An Exemplary Offering of Twain Wit, Sarcasm & Rebuke


J. H.. Todd - Patent Medicine Peddler
Tempts Clemens with Duffy's Elixir

Mark Twain Responds with Classic Wit
 and excoriates the Snake Oil Mountebank

The Elixir of Life, Peace and Universal Happiness
Click Here to Read Verbatim Text

          Image, Source: color film copy transparency         Image, Source: digital file from original neg.

Samuel Clemens, pseud. Mark Twain (1835 -1910)

Twain responds to a Patent Medicine Leaflet Promising to Promote World Peace as well as Cure Diphtheria, Meningitis, Female Diseases, Dog Mange and other Universal Ailments. Included: Original Elixir Leaflet, Letter of the Patent Medicine Peddler and Twain’s reply. This is Twain at this Hilarious, Biting Best. A Rare Complete Collection

Twain calls the Peddler: "without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt...an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, & scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link". Having lost his daughter and wife, Twain did not suffer fools gladly and was very suspicious of wonder elixirs and medicinal claims of immortality. Twain may have been in his twilight years, yet, here is a superb example of the rapier wit of America's foremost humorist; still strong and cutting as his acerbic cynicism takes a deep bite from the proffered apple of the devil.

Biographical Note on Samuel L. Clemens - "Mark Twain"

American humorist and author under the pen name Mark Twain. A stinging and irascible original letter in the classic and inimitable style of Twain in response to one J. H. Todd, patent medicine peddler, who had the temerity to suggest to Clemens that he avail himself of T. Duffy's Elixir of Life, "relating to health & life and how to retain them in the body as long as you want & wish without disease, death, and always in youthful feeling" and claiming that universal peace will follow. “Pure natural reason has now been obtained and the wielder of it is more powerful than armies, dynamite or gunpowder as reason must and will control all. The age of reason is now begun." A 4 page printed advertisement for the elixir is included, on which Clemens has written "Will dictate" and drawn three little pointing hands. It states that the elixir can be taken internally or externally and will cure acne, appendicitis, blood poisoning, corns, diabetes, dandruff, diphtheria, measles and mumps, pneumonia, tapeworm and whooping cough among many other things. Dosages for dogs, cats, horses and birds are also indicated! Not surprisingly this really got under Clemen's skin and set him off in fine style. Click here for full text of pamphlet.

J. H. Todd write to Twain:
Handwritten 1 page Letter (both sides) – Signed and Dated: November 6, 1905
Text as Follows:

San Francisco Cal
Nov 6th 1905
Mr. Samuel L. Clemens

Dear Sir.
Allow me to call your special attention to matter in the enclosed circular relating to Health & Life and how to retain them in the body as long as you want & wish without Disease - Death, and always in youthful feeling.
When each has become cognizant of the above fact and put it in operation on themselves – then & not until then will we have Universal Peace – but if the knowledge which these circulars places before the people is ignored then I agree with you on your proposition of extracting the Oxygen from the air and allow them to enjoy eternal peace. Where there is no Reason (Natural) there is no Sense or knowledge, all is a Blank, and what the people assume is Sense, is only Belief and Assumption – thus where there is no Sense or Reason, War must always prevail for it is their only power. But Pure Natural Reason has now been obtained and the wielder of it is more powerful than Armies, Dynamite or Gunpowder as Reason must and will control all, & none can resist it.
The Age of Reason is now begun & will never end again.
Will be pleased to answer any questions regarding the Truth of Natural Life,
I am yours truly
                                               J.H. Todd

Here is Twain’s Response: 
Handwritten 1 page Letter (both sides) – Signed and Dated: November 20, 1905
Text as Follows:

J. H. Todd                                                                                    Nov. 20. 1905
1212 Webster Street
San Francisco, Cal.

Dear Sir,
     Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good & exhibits considerable character, & there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, & scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter & your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; & always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded & passed & I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, & enter swiftly into the damnation which you & all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned & do so richly deserve.
                                                Adieu, adieu, adieu !
                                                                          Mark Twain

The letter was dictated by Clemens to his secretary, Isabel Lyon; the body is in her hand. He has signed at the end "Adieu, adieu, adieu, Mark Twain." Fine, in clear pencil, and one of the most amusingly cutting letters imaginable from a famous person, even one known for his acerbic wit like Clemens. One wonders what led the mountebank to contact Clemens in the first place, but if his intention was to arouse the legendary author, he was successful. Considering that Clemens was in failing health himself at this time and had lost one daughter to disease ten years before, promises of cure-alls, which he knew to be false, especially angered him.

The year 1905 closed triumphantly for Mark Twain. The great "Seventieth Birthday" dinner planned by Colonel George Harvey is remembered to-day as one of the most notable festival occasions in New York literary history. Other dinners and ovations followed. At seventy he had returned to the world, more beloved, more honored than ever before. In this letter can be seen his sharp acerbic wit still in play - the master still jabbing and counter-punching against those who would defraud the common man.

After considerable research we have found what we believe is the recipe for Duffy’s Elixir as well as references from a diary along the Oregon Trail in 1845 that accounted it among its medicinal chest, 60 years later it was still being touted:
Click here to review Research

2lbs -
2 pounds -  
1 pounds -
1 pound -
2 pound -
4 pounds -
½  pounds -



 rhubarb shavings
 jalap root
caraway seeds
anise seeds
 shavings of red sanders (sic)-wood probably red sandalwood)

Digest these in 10 gallons of spirits of wine for 14 days and strain for use.

Document Specifications: Very Fine Documents: Twain Letter is two unlined pages pencil handwritten on one side. Text is in hand of personal secretary, Isabel Lyon, but handwritten emendations and closing "Adieu, adieu, adieu Mark Twain" are by Clemens. Letter from Todd to Clemens is one page on lined paper written in ink on two sides and signed "J.H. Todd". Duffy Elixir Leaflet is one contiguous sheet folded and printed on 4 sides, includes notation by Clemens: "Will Dictate" on upper left corner of title page and includes several hand drawn pointing fingers denoting particular parts of the advertisement that Clemens found worthy of repudiation. Offering includes leaflet and both signed letters.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

Official PayPal SealNo Reserve - Free Shipping – No Auction Buyer’s Fees
What You Bid Is What You Pay!!

All items include a written guarantee of authenticity to the successful bidder and are accompanied by a full color picture receipt for your insurance and inventory records. All items are shipped fully insured and archivally packaged to your address with proof of delivery confirmation/signature. Please note that although we take great care in scanning our document images, color may vary from original. Damage on delivery must be promptly reported. While shipping is free we are required by law to assess a state sales tax for items sold to buyers in Missouri and international shipments require buyer to be accountable for all applicable duties, customs fees, excise taxes or VAT's.


about me