Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The New York Times, November 11, 1899

His Absent Minded Father Accused of Leaving Him Behind When He Removed His Family.

From the St. Louis Republic.

Mrs. J. W. Greening, Mark Twain's first cousin, and the close companion of his childhood days, lives in Palmyra, Mo. They were born within a few weeks of each other in the little village of Florida, Monroe County, and for years were fast friends and playmates. Mark's father and Judge John Quarrells, Mrs. Greening's father, married sisters, the Misses Martha and Jane Lampton, and the two families moved together from Tennessee to Monroe County in 1835, when Clemens and Quarrells engaged in the general mercantile business. In November of the same year the tow children were born, in houses within a stone's throw of each other. When Mark was three years of age his father moved his family to Hannibal, but until he was large enough to set type in The Hannibal Journal office, most of the famous humorist's time was spent with his uncle on his Monroe County farm, where he had moved after retiring from the mercantile business at Florida.

Mrs. Greening lives with her husband, a railroad man, in a comfortable little home. She is a retiring, pleasant-faced little woman, and strongly resembles her Aunt Jane, Mark's mother, a handsome crayon portrait of whom adorns the wall of the cozy little parlor. On the table in the same room is a collection of photographs of various members of the family, among them a recent one of her famous cousin, on the back of which is written in the humorist's bold chirography, "To Puss, from Cousin Sam." "Puss" is Mrs. Greening's girlhood nickname, and in family circles she still bears it.

That Mark Twain has not forgotten his boyhood playmate and favorite cousin is evidenced by the fact that regularly every month she receives a substantial check from him, at intervals a letter, and occasionally a new photograph. The checks have been coming with monthly regularity for many years, excepting a brief period when the publishing house in which he was heavily interested failed, and Clemens was financially embarrassed.

"Sam doesn't write very often now," said Mrs. Greening recently. "We used to keep up a regular correspondence, though, except when he was writing a book, and until that was finished the only news any of the family heard from his was through his wife. During those periods, he quit writing letters altogether, and his best friends couldn't get a word from him directly."

Mrs. Greening relates many interesting anecdotes of her childhood days and is very fond of talking of her illustrious cousin. When a boy Mark was inclined to be rather delicate, and for this reason his father permitted him to spend much of his time, especially during the summer, on his uncle's farm. The two cousins spent their days together fishing and romping over the farm, and the friendship of these days has not been obliterated by the years that have wrinkled the brows and frosted the heads of both.

"Sam was always full of his fun," said Mrs. Greening. "He could play more pranks and escape with less punishment than any boy I ever knew. He was always so frank and good natured that everybody liked him, and while they all knew he was full of mischief they made great allowances for him, and where most boys would have suffered severely for similar offenses Sam usually went free. When a body he was a victim of somnambulism, and a close watch had to be kept on him to keep him from meeting with some mishap. He was frequently found wandering around the house or yard in his sleep, and on several occasions had narrow escapes from serious falls. Sam had the family characteristic of absent-mindedness, but it was not nearly so strongly developed in him as it was in his father or his brother Orion.

"Speaking of absent-mindedness," continued Mrs. Greening, "reminds me of how Uncle John forgot to take Sam along when he moved to Hannibal. The household goods had all be loaded in one wagon, and after it had started the family all piled into another wagon. After Uncle John had nailed up the doors and windows of the deserted house he mounted the seat, clucked to the horses, and drove off, leaving little Sam making mud pies on the opposite side of the house. A half hour later my grandfather, Wharton Lampton, father of the Rev. E. J. Lampton, formerly pastor of the Christian Church in Palmyra, came riding along and found Sam busily engaged in his culinary work. He appreciated the situation, and, lifting the boy up in front of him, rode after the movers, and when he had traveled seven or eight miles caught up with them. So busy were they contemplating what was then considered a long journey and making plans for their future that the absence of the to-be 'Mark Twain' had not been noticed. The matter was taken as a huge joke by all concerned, Sam included, and the journey resumed.

"To those who didn't know the Clemens family this may seem a little overdrawn, but it is absolutely true. Orion, the eldest son, inherited a large legacy of forgetfulness from his father and grandfather and when he married was guilty of a more absurd trick than the one just related. He was living at the time in Keokuk, Iowa, and went to Muscatine for his wife. The river was frozen over, and Orion and his wife were to go to Keokuk by stage. The next morning after the marriage Orion left his wife in their room at the hotel while he went out to make arrangements about the trip. When the stage drove up, Orion, forgetting all about what he had gone to Muscatine for, calmly took his seat in the vehicle and was a mile out of town before he remembered he was married. The driver good-naturedly turned back, but it took Orion all the way to Keokuk to explain the matter to his wife. A great deal has been written about Sam and his family, but I don't remember to have seen the above stories in print, and they are too good to keep," concluded Mrs. Greening, with a quiet little chuckle.

"I have seen it stated in the newspapers," said Mrs. Greening, resuming her conversation with reference tot he Florida history of the Clemens family, "that the house in which Sam was born had been recently torn down, and the regret was expressed that it had not been preserved. This is a mistake, as the house is still standing, and is in much better shape than when Sam first saw it. It is now owned and occupied by Mr. John Goss, a merchant of Florida, and he has converted it into a neat and rather modern-looking residence. The Clemens family did live for a time in the house which the relic hunters nearly hacked to pieces with their knives under the impression that it was Sam's birthplace, but in this they were much mistaken."

Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search