LETTERS VOL. 4
LETTERS VOL. 4
To W. D. Howells; in Boston:
Jan. 3 '86.
MY DEAR HOWELLS-- The date set for the Prince and Pauper play is ten
days hence--Jan. 13. I hope you and Pilla can take a train that arrives
here during the day; the one that leaves Boston toward the end of the
afternoon would be a trifle late; the performance would have already
begun when you reached the house.
I'm out of the woods. On the last day of the year I had paid out
$182000 on the Grant book and it was totally free from debt.
Mark Twain's mother was a woman of sturdy character and with a keen
sense of humor and tender sympathies. Her husband John Marshall
Clemens had been a man of high moral character honored by all who
knew him respected and apparently loved by his wife. No one would
ever have supposed that during all her years of marriage and almost
to her death she carried a secret romance that would only be told
at last in the weary disappointment of old age. It is a curious
story and it came to light in this curious way:
To W. D. Howells in Boston:
HARTFORD May 19 '86.
MY DEAR HOWELLS-- ..... Here's a secret. A most curious and pathetic
romance which has just come to light. Read these things but don't
mention them. Last fall my old mother--then 82--took a notion to attend
a convention of old settlers of the Mississippi Valley in an Iowa town.
My brother's wife was astonished; and represented to her the hardships
and fatigues of such a trip and said my mother might possibly not even
survive them; and said there could be no possible interest for her in
such a meeting and such a crowd. But my mother insisted and persisted;
and finally gained her point. They started; and all the way my mother
was young again with excitement interest eagerness anticipation. They
reached the town and the hotel. My mother strode with the same eagerness
in her eye and her step to the counter and said:
"Is Dr. Barrett of St. Louis here?"
"No. He was here but he returned to St. Louis this morning."
"Will he come again?"
My mother turned away the fire all gone from her and said " Let us go
They went straight back to Keokuk. My mother sat silent and thinking for
many days--a thing which had never happened before. Then one day she
"I will tell you a secret. When I was eighteen a young medical student
named Barrett lived in Columbia (Ky.) eighteen miles away; and he used to
ride over to see me. This continued for some time. I loved him with my
whole heart and I knew that he felt the same toward me though no words
had been spoken. He was too bashful to speak--he could not do it.
Everybody supposed we were engaged--took it for granted we were--but we
were not. By and by there was to be a party in a neighboring town and
he wrote my uncle telling him his feelings and asking him to drive me
over in his buggy and let him (Barrett) drive me back so that he might
have that opportunity to propose. My uncle should have done as he was
asked without explaining anything to me; but instead he read me the
letter; and then of course I could not go--and did not. He (Barrett)
left the country presently and I to stop the clacking tongues and to
show him that I did not care married in a pet. In all these sixty-four
years I have not seen him since. I saw in a paper that he was going to
attend that Old Settlers' Convention. Only three hours before we reached
that hotel he had been standing there!"
Since then her memory is wholly faded out and gone; and now she writes
letters to the school-mates who had been dead forty years and wonders
why they neglect her and do not answer.
Think of her carrying that pathetic burden in her old heart sixty-four
years and no human being ever suspecting it!
We do not get the idea from this letter that those two long ago
sweethearts quarreled but Mark Twain once spoke of their having done so
and there may have been a disagreement assuming that there was a
subsequent meeting. It does not matter now. In speaking of it Mark
Twain once said: "It is as pathetic a romance as any that has crossed the
field of my personal experience in a long lifetime." --[When Mark Twain:
A Biography was written this letter had not come to light and the matter
was stated there in accordance with Mark Twain's latest memory of it.]
Howells wrote: "After all how poor and hackneyed all the inventions are
compared with the simple and stately facts. Who could have imagined such