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In 1867 Bermuda was the final stop on Clemens's voyage to Europe and the Holy Land. In 1910 it was the destination of the final trip of his life: he left Bermuda just nine days before his death. He fled frequently to this refuge in his last years, visiting twice in 1907, twice in 1908, and returning in 1909 and 1910. He was always enchanted by the inhabitants of "that happy little paradise" ("The spectacle of an entire nation grovelling in contentment is an infuriating thing") and by "its peaceful serenities and its incomparable climate" ("The early twilight of a Sunday evening in . . . Bermuda, is an alluring time. There is just enough of whispering breeze, fragrance of flowers, and sense of repose to raise one's thoughts heavenward; and just enough amateur piano music to keep him reminded of the other place"). In Bermuda he found "no rush, no hurry, no money-getting frenzy, no fretting, no complaining, no fussing and quarreling; no telegrams, no daily newspapers, no railroads, no tramways, no subways, no trolleys, no Ls, no Tammany, no Republican party, no Democratic party, no graft, no office-seeking, no elections, no legislatures for sale; hardly a dog, seldom a cat, only one steam-whistle; not a saloon, nobody drunk; no W.C.T.U.; and there is a church and a school on every corner. The spirit of the place is serenity, repose, contentment, tranquility."
"Some Rambling Notes": Bermuda notebook entries
This little notebook, primarily the record of Clemens's ten-day vacation trip to Bermuda with his friend Joseph Hopkins Twichell in May 1877, is open to his drawing of a "Mountain cabbage palm the stateliest of all." On the facing page he recorded his admiration for Bermuda's coral architecture, like "white sugar carved out of a single cake." This notebook formed the basis for "Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion," a series of articles that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly from October 1877 through January 1878.
Clemens offers to export Bermuda's weather
Clemens sent this postcard to Dorothy Quick, a young friend who was living in New Jersey: "The weather is perfect, & if you want some of it for your own use or for sale, please let me know, & I will see that you get all you wantbut our government will swindle you on the duty, as it does on all imports. S.L.C."
Isabel Lyon first came to work for the Clemens family in 1902, as Olivia Clemens's secretary, continuing in Clemens's employ after his wife's death in 1904. Intelligent, sensitive, deeply devoted to Clemens, she referred to him as "the King." Besides keeping a sequence of journals that provide an invaluable record of Clemens's last years, Lyon was a skilled and avid amateur photographer. "I've made some superb photographs of the King. They are as active and as spirited as battle ships." Her photograph album, now in the Mark Twain Papers, contains over three hundred images of Clemens, his family, his haunts, and his friends during his final years. In 1907 and 1908 she was among those who accompanied Clemens to Bermuda, where she captured dozens of extraordinary images of a relaxed and playful Clemens. A selection is shown here.
Photograph of Irene Gerken and Clemens
6 March 1908
Clemens met Irene Gerken, a young visitor from New York, in Bermuda. She was among the girls Clemens befriended in his later years and referred to as his angelfish. "I had reached the grandpapa stage of life; and what I lacked and what I needed, was grandchildren, but I didn't know it. By and by this knowledge came by accident . . . and my heart has never been empty of grandchildren since. . . . In grandchildren I am the richest man that lives to-day: for I select my grandchildren, whereas all other grandfathers have to take them as they come, good, bad and indifferent."
Photographs of "the King" on the beach
"The King . . . went in swimming. The King at 72 was as young and vigorous in his wide strokes as a youth would have been," wrote Isabel Lyon in her journal.
Clemens wrote these letters, which were among his last, to Albert Bigelow Paine, his biographer and close friend in the closing years of his life. They are in the hand of Helen S. Allen, to whom he dictated them, and include her spelling errors. She was the fifteen-year-old daughter of his Bermuda host, the American vice-consul there. Paine, who was living with his wife and children at Clemens's Connecticut home, became increasingly concerned when Clemens began dictating most of his letters.
Clemens writes to Albert Bigelow Paine about dying
25 March 1910
Paine was alarmed by this letter announcing that Clemens was booked to sail for New York on 23 April. "I don't want to die here for this is an unkind place for a person in that condition. I should have to lay in the undertakers cellar until the ship would remove me and it is dark down there and unpleasant."
Clemens writes to Albert Bigelow Paine about sailing for home
28 March 1910
The same mail that brought this letter from Clemens brought a letter from his Bermuda host describing his guest's health as "critical." Clemens wrote, "I have been having a most uncomfortable time for the past 4 days with that breast-pain, which turns out to be an affection of the heart just as I originally suspected. The news from New York is to the effect that non-bronchial weather has arrived there at last, therefore if I can get my breast trouble in travelling condition I may sail for home a week or two earlier than has heretofore been proposed." Paine sailed immediately for Bermuda.
Paine arrived in Bermuda on 4 April. Before returning with Clemens to New York, Paine spent several days with him to be certain he was adequate to the voyage. In his Biography Paine reports Clemens's saying to him one morning, "Well, I had a picturesque night. Every pain I had was on exhibition."
Photograph of Clemens arriving in New York
The two-day voyage from Bermuda was painful for Clemens, exhausting for Paine. An express train carried Clemens to his Connecticut home, where he died a week later.
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