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May 6, 1865

Important Correspondence


For a long time I have taken a deep interest in the efforts being made to induce the above-name distinguished clergymen - or, rather, some one of them - to come out here and occupy the pulpit of the noble edifice known as Grace Cathedral. And when I saw that the vestry were uniformly unsuccessful, although doing all that they possibly could to attain their object, I felt it my duty to come forward and throw the weight of my influence - such as it might be - in favor of the laudable undertaking. That by so doing I was not seeking to curry favor with the vestry - and that my actions were prompted by no selfish motive of any kind whatever - is sufficiently evidenced by the fact that I am not a member of Grace Church, and never had any conversation with the vestry upon the subject in hand, and never even hinted to them that I was going to write to the clergymen. What I have done in the matter I did of my own free will and accord, without any solicitation from anybody, and my actions were dictated solely by a spirit of enlarged charity and good feeling toward the congregation of Grace Cathedral. I seek no reward for my services; I desire none but the approval of my own conscience and the satisfaction of knowing I have done that which I conceived to be my duty, to the best of my ability.

M. T.

The correspondence which passed between myself and the Rev. Dr. Hawks was as follows:


SAN FRANCISCO, March, 1865.

REV. DR. HAWKS - Dear Doctor. - Since I heard that you have telegraphed the vestry of Grace Cathedral here, that you cannot come out to San Francisco and carry on a church at the terms offered you, viz: $7,000 a year, I have concluded to write you on the subject myself. A word in your ear: say nothing to anybody - keep dark - but just pack up your traps and come along out here - I will see that it is all right. That $7,000 dodge was only a bid - nothing more. They never expected you to clinch a bargain like that. I will go to work and get up a little competition among the cloth, and the result of it will be that you will make more money in six months here than you would in New York in a year. I can do it. I have a great deal of influence with the clergy here, and especially with the Rev. Dr. Wadsworth and the Rev. Mr. Stebbins - I write their sermons for them. [This latter fact is not generally known, however, and maybe you had as well not mention it.] I can get them to strike for higher wages any time.

You would like this berth. It has a greater number of attractive features than any I know of. It is such a magnificent field, for one thing, - why, sinners are so thick that you can't throw out your line without hooking several of them; you'd be surprised - the flattest old sermon a man can grind out is bound to corral half a dozen. You see, you can do such a land-office business on such a small capital. Why, I wrote the most rambling, incomprehensible harangue of a sermon you ever heard in your life for one of the Episcopalian ministers here, and he landed seventeen with it at the first dash; then I trimmed it up to suit Methodist doctrine, and the Rev. Mr. Thomas got eleven more; I tinkered the doctrinal points again, and Stebbins made a lot of Unitarian converts with it; I worked it over once more, and Dr. Wadsworth did almost as well with it as he usually does with my ablest compositions. It was passed around, after that, from church to church, undergoing changes of dress as before, to suit the vicissitudes of doctrinal climate, until it went the entire rounds. During its career we took in, altogether, a hundred and eighteen of the most abject reprobates that ever traveled on the broad road to destruction.

You would find this a remarkably easy berth - one man to give out the hymns, another to do the praying, another to read the chapter from the Testament - you would have nothing in the world to do but read the litany and preach - no, not read the litany, but sing it. They sing the litany here, in the Pontifical Grand Mass style, which is pleasanter and more attractive than to read it. You need not mind that, though; the tune is not difficult, and required no more musical taste or education than is required to sell "Twenty-four - self-sealing - envelopes - for f-o-u-r cents," in your city. I like to hear the litany sung. Perhaps there is hardly enough variety in the music, but still the effect is very fine. Bishop Kip never could sing worth a cent, though. However, he has gone to Europe now to learn. Yes, as I said before, you would have nothing in the world to do but preach and sing that litany; and, between you and me, Doc, as regards the music, if you could manage to ring in a few of the popular and familiar old tunes that the people love so well you would be almost certain to create a sensation. I think I can safely promise you that. I am satisfied that you could do many a thing that would attract less attention than would result from adding a spirited variety to the music of the litany.

Your preaching will be easy. Bring along a barrel of your old obsolete sermons; the people here will never know the difference.

Drop me a line, Hawks; I don't know you, except by reputation, but I like you all the same. And don't you fret about the salary. I'll make that all right, you know. You need not mention to the vestry of Grace Cathedral, though, that I have been communicating with you on this subject. You see, I do not belong to their church, and they might think I was taking too much trouble on their account - though I assure you, upon my honor, it is no trouble in the world to me; I don't mind it; I am not busy now, and I would rather do it than not. All I want is to have a sure thing that you get your rights. You can depend upon me. I'll see you through this business as straight as a shingle; I haven't been drifting around all my life for nothing. I know a good deal more than a boiled carrot, though I may not appear to. And although I am not of the elect, so to speak, I take a strong interest in these things, nevertheless, and I am not going to stand by and see them come any seven-thousand-dollar arrangement over you. I have sent them word in your name that you won't take less than $18,000, and that you can get $25,000 in greenbacks at home. I also intimated that I was going to write your sermons - I thought it might have a good effect, and every little helps, you know. So you can just pack up and come along - it will be all right - I am satisfied of that. You needn't bring any shirts, I have got enough for us both. You will find there is nothing mean about me - I'll wear your clothes, and you can wear mine, just the same as so many twin brothers. When I like a man, I like him, and I go to my death for him. My friends will all be fond of you, and will take to you as naturally as if they had known you a century. I will introduce you, and you will be all right. You can always depend on them. If you were to point out a man and say you did not like him, they would carve him in a minute.

Hurry along, Bishop. I shall be on the lookout for you, and will take you right to my house and you can stay there as long as you like, and it shan't cost you a cent.

Very truly yours,
Mark Twain.



NEW YORK, April, 1865.

MY DEAR MARK. - I had never heard of you before I received your kind letter, but I feel acquainted with you now as if I had known you for years. I see that you understand how it is with us poor laborers in the vineyard, and feel for us in our struggles to gain a livelihood. You will be blessed for this - you will have your reward for the deeds done in the flesh - you will get your deserts hereafter. I am really sorry I cannot visit San Francisco, for I can see now that it must be a pleasant field for the earnest worker to toil in; but it was ordered otherwise, and I submit with becoming humility. My refusal of the position at $7,000 a year was not precisely meant to be final, but was intended for what the ungodly term a "flyer" - the object being, of course, to bring about an increase of the amount. That object was legitimate and proper, since it so nearly affects the interests not only of myself but of those who depend upon me for sustenance and support. Perhaps you remember a remark made once to a vestry who had been solicited to increase my salary, my family being a pretty large one: they declined, and said it was promised that Providence would take care of the young ravens. I immediately retorted, in my happiest vein, that there was no similar promise concerning the young Hawks, though! I thought it was very good, at the time. The recollection of it has solaced many a weary hour since then, when all the world around me seemed dark and cheerless, and it is a source of tranquil satisfaction to me to think of it even at this day.

No; I hardly meant my decision to be final, as I said before, but subsequent events have compelled that result in spite of me. I threw up my parish in Baltimore, although it was paying me very handsomely, and came to New York to see how things were going in our line. I have prospered beyond my highest expectations. I selected a lot of my best sermons - old ones that had been forgotten by everybody - and once a week I let one of them off in the Church of the Annunciation here. The spirit of the ancient sermons bubbled forth with a bead on it and permeated the hearts of the congregation with a new life, such as the worn body feels when it is refreshed with rare old wine. It was a great hit. The timely arrival of the "call" from San Francisco insured success to me. The people appreciated my merits at once. A number of gentlemen immediately clubbed together and offered me $10,000 a year, and agreed to purchase for me the Church of St. George the Martyr, up town, or to build a new house of worship for me if I preferred it. I closed with them on these terms, my dear Mark, for I feel that so long as not even the little sparrows are suffered to fall to the ground unnoted, I shall be mercifully cared for; and besides, I know that come what may, I can always eke out an existence so long as the cotton trade holds out as good as it is now. I am in cotton to some extent, you understand, and that is one reason why I cannot venture to leave here just at present to accept the position offered me in San Francisco. You see I have some small investments in that line which are as yet in an undecided state, and must be looked after.

But time flies, Mark, time flies; and I must bring this screed to a close and say farewell - and if forever, then forever fare thee well. But I shall never forget you, Mark - never!

Your generous solicitude in my behalf - your splendid inventive ability in conceiving of messages to the vestry calculated to make them offer me a higher salary - your sublime intrepidity in tendering those messages as having come from me - your profound sagacity in chaining and riveting the infatuation of the vestry with the intimation that you were going to write my sermons for me - your gorgeous liberality in offering to divide your shirts with me and to make common property of all other wearing apparel belonging to both parties - your cordial tender of your friends' affections and their very extraordinary services - your noble hospitality in providing a home for me in your palatial mansion - all these things call for my highest admiration and gratitude, and call not in vain, my dearest Mark. I shall never cease to pray for you and hold you in kindly and tearful remembrance. Once more, my gifted friend, accept the fervent thanks and the best wishes of

Your obliged servant,


Writes a beautiful letter, don't he?

But when the Bishop uses a tabooed expression, and talks glibly about doing a certain thing "just for a flyer," don't he shoulder the responsibility of it on to "the ungodly," with a rare grace?

And what a solid comfort that execrable joke has been to his declining years, hasn't it? If he goes on thinking about it and swelling himself up on account of it, he will be wanting a salary after a while that will break any church that hires him. However, if he enjoys it, and really thinks it was a good joke, I am very sure I don't want to dilute his pleasure in the least by dispelling the illusion. It reminds me, though, of a neat remark which the editor of Harper's Magazine made three years ago, in an article wherein he was pleading for charity for the harmless vanity of poor devil scribblers who imagine they are gifted with genius. He said they didn't know but what their writing was fine - and then he says: "Don't poor Martin Farquhar Tupper fondle his platitudes and think they are poems?" That's it. Let the Bishop fondle his little joke - no doubt it is just as good to him as if it were the very soul of humor.

But I wonder who in the mischief is "St.-George-the-Martyr-Up-Town?" However, no matter - the Bishop is not going to take his chances altogether with St.-George-the-Martyr-Up-Town, or with the little sparrows that are subject to accidents, either - he has a judicious eye on cotton. And he is right, too. Nobody deserves to be helped who don't try to help himself, and "faith without works" is a risky doctrine.

Now, what is your idea about his last paragraph? Don't you think he is spreading it on rather thick? - as "the ungodly" would term it. Do you really think there is any rain behind all that thunder and lightning? Do you suppose he really means it? They are mighty powerful adjectives - uncommonly powerful adjectives - and sometimes I seem to smell a faint odor of irony about them. But that could hardly be. He evidently loves me. Why, if I could be brought to believe that that reverend old humorist was discharging any sarcasm at me, I would never write to him again as long as I live. Thinks I will "get my deserts hereafter" - I don't hardly like the ring of that, altogether.

He says he will pray for me, though. Well, he couldn't do anything that would fit my case better, and he couldn't find a subject who would thank him more kindly for it than I would. I suppose I shall come in under the head of "sinners at large" - but I don't mind that; I am no better than any other sinner and I am not entitled to especial consideration. They pray for the congregation first, you know - and with considerable vim; then they pray mildly for other denominations; then for the near relations of the congregation; then for their distant relatives; then for the surrounding community; then for the State; then for the Government officers; then for the United States; then for North America; then for the whole Continent; then for England, Ireland and Scotland; France, Germany and Italy; Russia, Prussia and Austria; then for the inhabitants of Norway, Sweden and Timbuctoo; and those of Saturn, Jupiter and New Jersey; and then they give the niggers a lift, and the Hindoos a lift, and the Turks a lift, and the Chinese a lift; and then, after they have got the fountain of mercy baled out as dry as an ash-hopper, they be-speak the sediment left in the bottom of it for us poor "sinners at large."

It ain't just exactly fair, is it? Sometimes, (being a sort of a Presbyterian in a general way, and a brevet member of one of the principal churches of that denomination,) I stand up in devout attitude, with downcast eyes, and hands clasped upon the back of the pew before me, and listen attentively and expectantly for awhile; and then rest upon one foot for a season; and then upon the other; and then insert my hands under my coat-tails and stand erect and look solemn; and then fold my arms and droop forward and look dejected; and then cast my eye furtively at the minister; and then at the congregation; and then grow absent-minded, and catch myself counting the lace bonnets; and marking the drowsy members; and noting the wide-awake ones; and averaging the bald heads; and afterwards descend to indolent conjectures as to whether the buzzing fly that keeps stumbling up the window-pane and sliding down backwards again will ever accomplish his object to his satisfaction; and, finally, I give up and relapse into a dreary reverie - and about this time the minister reaches my department, and brings me back to hope and consciousness with a kind word for the poor "sinners at large."

Sometimes we are even forgotten altogether and left out in the cold - and then I call to mind the vulgar little boy who was fond of hot biscuits, and whose mother promised him that he should have all that were left if he would stay away and keep quiet and be a good little boy while the strange guest ate his breakfast; and who watched that voracious guest till the growing apprehension in his young bosom gave place to demonstrated ruin and then sung out: "There! I know'd how it was goin' to be - I know'd how it was goin' to be, from the start! Blamed if he hain't gobbled the last biscuit!"

I do not complain, though, because it is very seldom that the Hindoos and the Turks and the Chinese get all the atoning biscuits and leave us sinners at large to go hungry. They do remain at the board a long time, though, and we often get a little tired waiting for our turn. How would it do to be less diffuse? How would it do to ask a blessing upon the specialities - I mean the congregation and the immediate community - and then include the whole broad universe in one glowing fervent appeal? How would it answer to adopt the simplicity and the beauty and the brevity and the comprehensiveness of the Lord's Prayer as a model? But perhaps I am wandering out of my jurisdiction.

The letters I wrote to the Rev. Phillips Brooks of Philadelphia, and the Rev. Dr. Cummings of Chicago, urging them to come here and take charge of Grace Cathedral, and offering them my countenance and support, will be published next week, together with their replies to the same.

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