On page 492 of the old volume of Suetonius, which Mark Twain read until
his very last day, there is a reference to one Flavius Clemens, a man
of wide repute "for his want of energy," and in a marginal note he has
"I guess this is where our line starts."
It was like him to write that. It spoke in his whimsical fashion the
attitude of humility, the ready acknowledgment of shortcoming, which was
his chief characteristic and made him lovable--in his personality and in
Historically, we need not accept this identity of the Clemens ancestry.
The name itself has a kindly meaning, and was not an uncommon one in
Rome. There was an early pope by that name, and it appears now and
again in the annals of the Middle Ages. More lately there was a Gregory
Clemens, an English landowner who became a member of Parliament under
Cromwell and signed the death-warrant of Charles I. Afterward he was
tried as a regicide, his estates were confiscated, and his head was
exposed on a pole on the top of Westminster Hall.
Tradition says that the family of Gregory Clemens did not remain in
England, but emigrated to Virginia (or New Jersey), and from them, in
direct line, descended the Virginia Clemenses, including John Marshall
Clemens, the father of Mark Twain. Perhaps the line could be traced, and
its various steps identified, but, after all, an ancestor more or less
need not matter when it is the story of a descendant that is to be