A. W. Fairbanks, of Cleveland, Ohio. Mrs. Fairbanks--herself a newspaper correspondent for her husband's paper, the Cleveland Herald had a large influence on the character and general tone of those Quaker City letters which established Mark Twain's larger fame. She was an able writer herself; her judgment was thoughtful, refined, unbiased--altogether of a superior sort. She understood Samuel Clemens, counseled him, encouraged him to read his letters aloud to her, became in reality "Mother Fairbanks," as they termed her, to him and to others of that ship who needed her kindly offices.
In one of his home letters, later, he said of her:
She was the most refined, intelligent, cultivated lady in the ship, and altogether the kindest and best. She sewed my buttons on, kept my clothing in presentable trim, fed me on Egyptian jam (when I behaved), lectured me awfully on the quarter-deck on moonlit promenading evenings, and cured me of several bad habits. I am under lasting obligations to her. She looks young because she is so good, but she has a grown son and daughter at home.
In one of the early letters which Mrs. Fairbanks wrote to her paper she is scarcely less complimentary to him, even if in a different way.
We have D.D.'s and M.D.'s--we have men of wisdom and men of wit. There is one table from which is sure to come a peal of laughter, and all eyes are turned toward Mark Twain, whose face is, perfectly mirth-provoking. Sitting lazily at the table, scarcely genteel in his appearance, there is something, I know not what, that interests and attracts. I saw to-day at dinner venerable divines and sage- looking men convulsed with laughter at his drolleries and quaint, odd manners.
It requires only a few days on shipboard for acquaintances to form, and presently a little afternoon group was gathering to hear Mark Twain read his letters. Mrs. Fairbanks was there, of course, also Mr. and Mrs. S. L. Severance, likewise of Cleveland, and Moses S. Beach, of the Sun, with his daughter Emma, a girl of seventeen. Dan Slote was likely to be there, too, and Jack, and the Doctor, and Charles J. Langdon, of Elmira, New York, a boy of eighteen, who had conceived a deep admiration for the brilliant writer. They were fortunate ones who first gathered to hear those daring, wonderful letters.
But the benefit was a mutual one. He furnished a priceless entertainment, and he derived something equally priceless in return--the test of immediate audience and the boon of criticism. Mrs. Fairbanks especially was frankly sincere. Mr. Severance wrote afterward:
One afternoon I saw him tearing up a bunch of the soft, white paper- copy paper, I guess the newspapers call it-on which he had written something, and throwing the fragments into the Mediterranean. I inquired of him why he cast away the fruits of his labors in that manner.
"Well," he drawled, "Mrs. Fairbanks thinks it oughtn't to be printed, and, like as not, she is right."
And Emma Beach (Mrs. Abbott Thayer) remembers hearing him say:
"Well, Mrs. Fairbanks has just destroyed another four hours' work for me."
Sometimes he played chess with Emma Beach, who thought him a great hero because, once when a crowd of men were tormenting a young lad, a passenger, Mark Twain took the boy's part and made them desist.
"I am sure I was right, too," she declares; "heroism came natural to him."
Mr. Severance recalls another incident which, as he says, was trivial enough, but not easy to forget:
We were having a little celebration over the birthday anniversary of Mrs. Duncan, wife of our captain. Mark Twain got up and made a little speech, in which he said Mrs. Duncan was really older than Methuselah because she knew a lot of things that Methuselah never heard of. Then he mentioned a number of more or less modern inventions, and wound up by saying, "What did Methuselah know about a barbed-wire fence?"
Except Following the Equator, The Innocents Abroad comes nearer to being history than any other of Mark Twain's travel-books.