Babel come again. The other day, when no guests were present to keep order, the tribe were all talking at once, & 6 languages were being traded in; at last the littlest boy lost his temper, clapped his hands to his ears & screamed this out, mixed with angry sobs: “Mais vraiment is non capisco GAR nichts!”
But as I was going to say: the Baroness is a grand daughter of Benjamin Constant. Benjamin, before his marriage, had a long & warm love-passage with Madame de Stäel (which did not end with his marriage altogether) & his love-letters have come along down on the Constant side landing at last in this grand-daughter’s possession. She proposes to publish some of them (there are 120) with helpful remarks & annotations scattered along, for the which she has qualified herself by studying the period. Up to now the de Broglie side of the house has always been able to keep the letters out of print, & the present Duke is raising such Cain as he can to continue the suppression, but the Baroness is not listening to him.
She is a little afraid of her English, therefore she will write her remarks in French—I said there’s a plenty of translators in New York. Examine her samples & drop her a line. Her address is Villa Curonia, sopra Poggis Imperiale, Florence.
For two entire days, now, we have not been anxious about Mrs. Clemens (Unberufen!) After 20 months of bedridden solitude & bodily misery she all of a sudden ceases to be a pallid & shrunken shadow, & looks bright & young & pretty. She remains what she always was, the most wonderful creature for fortitude, patience, endurance, & recuperative power that ever was. But oh, dear, it won’t last; this fiendish malady will play new treacheries upon her, & I shall go back to my prayers again—unutterable from any pulpit! / With love to you & yours…. [MTP].
Sam’s notebook: “Lunch 1 p.m / Mrs. Ross’s to meet a golden pheasant and Signore” [NB 47 TS 10-11].
May 12, after – Baroness Elisabeth de Nolde wrote from Florence to Sam. “Many thanks for having taken the trouble about the publication of the Stael letters. After the counsel and explanation you kindly gave me about publishing them first in America, I am of course very much disposed to do so. I am not astonished that Harpers is not in raptures at the idea…I believe I ought to write to him or Century Magazine…” [MTP].
Note: Madame de Stael (1766-1817) and her married lover, Benjamin Constant (1767- 1830). Sam also met the Baroness on May 12 and described her to Gilder. She sought a publisher. Duneka of Harper’s had been tepid in his response, and Gilder evidently was as well. Putnam published her volume in 1905.
May 13 Friday – At the Villa Reale di Quarto near Florence Sam finished his May 12 to Richard
“May 13, 10 a.m. I have just paid one of my pair of permitted 2-minute-visits-per-day to the sickroom. And found what I have learned to expect—retrogression. Blue lips, the pallor of the dead, & that pathetic something in the eye which betrays the secret of a waning hope” [MTP].
Kirke La Shelle wrote from the Grand Hotel, Florence to Sam. “I am sending you herewith a note of introduction from Abner Herferd [sp?], and if you will be good enough to let Mrs La Shelle and I invade your peaceful retirement we will try to deliver a very large consignment of regards from the Elihu Vedders [sic Vedder] whom we have just left in Rome” [MTP]. Note: Elihu Vedder (1836-1923), American painter and illustrator, best known for his 55 illustrations in Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which Sam was quite familiar with (he had written he was “a bond slave to Fitzgerald’s Omar”; see Nov. 8, 1899 entry). In 1890 Vedder helped establish the In Arte Libertas group in Italy.
May 14 Saturday – The Italian Gazette of May 17 reported:
Mr. S.L. Clemens was the honored guest of the Ponte Vecchio Club at the usual Saturday dinner last week…“Mark Twain”…proceeded to tell an excellent story of how he drove an unwilling man into matrimony [“Wapping Alice”; quoted in Hill, p.83; See Keene’s letter of Apr. 28 about this club].
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.