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Mark Twain

Sad Times

Twain’s home life with his wife and three daughters was as ideal as he could have dreamed. They lived all together in the beautiful house that was constructed to his specifications, with all the luxuries that could be accumulated at the time. He was known to be a doting father who could act totally outrageous when he knew he had the attention of his daughters. His favorite, Susy, wrote a playful biography about her father, using the term of “dusting off Papa” when he would become too silly for genteel company. But by the 1890’s Livy was experiencing some health conditions related to her heart. Twain made the decision to take his family to Europe in order for Livy to live in a better climate and away from the cares of American distractions. Twain became a popular figure among the Europeans, most notable among the Germans. Kaiser Wilhelm even invited him to dinner to have him regale him with his humorous stories. But in 1893 Twain returned by himself to the States in order to deal with financial problems that were beginning to crop up. His extravagant lifestyle, the costs incurred on his house and his failures with his investments on his inventions forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1895. After his family returned home, the decision was made for him to return to the lecture circuit in order to drum up funds. The lecture circuit would include 150 appearances on a total of five continents. Livy and Clara were to accompany him on these travels, with Susy and Jean maintaining the house and being watched by friends. It was while on this tour that Twain became aware firsthand of conditions being experienced by native people from the impact of imperialism and colonialism. As he saw the situation, the white man was more savage than the “savages” were. Once again he had found a controversial issue to combat. Eventually, after the tour ended, Twain, Livy and Clara settled in England, with the intention of Susy and Jean coming to join them there. Word reached them that Susy was too ill to make the journey. Livy and Clara embarked on the trip back to the States to tend to her while Twain stayed on to write and wait for their return. But before Livy and Clara had reached Connecticut, Twain received word that Susy had died on August 18, 1896 from spinal meningitis. Olivia Susan Clemens, accompanied by her mother and two sisters, was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery, in Elmira, New York, near the grave of her brother. Twain, far away in England, was absolutely heartbroken by this loss and, for the first time in his life, began to question his belief in a benevolent God.

After another lecture tour around the world, he returned to America more popular than ever. But he and his wife made the decision that they could not return to the house in Hartford because of the sad memories from their loss of Susy. They rented an apartment in New York City where they could socialize and see the sights. As he was known to say, “I was born lazy. I’m no lazier now.” Twain began on a campaign to write against the evils of imperialism as he saw it as he was “opposed to the Eagle putting its talons on any other land.” He strongly felt that the United States needed to stay out of other countries. He railed against American missionaries who settled their sights on China (resulting in the Boxer Rebellion). He objected to England becoming involved in the Boer conflict in South Africa and Leopold II of Belgium taking over the Congo. And he ridiculed Theodore Roosevelt as being the biggest imperialist in the United States. In order to take inventory of his life, Twain made his final trip back to Hannibal, Missouri in 1902. He was welcomed back with open arms, but he and his hometown seemed to be aware that this would be his final homecoming.

In 1904, Livy’s health became a major concern for the family. Her heart was continuing to weaken and it was decided that the remaining family would go together to Italy, where the weather would be more climate for her. But even with the warm weather and sunshine, Livy was failing. The doctors were insistent that Twain spend only a short time each day with her, fearing that his bombastic personality would be too much for her. He was devastated by this enforced separation but he obeyed it as long as it helped her get well. On June 5, 1904, she asked him to play on the piano some of the gospel spiritual songs that he had learned and loved from his youth. He went to play for her and while doing so she passed away. She had died from heart failure. As Twain would write to a friend, “Our life is wrecked; we have no plans for the future; she always made the plans, none of us was capable. We shall carry her home and bury her with her dead, at Elmira. Beyond that, we have no plans. The children must decide. I have no head.” As he wrote later in his notebook, “I looked for the last time upon that dear face---and was full of remorse for things done and said in the 34 years of married life that hurt Livy’s heart.” The two girls were in no better condition to make decisions. After Livy’s body was removed from her bed, Clara crawled into it and had to be coaxed out of it. Jean, who was an epileptic who had not had a seizure in many years, now suffered a severe episode. The remaining family, now without the trusty pilot who had so efficiently steered the family, returned to the States to bury Livy with her two children. Twain, the humorous writer, now was in a state of mind to begin writing on a much darker and more caustic level. His partner, who had gently guided him in his religious walk with God, was no more and now he was free to question and be critical of a God who had taken those who he had loved the most away.


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