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Mark Twain Loved Aldrich but Hated Portsmouth


Twain roasts Aldrich  

A thousand people turned out on a hot day for the star-studded event, thick with eulogies from writers and politicians whose names are unfamiliar today. Then Mayor Hackett introduced the one man in town who needed no introduction. At 73, still sharp and sarcastic, Twain had been toasted by kings and presidents. 


Thomas Bailey Aldrich"They seemed to think this was a funeral I was coming to, when in point of fact it is a resurrection and an occasion of joy," Twain told his Portsmouth audience. "Aldrich's life was cheerful and happy. I knew him 40 years. He was one of the brightest men it has ever been my pleasure to know."

"He looked pained," Twain said of the first time he met Aldrich. "He looked as if somebody had died -- and it wasn't the right person."  

Twain loved sharp wit, his own in particular, but Aldrich's too, especially when it was used to slash at pompous conventions, Victorian rigidity or political deceit. One of the sharpest public tongues in America, Twain bowed to Aldrich's hidden dark side.  

Twain later wrote: "When it came to making fun of a folly, a silliness, a windy pretense, a wild absurdity, Aldrich the brilliant, Aldrich the sarcastic, Aldrich the ironical, Aldrich the merciless, was a master."  

Thomas Bailey Aldrich, above all, he wrote later, would have hated the pretensions of his own memorial ceremony. Twain certainly did, sweating in the stifling opera house in his black suit waiting for the "riff-raff" ahead of him to drone on. Later he called the Aldrich Memorial, a shrine to a not-very-famous writer that Twain thought would appeal to one in ten thousand Portsmouth visitors. It was a shrine, more correctly, Twain wrote in his journal, to Aldirch's impossible wife Lilian who appeared to revel in the festive memorial ceremony.  

Twain in eruption  

We know exactly what Twain was thinking that day in Portsmouth because he wrote his impressions down. In his private writing, published against his wishes12 years after his death, Twain described Mrs. Aldrich as: "A strange and vanity-devoured, detestable woman! I do not believe I could ever learn to like her except on a raft at sea with no other provisions in sight."  

Mr. Clemens, it seems, had also not forgotten their first encounter. According to Lilian Aldich's memoirs, the Aldrich and Twain families had a number of joyous encounters -- in Boston, in New York and while travelling in Europe. The more Twain's fame grew, the more she seemed to appreciate him, although not his "moody" wife. Twain recalled things differently.  

"I conceived an aversion for her the first time I ever saw her," Twain wrote in his secret journal, "which was thirty-nine years ago, and that aversion has remained with me ever since. She is one of those people who are effusively affectionate, and whose demonstrations disorder your stomach. You never believe in them; you always regard them as fictions, artificialities, with a selfish motive back of them. Aldrich was delightful company, but we never saw a great deal of him because we couldn't have him by himself."  


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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