Mark Twain’s Cornell

Mark Twain and Cornell—the “first truly American writer” and the “first truly American university” as they have been called—share a rich history of associated friends and family. Samuel Clemens was acquainted with Cornell President Andrew Dickson White, University Librarian Willard Fiske, and Cornell trustee and benefactor William Henry Sage. All three are fondly remembered in Mark Twain’s Autobiography. And his appreciation of Mr. Sage and Cornell are further revealed in his letter to a Mr. Krueger, who had asked Clemens for a job recommendation when he applied to teach at the university in 1883. Clemens also knew or corresponded with a number of other Cornell faculty members, including H. H. Boyesen, Hiram Corson, Goldwin Smith and Bayard Taylor.

Clemens and his family spent twenty summers in nearby Elmira, but he is known to have visited Ithaca only twice—once in the summer of 1877 to visit Boyesen and Fiske—and then again on December 3, 1884 as part of his “Twins of Genius” lecture tour with George Washington Cable. The program included readings from his forthcoming book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Ithaca Journal reported:

Last night after the lecture, Mark Twain was entertained at Zinck’s by about a hundred students. The great humorist seemed very pleased with the various college songs and Matthews’ [A. F. Matthews, Cornell class of 1883] humorous rendering of the “Broom” made him fairly roar with laughter. As he rose to go the boys gave the famous Cornell yell and Twain responded by telling one of his ridiculous stories.

Mark Twain’s legacy at Cornell lives on through his wife’s family. Four generations of Langdons have been Cornellians, starting with his nephew and niece, Jervis and Ida Langdon, the children of his Innocents Abroad travel companion, Charles Langdon.

Mark Twain. Autograph letter signed to Mr. Krueger. Elmira, New York, July 22, 1883.
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Samuel Clemens, apparently writing in response to a request for a letter of reference, wrote to a Mr. Krueger:

I enclose it; & if it ain’t the thing, give me the points & I’ll do it over again; for we want you to go Cornell, & hope you will. The Sages are there, temporarily—till they go to heaven where they belong—& there are other good & great folks there.

A Mr. Julius John William Krueger was hired as an Instructor in German at Cornell University in the fall of 1883. He taught there for two years.

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library

Cornell Daily Sun. Ithaca, NY, December 4, 1884.
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Mark Twain and George Washington Cable performed at the Wilgus Opera House in downtown Ithaca as part of their “Twins of Genius” lecture tour on December 3, 1884. The next day the student newspaper reported on its front page that: “a more thoroughly satisfactory entertainment has never before appeared in Ithaca...” The Sunbeams section on p. 3 noted:

The assembling of students at the “resort” [the restaurant and bar, Zinck’s] after the show last evening was a reminder of old times. Although the singing was not as spirited as usual, it is evident that the old songs are not forgotten. The remarks of Mr. Clemens were very brief but impressive and his excuse for not speaking longer, as he had “worn out his voice in trying to reform the people of Ithaca,” was received with applause.

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library

Photograph of the Paige Compositor in the Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts Museum. Ithaca, NY, [ca. 1898]. Cornell University College of Engineering photographs, 1870-1990.
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Samuel Clemens invested heavily in James W. Paige’s typesetting machine, the Paige Compositor, and he lost a fortune when the inventor failed to produce a working device. Clemens had the right idea; he just backed the wrong invention. The Mergenthaler Linotype machine won this competition.

The Mergenthaler Company bought both of the Paige Compositors that were ever built and loaned one of the models to Cornell, where it was displayed between 1898 and 1921. This copy of the machine was returned to the company for placement in its own museum in Brooklyn, New York, where it remained until it was donated to the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut in 1957. This is the only surviving copy of Paige’s typesetter. The second copy was loaned to Columbia University but was disassembled and later discarded.

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library

Photograph of James Fraser Gluck. From Descriptive Catalogue of the Gluck Collection of Manuscripts and Autographs in the Buffalo Public Library. Buffalo: Matthews-Northrup Co., 1899.
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In 1885 James Fraser Gluck, an attorney, collector and curator, asked Samuel Clemens for his manuscript of Huckleberry Finn. He agreed to give it to Gluck, but initially could only find the second half of the document. Nearly two years later, Clemens sent Gluck the first half, but Gluck neglected to display it with the rest of the holograph. Gluck died with this manuscript stored in his personal possessions and it was not found until 1991 by his granddaughter. The two halves of the manuscript were reunited and are presently on display in the Mark Twain Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. A January 8, 1887 article in The New York Times tells the rest of the story:

Mr. Gluck, who is an Alumnus and Trustee of Cornell University, hesitated somewhat whether he should give the collection to that institution or the Buffalo Library.

In the preface to his collection catalog, Gluck stipulated that if his conditions regarding the care and maintenance of the autographs and manuscripts failed to be carried out by the Buffalo Library, the entire collection would “revert to Cornell University and become the property of that institution.”

Cornell University Library

“Heads Cornellian Council.” Cornell Alumni News. Ithaca, NY, September 29, 1927.
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Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s nephew, was elected President of the Cornellian Council in 1927. He later served on the University Board of Trustees from 1933-1944.

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library

Photograph of Ida Langdon. Elmira, New York, May 1952.
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Ida Langdon, Mark Twain’s niece, is shown at the 1952 dedication ceremony at which she and her brother, Jervis Langdon, presented Mark Twain’s Study to Elmira College. Ida Langdon received both a Master’s degree (1910) and a PhD. (1912) in Literature from Cornell.

Ida Langdon Papers. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library

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