To belong to the family of a celebrity usually means to shine in reflected glory. As the brother of Mark Twain, Orion Clemens, inevitably found himself a figure of much interest to a wide public. How much of it was due to his kinship and how much to his own whimsical, witty and humorously inconsistent character it is difficult to say. The Palimpsest for October is devoted to the history and tradition of Orion Clemens. In his own right he retains a persistent popularity in the Mississippi River towns of Southeastern Iowa, and though he died in 1897, is still lovingly remembered by his old friends and neighbors, especially in Keokuk.
He tried his hand at various enterprises, but success escaped him. His beginnings in the printing business came to nothing, and afterward he tried politics and lecturing and authorship. But his industry and enthusiasm never advanced him further than to the borders of success.
His claim to be remembered lies in his delightfully gentle and charming personality, spiced with a humorous and at the same time apologetic acceptance of his sins of absent-mindedness. The record is full of anecdotes illustrating his peculiar characteristics. The Palimpsest reproduced the little note which he sent to the parents of the young lady he wished to marry, asking for her hand:
Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Stotts:
The object of this note furnishes a subject so entirely novel to me, that I hope I shall be excused for any blunders or awkwardness in writing.
Without further preface, I venture to inform you of my attachment to our daughter, Miss Mary Ellen, and to ask your consent to our union in a few weeks.
An early answer is respectfully solicited.
Most respectfully yours,
It was this same Mary Ellen who narrowly escaped disaster on her wedding trip.
Orion was comfortably settled in the stage-coach, his bundles neatly stowed
away, waiting for the horses to start, when a watchful friend warned him that
his newly acquired bride was still standing on the platform, surrounding by
her baggage. The young Mrs. Clemens was not long content with a supernumerary
role. Her vigorous management of her husband is shown by a homely anecdote.
One day when Orion was in the back yard cleaning a pair of trousers, Molly called
to him, "Orion, what are you doing?" No answer. Repeated calls still
brought no response. Finally, there came the meek retort from Orion, "Molly,
I am cleaning our pantaloons."