CLEMENS, SAMUEL LANGHORNE ("Mark Twain"). Autograph letter signed ("S.L. Clemens") to Mrs. Anna Goodenough at the Alexandra Hotel, London; Highsmith House, Guildford, England, 14 August [postmarked 1896]. 3 pages, 12mo, with original postmarked envelope addressed by Clemens.
THE FIRST NEWS OF SUZY'S FATAL ILLNESS
A poignant letter to an English friend, wife of the Lieutenant Governor of South Africa, chatting about his and his family's Holiday plans, although very disturbing news of their daughter, Olivia Susan, clouds the horizon. "Dear Mrs. Goodenough: Mrs. Clemens was hoping to have some stamps by this time, but none have accumulated but the enclosed. We had a very pleasant hour or two at the Crown in Lyndhurst, but found no house [for rent] there & none at Ramsey, none at Weybridge. We finally got this house for 5 weeks while the inmates take an outing at the seaside. To-day we are troubled by news that our eldest daughter [Olivia Susan] is ill in America. We cannot all get away immediately, but Mrs. Clemens & Clara will sail tomorrow & I shall follow 3 days later if the cablegrams do not improve meantime. Mrs. Clemen's ancle [sic] is much better but not well yet. Clara is well of her cold. We all send kindest regards, & beg to be remembered to General Goodenough. Sincerely Yours S.L. Clemens."
While traveling on the lecture tour later recounted in ollowing the Equator, Clemens, his wife Livy and their middle daughter Clara had stayed in South Africa from May to Mid-July 1896 and became friendly with the Sir and Lady William H. Goodenough, Lieutenant Governor and commander of British troops there. On 15 July, just before they sailed for England, Clemens dined at The Castle in Cape Town with the Goodenoughs. Mrs. Goodenough apparently sailed for England on the same ship as the Clemens, at which time Clemens presented her with a copy of a portrait with a friendly inscription (see lot ).
The present letter, written two weeks after his arrival in England, reflects the earliest hints of one of the greatest losses in Twain's life, the death of his daughter Olivia Susan (1872-1896). In his Autobiography, Clemens tells how, after first receiving news of Susy's illness (later diagnosed as spinal meningitis), he had waited for a cable from America with more news: "I waited in the post-office that night till the doors were closed, toward midnight, in the hope that good news might still come, but there was no message. We sat silent at home till one in the morning, waiting--waiting for we knew not what. Then we took the earliest morning train, and when we reached Southampton the message was there. It said the recovery would be long, but certain. This was a great relief to me, but not to my wife. She was frightened. She and Clara went aboard the steamer at once and sailed for America...I remained behind to search for another and larger house in Guildford. That was the 15th of August, 1896. Three days later, when my wife and Clara were about halfway across the ocean, I was standing in our dining-room, thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram was put into my hand. It said 'Susy was peacefully released to-day.'"