Mark Twain In Hartford: The Happy Years


I have been bullyragged all day by the builder, by his foreman, by the architect, by the tapestry devil who is to upholster the furniture, by the idiot who is putting down the carpets, by the scoundrel who is setting up the billiard-table (and has left the balls in New York), by the wildcat who is sodding the ground and finishing the driveway (after the sun went down), by a book agent, whose body is in the back yard and the coroner notified. Just think of this thing going on the whole day long, and I am a man who loathes details with all my heart!


The Nook Farm Group

Moncure D. Conway, clergyman and author, wrote:

Every day we saw Charles Dudley Warner [the writer who collaborated with Twain on The Gilded Age ] and his wife, near neighbors, and in the evening Rev. Dr. Twichell came in. In no country have I met a more delightful man in conversation than Twichell, and his ministerial adventures if printed would add a rich volume to the library of American humor. Mrs. Clemens was not only beautiful but a gracious hostess; her clear candid eyes saw everything, her tact was perfect, and if she entered, the great strong Mark in his stormiest mood would alight as if a gentle bird in her hand.

George P. Lathrop told of an evening with Twain’s neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe:

One most agreeable memory will long remain with me, of an evening spent in Mrs. Stowe’s company at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Clemens. Among other things there was after-dinner talk of the days preceding the war, and of the “underground railroad” … Mrs. Stowe gave her reminiscences of exciting incidents in her life on the Ohio border at that time, and told of the frightful letters she received from the South after publishing her great novel [ Uncle Tom’s Cabin ] … To give an idea of the extremes to which these missives proceeded, Mrs. Stowe mentioned that one of them, duly forwarded to her by United States mail, enclosed a negro’s ear!

Katy Leary, Mrs. Clemens’ maid, recalled Mrs. Stowe’s more eccentric moments:

She used to come to the Clemens a great deal in the old Hartford days. She kind of lost her mind a little bit when she got older, but she was very nice. She used to go out every day for a walk and every one she’d meet, she’d stop and talk with them very pleasant and ask them if they’d read her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin , and some of them would have a blank face on, and didn’t know what she was talking about. “Really,” she’d say, “you should read it. What’s your name and address? I’ll write to my publishers and have them send you a copy right away.” Then, of course, everybody would say they hadn’t read it, because they all wanted one of them books free ! She used to write her autograph in all her books, and her autograph was: “Love the Lord and do good.” That’s pretty, ain’t it? “Love the Lord and do good.”

In their huge new establishment, the Clemenses had a staff of seven servants, some of whom were described by Clara, Twain’s second daughter:

Our butler, George, was colored and full of personality. He had come one day to wash windows and remained for eighteen years. Everyone in the family liked him, although the only time he looked after anyone’s needs at the table was when a large company of guests were invited to dine. On such occasions he could rise to great heights of professional service and throb with feverish excitement, as if he were acting a big role on the stage. When only members of the family were seated at table, however, he preferred listening to the conversation to passing them food. He explained that the intellectual inspiration he received in the dining-room saved him from the bad effects of life in the inferior atmosphere of the kitchen. Often did we hear a prompt laugh filling the room from a dark figure at ease against the wall, before the rest of us at table had expressed our amusement at one of Father’s remarks. George was a great addition to the family and afforded Father almost as much amusement as Father did George.

Another pronounced character in the household was the coachman [Patrick McAleer]. He persuaded me that if I curried the calf every morning and put a saddle and bridle on him he would turn into a horse. The idea seemed marvelous to me and I was always ready to believe in miracles, even at the age of six. …

A third servant in the house with plenty of imagination was Mother’s maid, Katy Leary. She and the butler used to fight in such picturesque language that Father often threatened to put them in print. Yet, in spite of the descriptive names they called each other when quarreling, they were at other times the best of friends.

Katy Leary gave a below-stairs view of the daily routine: