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Mark Twain's Juggernaut Club Correspondence -
The Helene Picard Letters
by Barbara Schmidt

In explaining the origins of Mark Twain's Juggernaut Club, Mark Twain's biographer Albert Bigelow Paine wrote:

Advancing years did little toward destroying Mark Twain's interest in human affairs. At no time in his life was he more variously concerned and employed than in his sixty-seventh year -- matters social, literary, political, religious, financial, scientific. He was always alive, young, actively cultivating or devising interests -- valuable and otherwise, though never less than important to him.

One wonders how he found time to do all the things that he did. Besides his legitimate literary labors and his preachments, he was always writing letters to this one and that, long letters on a variety of subjects, carefully and picturesquely phrased, and to people of every sort. He even formed a curious society, whose members were young girls -- one in each country of the earth. They were supposed to write to him at intervals on some subject likely to be of mutual interest, to which letters he agreed to reply. He furnished each member with a typewritten copy of the constitution and by-laws of the Juggernaut Club.

It was just one of his many fancies, and most of the active memberships would not long be maintained; though some continued faithful in their reports, as he did in his replies, to the end.
- Mark Twain, A Biography, Albert Bigelow Paine (chapter 218)

Among the members of Twain's Juggernaut Club was a young woman from France named Helene Picard. Nineteen items of correspondence from Picard to Twain survive today in the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California in Berkeley. Twelve items of correspondence to Picard from Twain have been recorded. Picard's letters to Twain indicate she was not a young girl, as Paine hinted, but a twenty-nine year old spinster who collected autographs and harbored dreams of her own writing career. From her letter written 14 March 1902:

First, I suppose you will want me to introduce myself and I am going to do it as formally as if I were an English girl. -

-- Helene E. Picard - of a French Alsatian family - aged 29 - born in Le Havre - tall, fair and plain looking, but not altogether too bad - living alone with her mother - (or without, often) - in a very small town in the Vosges Mountains, quite near the frontier of Alsace. - Is very fond of books, delights in yours, and would give a great many more things than her eye-brows to have more time for reading and not many bothering things to do. - And last, but not least - quite willing and ready to answer gladly "yes" to her President's kindly claim of calling her a friend --

The current location of Twain's original letters to Picard is unknown. Picard made her letters public after Twain's death and they were published in the The Ladies' Home Journal in February 1912 in an article titled "Mark Twain's Private Girl's Club." The editor of The Ladies' Home Journal inserted ellipses into at least one of the letters and the question remains open as to what may have been edited out of them for the public viewing. The editor of The Ladies Home Journal provided the following introduction:

AN EXPLANATION: Not a dozen persons in the world, perhaps knew of the club which Mark Twain maintained, as he tells in the first of these letters. The girl member from France has now placed the letters which were addressed to her at the disposal of THE LADIES' HOME JOURNAL, so that the public may see what will be, to many, an unknown Mark Twain: a man who could leave off joking and be the fond, anxious husband, the loving father and the sympathetic friend. A reading of some of the extracts from the letters to this girl in France will show something of the deep anxiety which Mark Twain passed through in the illnesses of his wife and daughter.

The following text of Twain's letters to Picard are taken from the February 1912 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal. The first letter is in response to one that Twain received from Picard in early February 1902. Picard wrote to Twain praising his book Joan of Arc. In a very flattering letter running four pages in length, Picard also praised Twain for being "a very adroit moralist as well as a humorist." (Picard to Clemens, 5 February 1902).

Mark Twain Explains the Club

RIVERDALE-ON-THE-HUDSON, February 22, 1902

Dear Miss Helen:

IF YOU will let me call you so, considering that my head is white and that I have grown-up daughters. Your beautiful letter has given me deep pleasure! I will make bold to claim you for a friend and lock you up with the rest of my riches; for I am a miser who counts over his spoil every day and hoards it secretly and adds to it when he can, and is grateful to see it grow.

Some of that gold comes, like yourself, in a sealed package, and I can't see it and may never have that happiness; but I know its value without that, and by what sum it increases my wealth.

I have a Club, a private Club, which is all my own. I appoint the Members myself, and they can't help themselves, because I don't allow them to vote on their own appointment and I don't allow them to resign! They are all friends whom I have never seen (save one), but who have written friendly letters to me.

By the laws of my Club there can be only one Member in each country, and there can be no male Member but myself. Someday I may admit males, but I don't know -- they are capricious and inharmonious, and their ways provoke me a good deal. It is a matter which the Club shall decide.

I have made four appointments in the past three or four months: You as Member for France, a young Highland girl as Member for Scotland, a Mohammedan girl as member for Bengal, and a dear and bright young niece of mine as member for the United States -- I do not represent a country myself, but am merely Member at Large for the Human Race.

You must not try to resign, for the laws of the Club do not allow that. You must console yourself by remembering that you are in the best of company; that nobody knows of your membership except myself -- that no Member knows another's name, but only her country; that no taxes are levied and no meetings held (but how dearly I should like to attend one!)

One of my Members is a Princess of a royal house, another is the daughter of a village bookseller on the continent of Europe. For the only qualification for Membership is intellect and the spirit of good will; other distinctions, hereditary or acquired, do not count.

May I send you the Constitution and Laws of the Club? I shall be so pleased if I may. It is a document which one of my daughters typewrites for me when I need one for a new Member, and she would giver her eyebrows to know what it is all about, but I strangle her curiosity by saying: "There are much cheaper typewriters than you are, my dear, and if you try to pry into the sacred mysteries of the Club one of your prosperities will perish, sure."

My favorite? It is "Joan of Arc." My next is "Huckleberry Finn," but the family's next is "The Prince and the Pauper." (Yes, you are right -- I am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go thrashing around in political questions) . . .

I wish you every good fortune and happiness and I thank you so much for your letter.

Sincerely yours, S. L. CLEMENS.

Constitution and Laws of the Juggernaut Club

MOTTO: (From "Indian Lore" -- BURNET)

"THE good Juggernath (or Juggernaut) is the only deity among the two million gods of India who has no preferences, no partialities, no prejudices, no resentments, and sets no man higher than another, nor lower. He is the common friend of the human race; in his presence master and slave, prince and peasant, banker and beggar stand upon one level; at his temple's threshold rank and caste dissolve away, and before his altar, and not elsewhere in the globe, Sudra and Brahman* eat from the same dish and drink from the same cup without defilement."


1. He is not removable save by a three-fourths vote.


2. He alone is privileged to know the names and addresses of the other Members of the Club -- this privilege not to be withdrawn except by operation of Paragraph 5;

3. He appoints his successor. This power shall remain with all successors.

4. The Chief Servant must reveal to his successor the names of the Members of the Club.


5. The Chief Servant, if authorized by vote in writing, may reveal to the several Members the names and addresses of the Membership, but the vote must be unanimous. A single negative voice defeats the proposition.

6. The proposition shall remain open without limit as to time -- years, if need be -- and shall not have effect until every member shall have voted.

7. Silence thus constitutes a suspension of the proposition indefinitely.

8. The proposition can be renewed at any time after a unanimous negative vote has been cast.

9. The Chief Servant cannot discuss the Order with persons not of it, nor disclose to them the name of any Member.

10. As Chief Servant this officer's nationality is in abeyance, and he is merely Member at Large for the Human Race. Therefore a Member to represent his own country can be added to the roster.


11. The Chief Servant may appoint to Membership whom he pleases--

12. Provided: That his power in this matter shall be strictly limited by the requirements of Paragraph 16.


13. Superior mentality, joined with sincerity and the spirit of good will; these are the sole qualifications required.


14. Distinction derived from achievement or from birth and caste is not a qualification; neither is it a bar.

15. For the Order is an Aristocracy and a Democracy in one, and the Membership meet upon one common elevation, one common platform of merit, as prescribed in Paragraph 13. Outside the doors of this imaginary Temple of Juggernaut, where the Club foregathers in the spirit, the Members preserve their acquired and inherited distinctions, ranks, castes and globe-distributed nationalities; but inside it ranks cease, nationalities cease; no clan is represented there but the Human Race; there is no head to the table, and the Sudra and the Brahman eat together without defilement.


16. There can be one Member in each country of the world, but never two at the same time.

17. The person appointed should be a native of the country represented; but this is not imperative.

18. Only death can dissolve a Member's connection with the Order. Mourning for a deceased Member shall continue one year.

19. During the period of mourning the vacancy cannot be filled.

20. While one Member remains alive the Club exists in full force, and said Member is Chief Servant and equipped with the several powers and privileges of the office.


21. There shall be an Emblem, or Badge of Membership, to be worn or not, as each Member shall for himself choose.

22. This Badge shall be provided by the Chief Servant at his own cost.


23. This shall be determined by the Membership, and at their pleasure broadened or narrowed from time to time as expediency may suggest and a majority vote direct.

24. The Chief Servant shall obey their command, thus conveyed, and execute their will.


25. There shall be none.

A true copy.

Chief Servant

Riverdale, New York City, April 10, 1902

* NOTE: In April 2010 the Mark Twain Project made available online Mark Twain's original manuscript of the first page of the Juggernaut Club Constitution and Laws. The original manuscript shows that Twain wrote the word "Brahmin." The text printed in the Ladies' Home Journal changed the spelling to "Brahman." Brahmin is the highest cast in India while Brahman is the ultimate diety.

Tells of Some of the Club's Rules

April 21, 1902


Dear Miss Helen:

YOU have been frank and good, just as the Member for France ought to be, and you have the Chief Servant's praise. I will mention here that the Rules do not require you to send me your photograph. (Rules must be cautiously constructed, so that mutineers will not rise up against them), but a proper deference toward the Chief Servant does require it -- and so, young lady, see that you obey!

Also a proper deference toward the Member privileges the C. S. to send his to her -- without even stopping to ask her permission, so autocratic is this office -- and this is going to be done. You can object, but only privately -- you are not allowed to say it.

By this time, dear Member, you have found out that the Rules are not very exacting -- to keep in touch with the Chief Servant is the main thing. As long as you do that you are as safe as if the Chief Servant were your Mother. But there are dreadful (unwritten) punishments for Members who fail of that duty. You are doing well, and I am proud of you.

You are not giving my daughter Jean any trouble, and you mustn't take any on her account; she likes to do my typewriting and collect anything -- except protests against opinions which she finds in my literature; these she brings me when her work is done, and suggest modifications and amendments. But I don't succumb; nobody has any real authority over my manuscript but her mother.

I am going to write now to my good friend Tauchnitz,* in Leipzig, and tell him to send you "Huckleberry Finn" and "The Prince and the Pauper," and will attend to it before something occurs to interrupt me and defeat my purpose. I am very grateful for your love and am venturing to send mine in return -- autocratically and without asking leave, for such are the ways of Chief Servants!

S. L. Clemens

* Later. It is done.

The Beginning of His Wife's Illness

YORK, MAINE, Oct. 13/02.

Dear France:

I AM very sorry you have had sorrow and trouble; and I can sympathize with you, for I am having it myself. Mrs. Clemens has been lying very ill here a little over two months, and is but a shadow now, and very weak. But we are no longer alarmed about her. She will get well, we believe. I have chartered an invalid car for day after tomorrow and arranged to have it taken over the most direct railway lines, thus cutting a 13-hour journey down to 9. She may not be strong enough for the journey yet; in that case I will postpone it.

We return to Riverdale. We shall continue to live there another year.

I shall see President Roosevelt ten days hence at a Princeton University function, and if I can get a private word with him -- which is doubtful, for it will be a large gathering -- I will ask him to write his name for you, if nothing more.

Of course Mrs. Clemens may not be well enough for me to go, but I hope she will, for it will be an occasion of historic importance and very interesting.

"Jean is the feminine form of "John"--just as "Jeanne" is the French form of "John," nicht wahr? I think she's pretty.

With deep thanks for your love, which I reciprocate,

M. T., C. S.

Amended Obituary portrait
The Dec. 15, 1902, letter to Helene Picard was written on an illustration that Clemens had drawn for an article titled "Amended Obituaries" which was published in Harper's Weekly, November 15, 1902. The text of the caption reads:
Done by Truly Yours
Mark Twain
N.B. I cannot make a good
mouth, therefore leave it out
There is enough without it anyway.
Done with the best ink. M.T.

Dec. 15/02.

Dear France:

There isn't going to be any merry Christmas here, because Mrs Clemens is still a prisoner in the bed she has occupied now more than four months, but I hope you will have one, anyway. I kiss your hand.

S. L. Clemens, C. S.

"Tragedy and Comedy Under This Roof"


Dear France:

I AM remiss; but the fact is that in this house we are all a long, long way behind. Doctors, trained nurses, anxiety, hard work -- we have known nothing else for months. We have written hardly any letters - we hadn't the heart.

Have I been bringing an old-fashioned "judgment" upon myself? Last summer I wrote a short story (a true one), and it appeared in the Xmas "Harper's" 2 weeks before Xmas. On Xmas Day Mrs. Clemens had been lying feeble and helpless in bed nearly 5 months, and it had been three months since I or any one, except Clara, the Doctor and a trained nurse, had seen her face; on that Xmas Day Jean was lying near to death (with pneumonia) in a remote part of the house, and the diligent lying of the tale was going on! Today the mother has no suspicion that for 3 weeks there has been another trained nurse in the house. She thinks Jean is having fine times outside in the snow with the neighboring young people -- Clara is obliged to give her a full account of it every day, and furnish all the details. Clara had to tell her all about a nonexistent dance that Jean attended Xmas night -- whereas the Doctor was watching by Jean's bed all night that night and the two following nights -- temperature 104 and delirious.

Yesterday Mrs. Clemens spoke of a play, and said to Clara, "Send Miss Lyon with Jean to the matinee tomorrow." So I sent Miss Lyon today to watch that play. She will describe it to Clara (Clara couldn't go, for her is the afternoon watch), and tomorrow Clara will furnish her mother the details, together with Jean's judgment of them.

Jean is able to sit up in bed a little now. The other day Mrs. Clemens said to Clara, "I don't believe I have Jean romp down the back stairs for weeks - why, I am certain I haven't." Clara said:

"She is afraid of disturbing you; she always goes down the main stairs now."

"Tell her she is a dear good thoughtful child, and I think it is lovely of her."

There, France -- you will confess that we are having tragedy and comedy curiously mixed, under this roof.

Sincerely yours,

The date of the postcard sent to Helene Picard is unknown. It featured the Fuller Building, also known as the "Flatiron Building" because it resembled a triangular iron. Located at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue in New York it had recently been completed and in the year 1903 was receiving considerable attention in the press due to the havoc the building's profile created during wind and rainstorms.

Clemens wrote:

I was thinking of securing this is a winter residence, but had to give up the idea, because the rent was higher than the house.

S. L. C. (C. S.)


flatiron building
A Postcard Bearing a Characteristic Bit of Humor.
[The location of the original postcard is unknown. It has been reconstructed above based on a black and white photo and an identical colored postcard from a private collection.]

American Summer Weather

QUARRY FARM, ELMIRA, N.Y., July 11/03.

Dear France:

I THANK you, with enthusiasm, for the moving and beautiful Joan pictures. They are a delight to the eye and an exaltation to the spirit. Thank you again!

All through June we wondered anxiously if we were going to be able to start the first of July and move the Madam 400 miles in our kind of weather. (We import our summer weather from hell.) But she greatly needed a change, and the doctors advised the venture. So we brought her down the Hudson on a steam yacht in three-quarters of an hour, and in another 10 minutes she was stretched out in her room on the express train, and quite comfortable. Ten minutes later we were off (at 10:15 A.M.); at 4:40 we reached Elmira; an hour later we were up here on top of the hills -- our summer home for 33 years, barring summer flights to Europe and occasional tarryings in the mountains and by the sea. The Madam is gaining daily. She spends the whole day on the front porch (a good part of it sitting up in a chair), reading or enjoying the wide view of valley and town and the receding panorama of Pennsylvanian hills. (Here the summer weather is imported from Heaven.)

Good-by dear France; I must go and help her pass the time.

S. L. C., C. S.

From His Italian Villa

Jan. 5/04

Dear France:

WE HAVE been in residence now nearly two months and are beginning to feel in some sort at home. The location suits me better than it suits the daughters, for it is a long journey to town, and they have to make it every day to take lessons and return visits, whereas about once a fortnight is as often as I have to stir beyond the gate. They do my return-visiting for me.

This is a sour day, and Florence and the Valley are half obliterated in a blue gloom, and I have grown moody with looking at it, and dull with writing magazine-stuff in bed all day; but now I will get up -- it seems to be time. Therefore -- avanti!

I do not quite know what it means, but they all say it, and it seems to be a good word and friendly.

Most sincerely yours,

"Life is Not Worth Living"


Dear France:

I AM up and about my room again, after a month in bed -- bronchitis And I am not happy, for I have no good news.

These 3 months have been awful for this family, we have had so many frights on Mrs. Clemens's account. Two of them were of a nature to make us think the end was come. The last one was ten days ago while I was still confined to my bed, and they did not tell me of it until next day, when the danger was past. There was a collapse, and her pulse became a mere flutter, and almost to fast to count the beats, which reached 192 to the minute! It has been a heavy three months indeed. On these terms life is not worth having -- if it ever is.

With my warmest regards I wish you well, and that you are enjoying the pilgrimage and may continue to be happy in it to the end.

Most sincerely, S. L. CLEMENS, C. S.

On His Seventieth Birthday

TO YOU, and to all my other known and unknown friends who have lightened the weight of my seventieth birthday with kind words and good wishes, I offer my most grateful thanks, and beg leave to sign myself

Your and their obliged friend,

New York, Dec. 6, 1905.

For many days I have put in my whole time signing "Mark Twain" to these cards . . . .

With my warmest regards,
S. L. C., C. S.

In April 1906, Mark Twain recorded comments about Helene Picard into his autobiography:

From Autobiography of Mark Twain

Monday, April 9, 1906

This morning's mail brings me from France a letter from a French friend of mine, inclosing this New York cablegram:

Mark Twain Interdit

New York, 27 mars. (Par depeche de notre correspondant particulier.) - Les directeurs de la bibliotheque de Brooklyn ont mis les deux derniers livres de Mark Twain a l'index pour les enfants au-dessous de quinze ans, les considerant comme malsains.

Le celebre humoriste a ecrit a des fonctionnaires une lettre pleine d'esprit et de sarcasme. Ces messieurs se refusent a la publier, sous le pretexte qu'ils n'ont pas l'autorisation de l'auteur de le faire.


Mark Twain Prohibited

New York, March 27. (By our special correspondent.) - The directors of the library of Brooklyn have declared the last two books of Mark Twain unhealthy for children under the age of fifteen year old.

The celebrated humorist has written a civil servant a letter full of spirit and sarcastic remarks. These Messrs refuse to publish it, under the pretext that they do not have the authorization of the author to do so.

The letter is from a French girl who lives at St. Die, in Joan of Arc's region. I have never seen this French girl, but she wrote me about five years ago and since then we have exchanged friendly letters three or four times a year. She closes her letter with this paragraph:

Something in a newspaper that I read this morning has surprised me very much. I have cut it out because, often, these informations are forged and, if this is the case, the slip of paper will be my excuse. Please, allow me to smile, my dear unseen Friend! I cannot imagine for a minute that you have been very sorry about it. - In France, such a measure would have for immediate result to make every one in the country buy these books, and I - for one, - am going to get them as soon as I go through Paris, perfectly sure that I'll find them as wholesome as all you have written. I know your pen well. I know it has never been dipped in anything but clean, clear ink.

Clemens concluded this section of his Autobiography with a long passage on the controversy that often surrounded his book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The letter of reply that Clemens sent to Picard on this date was not published in The Ladies Home Journal. Records at the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California (Berkeley) indicate Clemens's secretary Isabel Lyon drafted the letter of reply.

He Shocks His Daughter and Tells Why

"STORMFIELD," Aug. 26/09

Dear France:

It is a lovely picture, dear France. Nothing else in the world is ever so beautiful as a beautiful schoolgirl, and certainly there is a prodigal wealth of that beauty in this picture. This Joan is to my taste -- fair and comely, and sweet, and refined; whereas four artists out of five make Joan coarse and clumsy, and thirty or forty years old. They seem to think that because she was a peasant she couldn't have been otherwise. Then they spoil the argument of making the Virgin Mary, who was also a peasant, fair, and comely, and sweet, and refined -- and white. Which she wasn't.

I wish I could have seen the thousand girls marching. It would have stirred me to know I was so close to Joan of Arc! To know that the ancestors of some of these children played with her in the shade of the Bois Chenu; that I could touch one of those and send that contact quivering back five centuries along an unbroken stream of red blood, and deliver the thrill of it into the heart of a comrade of the Maid of Orleans who had kissed her lips and spoken with her face to face!

You inquire how I am. I am not very well. Then how can I write letters? I don't; the others attend to it. This is the only one I have written since -- since -- oh, I don't know how long!

But I am very comfortable and thoroughly well satisfied, for I am buried deep in the solitude and silences of the woods and the hills, and don't ever want to see a city again. And sha'n't. The others go to New York every few days, but I never intend to go again. I am glad I built this house. It was a lucky thought.

With all good wishes.

Sincerely yours, S. L. Clemens, C. S.

I most respectfully and affectionately kiss my hand to that little Scotch-French Jeanne d'Arc.

P.S. -- I've broken the letter open for a reason that moves me to laugh. When the stenographer had typed it he placed it, with other letters, on my daughter Jean's desk (she is my secretary), and she read it. She went driving afterward, and I prepared the letter for the mail. But as soon as she returned she brought it to me and said I must open it and change something in it.

"Well, Jean, what must I change?"

"You have said the Virgin Mary was not white."

"Very well, where's the harm?"

"Why, it's shocking!"

"You numskull! What is there about it that's shocking?"

"Can't you see, Papa? The idea of saying the Mother of the Savior was colored! It's sacrilegious."

"Sac -- oh, nonsense! Jean, in her day the population of the globe was not more than a thousand millions. Not one-tenth of them were white. What does the fact suggest to you?"

"I -- I don't know. What does it suggest, Papa?"

"It most powerfully suggests that white was not a favorite complexion with God. Has it since become a favorite complexion with Him? No. The population of the globe is now fifteen hundred millions; one thousand and six millions of those people are colored -- two thirds, you see, of the human race. There was not a white person in Nazareth when I was there, except a foreign priest. The people were very dark. Don't you suppose they are the descendants of Mary's townsmen? Of course the are. Now what have you to say, Jean?"

"Well, I can't help it, Papa; the idea of a colored Mother of the Saviour is still revolting, and you must change it."

"My dear, I won't. To my mind one color is just as respectable as another; there is nothing important, nothing essential, about a complexion. I mean, to me. But with the Deity it is different. He doesn't think much of white people. He prefers the colored. Andrea del Sarto's pink-and-lily Madonnas revolt Him, my child. That is, they would, but He never looks at them."


Autobiography of Mark Twain, Harper & Brothers, 1924.

Albert Bigelow Paine. Mark Twain, A Biography. Harper & Brothers, 1912.

"Mark Twain's Private Girls' Club," The Ladies Home Journal, February 1912, pp. 23, 54.

Helene Picard letters to Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley.

Library of America - Twain
Mark Twain : Historical Romances : The Prince and the Pauper / A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court / Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (Library of America)
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