it and hang them on all the villages round about. It reminds me of the man who said that Adam went on naming his descendants until he ran out of names and then said gravely, "Let the rest be called Smith." Down there at New Haven they have Old Haven, West Haven, South Haven, West-by-sou'-West Haven and East-by-east-nor'-east-half-east-Haven, and the oldest man in the world can't tell which one of them Yale College is in. The boys in New England are smart, but after they have learned everything else they have to devote a couple of years to the geography of New Haven before they can enter college, and then half of them can't do it till they go to sea voyage and learn how to box the compass. That is why there are so many more New England sailors than any other. Some of them spend their whole lives in the whaling service trying to fit themselves for college. This class of people have colonized the City of New Bedford, Mass. It is well known that nine-tenths of the old salts there became old salts just in this way. Their lives a failure -- they have lived in vain -- they have never been able to get the hang of the New Haven geography.
In this connection they tell a story of a stranger who was coming up the Connecticut River, and was trying his best to sleep; but every now and then the boat would stop and a man would thrust his head into the room. First he sung out "Haddam!" and then "East Haddam!" and then "Haddam Neck!" and then "North Haddam!" and then "Great Haddam!" "Little Haddam!" "Old Haddam!" "New Haddam!" "Irish Haddam!" "Dutch Haddam!" "Haddam-Haddam!" and then the stranger jumped out of bed all excited and says:
"I'm a Methodist preacher, full of grace, and forty years in service without guile! I'm a meek and lowly Christian, but d---n these Haddams, I wish the devil had 'em, I say!"
The gentlemen of the Courant have given me a facsimile copy of the first issue of that paper. It is about twice as large as a sheet of foolscap, and bears date October 29, 1764 -- something over a hundred years ago. In its columns, under date of "Boston, October 8th," -- for it will be remembered that news travelled slowly in those days -- I find broad hints of the dissatisfaction among the colonists which was within the next ten or eleven years to breed the American Revolution. Read:
"There seems to be a disposition in many of the inhabitants of this and the neighboring Governments to clothe themselves with their own manufacture."
British taxation without representation was worrying them. Again:
"It is now out of fashion to put on mourning at the funeral of the nearest relation, which will make a saving to this town of twenty-thousand sterling per annum. It is surprising how suddenly, as well as how generally, an old custom is abolished; it shows, however, the good sense of the town, for it is certainly prudent to retrench our extravagant expenses, while we have something left to subsist ourselves, rather than be driven to it by fatal necessity.
"We hear that the laudable practice of frugality is now introducing itself in all the neighboring towns, an instance of which we have from Charlestown, at a funeral there the beginning of last week, which the relatives and others attended without any other mourning than which is prescribed in a recent agreement.
"Indeed we are told that all the funerals of last week were conducted on the new Plan of Frugality.
"Nothing but FRUGALITY can now save distress'd northern colonies from impending ruin. It ought to be a consolation to the good people of a certain province that the greatest man in it exhibits the most rigid example of this political as well as moral virtue."
Who could he have been? Has his greatness totally passed form history and the memories of men?
War is boldly hinted at in this paragraph:
"It is now confidently affirmed by some that the severity of a new a--t of p----t is to be imputed to letters, representations, NARRATIVES, etc., transmitted to the m---y about two years ago by persons of eminence this side the water; and that some copies of letters are actually in this town, and others soon expected. to whatever cause these severities are owing, it behooves the colonies to represent their grievances in the strongest point of light, and to unite in such measures as WILL BE EFFECTUAL to obtain redress."
Cannot you fancy the ancient editor of the Connecticut Courant of a hundred years ago, in round Ben. Franklin spectacles, wig and cue, lace cuffs, coat-pocket-flaps like a cellar-door, long waistcoat, knee-breeches, stockings, low-quarter shoes with buckles on them like a window-sash -- a man gravely culling "news" from Boston three weeks old; and "per latest advices" about Colonel Bouquet's forces having crossed the river at Pittsburg full thirty days gone by; and thrilling rumors of war from Madrid, London, Versailles, Stockholm and the Hague, with the mildews of four awful months on them; and venerable canards, a 100 days out from Naples, telling how "between three and four hundred thousand" citizens had lately died of plague in that little kingdom -- a man exulting over his little old sensation despatches and latest dates, and never, strangely enough, never having a vision of 1868 flash through his complacent brain with its revelations of telegraphs and locomotives -- I say, can't you fancy this old muff sitting at his desk and getting off this bit of sarcasm, and holding it up and cocking his eye at it, and reading it over, and chuckling to himself, and reading it again, and calling in the "devil" and inflicting it on him, and then sending it to the printers perfectly satisfied that it is the best and the boldest and the awfulest crusher that ever thundered from the press -- can't you? Thus:
"We hear that if any Persons can tell of any valuable Reversions in the Gift of the Crown undisposed of, they may have a good Premium for such Intelligence; as there are some few of the Children of the Gentlemen now in Power still unprovided for!"
Then the rusty old flint-lock gossips pleasantly about the servant of an Irish merchant having been successfully palming himself off on the Parisians as the "Prince of Angola" -- "lately" -- (about a year before, no doubt); and in stunning sensation italics he puts in the Sheriff's proclamation commanding the contumacious John Wilkes, Esq., to "appear before the Lord, the King of Westminister," to answer for certain "Trespasses, Contempts and Misdemeanors" whereof he has been convicted -- and then in smaller type exults in the fact that that old time Head Centre is safe in France and will not be likely to honor the Lord the King's pleasant invitation; in default of a better mining excitement he tells of a piece of ore, containing "divers particles of silver" which has been found in Florida and sent to England for assay -- and probably much illuminated wild cat stock changed hands there on the strength of it; and he asserts that the "late report of the French having ceded New Orleans to the Spaniards is without foundation."
But he always comes back to his pet hobby, sooner or later -- hints of war with the mother country. Hear him:
"The northern colonists have sense enough, at least the sense of feeling; and can tell where the shoe pinches -- The delicate ladies begin to find by experience, that the Shoes made at LYNN are much easier than those of the make of MR. HOSE of London -- What is become of the noted Shoemaker of Essex?"
Yes, what is become of him -- and what is become of both of you, since you are so brash about it? It is an even bet that where you are now you don't toot you horn any louder than "the noted shoemaker of Essex" does.
But I will let him give it one more blast before I tumble him back into his dusty grave to sleep another century:
"It is fear'd by many who wish well to Great Britain, that the new A--t of P---t, will greatly distress, if not totally ruin, some of HER OWN manufactures. It is the tho't that by means of this A--t, less of her woollen cloths, to the amount of some thousands sterling, will be purchas'd in this cold climate the insuing winter."
He is a good deal worried for fear "Great Britain" will damage her prosperity if one lets him tell it. I will publish his joke, now, and then boost him back among the damned, where he belongs. I will print this joke in simplified justice to him, that people may see who originated it, and so give him the credit due (unless he stole it himself from some still more ancient periodical), for to this day it keeps turning up every now and then in the country newspapers with an aggravating pretence of being new and original:
"A Surprising Concatenation of Events to One Man in One Week -- Published a Sunday -- married a Monday -- had a Child a Tuesday -- stole a horse a Wednesday -- banished a Thursday -- died a Friday -- buried a Saturday -- all in one Week."
There you are. In our day, since we know nothing of banishment (which he did), and since we do know something of divorcement (which he didn't), we substitute the one for the other naturally enough when we steal the joke. I will now let this old buffer go. I don't wish to be too hard on him, lest I meet his musty ghost prowling about his ancient haunts, in Hartford here, some night. Where be his comrades? Whither went he to take his ale? Who was he, anyhow?
Where Is McGrorty?
But perhaps you don't know McGrorty? McGrorty was a great man once -- but that was some time ago. It was when he ran for delegate from Utah against Mr. Hooper. Somebody told him to buy a barrel of whiskey and run against Hooper -- and told him whiskey was as good as talent, as long as he could get the one and hadn't the other. And McGrorty did it. He ran against Hooper, treated the Saints and the Gentiles, he made the best fight he could -- and didn't win. He came near it, though. He got 105 votes, and Hooper himself only got 15,608. There was really only a difference fourteen thousand and some odd. A negro by the name of "Sy" got the rest of the votes -- six. Hooker was declared elected and McGrorty was advised to contest the election -- which he did; but he failed to give notice of his reasons within thirty days (as provided by a Congressional law), and that made his contest null and void, properly. Still, when a man comes near being great -- comes as near it as McGrorty did -- comes within fourteen or fifteen thousand of it -- it isn't in human nature to give it up. And so McG. infested Washington all last winter trying to get his dispute before the House of Representatives, but it wasn't any use. Congress was a conniver at all manner of inhumanity, and was only glad of a chance to keep this light out now that it was put out. Congress said, send along the negro -- let Sy have a show -- out with this Milesian Gentile! This, after he had got his speech all ready for the floor of the House! It was particularly mean of Congress to do such a thing at such a time, because the speech had to be inflicted on somebody, and so that McGrorty went around Washington all last winter reading it to everybody he could catch in a close place. People were driven crazy by it -- people shot each other on account of it -- thousands and thousands of suicides resulted from it. McGrorty ended by going crazy himself, I heard though many said he was crazy enough in the first place to make a good member of Congress. But they didn't take him in. That is what I am quarrelling about. They left his light to shine under a bushel -- never saw a bushel in such a shape that a light could under it, but suppose it possible, nevertheless -- they left is light to shine that way, merely because he didn't have 15,000 votes instead of Hooper. That sort of mean partiality is a thing that I despise. And so McGrorty was lost to the nation.
What makes me inquire about him now, however, is that a rumor has reached me from a friend in Washington that Mr. McGrorty is going to run on the Democratic ticket for Congress in California, and I thought if I could help him to a vote or two in memory of that speech of his, it would be as little as one of the few survivors of it could do. I feel grateful, and so long as he is running for anything anywhere, I am ready to help him along; and whenever he has got a fresh speech, and is reading it, I will wade right through the midst of his dead and dying to hear it. Count on me, McGrorty.
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