Category: Weird Articles
Published on Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or better recognized by his pen name Mark Twain is known as the “greatest American humorist of his age” and “the father of American literature”. What he is lesser known for is his hobby of collecting girls from 10 – 16 years old.
Clemens said on 12 February 1908, “I suppose we are all collectors… As for me, I collect pets: young girls — girls from ten to sixteen years old; girls who are pretty and sweet and naive and innocent — dear young creatures to whom life is a perfect joy and to whom it has brought no wounds, no bitterness, and few tears.”
Before you start judging this literary genius, it is not that pedophiliac as it sounds. While Mark Twain did love entertaining little girls, it is not in the way your dirty mind presumes.
Before the world lost one of its best authors to a heart attack, Twain went through a lot of hardship. His daughter, Susy, died in 1896, and his wife followed in 1904, then in 1909, his second daughter, Jean, passed away. A distraught Twain fell into depression and noted that while he has reached the grandfather stage of life, he had no jovial grandchildren to dote on. Twain took to befriending young girls whom he treated like his own granddaughters.
He formed a club for the girls he viewed as his surrogate granddaughters, the “Angel Fish Club” or the “Aquarium Club”. The name was inspired by an angelfish Twain saw in Bermuda. He decided on that name because the angelfish “is the most beautiful fish that swims”. Twain would buy angelfish pins and give them to each of his girls. Out of the numerous pins he gave away, only one is known to still be in existence and currently resides in the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut.
The girls he chose to be his Angel Fish were the daughters of couples who ran in his social circle. He often met them on boats chartering him back and forth England and Bermuda, as it was for Helen Allen. Allen was twelve years old when Twain met her and her parents. Her father was the American Vice-Council in Bermuda, and her grandmother was Twain’s wife’s childhood friend. Twain said that Allen was “perfect in character, lovely in disposition, and a captivator at sight,” everything he wanted in a granddaughter.
Twain played the role of a loving grandfather to all his Angel Fish. He invited his girls to concerts, the theatre, and to his house for all sorts of innocent, grandfatherly things like card games, billiards and story-telling sessions. He named his estate “Innocence at Home” in honor of his beloved girls and frequently wrote letters to them when they couldn’t visit.
He made it a point to always a spare room available and hoped to have an Angel Fish “in it as often as Providence will permit”. It is hard not to get a Michael Jackson vibe from this, but before you start jumping to conclusions again, Twain always invited a chaperone to accompany the girl that would be sleeping over. His Angel Fish room had two beds to accommodate the girl and her guardian.
Next to the bedroom, Twain had a billiard room he remodeled into some sort of a shrine for his Angel Fish. A plaque above the door reads “The Aquarium” and the walls in the room are covered with framed photos of every one of his Angel Fish Club members.
Some of the things he tells his girls might raise a few eyebrows though. Twain wrote to Dorothy Harvey shortly after her fourteenth birthday saying, “I wish I could have those free-gratis-for-nothing-voyages-&-nothing-to-do-but-look-at-you every day.” For Dorothy Quick, he wrote after she visited, “I went to bed as soon as you departed, there being nothing left to live for after that, & all the sunshine gone. How do you suppose I am going to get along without you?”
What he wrote to the two Dorothys may sound strange to us and in present day, warning sirens would go off wailing “PEDOPHILE”, but this was back in the 1900s and people were more forthcoming and dramatically emotional with others. It was Twain’s way of expressing his love to his surrogate granddaughters and assuring them that he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them.
Think about it this way;
Twain loved his girls like a grandfather would, and they loved him back like granddaughters would. Only a relationship with one of his Angel Fish girls went haywire when 15-year-old Gertrude Natkin developed a “school girl crush” on 70-year-old Twain and started writing overly affectionate letters to him. The feeling was not mutual for Twain, and he started distancing himself from her, decreasing the frequency of his letters. He had no desire to gain a reputation for impropriety nor did he want to encourage her affections.
Twain regularly complained about how his girls were growing up too fast and getting boyfriends, something a father and a grandfather can relate to. Perhaps his fondness for the young girls lay in the innocence and beauty of their childhood and also from a result of losing three of his female family members.