IF black slaves are no longer bought and sold there, if the river trade has dwindled, if the railroad and the factory have come, bringing a larger population with them, if the town now has a hundred-thousand-dollar city hall, a country club, and “fifty-six passenger trains daily,” it is, at all events, a pleasure to record the fact that Hannibal, Missouri, retains today that look of soft and shambling picturesqueness suitable to an old river town, and essential to the “St. Peters-burg” of fictionthe perpetual dwelling place of those immortal boys, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Should this characterization of the town fail to meet with the approval of the Hannibal Commercial Club, I regret it, for I honor the Commercial Club because of its action toward the preservation of a thing so uncommercial as the boyhood home of Mark Twain. But, after all, the club must remember that, in its creditable effort to build up a newer and finer Hannibal, a Hannibal of brick and granite, it is running counter to the sentimental interests of innumerable persons who, though most of them have never seen the old town and never will, yet think of it as given to them by Mark Twain, with a peculiar tenderness, as though it were a Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn among the citiesa ragged, happy boy of a town, which ought never, never to grow up.
There is no more charming way of preserving the memory of an artist than through the preservation of the house in which he lived, and that is especially true where the artist was a literary man and where the house has figured in his writings. What memorial to Thomas Bailey Aldrich, for example, could equal the one in Portsmouth, N. H., where is preserved the house in which the “Bad Boy” of the “Diary” used to live, even to the furniture and the bedroom wall paper mentioned in the book? And what monuments to Washington Irving could touch quite the note that is touched by that old house in Tarrytown, N. Y., or that other old house in Irving Place, in the city of New York, where the Authors’ League of America now has its headquarters?
With the exception of Stratford-on-Avon, I do not know of a community so completely dominated by the memory of a great man of letters as is the city of Hannibal by the memory of Mark Twain. There is, indeed, a curious resemblance to be traced between the two towns. I don’t mean a physical resemblance, for no places could be less alike than the garden town where Shakespeare lived and the pathetic wooden village of the early west in which nine years of Mark Twain’s boyhood were spent. The resemblance is only in the majestic shadows cast over them by their great men.
Thus, the hotel in Stratford is called The Shakespeare Hotel, while that in Hannibal is The Mark Twain.
Stratford has the house in which Shakespeare was born; Hannibal the house in which Mark Twain livedthe house of Tom Sawyer. Stratford has the cottage of Anne Hathaway; Hannibal that of Becky Thatcher. And Hannibal has, furthermore, one possession which lovers of the delightful Becky will hope may long be spared to itit possesses, in the person of Mrs. Laura Hawkins Frazer, who is now matron of the Home for the Friendless, the original of Becky.
It is said that a memorial tablet, intended to mark the birthplace of Eugene Field in St. Louis, was placed, not only upon the wrong house, but upon a house in the wrong street. Mark Twain unveiled the tablet; one can fancy the spirits of these two Missouri literary men meeting somewhere and smiling together over that. But if the shade of Mark Twain should undertake to chaff that of the poet upon the fact that mortals had erred as to the location of his birthplace, the shade of Field would not be able to retort in kind, forthanks partly to the fact that Mark Twain was known for a genius while he was yet alive, and partly to the indefatigable labors of his biographer, Albert Bigelow Painea vast fund of accurate information has been preserved, covering the life of the great Missourian, from the time of his birth in the little hamlet of Florida, Mo., to his death in Reading, Conn. No; if the shade of Field should wish to return the jest, it would probably call the humorist’s attention to a certain memorial tablet in the Mark Twain house in Hannibal. But of that presently.
I have said that the Commercial Club honored Mark Twain’s memory. That is true. But the Commercial Club would not be a Commercial Club if it did not also wish the visitor to take into consideration certain other matters. In effect it says to him : “Yes, indeed, Mark Twain spent the most important part of his boyhood here. But we wish you to understand that Hannibal is a busy, growing town. We have the cheapest electric power in the Mississippi Valley. We offer free factory sites. We”
“Yes,” you say, “but where is the Mark Twain house?”
“Oh” says Hannibal, catching its breath. “Go right on up Main to Hill Street; you’ll find it just around the corner. Any one will point it out to you.. There ‘s a bronze tablet in the wall. But put this little pamphlet in your pocket. It tells all about our city. You can read it at your leisure.”
You take the pamphlet and move along up Main Street. And if there is a sympathetic native with you he will stop you at the corner of Main and Birdthey call it Wildcat Cornerand point out a little wooden shanty adjoining a near-by alley, where, it is said, Mark Twain’s father, John Marshall Clemens, had his office when he was Justice of the Peacethe same office in which Samuel Clemens in his boyhood saw the corpse lying on the floor, by moonlight, as recounted in “The Innocents Abroad.
It was at Wildcat Corner, too, that the boys con-ducted that famous piece of high finance : trading off the green watermelon, which they had stolen, for a ripe one, on the allegation that the former had been purchased.
Also near the corner stands the building in which Joseph Ament had the office of his newspaper, the “Missouri Courier,” where young Sam Clemens first went to work as an apprentice, doing errands and learning to set type; and there are many other old buildings having some bearing on the history of the Clemens .family, including one at the corner of Main and Hill Streets, in the upper story of which the family lived for a time, a building somewhat after the Greek pattern so prevalent throughout the south in the early days. Once, when he revisited Hannibal after he had become famous, Mark Twain stopped before that building and told Mr. George A. Mahan that he remembered when it was erected, and that at the time the fluted pilasters on the front of it constituted his idea of reckless extravagancethat, indeed, the ostentation of them startled the whole town.
Turning into Bird Street and passing the old Pavey Hotel, we came upon the “Mark Twain House,” a tiny box of a cottage, its sagging front so taken up with five windows and a door that there is barely room for the little bronze plaque which marks the place. At one side is an alley running back to the house of Huckleberry Finn, on the next street (Huck, as Paine tells us, was really a boy named Tom Blankenship), and in that alley stood the historic fence which young Sam Clemens cajoled the other boys into whitewashing for him, as related in “Tom Sawyer.”
Inside the house there is little to be seen. It is occupied now by a custodian who sells souvenir post cards, and has but few Mark Twain relics to showsome photographs and autographs ; nothing of importance. But, despite that, I got a real sensation as I stood in the little parlor, hardly larger than a good-sized closet, and realized that in that miserable shanty grew up the wild, barefoot boy who has since been called “the greatest Missourian” and “America’s greatest literary man,” and that in and about that place he gathered the impressions and had the adventures which, at the time, he himself never dreamed would be made by him into booksmuch less books that would be known as classics.
In the front room of the cottage a memorial tablet is to be seen. It is a curious thing. At the top is the following inscription :
THIS BUILDING PRESENTED TO THE CITY OF HANNIBAL, MAY 7, 1912, BY MR. AND MRS.. GEORGE A. MAHAN AS A MEMORIAL TO MARK TWAIN
Beneath the legend is a portrait bust of the author in bas relief. At the bottom of the tablet is another inscription. From across the room I saw that it was set off in quotation marks, and assuming, of course, that it was some particularly suitable extract from the works of the most quotable of all Americans, I stepped across and read it. This is what it said:
“MARK TWAIN’S LIFE TEACHES THAT POVERTY IS AN INCENTIVE RATHER THAN A BAR: AND THAT ANY BOY, HOWEVER HUMBLE HIS BIRTH AND SURROUNDINGS, MAY BY HONESTY AND INDUSTRY ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS.”
-GEORGE A. MAHAN.
That inscription made me think of many things. It made me think of Napoleon’s inscription on the statue of Henri IV, and of Judge Thatcher’s talk with Tom Sawyer, in the Sunday school, and of Mr. Walters, the Sunday school superintendent, in the same book, and of certain moral lessons drawn by Andrew Carnegie. And not the least thing of which it made me think was the mischievous, shiftless, troublesome, sandy-haired young rascal who hated school and Sunday school and yet became the more than honest, more than industrious man, commemorated there.
If I did not feel the inspiration of that place while considering the tablet, the back yard gave me real delight. There were the old outhouses, the old back stair, the old back fence, and the little window looking down on themthe window of Tom Sawyer, beneath which, in the gloaming, Huckleberry Finn made catcalls to summon forth his fellow bucaneer. And here, be-low the window, was the place where Pamela Clemens, Sam’s sister, the original of Cousin Mary in “Tom Sawyer,” had her candy pull on that evening when a boy, in his undershirt, came tumbling from above.
And to think that, wretched as this place was, the Clemens family were forced to leave it for a time because they were too poor to live there ! Of a certainty Mark Twain’s early life was as squalid as his later life was rich. However, it was always colorfulhe saw to that, straight through from the barefoot days to those of the white suits, the Oxford gown, and the European courts.
Not far back of the house rises the “Cardiff Hill” of the stories; in reality, Holliday’s Hill, so called because long ago there lived, up at the top, old Mrs. Holliday, who burned a lamp in her window every night as a mark for river pilots to run by. It was down that hill that the boys rolled the stones which startled churchgoers, and that final, enormous rock which, by a fortunate freak of chance, hurdled a negro and his wagon instead of striking and destroying them. Ah, how rich in racy memories are those streets! Somewhere among them, in that part of town which has come to be called “Mark-Twainville,” is the very spot, unmarked and unknown,
where young Sam Clemens picked up a scrap of news-paper upon which was printed a portion of the tale of Joan of Arca scrap of paper which, Paine says, gave him his first literary stimulus. And somewhere else, not far from the house, is the place where Orion Clem-ens, Sam’s elder brother, ran the ill-starred newspaper on which Sam worked, setting type and doing his first writing. It was, indeed, in Orion’s paper that Sam’s famous verse, “To Mary in Hannibal,” was publishedthe title condensed, because of the narrow column, to read: “To Mary in H-1.”
Along the crest of the bluffs, overlooking the river, the city of Hannibal has made for itself a charming park, and-at the highest point in this park there is to be unveiled, in a short time, a statue of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, which, from its position, will command a view of many leagues of mile-wide Mississippi. It is peculiarly fitting that the memorial should be stationed in that place. Mark Twain loved the river. Even though it almost “got” him in his boyhood (he had “nine narrow escapes from drowning”) he adored it; later, when his youthful ambition to become a river pilot was attained, he still adored it; and finally he wrote his love of it into that masterpiece, “Life on the Mississippi,” of which Arnold Bennett has said: “I would sacrifice for it the entire works of Thackeray and George Eliot.”
Looking up the river from the spot where the statue will be placed, one may see Turtle Island, where Tom and Huck used to go and feast on turtle’s eggsrowing there in that boat which, after they had so “honestly and industriously” stolen it, they painted red, that its former proprietor might not recognize it. Below is Glascox Island, where Nigger Jim hid. Glascox Island is often called Tom Sawyer’s Island, or Mark Twain’s Island, now. Not far below the island is the “scar on the hillside” which marks the famous cave.
“For Sam Clemens,” says Paine in his biography, “the cave had a fascination that never faded. Other localities and diversions might pall, but any mention of the cave found him always eager and ready for the three-mile walk or pull that brought them to the mystic door.”
I suggested to .my companion that, for the sake of sentiment, we, too, approach the cave by rowing down the river. And, having suggested the plan, I offered to take upon myself the heaviest responsibility connected with itthat of piloting the boat in these unfamiliar waters. All I required of him was the mere manual act of working the oars. To my amazement he refused. I fear that he not only lacks sentiment, but that he is becoming lazy.
We drove out to the cave in a Ford car.
Do you remember when Tom Sawyer took the boys to the cave at night, in “Huckleberry Finn” ?
“We went to a clump of bushes,” says Huck, “and Tom made everybody swear to keep the secret, and then showed them a hole in the hill, right in the thickest part of the bushes. Then we lit candles and crawled in on our hands and knees. We went about two hundred yards, and then the cave opened up. Tom poked about among the passages, and pretty soon ducked under a wall where you would n’t ‘a’ noticed there was a hole. We went along a narrow place and got into a kind of room, all damp and sweaty and cold, and there we stopped. Tom says : `Now we ’11 start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer’s Gang.. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath and write his name in blood.’ ”
That is the sort of cave it isa wonderful, mysterious place, black as India ink; a maze of passage-ways and vaulted rooms, eaten by the waters of long ago through the limestone cliffs ; a seemingly endless cavern full of stalactites and stalagmites, looking like great conical masses of candle grease; a damp, oppressive labyrinth of eerie rock formations, to kindle the most bloodcurdling imaginings.
As we moved in, away from the daylight, illuminating our way, feebly, with such matches as we happened to have with us, and with newspaper torches, the man who had driven us out there told us about the cave.
“They ain’t no one ever explored it,” he said. “‘S too big. Why, they ‘s a lake in herequite a big lake, with fish in it. And they ‘s an arm of the cave that goes away down underneath the river. They say they ‘s wells, tooholes with no bottoms to ’em. Prob’ly that ‘s where them people went to that ‘s got lost in the cave.”
“Have people gotten lost in here ?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” he said cheerfully. “They say there ‘s some that ‘s gone in and never come out again. She ‘s quite a cave.”
I began to walk more gingerly into the blackness.
“I suppose,” I said to him presently, “there are toads and snakes and such things here?”
He hastened to set my mind at rest on that.
“Oh, Lord bless you, yes !” he declared. “Bats, too.”
“And I suppose some of those holes you speak of are full of snakes?”
“Most likely.” His voice reverberated in the darkness. “But I can’t be sure. Nobody that’s ever been in them holes ain’t lived to tell the tale.”
By this time we had reached a point at which no glimmer of light from the mouth of the cave was visible. We were feeling our way along, running our hands over the damp rocks and putting our feet before us with the utmost caution.. I knew, of course, that it would add a good deal to my story if one of our party fell into a hole and was never again heard from, but the more I thought about it the more advisable it seemed to me that I should not be that one.. I had an engagement for dinner that evening, and besides, if I fell in, who would write the story? Certainly the driver of the auto-hack, for all his good will, could hardly do it justice; whereas, if he fell in I could at a pinch drive the little Ford back to the city.
I dropped behind. But when I did that he stopped. “I just stopped for breath,” I said. “You can keep on and I’ll follow in a minute.”
“No,” he answered, “I’ll wait for you. I ‘m out of breath, too. Besides, I don’t want you to get lost in here.”
At this juncture my companion, who had moved a little way off, gave a frightful yell, which echoed horribly through the cavern.
I could not see him. I did not know what was the matter. Never mind ! My one thought was of him. Perhaps he had been attacked by a wildcat or a serpent. Well, he was my fellow traveler, and I would stand by him! Even the chauffeur of the hack seemed to feel the same way. Together we turned and ran toward the place whence we thought the voice might have come that is to say, toward the mouth of the cave. But when we reached it he was n’t there.
“He must be back in the cave, after all,” I said to the driver.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“Now, I tell you,” I said. “We mustn’t both go in after him. One of us ought to stay here and call to the others to guide them out. I ’11 do that. I have a good strong voice. And you go in and find out what’s the matter. You know the cave better than I do.”
“Oh, no I don’t,” said the man.
“Why certainly you do !” I said.
“I was n’t never into the cave before,” he said.
“Leastways not nowhere near as far as we was this time.”
“But you live right here in Hannibal,” I insisted. “You must know more about it than I do. I live in New York. What could I know about a cave away out here in Missouri?”
“Well, you know just as much as I do, anyhow,” he returned doggedly.
“Look here !” I said sharply. “I hope you aren’t a coward? The idea ! A great big fellow like you, too !”
However, at that juncture, our argument was stopped by the appearance of the missing man. He strolled into the light in leisurely fashion.
“What happened ?” I cried.
“Happened ?” he repeated. “Nothing happened. Why?”
“You yelled, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, “I wanted to hear the echoes.”
Before leaving Hannibal that afternoon, we had the pleasure of meeting an old school friend of Samuel Clemens’s, Colonel John L. RoBardsthe same John RoBards of whom it is recorded in Paine’s work that “he wore almost continually the medal for amiability, while Samuel Clemens had a mortgage on the medal for spelling.”
Colonel RoBards is still amiable. He took us to his office, showed us a scrap-book containing clippings in which he was mentioned in connection with Mark Twain, and told us of old days in the log schoolhouse.
Seeing that I was making notes, the Colonel called my attention politely to the spelling of his name, requesting that I get it right. Then he explained to me the reason for the capital B, beginning the second syllable.
“I may say, sir,” he explained in his fine Southern manner, “that I inserted that capital B myself. At least I converted the small B into a capital. I am a Kentuckian, sir, and in Kentucky my family name stands for something. It is a name that I am proud to bear, and I do not like to be called out of it.. But up here I was continually annoyed by the errors of careless persons. Frequently they would fail to give the accent on the final syllable, where it should be placed, sirRoBards; that is the way it should be pronouncedbut even worse, it happened now and then that some one called me by the plebeian appellation, Roberts. That was most distasteful to me, sir. Most distasteful. For that reason I use the capital B for emphasis.”
I was glad to assure the Colonel that in these pages his name would be correctly spelled, and I call him to witness that I spoke the truth. I repeat, the name is RoBards. And it is borne by a most amiable gentle. man.
Mr. F. W. Hixson of St. Louis has in his possession an autograph book which belonged to his mother when she was a young girl (Ann Virginia Ruffner), residing in Hannibal. In this book, Sam Clemens wrote a verse at the time when he was preparing to leave the town where he had spent his youth. I reproduce that boyish bit of doggerel here, solely for the value of one word which it contains :
Good-by, good-by, I bid you now, my friend; And though ’tis hard to say the word, To destiny I bend.
Never, in his most perfect passages, did Samuel Clemens hit more certainly upon the one right word than when in this verse he wrote the second word in the last line.
And what a destiny it was!