Mark Twain’s “Letter from Santa Claus”

Mark Twain’s “Letter from Santa Claus”

Mark Twain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Mark Twain’s clever wordsmithmanship (surely he would have been proud that we made up that word?) not only enriched classic American literature, but also served to entertain his daughter Susyand perhaps most importantly–to express his deep affection. One long winter evening before Christmas, we imagine that he packed a pipe, and from behind neatly trimmed whiskers–carefully as to not to spill ink on his new white suit–he penned the following:

A Letter from Santa Claus

My Dear Susy Clemens,

I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me … I can read your and your baby sister’s jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters — I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself — and kissed both of you, too … But … there were … one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock …

There was a word or two in your mama’s letter which … I took to be “a trunk full of doll’s clothes.” Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o’clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to the door. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak — otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse’s bed and put your ear to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, “Welcome, Santa Claus!” Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be … and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say “Good-bye and a Merry Christmas to my little Susy Clemens,” you must say “Good-bye, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much.” Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall — if it is a trunk you want — because I couldn’t get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know … If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven’t time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag — else he will die someday … If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and someone points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus’s boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Good-bye for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving Santa Claus
Whom people sometimes call
“The Man in the Moon”

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.Mark Twain’s indelible mark on American literature, and on a broader scale, culture and historywill soon be commemorated by the U.S. Mint. President Obama signed a law just this week that will put Twain’s visage on coins by 2016. The following quote from Twain is both ironic and foreshadowing, considering his humorous disdain of bureaucracy:

“We have the best government that money can buy.” -Mark Twain

One comment on “Mark Twain’s “Letter from Santa Claus”

  1. avatarHistory Press on said:

    Hi Bette,

    Good question! Here’s Susy’s account of the visit from Santa Claus (presumably Mark Twain posing as Santa):

    http://www.marktwainproject.org/xtf/view?docId=letters/UCCL01612.xml;style=letter;brand=mtp

    Also you may find answers in the book “The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)” by Barbara Kerley.

    We have a history on Mark Twain coming out next year, too, so keep an eye out for that.

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