In Which Mark Twain Perspires



Sam Clemens in September 1867.

A letter from Mark Twain to John T. Moore, July 1859. Moore, also known as Tom, was an “old river man” and a longtime friend of Twain’s. More than twenty years later, in 1883, this note appeared in The Arkansas Traveler and was afterward reproduced by papers nationwide—a few weeks later, though, the Traveler’s editor, Opie Read, claimed it was a hoax, thus casting doubt on its authenticity. Today most Twain scholars believe it to be genuine, suggesting that the notion of a hoax was, itself, a hoax.

Memphis, July 6, 1859.

My Dear John:—

I have made many attempts to answer your letter which received a warmth of welcome perspiringly in keeping with the present system of hot weather; but somehow I have failed. Now, however, I screw myself down to the pleasant task. It is a task, let me tell you, and it is only by the courtesy of friendship that I can call it pleasant.

I have been wondering lately what in the name of Mexican cultivation and flatboat morality is to become of people, anyhow. Years, now, I have been waiting for the summers to become cooler, but up to the present moment of agony I see no change. I wish there was some arrangement by which we could have the kind of weather we want; but then I suppose I would call for an arrangement by which we could make a living without work. What a fool old Adam was. Had everything his own way; had succeeded in gaining the love of the best looking girl in the neighborhood, but yet unsatisfied with his conquest he had to eat a miserable little apple. Ah, John, if you had been in his place you would not have eaten a mouthful of the apple, that is if it had required any exertion. I have often noticed that you shun exertion. There comes in the difference between us. I court exertion. I love to work. Why, sir, when I have a piece of work to perform, I go away to myself, sit down in the shade and muse over the coming enjoyment. Sometimes I am so industrious that I muse too long.

No, I am not in love at present. I saw a young lady in Vicksburg the other day whom I thought I’d like to love, but John, the weather is too devilish hot to talk about love; but oh, that I had a cool, shady place, where I could sit among gurgling fountains of perfumed ice-water, an’ be loved into a premature death of rapture. I would give the world for this—I’d love to die such a glorious and luxuriant [sic] death.


Sam Clemens.