- Historic Sites
Mark Twain In Hartford: The Happy Years
December 1959 | Volume 11, Issue 1
Now, I must tell you all about them precious manuscripts. Mr. Clemens always did all his writing up in the Billiard Room. He had a table there, you know, and Mrs. Clemens used to go up and dust that table every morning and arrange his manuscript and writing, if he didn’t arrange it himself, which he sometimes used to do. He took good care of it—he thought he did, anyway! Oh, he was very particular! Nobody was allowed to touch them manuscripts besides Mrs. Clemens.
The reason is explained by Twain’s method of work:
My billiard table is stacked up with books relating to the Sandwich Islands: the walls are upholstered with scraps of paper penciled with notes drawn from them. I have saturated myself with knowledge of that unimaginably beautiful land and that most strange and fascinating people. And I have begun a story.
Paine observed that the TOOTH was also used for its original purpose:
Every Friday evening, or oftener, a small party of billiard-lovers gathered, and played until a late hour, told stories, and smoked till the room was blue, comforting themselves with hot Scotch and general good-fellowship. Mark Twain always had a genuine passion for billiards. He was never tired of the game. He could play all night. He would stay till the last man gave out from sheer weariness; then he would go on knocking the balls about alone. He liked to invent new games and new rules for old games, often inventing a rule on the spur of the moment to fit some particular shot or position on the table. It amused him highly to do this, to make the rule advantage his own play, and to pretend a deep indignation when his opponents disqualified his rulings and rode him down.
Mark Twain Entertains
Albert Bigelow Paine described the Clemenses’ rigorous social life:
Company came: distinguished guests and the old neighborhood circles. Dinner-parties were more frequent than ever, and they were likely to be brilliant affairs. The best minds, the brightest wits gathered around Mark Twain’s table. Booth, Barrett, Irving, Sheridan, Sherman, Howells, Aldrich: they all assembled, and many more. There was always someone on the way to Boston or New York who addressed himself for the day or the night, or for a brief call, to the Mark Twain fireside.
Katy Leary told of their lavish manner of entertaining:
I always helped George wait on table if there was over twelve at the dinner. Mr. Clemens wouldn’t be expected, at a regular dinner party, in them days, to get up and walk around and talk—the way he used to later on; but he did walk about sometimes at dinner when the family was all alone—walked and talked. He loved that. When Mr. Clemens used to get up and walk and talk at the dinner table, he used to always be waving his napkin to kind of illustrate what he was saying, I guess. He seemed to be able to talk better when he was walking than when he was settin’ down. …
Well, at those dinners, as I was telling you, we had soup first, of course, and then the beef or ducks, you know, and then we’d have wine with our cigars, and we’d have sherry, claret, and champagne, maybe—Now what else? Oh, yes! We’d always have creme de menthe and most always charlotte russe, too. Then we’d sometimes have Nesselrode pudding and very often ice cream for the most elegant dinners. No, never plain ordinary ice cream—we always had our ice cream put up in some wonderful shapes—like flowers or cherubs, little angels—all different kinds and different shapes and flavors, and colors—oh! everything lovely! And then after the company had eat up all the little ice-cream angels, the ladies would all depart into the living room and the gentlemen would sit (lounge, I think they called it) around the table and have a little more champagne (maybe) while we passed the coffee to the ladies in the drawing room, where they’d drink it and then set down and gossip awhile.
When dinner parties were given, Susy and I used to sit on the stairs and listen to the broken bits of conversation coming from the dining room. We got into this habit because we used to hear so many peals of laughter in the distance that we would run to discover the cause of all the mirth. Almost always it turned out that Father was telling a funny story. Now, it happened that a few times Father had told the same story on various occasions when guests were dining at the house and we calculated that each time the meal was about half over. So we used to announce to each other, “Father is telling the beggar story; they must have reached the meat course.” When he discovered that his children were taking their turn at having jokes about him, he laughed as much as if we had been very witty.
Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, wife of the critic and poet, described one memorable winter evening: