461
461
Clemens, Samuel L.
Estimate
30,00040,000
LOT SOLD. 25,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
461
Clemens, Samuel L.
Estimate
30,00040,000
LOT SOLD. 25,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

THE JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: ARTS & SCIENCES, INCLUDING THE MARK TWAIN COLLECTION

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New York

Clemens, Samuel L.

Autograph letter signed ("Sam'l L. Clemens"), 9 pages in purple ink on ruled paper, 8vo (8 1/8 x 5 1/16 in.; 205 x 130 mm), Cleveland, 29 December 1868, to his future father-in-law Jervis Langdon, defending his character and supplying a list of character references; left margin a trifle ragged, most likely torn from a notebook.


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Provenance

Clara Clemens Samossoud — Chester L. Davis (sale, Christie's New York, 17 May 1991, lot  82)

Catalogue Note

"What I have been, what I am, and what I am likely to be." A lovelorn Clemens pleads his suit to Livy's father Jervis. Once Livy had accepted Clemens's proposal of marriage, her parents were skeptical that she had made an appropriate choice, given Clemens's profession, associations, as well as his irreverence for the accepted status quo. Mr. Langdon insisted on character references from Clemens's circle of friends and associates.

While on a lecture tour, Clemens received a letter from Langdon in which the latter launches a harsh rebuke at him for an awkward incident that presumably took place in the Langdons' drawing room. Treading gingerly in his defense, Clemens explains: "I will not deny that the first paragraph hurt me a little—hurt me a good deal—for when you speak of what I said of the drawing-room, I see you mistook the harmless overflow of a happy frame of mind for criminal frivolity. This is a little unjust—for although what I said may have been unbecoming, it surely was no worse. The subject of the drawing-room cannot be more serious to you than it is to me. But I accept the rebuke, freely & without offer of defence & am as sorry I offended as if I had intended offence."

He touches on his adventures to California and the Sandwich Islands where apparently he adapted to the native culture without entirely losing his moral rectitude. "It is my desire as truly as yours that sufficient time shall elapse to show you, beyond all possible question, what I have been, what I am, & what I am likely to be ... I thought that much of my conduct on the Pacific Coast was not of a character to recommend me to the respectful regard of a high eastern civilization, but it was not considered blameworthy there perhaps. We go according to our lights ... I think all my references can say that I never did anything mean, false or criminal. They can say that the same doors that were open to me seven years ago are open to me yet; that all the friends I made in seven years, are still my friends; that wherever I have been I can go again—& enter in the light of day & hold my head up; that I never deceived or defrauded anybody, & don't owe a cent ... All the rest they can say about me will be bad. I can tell the whole story myself, without mincing it, & will if they refuse ..."

"I am not hurrying my love—it is my love hurrying me." The suddenness of the engagement apparently led to a suspicion that Clemens was rash and immoderate in his behavior. Clemens believed that time would provide the proper perspective. "I fancy that Mrs. Langdon was the counterpart of her daughter at the at of twenty-three—& so I refer you to the past for explanation  for pardon of my conduct. At your time of life,  being, like you, the object of an assured regard, I shall be able to urge moderation upon younger people, & shall do it relentlessly—but now ... It does not seem to me that I am otherwise than moderate—it cannot seem so from my point of view."

Clemens's tone is altogether reverent (indeed he writes in his closing salutation "With reverent love and respect") and not without design. He appropriates the rhetoric of the traditional conversion narrative in order to manipulate Langdon's religious beliefs and sway Langdon's opinion of him. "As to what I am going to be, henceforth, it is a thing which must be proven & established. I am upon the right path—I shall succeed, I hope. Men as lost as I, have found a Saviour, & why not I?"

Clemens supplies numerous references, including the Hon. J. Neely Johnson (the former governor of California), H. G. Blaisdell (the present governor), R. B. Swain of the San Francisco Mint, and two newspaper men, Joseph T. Goodman and Bret Harte, among others. Kaplan remarks that the list of references was "curiously random, even self-defeating." Clemens deliberately omitted close friends because he knew they would lie for him (Kaplan, In Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, p. 90).  In his autobiography, Clemens humorously describes the outcome after Mr. Langdon began to receive replies. "The results were not promising. All those men were frank to a fault. They not only spoke in disapproval of me but they were quite unnecessarily and exaggeratedly enthusiastic about it." While discussing these unfavorable reviews of his character, a dumbfounded Langdon asked, "'What kind of friends are these? Haven't you a friend in the world?'" 'Apparently not,' I answered. Then he said: 'I'll be your friend myself. Take the girl. I know you better than they do.' Thus dramatically and happily was my fate settled" (The Autobiography of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Nieder, 1966, pp.  106–107).

THE JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: ARTS & SCIENCES, INCLUDING THE MARK TWAIN COLLECTION

|
New York