ASHCROFT ACCUSES MISS CLARA CLEMENS
Says Mark Twain's Daughter Made Charges Because She Was Jealous of Her Success.
QUOTES HUMORIST'S LETTER
In It He Praised His Secretary and Rebuked Daughter for Complaints - No Diversion of Funds.
Ralph W. Ashcroft, manager of the Mark Twain Company at 24 Stone Street, whose wife, for years before her marriage was private secretary to Mr. Clemens, was sued by the humorist to recover $4,000, gave out a statement yesterday in which he warmly defends his wife against insinuations that she misused Mr. Clemens's money.
Mr. Ashcroft, in his statement, accuses Miss Clara Clemens, daughter of the humorist, of having been envious of Miss Lyon's achievements as secretary to her father. Miss Clemens, he says, wanted to have Miss Lyon removed from her place.
Mr. Ashcroft declares that it was without the knowledge of the humorist's New York lawyers that the cottage at Redding, Conn., adjoining the Clemens estate, which he gave to Miss Lyon, was attached in his recent suit. He gives excerpts from the author's letters to indicate the high opinion he once had of Miss Lyon. This is the statement:
"Since my return from Europe, a week ago, I have thoroughly investigated the occurrences connected with quarrels forced on Mrs. Ashcroft by Mark Twain's daughters, and have heard what both sides have to say in the matter.
"To understand the matter in its true light, it is necessary to hark back to the Summer of 1904, when Mrs. Clemens died in Italy. Mrs. Ashcroft (then Miss Lyon) was Mark Twain's secretary. When his wife died, Mark Twain was like a ship without a rudder, and, as Henry H. Rogers said to me a few days before he died: 'At that crisis in his life, Clemens needed just such a person as Miss Lyon to look after him and his affairs, and Miss Lyon came to the front and has stayed at the front all these years and no one has any right to criticize her.' "
Daughters Jealous of Miss Lyon.
"For two years or more after their mother's death, both girls were in sanitaria most of the time, and the younger daughter has been under the care of nerve specialists ever since. Under these circumstances, Miss Lyon naturally became Mr. Clemens's hostess and person of affairs and how well she fulfilled the position is known to all who met her in those capacities. Both daughters, however, became jealous of her, were afraid that Mark Twain would marry her, and often endeavored to destroy his confidence in her. She probably would have been supplanted two or three years ago, but the elder daughter had musical and other ambitions, and thought more of them than of taking care of her old father and filling her mother's place.
"One's vocal ambitions, however, sometimes exceed one's capabilities in that direction, and the bitter realization of this has, in this instance, caused the baiting of a woman who has earned and kept the admiration and respect of all of Mark Twain's friends. Mark Twain well has said of her: 'I know her better than I have known any one on this planet, except Mrs. Clemens.' When one of his daughters made an attack on her about two years ago, he wrote this:
I have to have somebody in whom I have confidence to attend to every detail of my daily affairs for me except my literary work. I attend to not one of them myself; I give the instructions and see that they are obeyed. I give Miss Lyon instructions - she does nothing of her own initiative. When you blame her, you are merely blaming me - she is not open to criticism in the matter. When I find that you are not happy in that place, I instruct her to ask Dr. Peterson and Hunt to provide change for you, and she obeys the instructions. In her own case I provide no change, for she does all my matters well, and although they are often delicate and difficult, she makes no enemies, either for herself or me. I am not acquainted with another human being of who this could be said.
It would not be possible for any other person to see reporters and strangers every day, refuse their requests, and yet send them away good and permanent friends to me and herself - but I should make enemies of many of them if I tried to talk with them. The servants in the house are her friend, they all have confidence in her, and not many people can win and keep a servant's friendship and esteem - one of your mother's highest talents. All Tuxedo likes Miss Lyon - the hackmen, the aristocrats and all. She has failed to secure your confidence and esteem, and I am sorry. I wish it were otherwise, but it is no argument since she has not failed in any other person's case. One failure to fifteen hundred successes means that the fault is not with her.
The Expense Accounts Explained.
"The only person, so far as I know, who has charged Mrs. Ashcroft with dishonesty is Clara Clemens. Mark Twain has not and his lawyers have not. As is the custom in all large households, so it was in the Clemens household - money was drawn from the bank in cash to pay the thousand-and-one debts and expenses that it is not convenient to pay by check. When Mark Twain placed all of his financial responsibilities on Miss Lyon's shoulders (in addition to her other manifold duties) he did not tell her to employ a bookkeeper to keep a set of books, and she simply followed the custom that had been in vogue under Mr. Clemens's regime, to wit: no books of account were kept (other than the check book) and no itemized or other record was kept of cash expenditures. Miss Lyon was never asked to keep any such record, and did not do so.
"Clara Clemens now insinuates that Miss Lyon embezzled a large part of the money she drew from the bank in cash. Fortunately Miss Lyon is in a position to prove that the bulk of the money was paid to Clara Clemens herself for the expenses of concert tours and the delightful experience of paying for the hire of concert halls destined to be mainly filled with 'snow' or 'paper,' for the maintenance of her accompanist, Charles E. Wark, and to defray other cash expenditures that an embryonic Tetrezzini is naturally called upon to make. Returning home one day from an unsuccessful and disheartening tour Clara Clemens simply couldn't stomach the sight of Miss Lyon's successful administration of her father's affairs. So it became a case of 'get rid of her by hook or crook' and she endeavored to enlist my sympathies and services along these lines, with the result that - well, I married Miss Lyon.
"Mr. Clemens's New York lawyers now state that Mrs. Ashcroft's cottage was attached without their knowledge or advice. They also now state that they did not know that Mr. Clemens and I had made an agreement regarding the money he advanced for the rehabilitation for the cottage, which agreement makes his suit against Mrs. Ashcroft for this indebtedness absolutely groundless and farcical, in that no one can sue for a debt which has been partially paid and the balance of which is not due.
"The agreement is as follows:
Redding, Conn., March 13, 1909. Received from R. W. Ashcroft his notes for
the sum of $982.47, being estimated balance due on money advanced to Isabel
V. Lyon for the renovation of "The Lobster Pot," this receipt being
given on the understanding that said Ashcroft will pay in like manner any further
amounts that his examination of my disbursements for the fiscal year ending
Feb. 23, 1909, shows were advanced for like purposes.
S. L. CLEMENS. (Seal.)
I agree to the above and to make said examination as promptly as my other duties will permit.
R. W. ASHCROFT. (Seal.)
An Amicable Settlement.
"The matter has been settled amicably as far as Mark Twain, Mrs. Ashcroft, and I are concerned, and the adjustment will be consummated as soon as the proper papers can be drawn up, although it may be necessary for Mrs. Ashcroft to commence suit against Mark Twain to set aside the deed transferring the cottage to him, simply to protect her legal rights for the time being; as, while we believe that Mark Twain and his lawyer, John B. Stanchfield, will abide by their promises, still there is always the contingency of the death of either or both to be provided against. If Mr. Rogers had not died so suddenly and unexpectedly the affair would have been settled long ago without any publicity. It is an unfortunate occurrence all around. I am still manager of the Mark Twain Company, and shall so remain for the present. My contract has nearly two years to run."
Efforts to talk with Mr. Clemens at his home in Redding last night were futile.
A TIMES reporter called up the humorist's home on the telephone, was informed
that he had retired, and that, under no circumstances, would any word of Mr.
Ashcroft's statement be conveyed to him. It was stated that Miss Clemens was
at home, but that she, too, had retired, and that no communication would be
taken to her until morning. It was also found impossible to reach John B. Stanchfield,
Mr. Clemens's lawyer.
Karen Lystra's DANGEROUS INTIMACY
(University of California Press, 2004).
available from amazon.com
Return to The New York Times
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search