The Quietest Place (A Quarry Farm Fellow Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.

I had the privilege and honor of serving as a fellow at Quarry Farm last month. As many of you know, there’s nothing else to compare to a stay at Quarry Farm. For most of my stay I was there alone; it’s the quietest place I’ve ever spent time, even in contrast to my relatively quiet house in Berkeley. At home there is always ambient noise in the background, distractions, and tasks needing attention. At Quarry Farm, the quiet is seductive, always inviting one to sit and think, to take a book off the shelf and read, to listen not only to the birds but to one’s own thoughts.

Linda Morris is Professor Emeritus at University of California, Davis and author of GENDER PLAY IN MARK TWAIN (2007) and WOMEN’S HUMOR IN THE AGE OF GENTILITY (1992).

I am working on a new, ambitious essay about Susy Clemens, about whom I have written in the past, but whose essence has always eluded me. There’s so much material to take in and digest, and so many unanswered questions. Surrounded by myth, by a degree of sentimentality because of her untimely death, and by the force of her father’s reminiscences about her, it’s hard sometimes to find Susy in the mix. And there are gaps. Whatever happened to the many letters written by her Bryn Mawr friend, Louise Brownell, whom Susy loved passionately? Louise kept all of Susy’s letters, which are in the archives at Hamilton College, and it clearly was not a one-sided correspondence or relationship, but Louise’s letters are gone. Where are Clara’s letters to Susy, written while the family was on the “Equator” journey and Susy and Jean stayed behind with Aunt Sue at Quarry Farm?  I had the time and the inspiration to contemplate such questions, and to seek answers. 

One full day and a half I did nothing but steep myself in Livy’s letters as presented in Barb Snedecor’s compelling dissertation. Livy’s letters gave me a whole new perspective on Susy; I had read a number of them before, but that was nothing compared with reading letter after letter, with no interruptions except dinner and nightfall. Nothing in my “normal” life as a retired professor offered such luxury, even living within walking distance as I do from the Mark Twain Papers. Because I was returning to the subject of Susy after several years away from it, I brought all my notes and copies of primary material with me in my suitcase, and I spent almost one full day sorting through all the material and re-reading deeply enough to re-kindle my interest in the complexity of Susy. But the riches of the library at Quarry Farm are such that there were ever more avenues to explore, and I did, every day.

I also was fortunate to be there when spring began to break out. The forsythia was in full bloom, but the major trees were just beginning to bud out with their little yellow-green leaves, which each day become more visible and more glorious. Walking up to the site of the study, then on up into the woods beyond drew me almost every day, but I had to remind myself to look up high into the trees to see the springtime unfold. And so I did.

Towards the end of my stay I was scheduled to offer a lecture in “The Trouble Begins” series. I’d done this before, many years ago, but I had forgotten how attentive the audience can be. They stayed focused the whole time, and at the end asked excellent and engaging questions. It’s a very special audience, mostly folks from the town, not academics, but people who seem to have a genuine, perhaps long-standing interest in the Langdons and Sam Clemens and family. It was especially pleasing to me because the lecture was held in the barn, whereas before I had spoken on the campus, which had its own charms. When I had occasion to read from the Autobiography in which Twain said he had written the piece in question one day up in the study when he should have been doing something else, I felt not only my own sense of marvel glancing up toward that familiar hill, but a small thrill in the audience. How were we so lucky to be here, right here, over 120 years later? If you’re ever asked to present a paper in the series, I urge you to do so, and by all means apply for a Quarry Farm fellowship for an opportunity to do serious study and thinking and writing about Mark Twain. The place is magical.  

Special “Trouble Begins” Event Features Play and Lecture

The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, May 29 in the Barn at Quarry Farm, with a special theatrical reading of a one-act play followed by the lecture.  The play and lecture are free and open to the public.

The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with the theatrical reading of “Waiting for Susy,” a one-act play by Bruce Michelson from the University of Illinois. The play is a one-act comedy about a famous, momentous, historic encounter that never took place. The setting is the great square in front of Rouen Cathedral in France; the time is October of 1894. Sam Clemens and his daughter Susy, living with the rest of the family in nearby Étretat, have come to town shopping for night-gowns and cigars. With brushes and an easel, and parked comfortably on a stool in this plaza, a strange, round, bearded French gentleman is dabbing at a couple of his paintings. What happens next is entirely made up, and you can safely believe every word of it.

The play will be followed by The Trouble Beings lecture, “Mark Twain’s Homes and the Public Private Life,” at 7:00 p.m., which will also be presented by Bruce Michelson. 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. Where they were born and where they resided; the byways they wandered for epiphanies or Deep Thoughts; where their spouses or their Lost Loves grew up or passed away – all of this and more became fair game for mass-market words and pictures. Over the course of Mark Twain’s life we can trace this cultural transformation, and see how Quarry Farm, the Hartford mansion, and other residences here and abroad figured in a long campaign by Sam and his family to live in this new limelight, and also to evade it. 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.

Michelson is the author of Mark Twain on the Loose and Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution, as well as many articles and book chapters about Mark Twain and other writers. He is Professor Emeritus of American Literature at the University of Illinois, and a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and The American Humor Studies Association. A contributing editor at Studies in American Humor, he is also a Fulbright Ambassador, having received two fellowships from the Fulbright Program. His most recent work includes a translation of George Clemenceau’s writings on Claude Monet and the fine arts, and a one-act comedy about Sam Clemens, his daughter Susy, and a Mysterious Stranger in France.

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. 

World Premiere of One-Act Play About Mark Twain & Claude Monet

The 2018 Humor in America Conference at Roosevelt University in Chicago included the world premiere of “Waiting For Susy,” a one-act play by Bruce Michelson.

Jim Caron as Claude Monet. Picture compliments of Larry Howe.

“Waiting for Susy” is set in Rouen in September of 1894, at a moment when Twain and his family were living in France, trying to save money and preparing for the global lecture tour which would begin the next summer. During the same year, Monet finished his famous Rouen Cathedral series and was, similarly, preparing to relocate to Norway where he would paint a new series of studies in white. The play is set on the boardwalk across from the cathedral’s front, Monet is working at his easel while Twain, who is waiting for his wife and daughter to finish shopping, paces and talks to himself. Some of the play’s humor arises from Twain remaining willfully ignorant of the identity of the man with whom he shares the stage, an inequitable anonymity which Monet chooses to enjoy to the end.

Michelson, an Emeritus Professor of English at University of Illinois who was also presented with the Charlie Award for lifetime achievement in Humor Studies during the conference, emphasized in his post-performance remarks that there is no evidence that Twain and Monet ever actually met, but his speculative premise was inspired by the realization that they were in roughly the same place at roughly the same time. In 1894 each was in his late fifties. At analogous points in their careers they found themselves simultaneously looking back upon their unlikely successes and wondering whether those successes could be sustained. Much of the dialogue flows from their often diverging outlooks on aging, work, fame, and the artistic temperament. Some of this is based upon the men’s actual writings, some on Michelson’s creative interpretation of their lives and works.

John Bird tackles the part of Sam Clemens. Picture compliments of Larry Howe.

Michelson’s script features three parts. In Chicago, Clemens/Twain was played by the appropriately grey and grizzled scholar, John Bird, Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. Monet was played by Jim Caron, Professor of English at University of Hawaii at Manoa. And Susy Clemens, for whom the play is named, was played by M. M. Dawley, a recently-minted Ph.D. from Boston University. Considering all three actors performed without rehearsal, their delivery of the play’s many jokes and tricky phrases was impressive.

The greatest challenge of Michelson’s script, for both actors and audience, is its bilingualism. Monet’s character speaks primarily in French, but breaks into passable English once he and Twain warm to each other. Twain speaks almost exclusively English, though occasionally ventures to butcher a few French phrases. And Susy speaks fluently in both languages and thus acts as their translator or, in several humorous instances, elects not to.

As Michelson noted in his remarks, the events take place during the final prolonged period Twain would spend with his favorite daughter, who died tragically of meningitis less than two years later, while Twain was still wrapping up his world tour. In Michelson’s play, Susy is a vivacious, self-possessed young woman, who more than holds her own while matching wits with her cantankerous father and also wins over the Frenchman, who, at first, seems wholly content to keep to himself. Susy thus brings energy and optimism to the production, which might otherwise be nothing but the grousing of grumpy old men (not that that isn’t itself entertaining), but her part also acts as a melancholy reminder of the great tragedy on the horizon. Michelson breaths fresh life into that constant question in Twain Studies: What would Twain’s late phase have been like had he not lost one of his best and most trusted interlocutors? And also, what might Susy’s own legacy have been as she grew more independent of her famous father?

The dialogue of the play is rich, funny, and full of insight, pleasurable for an audience filled predominantly with professional Twain scholars, as was the case in Chicago, but totally approachable for anybody. One need not catch every allusion to be entertained. (I’m sure I didn’t.) And, aside from the considerable challenge of finding two actors who can speak fluent French, the production is ingeniously simple, making the play easily adaptable for many venues and theater companies.

In other words, it may be coming to a stage near you in the not too distant future.

Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight, 1894

Mark Twain, Santa Claus Impersonator

WNPR (Hartford) ran a segment this week about Mark Twain’s “Letter From Santa Claus” featuring an interview with The Mark Twain House‘s Director of Education, James Golden. You can listen to it below:

You can read the complete letter in the Mark Twain Project’s digital archive.

It is clear that Sam succeeded in instilling Susy (the receiver of Santa’s letter) with the spirit of the season. A few years later, in 1878, as a precocious six-year-old, she wrote a lengthy, bilingual letter to her grandmother about a visit from Santa Claus during her family’s residency in Munich. He delivered candles, nuts, apples, and dollar bills, but kept covering himself with “a big muffle” as though “he didn’t like anybody to see his face.” Susy reported, “I looked into his face, hard, – and he laughed.”

Despite this hint of suspiciousness, Susy was “glad about Santa Claus, that he came, because Julie [a childhood friend] was always saying there wasn’t any Santa Claus or anybody that came, that way, and brings children things.”

Before mailing the letter, Sam, with that twinge of guilt so common to parents, wrote in the margin: “This paragraph gives me a little pang.”

Season’s Greetings!

Hanging The Crane In Hartford: Mark Twain’s 39th Birthday

Sam Clemens celebrated his 39th birthday on November 30, 1874 with his wife, Livy, and their two young daughters. Both Sam and Livy’s birthdays fell in close proximity to the Thanksgiving holiday. It was naturally a season dense with revelry and gift-giving, mostly focused around the children, but Livy did not forget her husband, presenting him with the recently-published first edition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Hanging of the Crane, illustrated by Mary Hallock and Thomas Moran.

It is a gift rich with signification. The poem begins with the ceremonial hanging of an iron crane (basically a potholder mounted to the wall of a fireplace) which symbolized the making of a home by a pair of newlyweds. Having performed this task “with merriment and jests,” the wedding guests depart, leaving the fatigued narrator alone before his newly renovated hearth contemplating family and future.

While Sam and Livy had been married for nearly five years, 1874 was the first year they celebrated the holidays in the elaborately-designed Hartford house, customized to their specification, and thereafter associated with many of the family’s happiest memories.

In Longfellow’s poem, the bridegroom’s daydreams turn first to parenthood. He foresees the birth of two children, a son and a daughter, doted upon by their parents like little royalty.

The Clemenses no doubt treated Susy, not yet three years old, like “a royal guest,” and their infant, Clara, like “A Princess from the Fairy Tales,” and both “as sovereign over thee and thine.” But Longfellow’s family idyll likely appealed to Livy because the poet did not present parenthood as a continuous chain of blessings and celebrations. In the middle part of the poem, the eldest son, driven by youthful romanticism, goes off “seeking adventures” and finds instead “the gloomy mills of Death.”

Sam and Livy were already too familiar with such loss, having buried their firstborn son, Langdon, two years earlier. It was a trauma which temporarily drove a wedge in their marriage, as Livy isolated herself and Sam sought solace in sociability. The previous year the couple celebrated the season apart, Sam lecturing in London while Livy, pregnant with Clara, spent the holidays in a rented house in Hartford. He wished her a “Merry Christmas!” via telegram.

“Hanging the Crane” was thus an acknowledgement of their terrible loss and the distance it had created between them, but also that “the storm of grief, the clouds of care” had “passed away” and once more their “house [was] full of life and light.” The poem concludes with a 50th anniversary celebration surrounded by grandchildren.


The significance of Livy’s gift was not confined to the content of Longfellow’s narrative. “The Hanging of the Crane,” when it was first commissioned for newspaper publication earlier in 1874, was the most profitable poem ever sold by an American writer, earning Longfellow $3,000 or, adjusted for inflation, $62,000. This payday, widely discussed in the newspapers and literary magazines of the Gilded Age, no doubt signaled to Sam and Livy an advantageous market for the nation’s most sought-after writers, Mark Twain among them. Both anticipated a day when their lavish lifestyle could be sustained by writing alone and not require long and lonely lecture tours.

In January of 1872, while Sam was lecturing in the midwest and Livy was anxiously nursing frail baby Langdon in Hartford, the couple exchanged several items of Longfellow’s verse, including his collection The Golden Legend, which Sam purchased somewhere in Ohio. Livy wrote,

“I think The Golden Legend is beautiful! I wonder you did not mark it still more than you have, but I am so very glad you marked it at all. I do so heartily enjoy books that you have marked…I cannot afford to lose any thing that you have marked.”

By gifting her husband the most recent book of Longfellow verse, Livy gestured towards reopening a line of communication which had existed during the early days of their marriage, when she could write, as she did in the above letter, “Don’t you think it is very sweet to love as we love?”

Happy 182nd Birthday, Sam Clemens. And a slightly belated 172nd Birthday greeting to Livy as well.

Mark Twain, Suffragette Ally & Overprotective Father

In his 1903 essay “Why Not Abolish It?,” Mark Twain argues that the age of consent for extramarital relations should be abolished for women. Twain’s underlying premises are that young women are not responsible enough to make their own decisions about sex, that once a girl has engaged in sexual relations she is “dragged down into the mud and into enduring misery and shame,” and that, worst of all, so is her family. Why the family? Because she does not own herself. Rather, she is property of her family: “There is no age at which the good name of a member of a family ceases to be a part of the property of that family – an asset, and worth more than all its bonds and moneys.”

So a woman is an object of economic value, pure and simple, and remains so throughout her life. I have to admit that even though I understand that this was the prevailing dogma in 1903 (indeed, my father rattled off many of the same sentiments 60 years later, when I started dating), and that Clara Clemens’s propensity to gallivant around Europe unchaperoned probably triggered Twain’s paternal anxieties, his smug conviction that women of any age should have no say over their own bodies has always infuriated me. I wonder how Clara responded, as well as her sister, Jean. And even Twain’s wife, Livy, then nearing her end. Did the girls’ push for freedom from parental constraints prompt a more measured response from their mother than it did from their famous father? Were women in the family embracing the 20th century, even while “Papa” harked back to the 19th?

Twain wasn’t such a Luddite on other feminist issues. In 1897, during the dreary London winter following Susie’s death, Jean and Clara talked both parents into allowing them to buy bicycles – a daring new activity for women. In 1909 Twain told the New York Sun that he had supported women’s right to vote for fifty years. And indeed, in 1874 he had published a letter to the editor of the London Evening Standard, in which he averred that he had been “persuaded that in extending the suffrage to women this country could lose absolutely nothing & might gain a great deal.” By 1909 he had taken his conviction a step farther, commenting that women should do “what they deem necessary to secure their rights.” Politically at least, Twain had come to understand that women could be a powerful force in the public sphere.

Nevertheless I think Twain’s view of women’s sexual freedom tells us a lot about his struggle to deal with the new and often frightening social changes that were catapulting Americans into the new century. Middle class women were gaining more freedom (working women had always had more freedom because they had to earn money) – freedom that was manifested in their ability to leave the house unchaperoned, to live alone, to work, to meet men outside their families’ social circles. But to many people, these changes meant that society was unraveling. Because the image of the pure woman, the moral center of hearth and home, had been so powerful earlier in the century, the image of the New Woman, mounted on a bicycle and off to meet a man her parents did not know, signaled social upheaval and the corruption of domestic values. The issue came to be framed in terms of female sexuality and its “value” to the culture. Twain was not alone in his assumption that female “purity” equaled “controlled sexuality” – controlled through systematic social shaming. It was the culture’s way of keeping women within bounds, and women as well as men participated in the social policing.

We remain a culture frightened of our own trajectory, and we are still trying to solve society’s problems by controlling women’s sexuality. Twain saw men as sexual predators, and he sought laws to punish men who robbed women of their “purity.” We see some of the legacies of his argument in our current legal wrangling over rape and what constitutes “consent,” especially on college campuses. But “consent” is no longer the dominant arena for control over women’s bodies. Instead the desire to restrain women focuses on women’s reproductive health.

Those who attack agencies like Planned Parenthood pretend that their target is abortion services, but such proposals also deny women access to routine gynecological exams, to contraception, and to pre- and post-partum health services. Congress’s recent proposal to drop maternity care from the nation’s priority list of “essential” health services means a return to the inequities of the 20th century, when women routinely paid more for health insurance than men. (One of our esteemed Congressmen recently testified that he thought prenatal care shouldn’t be an essential service because “he had never used it.” I would love to hear Twain’s comments on that one.)

But the reversal doesn’t stop with money. Control over reproduction has been the linchpin of women’s progress in the public sphere for the last one hundred years. If women are denied access to contraception, to safe pregnancies, and to maternity leave, we will lose our footing in the working world. We will return to Twain’s time, forced either to foreswear sexuality (and hence pregnancy) altogether or else to be confined to the home and dependent on men for support, including access to healthcare. Retreat from the work world – and from the power that being actors in the public sphere provides – in turn encourages increased sexual harassment when women do venture forth from home – the kind of behavior that prompted Twain’s essay in the first place. Those of us who dare to show ourselves in public will be prey for men who can seduce, grope, harass, and then shame us – and walk away to boast about their “conquests” on social media. Yes, we still have problems with predatory men, but the solution isn’t to yank us out of the public sphere, to strip us of control over our bodies, to deny us essential services. Do we really want to return to the days when we didn’t own ourselves?

Susan K. Harris is Distinguished Professor Emerita at University of Kansas and author of numerous books on 19th-century American literature and culture, including The Courtship of Olivia Langdon & Mark Twain

Livy Clemens & Mark Twain’s Moment of Enlightenment

In 1867, Mark Twain addressed letters to Missouri expressing his disgust at the thought of women’s voting rights. He expressed that women should stick to their “feminine little trifles” that consisted of “babies…and knitting.” Twain speculated that women were not capable of making decisions about politics and should let the “natural bosses do the voting” instead. Twain described women as one might antique furniture: “an ornament to the place that she occupies.” Women are glorified stepping stones, everyday tools to make life just a little bit easier.

Twain’s reputation as a satirist does make it difficult to distinguish at times between sincerely derogatory jests and burlesques of misogynist attitudes intended to make the men who held them seem ridiculous. Young Twain also praised women, but mostly for their roles as mothers and wives. Twain’s respect for women’s roles within the family stemmed from his own appreciation for his mother, Jane Clemens, who he described as having a “sunshine deposition” and “a kind of perky stoicism” through domestic troubles. He joked that women were “earthly angels” not to be mixed in with the shabbiness of men and their politics. Although Twain may have meant no harm in these passages, many women in his era did not find the subject to be a laughing matter. They wished their political crusade to be taken seriously.

During his youth, Twain was consistent in his sarcastic approach to women’s suffrage, but in December of 1867, he met Olivia Langdon. Langdon was a reformist – she advocated for women to break from their traditional molds in the household. Livy surrounded herself with influential women like Julia Beecher and Isabella Beecher Hooker who, as Laura Skandera-Trombley describes, “were dynamic, intelligent, unapologetic, as well as committed feminists – women who had rejected the purely domestic sphere in favor of participation of the outside world.”

A few weeks after Twain met Langdon, he fell in love and proposed. She initially refused. Through the ensuing years of courtship, Twain came to appreciate women as more than just cooks, seamstresses, and childcare, an appreciation which only increased as he and Livy raised three daughters.  

Twain’s three adult daughters were influential upon his social attitudes and some of his most successful written works. According to Trombley, Twain regarded his eldest daughter, Susy Clemens, “as his intellectual and social equal.” Like her mother, Susy played a crucial part in editing and planning Twain’s works. Susy’s influence is clearly demonstrated in the 1901 annual address to the Hebrew Technical School for Girls, during which Twain acknowledged that women knew as much about voting as men did – maybe even more than some. If women were to handle the ballot, “they would rise in their might and change the awful state of things.” After working with Livy and later Susy, Twain began to view women and men on an equal playing field – at least in regards to voting. Twain concluded that women have “scored in every project they undertook against unjust laws…If women had [the ballot] you could tell how they would use it.”  

Although women’s voting rights are not an issue today, other rights, including their rights to control their own bodies, are still challenged. Twain’s early trivializing of women’s suffrage is reminiscent of how President Trump has dismissed women’s issues and causes as laughable. In his 1997 memoir, he wrote,

“The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye — or perhaps another body part.”

Twain had a similarly reductive view of women, comically dismissing their plights, until the women of his life challenged him to be more than, as Susy wrote in correspondence to Grace King, “a funny man – a maker of funny speeches.” It took him years to appreciate the true range of women’s capabilities. All he had to do was start listening. Perhaps President Trump can become more than comic material for Saturday Night Live, more than a figure of mockery on Twitter. All he has to do is start listening. There are thousands of women speaking to him.

Diandra Alvarado is the 2017 CMTS Intern and a senior Elmira College English Major pursuing a career in publishing. She is also a literature reviewer for the EC Octagon

Sam & Livy Clemens: Married & Buried in Elmira

Mark Twain described his Autobiography as an “apparently systemless system…a complete and purposed jumble,” and so it is, though it is not wholly without method. Over the course of its composition Twain relied heavily on a biography begun by his daughter, Susy Clemens, when she was just thirteen. Twain would copy a selection from “Susy’s Biography” then expound upon the events and episodes sparsely described therein. This ritual provoked both humor – the celebrated septuagenarian writer debating the details of his own life with a precocious adolescent – and nostalgia – the heartbreaking earnestness of an aging father communing with his lost child.

On Valentine’s Day 1906, he chose a single sentence for his muse: “Soon papa came back East and papa and mamma were married.” Twain responds, “It sounds easy and swift and unobstructed, but that was not the way of it.”

Samuel and Olivia Clemens were married on February 2, 1870 in the Langdon House on Church St. in Elmira. But, as Twain reports, “There was a deal of courtship. There were three or four proposals of marriage and just as many declinations.” As Twain would recount dozens of times, he encountered Livy first as an ivory miniature in her brother’s room aboard the Quaker City steamer off the coast of Turkey in the summer of 1867. He met her in person later that year, commenting on her beauty in a letter to his mother, then created every opportunity to “renew the siege” throughout 1868. Olivia, at last, relented, and, after a few tortuous months securing her parents consent, they were engaged on February 4, 1869, presenting each other with matching porcelain lockets. (Sam had been begging Livy for a portable portrait for months.)

The “hand of Providence,” as Twain recalls in the Autobiography, came in late September, shortly after his first proposal had been turned down. Having been unable to find any further excuse to extend his visit to Elmira, he climbed into a wagon meant to take him away and was promptly thrown from it. “I struck exactly on the top of my head and stood up that way for moment, then crumbled down to the earth unconscious,” Twain recalled, “It was a very good unconsciousness for a person who had not rehearsed the part.” Awaking “to hear the pitying remarks drizzling around over me” was “one of the happiest half-dozen moments of my life.” Though she turned down two more ensuing proposals, the elder Twain remembered Livy “assuaging” the trivial injuries he sustained as the turning point in their courtship.

Their wedding was small. The marriage certificate pictured below (courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society) lists ten witnesses, as well as two officiants, Thomas K. Beecher and Joseph H. Twichell, both of whom would remain lifelong friends of the Clemens family.

Samuel & Olivia Clemens Marriage Certificate
Courtesy of Chemung County Historical Society


Sam recycled the engagement ring – “plain, and of heavy gold” – he had given Olivia a year earlier. He had their wedding date engraved inside of it, though this proved superfluous since “it was never again removed from her finger for even a moment” and, at Sam’s insistence, was buried with her.

The ceremony took place in the library. In the closing words of his Autobiography, written two days after the death of Jean Clemens in 1909, Twain wrote, “Jean’s coffin stands where her mother and I stood, forty years ago, and were married; and where Susy’s coffin stood thirteen years ago; where her mother’s stood, five years and a half ago; and where mine will stand, after a little time.”