Mark Twain and Olivia Langdon: Twain Writes Ecstatically On The Pursuit Of His Future Wife

December 12, 1868

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Mark Twain and Olivia Langdon: Twain Writes Ecstatically On The Pursuit Of His Future Wife
Autograph Letter Signed
3 pages | SMC 1852

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  • Livy Clemens

    Background

    It doesn't much matter whom one marries, a cynic once noted, for one is sure to find the next morning it was someone else. When Samuel L. Clemens, the 34-year-old bohemian adventurer cum newly best-selling author married, on February 2, 1870, the 24-year-old refined, religious and wealthy Olivia Langdon, it was probably Clemens who woke up the most surprised - and not with his bride either, but himself. Gone was the irreverent skeptic, full of whiskey, happily cursing; in his place was the earnest seeker, striving to prove himself a better man in the eyes of his wife. His life of sin was behind him (and besides, far away, in the West) and he looked forward, sincerely, to embracing a kind of bourgeois piety. And why not? He was in love, not just after his wedding, but desperately before it as well - as this letter justly indicates. Here he recounts to his new if unlikely friend, the Reverend Joseph Twichell of Hartford's tony Asylum Hill Congregationalist Church, his excitement at not only having won over Livy, but "them" all - and so announces, in effect, his engagement. Livy had finally accepted Clemens' proposal of marriage, little more than two weeks before - providing, that is, her father approved. Yet Clemens, whose courtship of the father would prove even more daunting than that of the daughter, could only rejoice:

    Hip - hip - Hurrah! She just goes on "accepting the situation" in the most innocent, easy-going way in the world. She writes as if the whole thing were perfectly understood, & would no doubt be unpleasantly astonished if she only knew I had been regarding it differently & had been ass enough to worry about a cousin whom she merely gives the passing mention accorded to the humblest guests. She don't know anything about beating the devil around the bush - she has never been used to it. She simply calls things by their right names & goes straight at the appalling subject of matrimony with the most amazing effrontery. I am in honor bound to regard her grave, philosophical dissertations as love letters, because they probe the very marrow of that passion, but there isn't a bit of romance in them, no poetical repining, no endearments, no adjectives, no flowers of speech, no nonsense, no bash. Nothing but solid chunks of wisdom, my boy - love letters gotten up in the square, flat-footed, cast-iron inexorable plan of the mash approved commercial correspondence, & signed with stately & exasperating decorum. "Lovingly, Livy L. Langdon" - in full, by the Ghost of Caesar! They are more precious to me than whole reams of affectionate superlatives would be, coming from any other woman, but they are the darlingest funniest love letters that ever were written, I do suppose. She gets her stateliness of Epistolary composition from her native dignity, & she gets that from her mother, who was born for a countess.


    Hip - hip - Hurrah! I have badgered them & persecuted them until they have yielded... I am full of gratitude to God this day, & my prayers will be sincere....

    Clemens' love for Livy never wavered. Their 34 years of marriage was, by all accounts, deeply fulfilling. As for his resolve to stop drinking, cursing and doubting... well, as he said of stopping smoking: it was the easiest thing in the world. He did it every day.

    Autograph Letter Signed ("Mark"), 3 pages, octavo, Norwich, N.Y. December 12, 1868. To Joseph Twichell.
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    Norwich, N. Y., Dec. 12.

    Dear Twichell -- 

    Hip - hip - Hurrah! She just goes on "accepting the situation" in the most [text is crossed out] innocent, easy-going way in the world.  She writes as if the whole thing were perfectly understood, & would no doubt be unpleasantly astonished [text is crossed out] if she only knew I had been regarding it differently & had been ass enough to worry about a cousin whom she merely gives the passing mention accorded to the humblest guests.  She don't [sic] know anything about beating the devil around the bush -- she has never been used to it.  She simply calls things by their right names & goes straight at

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    Page 2 transcript

     2

    the appalling subject of matrimony with the most amazing effrontery.  I am in honor bound to regard her grave, philosophical dissertations as love letters, because they probe the very marrow of that passion, but there isn't a bit of romance in them, no poetical repining, no endearments, no adjectives, no flowers of speech, no nonsense, no bash.  Nothing but solid chunks of wisdom, my boy - love letters gotten up in the square, flat-footed, cast-iron, inexorable plan of the most approved commercial correspondence, & signed with stately & exasperating decorum.  "Lovingly, Livy L. Langdon" - in full, by the Ghost of Caesar!  They are more precious to me than 

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    Page 3 transcript

     3

    whole reams of affectionate superlatives would be, coming from any other woman, but they are the darlingest funniest love letters that ever were written, I do suppose.  She gets her stateliness of [text is crossed out] Epistolary composition from her native dignity, & she gets that from her mother, who was born for a countess.    

    Hip - hip - Hurrah!  I have badgered them & persecuted them until they have yielded, & I am to stop there for one day & night, on Dec. 17!  

    I am full of gratitude to God this day, & my prayers will be sincere.  Now write me a letter which I can read to her, & let it reach Elmira a day or so before I get there -  Enclose it in an envelop [sic] directed to Chas. J. Langdon, Elmira, N. Y."  Good-bye.  My love to you all.  

    Yrs always -   

    MARK.  

     P.S. She knows you & Mrs. T. know all about it. - She likes that. 

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    Page 4 transcript

    Norwich, N. Y. 

    Dec. 12 (1868)

    "Dear Twichell", signed "Mark"

    Quoted in full in 

    "LETTERS" pp 33-34

    "Love" checked and only change is Capital "E" not used in 2 places.

    3 handwritten pages