November 15 Saturday – In Riverdale, N.Y. Sam wrote to Poultney Bigelow.
Welcome!—welcome!—and again and again welcome to these foreign shores, you well beloved alien’! You should be arriving today by my count.
Mrs. Clemens is abed and in the osteopath’s hands, but she will get well as soon as she can, for she wants you to come up here and eat before you go off lecturing.
We make our reverence to your father, and join in kind regards to all the blood [MTP].
Sam’s letter to the Harper’s Weekly editor ran in the Nov. 15, 1902 issue; Sam encouraged people to “imagine” him dead and to send an “obituary.” He offered a prize for the best entries:
To the Editor.
Sir,—I am approaching seventy; it is in sight; it is only three years away. Necessarily, I must go soon. It is but a matter-of-course wisdom, then, that I should begin to set my worldly house in order now so that it may be done calmly and with thoroughness, in place of waiting until the last day, when, as we have often seen, the attempt to set both houses in order at the same time has been marred by the necessity for haste and by the confusion and waste of time arising from the inability of the notary and the ecclesiastic to work together harmoniously, taking turn about and giving each other friendly assistance—not perhaps in fielding, which could hardly be expected, but at least in the minor offices of keeping game and umpiring. By consequence of which conflict of interest and absence of harmonious action, a draw has frequently resulted where this ill-fortune could not have happened if the houses had been set in order one at a time and hurry avoided by beginning in season, and giving to each the amount of time fairly and justly proper to it.
In setting my earthly house in order I find it of moment that I should attend in person to one or two matters which men in my position have long had the habit of leaving wholly to others, with consequences often most regrettable. I wish to speak of only one of these matters at this time. Obituaries. Of necessity, an obituary is a thing which cannot be so judiciously edited by any hand as by that of the subject of it. In such a work it is not the facts that are of chief importance, but the light which the obituarist shall throw-upon them, the meanings which he shall dress them in, and the conclusions which he shall draw from them, and the judgments which he shall deliver upon them. The verdicts, you understand. That is the danger-line.
In considering this matter, in view of my approaching change, it has seemed to me wise to take such measures as may be feasible, to acquire, by courtesy of the Press, access to my standing obituaries, with the privilege—if this is not asking too much—of editing, not their facts, but their verdicts. This, not for present profit, further than as concerns my family, but as a favourable influence usable on the other side, where there are some who are not friendly to me.
With this explanation of my motives, I will now ask you of your courtesy to make an appeal for me to the public Press. It is my desire that such journals and periodicals as have obituaries of me lying in their pigeon holes, with a view to sudden use some day, will not wait longer, but will publish them now, and kindly send me a marked copy. My address is simply New York city. I have no other than is permanent and not transient.
I will correct them—not the Facts but the Verdicts—striking out such clauses as could have a deleterious influence on the Other Side, and replacing them with clauses of a more judicious character. I should, of course, expect to pay double rates for both the omissions and the substitutions; and I should also expect to pay quadruple rates for all obituaries which proved to be rightly and wisely worded in the originals, thus requiring no emendations at all.
It is my desire to leave these Amended Obituaries neatly bound behind me as a perennial consolation and entertainment to my family, and as a heirloom which shall have a mournful but definite commercial value for my remote posterity.
I beg, sir, that you will insert this Advertisement and send the bill to
Yours very respectfully
P.S.—For the best Obituary—one suitable for me to read in public, and calculated to inspire regret—I desire to offer a prize, consisting of a portrait of me done entirely by myself in pen and ink without previous instruction. The ink warranted to be the kind used by the very best artists [MTP]. Note: Harper’s Weekly of Nov. 29 printed humorous responses to Sam’s above request.
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.