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Mark Twain

A Northern Wife

With Twain’s return, he planned to do more lectures and write a book. But while on shipboard he had come across a picture of the sister of a traveling acquaintance. He fell in love with the picture and determined he would meet this young woman. As he wrote about this experience:

“I saw her first in the form of an ivory miniature in her brother Charles’ stateroom, in the steamer Quaker City, in the bay of Smyrna, in the summer of 1867, when she was in her twenty-second year. I saw her in the flesh for the first time in New York in the following December. She was slender and beautiful and girlish and she was both girl and woman. She remained both girl and woman to the last of her life.” (Associated Press Night Report, April 25, 1910)

He managed to eventually get an invitation from his acquaintance, Charles Langdon, to visit the family home in Elmira, New York. In 1868 he met the woman in the picture, Olivia Louise Langdon (born November 27, 1845), and was determined to marry her. The daughter of Jervis Langdon, a noted abolitionist and friend of Frederick Douglass, Olivia was a pretty, educated and delicate woman who had a quiet demeanor. Within a short time after meeting her, Twain proposed marriage to the serious-minded “Livy.” She was appreciative but turned down the proposal, stating that she wanted to just stay friends. He asked permission to write to her, which she granted. He then proceeded to write her a letter each day from the various locations he was stationed at for his lectures. He once again proposed marriage, finally wearing her resistance down. Her father, even though he thought highly of Twain, wanted character assessments from Twain’s friends in order to put his mind at rest over the suitability of the writer. His friends wrote back to Jervis Langdon about Twain’s drinking and carousing. But despite the negative reviews of his character, with the publication of his book The Innocents Abroad in 1869 (the book sold as many copies as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin), about his travels in the Holy Land, the abolitionist gave way to the marriage. Samuel Clemens and Olivia Langdon were married on February 2, 1870 in the parlor of the Langdon home in Elmira. As a wedding gift, Livy’s father gave them a house and Twain a newspaper business in Buffalo, New York. It was a rosy start to their marriage, with Livy finding out shortly after that they were to have their first child soon. But Jervis Langdon died later that summer and Livy suffered a nervous collapse due to the loss of her father. On November 7, 1870, their son Langdon Clemens was born prematurely and weighed only four pounds at birth. Livy was weak from the experience but both would gain strength over time. Because Twain’s newspaper business was far from successful, he and Livy made the decision to try their fortune in Connecticut.

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