Monday, January 17, 2011

Mark Twain on Long Nines Cigars

"Mr. Clemens, what are we going to do? There is not a cigar in the house but those old Wheeling long nines. Can't nobody smoke them but you. They kill at thirty yards. It is too late to telephone--we couldn't get any cigars out from town--what can we do? Ain't it best to say nothing, and let on that we didn't think?" "No," I said, "that would not be honest. Fetch out the long nines"--which he did.
I had just come across those "long nines" a few days or a week before. I hadn't seen a long nine for years. When I was a cub pilot on the Mississippi in the late '50's, I had had a great affection for them, because they were not only--to my mind--perfect, but you could get a basketful of them for a cent--or a dime, they didn't use cents out there in those days. So when I saw them advertised in Hartford I sent for a thousand at once. They came out to me in badly battered and disreputable-looking old square pasteboard boxes, two hundred in a box. George brought a box, which was caved in on all sides, looking the worst it could, and began to pass them around. The conversation had been brilliantly animated up to that moment--but now a frost fell upon the company. That is to say, not all of a sudden, but the frost fell upon each man as he took up a cigar and held it poised in the air--and there, in the middle, his sentence broke off. That kind of thing went on all around the table, until when George had completed his crime the whole place was full of a thick solemnity and silence.
Those men began to light the cigars. Rev. Dr. Parker was the first man to light. He took three or four heroic whiffs--then gave it up. He got up with the remark that he had to go to the bedside of a sick parishioner. He started out. Rev. Dr. Burton was the next man. He took only one whiff, and followed Parker. He furnished a pretext, and you could see by the sound of his voice that he didn't think much of the pretext, and was vexed with Parker for getting in ahead with a fictitious ailing client. Rev. Mr. Twichell followed, and said he had to go now because he must take the midnight train for Boston. Boston was the first place that occurred to him, I suppose.
It was only a quarter to eleven when they began to distribute pretexts. At ten minutes to eleven all those people were out of the house. When nobody was left but George and me I was cheerful--I had no compunctions of conscience, no griefs of any kind. But George was beyond speech, because he held the honor and credit of the family above his own, and he was ashamed that this smirch had been put upon it. I told him to go to bed and try to sleep it off. I went to bed myself. At breakfast in the morning when George was passing a cup of coffee, I saw it tremble in his hand. I knew by that sign that there was something on his mind. He brought the cup to me and asked impressively,
"Mr. Clemens, how far is it from the front door to the upper gate?"
I said, "It is a hundred and twenty-five steps."
He said, "Mr. Clemens, you can start at the front door and you can go plumb to the upper gate and tread on one of them cigars every time."
It wasn't true in detail, but in essentials it was. -Autobiography

Photos: Library of Congress


Bob Milburn said...

Thanks for posting this. I was just going thru some old documents from the early to mid 19th century and came across a bill (wholesale from one merchant to another). Dates 2 Nov 1823, for 500 "Long Nine Cigars". I know that a Long Nine was a nick-name for a Naval Cannon which was very long and was used in the 18th-19th century as a bow and stern chaser cannon for long shots, but have never heard of a cigar by that name. I started to seach for references and found only one other than yours, and it was from the 1830s. Very cool.

By the way, 500 "Long Nines" cost (Wholesale) $1.00 in 1823, in Portsmouth New Hampsshire

Unknown said...

Yes. Gentleman. You partly answer. My question. Over a game of bollards somehow this came up .Long nines two sixs a brand or size I now gather a size. If only we could be on a cruez down the Mississippi .near Natchez at Rodney Miss. With Twain as our Capt. What a nite to behold. !