- Historic Sites
Mark Twain In Hartford: The Happy Years
December 1959 | Volume 11, Issue 1
The announcement in yesterday’s “Courant” of the assignment of Mark Twain’s publishing house of Charles L. Webster & Co., caused a great deal of talk about town, yesterday. The expressions of sympathy and regret are universal, for Mr. Clemens, as a citizen of Hartford, has made a host of friends here, and his hospitality has been proverbial.
So many idle and unfounded stories were in circulation that it seems proper to say, by authority, that the beautiful family residence of the Clemenses on Farmington avenue, in this city, is and always has been the property of Mrs. Clemens. The land was bought and the house built out of the private fortune which was her own inheritance.
After a brief visit to the Hartford house in 1895, Twain wrote to his wife:
When I arrived in town I did not want to go near the house, & I didn’t want to go anywhere or see anybody. I said to myself, “If I may be spared it I will never live in Hartford again.”
But as soon as I entered this front door I was seized with a furious desire to have us all in this house again & right away, & never go outside the grounds any more forever—certainly never again to Europe.
How ugly, tasteless, repulsive, are all the domestic interiors I have ever seen in Europe compared with the perfect taste of this ground floor, with its delicious dream of harmonious color, & its all-pervading spirit of peace & serenity & deep contentment. You did it all, & it speaks of you & praises you eloquently & unceasingly. It is the loveliest home that ever was. I had no faintest idea of what it was like. I supposed I had, for I have seen it in its wraps and disguises several times in the past three years; but it was a mistake; I had wholely forgotten its olden aspect. And so, when I stepped in at the front door & was suddenly confronted by all its richness & beauty minus wraps and concealments, it almost took my breath away. Katy had every rug & picture & ornament & chair exactly where they had always belonged, the place was bewitchingly bright & splendid & homelike & natural, & it seemed as if I had burst awake out of a hellish dream, & had never been away, & that you would come drifting down out of those dainty upper regions with the little children tagging after you.
Later that year Twain set off with his wife and Clara on a lecture tour around the world, leaving Jean and Susy in America. Katy Leary relates:
Well, they started off, and, oh, it was hard to let them go! We all felt terrible at parting again. They went to Vancouver and to California and lectured; then sailed from California to Australia, where they started their grand tour. He lectured all around in these different places and it was a great success—a triumph, you might call it; and then they came back to London and was going to take a house and settle down there, and I was to meet them in London with the girls later on.
By this time Susy got kind of lonesome staying up on the farm so she decided to go to New York for a little change. She visited Dr. Rice and she stayed with the Howells, too, for a little visit; then she come back to Hartford. … The Hartford house was closed and she couldn’t go there; so she went to Mrs. Charles Dudley Warner’s, and I took a little apartment on Spring Street. I lived in it and Susy’d come over every day to do her practicing. …
Well, there was always a crowd outside in the street listening to Susy sing, for she had a wonderful voice and really we had a concert every afternoon. …
By then we were getting letters that the family was nearing Europe, and the next thing we got a cable to come at once, to sail for London the following Saturday, Susy, Jean, and I. … I went up to the Warners’ and I found Susy wasn’t feeling very well. She looked very bad and says: “Oh, Katy, did you come for me?”
I said, “Yes.” Then she says: “Oh, have I got to leave now?”
She was really in an awful state and I said : “Yes, Susy.”
“Oh!” she says, “I don’t think I can start now. Couldn’t we wait till evening, when it’s cooler?”
“Well,” I said, “that’s all right. It’s pretty hot now and we can go in the evening when it’s cooler.” This was in the morning, and then I went to our own house to get a few things we needed, and when I got back in the afternoon, Susy was in a pitiful state, so sick and full of fever.
So I hurried right off and I got Dr. Porter right away, and he said she was coming down with spinal meningitis. That evening she got very bad. I saw then she couldn’t travel. …
But poor Susy got worse and worse. Mr. Langdon come to Hartford in the morning and we took her over to the old home. She was very sick and she wouldn’t take a bit of medicine from anybody but me. She wouldn’t let the nurses touch her or come near her, so I sat by her night and day—night and day, I sat! Oh, it was a terrible time! My heart aches even now when I think of it, after all these years. Poor little Susy! She died before we ever could sail.
Shattered by the news, Mark Twain wrote from London: