November 27, 2012

Two lives woven & welded together

1901 (source)
Livy Darling, I am grateful — gratefuler than ever before — that you were born, & that your love is mine & our two lives woven & welded together!

Samuel Clemens had been married to his wife Olivia Langdon for over 18 years when he wrote this love note to her on November 27, 1888. It was her 43rd birthday.

Olivia came from a fairly wealthy family; Clemens did not, though he had become friends with her brother Charley. He accompanied Olivia and her family to a reading by Charles Dickens in New York in 1868. Clemens (by then mostly recognized as a journalist but already offering public lectures) was instantly infatuated by her beauty. He paid a visit to the Langdons as the first of 34 scheduled calls on New Year's; he never made it beyond his first stop. He later recalled she was "sweet and timid and lovely." Their courtship continued through letters until their eventual marriage in 1870.

By the time Clemens wrote this letter, his 18 years of marriage saw the publication of some of his most enduring works: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). At the time, he was writing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (by then, he and his wife were living in their now famous home in Hartford) and had recently received an honorary degree from Yale University. He was also beginning to invest in a typesetting machine which would nearly ruin him. Three years after this letter, they moved to Europe for financial reasons (the copyright on his works was saved by being transferred to Olivia). He outlived her by about six years.

Olivia Langdon Clemens was well-read and much of her personal correspondence is heavily laden with literary references. Prior to her marriage, for example, she kept a commonplace book and included a quote from Hyperion by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (a novel strongly inspired by his difficult courtship with his future second wife): "Look not mournfully into the Past... improve the Present; it is thine — Go forth to meet the shadowy Future without fear, and with a brave and manly heart."

*I first became aware of this note thanks to Shaun Usher and his fascinating and fun web site Letters of Note.
**Recommended reading: The Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain (1997) by Susan K. Harris.

1 comment:

  1. Twain - one of my favorites. Except for his extensive discourses about political conflict in India and in South Africa (which were too lengthy to hold my interest, although they were probably critically important at the time), I thoroughly enjoyed his 1897 book about his trip around the world with his wife and one daughter, "Following the Equator." (Somewhere in the house here, I have an original edition.)