Public Service Explanation

During the Civil War, Joseph Twichell, future father-in-law of Charles Ives, worked as a Congregational chaplain in the Union Army next to a Jesuit priest named Joseph O’Hagan, with whom he became lifelong close friends. After the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, the two exhausted themselves helping the wounded, and then slept huddled together beneath blankets against the December cold. O’Hagan laughed, and, when Twichell asked him what was funny, replied, “The scene of you and me – me, a Jesuit priest, and you, a Puritan minister of the worst kind, spooned together under the same blankets.” Twichell loved telling this story at renunions. I found it on page 97 of Steve Courtney’s excellent Joseph Hopkins Twichell: The Life and Times of Mark Twain’s Closest Friend, which is an eminently enjoyable history of a lot of pre-Ives background, though eccentric son-in-law Ives is only mentioned in a few spots.

So this clearly explains the oddly uncontextualized comment Ives drops in on page 85 of his Essays, where he says that Beethoven, upon having his orchestration updated by Mahler, was probably “in the same amiable state of mind that the Jesuit priest said God was when He looked down on the camp ground and saw the priest sleeping with a Congregational chaplain.” What a weird little personal thing to include (and potentially confusing given today’s euphemistic use of the phrase). I’m finding a lot of little explanatory factoids about the Essays and am having trouble placing them in the narrative; maybe easier to put them here.



  1. says

    A nice bit; it sounds like you’re having a ball digging into Ives. You know, given the family connection, and the fact that Ives often found inspiration in literature, it’s surprising (or at least notable) that he didn’t draw from Twain. Or did he, and I just haven’t seen it?

    KG replies: He didn’t. Maybe he felt too self-conscious, because it’s clear he met Twain at least twice. I’ve told this before, but I used to have a friend who thought it was sad that Wallace Stevens (who was vice-president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company) and Ives didn’t get together and write the great insurance-themed opera. You could imagine a denouement in which the hero dies but he had a good insurance policy, so his widow has a happy ending anyway.

  2. says

    And it’s too bad the two of them never met Franz Kafka, another creator whose day job was with an insurance company, though not at the executive level that Stevens and Ives occupied.

    KG replies: Did not know that. Ironic, somehow.