Mark Twain Writes a “Gushing,” “Self-Deprecating” Wedding Announcement to His Family (1869)


I am of the rather uncon­tro­ver­sial opin­ion that any mar­riage is what any two peo­ple make of it them­selves. I’m also of the opin­ion that no mat­ter how many peo­ple may pub­licly dis­agree with that idea, in pri­vate, peo­ple make their own rules. Nonethe­less, the less out­spo­ken among us often respond to moral­ists and scolds in our lives with the live-and-let live atti­tude expressed by a char­ac­ter in E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread: “Let Philip say what he likes, and he will let us do what we like.”

Such pas­sive-aggres­sive arrange­ments can be alien­at­ing, an opin­ion Mark Twain seemed to hold when he announced to his fam­i­ly the upcom­ing nup­tials to his future wife of 34 years, Olivia Lang­don. In a dis­play of what Book­tryst calls “the sort of sen­ti­ment deeply appre­ci­at­ed by a prospec­tive spouse,” Twain wrote his fam­i­ly in 1869 to tell them the news, and he tried to win them over. His announce­ment is a “gush­ing, self-dep­re­cat­ing dec­la­ra­tion of intent.” One, more­over, that pre­sumes his audience’s con­trari­ness. The then 34-year-old Twain antic­i­pates and address­es what seems his family’s pri­ma­ry objec­tion to his mar­riage in gen­er­al: he details his finan­cial plans and express­es his inten­tion to pro­ceed “unaid­ed.”

Twain then mounts his best per­sua­sive case to sway his readers—Mother & Broth­er & Sis­ters & Nephew & Niece, & Margaret—in Langdon’s favor. He says that every­one who knows her “nat­u­ral­ly” loves her. He also goes so far as to say that Lang­don “set her­self the task of mak­ing a Chris­t­ian of me” and that “she would suc­ceed.” Any­one who knows Twain’s atti­tudes toward reli­gion, and Chris­tian­i­ty in par­tic­u­lar, may see some hyper­bole, or even disin­gen­u­ous­ness, here, but per­haps it’s a sin­cere expres­sion of how far he was will­ing to go for the woman who stood by his side as he lost his for­tune and hers in scheme after failed get-rich-quick scheme. As Book­tryst nice­ly puts it, “Aside from pen & paper, the only invest­ment that ever paid off for him was his effort to win the heart of Olivia Lang­don.”

Read a full tran­script of the let­ter below.

My dear Moth­er & Broth­er & Sis­ters & Nephew & Niece, & Mar­garet: 
This is to inform you that on yes­ter­day, the 4th of Feb­ru­ary, I was duly & solemn­ly & irrev­o­ca­bly engaged to be mar­ried to Miss Olivia L. Lang­don, of Elmi­ra, New York. Amen. She is the best girl in all the world, & the most sen­si­ble, & I am just as proud of her as I can be.

It may be a good while before we are mar­ried, for I am not rich enough to give her a com­fort­able home right away, & I don’t want any­body’s help. I can get an eighth of the Cleve­land Her­ald for $25,000, & have it so arranged that I can pay for it as I earn the mon­ey with my unaid­ed hands. I shall look around a lit­tle more, & if I can do no bet­ter else­where, I shall take it.
I am not wor­ry­ing about whether you will love my future wife or not—if you know her twen­ty-four hours & then don’t love her, you will accom­plish what nobody else has ever suc­ceed­ed in doing since she was born. She just nat­u­ral­ly drops into every­body’s affec­tions that comes across her. My prophe­cy was cor­rect. She said she nev­er could or would love me—but she set her­self the task of mak­ing a Chris­t­ian of me. I said she would suc­ceed, but that in the mean­time she would unwit­ting­ly dig a mat­ri­mo­ni­al pit & end up tum­bling into it—& lo! the prophe­cy is ful­filled. She was in New York a day or two ago, & George Wiley & his wife Clara know her now. Pump them, if you want to. You shall see her before very long. 
Love to all. Affec­t’­ly 
P.S. Shall be here a week.

via Book­tryst

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mark Twain Drafts the Ulti­mate Let­ter of Com­plaint (1905)

Mark Twain Wrote the First Book Ever Writ­ten With a Type­writer

Mark Twain Shirt­less in 1883 Pho­to

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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