Monday, August 6, 2012

A Working Vacation: Mark Twain's Summers at Quarry Farm

By Kerry Lippincott, Education Coordinator

I wish you were here, to spend the summer with us. 
We are perched on a hill-top that overlooks a little world - 
of green valleys, shining rivers, sumptuous forests and billowy 
uplands veiled in the haze of distance. We have no neighbors. 
It is the quietest of all quiet places, and we are hermits that eschew 
caves and live in the sun. Doctor, if you'd only come!
Mark Twain to Dr. John Brown, June, 22, 1876

Purchased as the Langdon summer home, Susan and Theodore Crane inherited Quarry Farm in 1870.  The couple expanded the property from seven acres to 250 and converted the cottage into their year around home.  For nearly twenty years summers meant Quarry Farm for Susan’s younger sister Livy, her three daughters (Susy, Clara and Jean) and her husband Mark Twain.

While at Quarry Farm, Livy conducted lessons with her daughters, rested, read, and visited with family and friends.  The girls spent their days exploring the farm, going on picnics, reading, visiting with their Langdon cousins, and playing in their playhouse “Ellerslie.”   Twain described a typical day at Quarry Farm to his sister-in-law Mollie - The Cranes are reading and loafing in the canvas-curtained summer-house 50 yards away on a higher (the highest) point; the cats are loafing over at "Ellerslie" which is the children's estate and dwelling house in their own private grounds (by deed from Susie Crane) a hundred yards from the study, amongst the clover and young oaks and willows. Livy is down at the house, but I shall now go and bring her up to the Cranes to help us occupy the lounges and hammocks--whence a great panorama of distant hill and valley and city is seeable. The children have gone on a lark through the neighboring hills and woods. It is a perfect day indeed.

Free from interruptions and the demanding social life of Hartford, Twain spent his days writing.  Twain would write - I can write ten chapters in Elmira where I can write one here [Hartford]... I work at work here but I don't accomplish anything worth speaking of... I can't succeed except by getting clean out of the world on top of the mountain in Elmira.

During the summer of 1874, Susan presented Twain with a study in the shape of a steam boat pilot’s house.  Twain wrote about the study to his friends Joe and Harmony Twitchell - Susie Crane has built the loveliest study for me you ever saw.  It is octagonal, with a peaked roof, each octagon filled with a spacious window, and it sits perched in complete isolation on top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant hills. It is cozy nest, with just room in it  for a sofa and a table and three or four chairs and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightening flashes above the hills beyond, and the rain beats on the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!  It stands 500 feet above the valley and 2 ½ miles from it. Having this place to work provided Twain some privacy and quiet while it provided the rest of the Clemens and Crane families relief from his ever-present cigar smoke.
His summers at Quarry Farm were very productive for Twain.  He wrote to William Dean Howell - I haven't piled up MS so in years as I have done since we came here to the farm three weeks and a half ago. Why, it's like old times, to step right into the study, damp from the breakfast table, and sail right in and sail right on, the whole day long, without thought of running short of stuff or words.

 I wrote 4000 words to-day and I touch 3000 and upwards pretty often, 
and don't fall below 1600 any working day. And when I get fagged out, 
I lay abed a couple of days and read and smoke, and then go it again for 
6 or 7 days. I have finished one small book, and am away along in a big
433 one that I half-finished two or three years ago. I expect to complete it 
in a month or six weeks or two months more. And I shall like it, whether 
anybody else does or not.  It's a kind of companion to Tom Sawyer. 
There's a raft episode from it in second or third chapter of life on the 

While at Quarry Farm Twain would write Roughing It, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Tramp Abroad, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee at Kings Arthur’s Court and several short stories.

No matter what Twain was working on days at Quarry Farm ended the same.  After dinner everyone gathered on the porch to hear what he had written that day.

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