Friday, July 6, 2012

To the Editor of the New York World

14 February 1877

I see by your report of a lecture delivered in your neighborhood very recently, that a bit of my private personal history has been revealed to the public. The lecturer was head-waiter of the Quaker City Excursion of ten years ago. I do not repeat his name for the reason that I think he wants a little notoriety as a basis for introduction to the lecture platform, & I don’t wish to contribute. I harbor this suspicion because he calls himself “captain” of that expedition....

The “captain” says that when I came to engage passage in the Quaker City I “seemed to be full of whiskey, or something,” & filled his office with the “fumes of bad whiskey.” I hope this is true, but I cannot say, because it is so long ago; at the same time I am not depraved enough to deny that for a ceaseless, tireless, forty-year public advocate of total abstinence the “captain” is a mighty good judge of whiskey at second-hand....

Certain of my friends in New York have been so distressed by the “captain’s” charges against me that they have simply forced me to come out in print. But I find myself in a great difficulty by reason of the fact that I don’t find anything in the charges that discomforts me. Why should I worry over the “bad whiskey?” I was poor—I couldn’t afford good whiskey. How could I know that the “captain” was so particular about the quality of a man’s liquor? I didn’t know he was a purist in that matter, & that the difference between 5-cent & 40-cent toddy would remain a rankling memory with him for ten years....

Mark Twain


  1. The Morgan Library just had an exhibit of Twain's letters, photographs, and personal momentos (glasses, pen, notebooks etc...). I get the feeling that the majority of the whisky that man drank was the good stuff. He achieved success fairly early and had a very great deal of it. He had a very large number of intelligent - brilliant - friends and a larger number of very very rich ones. There were dinners at Delmonicos and trips to Europe in first class. I suspect they didn't serve bad whisky in those venues. Of course whisky was quite different then. I wonder what it tasted like. Can you imagine kicking back with a nice 19th century top drawer Scotch or Bourbon and firing a big cigar and having a chat with the effusive dean of American letters?

    1. Here's a description of Twain's evening routine while he was giving lectures [sic] in London in 1873:

      "Mark always felt amiable, and met the people who came to shake hands with his well-known suavity and grace, and cheerfully gave them autographs and all that kind of thing. Then we'd walk home. As soon as we arrived, he would bring out a bottle of Bourbon whiskey -— he'd searched London over to find this—some Angostura bitters, sugar, lemons and the other 'fixin's,' and proceed to mix a cocktail for each of us, slowly talking to me the while. He was an adept at cocktail making -— knew the art to perfection. As we drank it the constant drawl of his voice was heard, as he walked up and down the room."

      I'd be a little concerned about keeping up my end of the conversation, but maybe a light scattering of "go on"s and "you don't say"s would have been enough.