"He is amusing but not inherently a gentleman": the vexed relations of Kate Field and Samuel Clemens.
I am requested to say something about Americans abroad. Well, I am sorry to make the confession, but either there are a great many fools in America, or all the fools in America visit Europe. I have not yet arrived at a definite conclusion on the subject, for truth is said to lie in a well, and a great deal of rope is required to get at it; but judging from the fact that I never met such peculiar specimens at home as I meet or hear of abroad, I am inclined to believe that a large proportions of our idiots seek an asylum on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps this is the retort courteous we make to Europe for sending us her adventurers, thieves, and burglars. (172)
In the late 1870s, moreover, Field worked as a publicist for Alexander Graham Bell, once even singing Irish folk songs over the telephone to Queen Victoria, and she was instrumental in the founding of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford and the John Brown Memorial in the Adirondacks. Between 1890 and 1895 she edited and published her own weekly paper, Kate Field's Washington, to which Charlotte Perkins Gilman contributed thirty of her earliest essays, stories, and poems (Scharnhorst 5, 6, 8, and passim).
Nevertheless, Field struggled for a livelihood throughout her career. Two years after she covered Dickens's tour for the Tribune, she turned to the more lucrative lecture platform. In effect, she began to trade on her celebrity. As she asked Whitelaw Reid, the managing editor of the Tribune, in June 1869, "Do you expect Hood, Charles Lamb and George Alfred Townsend [to write] for $15 per column?" (Letter to Whitlaw Reid). She explained to the actor Noah Miller Ludlow the next month,
I've gone into the Lyceum because it pays better than anything else, and I am tired of grubbing along.... There is no more reason why a woman should not lecture than that she should not sing or act. At least I shall try to make lecturing fashionable as well as profitable (Kate Field: Selected Letters 48).
She debuted in Boston, Brooklyn, and New York in the spring of 1869 with a defense of "Woman in the Lyceum" before audiences that included Edwin P. Whipple, Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and John Greenleaf Whittier (Whipple; "Miss Kate Field on 'Woman'"). "If woman occupied all the space belonging to her by divine right, there would be no 'woman queslion,"' she declared. "It would be as absurd as a man question'" ("Woman"). In the autumn she added a second lecture to her repertoire, "Among the Adirondacks" or "Out in the Woods," a Thoreauvian meditation on nature and the wild. "The course of true roving never yet ran smooth, and I did not attain the wilderness without a struggle," she allowed. "Very little encouragement is given to women who attempt to do what all other women have not made fashionable" ("Among the Adirondacks"). When Field delivered this lecture in Buffalo in January 1870, it was warmly praised by both the Courier ("a charming story, admirably told") and t he Express ("the lecture was a thoroughly good one") ("Lecture"; "Out in the Woods"). Samuel Clemens, co-owner of the Express, was away on a lecture tour at the time. Field earned the nickname "the Rose of the Rostrum" and, by her own estimate, $8000 her first year on the boards ("Saturday Notes"; "The Lecture Platform"). For the 1870-71 season, she wrote a new lecture, "An Evening with Dickens," that became her most popular and characteristic address. She delivered it occasionally for the rest of her career, including dates in London in 1872, Juneau in 1887, and Honolulu in 1896.
Field and Clemens were born only three years and raised only a few miles apart, Field in St. Louis and Clemens in Hannibal. In the 1840s Field's father Joseph co-owned the St. Louis Daily Reveille, to which Orion Clemens may have contributed. (3) Joe Field was also a popular western humorist whose ribald sketches, according to Bernard De Voto and Walter Blair, likely influenced Sam Clemens's own brand of comedy (De Voto 252; Blair 303-04). Clemens and Kate Field were both lecturers and playwrights, journalists and travel writers. They had many common friends--among them, W. D. Howells, John Hay, the poet Charles Warren Stoddard, the painter Frank Millet, and the minister Moncure Conway--and they moved in the same social circles in New England and New York. Each made a vivid impression on the other, and they harbored some of the same prejudices (against Moslems and Mormons, for example). Rather than becoming friends, however, Field and Clemens had a vexed relationship, and the story of that relationship silho uettes the obstacles confronted by women of letters in the literary climate of the Gilded Age. In all, Field's career illustrates the contradictions inherent in what Lawrence Buell has termed the "genteel amateurism" of nineteenth-century literary women (62). She was repeatedly forced by the exigencies of the literary market to compromise her literary ambitions in order to earn a living and support her extended family.
Recent studies of Clemens and women focus exclusively on his relations with family members and close friends (his mother Jane, his wife Olivia, his daughters, Susan Crane, Mary Mason Fairbanks, Isabel Lyon, Mary Ann Cord) or his pre-pubescent "angelfish" or younger writers he befriended (e.g., Grace King). On the basis of such scholarship, Shelley Fisher Fishkin concludes, "Sometimes Twain reinscribed the gender norms of his time; sometimes he transcended them" (69). Other scholars suggest that, much as he was ostensibly a progressive on matters of race, Clemens became, under the influence of his wife and other women, a proto-feminist (Zwarg 62). In this essay, however, I trace his vexed relations with a literary woman who was briefly his rival, and the record is not at all nuanced or equivocal. Clemens's attitude toward Field was consistently that of a Victorian patriarch. He treated her with undisguised condescension both privately and publicly, in both his own voice and anonymously. Whereas Bret Harte, an other of Clemens's rivals, became a creature of the literary market and specialized in western formula fiction, the more talented Field enjoyed a remarkable career despite the condescension of men such as Clemens by testing her versatility--as lecturer, journalist, actor, and editor.
Clemens's comments in 1871 about popular women lecturers, Field in particular, echo Hawthorne's notorious remark about the "d_____d mob of scribbling women." He did not suffer rivals gladly, especially those in crinoline. Only three weeks before they first met in Buffalo on January 29, 1871, Clemens had referred derisively to Field, albeit not by name, in a column for the New York Tribune as one "of the most courted lady-lecturers of the day," who "is soaring along on a lucrative notoriety nine tenths of which is the result of industriously-supplied two-line personal items telling how she wore her hair at Long Branch" (Twain, Mark Twain's Letters 4: 291). On the day of her lecture in Buffalo in late January, Clemens was predictably nonplussed when he "stumbled in awkwardly & unexpectedly" on Field at a private home "& introduction followed" (Twain, Mark Twain's Letters 4: 322). Still, he attended her Dickens lecture at St. James Hall that evening.
He was not particularly impressed. The Buffalo Express reported in its next edition that, while Field's audience was unusually large, the lecture itself hardly deserved "as unstinted praise as we have found lavished" upon it "in many of our exchanges" ("Miss Kate Field's Lecture"). As the editors of his letters add, "Clemens may have written, or at least inspired these remarks, for he was consistently contemptuous of Kate Field's platform abilities" (Twain, Mark Twain's Letters 4: 324). The same day, Clemens derided Field, though not by name, in a letter to the lecture agent James Red-path as one of the "ladles whose sudden rise into newspaper notice" had made her name "familiar in our mouths as household words." She "writes a smart little essay and reads it in a smart little way--without one touch of native or acquired eloquence" (Twain, Mark Twain's Letters 4: 549). If such a comment sounds like sour grapes, so be it: when Clemens leveled such charges, Field was a famous lecturer whose popularity rivaled h is own. She received equal billing in advertisements with such eminent speakers as Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, and Clemens himself ("Amusements"). She was sometimes even favorably compared with Clemens in the press, as when the Boston Woman's Journal suggested she was "composed of Mark Twain, John Hay, and Bret Harte, with a propensity for puns that is excruciating" ("Literary Notices"). For the record, too, Field's lecture in Buffalo in January 1871 was much more favorably reviewed in the Buffalo Courier than in the Express. According to its review, Field, "a lady of most excellent sense, fine culture and pronounced critical ability,...spoke eloquently of Dickens" ("Kate Field on Charles Dickens").
On her part, Field was not particularly impressed with Clemens, either. She wrote a friend that she had
met Mark Twain in Buffalo. He is amusing but not inherently a gentleman I should say. He talks or rather drawls through his nose in an absurd manner but to marry such a voice or to connect such a voice with sentiment is to me incomprehensible. Yet this queer, original man with a disregard for things polite, has married a delicate little woman who thinks much of her upholstery and will tolerate no smoking or drinking in her house! He went to my lecture and I was somewhat curious to know what he thought of it, but all I heard was that he called me "an actress." (Kate Field: Selected Letters 69)
Clemens was scarcely unique among male luminaries who denigrated Field. After entertaining great expectations for her in Florence, Robert Browning scorned her career choices a few years later: "[She] is one of those disappointing people, from whose ordinary life & ways you expect something better when they shall set to work" (211). Field's decision to lecture was, for better or worse, dictated by the conditions of the literary market. She wrote Reid in September 1871 from the resort of Ems, Germany, "I never wish to repeat my lecture experiences in America, I loathe the life and the majority of the country audiences. I did it for money" (Kate Field: Selected Letters 88).
Field and Clemens next crossed paths in June 1873 in England, where each of them covered the diplomatic visit of the Shah of Persia for a New York newspaper. Field held what was by far the more prestigious appointment, however: she had been commissioned to cover the event by the New York Tribune, whereas Clemens contributed his dispatches from England to the decidedly declasse New York Herald. During the month the Shah was in England, they seem to have met often. Field stayed with the liberal M. P. Charles Dilke and his wife, and less than a week after her arrival in Southampton on June 4, Field and the Dilkes invited Clemens and his wife Olivia to dinner. Clemens graciously accepted the invitation: "Dear Miss Field: I see that it isn't your fault that you do not know me, & I'm sure it isn't mine that I do not know you. Plainly, then, the party to blame is Providence, & therefore damages cannot be had in this vale. But we shall be glad to see & know you & likewise Lady Duke." The Clemenses dined with Field, the Dukes, and other guests on June 22 (Twain, Mark Twain's Letters 5:375).
By all accounts, their exchanges during the month were pleasant and convivial. Field reported to the Tribune on June 24 that the dinner had lasted until well after midnight and that she had enjoyed the company of "an American by the singular name of Mark Twain," who was "endeavoring to instil civilization into the Shah by sitting on the floor and playing draw poker" with him. According to Field's report, Clemens claimed "that his august pupil makes wonderful progress in this great American game, and will soon be able to play against the American Minister or the brilliant editor of The Louisville Courier-Journal, who now pines in May Fair for a partner worthy of his deal" ("Receiving the Shah" 4). (Field's reference to the editor of the Courier-Journal was a private joke: Henry Watterson was Clemens's cousin.) Still, Clemens never mentioned Field in any of his dispatches to the Herald, and she was conspicuously absent from other entertainments to which men only were invited. Two weeks later, when Anthony Trol lope hosted a dinner in honor of Joaquin Miller to which he invited Clemens, Trollope teased Field, "Two of the wildest of your countrymen, Joaquin Miller & Mark Twain, dine with me at my club next week. Pity you have not yet established the rights of your sex or you could come and meet them, and be as jolly as men" (591).
Field's reports from England were nearly as well-received as her notices of Dickens's readings six years earlier. Certainly the dispatches she filed with the Tribune were more widely read than the articles Clemens sent the Herald. As Reid wrote her on July 17.
"You do not need to be told that most of the stuff he [Clemens] has done for the Herald is very poor, because you have seen it. It won't hurt you to know that your letters, on the other hand, have received more praise than any you ever wrote for us before. That one on the naval review for the Shah was a model. The Rubenstein letter was also exceedingly good. Both have been very widely copied" (Whiting 308). (4)
The conversational style of Field's dispatches is particularly evident in the ones Reid specifies. En route to England on June 1, she interviewed the eminent Russian pianist Anton Rubenstein, her seasick fellow passenger:
He is seated at my left, and looks like the remains of former greatness. He is in a state of eclipse, and I am heathen enough to rejoice, for at sea misery likes company. I derive inexpressible comfort in beholding genius reduced to my own level. The sea is democratic in its tendencies; it is no respecter of persons, else it would spare the great pianist who has done so much to elevate the musical standard in America, and whose great objection to our country is that it is 3,000 watery miles from Europe. ("On the Ocean Wave")
Three weeks later, Field traveled from London to Southsea to observe the Queen and the Shah as they reviewed English ships, and she excoriated English pretension in her report:
Here ordinary folk are called "persons," and royal folk are called "personages." I like these distinctions. They keep classes apart and foster that noblest of all traits, flunkeyism. I like to see journalists pandering to this sort of thing by publicly writing up what they privately ridicule and despise. It proves the nobility of English journalism and how little its professors merit the contempt with which they are regarded by the "personages" about whom their pens cringe and lie. ("Receiving the Shah" 4)
Obviously, Field did not gladly suffer fools any more than Clemens did rivals.
Her report "The Shah at Windsor," filed from London on June 27 and published on July 14, epitomizes the irreverence of her satirical reports to the Tribune. Invited to accompany an M. P., presumably Dilke, "to see Her Majesty's troops dance before the King of Kings" at Windsor, she readily accepts:
Of course I would [go]. Am I not a child of nature? Is not my home among the howling savages of an unlicked, untutored world, and is it not my duty to improve my opportunities and my manners by beholding Shahs and Queens? What we republicans need is the polish acquired by association with the "ruling families of the earth." Feeling this great want, I accepted the invitation with alacrity. All that I had heard of the Shah had endeared me to him. I can conceive of no greater pleasure than sitting beside him at table and receiving the contents of his plate, thrown lavishly up and down the inviting skirt of one of Worth's immaculate dresses. (5)
Field's scathing satire of the Shah's table manners is again reminiscent of Clemens's burlesque of all things foreign in The Innocents Abroad. Rumor had it that, while eating cherries at a state dinner, the Shah was unsure how to dispose of the pits:
At first he put them into his wine-glasses, but, after filling them up, became ashamed of the ever-increasing quantity, and, to make matters better, threw all upon the waxed floor. Victoria preserved her royal countenance. The remainder of the lookers-on "tittered." "I don't object to the Shah's visit," said the Princess of Wales, when first informed of his coming. "It will be very amusing." She was quite right, but on the whole wouldn't a monkey from the "Zoo" be more so? ("The Shah at Windsor")
To be sure, such remarks betray Field's ethnocentrism, but for the record she was more progressive on racial issues than was Clemens: she was an ardent abolitionist during the Civil War, a member of the Radical Club of Boston, and over the years she publicly championed the civil rights of both African Americans and Native Americans (Field "Gross Injustice"; "Miss Kate Field on Our Grievances"). In any event, one should make no mistake: in mid-1873 Kate Field was a more prominent journalist than Clemens. Unfortunately, she never again enjoyed such popularity.
In 1874, Field turned to the legitimate stage in another effort to earn a living. Her parents had been well-known actors a generation earlier. Eliza Riddle Field had performed with Junius Brutus Booth, Charles Kean, Fanny Kemble, William Macready, and Sheridan Knowles. She also had famously acted the part of Juliet opposite Charlotte Cushman's Romeo. In addition to a humorist, Joe Field had been a playwright, a theatrical manager, and a skilled actor in a variety of roles, from Hamlet to Sir Benjamin Backbite. At the age of thirty-six, their daughter hoped to duplicate their successes. "I shall write as much as ever," she explained, but
I don't believe in literature as a profession, and never did. Literature is a charming mistress, but a terrible master. It requires much more physique to endure the strain of writing seven columns a week, the number I have often turned off, than to act nightly; yet the pecuniary reward is a tolerable living in the first case and a fortune in the second. My blood boils when I think of the many brilliant men and women who are struggling for a competency, while the successful singer and actor are showered with gold. If I had my way, journalists should be paid better than any other professional men and women. (Boston Transcript)
Or as she would write her friend E. C. Stedman, "Oh, how I loathe journalism! More and more I long to be out of it. To write for a living is hell--to write for love is heaven, At present, I'm in hell" (letter to Stedman). So with no formal training and little experience apart from amateur theatricals, she opened on November 14, 1874, at Booth's Theatre in New York in the role of Peg Woffington in Charles Reade's play "Masks and Faces" and was lambasted by the critics. Her friend William Winter, drama editor for the New York Tribune for whom she had written reviews since 1866, praised her with faint damns, for example. "If Miss Field possesses the faculty for acting," he averred, "she did not largely display it upon this occasion.... When a clever and mature woman--widely known as a sparkling lecturer and a pungent and brilliant writer--comes before the public in one of the most prominent theaters in America, and in one of the most difficult and exacting parts in modern comedy, more is promised, and more is ex pected, than competition, however prosperous, with wax figures and white muslin" (Winter), The play closed after only two performances.
Field was undeterred by her failure. The next month, as the anonymous New York correspondent of the London Athenaeum, she puffed Clemens's stage comedy "The Gilded Age," loosely adapted from the novel he co-wrote with Charles Dudley Warner. She especially praised the performance of her friend John Raymond in the leading role of Colonel Mulberry Sellers. Raymond, she wrote,
convulses fine audiences at the Park Theatre by a real American characterization of Col. Sellers, in Mark Twain's drama of "The Gilded Age." Col. Sellers's hundredth night is approaching, yet the public, like Oliver Twist, ask for "more." I don't see how comedy can be more naturally and beautifully acted than it is by Mr. Raymond, who woke up the morning after his first appearance as Col. Sellers to find himself famous ("Notes").
Nowhere did Field hint that she had contracted to join Raymond's company the next month and to assume the female lead in the play, the role of the ingenue Laura Hawkins.
Unfortunately, she was woefully miscast in the part. In the first act, according to the script, Laura is sixteen years old, and in acts two through five she is twenty-five. The play itself is a clumsy marriage of farce and melodrama: while Sellers comically schemes to reap a fortune from a corrupt Congress, Laura, betrayed by the man she loves, kills him and is tried for murder. However complicated or nuanced Laura Hawkins's character may be in the novel, she is little more than a sentimental caricature in the play. The meat of the role is the stilted speech she delivers in act four when she confronts her false-hearted lover:
I was simple, innocent & trusting. Day by day, patiently, perseveringly, with infernal art, you wound your coils about me--day by day, hour by hour, until my heart, my soul, myself was yours. Knowing all the consequences, the awful awakening that must come to me in time, you yet could find it in your nature to do this heartless thing--I thought myself your Wife--and was only your silly dupe--once you abandoned me and I tried to forget & live. Then you came again, and whispered in my ears the words that are to a betrayed woman, as are promises of liberty to hopeless captives that have grown old in dungeons. You said the day was coming--and coming soon--when I should hold in honor, & in undisputed right, the name & place of Wife to you. And now, you tell me that your Wife still lives! & so the lying hope you raised from the dead must betake itself to the grave and the worms again. ("Col. Sellers/A Drama" 143)
As dramatic literature, "The Gilded Age" was all bombast and purp stuff; while Clemens copyrighted it, he never published it in any edition of his writings. But as sensational theater it was an unqualified smash: Raymond staged it more than a thousand times over a period of twelve years, and it earned Clemens more than $100,000.
More to the point, during the brief time she acted in Raymond's company, Field foolishly tried to exploit Clemens's name for her personal benefit. Field performed the role of Laura Hawkins only a few times, all in mid- to late January 1875, in Hartford, Springfield, Brooklyn, and Newark. The notice of her debut in the Hartford Courant was tepid, to be sure:
Miss Kate Field, the well-known writer and lecturer, made her first appearance in the play last night in the character of Laura. Miss Field is as yet so inexperienced on the stage that she is entitled to charitable criticism. During the first part of the evening she was evidently nervous, and her talking savored somewhat of recitation. But in the Washington scene [that is, the scene that includes her speech in act four] she forgot herself in her character and exhibited decided histrionic ability, although she can hardly flatter herself on a great success. ("Colonel Sellers")
From here, reviews of Field's acting could only improve, though overall they were mixed at best. Of her second performance, the Courant observed, "Miss Kate Field's personation of Laura Hawkins was better than on the first evening. Then she labored under the disadvantages of a first appearance in the character, a position more trying to a recent debutante than to one long familiar with the stage" ("Col. Sellers Last Night"). One other point is germane here: on neither evening was Clemens in attendance. The next evening, Raymond's company performed the play in Springfield, Massachusetts, where it was favorably reviewed by Samuel Bowles, the editor of the Springfield Republican (Bowles). The following day, January 14, Fields sent a list of blurbs about her acting to the Newark Morning Register and the New York Tribune. As she noted to Jeanette Gilder, one of the editors of the Register, "I've made a success and here are my vouchers which you can use. Have acted the part three times and improve nightly. Great ho uses" (Letter to Gilder). The Tribune published the list in its January 19 issue under the title "Miss Kate Field in the Country." Two of the three "vouchers"--those attributed to Samuel Bowles and to the Springfield Republican--were gleaned from the same source, Bowles's review in the Republican on January 14. Only the other blurb was new: "Miss Field played her part admirably and made a most happy success-[Mark Twain]" ("Miss Kate Field in the Country").
Field's attempt to legitimate her performance in "The Gilded Age" by invoking Clemens's authority was a foolish mistake by any standard. In fact, Field had excerpted a sentence from a private note, now lost, that Clemens sent Raymond's wife during the two-day run of the play in Hartford. The same day his ostensible testimonial on Field's behalf appeared in the Tribune, Clemens wrote a note objecting to her unauthorized use of his name: "The only inference one can draw" from the item in the Tribune, he began, is
that I was an eye-witness of Miss Field's performance. But in truth I never have seen the lady play at all. In a private note to another lady, I did pay Miss Field as good & as hearty a compliment as I could, considering the fact that I was speaking from mere heresay evidence, but I perceive, from the above version, that my remark has been considerably improved & strengthened since I uttered it. I do not mind being quoted in full, but I must protest against a cutting down of my words which makes me seem to say a very great deal more than I did say, or had any moral right to say. (Kiralis 1)
Six days later, Clemens sent this letter to the editor Jerome Stillson for publication. "I've been sick abed some days," he explained, "or this would have gone sooner. However, dates don't matter when one is trying to circumvent a dead beat" (Kiralis 1). Clemens hoped his letter would be published.
Will you please print the enclosed--provided you have no objections, that is. This woman is the most inveterate sham & fraud & manipulator of newspapers I know of; & I didn't think she would ever be smart enough to get a chance to use me as a lying bulletin board to help her deceive the public, but by cutting down & printing a private note to Mrs. Raymond she really has got the best of me, after all. (Kiralis 1).
Clemens's letter reproaching Field was not published, however, probably because Stillson worked for the New York World, not the Tribune, and so he simply ignored it. In any event, Field was spared a major embarrassment. She continued to perform with Raymond's company in "The Gilded Age" in Brooklyn and Newark in late January, though the reviews of her acting did not improve. She finally left the company with no ill-will--she wrote F. H. Mason, the editor of the Cleveland Leader, on January 20 that Raymond "has treated me better than I deserve" (Letter to F. H. Mason)--and dropped from sight for a month or so before resurfacing in another production of "Masks and Faces" in Providence in March.
An epilogue: During a run of "The Gilded Age" in London in August 1880, Field publicly criticized Clemens's script for its topical and local humor. She wrote the New York Daily Graphic, "If 'Colonel Sellers' has not been as well received here as in the United States," it is partly because the play
has been so ingeniously cast as to bring out its shortcomings in full relief. Then the humor is often so local as to be incomprehensible to Cockneys who know nothing about stoves, and "going in for the old flag and an appropriation" and references to the purity and dignity of Congress. Mr. Raymond's acting has taken immensely. His appearance is the signal for genuine and hearty laughter. It is unfortunate that he should not have a play better suited to English taste.
The part of Laura Hawkins--Field's former role--"does not awaken enthusiasm," she complained ("London Stage Gossip"). That is, if the play did not succeed in the West End of London, according to Field, it was more the fault of Clemens the playwright than Raymond the actor.
Field and Clemens seem to have remained out of touch for several years, though in March 1881 Field persuaded Olivia Clemens to join the Co-operative Dress Association, of which she was president (Kate Field: Selected Letters 160, 166). Field spent nearly a year in Utah among the Mormons in 1883-84, and she soon launched what would become the final crusade of her career: to prevent statehood to Utah so long as it was governed as a Mormon theocracy. Between 1884 and 1887, she lectured dozens of times throughout New England and the Midwest on such topics as "The Mormon Monster," "Mormon Treason," and "Polygamy in Utah." She also published several articles on the "social and political crimes of Utah" in such papers as Harper's Weekly, the Boston Herald, the North American Review, the New York Tribune, and Woman, meanwhile contemplating a thorough history of the Latter-Day Saints. In March 1886, she wrote Clemens in his office as director of the American Publishing Company of Hartford to solicit his interest in t he book. "I'm told you have a very poor opinion of me because I have lectured against Mormonism," she began her letter. Apparently she had not yet read his comments about Mormons in Roughing It.
I think if you had ever heard me you would revise this opinion, as my lectures are against the treason of the political machine, called a religion to blind the unwary. However, this is not the cause of my boring you with a letter. You represent a big publishing house. I am writing a history of Mormonism which I think will be entertaining as well as enlightening. Such a book is fit only, it seems to me, to be sold by subscription. Does it appeal to you from a business point of view? I think I know what I am writing about." (Kate Field: Selected Letters 190)
In fact, the Salt Lake City Tribune, the leading non-Mormon newspaper in Utah, once editorialized that Field "ought to be able to prepare a better lecture on Mormonism than she has ever yet delivered; if a book is in process of incubation, it ought to be of more value than any former book on this subject" (Whiting 429).
In his reply, Clemens allowed how he opposed the Mormon Church, much as he harbored reservations about Christian Science and other faiths that threatened to become established religions. But he would not endorse any abridgement of religious freedom. "Your notion and mine about polygamy is without doubt exactly the same," he explained,
but you probably think we have some cause of quarrel with those people for putting it into the religion, whereas I think the opposite. Considering our complacent cant about this country of ours being the home of liberty of conscience, it seems to me that the attitude of our Congress and people toward the Mormon Church is matter for limitless laughter and derision. The Mormon religion is a religion: the negative vote of all of the rest of the globe could not break down that fact; and so I shall probably always go on thinking that the attitude of our Congress and nation toward it is merely good trivial stuff to make fun of. Am I a friend to the Mormon religion? No. I would like to see it extirpated, but always by fair means, not these Congressional rascalities. If you can destroy it with a book,--by arguments and facts, not brute force,--you will do a good and wholesome work.
If his "business decks were clear," he might be persuaded "to publish such a book," but "they are not clear now" and "it is hard to tell when hey will be. They are piled up with contracts which two or three years--and possibly four--will be required to fulfil." He claimed that he had had to "pigeon-hole" indefinitely one of his own "finished and ready" books, on which he had "spent nearly ten thousand dollars," to "make room for other people's more important books" (Whiting 448-49). The claim was apparently a brush-off: Clemens had no finished manuscript on hand, and he would not complete A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court for another two years.
Still, Field bought the excuse. "That 'Mark Twain' should wait for anybody's book is absurd enough to print, but I won't betray your embarrassment of--riches," she replied. But she had another favor to ask. She enclosed a pamphlet summarizing her lecture "The Mormon Monster." If Clemens would read it, "you'll know what I'm aiming at.... Please ask your wife with my compliments whether there is any charity she is interested in that would care to have me give my Mormon lectures--one or three--for half of the profits. I want to interest you Hartfordians in the cause" (Kate Field: Selected Letters 191). I have found no record that Field ever delivered any of her anti-Mormon lectures in Hartford, nor did she ever publish the history of Mormonism she contemplated.
During the early 1890S, while she was editing her weekly paper, Field often alluded to Clemens in its pages. She praised in particular The Innocents Abroad, Pudd'nhead Wilson, and The Prince and the Pauper ("almost an American classic") ("A Cure"; "My Study"; "Men"). She also attempted to enlist Clemens in her own campaign for international copyright. In her essay "A Nation of Pirates," she asserted that men of letters are "poorly paid compared to their peers in painting, sculpture, law, medicine or trade" (313). She cited one exception, which unfortunately seemed to depreciate Clemens: "Mark Twain is a humorist, and humor sells in literature as burlesque sells on the stage" (313). Surprisingly, Field enclosed a copy of this essay with a letter to Clemens in which she invited him to send her a paragraph for her paper endorsing the adoption of a copyright law. "Will you read enclosed and send me a word of denunciation for a column of authors that is to be in my next number?" she asked. "If you send, please le t it be immediately. You understand my reference to humor is not against humor. People buy it and you are the exception to rule" (Kate Field: Selected Letters 212). Not surprisingly, Clemens ignored her request. No paragraph from his pen appeared in Kate Field's Washington, though she soon published letters from Howells, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and George William Curtis in favor of international copyright (Howells "A Word"; Field "International Copyright").
Field's weekly paper failed financially in April 1895, and she died thirteen months later in Hawaii on assignment for a Chicago newspaper. Clemens's patronizing remarks about her did not end with her death, however. In his sketch "Villagers of 1840--3" (1897), a roster of people he remembered from Hannibal whom he planned to use in future work, Clemens invoked her as the benchmark of the brassy and flamboyant woman journalist, Among the characters he describes in the sketch is Ella Hunter, "a loud vulgar beauty from a neighboring town--one of the earliest chipper and self-satisfied and idiotic correspondents of the back-country newspapers--an early Kate Field" (Armon and Blair 98). Ten years later, he reminisced about Field more fully in his autobiographical dictation. After earning a reputation for her Dickens reportage, he remembered,
Clemens here implicitly compared his own triumphs on the platform with Field's struggles to earn a living as a lecturer. Omitting all reference to her ill-fated career on the stage, Clemens concluded that she was "a good creature," but "the acquisition of a perishable and fleeting notoriety was the disaster of her life. To her it was infinitely precious, and she tried hard, in various ways, during more than a quarter of a century, to keep a semblance of life in it, but her efforts were but moderately successful. She died in the Sandwich Islands, regretted by her friends and forgotten of the world" (Twain, Mark Twain's Autobiography 1:157-58). Characteristically, Clemens exaggerated the decline in Field's career; in fact, the French government had awarded her the Palmes academique for her service to art and literature in September 1892, less than four years before her death. Clemens's transparent exaggeration should not blind us to the irony of his statement. Whereas he had attracted national attention at the beginning of his literary career with the travel letters he sent from Hawaii to the Sacramento Union, Field's life and career ended in slow eclipse as the Hawaii correspondent of the Chicago TimesHerald some thirty years later.
she went on the platform, but two or three years had elapsed and her subject--Dickens--had now lost its freshness and its interest. For a while people went to see her, becaus e of her name; but her lecture was poor and her delivery repellently artificial; consequently, when the country's desire to look at her had been appeased, the platform forsook her.
(1.) Field contributed the following essays to the Atlantic Monthly. "Elizabeth Barrett Browning" (September 1861), "English Authors in Florence" (December 1864), "Last Days of Walter Savage Landor" (April-June 1866), "A Conversation on the Stage" (March 1868), "Charles Albert Fechter" (September 1870), and "Fechter as Hamlet" (November 1870).
(2.) See my essay "James and Kate Field," forth-coming in Henry James Review.
(3.) For example, see the Hannibal correspondence signed "Lorio" in the St. Louis Daily Reveille for 20 April 1847, 2:3 and 20 May 1847, 1: 6.
(4.) In the same letter to Field, Reid added,
I hear he [Clemens] says he has a quarrel with "The Tribune." If so, it is simply that "The Tribune" declined to allow him to dictate the person who should review his forthcoming novel [The Gilded Age]. His modest suggestion was that Ned House should do it, he having previously interested House in the success of the book by taking him into partnership in dramatizing it. There is a nice correspondence on a part of the subject which would make pleasant reading; and if Twain gives trouble, I'm very much tempted to make him a more ridiculous object than he has ever made anybody else. (Whiting 308-09)
(5.) Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) was a pioneer Parisian fashion designer.
"Among the Adirondacks." Chicago Tribune 8 Feb. 1870:4.
"Amusements?' Hartford Courant 25 Oct. 1869:3.
Armon, Dahlia, and Walter Blair, eds. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians and Other Unfinished Stories. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989.
Boston Transcript. 3 Dec. 1874, sec. 6: 1.
Blair, Walter. Mark Twain and Huck Finn. Berkeley: U of California P, 1960.
Bowles, Samuel. "The Gilded Age." Springfield Republican 14 Jan. 1875: 6.
Browning, Robert. Dearest Isa: Robert Browning's Letters to Isa Blagden. Ed. Edward C. McAleer. Austin: U of Texas P, 1951.
Buell, Lawrence. New England Literary Culture: From Revolution through Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.
"Col. Sellers/A Drama in Five Acts." Missouri Review 18: 113-51.
"Col. Sellers Last Night," Hartford Courant 13 Jan. 1875: 2.
"Colonel Sellers," Hartford Courant 12 Jan. 1875: 2.
De Voto, Bernard. Mark Twain's America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1932.
Field, Kate. "A Cure for Panics," Kate Field's Washington 13 Sept. 1893: 162.
_____. "Gross Injustice to the Negroes." Springfield Republican 22 Nov. 1864: 2.
_____. "International Copyright/Letters from Holmes, Curtis and Lowell," Kate Field's Washington 21 May 1890: 331.
-----. Kate Field: Selected Letters. Ed. Carolyn Moss. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Up, 1996.
-----. Letter to E. C. Stedman. 4 Sept. 1876. Butler Library. Columbia University.
-----. Letter to F. H. Mason. 20 Jan. 1875. Fales Library. New York University.
-----. Letter to Jeanette Gilder. 14 Jan. 1875. Alderman Library. University of Virginia.
-----. Letter to Whitelaw Reid. 30 June 1869. Miami University of Ohio.
-----. "London Stage Gossip." Daily Graphic 19 Aug. 1880: 361.
-----. "Men and Women." Kate Field's Washington 5 Feb. 1890: 99.
-----. "My Study and My Books." Kate Field's Washington 27 Dec. 1893: 416.
-----. "A Nation of Pirates." Kate Field's Washington 14 May 1890: 313-14.
-----. "Notes from the United States." Athenaeum 9 Jan. 1875: 53.
-----. "On the Ocean Wave." New York Tribune 28 June 1873: 3.
-----. "Receiving the Shah." New York Tribune 9 July 1873: 4-5.
-----. "The Shah at Windsor." New York Tribune 14 July 1873: 1.
Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. "Mark Twain and Women." The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain. Ed. Forrest G. Robinson. New York: Cambridge UP, 1995.52-73.
Howells, W. D. "A Word from W. D. Howells." Kate Field's Washington 11 June 1890: 378-79.
"Kate Field Dead." New York Tribune 31 May 1896: 7.
"Kate Field on Charles Dickens." Buffalo Courier 31 Jan. 1871: 2.
Kiralis, Karl. "Two Recently Discovered Letters: Mark Twain on Kate Field." Mark Twain Journal 20 (1980): 1-4.
"Lecture of Miss Kate Field." Buffalo Courier 12 Jan. 1870: 2.
"The Lecture Platform." Boston Transcript 19 June 1875: 6.
"Literary Notices." Woman's Journals 5 July 1873: 216.
"Miss Kate Field in the Country." New York Tribune 19 Jan. 1875: 5.
"Miss Kate Field on Our Grievances." Alaska Free Press 8 Oct. 1887: 2.
"Miss Kate Field on 'Woman in the Lyceum.'" New York Times 4 May 1869: 5.
"Miss Kate Field's Lecture." Express 31 Jan. 1871: 4.
"Out in the Woods." Express 12 Jan. 1870: 2.
"Saturday Notes." Saturday Evening Gazette 4 Dec. 1870: 2.
Scharnhorst, Gary. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1985.
Trollope, Anthony. The Letters of Anthony Trollope. Vol. 2. Ed. N. John Hall. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1983. 2 vols.
Twain, Mark. [Samuel Clemens.] Mark Twain's Autobiography. Vol. 1. Ed. Albert Bigelow Paine. New York: Harper & Bros., 1924. 2 vols.
-----. Mark Twain's Letters. Vol. 4. Ed. Victor Fischer and Michael B. Frank. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.
-----. Mark Twain's Letters. Vol. 5. Ed. Lin Salamo and Harriet Elinor Smith. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997.
Whipple, E. P. Boston Transcript 1 Apr. 1869: 2.
Whiting, Lilian. Kate Field: A Record. Boston: Little, Brown, 1900.
Winter, William. "Booth's Theater--Masks and Faces--Miss Kate Field." New York Tribune 16 Nov. 1874: 5.
"Woman in the Lyceum." New York Tribune 4 May 1869: 5.
Zwarg, Christina. "Woman as a Force in Mark Twain's Joan of Arc: The Unwordable Fascination." Criticism 27 (1985): 57-72.
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|Publication:||Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2001|
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