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This interview originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune July 9, 1886. It was later reprinted in the Washington Post on July 13, 1886 which is the source of this text.
AMUSING THE CHILDREN.
THUS DOES MARK TWAIN KILL TIME WHILE IN CHICAGO.
He Approves of the Upper Mississippi--A River Without Islands Is as Unattractive as a Woman Without Hair.
Mark Twain, traveling incog. Under the name of "S. L. Clemens, one wife, three children, one maid," was at the Richelieu Hotel yesterday, says the Chicago Tribune of Saturday. He leaned on the stone steps in front of the hotel, smoking a putative cigar. Mark Twain's literary fame is so great that it has somewhat cast into the shade his abilities as a smoker. He smokes like an artist.. He holds the cigar between his finger and thumb and contemplates it in a dreamy fashion. Then he raises it slowly to his lips, draws gently, and closes his eyes. After a judicious interval he removes the cigar, and the smoke rolls out under his long mustache with all the grace of a first dancer drifting on the stage. Then he opens his eyes. Mark Twain looks as little like himself as it is possible for a man to look. He wore a gray suit, a tall white hat and a wide white tie such as New York brokers affect. His long, drooping mustache, his well-curled hair and somewhat profuse jewelry made one think of a successful horseman or the manager of a popular burlesque.
But no one ever had such a satisfactory drawl. It established the fact that he was Mark Twain beyond all possibility of quibbling. A woman could "do up" her hair twice while he is pronouncing the word Mississippi. He lingers over it, plays with it, handles it as a young mother does her first baby.
"We came in last night," he said, pulling at the left side of his mustache. "Mrs. Clemens is not very well; neither am I. I have been amusing the children. I have taken them to a panorama. I understand there are three others near here. I will take them there too. I want to satiate them with battles--it may amuse them." Three little girls, composed of three red gowns, three red parasols and six blue stockings stood on the steps and grinned.
"Run up and tell mamma what a jolly time you've had, and I'll think of something else to amuse you."
When the three little girls had disappeared Mr. Clemens sighed. "Did you ever try to amuse three little girls at the same time?" he asked, after a pause; "it requires genius. I wonder whether they would like to bathe in the lake?" he continued, with sudden animation, hardly pausing five minutes between each work; "it might amuse them."
"Are you on your vacation trip, Mr. Clemens?"
"No; I have just returned from a visit to my mother at Keokuk, Ia. She is eighty-three years old and I had not been home for over a year. We came from Buffalo to Duluth by a lake steamer and then from St. Paul down the river to Keokuk. Neither in this country nor in any other have I seen such interesting scenery as that along the Upper Mississippi. One finds all that the Hudson affords--bluffs and wooded highlands--and a great deal in addition. Between St. Paul and the mouth of the Illinois River there are over four hundred islands, strung out in every possible shape. A river without islands is like a woman without hair. She may be good and pure, but one doesn't fall in love with her very often. Did you ever fall in love with a bald-headed woman?" The reporter admitted that he had drawn the line there.
"I never did either," continued Mr. Clemens meditatively, "at least I think I never did. There is no place for loafing more satisfactory than the pilothouse of a Mississippi steamboat. It amuses the children to see the pilot monkey with the wheel. Traveling by boat is the best way to travel unless on can stay at home. On a lake or river boat one is thoroughly cut off from letters and papers and the tax-collector as though he were amid sea. Moreover, one doesn't have the discomforts of seafaring. It is very unpleasant to look at sea-sick people--at least so my friends said the last time I crossed.
"It might amuse the children, though," suggested the reporter.
"I hadn't thought of that," replied Mr. Clemens, "but perhaps it might. The lake seems rather rough to-day. I wonder whether one could get a boat, a little boat that would bob considerable. Yes, it might amuse the children."
"But at such a sacrifice."
"You are not a parent?" replied Mr. Clemens. The reporter admitted his guilt.
"It is strange," continued Mr. Clemens, in momentary forgetfulness of the children, "how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages--everything one could desire to amuse the children. Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who 'wrote up' the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi."
It might be incidentally remarked it were worth going fifty miles on foot, if one couldn't get a pass, to hear Mr. Clemens unravel the word Mississippi.
"I suppose we will go East to-morrow," he added, "but I don't know. Mrs. Clemens makes all the plans. Women enjoy that, you know. Of course we never carry any of them out, but that doesn't alter the fact that the plans are thoroughly enjoyable ones. We will pass the summer at Elmira."
"Will you do any work this summer?"
"Yes; I shall probably amuse the children."
"Oh, yes; I see. Well, I am a private citizen now and have no immediate intention of turning author. I shall probably set to work on something or other, however. Most of my work is done in the summer."
At this moment the three little girls in the three red gowns and six blue stocking
appeared, and Mr. Clemens resumed the shape of an amusement bureau.