Part 14 out of 29
"Well, did anything happen?"
Ward indifferently turned to his private ledger, consulted it, then drew
a check for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and handed it over,
with the casual remark:
"Well, yes, something happened; not much yet--a little too soon."
The man stared at the check, then thrust it back into Ward's hand.
"That's all right. It's plenty good enough for me. Set that hen again,"
and left the place.
Of course Ward made no investments. His was the first playing on a
colossal scale of the now worn-out "get rich quick" confidence game.
Such dividends as were made came out of the principal. Ward was the
Napoleon of that game, whether he invented it or not. Clemens agreed
that, as far as himself or any of his relatives were concerned, they
would undoubtedly have trusted Ward.
Colonel Grant followed him to the door when he left, and told him that
the physicians feared his father might not live more than a few weeks
longer, but that meantime he had been writing steadily, and that the
first volume was complete and fully half the second. Three days later
the formal contract was closed, and Webster & Co. promptly advanced.
General Grant ten thousand dollars for imminent demands, a welcome
arrangement, for Grant's debts and expenses were many, and his available
resources restricted to the Century payments for his articles.
Immediately the office of Webster & Co. was warm with affairs.
Reporters were running hot-foot for news of the great contract by which
Mark Twain was to publish the life of General Grant. No publishing
enterprise of such vast moment had ever been undertaken, and no
publishing event, before or since, ever received the amount of newspaper
comment. The names of General Grant and Mark Twain associated would
command columns, whatever the event, and that Mark Twain was to become
the publisher of Grant's own story of his battles was of unprecedented
The partners were sufficiently occupied. Estimates and prices for vast
quantities of paper were considered, all available presses were
contracted for, binderies were pledged exclusively for the Grant book.
Clemens was boiling over with plans and suggestions for distribution.
Webster was half wild with the tumult of the great campaign.
Applications for agencies poured in.
In those days there were general subscription agencies which divided the
country into districts, and the heads of these agencies Webster summoned
to New York and laid down the law to them concerning the, new book. It
was not a time for small dealings, and Webster rose to the occasion. By
the time these men returned to their homes they had practically pledged
themselves to a quarter of a million sets of the Grant Memoirs, and this
estimate they believed to be conservative.
Webster now moved into larger and more pretentious quarters. He took a
store-room at 42 East 14th Street, Union Square, and surrounded himself
with a capable force of assistants. He had become, all at once, the most
conspicuous publisher in the world.
DAYS WITH A DYING HERO
The contract for the publication of the Grant Life was officially closed
February 27, 1885. Five days later, on the last day and at the last hour
of President Arthur's administration, and of the Congress then sitting, a
bill was passed placing Grant as full General, with full pay, on the
retired army list. The bill providing for this somewhat tardy
acknowledgment was rushed through at the last moment, and it is said that
the Congressional clock was set back so that this enactment might become
a law before the administration changed.
Clemens was with General Grant when the news of this action was read to
him. Grant had greatly desired such recognition, and it meant more to
him than to any one present, yet Clemens in his notes records:
Every face there betrayed strong excitement and emotion except one-
General Grant's. He read the telegram, but not a shade or
suggestion of a change exhibited itself in his iron countenance.
The volume of his emotion was greater than all the other emotions
there present combined, but he was able to suppress all expression
of it and make no sign.
Grant's calmness, endurance, and consideration during these final days
astonished even those most familiar with his noble character. One night
Gerhardt came into the library at Hartford with the announcement that he
wished to show his patron a small bust he had been making in clay of
General Grant. Clemens did not show much interest in the prospect, but
when the work was uncovered he became enthusiastic. He declared it was
the first likeness he had ever seen of General Grant that approached
reality. He agreed that the Grant family ought to see it, and that he
would take Gerhardt with him next day in order that he might be within
reach in case they had any suggestions. They went to New York next
morning, and called at the Grant home during the afternoon.
From the note-book:
Friday, March 20, 1885. Gerhardt and I arrived at General Grant's
about 2.30 P.m. and I asked if the family would look at a small
clay bust of the General which Gerhardt had made from a photograph.
Colonel Fred and Jesse were absent to receive their sister, Mrs.
Sartoris, who would arrive from Europe about 4.30; but the three
Mrs. Grants examined the work and expressed strong approval of it,
and also great gratification that Mr. Gerhardt had undertaken it.
Mrs. Jesse Grant had lately dreamed that she was inquiring where the
maker of my bust could be found (she had seen a picture of it in
Huck Finn, which was published four weeks ago), for she wanted the
same artist to make one of General Grant. The ladies examined the
bust critically and pointed out defects, while Gerhardt made the
necessary corrections. Presently Mrs. General Grant suggested that
Gerhardt step in and look at the General. I had been in there
talking with the General, but had never thought of asking him to let
a stranger come in. So Gerhardt went in with the ladies and me, and
the inspection and cross-fire began: "There, I was sure his nose was
so and so," and, "I was sure his forehead was so and so," and,
"Don't you think his head is so and so?" And so everybody walked
around and about the old hero, who lay half reclining in his easy
chair, but well muffled up, and submitting to all this as serenely
as if he were used to being served so. One marked feature of
General Grant's character is his exceeding gentleness, goodness,
sweetness. Every time I have been in his presence--lately and
formerly--my mind was drawn to that feature. I wonder it has not
been more spoken of.
Presently he said, let Gerhardt bring in his clay and work there, if
Gerhardt would not mind his reclining attitude. Of course we were
glad. A table for the bust was moved up in front of him; the ladies
left the room; I got a book; Gerhardt went to work; and for an hour
there was perfect stillness, and for the first time during the day
the General got a good, sound, peaceful nap. General Badeau came
in, and probably interrupted that nap. He spoke out as strongly as
the others concerning the great excellence of the likeness. He had
some sheets of MS. in his hand, and said, "I've been reading what
you wrote this morning, General, and it is of the utmost value; it
solves a riddle that has puzzled men's brains all these years and
makes the thing clear and rational." I asked what the puzzle was,
and he said, "It was why Grant did not immediately lay siege to
Vicksburg after capturing Port Hudson" (at least that is my
recollection, now toward midnight, of General Badeau's answer).
The little bust of Grant which Gerhardt worked on that day was widely
reproduced in terra-cotta, and is still regarded by many as the most
nearly correct likeness of Grant. The original is in possession of the
General Grant worked industriously on his book. He had a superb memory
and worked rapidly. Webster & Co. offered to supply him with a
stenographer, and this proved a great relief. Sometimes he dictated ten
thousand words at a sitting. It was reported at the time, and it has
been stated since, that Grant did not write the Memoirs himself, but only
made notes, which were expanded by others. But this is not true.
General Grant wrote or dictated every word of the story himself, then had
the manuscript read aloud to him and made his own revisions. He wrote
against time, for he knew that his disease was fatal. Fortunately the
lease of life granted him was longer than he had hoped for, though the
last chapters were written when he could no longer speak, and when
weakness and suffering made the labor a heavy one indeed; but he never
flinched or faltered, never at any time suggested that the work be
finished by another hand.
Early in April General Grant's condition became very alarming, and on the
night of the 3d it was believed he could not live until morning. But he
was not yet ready to surrender. He rallied and renewed his task; feebly
at first, but more perseveringly as each day seemed to bring a little
added strength, or perhaps it was only resolution. Now and then he
appeared depressed as to the quality of his product. Once Colonel Fred
Grant suggested to Clemens that if he could encourage the General a
little it might be worth while. Clemens had felt always such a reverence
and awe for the great soldier that he had never dreamed of complimenting
"I was as much surprised as Columbus's cook could have been to learn that
Columbus wanted his opinion as to how Columbus was doing his navigating."
He did not hesitate to give it, however, and with a clear conscience.
Grant wrote as he had fought; with a simple, straightforward dignity,
with a style that is not a style at all but the very absence of it, and
therefore the best of all literary methods. It happened that Clemens had
been comparing some of Grant's chapters with Caesar's Commentaries, and
was able to say, in all sincerity, that the same high merits
distinguished both books: clarity of statement, directness, simplicity,
manifest truthfulness, fairness and justice toward friend and foe alike,
soldierly candor and frankness, and soldierly avoidance of flowery
"I placed the two books side by side upon the same level," he said, "and
I still think that they belong there. I learned afterward that General
Grant was pleased with this verdict. It shows that he was just a man,
just a human being, just an author."
Within two months after the agents had gone to work canvassing for the
Grant Memoirs--which is to say by the 1st of May, 1885--orders for sixty
thousand sets had been received, and on that day Mark Twain, in his note-
book, made a memorandum estimate of the number of books that the country
would require, figuring the grand total at three hundred thousand sets of
two volumes each. Then he says:
If these chickens should really hatch according to my account,
General Grant's royalties will' amount to $420,000, and will make
the largest single check ever paid an author in the world's history.
Up to the present time the largest one ever paid was to Macaulay on
his History of England, L20,000. If I pay the General in silver
coin at $12 per pound it will weigh seventeen tons.
Certainly this has a flavor in it of Colonel Sellers, but we shall see by
and by in how far this calculation was justified.
Grant found the society of Mark Twain cheering and comforting, and
Clemens held himself in readiness to go to the dying man at call. On the
26th of May he makes this memorandum:
It is curious and dreadful to sit up in this way and talk cheerful
nonsense to General Grant, and he under sentence of death with that
cancer. He says he has made the book too large by 200 pages--not a
bad fault. A short time ago we were afraid we would lack 400 of
To-day talked with General Grant about his and my first great
Missouri campaign in 1861. He surprised an empty camp near Florida,
Missouri, on Salt River, which I had been occupying a day or two
before. How near he came to playing the devil with his future
Of course Clemens would amuse the old commander with the tale of his
soldiering, how his company had been chased through the brush and mud by
the very announcement that Grant was coming. Some word of this got to
the Century editors, who immediately proposed that Mark Twain contribute
to the magazine War Series the story of his share in the Rebellion, and
particularly of his war relations with General Grant. So the "Private
History of a Campaign that Failed" was prepared as Mark Twain's side-
light on the history of the Rebellion; and if it was not important
history it was at least amusing, and the telling of that tale in Mark
Twain's inimitable fashion must have gone far toward making cheerful
those last sad days of his ancient enemy.
During one of their talks General Grant spoke of the question as to
whether he or Sherman had originated the idea of the march to the sea.
"Neither of us originated the idea of that march. The enemy did it."
Reports were circulated of estrangements between General Grant and the
Century Company, and between Mark Twain and the Century Company, as a
result of the book decision. Certain newspapers exploited and magnified
these rumors--some went so far as to accuse Mark Twain of duplicity, and
to charge him with seeking to obtain a vast fortune for himself at the
expense of General Grant and his family. All of which was the merest
nonsense. The Century Company, Webster & Co., General Grant, and Mark
Twain individually, were all working harmoniously, and nothing but the
most cordial relations and understanding prevailed. As to the charge of
unfair dealing on the part of Mark Twain, this was too absurd, even then,
to attract more than momentary attention. Webster & Co., somewhat later
in the year, gave to the press a clear statement of their publishing
arrangement, though more particularly denying the report that General
Grant had been unable to complete his work.
THE CLOSE OF A GREAT CAREER
The Clemens household did not go to Elmira that year until the 27th of
June. Meantime General Grant had been taken to Mount McGregor, near the
Adirondacks. The day after Clemens reached Elmira there came a summons
saying that the General had asked to see him. He went immediately, and
remained several days. The resolute old commander was very feeble by
this time. It was three months since he had been believed to be dying,
yet he was still alive, still at work, though he could no longer speak.
He was adding, here and there, a finishing touch to his manuscript,
writing with effort on small slips of paper containing but a few words
each. His conversation was carried on in the same way. Mark Twain
brought back a little package of those precious slips, and some of them
are still preserved. The writing is perfectly legible, and shows no
indication of a trembling hand.
On one of these slips is written:
There is much more that I could do if I was a well man. I do not
write quite as clearly as I could if well. If I could read it over
myself many little matters of anecdote and incident would suggest
themselves to me.
Have you seen any portion of the second volume? It is up to the
end, or nearly so. As much more work as I have done to-day will
finish it. I have worked faster than if I had been well. I have
used my three boys and a stenographer.
And on still another:
If I could have two weeks of strength I could improve it very much.
As I am, however, it will have to go about as it is, with
verifications by the boys and by suggestions which will enable me to
make a point clear here and there.
Certainly no campaign was ever conducted with a braver heart. As long as
his fingers could hold a pencil he continued at his task. Once he asked
if any estimate could now be made of what portion would accrue to his
family from the publication. Clemens's prompt reply, that more than one
hundred thousand sets had been sold, and that already the amount of his
share, secured by safe bonds, exceeded one hundred and fifty thousand
dollars, seemed to give him deep comfort. Clemens told him that the
country was as yet not one-third canvassed, and that without doubt there
turns would be twice as much more by the end of the year. Grant made no
further inquiry, and probably never again mentioned the subject to any
When Clemens left, General Grant was sitting, fully dressed, with a shawl
about his shoulders, pencil and paper beside him. It was a picture that
would never fade from the memory. In a later memorandum he says:
I then believed he would live several months. He was still adding
little perfecting details to his book, and preface, among other
things. He was entirely through a few days later. Since then the
lack of any strong interest to employ his mind has enabled the
tedious weariness to kill him. I think his book kept him alive
several months. He was a very great man and superlatively good.
This note was made July 23, 1885, at 10 A.M., on receipt of the news that
General Grant was dead. To Henry Ward Beecher, Clemens wrote:
One day he put his pencil aside and said there was nothing more to
do. If I had been there I could have foretold the shock that struck
the world three days later.
It can be truly said that all the nation mourned. General Grant had no
enemies, political or sectional, in those last days. The old soldier
battling with a deadly disease, yet bravely completing his task, was a
figure at once so pathetic and so noble that no breath of animosity
remained to utter a single word that was not kind.
Memorial services were held from one end of the country to the other.
Those who had followed him in peace or war, those who had fought beside
him or against him, alike paid tribute to his memory. Twichell, from the
mountains of Vermont, wrote:
I suppose I have said to Harmony forty times since I got up here,
"How I wish I could see Mark!" My notion is that between us we could
get ourselves expressed. I have never known any one who could help
me read my own thoughts in such a case as you can and have done many
a time, dear old fellow.
I'd give more to sit on a log with you in the woods this afternoon,
while we twined a wreath together for Launcelot's grave, than
to hear any conceivable eulogy of him pronounced by mortal lips.
The death of Grant so largely and so suddenly augmented the orders for
his Memoirs that it seemed impossible to get the first volume printed in
time for the delivery, which had been promised for December 1st. J. J.
Little had the contract of manufacture, and every available press and
bindery was running double time to complete the vast contract.
In the end more than three hundred thousand sets of two volumes each were
sold, and between four hundred and twenty and four hundred and fifty
thousand dollars was paid to Mrs. Grant. The first check of two hundred
thousand dollars, drawn February 27, 1886, remains the largest single
royalty check in history. Mark Twain's prophecy had been almost exactly
MINOR MATTERS OF A GREAT YEAR
The Grant episode, so important in all its phases, naturally overshadowed
other events of 1885. Mark Twain was so deeply absorbed in this great
publishing enterprise that he wasted little thought or energy in other
Yet there are a few minor things that it seems worth while to remember.
Howells has told something of the Authors' Reading given for the
Longfellow Memorial, an entertainment managed by George Parsons Lathrop,
though Howells justly claims the glory of having fixed the price of
admission at five dollars. Then he recalls a pleasing anecdote of
Charles Eliot Norton, who introduced the attractions.
Norton presided, and when it came Clemens's turn to read he introduced
him with such exquisite praises as he best knew how to give, but before
he closed he fell a prey to one of those lapses of tact which are the
peculiar peril of people of the greatest tact. He was reminded of
Darwin's delight in Mark Twain, and how when he came from his long day's
exhausting study, and sank into bed at midnight, he took up a volume of
Mark Twain, whose books he always kept on a table beside him, and
whatever had been his tormenting problem, or excess of toil, he felt
secure of a good night's rest from it. A sort of blank ensued which
Clemens filled in the only possible way. He said he should always be
glad he had contributed to the repose of that great man, to whom science
owed so much, and then without waiting for the joy in every breast to
burst forth, he began to read.
Howells tells of Mark Twain's triumph on this occasion, and in a letter
at the time he wrote: "You simply straddled down to the footlights and
took that house up in the hollow of your hand and tickled it."
Howells adds that the show netted seventeen hundred dollars. This was
early in May.
Of literary work, beyond the war paper, the "Private History of a
Campaign that Failed" (published December, 1885), Clemens appears to have
done very little. His thoughts were far too busy with plans for
furthering the sale of the great military Memoir to follow literary
ventures of his own. At one time he was impelled to dictate an
autobiography--Grant's difficulties in his dying hour suggesting this--
and he arranged with Redpath, who was no longer a lecture agent and
understood stenography, to co-operate with him in the work. He dictated
a few chapters, but he was otherwise too much occupied to continue.
Also, he was unused to dictation, and found it hard and the result
Two open communications from Mark Twain that year deserve to be
remembered. One of these; unsigned, was published in the Century
Magazine, and expressed the need for a "universal tinker," the man who
can accept a job in a large household or in a community as master of all
trades, with sufficient knowledge of each to be ready to undertake
whatever repairs are likely to be required in the ordinary household,
such as--"to put in windowpanes, mend gas leaks, jack-plane the edges of
doors that won't shut, keep the waste-pipe and other water-pipe joints,
glue and otherwise repair havoc done in furniture, etc." The letter was
signed X. Y. Z., and it brought replies from various parts of the world.
None of the applicants seemed universally qualified, but in Kansas City a
business was founded on the idea, adopting "The Universal Tinker" as its
The other letter mentioned was written to the 'Christian Union', inspired
by a tale entitled, "What Ought We to Have Done?" It was a tale
concerning the government of children; especially concerning the
government of one child--John Junior--a child who, as it would appear
from the tale, had a habit of running things pretty much to his own
notion. The performance of John junior, and of his parents in trying to
manage him, stirred Mark Twain considerably--it being "enough to make a
body's blood boil," as he confesses--and it impelled him to set down
surreptitiously his impressions of what would have happened to John
Junior as a member of the Clemens household. He did not dare to show the
communication to Mrs. Clemens before he sent it, for he knew pretty well
what its fate would be in that case. So he took chances and printed it
without her knowledge. The letter was published July 16, 1885. It is
too long to be included entire, but it is too illuminating to be
altogether omitted. After relating, in considerable detail, Mrs.
Clemens's method of dealing with an unruly child--the gentleness yet
firmness of her discipline--he concludes:
The mother of my children adores them--there is no milder term for
it--and they worship her; they even worship anything which the touch
of her hand has made sacred. They know her for the best and truest
friend they have ever had, or ever shall have; they know her for one
who never did them a wrong, and cannot do them a wrong; who never
told them a lie, nor the shadow of one; who never deceived them by
even an ambiguous gesture; who never gave them an unreasonable
command, nor ever contented herself with anything short of a perfect
obedience; who has always treated them as politely and considerately
as she would the best and oldest in the land, and has always
required of them gentle speech and courteous conduct toward all, of
whatsoever degree with whom they chanced to come in contact; they
know her for one whose promise, whether of reward or punishment, is
gold, and always worth its face, to the uttermost farthing. In a
word, they know her, and I know her, for the best and dearest mother
that lives--and by a long, long way the wisest....
In all my life I have never made a single reference to my wife in
print before, as far as I can remember, except once in the
dedication of a book; and so, after these fifteen years of silence,
perhaps I may unseal my lips this one time without impropriety or
indelicacy. I will institute one other novelty: I will send this
manuscript to the press without her knowledge and without asking her
to edit it. This will save it from getting edited into the stove.
Susy's biography refers to this incident at considerable length. She
states that her father had misgivings after he had sent it to the
Christian Union, and that he tried to recall the manuscript, but found it
too late. She sets down some comments of her own on her mother's
government, then tells us of the appearance of the article:
When the Christian Union reached the farm and papa's article in it, all
ready and waiting to be read to mama, papa hadn't the courage to show it
to her (for he knew she wouldn't like it at all) at first, and he didn't,
but he might have let it go and never let her see it; but finally he gave
his consent to her seeing it, and told Clara and I we could take it to
her, which we did with tardiness, and we all stood around mama while she
read it, all wondering what she would say and think about it.
She was too much surprised (and pleased privately too) to say much at
first; but, as we all expected, publicly (or rather when she remembered
that this article was to be read by every one that took the Christian
Union) she was rather shocked and a little displeased.
Susy goes on to tell that the article provoked a number of letters, most
of them pleasant ones, but some of them of quite another sort. One of
the latter fell into her mother's hands, after which there was general
regret that the article had been printed, and the subject was no longer
discussed at Quarry Farm.
Susy's biography is a unique record. It was a sort of combined memoir
and journal, charming in its innocent frankness and childish insight.
She used to keep it under her pillow, and after she was asleep the
parents would steal it out and find a tender amusement and pathos in its
quaint entries. It is a faithful record so far as it goes, and the
period it covers is an important one; for it presents a picture of Mark
Twain in the fullness of his manhood, in the golden hour of his fortune.
Susy's beginning has a special value here:--[Susy's' spelling and
punctuation are preserved.]
We are a very happy family! We consist of papa, mama, Jean, Clara
and me. It is papa I am writing about, and I shall have no trouble
in not knowing what to say about him, as he is a very striking
character. Papa's appearance has been described many times, but
very incorrectly; he has beautiful curly grey hair, not any too
thick, or any too long, just right; a Roman nose, which greatly
improves the beauty of his features, kind blue eyes, and a small
mustache, he has a wonderfully shaped head, and profile, he has a
very good figure in short he is an extraordinarily fine looking man.
All his features are perfect, except that he hasn't extraordinary
teeth. His complexion is very fair, and he doesn't ware a beard:
He is a very good man, and a very funny one; he has got a temper but
we all of us have in this family. He is the loveliest man I ever
saw, or ever hope to see, and oh so absent-minded!
That this is a fair statement of the Clemens home, and the truest picture
of Mark Twain at fifty that has been preserved, cannot be doubted. His
hair was iron-gray, not entirely white at this time, the auburn tints
everywhere mingled with the shining white that later would mantle it like
a silver crown. He did not look young for his years, but he was still
young, always young--indestructibly young in spirit and bodily vigor.
Susy tells how that summer he blew soap-bubbles for the children, filling
the bubbles with tobacco smoke; how he would play with the cats, and come
clear down from his study on the hill to see how "Sour Mash," then a
kitten, was getting along; also how he wrote a poem for Jean's donkey,
Cadichon (which they made Kiditchin): She quotes the poem:
O du lieb' Kiditchin
Du bist ganz bewitchin,
Waw- - - -he!
In summer days Kiditchin
Thou'rt dear from nose to britchin
No dought thoult get a switchin
When for mischief thou'rt itchin'
Waw- - - -he!
But when you're good Kiditchin
You shall feast in James's kitchin
Waw- - - -he!
O now lift up thy song
Thy noble note prolong
Thou living Chinese gong!
Waw---he! waw---he waw
Sweetest donkey man ever saw.
Clemens undertook to ride Kiditchin one day, to show the children how it
should be done, but Kiditchin resented this interference and promptly
flung him over her head. He thought she might have been listening to the
poem he had written of her.
Susy's discovery that the secret of her biography was known is shown by
the next entry, and the touch of severity in it was probably not entirely
Papa said the other day, "I am a mugwump and a mugwump is pure from
the marrow out." (Papa knows that I am writing this biography of
him, and he said this for it.) He doesn't like to go to church at
all, why I never understood, until just now. He told us the other
day that he couldn't bear to hear anyone talk but himself, but that
he could listen to himself talk for hours without getting tired, of
course he said this in joke, but I've no doubt it was founded on
Susy's picture of life at Quarry Farm at this period is realistic and
valuable--too valuable to be spared from this biography:
There are eleven cats at the farm here now. Papa's favorite is a
little tortoise-shell kitten he has named "Sour Mash," and a little
spotted one "Fannie." It is very pretty to see what papa calls the
cat procession; it was formed in this way. Old Minniecat headed,
(the mother of all the cats) next to her came aunt Susie, then Clara
on the donkey, accompanied by a pile of cats, then papa and Jean
hand in hand and a pile of cats brought up in the rear, mama and I
made up the audience.
Our varius occupations are as follows. Papa rises about 1/2 past 7
in the morning, breakfasts at eight, writes, plays tennis with Clara
and me and tries to make the donkey go, in the morning; does varius
things in P.M., and in the evening plays tennis with Clara and me
and amuses Jean and the donkey.
Mama rises about 1/4 to eight, breakfasts at eight, teaches Jean
German reading from 9-10; reads German with me from 10-11. Then she
reads studdies or visits with aunt Susie for a while, and then she
reads to Clara and I till lunch time things connected with English
history (for we hope to go to England next summer) while we sew.
Then we have lunch. She studdies for about half an hour or visits
with aunt Susie, then reads to us an hour or more, then studdies
writes reads and rests till supper time. After supper she sits out
on the porch and works till eight o'clock, from eight o'clock to
bedtime she plays whist with papa and after she has retired she
reads and studdies German for a while.
Clara and I do most everything from practicing to donkey riding and
playing tag. While Jean's time is spent in asking mama what she can
have to eat.
It is impossible, at this distance, to convey all that the farm meant to
the children during the summers of their infancy and childhood and
girlhood which they spent there. It was the paradise, the dreamland they
looked forward to during all the rest of the year. Through the long,
happy months there they grew strong and brown, and drank deeply of the
joy of life. Their cousins Julia, Jervis, and Ida Langdon ranged about
their own ages and were almost their daily companions. Their games were
mainly of the out-of-doors; the woods and meadows and hillside pastures
were their playground. Susy was thirteen when she began her diary; a
gentle, thoughtful, romantic child. One afternoon she discovered a
wonderful tangle of vines and bushes between the study and the sunset--a
rare hiding-place. She ran breathlessly to her aunt:
"Can I have it? Can Clara and I have it all for our own?"
The petition was granted, of course, and the place was named Helen's
Bower, for they were reading Thaddeus of Warsaw and the name appealed to
Susy's poetic fancy. Then Mrs. Clemens conceived the idea of building a
house for the children just beyond the bower. It was a complete little
cottage when finished, with a porch and with furnishings contributed by
friends and members of the family. There was a stove--a tiny affair, but
practical--dishes, table, chairs, shelves, and a broom. The little house
was named Ellerslie, out of Grace Aguilar's Days of Robert Bruce, and
became one of the children's most beloved possessions. But alas for
Helen's Bower! A workman was sent to clear away the debris after the
builders, and being a practical man, he cut away Helen's Bower--destroyed
it utterly. Susy first discovered the vandalism, and came rushing to the
house in a torrent of sorrow. For her the joy of life seemed ended, and
it was long before she could be comforted. But Ellerslie in time
satisfied her hunger for retreat, became, in fact, the nucleus around
which the children's summer happiness centered.
To their elders the farm remained always the quiet haven. Once to
Orion's wife Clemens wrote:
This is a superb Sunday . . . .
The city in the valley is purple with shade, as seen from up here at
the study. The Cranes are reading and loafing in the canvas-
curtained summer-house, fifty yards away, on a higher (the highest)
point; the cats are loafing over at Ellerslie, which is the
children's estate and dwelling house in their own private grounds
(by deed from Susie Crane), a hundred yards from the study, among
the clover and young oaks and willows. Livy is down at the house,
but I shall now go and bring her up to the Cranes to help us occupy
the lounges and hammocks, whence a great panorama of distant hills
and valley and city is seeable. The children have gone on a lark
through the neighboring hills and woods, Susie and Clara horseback
and Jean, driving a buggy, with the coachman for comrade and
assistant at need. It is a perfect day indeed.
The ending of each year's summer brought only regret. Clemens would
never take away all his things. He had an old superstition that to leave
some article insured return. Mrs. Clemens also left something--her
heart's content. The children went around bidding various objects good-
by and kissed the gates of Ellerslie too.
MARK TWAIN AT FIFTY
Mark Twain's fiftieth birthday was one of the pleasantly observed events
of that year. There was no special celebration, but friends sent kindly
messages, and The Critic, then conducted by Jeannette and Joseph Gilder,
made a feature of it. Miss Gilder wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes and
invited some verses, which with his never-failing kindliness he sent,
though in his accompanying note he said:
"I had twenty-three letters spread out on my table for answering, all
marked immediate, when your note came."
Dr. Holmes's stanzas are full of his gentle spirit:
TO MARK TWAIN
(On his fiftieth birthday)
Ah, Clemens, when I saw thee last,
We both of us were younger;
How fondly mumbling o'er the past
Is Memory's toothless hunger!
So fifty years have fled, they say,
Since first you took to drinking;
I mean in Nature's milky way
Of course no ill I'm thinking.
But while on life's uneven road
Your track you've been pursuing,
What fountains from your wit have flowed
What drinks you have been brewing!
I know whence all your magic came,
Your secret I've discovered,
The source that fed your inward flame,
The dreams that round you hovered.
Before you learned to bite or munch,
Still kicking in your cradle,
The Muses mixed a bowl of punch
And Hebe seized the ladle.
Dear babe, whose fiftieth year to-day
Your ripe half-century rounded,
Your books the precious draught betray
The laughing Nine compounded.
So mixed the sweet, the sharp, the strong,
Each finds its faults amended,
The virtues that to each belong
In happiest union blended.
And what the flavor can surpass
Of sugar, spirit, lemons?
So while one health fills every glass
Mark Twain for Baby Clemens!
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
Frank R. Stockton, Charles Dudley Warner, and Joel Chandler Harris sent
pleasing letters. Warner said:
You may think it an easy thing to be fifty years old, but you will
find it's not so easy to stay there, and your next fifty years will
slip away much faster than those just accomplished.
Many wrote letters privately, of course, and Andrew Lang, like Holmes,
sent a poem that has a special charm.
FOR MARK TWAIN
To brave Mark Twain, across the sea,
The years have brought his jubilee.
One hears it, half in pain,
That fifty years have passed and gone
Since danced the merry star that shone
Above the babe Mark Twain.
We turn his pages and we see
The Mississippi flowing free;
We turn again and grin
O'er all Tom Sawyer did and planned
With him of the ensanguined hand,
With Huckleberry Finn!
Spirit of Mirth, whose chime of bells
Shakes on his cap, and sweetly swells
Across the Atlantic main,
Grant that Mark's laughter never die,
That men through many a century
May chuckle o'er Mark Twain!
Assuredly Mark Twain was made happy by these attentions; to Dr. Holmes he
DEAR DR. HOLMES,--I shall never be able to tell you the half of how
proud you have made me. If I could you would say you were nearly paid
for the trouble you took. And then the family: If I could convey the
electrical surprise and gratitude and exaltation of the wife and the
children last night, when they happened upon that Critic where I had,
with artful artlessness, spread it open and retired out of view to see
what would happen--well, it was great and fine and beautiful to see, and
made me feel as the victor feels when the shouting hosts march by: and if
you also could have seen it you would have said the account was squared.
For I have brought them up in your company, as in the company of a warm
and friendly and beneficent but far-distant sun; and so, for you to do
this thing was for the sun to send down out of the skies the miracle of a
special ray and transfigure me before their faces. I knew what that poem
would be to them; I knew it would raise me up to remote and shining
heights in their eyes, to very fellowship with the chambered Nautilus
itself, and that from that fellowship they could never more dissociate me
while they should live; and so I made sure to be by when the surprise
Charles Dudley Warner is charmed with the poem for its own felicitous
sake; and so indeed am I, but more because it has drawn the sting of my
fiftieth year; taken away the pain of it, the grief of it, the somehow
shame of it, and made me glad and proud it happened.
With reverence and affection,
S. L. CLEMENS.
So Samuel Clemens had reached the half-century mark; reached it in what
seemed the fullness of success from every viewpoint. If he was not yet
the foremost American man of letters, he was at least the most widely
known he sat upon the highest mountain-top. Furthermore, it seemed to
him that fortune was showering her gifts into his lap. His unfortunate
investments were now only as the necessary experiments that had led him
to larger successes. As a publisher, he was already the most conspicuous
in the world, and he contemplated still larger ventures: a type-setting
machine patent, in which he had invested, and now largely controlled, he
regarded as the chief invention of the age, absolutely certain to yield
incalculable wealth. His connection with the Grant family had associated
him with an enterprise looking to the building of a railway from
Constantinople to the Persian Gulf. Charles A. Dana, of the Sun, had
put him in the way of obtaining for publication the life of the Pope, Leo
XIII, officially authorized by the Pope himself, and this he regarded as
a certain fortune.
Now that the tide had turned he felt no hesitancy in reckoning a fortune
from almost any venture. The Grant book, even on the liberal terms
allowed to the author, would yield a net profit of one hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to its publishers. Huck Finn would yield fifty thousand
dollars more. The sales of his other books had considerably increased.
Certainly, at fifty, Mark Twain's fortunes were at flood-tide; buoyant
and jubilant, he was floating on the topmost wave. If there were
undercurrents and undertow they were down somewhere out of sight. If
there were breakers ahead, they were too far distant to be heard. So
sure was he of the triumphant consummation of every venture that to a
friend at his home one night he said:
"I am frightened at the proportions of my prosperity. It seems to me
that whatever I touch turns to gold."
THE LIFE OF THE POPE
As Mark Twain in the earlier days of his marriage had temporarily put
aside authorship to join in a newspaper venture, so now again literature
had dropped into the background, had become an avocation, while financial
interests prevailed. There were two chief ventures--the business of
Charles L. Webster & Co. and the promotion of the Paige type-setting
machine. They were closely identified in fortunes, so closely that in
time the very existence of each depended upon the success of the other;
yet they were quite distinct, and must be so treated in this story.
The success of the Grant Life had given the Webster business an immense
prestige. It was no longer necessary to seek desirable features for
publication. They came uninvited. Other war generals preparing their
memoirs naturally hoped to appear with their great commander.
McClellan's Own Story was arranged for without difficulty. A Genesis of
the Civil War, by Gen. Samuel Wylie Crawford, was offered and accepted.
General Sheridan's Memoirs were in preparation, and negotiations with
Webster & Co. for their appearance were not delayed. Probably neither
Webster nor Clemens believed that the sale of any of these books would
approach those of the Grant Life, but they expected them to be large, for
the Grant book had stimulated the public taste for war literature, and
anything bearing the stamp of personal battle experience was considered
Moreover, these features, and even the Grant book itself, seemed likely
to dwindle in importance by the side of The Life of Pope Leo XIII., who
in his old and enfeebled age had consented to the preparation of a
memoir, to be published with his sanction and blessing.--[By Bernard
O'Reilly, D.D., LL.D. "Written with the Encouragement, Approbation, and
Blessings of His Holiness the Pope."]--Clemens and Webster--every one,
in fact, who heard of the project--united in the belief that no book,
with the exception of the Holy Scripture itself or the Koran, would have
a wider acceptance than the biography of the Pope. It was agreed by good
judges--and they included Howells and Twichell and even the shrewd
general agents throughout the country--that every good Catholic would
regard such a book not only as desirable, but as absolutely necessary to
his salvation. Howells, recalling Clemens's emotions of this time,
He had no words in which to paint the magnificence of the project or
to forecast its colossal success. It would have a currency bounded
only by the number of Catholics in Christendom. It would be
translated into every language which was anywhere written or
printed; it would be circulated literally in every country of the
The formal contract for this great undertaking was signed in Rome in
April, 1886, and Webster immediately prepared to go over to consult with
his Holiness in person as to certain details, also, no doubt, for the
newspaper advertising which must result from such an interview.
It was decided to carry a handsome present to the Pope in the form of a
specially made edition of the Grant Memoirs in a rich-casket, and it was
Clemens's idea that the binding of the book should be solid gold--this to
be done by Tiffany at an estimated cost of about three thousand dollars.
In the end, however, the binding was not gold, but the handsomest that
could be designed of less precious and more appropriate materials.
Webster sailed toward the end of June, and was warmly received and highly
honored in Rome. The great figures of the Grant success had astonished
Europe even more than America, where spectacular achievements were more
common. That any single publication should pay a profit to author and
publisher of six hundred thousand dollars was a thing which belonged with
the wonders of Aladdin's garden. It was natural, therefore, that
Webster, who had rubbed the magic lamp with this result, who was Mark
Twain's partner, and who had now traveled across the seas to confer with
the Pope himself, should be received with royal honors. In letters
written at the time, Webster relates how he found it necessary to have an
imposing carriage and a footman to maintain the dignity of his mission,
and how, after various impressive formalities, he was granted a private
audience, a very special honor indeed. Webster's letter gives us a
picture of his Holiness which is worth preserving.
We--[Mrs. Webster, who, the reader will remember, was Annie Moffett,
a daughter of Pamela Clemens, was included in the invitation to the
Presence Chamber.]--found ourselves in a room perhaps twenty-five by
thirty-five feet; the furniture was gilt, upholstered in light-red
silk, and the side-walls were hung with the same material. Against
the wall by which we entered and in the middle space was a large
gilt throne chair, upholstered in red plush, and upon it sat a man
bowed with age; his hair was silvery white and as pure as the driven
snow. His head was partly covered with a white skullcap; he was
dressed in a long white cassock which reached to his feet, which
rested upon a red-plush cushion and were inclosed in red embroidered
slippers with a design of a cross. A golden chain was about his
neck and suspended by it in his lap was a gold cross set in precious
stones. Upon a finger of his right hand was a gold ring with an
emerald setting nearly an inch in diameter. His countenance was
smiling, and beamed with benevolence. His face at once impressed us
as that of a noble, pure man who could not do otherwise than good.
This was the Pope of Rome, and as we advanced, making the three
genuflexions prescribed by etiquette, he smiled benignly upon us.
We advanced and, kneeling at his feet, kissed the seal upon his
ring. He took us each by the hand repeatedly during the audience
and made us perfectly at our ease.
They remained as much as half an hour in the Presence; and the Pope
conversed on a variety of subjects, including the business failure of
General Grant, his last hours, and the great success of his book. The
figures seemed to him hardly credible, and when Webster assured him that
already a guaranteed sale of one hundred thousand copies of his own
biography had been pledged by the agents he seemed even more astonished.
"We in Italy cannot comprehend such things," he said. "I know you do
great work in America; I know you have done a great and noble work in
regard to General Grant's book, but that my Life should have such a sale
He asked about their home, their children, and was in every way the
kindly, gentle-hearted man that his pictured face has shown him. Then he
gave them his final blessing and the audience closed.
We each again kissed the seal on his ring. As Annie was about to
kiss it he suddenly withdrew his hand and said, "And will you, a
little Protestant, kiss the Pope's ring?" As he said this, his face
was all smiles, and mischief was clearly delineated upon it. He
immediately put back his hand and she kissed the ring. We now
withdrew, backing out and making three genuflexions as before. Just
as we reached the door he called to Dr. O'Reilly, "Now don't praise
me too much; tell the truth, tell the truth."
A GREAT PUBLISHER AT HOME
Men are likely to be spoiled by prosperity, to be made arrogant, even
harsh. Success made Samuel Clemens merely elate, more kindly, more
humanly generous. Every day almost he wrote to Webster, suggesting some
new book or venture, but always considerately, always deferring to
suggestions from other points of view. Once, when it seemed to him that
matters were not going as well as usual, a visit from Webster showed him
that it was because of his own continued absence from the business that
he did not understand. Whereupon he wrote:
DEAR CHARLEY,--Good--it's all good news. Everything is on the
pleasantest possible basis now, and is going to stay so. I blame
myself in not looking in on you oftener in the past--that would have
prevented all trouble. I mean to stand to my duty better now.
At another time, realizing the press of responsibility, and that Webster
was not entirely well, he sent a warning from Mrs. Clemens against
overwork. He added:
Your letter shows that you need such a warning. So I warn you
myself to look after that. Overwork killed Mr. Langdon and it can
Clemens found his own cares greatly multiplied. His connection with the
firm was widely known, and many authors sent him their manuscripts or
wrote him personal letters concerning them. Furthermore, he was beset by
all the cranks and beggars in Christendom. His affairs became so
numerous at length that he employed a business agent, F. G. Whitmore, to
relieve him of a part of his burden. Whitmore lived close by, and was a
good billiard-player. Almost anything from the morning mail served as an
excuse to send for Whitmore.
Clemens was fond of affairs when they were going well; he liked the game
of business, especially when it was pretentious and showily prosperous.
It is probable that he was never more satisfied with his share of fortune
than just at this time. Certainly his home life was never happier.
Katie Leary, for thirty years in the family service, has set down some
impressions of that pleasant period.
Mr. Clemens was a very affectionate father. He seldom left the
house at night, but would read to the family, first to the children
until bedtime, afterward to Mrs. Clemens. He usually read Browning
to her. They were very fond of it. The children played charades a
great deal, and he was wonderful at that game and always helped
them. They were very fond of private theatricals. Every Saturday
of their lives they had a temporary stage put up in the school-room
and we all had to help. Gerhardt painted the scenery. They
frequently played the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet" and
several plays they wrote themselves. Now and then we had a big
general performance of "The Prince and the Pauper." That would be
in the library and the dining-room with the folding-doors open. The
place just held eighty-four chairs, and the stage was placed back
against the conservatory. The children were crazy about acting and
we all enjoyed it as much as they did, especially Mr. Clemens, who
was the best actor of all. I had a part, too, and George. I have
never known a happier household than theirs was during those years.
Mr. Clemens spent most of his time up in the billiard-room, writing
or playing billiards. One day when I went in, and he was shooting
the balls around the tables, I noticed smoke coming up from the
hearth. I called Patrick, and John O'Neill, the gardener, and we
began taking up the hearth to see what was the matter. Mr. Clemens
kept on playing billiards right along and paid no attention to what
we were doing. Finally, when we got the hearth up, a lot of flame
and smoke came out into the room. The house was on fire. Mr.
Clemens noticed then what we were about, and went over to the corner
where there were some bottle fire-extinguishers. He took one down
and threw it into the flames. This put them out a good deal, and he
took up his cue, went back to the table, and began to shoot the
balls around again as if nothing had happened. Mrs. Clemens came in
just then and said, "Why, the house is afire!"
"Yes, I know it," he said, but went on playing.
We had a telephone and it didn't work very well. It annoyed him a
good deal and sometimes he'd say:
"I'll tear it out."
One day he tried to call up Mrs. Dr. Tafft. He could not hear
plainly and thought he was talking to central. "Send down and take
this d---thing out of here," he said; "I'm tired of it." He was
mad, and using a good deal of bad language. All at once he heard
Mrs. Dr. Tafft say, "Oh, Mr. Clemens, good morning." He said, "Why,
Mrs. Tafft, I have just come to the telephone. George, our butler,
was here before me and I heard him swearing as I came up. I shall
have to talk to him about it."
Mrs. Tafft often told it on him.--[ Mark Twain once wrote to the
telephone management: "The time is coming very soon when the
telephone will be a perfect instrument, when proximity will no
longer be a hindrance to its performance, when, in fact, one will
hear a man who is in the next block just as easily and comfortably
as he would if that man were in San Francisco."]
Mrs. Clemens, before I went there, took care of his desk, but little
by little I began to look after it when she was busy at other
things. Finally I took care of it altogether, but he didn't know it
for a long time. One morning he caught me at it. "What are you
doing here?" he asked.
"Dusting, Mr. Clemens," I said.
"You have no business here," he said, very mad.
"I've been doing it for a year, Mr. Clemens," I said. "Mrs. Clemens
told me to do it."
After that, when he missed anything--and he missed things often--he
would ring for me. "Katie," he would say, "you have lost that
"Oh, Mr. Clemens,", I would say, "I am sure I didn't touch it."
"Yes, you did touch it, Katie. You put it in the fire. It is
He would scold then, and fume a great deal. Then he would go over
and mark out with his toe on the carpet a line which I was never to
cross. "Katie," he would say, "you are never to go nearer to my
desk than that line. That is the dead-line." Often after he had
scolded me in the morning he would come in in the evening where I
was dressing Mrs. Clemens to go out and say, "Katie, I found that
manuscript." And I would say, "Mr. Clemens, I felt so bad this
morning that I wanted to go away."
He had a pipe-cleaner which he kept on a high shelf. It was an
awful old dirty one, and I didn't know that he ever used it. I took
it to the balcony which was built out into the woods and threw it
away as far as I could throw it. Next day he asked, "Katie, did you
see my pipe-cleaner? You did see it; I can tell by your looks."
I said, "Yes, Mr. Clemens, I threw it away."
"Well," he said, "it was worth a thousand dollars," and it seemed so
to me, too, before he got done scolding about it.
It is hard not to dwell too long on the home life of this period. One
would like to make a long chapter out of those play-acting evenings
alone. They remained always fresh in Mark Twain's memory. Once he wrote
We dined as we could, probably with a neighbor, and by quarter to
eight in the evening the hickory fire in the hall was pouring a
sheet of flame up the chimney, the house was in a drench of gas-
light from the ground floor up, the guests were arriving, and there
was a babble of hearty greetings, with not a voice in it that was
not old and familiar and affectionate; and when the curtain went up
we looked out from the stage upon none but faces that were dear to
us, none but faces that were lit up with welcome for us.
HISTORY: MAINLY BY SUSY
Suzy, in her biography, which she continued through this period, writes:
Mama and I have both been very much troubled of late because papa,
since he had been publishing General Grant's books, has seemed to
forget his own books and works entirely; and the other evening, as
papa and I were promonading up and down the library, he told me that
he didn't expect to write but one more book, and then he was ready
to give up work altogether, die, or, do anything; he said that he
had written more than he had ever expected to, and the only book
that he had been pertickularly anxious to write was one locked up in
the safe downstairs, not yet published.
The book locked in the safe was Captain Stormfield, and the one he
expected to write was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. He
had already worked at it in a desultory way during the early months of
1886, and once wrote of it to Webster:
I have begun a book whose scene is laid far back in the twilight of
tradition; I have saturated myself with the atmosphere of the day
and the subject and got myself into the swing of the work. If I peg
away for some weeks without a break I am safe.
But he could not peg away. He had too many irons in the fire for that.
Matthew Arnold had criticized General Grant's English, and Clemens
immediately put down other things to rush to his hero's defense. He
pointed out that in Arnold's criticism there were no less than "two
grammatical crimes and more than several examples of very crude and
slovenly English," and said:
There is that about the sun which makes us forget his spots, and
when we think of General Grant our pulses quicken and his grammar
vanishes; we only remember that this is the simple soldier, who, all
untaught of the silken phrase-makers, linked words together with an
art surpassing the art of the schools, and put into them a something
which will still bring to American ears, as long as America shall
last, the roll of his vanished drums and the tread of his marching
hosts.--[Address to Army and Navy Club. For full text see
Clemens worked at the Yankee now and then, and Howells, when some of the
chapters were read to him, gave it warm approval and urged its
Howells was often in Hartford at this time. Webster & Co. were planning
to publish The Library of Humor, which Howells and "Charley" Clark had
edited several years before, and occasional conferences were desirable.
Howells tells us that, after he and Clark had been at great trouble to
get the matter logically and chronologically arranged, Clemens pulled it
all to pieces and threw it together helter-skelter, declaring that there
ought to be no sequence in a book of that sort, any more than in the
average reader's mind; and Howells admits that this was probably the
truer method in a book made for the diversion rather than the instruction
of the reader.
One of the literary diversions of this time was a commentary on a
delicious little book by Caroline B. Le Row--English as She Is Taught--
being a compilation of genuine answers given to examination questions by
pupils in our public schools. Mark Twain was amused by such definitions
as: "Aborigines, system of mountains"; "Alias--a good man in the Bible";
"Ammonia--the food of the gods," and so on down the alphabet.
Susy, in her biography, mentions that her father at this is time read to
them a little article which he had just written, entitled "Luck," and
that they thought it very good. It was a story which Twichell had heard
and told to Clemens, who set it down about as it came to him. It was
supposed to be true, yet Clemens seemed to think it too improbable for
literature and laid it away for a number of years. We shall hear of it
again by and by.
From Susy's memoranda we gather that humanity at this time was to be
healed of all evils and sorrows through "mind cure."
Papa has been very much interested of late in the "mind-cure"
theory. And, in fact, so have we all. A young lady in town has
worked wonders by using the "mind cure" upon people; she is
constantly busy now curing peoples' diseases in this way--and curing
her own, even, which to me seems the most remarkable of all.
A little while past papa was delighted with the knowledge of what he
thought the best way of curing a cold, which was by starving it.
This starving did work beautifully, and freed him from a great many
severe colds. Now he says it wasn't the starving that helped his
colds, but the trust in the starving, the "mind cure" connected with
I shouldn't wonder if we finally became firm believers in "mind
cure." The next time papa has a cold I haven't a doubt he will send
for Miss Holden, the young lady who is doctoring in the "mind-cure"
theory, to cure him of it.
Again, a month later, she writes:
April 19, 1886. Yes, the "mind cure" does seem to be working
wonderfully. Papa, who has been using glasses now for more than a
year, has laid them off entirely. And my near-sightedness is really
getting better. It seems marvelous. When Jean has stomack-ache
Clara and I have tried to divert her by telling her to lie on her
side and try "mind cure." The novelty of it has made her willing to
try it, and then Clara and I would exclaim about how wonderful it
was she was getting better. And she would think it realy was
finally, and stop crying, to our delight.
The other day mama went into the library and found her lying on the
sofa with her back toward the door. She said, "Why, Jean, what's
the matter? Don't you feel well?" Jean said that she had a little
stomack-ache, and so thought she would lie down. Mama said, "Why
don't you try 'mind cure'?" "I am," Jean answered.
Howells and Twichell were invited to try the "mind cure," as were all
other friends who happened along. To the end of his days Clemens would
always have some panacea to offer to allay human distress. It was a good
trait, when all is said, for it had its root in his humanity. The "mind
cure" did not provide all the substance of things hoped for, though he
always allowed for it a wide efficacy. Once, in later years, commenting
on Susy's record, he said:
The mind cannot heal broken bones, and doubtless there are many
other physical ills which it cannot heal, but it can greatly help to
modify the severities of all of them without exception, and there
are mental and nervous ailments which it can wholly heal without the
help of physician or surgeon.
Susy records another burning interest of this time:
Clara sprained her ankle a little while ago by running into a tree
when coasting, and while she was unable to walk with it she played
solotaire with cards a great deal. While Clara was sick and papa
saw her play solotaire so much he got very much interested in the
game, and finally began to play it himself a little; then Jean took
it up, and at last mama even played it occasionally; Jean's and
papa's love for it rapidly increased, and now Jean brings the cards
every night to the table and papa and mama help her play, and before
dinner is at an end papa has gotten a separate pack of cards and is
playing alone, with great interest. Mama and Clara next are made
subject to the contagious solotaire, and there are four
solotarireans at the table, while you hear nothing but "Fill up the
place," etc. It is dreadful!
But a little further along Susy presents her chief subject more
seriously. He is not altogether absorbed with "mind cure" and solitaire,
or even with making humorous tales.
Papa has done a great deal in his life I think that is good and very
remarkable, but I think if he had had the advantages with which he
could have developed the gifts which he has made no use of in
writing his books, or in any other way, for peoples' pleasure and
benefit outside of his own family and intimate friends, he could
have done more than he has, and a great deal more, even. He is
known to the public as a humorist, but he has much more in him that
is earnest than that is humorous. He has a keen sense of the
ludicrous, notices funny stories and incidents, knows how to tell
them, to improve upon them, and does not forget them.
When we are all alone at home nine times out of ten he talks about
some very earnest subject (with an occasional joke thrown in), and
he a good deal more often talks upon such subjects than upon the
He is as much of a philosopher as anything, I think. I think he
could have done a great deal in this direction if he had studied
while young, for he seems to enjoy reasoning out things, no matter
what; in a great many such directions he has greater ability than in
the gifts which have made him famous.
It was with the keen eyes and just mind of childhood that Susy estimated,
and there is little to add to her valuation.
Susy's biography came to an end that summer after starting to record a
visit which they all made to Keokuk to see Grandma Clemens. They went by
way of the Lakes and down the Mississippi from St. Paul. A pleasant
incident happened that first evening on the river. Soon after nightfall
they entered a shoal crossing. Clemens, standing alone on the hurricane-
deck, heard the big bell forward boom out the call for leads. Then came
the leadsman's long-drawn chant, once so familiar, the monotonous
repeating in river parlance of the depths of water. Presently the lead
had found that depth of water signified by his nom de plume and the call
of "Mark Twain, Mark Twain" floated up to him like a summons from the
past. All at once a little figure came running down the deck, and Clara
confronted him, reprovingly:
"Papa," she said, "I have hunted all over the boat for you. Don't you
know they are calling for you?"
They remained in Keokuk a week, and Susy starts to tell something of
their visit there. She begins:
"We have arrived in Keokuk after a very pleasant----"
The sentence remains unfinished. We cannot know what was the
interruption or what new interest kept her from her task. We can only
regret that the loving little hand did not continue its pleasant history.
Years later, when Susy had passed from among the things we know, her
father, commenting, said:
When I look at the arrested sentence that ends the little book it
seems as if the hand that traced it cannot be far--it is gone for a
moment only, and will come again and finish it. But that is a
dream; a creature of the heart, not of the mind--a feeling, a
longing, not a mental product; the same that lured Aaron Burr, old,
gray, forlorn, forsaken, to the pier day after day, week after week,
there to stand in the gloom and the chill of the dawn, gazing
seaward through veiling mists and sleet and snow for the ship which
he knew was gone down, the ship that bore all his treasure--his
MARK TWAIN, A BIOGRAPHY
By Albert Bigelow Paine
VOLUME II, Part 2: 1886-1900
BROWNING, MEREDITH, AND MEISTERSCHAFT
The Browning readings must have begun about this time. Just what kindled
Mark Twain's interest in the poetry of Robert Browning is not remembered,
but very likely his earlier associations with the poet had something to
do with it. Whatever the beginning, we find him, during the winter of
1886 and 1887, studiously, even violently, interested in Browning's
verses, entertaining a sort of club or class who gathered to hear his
rich, sympathetic, and luminous reading of the Payleyings--"With Bernard
de Mandeville," "Daniel Bartoli," or "Christopher Smart." Members of the
Saturday Morning Club were among his listeners and others-friends of the
family. They were rather remarkable gatherings, and no one of that group
but always vividly remembered the marvelously clear insight which Mark
Twain's vocal personality gave to those somewhat obscure measures. They
did not all of them realize that before reading a poem he studied it line
by line, even word by word; dug out its last syllable of meaning, so far
as lay within human possibility, and indicated with pencil every shade of
emphasis which would help to reveal the poet's purpose. No student of
Browning ever more devoutly persisted in trying to compass a master's
intent--in such poems as "Sordello," for instance--than Mark Twain.
Just what permanent benefit he received from this particular passion it
is difficult to know. Once, at a class-meeting, after finishing "Easter
Day," he made a remark which the class requested him to "write down."
It is recorded on the fly-leaf of Dramatis Personae as follows:
One's glimpses & confusions, as one reads Browning, remind me of
looking through a telescope (the small sort which you must move with
your hand, not clock-work). You toil across dark spaces which are
(to your lens) empty; but every now & then a splendor of stars &
suns bursts upon you and fills the whole field with flame. Feb.
In another note he speaks of the "vague dim flash of splendid hamming-
birds through a fog." Whatever mental treasures he may or may not have
laid up from Browning there was assuredly a deep gratification in the
discovery of those splendors of "stars and suns" and the flashing
"humming-birds," as there must also have been in pointing out those
wonders to the little circle of devout listeners. It all seemed so worth
It was at a time when George Meredith was a reigning literary favorite.
There was a Meredith cult as distinct as that of Browning. Possibly it
exists to-day, but, if so, it is less militant. Mrs. Clemens and her
associates were caught in the Meredith movement and read Diana of the
Crossways and the Egoist with reverential appreciation.
The Meredith epidemic did not touch Mark Twain. He read but few novels
at most, and, skilful as was the artistry of the English favorite, he
found his characters artificialities--ingeniously contrived puppets
rather than human beings, and, on the whole, overrated by their creator.
Diana of the Crossways was read aloud, and, listening now and then, he
was likely to say:
"It doesn't seem to me that Diana lives up to her reputation. The author
keeps telling us how smart she is, how brilliant, but I never seem to
hear her say anything smart or brilliant. Read me some of Diana's smart
He was relentless enough in his criticism of a literature he did not care
for, and he never learned to care for Meredith.
He read his favorite books over and over with an everchanging point of
view. He re-read Carlyle's French Revolution during the summer at the
farm, and to Howells he wrote:
How stunning are the changes which age makes in man while he sleeps!
When I finished Carlyle's French Revolution in 1871 I was a
Girondin; every time I have read it since I have read it
differently--being influenced & changed, little by little, by life &
environment (& Taine & St. Simon); & now I lay the book down once
more, & recognize that I am a Sansculotte!--And not a pale,
characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat. Carlyle teaches no such
gospel, so the change is in me--in my vision of the evidences.
People pretend that the Bible means the same to them at 50 that it
did at all former milestones in their journey. I wonder how they
can lie so. It comes of practice, no doubt. They would not say
that of Dickens's or Scott's books. Nothing remains the same. When
a man goes back to look at the house of his childhood it has always
shrunk; there is no instance of such house being as big as the
picture in memory & imagination call for. Shrunk how? Why, to its
correct dimensions; the house hasn't altered; this is the first time
it has been in focus.
Well, that's loss. To have house & Bible shrink so, under the
disillusioning corrected angle, is loss--for a moment. But there
are compensations. You tilt the tube skyward & bring planets &
comets & corona flames a hundred & fifty thousand miles high into
the field. Which I see you have done, & found Tolstoi. I haven't
got him in focus yet, but I've got Browning.
In time the Browning passion would wane and pass, and the club was
succeeded by, or perhaps it blended with, a German class which met at
regular intervals at the Clemens home to study "der, die, and das" and
the "gehabt habens" out of Meisterschaft and such other text-books as
Professor Schleutter could provide. They had monthly conversation days,
when they discussed in German all sorts of things, real and imaginary.
Once Dr. Root, a prominent member, and Clemens had a long wrangle over
painting a house, in which they impersonated two German neighbors.
Clemens finally wrote for the class a three-act play" Meisterschaft"--a
literary achievement for which he was especially qualified, with its
picturesque mixture of German and English and its unfailing humor. It
seems unlike anything ever attempted before or since. No one but Mark
Twain could have written it. It was given twice by the class with
enormous success, and in modified form it was published in the Century
Magazine (January, 1888). It is included to-day in his "Complete Works,"
but one must have a fair knowledge of German to capture the full delight
of it.--[On the original manuscript Mark Twain wrote: "There is some
tolerably rancid German here and there in this piece. It is attributable
to the proof-reader." Perhaps the proof-reader resented this and cut it
out, for it does not appear as published.]
Mark Twain probably exaggerated his sentiments a good deal when in the
Carlyle letter he claimed to be the most rabid of Sansculottes. It is
unlikely that he was ever very bare-kneed and crimson in his anarchy. He
believed always that cruelty should be swiftly punished, whether in king
or commoner, and that tyrants should be destroyed. He was for the people
as against kings, and for the union of labor as opposed to the union of
capital, though he wrote of such matters judicially--not radically. The
Knights of Labor organization, then very powerful, seemed to Clemens the
salvation of oppressed humanity. He wrote a vehement and convincing
paper on the subject, which he sent to Howells, to whom it appealed very
strongly, for Howells was socialistic, in a sense, and Clemens made his
appeal in the best and largest sense, dramatizing his conception in a
picture that was to include, in one grand league, labor of whatever form,
and, in the end, all mankind in a final millennium. Howells wrote that
he had read the essay "with thrills amounting to yells of satisfaction,"
and declared it to be the best thing yet said on the subject. The essay
He [the unionized workman] is here and he will remain. He is the
greatest birth of the greatest age the nations of the world have
known. You cannot sneer at him--that time has gone by. He has
before him the most righteous work that was ever given into the hand
of man to do; and he will do it. Yes, he is here; and the question
is not--as it has been heretofore during a thousand ages--What shall
we do with him? For the first time in history we are relieved of
the necessity of managing his affairs for him. He is not a broken
dam this time--he is the Flood!
It must have been about this time that Clemens developed an intense, even
if a less permanent, interest in another matter which was to benefit the
species. He was one day walking up Fifth Avenue when he noticed the sign
SCHOOL OF MEMORY
The Instantaneous Art of Never Forgetting
Clemens went inside. When he came out he had all of Professor Loisette's
literature on "predicating correlation," and for the next several days
was steeping himself in an infusion of meaningless words and figures and
sentences and forms, which he must learn backward and forward and
diagonally, so that he could repeat them awake and asleep in order to
predicate his correlation to a point where remembering the ordinary facts
of life, such as names, addresses, and telephone numbers, would be a mere
It was another case of learning the multitudinous details of the
Mississippi River in order to do the apparently simple thing of steering
a boat from New Orleans to St. Louis, and it is fair to say that, for the
time he gave it, he achieved a like success. He was so enthusiastic over
this new remedy for human distress that within a very brief time he was
sending out a printed letter recommending Loisette to the public at
large. Here is an extract:
. . . I had no SYSTEM--and some sort of rational order of
procedure is, of course, necessary to success in any study. Well,
Loisette furnished me a system. I cannot undertake to say it is the
best, or the worst, because I don't know what the other systems are.
Loisette, among other cruelties, requires you to memorize a great
long string of words that, haven't any apparent connection or
meaning--there are perhaps 500 of these words, arranged in maniacal
lines of 6 to 8 or 9 words in each line--71 lines in all. Of course
your first impulse is to resign, but at the end of three or four
hours you find to your surprise that you've GOT them and can deliver
them backward or forward without mistake or hesitation. Now, don't
you see what a world of confidence that must necessarily breed?--
confidence in a memory which before you wouldn't even venture to
trust with the Latin motto of the U. S. lest it mislay it and the
Loisette doesn't make memories, he furnishes confidence in memories
that already exist. Isn't that valuable? Indeed it is to me.
Whenever hereafter I shall choose to pack away a thing properly in
that refrigerator I sha'n't be bothered with the aforetime doubts; I
shall know I'm going to find it sound and sweet when I go for it
Loisette naturally made the most of this advertising and flooded the
public with Mark Twain testimonials. But presently Clemens decided that
after all the system was not sufficiently simple to benefit the race at
large. He recalled his printed letters and prevailed upon Loisette to
suppress his circulars. Later he decided that the whole system was a
LETTER TO THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND
It was one day in 1887 that Clemens received evidence that his reputation
as a successful author and publisher--a man of wealth and revenues--had
penetrated even the dimness of the British Tax Offices. A formidable
envelope came, inclosing a letter from his London publishers and a very
large printed document all about the income tax which the Queen's
officers had levied upon his English royalties as the result of a report
that he had taken Buckenham Hall, Norwich, for a year, and was to become
an English resident. The matter amused and interested him. To Chatto &
Windus he wrote:
I will explain that all that about Buckenham Hall was an English
newspaper's mistake. I was not in England, and if I had been I
wouldn't have been at Buckenham Hall anyway, but Buckingham Palace,
or I would have endeavored to have found out the reason why . . .
But we won't resist. We'll pay as if I were really a resident. The
country that allows me copyright has a right to tax me.
Reflecting on the matter, Clemens decided to make literature of it. He
conceived the notion of writing an open letter to the Queen in the
character of a rambling, garrulous, but well-disposed countryman whose
idea was that her Majesty conducted all the business of the empire
herself. He began:
HARTFORD, November 6, 2887.
MADAM, You will remember that last May Mr. Edward Bright, the clerk
of the Inland Revenue Office, wrote me about a tax which he said was
due from me to the Government on books of mine published in London--
that is to say, an income tax on the royalties. I do not know Mr.
Bright, and it is embarrassing to me to correspond with strangers,
for I was raised in the country and have always lived there, the
early part in Marion County, Missouri, before the war, and this part
in Hartford County, Connecticut, near Bloomfield and about 8 miles
this side of Farmington, though some call it 9, which it is
impossible to be, for I have walked it many and many a time in
considerably under three hours, and General Hawley says he has done
it in two and a quarter, which is not likely; so it has seemed best
that I write your Majesty.
The letter proceeded to explain that he had never met her Majesty
personally, but that he once met her son, the Prince of Wales, in Oxford
Street, at the head of a procession, while he himself was on the top of
an omnibus. He thought the Prince would probably remember him on account
of a gray coat with flap pockets which he wore, he being the only person
on the omnibus who had on that kind of a coat.
"I remember him," he said, "as easily as I would a comet."
He explained the difficulty he had in understanding under what heading he
was taxed. There was a foot-note on the list which stated that he was
taxed under "Schedule D, section 14." He had turned to that place and
found these three things: "Trades, Offices, Gas Works." He did not
regard authorship as a trade, and he had no office, so he did not
consider that he was taxable under "Schedule D, section 14." The letter
Having thus shown your Majesty that I am not taxable, but am the
victim of the error of a clerk who mistakes the nature of my
commerce, it only remains for me to beg that you will, of your
justice, annul my letter that I spoke of, so that my publisher can
keep back that tax money which, in the confusion and aberration
caused by the Document, I ordered him to pay. You will not miss the
sum, but this is a hard year for authors, and as for lectures I do
not suppose your Majesty ever saw such a dull season.
With always great and ever-increasing respect, I beg to sign myself
your Majesty's servant to command,
Her Majesty the Queen, London.
The letter, or "petition," as it was called, was published in the
Harper's Magazine "Drawer" (December, 1889), and is now included in the
"Complete Works." Taken as a whole it is one of the most exquisite of
Mark Twain's minor humors. What other humorist could have refrained from
hinting, at least, the inference suggested by the obvious "Gas Works"?
Yet it was a subtler art to let his old, simple-minded countryman ignore
that detail. The little skit was widely copied and reached the Queen
herself in due time, and her son, Prince Edward, who never forgot its
Clemens read a notable paper that year before the Monday Evening Club.
Its subject was "Consistency"--political consistency--and in it he took
occasion to express himself pretty vigorously regarding the virtue of
loyalty to party before principle, as exemplified in the Blaine-Cleveland
campaign. It was in effect a scathing reply to those who, three years,
before, had denounced Twichell and himself for standing by their
convictions.--[ Characteristic paragraphs from this paper will be found
under Appendix R, at the end of last volume.]
SOME FURTHER ACCOUNT OF CHARLES L. WEBSTER & CO.
Flood-tide is a temporary condition, and the ebb in the business of
Charles L. Webster & Co., though very deliberate, was not delayed in its
beginning. Most of the books published--the early ones at least-were
profitable. McClellan's memoirs paid, as did others of the war series.
Even The Life of Pope Leo XIII. paid. What a statement to make, after
all their magnificent dreams and preparations! It was published
simultaneously in six languages. It was exploited in every conceivable
fashion, and its aggregate sales fell far short of the number which the
general agents had promised for their first orders. It was amazing, it
was incredible, but, alas! it was true. The prospective Catholic
purchaser had decided that the Pope's Life was not necessary to his
salvation or even to his entertainment. Howells explains it, to his own
satisfaction at least, when he says:
We did not consider how often Catholics could not read, how often,
when they could, they might not wish to read. The event proved
that, whether they could read or not, the immeasurable majority did
not wish to read The Life of the Pope, though it was written by a
dignitary of the Church and issued to the world with sanction from
Howells, of course, is referring to the laboring Catholic of that day.
There are no Catholics of this day--no American Catholics, at least--who
do not read, and money among them has become plentiful. Perhaps had the
Pope's Life been issued in this new hour of enlightenment the tale of its
success might have been less sadly told.
A variety of books followed. Henry Ward Beecher agreed to write an
autobiography, but he died just when he was beginning the work, and the
biography, which his family put together, brought only a moderate return.
A book of Sandwich Islands tales and legends, by his Hawaiian Majesty
King Kalakaua, edited by Clemens's old friend, Rollin M. Daggett, who had
become United States minister to the islands, barely paid for the cost of
manufacture, while a volume of reminiscences by General Hancock was still
less fortunate. The running expenses of the business were heavy. On the
strength of the Grant success Webster had moved into still larger
quarters at No. 3 East Fifteenth Street, and had a ground floor for a
salesroom. The force had become numerous and costly. It was necessary
that a book should pay largely to maintain this pretentious
establishment. A number of books were published at a heavy loss. Never
mind their titles; we may forget them, with the name of the bookkeeper
who presently embezzled thirty thousand dollars of the firm's money and
returned but a trifling sum.
By the end of 1887 there were three works in prospect on which great
hopes were founded--'The Library of Humor', which Howells and Clark had
edited; a personal memoir of General Sheridan's, and a Library of
American Literature in ten volumes, compiled by Edmund Clarence Stedman
and Ellen Mackay Hutchinson. It was believed these would restore the
fortunes and the prestige of the firm. They were all excellent,
attractive features. The Library of Humor was ably selected and
contained two hundred choice drawings by Kemble. The Sheridan Memoir was
finely written, and the public interest in it was bound to be general.
The Library of American Literature was a collection of the best American
writing, and seemed bound to appeal to every American reading-home. It
was necessary to borrow most of the money required to build these books,
for the profit made from the Grant Life and less fortunate ventures was
pretty well exhausted. Clemens presently found a little drift of his
notes accumulating at this bank and that--a disturbing condition, when he
remembered it, for he was financing the typesetting machine by this time,
and it was costing a pretty sum.
Meantime, Webster was no longer active in the management. In two years
he had broken down from overwork, and was now desperately ill with an
acute neuralgia that kept him away from the business most of the time.
Its burdens had fallen upon his assistant, Fred J. Hall, a willing,
capable young man, persevering and hopeful, lacking only years and
experience. Hall worked like a beaver, and continually looked forward to
success. He explained, with each month's report of affairs, just why the
business had not prospered more during that particular month, and just
why its profits would be greater during the next. Webster finally
retired from the business altogether, and Hall was given a small
partnership in the firm. He reduced expenses, worked desperately,
pumping out the debts, and managed to keep the craft afloat.
The Library of Humor, the Life of Sheridan, and The Library of American
Literature all sold very well; not so well as had been hoped, but the
sales yielded a fair profit. It was thought that if Clemens himself
would furnish a new book now and then the business might regain something
of its original standing.
We may believe that Clemens had not been always patient, not always
gentle, during this process of decline. He had differed with Webster,
and occasionally had gone down and reconstructed things after his own
notions. Once he wrote to Orion that he had suddenly awakened to find
that there was no more system in the office than in a nursery without a
"But," he added, "I have spent a good deal of time there since, and
reduced everything to exact order and system."
Just what were the new features of order instituted it would be
interesting to know. That the financial pressure was beginning to be
felt even in the Clemens home is shown by a Christmas letter to Mrs.
HARTFORD, December 18, 1887.
DEAR PAMELA,--Will you take this $15 & buy some candy or other trifle for
yourself & Sam & his wife to remind you that we remember you?
If we weren't a little crowded this year by the type-setter I'd send a
check large enough to buy a family Bible or some other useful thing like
that. However, we go on & on, but the type-setter goes on forever--at
$3,000 a month; which is much more satisfactory than was the case the
first 17 months, when the bill only averaged $2,000, & promised to take a
thousand years. We'll be through now in 3 or 4 months, I reckon, & then
the strain will let up and we can breathe freely once more, whether
success ensues or failure.
Even with a type-setter on hand we ought not to be in the least scrimped-
but it would take a long letter to explain why & who is to blame.
All the family send love to all of you, & best Christmas wishes for your
LETTERS, VISITS, AND VISITORS
There were many pleasanter things, to be sure. The farm life never
failed with each returning summer; the winters brought gay company and
fair occasions. Sir Henry and Lady Stanley, visiting. America, were
entertained in the Clemens home, and Clemens went on to Boston to
introduce Stanley to his lecture audience. Charles Dickens's son, with
his wife and daughter, followed a little later. An incident of their
visit seems rather amusing now. There is a custom in England which
requires the host to give the guest notice of bedtime by handing him a
lighted candle. Mrs. Clemens knew of this custom, but did not have the
courage to follow it in her own home, and the guests knew of no other way
to relieve the situation; as a result, all sat up much later than usual.
Eventually Clemens himself suggested that possibly the guests would like
Robert Louis Stevenson came down from Saranac, and Clemens went in to
visit him at his New York hotel, the St. Stevens, on East Eleventh
Street. Stevenson had orders to sit in the sunshine as much as possible,
and during the few days of their association he and Clemens would walk
down to Washington Square and sit on one of the benches and talk. They
discussed many things--philosophies, people, books; it seems a pity their
talk could not have been preserved.
Stevenson was a great admirer of Mark Twain's work. He said that during
a recent painting of his portrait he had insisted on reading Huck Finn
aloud to the artist, a Frenchman, who had at first protested, and finally
had fallen a complete victim to Huck's yarn. In one of Stevenson's
letters to Clemens he wrote:
My father, an old man, has been prevailed upon to read Roughing It
(his usual amusement being found in theology), and after one evening
spent with the book he declared: "I am frightened. It cannot be
safe for a man at my time of life to laugh so much."
What heaps of letters, by the way, remain from this time, and how curious
some of them are! Many of them are requests of one sort or another,
chiefly for money--one woman asking for a single day's income,
conservatively estimated at five thousand dollars. Clemens seldom
answered an unwarranted letter; but at one time he began a series of
unmailed answers--that is to say, answers in which he had let himself go
merely to relieve his feelings and to restore his spiritual balance. He
prepared an introduction for this series. In it he said:
. . . You receive a letter. You read it. It will be tolerably
sure to produce one of three results: 1, pleasure; 2, displeasure;
3, indifference. I do not need to say anything about Nos. 1 & 3;
everybody knows what to do with those breeds of letters; it is breed
No. 2 that I am after. It is the one that is loaded up with
When you get an exasperating letter what happens? If you are young
you answer it promptly, instantly--and mail the thing you have
written. At forty what do you do? By that time you have found out
that a letter written in a passion is a mistake in ninety-nine cases
out of a hundred; that it usually wrongs two persons, and always
wrongs one--yourself. You have grown weary of wronging yourself and
repenting; so you manacle, you fetter, you log-chain the frantic
impulse to write a pulverizing answer. You will wait a day or die.
But in the mean time what do you do? Why, if it is about dinner-
time, you sit at table in a deep abstraction all through the meal;
you try to throw it off and help do the talking; you get a start
three or four times, but conversation dies on your lips every time-
your mind isn't on it; your heart isn't in it. You give up, and
subside into a bottomless deep of silence, permanently; people must
speak to you two or three times to get your attention, and then say
it over again to make you understand. This kind of thing goes on
all the rest of the evening; nobody can interest you in anything;
you are useless, a depressing influence, a burden. You go to bed at
last; but at three in the morning you are as wide awake as you were
in the beginning. Thus we see what you have been doing for nine
hours--on the outside. But what were you doing on the inside? You
were writing letters--in your mind. And enjoying it, that is quite
true; that is not to be denied. You have been flaying your
correspondent alive with your incorporeal pen; you have been
braining him, disemboweling him, carving him into little bits, and
then--doing it all over again. For nine hours.
It was wasted time, for you had no intention of putting any of this
insanity on paper and mailing it. Yes, you know that, and confess
it--but what were you to do? Where was your remedy? Will anybody
contend that a man can say to such masterful anger as that, Go, and
No, he cannot; that is certainly true. Well, then, what is he to
do? I will explain by the suggestion contained in my opening
paragraph. During the nine hours he has written as many as forty-
seven furious letters--in his mind. If he had put just one of them
on paper it would have brought him relief, saved him eight hours of
trouble, and given him an hour's red-hot pleasure besides.
He is not to mail this letter; he understands that, and so he can
turn on the whole volume of his wrath; there is no harm. He is only
writing it to get the bile out. So to speak, he is a volcano:
imaging himself erupting does no good; he must open up his crater
and pour out in reality his intolerable charge of lava if he would
Before he has filled his first sheet sometimes the relief is there.
He degenerates into good-nature from that point.
Sometimes the load is so hot and so great that one writes as many as
three letters before he gets down to a mailable one; a very angry
one, a less angry one, and an argumentative one with hot embers in
it here and there. He pigeonholes these and then does one of two
things--dismisses the whole matter from his mind or writes the
proper sort of letter and mails it.
To this day I lose my balance and send an overwarm letter--or more
frequently telegram--two or three times a year. But that is better
than doing it a hundred times a year, as I used to do years ago.
Perhaps I write about as many as ever, but I pigeonhole them. They
ought not to be thrown away. Such a letter a year or so old is as
good as a sermon to the maw who wrote it. It makes him feel small
and shabby, but--well, that wears off. Any sermon does; but the
sermon does some little good, anyway. An old cold letter like that
makes you wonder how you could ever have got into such a rage about
The unmailed answers that were to accompany this introduction were
plentiful enough and generally of a fervent sort. One specimen will
suffice. It was written to the chairman of a hospital committee.
DEAR SIR,--If I were Smithfield I would certainly go out and get
behind something and blush. According to your report, "the
politicians are afraid to tax the people for the support" of so
humane and necessary a thing as a hospital. And do your "people"
propose to stand that?--at the hands of vermin officials whom the
breath of their votes could blow out of official existence in a
moment if they had the pluck to band themselves together and blow.
Oh, come, these are not "people"--they are cowed school-boys with
backbones made of boiled macaroni. If you are not misreporting
those "people" you are just in the right business passing the
mendicant hat for them. Dear sir, communities where anything like
citizenship exists are accustomed to hide their shames, but here we
have one proposing to get up a great "exposition" of its dishonor
and advertise it all it can.
It has been eleven years since I wrote anything for one of those
graveyards called a "Fair paper," and so I have doubtless lost the
knack of it somewhat; still I have done the best I could for you.
This was from a burning heart and well deserved. One may almost
regret that he did not send it.
Once he received a letter intended for one Samuel Clements, of Elma, New
York, announcing that the said Clements's pension had been allowed. But
this was amusing. When Clemens had forwarded the notice to its proper
destination he could not resist sending this comment to the commissioner
DEAR SIR,--I have not applied for a pension. I have often wanted a
pension--often--ever so often--I may say, but in as much as the only
military service I performed during the war was in the Confederate
army, I have always felt a delicacy about asking you for it.
However, since you have suggested the thing yourself, I feel
strengthened. I haven't any very pensionable diseases myself, but I
can furnish a substitute--a man who is just simply a chaos, a museum
of all the different kinds of aches and pains, fractures,
dislocations and malformations there are; a man who would regard
"rheumatism and sore eyes" as mere recreation and refreshment after
the serious occupations of his day. If you grant me the pension,
dear sir, please hand it to General Jos. Hawley, United States
Senator--I mean hand him the certificate, not the money, and he will
forward it to me. You will observe by this postal-card which I
inclose that he takes a friendly interest in the matter. He thinks
I've already got the pension, whereas I've only got the rheumatism;
but didn't want that--I had that before. I wish it were catching. I
know a man that I would load up with it pretty early. Lord, but we
all feel that way sometimes. I've seen the day when but never mind
that; you may be busy; just hand it to Hawley--the certificate, you
understand, is not transferable.
Clemens was in good standing at Washington during the Cleveland
administration, and many letters came, asking him to use his influence
with the President to obtain this or that favor. He always declined,
though once--a few years later, in Europe--when he learned that Frank
Mason, consul-general at Frankfort, was about to be displaced, Clemens,
of his own accord, wrote to Baby Ruth Cleveland about it.
MY DEAR RUTH, I belong to the Mugwumps, and one of the most sacred
rules of our order prevents us from asking favors of officials or
recommending men to office, but there is no harm in writing a
friendly letter to you and telling you that an infernal outrage is
about to be committed by your father in turning out of office the
best Consul I know (and I know a great many) just because he is a
Republican and a Democrat wants his place.
He went on to recall Mason's high and honorable record, suggesting
that Miss Ruth take the matter into her own hands. Then he said:
I can't send any message to the President, but the next time you
have a talk with him concerning such matters I wish you would tell
him about Captain Mason and what I think of a Government that so
treats its efficient officials.
Just what form of appeal the small agent made is not recorded, but by and
by Mark Twain received a tiny envelope, postmarked Washington, inclosing
this note in President Cleveland's handwriting:
Miss Ruth Cleveland begs to acknowledge the receipt of Mr. Twain's
letter and say that she took the liberty of reading it to the
President, who desires her to thank Mr. Twain for her information,
and to say to him that Captain Mason will not be disturbed in the
Frankfort Consulate. The President also desires Miss Cleveland to
say that if Mr. Twain knows of any other cases of this kind he will
be greatly obliged if he will write him concerning them at his
Clemens immensely admired Grover Cleveland, also his young wife, and his
visits to Washington were not infrequent. Mrs. Clemens was not always
able to accompany him, and he has told us how once (it was his first
visit after the President's marriage) she put a little note in the pocket
of his evening waistcoat, which he would be sure to find when dressing,
warning him about his deportment. Being presented to Mrs. Cleveland, he