Mark Twain In Hartford: The Happy Years


My elder sister, Susy … was altogether the genius among the children. She had marked talent for writing and composed a charming little play when she was not more than fourteen or fifteen. We performed it one Thanksgiving night for a large company of invited friends, and all agreed that it was full of originality.

Susy at thirteen worked on a biography of her famous father, which began:

We are a very happy family. We consist of Papa, Mamma, Jean, Clara and me. It is papa I am writing about, and I shall have no trouble in not knowing what to say about him, as he is a very striking character.

Papa’s appearance has been described many times, but very incorrectly. He has beautiful gray hair, not any too thick or any too long, but just right; a Roman nose, which greatly improves the beauty of his features; kind blue eyes, and a small mustache. He has a very good figure—in short, he is an extraordinarily fine looking man. All his features are perfect, except that he hasn’t extraordinary teeth. His complexion is very fair, and he doesn’t ware a beard. He is a very good man and a very funny one. He has got a temper, but we all of us have in this family. He is the loveliest man I ever saw or ever hope to see—and oh, so absent-minded. He does tell perfectly delightful stories. Clara and I used to sit on each arm of his chair and listen while he told us stories about the pictures on the wall. …

At another time she wrote:

He is as much of a philosopher as anything, I think. I think he could have done a great deal in this direction if he had studied while young, for he seems to enjoy reasoning out things, no matter what; in a great many such directions he has greater ability than in the gifts which have made him famous.

Mark Twain at Work

Twain found his house admirable for family life and entertaining, but a difficult one in which to write—even letters. He wrote to Mrs. Fairbanks:

As soon as you departed, Livy arranged a writing table near the conservatory, so that I could have the writing conveniences I had been wailing about so much. She put a box, called a writing desk, on this table—a box which opens in the middle & discloses two closed lids; inside of these lids are paper, pen, stamps, ink, & stamped envelopes. To get either of those lids open pushes patience to the verge of profanity, & then you find that the article you want is under the other lid. She put a delicate glass vase on top of that box & arranged pots of flowers round about it. Lastly she leaned a large picture up against the front of the table. Then she stood off & beamed upon her work & observed, with the Almighty, that it was “good.” So she went aloft to her nap with a satisfied heart & a soul at peace. When she returned, two hours later, I had accomplished a letter, & the evidences of it were all around. The large picture has gone to the shop to be re-framed, the writing desk has returned to the devil from whom it must have come, but the flower pots & the glass vase are beyond the help of man. … Since that day I have gone back to precarious letter-writing, with a pencil, upon encumbered surfaces & under harassment & persecution, as before. But convenience me no more women’s conveniences, for I will none of them.

He found professional writing equally difficult. Lathrop reported:

One would naturally in such a place expect to find some perfection of a study, a literary work-room, and that has indeed been provided, but the unconventional genius of the author could not reconcile itself to a surrounding the charms of which distracted his attention. The study remains, its deep window giving a seductive outlook above the library, but Mr. Clemens goes elsewhere. Pointing to a large divan extending along the two sides of a right-angled corner, “That was a good idea,” he said, “which I got from something I saw in a Syrian monastery; but I found it was much more comfortable to lie there and smoke than to stay at my desk. And then these windows—I was constantly getting up to look at the view; and when one of our beautiful heavy snow-falls came in winter, I couldn’t do anything at all except gaze at it.” So he has moved still higher upstairs into the billiard room, and there writes at a table placed in such wise that he can see nothing but the wall in front of him and a couple of shelves of books.

A reporter from the New York World described the billiard room:

This room is a treat. A big billiard table with black and gold legs stands in the middle of it. … Mark Twain’s desk stands in the southern corner piled with business papers. Shelves of books line the walls of this angle. “Parleyings with Certain People” rubs covers with the United States Newspaper Directory, and a commentary on the Old Testament is neighborly and shows no ill-feeling towards Ruskin, who stands near at hand in a red binding. The ground glass of the nearest window is decorated with a beerstein, gules, two long-stemmed pipes rampant and other devices of festivity. Pipes and boxes and jars of tobacco are tucked in here and there wherever there is room. The pipes are of corn-cob and burned to a jet black by much usage. …

The room presented housekeeping problems for Katy Leary: