The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m. in The Barn at Quarry Farm. All four lectures are free and open to the public.
The first lecture, “Writing About Sexuality: Mark Twain’s Private Work Made Public,” will be presented by Linda Morris from the University of California, Davis. After a relatively free-wheeling period in his life in the American West, Mark Twain courted and married a genteel young woman from a prominent Elmira family, and he became the paterfamilias of a thoroughly Victorian family of his own. His major published works were deemed suitable reading for young men and women alike, and he raised his three daughters in a strictly Victorian, protected, and proper mode. Later in his life, in work not intended for publication, he let loose with explicit sexual references and frank talk about both male and female sexuality. This talk will examine a range of the works in which sexuality plays a major role, the language and metaphors he used to express sexual topics, and the sometimes surprising attitudes the work reveals.
On Wednesday, May 15 at 7:00 p.m., the Series continues in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus with “‘Infinitely-Divided Stardust’: Mark Twain and Lawyer Talk,” presented by J. Mark Baggett of Samford University. Told by the New Orleans fortune teller Madame Caprell that he should have been a lawyer, Samuel Clemens dismissed the law as “too prosy and tiresome.” But his immersion in legal language and legal fictions betrayed him. This lecture will explore Twain’s burlesques from a legal perspective and trace their influence, particularly in the dramatic stagings of court trials that appear so often in his longer works.
The Series continues in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus on Wednesday, May 22 at 7:00 p.m. with “Quarry Farm: Family Retreat with 1,631 Lightning Rods,” presented by Elise Johnson-Schmidt, AIA, preservation architect. In May 1869, Jervis Langdon purchases the land on Elmira’s east hill. It is there that he establishes the Langdon’s summer home, Quarry Farm – a place of respite which the family enjoys for 100 years. This lecture will focus on how Quarry Farm was used by the family and changes made to the house by Langdon family members. It will also discuss the lecturer’s interpretation of a story written during Clemens’ management of the farm – “The Lightning Rod Story” – a satire about dealing with contractors – which could be as true today as it was then.
The spring portion of the Series wraps up on Wednesday, May 29, in The Barn at Quarry Farm at 5:30 p.m. with a theatrical reading of “Waiting for Susy,” a one-act play by Bruce Michelson from the University of Illinois, followed by Michelson’s lecture at 7:00 p.m., “Mark Twain’s Homes and the Public Private Life.” When Sam Clemens was still young, a technological revolution in publishing — including breakthroughs in printing of pictures — provided new ways to fuel and gratify an unprecedented curiosity about the private lives of famous writers, and doing so became a lucrative sport. The Clemenses performed a “private” family life in some places, and tried to sustain the real thing in others — in an era before television, social media, paparazzi, data mining, and all the rest of it brought American personal privacy to an end.
About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.
Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.
“If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” – Mark Twain
If a skunk walks into your house at 2:30 in the morning you may not notice. You might, and will most likely, sleep right through the visit. It is, if fact, in your best interest to sleep through the visit; startling any creature at such an ungodly hour—especially a loaded one—is risky behavior.
Knowing this—at least on a subconscious level—was why I kept my eyes shut. If I pretended to be asleep maybe would it just go away? I had to try. Please, I begged my own brain as my trachea constricted in self-defense, this has to be a weird dream. Little paws, soft leather steps, on the wooden floor around my bed in the dark. The math. The odds of a skunk finding the secret cat door under the house and entering and climbing the stairs and pushing my door open and strolling right past the dog and jumping on my bed: slim.
I sprang up, startling the animal (the damage had already been done,) and flailed around for the light by my bed. It was hard to function through the gagging; it was hard to see through the invisible-green sulfur cloud in the dark; I could only hear the quick, scratching claws on the door as the animal deftly pulled it open enough to slip out. My Olfactory senses were desperately trying to outsource and my stomach was refusing the work.
I stumbled across the room blinded by the light and the stench and followed the trail. I thought about how much better it is to be sleeping at 2:30 in the morning. I wondered why humans feel it’s so fun to have pets. I wondered if a tomato juice bath is just an urban legend?
In the adjoining room on the desk where I write massively important stories about cats, dogs, my kid and Mark Twain sat a soggy, disheveled animal hacking up the remnants of a confrontation—perhaps a date gone really wrong—on all the notes and papers in my disorganized, organized piles.
Everyone’s favorite Quarry Farm cat, Mr. Cat felt that it was ok to take a direct hit in the face from a skunk and then stroll into my room in the middle of the night and tell me all about it. Well, he’s actually a very literary animal; he showed me as opposed to telling me. He showed me how repugnant the nightlife can be by filling our entire home with a cloud of his bad decisions.
With gentle hatred I grabbed the animal by the back of the neck and carried him as far away from my body as I could—there are no arms long enough—to the bathtub where I threw him, ever so delicately, in and slammed the shower door shut.
A tomato juice bath isn’t a thing, which is good, because I didn’t have any tomato juice. Google was quick to find me the solution: hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap which is bad because I didn’t have any of that either—except for the dish soap. All the articles stressed the importance of working quickly before the oils in the spray “set”—A very inconvenient fact at that time of night. Once they do set it takes about six to eight weeks for the smell to dissipate.
A dish-soap bath for a cat in full protest while the glass, shower doors rattled in their tracks and I flailed with the howling, clawing animal is not a quiet affair. Yet, all the while, my son—one of those humans that thinks it’s fun to have pets—slept peacefully in the next room as I wrestled the soppy, raging pin-bag. It did cross my mind that he should share the joy pet ownership with me but I resisted the urge to wake him and did my best to quiet the beast. I considered some extended time under water to quiet him down but I also considered that the inclinations of the disturbed mind at 2:30 in the morning shouldn’t always be trusted.
The dish-soap bath did almost nothing and I was not relieved as I wrapped the somewhat defeated creature in a couple of old towels and carried him to the basement where he would be quarantined until the Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide Store opened.
Unable to fall back asleep with all the gagging I stripped my bed and tried to wipe down all the things I think he may have touched or rubbed up against before I woke up. This was a task of blind guessing and seemed pointlessly impossible. I felt that I was getting used to the smell and at the same time smelling it absolutely everywhere.
I put some new sheets on my bed and lay down and stared into the darkness. It was almost four in the morning and the sky outside my window was black. The old iron radiators hissed and clinked, tired from the long winter. The neurotic little footsteps of a squirrel in the attic came and went it short bursts. The dog snored softly in the corner. The window lightened shade by minute shade until the trees outside became clear and towering into view. The alarm chirped from my phone—bird sounds—and I clicked it off almost before it started, only six weeks to eight weeks, I thought.
I woke the small person with an apologetic look on my face as I could see the toxic air sink into his. “What the…?” (At eleven he’s not quite into his free-use-of-expletives-in-front-of-dad phase but I could tell what he wanted to say and I wouldn’t have punished him for it.)
“Yeah, your friend, Cat, got into some serious business with a skunk last night. Not good.” Our furrowed expressions of funky disgust mirrored each other’s, although I was almost used to it by then he was experiencing it for the first time, so my expression was that of sympathetic funk.
And getting used to it did not ease my mind; personally, that’s great, but publically it’s a real problem. I noticed at the gym later, after I dropped the boy off at school, that the woman on the treadmill next to me wilted like a water deprived seedling and flung off the back of the motorized track with a zing and a thud. I wanted to believe it was just a simple heart attack—she was well into her golden age—but deep down I knew and let the commotion of rubberneckers and EMTs be a distraction for my slinky disappearance.
And when I went to pick the boy up from school he had a very strange look on his face. “Today was a weird day.” He said with a ghostly expression. “I’ll tell ya in the car.”
Apparently our hero, Mr. Cat, had rubbed all up on his backpack after the incident because when he arrived at school the entire class groaned in disapproval and he experienced his first taste of social ostracization. The teacher procured a trash bag and his backpack was sentenced to solitary confinement for the day; tied up tight in that bag and shoved deep into the closet. “It was really embarrassing, dad.”
“Well, at least you didn’t kill somebody.”
The boy went on to say that a couple of his friends were extra nice to him because they could tell he was super embarrassed and we had an at-least-you-know-who-your-real-friends-are Hallmark kind of moment; it was touching and profound and by no means worth it. At the same time, even though I didn’t wake him during the incident, he still got to experience the joy of pet ownership and I can’t say that was worth it but there is some relief in a deeply rooted, involuntarily blossoming, smirk.
From the January 1985 issue of the Mark Twain Society Bulletin:
“When Sam Clemens married Livy Langdon he married into a family that loved books, bought books, gave books, read books and enjoyed discussing books. In addition to discovering a young lady who was beautiful, charming had a sense of humor and was cultured and wealthy, young Mark Twain found a bride who shared his love of reading. The Langdon family library, or the more than 1,000 volumes of it that remain at Quarry Farm, represents the purchases and gifts to each other of four generations of Langdons. It would be surprising if Mark Twain had not read some of these books in the many summers he spent in Elmira. Only recently has an examination shown that he wrote in as well as read some of the volumes belonging to his in-laws.
When Mary Boewe and her husband, Charles
Boewe, the Rafinesque scholar, stayed at Quarry Farm … they examined the
library looking for specific titles of books that they knew Mark Twain and Livy
had read. They found extensive Clemens marginalia in three works by Lecky…”
The link to the entire article is found here. The discovery by the Boewe’s was the first of many. Since the initial Lecky discovery, an additional forty-six volumes from the Quarry Farm library have been identified as containing marginal notes and/or inscriptions by Mark Twain. Given that over three decades have passed, there remains no indication that the scholarly potential has been exhausted. Within the last year, selections from the Quarry Farm library have been featured in the Mark Twain Journal (Fall 2018) and “new” marginal notes have been confirmed in Ida C. Langdon’s copy of Rubaiyat.
In 1993, another set of books,
this time from Mark Twain’s personal library at Stormfield, came to Elmira
College through Robert and Katharine Antenne, descendants of the Clemens’
housekeeper, Katy Leary. The Antenne’s
donated 90 volumes, the majority containing inscriptions and/or marginalia from
As a cornerstone of the Mark Twain collection, these two collections of books are an important resource and curiosity for Twain scholars and enthusiasts alike. Having been exhibited, used in presentations, and studied by many a scholar for many a publication, these volumes have begun to show signs of their extensive use. In an effort to care for the originals and provide greater access for further educational and scholarly research, the pages of marginalia are being made available at the following address: https://nyheritage.org/collections/mark-twain-collection. The complete CMTS Mark Twain Archive can be found here, along with other research opportunities afforded Quarry Farm Fellows.
CAP helps museums improve the care of their collections by providing support for a conservation assessment of the museum’s collections and buildings. The museum will work with a team of preservation professionals to identify preventive conservation priorities. The final assessment report will help the museum prioritize its collections care efforts in the coming years.
The CAP program is administered by FAIC through a cooperative agreement with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal grant making agency that supports museums and libraries.
The CAP program will be an important part of a multi-year CMTS project entitled Master Plan for Interior Environmental Improvements for Quarry Farm and Its Collections. With guidance from Johnson-Schmidt & Associates, an architectural firm specializing in the restoration, preservation, and revitalization of historic structures, CMTS has identified improvements in the climate and fire-suppression systems within the main house of Quarry Farm as a high-priority preservation project.
As a retreat for Mark Twain scholars who spend weeks at a time doing their research, writing, and scholarly endeavors, it is not only important for Quarry Farm to have systems that will serve and protect the collections, it must also function as a living facility where Mark Twain’s presence is understood and its occupants can function in the manner in which the Langdon family intended their gift to the Humanities to be utilized. This is a special environment for scholars of one of the most important American writers, and therefore these priorities need to be balanced. Not only are the climate and fire-suppression systems involved in these two types of uses challenging to resolve, but equally important is the manner in which the systems are woven into Quarry Farm’s historic fabric. Limiting the impact of these systems on historic finishes will be an effort, as will the routes the systems will need to take to get to their destinations in order to condition the space throughout the house and conserve its collections. For these reasons, preservation and collections assessment specialists need to be hired to help CMTS address these very important concerns and priorities.
CMTS is in the middle of its Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign. This capital campaign is solely for the purpose addressing these specific preservation needs and is a part of the Master Plan for Interior Environmental Improvements for Quarry Farm and Its Collections. Groups and individuals who generously contribute will be honored with their names on a memorial plaque next to the one already gracing the entrance to Quarry Farm. This is truly a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity for community leaders to become a permanent part of the proud legacy of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, Quarry Farm, and Mark Twain. All interested participants should contact Dr. Joseph Lemak, Director of CMTS, at [email protected]
About FAIC – The Foundation for Advancement in Conservation saves cultural heritage for future generations, protecting it from decay and destruction. Learn more about FAIC at www.culturalheritage.org/foundation.
About IMLS – The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The Center for Mark
Twain Studies is again sponsoring a creative writing contest for area students
in grades 2-6, encouraging students to explore Mark Twain’s legacy in Elmira
and the Southern Tier. Submissions for
the competition are due by April 19.
While staying at
Quarry Farm, Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their
own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace. The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict
fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such
as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.
schools within a 25-mile radius of Quarry Farm are encouraged to access the
fireplace tiles on the CMTS website, marktwainstudies.org, and create their own
stories based on the tile images.
Three winners from
three different schools will be chosen by CMTS staff. CMTS has
received special permission to give the winners a personal tour inside Quarry
Farm, normally only open to Twain Scholars.
The winning students will be able to read their story next to the Quarry
Farm parlor fireplace, tour Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite
dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.
Submissions for the contest should be submitted by Friday, April 19, to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, Elmira College, 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901. Additional information, including a virtual tour of Quarry Farm, can be found online at marktwainstudies.org.
All the contest information and high-resolution pictures of the Quarry Farm fireplace tiles can be found at MarkTwainStudies.org.
About the Center for Mark Twain Studies –The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain. –
Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.
The first snow of the year brings a crystalline stillness to the world. Quarry Farm pauses in muted silence. The trees, newly naked stick figures fresh from the fall blaze of amber and gold, are highlighted in the angelic white from above and rescued from the wind whipped blandness of cold mud and dormant stubble. The sky, usually dominant with oppressive greyness, is pushed far off in the distance and serves the solitary purpose of background, lifting the purity of the snowy middle and giving it a tangible luminosity that you can breathe in and hear and taste.
I’m out the door and up into the woods. The snow emits a muffled squeak with every step as it compresses under my boots and my arms stick out to the side a little more than normal because of my fat winter coat. The cold air rushing in through my nose tingles and feels good. I can imagine it traveling all the way into my lungs before it warms up and is processed in my complicated pulmonary system that, when x-rayed, has a remarkable resemblance to the trees that I walk in amongst right now. They also have the same function, they arethe lungs of the earth.
Way off in the distance I can hear a snowplow downshift and produce a familiar rumble that every northerner forgets that they remember and will recognize instantly upon its return. For me the sound is tied to snow days and hot chocolate and the thawing of icy fingers after too many hours playing in a snowy school-free paradise. And presently, as of yesterday in fact, I have an even greater appreciation for the folks that charge out there when the weather is at its wildest to clear the streets for all the people trying to get back home.
I left my house yesterday to go pick up the lad from school as the very first flakes began to fall delicately from the sky. “Half-hour round trip,” I thought. “no problem.” As I descended the hill and hit the highway, the situation went from Tom Sawyer to Mysterious Stranger—it got weird. Those fluffy little flakes became a blur of white streaks, like ludicrous speed in Spaceballs, and I thought, on this day in mid-November, about revising my yearly routine of mounting my snow tires in the first week of December.
I picked up the little fella and we headed back toward the Farm. As I hit the turn signal to go right on East Hill, I slid past the mark giving the shoulders raised, palms up “I’m sorry—what can I do?” gesture to the guy in the truck at the stop sign waiting for me to get my act together. I glided to a stop, did an awkward reverse in the middle of the intersection, and proceeded onward. The truck guy stared ahead with the look of an unhurried cow, but I’m sure he was wishing us well on the rest of our journey.
The beginning of East Hill is steep. I had almost zero confidence in our mission. We cleared the bridge section of the accent, which is still nothing compared to the grade we were about to hit. I got a little speed up, gripped the wheel tight at ten and two, and closed my eyes (kidding)—my eyes were close to bugging out of my head. One-tenth of a mile, two-tenths, then the wheels lost their grip and gravity took over. The transition from forward to backward was slow but full of potential. I was going to do a reverse swing to the right into the driveway I’d just passed on the way up—I’d seen the move on Nightrider when I was a kid. But as our speed increased I realized I wasn’t swinging anything anywhere. My son suggested, in a rather alarmed tone, that I try the brakes. There are several reasons why his suggestion was refutable but I didn’t have the time in that moment to list them. All I could do was try and keep the car in the center of the road, away from the deep ditches on both sides, and hope no cars were behind me as we careened down the hill backwards. I’m not sure the exact speed we were going but it was directly tied to my heart rate—unnaturally fast.
As the land leveled out and we didn’t end upin a ditch or a multicar pileup I grew to feel pretty darn good. A brief moment of stillness enveloped us as we came to a rest in the middle of the road like the cotton pillows of snow on our windshield. From above I could imagine our little white car quietly sleeping in the seemingly untouched white landscape where the difference between the road and the land is as mysterious as the indigo blue color of the snow filled sky at dusk.
I eased our chariot off to the side of the road and we started our hike. It was no more than a mile and a half up to the house—Twain did it all the time, of course that was in the summer—but really, as I told my boy at least forty-two times, there is nothing to complain about.
A whole evening and night of snow has delivered us a solid foot up on the hill. I pull my feet through as the powder parts around my legs giving me the sensation of walking through water—which is technically what I’m doing. Leftover hints of that mysterious indigo blend with the gray sky. The brilliant white powder and the wet black branches accentuate each other. The feeling of floating isolation makes me wonder if I’m still sleeping. There are only so many paths one can take out here in the woods and I’ve walked them all many times in the past five years. But there’s something so completely new and alive about this particular view. Maybe it’s that I can feel the whole world around me slow to a stop, even outside the seclusion of Quarry Farm. The weather is bigger than the plans everybody had and there’s no way around it. Except for the heroic snowplow operators, everyone allows himself or herself to take it a little slower than normal. Maybe they should let the clouds of white powder remain untouched for a while. Or maybe I’m just projecting because I think that’s what everyone should do with this opportunity. I dread the idea of walking down the hill to find my car. Not because it will be buried under a foot of snow and most definitely plowed in, but because when I get down there I might find out that it’s just another day.
There’s an open field at the top of the hill. It’s the highest point around. It’s the kind of place that you walk out into the middle of, spread your arms wide and fall on your back. When you float down to a gentle stop you might wonder if you’re still sleeping. You might wonder why you feel warm. You might let yourself pause in the blanket and watch nothing fall but the last few lingering snowflakes.
The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, November 7 when presenter John Bird takes the audience through Twain’s summer of 1884 at Quarry Farm. The final fall lecture begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Bird, emeritus professor of English at Winthrop University, will present “‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm.” As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of his current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, Bird’s presentation will let audiences relive Twain and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read a proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives the audience a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.
Bird is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.
About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series
In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.
CMTS has updated its virtual tours of both Quarry Farm and the Langdon/Clemens plot on Woodlawn Cemetery (Elmira, New York). The virtual tours now include a number of Points of Interests. These “POI” include images and text that will help viewers explore and learn about the house where wrote a number of his iconic works and his final resting place.
This is the beginning of a larger project for CMTS, specifically the creation of an interactive map of Woodlawn Cemetery and an interactive map of the city of Elmira from 1870 – 1910, roughly the time span when Mark Twain would visit and reside in Elmira.
Created by David Coleman of Small Town 360, the virtual tour allows a glimpse of Quarry Farm and a step back in time by offering 360-degree views of both inside and outside the home, including the parlor, library kitchen and pantry; at the same time the Langdon/Cemetery plot features all of Samuel Clemens’s and Olivia Langdon Clemens’s children and descendants, along with important members of the Langdon family who were essential to Twain’s time in Elmira, including Jervis Langdon, Charley Langdon, and Susan Crane.
We hope that teachers and enthusiasts will use the resources and show the tour to their students, friends, and anyone who is interested in Mark Twain and his literature. As with all resources provided by CMTS, these virtual tours are open to the public at no cost.
Last weekend (October 5-7. 2018) CMTS hosted the 2018 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium “American Literary History and Economics in the New Gilded Age.”
The economic expansion of the U.S. during Mark Twain’s lifetime was unprecedented, in this country or any other. Twain was fascinated by the technological innovations that transformed commerce and industry, the volatile financial markets that strained to keep up with the demands of entrepreneurs and investors, the infamous magnates that accumulated private fortunes unimaginable to previous generations, the corrosive symbiosis of private wealth and public servants, the precarious plight of consumers and laborers who both drove the economy and were periodically driven over by it, and the fledgling field of philosophical inquiry, political economy, aimed at understanding the organizing principles of capitalist society.
Before anybody suspected he would become the literary figure who defined this era, Twain gave it its lasting nickname, the Gilded Age, recognizing that the luxurious lifestyles of America’s nouveau riche celebrities and the bedazzling technologies advertised by American entrepreneurs disguised deep disparities of wealth, exploitative employment practices, systemic corruption, and widespread financial fraud. As we find ourselves in what is now frequently called “The New Gilded Age,” characterized by many of the same phenomena, CMTS’s Fifth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium featured scholars who explore the intersections of economic history, economic theory, mass media, and literature.
The symposium was organized by Henry B. Wonham (University of Oregon), Lawrence Howe (Roosevelt University), and Matt Seybold (Elmira College). Wonham and Howe’s collection, Mark Twain & Money, was published in 2017, while Seybold’s Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (coedited with Michelle Chihara) was just published this year.
The festivities began with an opening reception on the Elmira College campus. After a welcome address from Dr. Charles Lindsay, President of Elmira College, Professor Matt Seybold (Elmira College) kicked off the talks with an introductory address. Dr. Seybold’s talk can be found here. The opening reception was highlighted by David Sloan Wilson (Distinguished Professor of Biology & Anthropology at Binghamton University) delivering the keynote address “Mark Twain, Cultural Multilevel Selection, and the New Gilded Age.” This provocative talk challenged literary scholars to theorize the multilevel selection of systems of meaning and maladaptive economic systems. An audio-recording of Professor Wilson’s talk can be found here.
The majority of the symposium took place at beautiful Quarry Farm, where 11 papers were delivered in an intimate section. A number of the talks were recorded. All of the recorded talks can be found in the Trouble Begins Archives. After all the papers were delivered, all attendees enjoyed a cocktail hour on the Porch at Quarry Farm, followed by a dinner in the Barn.
They symposium concluded with a farewell breakfast at Quarry Farm where attendees conversed and said their good-byes to old and new colleagues.
CMTS is pleased to announce that we are already working on the 2019 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium, tentatively titled “Mark Twain and the Natural World.” This gathering will explore the relation between human beings and the natural world. This broad scope allows for critical examinations of Twain’s writing about the natural world in any number of ways: as nature writing; as a form of environmentalism; as commentary on animal welfare, technology and science, and travel; and as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers (Krutch, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner) who offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the comic in the natural world and in our relationship to that world. The conference organizer is Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland). Professor Click is the current editor of Mark Twain Annual and plans to publish a special issue of MTA in conjunction with the symposium.
Images from Friday’s Opening Reception and Saturday’s Paper Sessions
Andrew Kopec, Ann Ryan, and Lawrence Howe answer questions from the audience
2018 marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of Mark Twain’s first visit to Elmira, the town where he would meet his wife, spend many of his summers over the remainder of his life, write several of his most acclaimed books, and finally be laid to rest. In the following essay, Dr. Seybold commemorates the occasion by offering his estimation of what Elmira meant to Mark Twain.
January 26, 1905
It was the 30th birthday of Mark Twain’s nephew, Jervis Langdon. His father, Charley Langdon, had met Samuel Clemens when they were both passengers on the world’s first pleasure cruise in 1867. Little did young Charley know that his new friend was fashioning their voyage into a series of humorous newspaper dispatches which would become the basis for one of the bestselling books of the 19th century, The Innocents Abroad.
By the time that book was published, Sam and Charley would both be engaged. Their marriages would take place within a few blocks of one another, officiated by the same famous minister, Thomas K. Beecher. A decade later, they would have seven children between them, who spent four months every summer frolicking together on the sloping lawns of Quarry Farm with a menagerie of cats, dogs, horses, cows, and goats belonging to their aunt, Susan Crane.
30-year-old Jervis Langdon could remember those carefree summers. Susy Clemens, named for that aunt, showed him how he could send coded messages to his cousins at the hilltop farm from the windows of his family’s mansion in the town below by turning a hand mirror towards the full moon. On many a summer’s eve, he and his cousins sat huddled around Uncle Sam on the farmhouse’s open-air porch as he told fabulous stories or read from manuscripts of his works-in-progress before the ink was even dry.
If 30-year-old Jervis was nostalgic on this January evening in 1905, he could hardly be blamed. It wasn’t just his own milestone birthday. He was expecting the imminent birth of his own first child, a son, who would arrive just two days later. Were this not cause enough for sentiment, he found himself dressed as a character from one of the stories which had been routinely read aloud to him, as well as his sisters and cousins. He was preparing to attend, along with many other prominent residents of Elmira, NY, a “Dickens reception.” Each guest would be costumed as a character from one of the novelist’s works.
Jervis had been cast in the part of Caleb Plummer from The Cricket On The Hearth. His sister, Ida Langdon, who had recently matriculated from Bryn Mawr and would later become a professor of English at Elmira College, chose the part of Caleb’s blind daughter, Bertha, while friends took auxiliary parts in the story, including Crystal Eastman, Ida’s best friend, as Tilly Slowboy, and Dorothy Mather as Mrs. Fielding. Within a few years all three recent graduates (Eastman from Vassar and Mather from Cornell) would be suffragettes and members of the American Association of University Women, an organization committed to increasing the representation of women in higher education.
Charles Dickens had a special significance for the Langdon siblings. Many years earlier, their father and Aunt Livy had gone to see Mr. Dickens read at sold-out Steinway Hall in New York City on New Years Eve. They were joined that night by Charley’s increasingly infamous new friend, whom they called Sam, but who signed his scathing review of the performance “Mark Twain.” This was Olivia Langdon’s chaperoned first date with the man who would become her husband. Twain was so smitten that in his review he couldn’t help mentioning, some might call it boasting, that he had attended Dickens’s reading with “a highly respectable” and “beautiful young lady.”
Thus began one of the most unexpectedly sweet seductions in American cultural history, as Samuel Clemens, initially ignored and then rebuffed by the devout and decorous Olivia Langdon, fell back upon what would prove his greatest talent, writing, over a hundred letters cascading into the Langdon home through the ensuing months, supplemented by occasional visits. The year was 1868.
When Sam visited the Langdons again for Thanksgiving, Livy finally yielded her conditional consent to his proposal. She sent her fiancé off on another leg of his “American Vandal” lecture tour. But while Mark Twain spent the next month joking, smoking, and drinking his way through the Midwest, Olivia faced the reality, alone, that this might be her last Christmas season in the only home she had ever known, surrounded by family she adored. She wrote to Sam, “To think of having them grow used to my being absent, so that at last they would cease to miss me, made me feel as if I wanted father to put his arms about me and keep me near him always.”
Sam contemplated this letter in a Central Michigan boarding house on Christmas Eve, with only the fading fire in an unfamiliar hearth and a series of holiday brandies to keep him warm. He reflected on his fiancé’s fears, her family, and his own, from whom he felt increasingly detached, and was inspired to make an extraordinary promise:
I just don’t wonder that it makes you sad to think of leaving such a home, Livy, and such household Gods—for there is no other home in all the world like it—no household gods so lovable as yours, anywhere. And I shall feel like a heartless highway robber when I take you away from there…
I’ll not read that passage again for an hour!—for it makes the tears come into my eyes every time, in spite of me. You shall visit them, Livy—and so often that they cannot well realize that you are absent. You shall never know the chill that comes upon me sometimes when I feel that long absence has made me a stranger in my own home…a dull, aching consciousness that long exile has lost to me that haven of rest, that pillow of weariness, that refuge from care, and trouble and pain, that type and symbol of heaven, Home—and then, away down in my heart of hearts I yearn for the days that are gone & the phantoms of the olden time!—for the faces that are vanished; for the forms I loved to see; for the voices that were music to my ear; for the restless feet that have gone out into the darkness, to return no more forever!
But you shall not know this great blank, this awful vacancy, this something missed, something lost, which is felt but cannot be described, this solemn, mysterious desolation. No, I with my experience, should dread to think of your old home growing strange to you.
I have tried several times, and am trying again now, to articulate the consequences of this promise, which I think cannot be overestimated. But for this promise, made by a famously itinerant and oft-inebriated author in the wee hours of Christmas morning 150 years ago, the Center for Mark Twain Studies would not exist, nor would anybody be obligated to preserve Quarry Farm for posterity. For it was Sam’s dedication to this promise, more important perhaps even than his wedding vows, which ensured the Clemens family’s annual pilgrimage to Elmira.
And it was in Elmira that not only was Olivia spared the “dull, aching consciousness of long exile” which her husband felt, but Sam found, looking out across the Chemung River Valley, a new “symbol of heaven.” The vanished faces, musical voices, and “phantoms of the olden times” came floating through the windows on all sides of the study Susan Crane built for him, inspiring him to produce a series of novels in what I call The Quarry Farm Style: full of whimsical children and nostalgia for an American past, but also politically radical, like the community in which they were written.
As Sam and Livy (as well as Charley and his new wife, Ida Clark) settled into domesticity and child-rearing in the 1870s, they would associate Dickens with that first date at Steinway Hall, that tear-stained letter from Lansing, and, as many do, with the holiday season. They read Dickens’s books aloud to their children, such that his characters intermingled with Twain’s, forming the premise for a range of allusions, inside jokes, and family folklore which passed through the generations. The novella which inspired Jervis and Ida Langdon’s costumes in 1905 was, as Dickens himself described it, a “fairy tale of home” dedicated to his own infant son.
The Quarry Farm Style
The Clemenses did not attend the Dickens reception in 1905, but those who did reflect both how Mark Twain brought out the best in Elmira, and why Elmira brought out the best in Mark Twain. The reception took place at the Elmira Industrial School. The 36-year-old school was one of several educational institutions, including Elmira College and Elmira Free Academy, which had been founded through the financial backing of another Jervis Langdon, grandfather to the Jervis who celebrated his birthday that night. Each of these groundbreaking educational institutions made possible by the Langdon fortune were sustained in the ensuing decades by other local financial benefactors, as well as by many Elmirans who volunteered as teachers, administrators, fundraisers, and advocates.
The mission of Elmira Industrial School was to provide a free trade school education to any young women willing to dedicate herself to establishing financial independence. The students came from “homes of poverty and vice” and were mentored by an entirely female faculty, including many of the affluent young women who were graduating from elite private colleges in the region, like Bryn Mawr, Vassar, Cornell, Smith, Oberlin, and Elmira. Several of ladies who attended the Dickens reception were faculty, volunteers, and/or alumna of the three local institutions all dedicated to counteracting the effects of social and economic oppression.
The elder Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon, the original owners of Quarry Farm, were the foundation stones upon which was built a remarkable tradition of generosity and community service which survived them and their famous son-in-law. In his eulogy for the first Jervis Langdon, Thomas K. Beecher made the outrageous claim that “Envy’s self was silenced at sight of his prosperity, so many were sharing in it.”
Beecher had learned repeatedly that the Langdons considered their millions only as valuable as the causes for which they could be put to work. When, in 1846, their church refused to condemn slavery, the started a new one, joined the Underground Railroad, and told the abolitionists who passed through their enormous mansion – including the likes of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison – that “the family house and purse were at the service of fugitives from slavery.”
Eight years later, when they asked the most controversial memberof the most famous family of theologians in America to come lead their renegade church, he laid out terms which he though no congregation would accept, largely because of his exceptional emphasis on community service. The Langdons accepted his terms without negotiation. The progressive, inclusive congregation he imagined grew so large it could only meet in an opera house, drawing the ire of rival churches and the regional Ministerial Union.
Mark Twain responded to their condemnation of Beecher as one might expect, joking in a local newspaper that “a little group of congregationless clergymen, of whom I have never heard before, have crushed the famous Beecher and reduced his audiences from 1500 to 1475.” The Langdons came to Beecher’s defense much more quietly and effectively, buying up shares in the opera house so that no amount of social pressure could compel the proprietors to bar the doors, then beginning the process of building Beecher a church as big as an opera house, one that would look like nothing else in the nation, complete with a maze of apartments and a billiard room where one could occasionally find one of the nation’s most recognizable preachers drinking beer with the nation’s most recognizable infidel.
The still youthful Mark Twain who came to Elmira in 1868 had argued across a series of burlesque tales, stand-up routines, and travelogues that mankind in general, and Americans in particular, were natural hypocrites, charlatans, and misers, and that those who dared to believe otherwise were doomed to continual poverty and despair. Then he met the Langdons and this airtight thesis got shot all to hell.
Young Twain believed that all his countrymen had been converted to the “Revised Catechism” of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould: “Get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it in prodigious abundance. Get it dishonestly if you can, honestly if you must.” But, as Twain put it, “Mr. Langdon was a man whose character and nature were made up exclusively of excellencies,” who could easily have gone “to Wall Street to become a Jay Gould and slaughter the innocents,” but instead endowed schools for girls, bought farms for fugitive slaves, and emboldened both his children and the people in his employ to test their most far-fetched idealisms on his dime. This confused Mark Twain.
Out of his confusion emerged the Quarry Farm Style, with its children who are not innocent, its cynics who are not hopeless, its free-thinking slaves and scientific magicians and heroes who decide to go to hell. It is a style which never lets you lose sight of your romantic idols, though whenever you reach for them it suffocates you under piles upon piles of corpses. So many corpses.
Those “Up-State” towns…
The Dickens reception in 1905 was hosted by Clara Spaulding Stanchfield, dressed as Mrs. Micawber from David Copperfield. Clara was Livy Clemens’s lifelong friend and fellow Elmira College alumna, after whom she named her second daughter. Clara’s husband, John B. Stanchfield, came as Mr. Dombey. He could call himself “Mark Twain’s lawyer” and only be mildly stretching the truth. The world-famous author retained counsel on a wide variety of matters in numerous jurisdictions, but he had been regularly consulting Stanchfield, both officially and unofficially, for decades, and their friendship reached back even further. Before the Stanchfields married, John and Sam had frequented the same billiard parlors, both using aliases. It is, indeed, reasonable to suspect that Sam may have played some role in matchmaking his amiable drinking buddy with his wife’s best friend.
John rose rapidly in the ensuing years. He became a partner in the firm which is now Sayles & Evans, was a Democratic candidate for both Senator and Governor, and tried a series of prominent cases. He was also one of several Elmirans who aided the Clemenses during their time of greatest need, when Twain’s publishing house was plunged into bankruptcy following the Panic of 1893. With much of the nation descending into a credit crisis, the most affluent families in Elmira offered free consulting, low-interest loans, and other aid to their neighbors.
The young woman dressed as Ada Clare from Bleak House, another Elmira College graduate, suffragette, and member of the American Association of University Women, belonged to a family that purchased what they knew were likely worthless shares in the Paige Typesetter, thus helping increase the Clemens liquidity during a period of desperation: a charity made all the more charitable because it protected Sam and Livy’s pride by pretending it was not simply charity.
This generation of Elmira women – Ida Langdon, Dorothy Mather, Flora Shoemaker, and Ruth Pickering among them – would be remarkably successful in promoting women’s rights both within the city and region, and throughout the nation. While all were devoted activists, their ringleader was clearly Crystal Eastman, who by this time had already discovered her talent for political organizing by leading a protest against rules requiring women wear skirts and stockings while swimming. Within a decade Crystal would become one of the most prominent and effective advocates for women’s suffrage, and this was hardly her most revolutionary position. Looking back upon the community in which she was raised, she wrote, “In this environment I grew up confidently expecting to have a profession and earn my own living, and also confidently expecting to be married and have children.”
Crystal’s younger brother, Max Eastman, who would graduate from Williams College later in 1905, was not as cripplingly shy as he had been a few years earlier, but still struggled to converse with his sister’s outgoing friends, several for whom he would harbor lifelong crushes. It was hard to imagine that this skinny young man would, in ten years time, be one of the most controversial political voices in the country, founder of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and editor of censored antiwar publications.
Max and Crystal would live for much of the teens and twenties in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and Max would make an extended visit to the Soviet Union to study with Leon Trotsky, and yet, he would always characterize Elmira as the most radical community in which he had ever lived. Many years later, in an essay titled “Mark Twain’s Elmira,” he would chastise a famous literary critic, Van Wyck Brooks, who ignorantly described Elmira as one of “those ‘up-State’ towns…without the traditions of moral freedom and intellectual culture.” Eastman argued convincingly that the “social and political attitudes” which prevailed in Elmira “were far more radical than Mark Twain was when he arrived here.” Mark Twain and Elmira worked upon one another in “general rebellion” such that by the time Max came of age in the 1890s, he found himself “in the exact center of one of the most interesting clusters of people and ideas that American churchdom ever produced or found room to contain.”
Adolescent Max met Mark Twain during the installation of an organ at Park Church. Max and Crystal’s mother, Annis Ford Eastman, who disguised herself as Mrs. Blimber from Dombey & Son for the Dickens gala in 1905,was the first women ordained in the state of New York. Beecher called her the best preacher he’d ever heard and, befitting both Beecher’s rebellious nature and Elmira’s emerging feminist culture, he chose her as his successor at the vaunted Park Church. His friend Mark Twain must have shared his high estimation of her character and talents, directing that she should handle his funeral rites.
Like Beecher, Annis Eastman’s unconventional approach to the pastorate went far beyond the happenstance of her gender. Max fondly remembers his mother reading the risqué Calamus poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass aloud to her friend Julia Beecher and setting the hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” to the ragtime tune “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight,” The esteemed place of the Eastmans seems evidence enough that Elmira was not, as that literary critic had guessed, a “symbol…of all that vast and intricate system of privilege and convention.”
Max Eastman wrote of Twain, “My admiration for the man was and still is as firm and emotional as though he were the saint of a faith to which I adhere.” This from a man whose parents were both pastors and who lived much of his youth in the apartments within the Park Church. The “gospel” written in Elmira, Max claims, “was one of self-reliant revolt against forms and conventions,” and it was authored not only by Mark Twain, but by the Langdons, Clemenses, Beechers, Stanchfields, Shoemakers, and Eastmans, by the students and faculty of the first degree-granting college for women and the secondary and trade schools those students helped to charter, by the thousands of parishioners who attended the largest and most progressive non-denominational church in 19th-century America, by the members of the city’s flourishing women’s rights organizations, and by the stalwart station-masters of the Underground Railroad, who not only sheltered fugitive slaves but persuaded former slaves, like Mary Ann Cord, the beloved cook at Quarry Farm, to settle here. It is no wonder, with such collaborators, Twain was able, in that octagonal study overlooking it all, to give birth to the Quarry Farm Style from which, according to Ernest Hemingway, all modern literature descends.
Max and Crystal Eastman were both at Sam’s funeral in 1910, as were the Stanchfields, his only surviving daughter, Clara, his nieces, Ida and Julia, and the brother-in-law, Charley, who first brought Sam Clemens into the circle of Elmira 43 years earlier. Mark Twain’s nephew, now 35 years of age, rode with the coffin from New York City, along the same rails which had taken his father to see Charles Dickens speak on New Years Eve in 1867, rails which had been laid when his grandfather was, at least according to Twain, the country’s only respectable railroad magnate.
Jervis Langdon Jr., born two days after the Dickens ball, would also, like his great-grandfather, become a successful railroad executive. He likewise inherited that radical generosity which mesmerized Sam Clemens and inspired him to pay yearly homage to his wife’s “household Gods.” On December 31st, 1982, 115 years to the day after Charles Dickens read to Charley and Olivia Langdon (and a dumbstruck and unappreciative Mark Twain), Jervis Jr. signed the agreement which bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College and founded the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Perhaps, though he was just five years old at the time, Jervis Jr. remembered something of what Annis Eastman had written in her eulogy for Samuel Clemens:
We are not here at this time to speak of the great man whose going hence the whole world mourns, nor to claim for him that place in the halls of fame which time can give him. We are not here to try to estimate his worth to the world, the service he has rendered to civilization and the moral progress of mankind, nor yet to eulogize him for the integrity, justice and magnanimity of his character. There will be time enough for all this in the days to come and many a voice more competent than mine to set forth the lessons of his life.
Though I suspect none of us would dare to claim more competence than Annis Eastman, Jervis Jr. has bequeathed to us the task which she deferred. The mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, made possible by the gift of Quarry Farm, is to create that “time enough” to “set forth the lessons of Twain’s life.” And the scholars who reside here “estimate the worth to the world” not only of Mark Twain, but of the too often forgotten and misremembered Elmira which made Mark Twain possible.
There are many ways you can help sustain the mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. You can become a Friend of CMTS by making a donation here or learn more by emailing us at [email protected] As part of our celebration of sesquicentennial of Mark Twain’s first visit to Elmira we are also launching a Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign. If you or your organization would like to participate, please contact Director Joe Lemak (information provided in link).