History of MTL : In Twain’s Words

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June 14, 1908

Letter to Miss Dorothy Quick

My secretary Miss Lyon is working very hard these days getting the new house up-country ready. Of course it requires a world of labor to get a new house in shape. She has been at it night and day the past week and has gotten all the furniture and the orchestral and a billiard table in, at least, and says the house will be ready for me next Thursday. I am sure I shall like the house, from all accounts.

The house was designed in the style of an Italian villa, surrounded by 248 acres of rolling Connecticut countryside. Mark Twain delighted in his new estate—which he initially dubbed “Innocence at Home—that first summer in Redding

July 7, 1908

Letter to Miss Margaret Blackmer

I like the new house so well that I am likely to remain here all winter. We are on high ground and it is always cool, for we get all the breezes. All about are richly wooded hills, and only half a dozen houses in sight. There are no sounds but the singing of the birds, so it is very quiet and peaceful.

Summer 1908

Letter to Miss Helen Allen

We have good times here in the soundless solitude on the hilltop. The moment I saw the house I was glad I built it, and now I am gladder and gladder all the time. I was not dreaming of living here except in the summer time—that was before I saw this region and the house, you see—but that has all changed now; I shall stay here winter and summer both and not go back to New York at all.

Mark Twain decided to make Redding his permanent home. He renamed the house “Stormfield.” In an effort to consolidate his possessions Twain realized that he owned more books than the shelves at the Stormfield could hold. He consequently decided to start a library for his new neighbors in Redding. An unused chapel—on the corner of Diamond Hill Road and Umpawaug and which could be seen from his house—was obtained for his library.

On Wednesday, October 11, 1908, Mark Twain officially opened the library. Gathered in the small room filled with new shelves and his books, farmers, and summer people listened as he spoke of his fondness for his new home, his new friends, and his desire to do something that would be of benefit to his neighbors.

The Address:

You may think I haven’t yet done enough in the farming line to assure such fellowship, and sorrowfully I admit it. This year, I didn’t even raise a crop of turnips and if I had, they probably wouldn’t have stayed on the trees. But I promise better things for next year…

We have here at least the nucleus of a library and that should be a cause for satisfaction. For books of the right kind not only add to our knowledge, they also exert a moral influence. We get our morals from books. I didn’t get mine from books, but I do know that morals do come from books.

I am glad to help this library. By and by we are going to have a building of our own. To help raise funds, I am asking that every male guest at Stormfield contribute at least one dollar—or go away without his baggage.

He announced that his friend Dan Beard and Theodore Adams would donate some land to the project. Adams later gave the lot located at Sellick’s Corners where the library currently stands.

October 7, 1908

A Notice posted in the Billiards Room at Stormfield:

Guests’ Mark Twain Library Building Tax, of $1.00, not upon the valuable sex, but upon the other one…whether they are willing or not.

Katy Leary, the housekeeper in service to the Clemens family for almost thirty years recalled:

Some rich people paid as much as $5.00. Of course Mr. Clemens was glad to take it for the Library ’cause that was part of the way he was going to get the money to build it with. And then he’d make them all register, put their names in a book, like they did in a hotel, and they’d all tell how much money they gave too, in that register. We raked in a good deal that way.

That Billiard Room Notice and Register are now part of the treasured collection of Mark Twain memorabilia that belong to this library.

October 24, 1908

Letter to Miss Margaret Blackmer

The glass windows are in the arches now, and the loggia makes a most cozy and comfortable parlor. At night, with a light in every window and no foliage to intervene, and viewed from the white church over on the Ridge, the house looks like a factory that’s running over-time to fill rush orders. The Mark Twain Library is getting along very nicely. I am required to give a reading or a talk for the benefit of its treasury during the month of November. You are invited. I invite you. You’ll be the only complimentary ticket. The performance will take place here in the house. Miss Lyon and Lounsbury and the other officers will select a date presently.

The following spring, 1909, there were regular fundraising ventures on behalf of the Mark Twain Library. A women’s group made braided rugs to sell in support of the new building fund and Mark Twain conducted Sunday poetry readings at Stormfield, charging a dollar a person.

Jean Clemens, his youngest daughter, moved to Redding that April, and enthusiastically embraced the Mark Twain Library building project.

Katy Leary the housekeeper:

Jean helped start it, that is, gave all the money she had. And she was always chasin’ around after books for it.

Summer 1909

Mark Twain’s health began to fail.

July 15, 1909

Letter to Miss Francesca Nunnally

It is heart disease. Not the best kind, but good enough for the purpose. The best form is the one that plucks the life out of you suddenly, as by a lightening stroke; whereas this one is slow and tedious and procrastinating, and you have to wait and wait and wait till you get run over by a freight train before you can get rid of yourself. Meantime it subjects you to many, many, many inconveniences. For instance, you can make no journeys, you must spend 20 out of 24 hours in your room, you must only smoke only four times a day instead of 40 and finally, you must do very little work. If you neglect any of these things, the blood pressure increases and the pain comes.

Despite his poor health Mark Twain hosted a grand library fund raising event at Stormfield on September 21, 1909. Clara Clemens, his oldest living daughter and a singer, performed with her fiancé the Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch and the well-known Metropolitan Opera baritone David Bispham.

Katy Leary the Housekeeper

It was $1.50 a ticket to sit in the living room where the performance was and $1.00 for the dining room where they couldn’t see very good, but could hear all right and .75 and .50 cents for everybody else that come inside the gate!

September 23, 1909

Letter to a friend

Detachments and squads and groups and singles came from everywhere—Danbury, New Haven, Norwalk, Redding, Redding Ridge, Ridgefield and even New York. Some in 60 horse-powered motor cars some in buggies and carriages and a swarm of farmer young folk on foot from miles around—525 all together. We accumulated $372 for the Building Fund.

Christmas Eve, 1909

Jean Clemens died suddenly from an epileptic seizure.

Christmas Night

This afternoon they took her away from her room. As soon as I might, I went down to the library and there she lay, in her coffin, dressed in exactly the same clothes she wore when she stood at the other end of the same room on the 6th of October last, as Clara’s chief bridesmaid. Her face was radiant with happy excitement then; it was the same face now. with the dignity of death and the peace of God upon it.

January 17, 1910

A printed bereavement card sent to Margaret Blackmer

To all friends who have expressed sympathy for me in my bereavement. I offer my sincerest gratitude.

S.L. Clemens

April 6, 1910

Letter to Charles T. Lark, Esquire

Dear Mr. Lark,

I want the money derived from the sale of the farm which I had given to my daughter jean to be used to erect a building for the Mark Twain Library at Redding, the building to be called the “Jean L. Clemens Memorial Building.”

I wish to place the money ($6,000) in the hands of three trustees—Paine and two others: H.A. Lounsbury and William Hazen, all of Redding—the trustees to form a building committee to decide on the size and plan of the building needed and to arrange for and supervise the work in such a manner that the fund will amply provide for the building complete with necessary furnishings, leaving, if possible, a balance remaining sufficient for such repairs and additional furnishings as may be required for two years from the time of completion.

Will you please draw a document covering these requirements and have it ready by the time I reach New York on April 14?

Very sincerely,

S.L. Clemens

April 21, 1910

Mark Twain died at Stormfield