Mark Twain Day By Day 150 Years Ago – February 7, 1871 – Washington D.C.
Samuel Clemens had left Buffalo the previous and arrived in Washington D.C. on February 2 via New York City. The author was in the process of formally distancing himself from the Buffalo newspaper Express. Sam and Livy were also busy with their newborn son Langdon and still feeling the emotional effects of the death of Livy’s father, Jervis Langdon.
Clemens had returned to the capitol on some unfinished business. The year before, Jervis Langdon had sent Clemens to Washington to lobby for a restructuring of the Tennessee judicial system that would be favorable to the upstate New York business tycoon. Langdon had been suing the city of Memphis for non-payment of a $500,000 bill. One of Langdon’s businesses had paved the southern city’s streets. As one of the executors of his father-in-law’s will, Clemens was interested in getting the Tennessee judicial restructuring passed.
On February 7, Sam went to studio of Mathew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer and journalist, and was photographed with David Gray and George Alfred Townsend, otherwise known as “Gath.”
All the men were staying at the Ebbitt House, a one-time boarding house, then hotel and restaurant, that famously boasted as being the first hotel to remain open in Washington D.C. even in the summer, when Congress was ajourned.
David Gray was an editor of the Buffalo Daily Courier, a rival paper to Clemens’s Express. However, Clemens and Grey struck up a close friendship that lasted the remainder of their lives.
George Alfred Townsend, sometimes described as the youngest correspondent in the American Civil War, eventually became one of the most famous Washington’s correspondents, working for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Graphic. He also wrote a few mildly successful novels.
The purpose of Clemens’s Washington trip was summarized by Townsend in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. It might be safe to say that when their official business was completed, the three men in the picture had spent some time enjoying dinners and drinks, and scheming new literary ventures:
The venerable Mark Twain came to Washington a few days ago to have Tennessee divided into two judicial Districts. It appears that the city of Memphis stands indebted to an estate, of which he is an executor….he wants the district cut into “twain,” but even the great humorist sometimes fails in politics, and after three days’ hopeless meandering in the great bourse of the Capitol, Mark gave the town his blessing, and hastened to Buffalo.
He is said to be writing a comic Bible, with Samson for the central character, and he makes the hero bring down the house, hitting the Philistines hard. The ascetic David Gray, editor of the Buffalo Courier, furnishes some chapters in this book on the Song of Solomon, and the Rev. J.N. Larned [Josephus Nelson Larned], of the Buffalo Express, institutes some happy comparisons between Canada and the land of Canaan. Buffalo deserves the cognomen of “the city of the Western hemisphere.”MTL (4:326)
Josephus Nelson Larned worked for the Express for thirteen years, writing political essays and opinion pieces that were generally slanted Republican. He was responsible for organizing and growing the collection of the Buffalo Library and served as president of the American Library Association from 1893-1894.