June 19, 1908
Mark Twain on “Innocence at Home,” President Grover Cleveland, and God
Just before 6 p.m. on the evening of June 18th, 1908, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) arrived in Redding, Connecticut for the first time. From the railroad station, he went immediately to his new 18 room, two story Italianate villa which, although he had it built, he had never seen. The house, fully furnished and appointed, was called “Innocence at Home” - a fitting name, surely, for the place where he planned to entertain that loose association of surrogate granddaughters, ages ten to sixteen, he dubbed the “Aquarium of Angel Fish.” In this letter, written on June 19th, he announces his advent – to his real, and far less fanciful daughter, Jean: at 27, an epileptic who lived, according to the tenets of the day, in exile from her family. “I like the house ever so much,” he says, “& I like the deep quiet, after tumultuous New York. I arrived at 6 p.m. yesterday, & Paine & Ashcroft & I played billiards until midnight & had a good time… It is a pity that I can't stay all night in your house, but your health is the important thing…”
Regarding her health, he sides with Jean’s doctor, he says: “I must help Dr. Peterson in his good work & not mar it & hinder it by going counter to his judgment & commands.” He feels both he and Jean ought to “testify” to their thankfulness by honoring the doctor’s lightest desire. In this, he adds, her dead mother “would say this too, out of her grateful heart.” The door firmly closed, then, on who is where, and why, Clemens responds to Jean’s interest in “Mr. Cleveland”, the ex-president:
Yes, he was a drinker in Buffalo, & loose morally. But since then? I have to doubt it. And of course I want to doubt it, for he has been a most noble public servant - & in that capacity he has been utterly without blemish. Of all our public men of today he stands first in my reverence & admiration, & the next one stands two-hundred & twenty-fifth. He is the only statesman we have, now. We had two, but Senator Hoar is dead. Drinks? No, I hope it is a mistake. However, Cleveland drunk is a more valuable asset to this country than the whole batch of the rest of our public men sober. He is high-minded; all his impulses are good & pure & fine. I wish we had another of this sort.
But Cleveland, however grand, can only go so far, and in the next and closing paragraph Clemens is back to the racking issue of his separation from his youngest daughter: “Yes-indeedy, it was just too bad that there wasn't a solitary junior member of the family here to help me christen the house,” he says. “But you know the adage: Man proposes, but God blocks the game.”
“The House of Innocence” didn’t last long – as a name; it was changed, some say at Jean’s insistence, and soon became “Stormfield.” Jean was finally allowed home in April, 1909, and died there, suddenly, on Christmas Eve. Clemens followed her, four months later.
Autograph Letter Signed (“Father”), 3 pages, octavo, Innocence at Home, Redding, Connecticut, Friday June 19, 1908. With autograph envelope. To Jean Clemens.