Thursday, February 13, 2014


she didn't stand a chance

In the spirit of love and romance, this rather long post begins with a few rhetorical questions.  What if someone began to woo you, what if that someone met you and fell head over heels in love and proposed immediately, and when you rejected him multiple times, you felt so sorry for him that you let him write to you, out of the depths of pity in your good Christian heart?  And then what if, in those letters, the would-be lover inundated you with earnest, funny, slap-dash, over-the-top endearments, almost daily, for months?  Who could hold out, against words such as these (culled from throughout Mark Twain's Letters Volume 2 and 3)?  And furthermore, who would want to?  For this is how Samuel Clemens addresses his future wife Olivia Langdon, in his peerless love letters to her, written first during a time of outright rejection, then over a trial period of several months, and continuing throughout their official year-long engagement:

you Perfection!
you dear little paragon
my idol
you awful tyrant!
my little angel by brevet
O loved & honored liege
my matchless little princess
you fascinating rascal!
my own heart's love
my peerless!
my dear, dear little tormenter
you dear little concentration of gravity
O, my loved, my honored, my darling little Mentor!
you Koh-i-Noor! you Golconda! you rival of the sun!
you are a malicious little piece of furniture
you precious little philosopher
you funny little orthographer
you blessed little spitfire
you little marvel of creation
you idolized little tyrant
you worshipped darling, whom I so love and honor
an exquisite little concentration of loveliness
the concentrated sun, moon, & stars
my other self
you blessed dream & blessed reality

If that wasn't enough, he signs his letters to her thusly:

Most lovingly, Yours Forever -
Lovingly & devotedly,
Forever yours,
Devotedly & sincerely & with imperishable affection
In honor & unfailing love, yrs always,
With loving devotion
For all time, devotedly,
Yours, always
Till death,

He beseeches her (Letters Volume 3 p.10):

"...let me pay my due homage to your worth; let me honor you above all women; let me love you with a love that knows no doubt, no question - for you are my world, my life, my pride, my all of earth that is worth the having."

Again (ibid pp.233-234):

"I would override a hundred thousand edicts of banishment.  I would go to you over stacks and stacks of such edicts as high as the moon.  I would go to you through hunger & thirst, disease, insult, death - everything."

He refers to her in letters to his friends, this way (ibid p.421):

"THE young lady who occupies the most of the universe..."

An account even exists of his despairing visit to a friend, soon after his initial rejection(s).  The friend's young daughter Margaret listened in, and later wrote down what she heard him say to her father, George (Letters Volume 2 p.279):

"'George - I want your advise I am DESPERATELY IN LOVE with the most exquisite girl - so beautiful, unfortunately very rich.  She is quite an invalid - I have proposed & been refused a dozen times - what do you think?' Father said Sam you are crazy to think of such a thing - 'Thats what I was afraid you would say.  I know I'm too rough - knocking around the world.'  And the tears came.  He took out his handkerchief and wiped them away.  Father said: 'Sam, are you fooling? Is this one of your blank jokes?' He saw he was terribly serious and hurt.  So father jumped up, ran over, took him by the shoulders, gave him a shake and said: "Sam you old Galoote, you.  You're not rough; you're the most perfect gentleman - the cleanest, most decent man I know today.  There is no girl in the world too good for you.  Go for her, and get her, and God bless you, Sam.'  Mr. Clemens said, 'Well, I will go see her again tomorrow, and I'll harass that girl and harass her till she'll have to say yes!  For George, you know I never had wish or time to bother with women, and I can give that girl the purest, best love any man can ever give her.  I can make her well and happy.'  So he got her, and made her happy."

His onslaught reminds me of the classic board game Battleship.  (Miss.  Miss.  Hit.  Miss.  Hit.  Hit.)

Finally, writing to his family, about his epistolary and in-person courtship, victory (Letters Volume 3, p.85):

"My prophesy was correct.  She said she never could or would love me - but she set herself the task of making a Christian of me.  I said she would succeed, but that in the meantime she would unwittingly dig a matrimonial pit & end by tumbling into it- & lo! the prophesy is fulfilled."

(Hit sunk.)

She goes willingly, in the end.  From Livy's only surviving courtship letter to Sam (ibid p.394):

"I am so happy, so perfectly at rest in you, so proud of the true nobility of your nature - it makes the whole world look so bright to me... I feel so that I have no burden, that I am so richly cared for..."

Even his future mother-in-law succumbs to his charm.  She writes to a mutual friend, about him and her daughter (ibid p.93):

"Mr Clemens - of him what shall I say? I cannot express to you a description of the strange, new element that has entered into, and radiated our family circle.  I cannot tell you what a wealth we feel has been added to us, I cannot tell you how precious that addition is to us, neither can I describe to you the restful, yea beautiful background his mind & heart have already made to my husband's & my future life.... Their love is very beautiful to look at, and may it grow more & more perfect as they shall travel together toward immortality."

And this is at the same time that his future father-in-law writes to several of Clemens's acquaintances, asking for character references, since he was at this time relatively unknown, and certainly un-famous.  The acquaintances said the following (ibid p.57):

"'I would rather bury a daughter of mine than have her marry such a fellow.'"

And (ibid):

"'Oh, Mark is rather erratic, but I consider him harmless.'"

And Langdon family friend Anna Dickinson considered him (ibid p.66) "...a vulgar boor."

And yet, in spite of those slings and arrows, love prevails.  A few weeks after their marriage, Olivia Clemens writes (Letters Volume 4 p.80):

"...we are two as happy people as you ever saw.  Our days seem to be made up of only bright sunlight, with no shadow in them."

Reading on, into Volume 4 and 5, I see they need this golden time to sustain them for what comes next.  But let's leave all that for another day, because in books it is wonderful to be able to rest a while with them, in their perfect happiness, before moving on.  And what a blissful state it is.  I can only conclude that romance, fictional and especially otherwise, constitutes the perfect reading material for this rather unglamorous time of year.  Happy Valentine's Day, a little early - I hope love finds you right where you live!

What a wonderful post- many thanks.
Wonderful indeed!

Si vis amari, ama. Good old Seneca.
Dan, I could have written so much more. These letters are a-AMAZ-ing.

The Seneca quote is apt, and just what I needed a reminder of today - thank you, dear Antony.
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