MARK TWAIN'S WANDERINGS AT AN END
In His Seventy-third Year He Prepares to Build a Home of His Own and Settle Down - Strange Record of Temporary Sojourn in Many Places and Countries.
Mark Twain is at last to have a home of his own building. He has wandered around the world for fifty years. Some of the time he had no home at all. In other years Missouri, Nevada, London, Paris, Berlin, Florence, and Vienna claimed him as their own. For a long time he had houses in Buffalo, New Haven, and New York, where his family lived. Still he wandered around the world, writing and lecturing. So numerous were these abiding places that a reporter sought him at his residence in lower Fifth Avenue one evening last week to straighten the matter out. the famous author explained the doubtful points. He chatted of art for a while. He exploded some of the stories told about himself - or rather put them in a way that robbed them of their traditional point.
Mark Twain, or Mr. Samuel L. Clemens in private life, made a distinction between a dwelling place and a home.
"If a man spends a month or two in a place," he said, "the surroundings grow too familiar. Yet he may not feel at home. If he spends a couple of years there he may come to look on the place as his home."
First there were Mark Twain's boyhood homes in Missouri. To have been ignorant of them would have proved an ignorance of "Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." The reporter had read them as often as most Americans, to say nothing of thousands speaking half a dozen different languages.
There is more to be told of Mark Twain's early days in Missouri, however, than is found in these stories of boy life. Not every one knows that the old house in Florida, Monroe County, Mo., which has been gradually torn to pieces by relic hunters under the belief that it is Mark Twain's birthplace, is not the house where the author was born. The real birthplace is some distance away - a two-story wooden dwelling that was materially changed after the Clemens family left it. Here the author was born seventy-two years ago.
Mark Left Behind.
Mark Twain did not carry away with him vivid recollections of this house. He was three years old when his father moved. A story is related of his life there, however, which is probably the first the author told at his expense. Mrs. J. W. Greening of Palmyra, Mo., Mr. Clemens's cousin and old playmate, was responsible for it. Mrs. Greening described how the family prepared to leave the Florida house, and continued:
"The household goods had all been loaded o none wagon, and after it had been stated the family all piled into another wagon. After Uncle John (Mark Twain's father) had nailed up the doors and windows of the deserted house, he mounted the seat, clucked to the horses, and drove off, leaving little Sam making mud pies on the opposite side of the house. A half hour later my grandfather, Wharton Lampton, came riding along and saw Sam busy making mud pies. He lifted the boy up in front of him, drove after the movers, and when he traveled seven or eight miles caught up with them. The matter was taken as a huge joke by all concerned."
The family moved to Hannibal, Mo. Their home is still standing at Hill and Main Streets - a comfortable two-story wooden dwelling. Mr. Clemens found very few changes in it when he visited Hannibal a year or so ago, except, as he said, the house seemed to have shrunk in some unaccountable way since he was a boy.
Hannibal is the land of Tom Sawyer and "Huck" Finn. Fully half the adventures of these popular American boys were taken from Mark Twain's own life. To repeat them would be like quoting paragraph after paragraph from the stories. Hannibal fronts on the brown waters of the Mississippi, churned up in Tom Sawyer's day by the splashing wheel of many river boats. Beyond are the islands where Tom and "Huck" found adventures - the swimming pool, Lover's Leap, Mark Twain's cave, and the slopes where the hunts for wild turkeys were so exciting. About them volumes of anecdotes are told by the townspeople.
Years of Wondering.
Mark Twain's next home was in Buffalo. He moved there in 1870, when he married Miss Olivia L. Langdon of Elmira, N.Y., and his father-in-law, Mr. Jervis Langdon, bought a one-third interest in The Buffalo Express. Between Hannibal and the new home on Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, were years of ceaseless wandering. Mark Twain had been a printer's devil in Missouri and a pilot for five years on Mississippi river boats. He served five weeks in the Confederate Amy, and tried gold mining in Nevada. He built a house for himself there, which was hardly a home under Mr. Clemens's classification. As he described the shack in "Roughing It," the dwelling was built in a crevice between two rocks. The roof was of canvas, left open at one corner to serve as a chimney. Cattle tumbled through the hole every now and then, smashing his furniture and disturbing his slumbers.
Mark Twain again became a wanderer. He wrote for The Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, a Nevada newspaper, journeyed to the Sierras in 1865, went to Honolulu in the following year, returned to America, crossed the continent to New York, and sailed in 1867 for Europe on the Quaker City. "Innocents Abroad" was the result of the trip. He met Miss Langdon on the boat and married her. [Historically inaccurate.]
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras," one of Mark Twain's most noted stories, brought him fame in 1867. The chat drifted to this little masterpiece.
"You attribute much of your success in telling the story to the pause before the last words, do you not?" asked the reporter.
"There is a knack in telling such a story," Mr. Clemens replied. "You must know exactly how long to hold your audience before coming to the point of the joke. After some experience I could tell how long the pause should be to the moment. The length of such a pause differs from time to time and with different audiences. Circumstances may alter it. Even such a little thing as a person coughing in an audience will hurry the point."
"It is the same principle, then that governs an actor when he gains the attention of an audience by moving, or 'holding a scene,' as he calls it?"
"That is the idea exactly. One of the best examples I remember was Mr. Herne's acting in the last scene of 'Shore Acres.' You remember there was a long silence before the curtain fell. The actor's movements and expression were telling the story. Then came the final moment - an absolute pause, a final impression conveyed by it. That is the best way I can illustrate the value of a pause."
The conversation turned again to the home in Buffalo. Mr. Clemens told recently how he had been married to Miss Langdon in Elmira, and journeyed to his new home with the wedding party. Reaching Buffalo, Mr. Clemens was driving in a sleigh through the snowy streets on a ride that he thought would never end. This was a ruse to give the rest of the family time to go to the new house on Delaware Avenue, light the gas and kindle the fires. When Mr. Clemens was finally driven up to the door, he found his home complete in every detail, even to his easy chair and a servant.
"Most of your admirers when they think of the Buffalo house," said the reporter, "will recall a favorite story about your life there. Mrs. Clemens, so the anecdote goes, urged you to pay a neighborly call on a family across the street. You put it off from day to day. Finally you strolled across the street to visit them. It was Summer, and several of the family were sitting on the front verandah. They rose to welcome you. 'We're so glad you called,' one of them said. Then you replied: 'I should have come before. I've dropped over now to say your house is on fire.'"
It didn't happen in exactly that way," Mr. Clemens replied. "I certainly did tell them their house was on fire. Perhaps I did stroll across the street. Nowadays I would probably run. Age makes a lot of difference when you're telling your neighbors about a fire."
Mark Twain was an editor in Buffalo about two years. He said he "couldn't live in Buffalo because of the frequency of fur overcoats." In 1871 his comfortable home in Hartford, Conn., was purchased. Here the family lived for more than fifteen years, while Mr. Clemens wrote some of his most important books, became interested n a publishing business, lectured, and wandered in foreign lands.
The Hartford home is the one most closely identified with his name. So is a story of Mark Twain and Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, one of his neighbors. Mr. Clemens's version of this anecdote exploded the popular conception of the yarn. It also gave an insight into a humorist's idea of humor.
"The version I've heard," said the reporter, "is that you called on Mrs. Stowe one day to find you your return that you had neither a collar nor a necktie on. Then, it is said, you wrapped a collar and a necktie in paper and sent it to Mrs. Stowe with the message that 'here is the rest of me.'"
"The incident was not like that," replied Mr. Clemens. "Mrs. Stowe and my family were neighbors and friends. We lived close to each other, and there were no fences between. I had a collar on when I made the call, but found when I got back that I had forgotten my necktie. I sent a servant to Mrs. Stowe with the necktie on a silver salver. The note I sent with it was ceremonious. It contained a formal apology for the necktie. I'm sorry now I didn't keep a copy of that letter. It had to be ceremonious. Anything flippant on such an occasion and between such friends would have been merely silly."
The life in Hartford, with its successes and personal sorrows, ended twelve years ago in financial complications that made Mark Twain a wanderer again. Mr. Clemens became interested in the publishing house of Charles L. Webster & Co. He sank his fortune in the business, and in an ingenious but impracticable typesetting machine.
Mark Twain's declaration twelve years ago that he would pay his debts by a lecture tour around the world, is well remembered. He was a man of 60 at the time. In some ways his task was more difficult than that of Sir Walter Scott when he wrote some of his greatest novels under a burden of debt.
But Twain was very popular as a lecturer. Theatres and halls were not large enough to hold the crowds that gathered at the doors. The proceeds of the lecture tour, the book "Following the Equator," that grew out of it, and his other publications not only paid his debts but replenished his fortunes. After his lecture tour came the years or residence in Europe.
"I suppose you could call the dwellings we occupied in Europe our homes. In England we lived near London and the home of Mr. Gladstone. Two years were spent in Paris. That house was a fine one. It had been built by a man who was both an architect and an artist. What fine large rooms there were! And everywhere were suggestions of a painter's home.
"Then there were the two years in Vienna and about the same time in Berlin. It was while we were living there in 1891 that the Emperor William asked me to dinner. Yes, I meant what I wrote about that dinner. The Emperor did most of the talking. If I could entertain him I would feel I had a right to talk most of the time, too.
"In Florence we spent about two more years. We occupied La Capponcina, a villa near the city with a beautiful view of the Pistoria Mountains. 'Joan of Arc' was written in Florence. The villa is now occupied by the Italian poet D'Annunzio."
Mark Twain's wanderings seemed to have ended, as he sat in the drawing room of his residence at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street. The color of his shock of hair and flowing gray mustache was repeated in a suit of spotless white. But the deep-set black eyes were as piercing as ever; his laughter as hearty and contagious. His movements and conversation created the impression of ceaseless activity of mind and body.
There is a connection between Mark Twain's wanderings and the new home he will build for himself near West Redding, Conn. The architecture will suggest the Italian villa Mr. Clemens occupied near Florence - a home sought for the benefit of Mrs. Clemens, then an invalid, and surrounded by many pleasant memories. The new home will also contain many mementos of the author's travels. The loggia was suggested by a villa of the Medici near Florence. A building in Milan inspired the decorations of the main entrance and some of the architectural details. Mr. Clemens will furnish a number of plaques in the Della Robbia style of faience that will be inserted in the walls. A mantel and fireplace bought many years ago by Mrs. Clemens in Scotland will be a feature of the living room.
Mr. Clemens's younger daughter is an invalid much of the time, and the site of the house near West Redding, Conn., was chosen so that the author might give his family a permanent home for both Summer and Winter that would be accessible from New York. Added this motive was Mark Twain's ambition to have his family about him in what may be the closing scenes of his life.
So Mr. Clemens bought a 180 acre farm in Connecticut, and chose a hilltop for his new home. The plans of the house, recently approved by Mr.. Clemens, were drawn by J. Mead Howells, a relative of William Dean Howells. There will be a rectangular pavilion with wings on either side, the walls of cream-colored stucco, and the low Italian roof covered with copper-colored tiles. Across one end will be the living room, with windows on three sides and walls paneled in dark wood. The large organ, heretofore in Mr. Clemens Hartford home, will be built into one end. In the centre is to be the fireplace from Scotland. The living room will open on the Italian loggia, with a beautiful view of the surrounding country.
As a visitor enters the house by the main doorway in the central pavilion he will find himself in a large hall with a billiard room on the right, the living room on the left, and the entrance to the dining room opposite. Three long windows in the dining room will open on a terrace overlooking the garden. Here a number of small spruce trees, resembling the cypresses of Italy, recall the days Mark Twain spent in a Florentine garden. The office of Mr. Clemens's secretary, the kitchens, and pantries occupy the rest of the first floor. On the second there will be Mr. Clemens's bedroom in one corner, the apartments of his family, and several guest chambers.
The farm near West Redding is called The Glen. In one of the valleys, however, is a noted natural fountain known as Beech Spray Spring. This will not only furnish a water supply of exceptional value, but will probably give a name to the country house.
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