Mark Twain, A Biography, 1886-1900
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by David Widger
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
handed her a card on which he had written "He didn't," and asked her to
sign her name below those words. Mrs. Cleveland protested that she
couldn't sign it unless she knew what it was he hadn't done; but he
insisted, and she promised to sign if he would tell her immediately
afterward all about it. She signed, and he handed her Mrs. Clemens's
note, which was very brief. It said:
"Don't wear your arctics in the White House."
Mrs. Cleveland summoned a messenger and had the card she had signed
mailed at once to Mrs. Clemens at Hartford.
He was not always so well provided against disaster. Once, without
consulting his engagements, he agreed to assist Mrs. Cleveland at a
dedication, only to find that he must write an apology later. In his
letter he said:
I do not know how it is in the White House, but in this house of
ours whenever the minor half of the administration tries to run
itself without the help of the major half it gets aground.
He explained his position, and added:
I suppose the President often acts just like that; goes and makes an
impossible promise, and you never find it out until it is next to
impossible to break it up and set things straight again. Well, that
is just our way exactly--one-half the administration always busy
getting the family into trouble and the other half busy getting it
A "PLAYER" AND A MASTER OF ARTS
One morning early in January Clemens received the following note:
DALY'S THEATER, NEW YORK, January 2, 1888.
Mr. Augustin Daly will be very much pleased to have Mr. S. L.
Clemens meet Mr. Booth, Mr. Barrett, and Mr. Palmer and a few
friends at lunch on Friday next, January 6th (at one o'clock in
Delmonico's), to discuss the formation of a new club which it is
thought will claim your (sic) interest.
R. S. V. P.
There were already in New York a variety of literary and artistic
societies, such as The Kinsmen and Tile clubs, with which Clemens was
more or less associated. It was proposed now to form a more
comprehensive and pretentious organization--one that would include the
various associated arts. The conception of this new club, which was to
be called The Players, had grown out of a desire on the part of Edwin
Booth to confer some enduring benefit upon the members of his profession.
It had been discussed during a summer cruise on Mr. E. C. Benedict's
steam-yacht by a little party which, besides the owner, consisted of
Booth himself, Aldrich, Lawrence Barrett, William Bispham, and Laurence
Hutton. Booth's original idea had been to endow some sort of an actors'
home, but after due consideration this did not appear to be the best
plan. Some one proposed a club, and Aldrich, with never-failing
inspiration, suggested its name, The Players, which immediately impressed
Booth and the others. It was then decided that members of all the
kindred arts should be admitted, and this was the plan discussed and
perfected at the Daly luncheon. The guests became charter members, and
The Players became an incorporated fact early in January, 1888.
--[Besides Mr. Booth himself, the charter members were: Lawrence Barrett,
William Bispham, Samuel L. Clemens, Augustin Daly, Joseph F. Daly, John
Drew, Henry Edwards, Laurence Hutton, Joseph Jefferson, John A. Lane,
James Lewis, Brander Matthews, Stephen H. Olin, A. M. Palmer, and William
T. Sherman.]--Booth purchased the fine old brownstone residence at 16
Gramercy Park, and had expensive alterations made under the directions of
Stanford White to adapt it for club purposes. He bore the entire cost,
furnished it from garret to cellar, gave it his books and pictures, his
rare collections of every sort. Laurence Hutton, writing of it
And on the first Founder's Night, the 31st of December, 1888, he
transferred it all to the association, a munificent gift; absolutely
without parallel in its way. The pleasure it gave to Booth during the
few remaining years of his life was very great. He made it his home.
Next to his own immediate family it was his chief interest, care, and
consolation. He nursed and petted it, as it nursed and petted and
honored him. He died in it. And it is certainly his greatest monument.
There is no other club quite like The Players. The personality of Edwin
Booth pervades it, and there is a spirit in its atmosphere not found in
other large clubs--a spirit of unity, and ancient friendship, and
mellowness which usually come only of small membership and long
establishment. Mark Twain was always fond of The Players, and more than
once made it his home. It is a true home, and its members are a genuine
It was in June, 1888, that Yale College conferred upon Samuel Clemens the
degree of Master of Arts. It was his first honor of this kind, and he
was proud of it. To Charles Hopkins ("Charley") Clark, who had been
appointed to apprise him of the honor, he wrote:
I felt mighty proud of that degree; in fact I could squeeze the
truth a little closer and say vain of it. And why shouldn't I be?
I am the only literary animal of my particular subspecies who has
ever been given a degree by any college in any age of the world as
far as I know.
To which Clark answered:
MY DEAR FRIEND, You are "the only literary animal of your particular
subspecies" in existence, and you've no cause for humility in the
fact. Yale has done herself at least as much credit as she has done
you, and "don't you forget it."
C. H. C.
Clemens could not attend the alumni dinner, being at Elmira and unable to
get away, but in an address he made at Yale College later in the year he
thus freely expressed himself:
I was sincerely proud and grateful to be made a Master of Arts by
this great and venerable University, and I would have come last June
to testify this feeling, as I do now testify it, but that the sudden
and unexpected notice of the honor done me found me at a distance
from home and unable to discharge that duty and enjoy that
Along at first, say for the first month or so, I, did not quite know
hove to proceed because of my not knowing just what authorities and
privileges belonged to the title which had been granted me, but
after that I consulted some students of Trinity--in Hartford--and
they made everything clear to me. It was through them that I found
out that my title made me head of the Governing Body of the
University, and lodged in me very broad and severely responsible
I was told that it would be necessary to report to you at this time,
and of course I comply, though I would have preferred to put it off
till I could make a better showing; for indeed I have been so
pertinaciously hindered and obstructed at every turn by the faculty
that it would be difficult to prove that the University is really in
any better shape now than it was when I first took charge. By
advice, I turned my earliest attention to the Greek department. I
told the Greek professor I had concluded to drop the use of Greek-
written character because it is so hard to spell with, and so
impossible to read after you get it spelt. Let us draw the curtain
there. I saw by what followed that nothing but early neglect saved
him from being a very profane man. I ordered the professor of
mathematics to simplify the whole system, because the way it was I
couldn't understand it, and I didn't want things going on in the
college in what was practically a clandestine fashion. I told him
to drop the conundrum system; it was not suited to the dignity of a
college, which should deal in facts, not guesses and suppositions;
we didn't want any more cases of if A and B stand at opposite poles
of the earth's surface and C at the equator of Jupiter, at what
variations of angle will the left limb of the moon appear to these
different parties?--I said you just let that thing alone; it's
plenty time to get in a sweat about it when it happens; as like as
not it ain't going to do any harm, anyway. His reception of these
instructions bordered on insubordination, insomuch that I felt
obliged to take his number and report him. I found the astronomer
of the University gadding around after comets and other such odds
and ends--tramps and derelicts of the skies. I told him pretty
plainly that we couldn't have that. I told him it was no economy to
go on piling up and piling up raw material in the way of new stars
and comets and asteroids that we couldn't ever have any use for till
we had worked off the old stock. At bottom I don't really mind
comets so much, but somehow I have always been down on asteroids.
There is nothing mature about them; I wouldn't sit up nights the way
that man does if I could get a basketful of them. He said it was
the bast line of goods he had; he said he could trade them to
Rochester for comets, and trade the comets to Harvard for nebulae,
and trade the nebula to the Smithsonian for flint hatchets. I felt
obliged to stop this thing on the spot; I said we couldn't have the
University turned into an astronomical junk shop. And while I was
at it I thought I might as well make the reform complete; the
astronomer is extraordinarily mutinous, and so, with your approval,
I will transfer him to the law department and put one of the law
students in his place. A boy will be more biddable, more tractable,
also cheaper. It is true he cannot be intrusted with important work
at first, but he can comb the skies for nebulae till he gets his
hand in. I have other changes in mind, but as they are in the
nature of surprises I judge it politic to leave them unspecified at
Very likely it was in this new capacity, as the head of the governing
body, that he wrote one morning to Clark advising him as to the misuse of
a word in the Courant, though he thought it best to sign the
communication with the names of certain learned friends, to give it
weight with the public, as he afterward explained.
SIR,--The word "patricide" in your issue of this morning (telegrams)
was an error. You meant it to describe the slayer of a father; you
should have used "parricide" instead. Patricide merely means the
killing of an Irishman--any Irishman, male or female.
J. HAMMOND TRUMBULL.
N. J. BURTON.
J. H. TWICHELL.
NOTES AND LITERARY MATTERS
Clemens' note-books of this time are full of the vexations of his
business ventures, figures, suggestions, and a hundred imagined
combinations for betterment--these things intermingled with the usual
bits of philosophy and reflections, and amusing reminders.
Aldrich's man who painted the fat toads red, and naturalist chasing
and trying to catch them.
Man who lost his false teeth over Brooklyn Bridge when he was on his
way to propose to a widow.
One believes St. Simon and Benvenuto and partly believes the
Margravine of Bayreuth. There are things in the confession of
Rousseau which one must believe.
What is biography? Unadorned romance. What is romance? Adorned
biography. Adorn it less and it will be better than it is.
If God is what people say there can be none in the universe so
unhappy as he; for he sees unceasingly myriads of his creatures
suffering unspeakable miseries, and, besides this, foresees all they
are going to suffer during the remainder of their lives. One might
well say "as unhappy as God."
In spite of the financial complexities and the drain of the enterprises
already in hand he did not fail to conceive others. He was deeply
interested in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress at the moment, and from
photography and scenic effect he presaged a possibility to-day realized
in the moving picture.
Dress up some good actors as Apollyon, Greatheart, etc., & the other
Bunyan characters, take them to a wild gorge and photograph them--Valley
of the Shadow of Death; to other effective places & photo them along with
the scenery; to Paris, in their curious costumes, place them near the Arc
de l'Etoile & photo them with the crowd-Vanity Fair; to Cairo, Venice,
Jerusalem, & other places (twenty interesting cities) & always make them
conspicuous in the curious foreign crowds by their costume. Take them to
Zululand. It would take two or three years to do the photographing &
cost $10,000; but this stereopticon panorama of Bunyan's Pilgrim's
Progress could be exhibited in all countries at the same time & would
clear a fortune in a year. By & by I will do this.
If in 1891 I find myself not rich enough to carry out my scheme of
buying Christopher Columbus's bones & burying them under the Statue
of Liberty Enlightening the World I will give the idea to somebody
who is rich enough.
Incidentally he did an occasional piece of literary work. Early in the
year, with Brander Matthews, he instructed and entertained the public
with a copyright controversy in the Princeton Review. Matthews would
appear to have criticized the English copyright protection, or rather the
lack of it, comparing it unfavorably with American conditions. Clemens,
who had been amply protected in Great Britain, replied that America was
in no position to criticize England; that if American authors suffered in
England they had themselves to blame for not taking the proper trouble
and precautions required by the English law, that is to say, "previous
publication" on English soil. He declared that his own books had been as
safe in England as at home since he had undertaken to comply with English
requirements, and that Professor Matthews was altogether mistaken, both
as to premise and conclusion.
"You are the very wrong-headedest person in America," he said; "and you
are injudicious." And of the article: "I read it to the cat--well, I
never saw a cat carry on so before . . . . The American author can go
to Canada, spend three days there and come home with an English and
American copyright as strong as if it had been built out of railroad
Matthews replied that not every one could go to Canada, any more than to
Corinth. He said:
"It is not easy for a poor author who may chance to live in Florida or
Texas, those noted homes of literature, to go to Canada."
Clemens did not reply again; that is to say, he did not publish his
reply. It was a capable bomb which he prepared, well furnished with
amusing instance, sarcasm, and ridicule, but he did not use it. Perhaps
he was afraid it would destroy his opponent, which would not do. In his
heart he loved Matthews. He laid the deadly thing away and maintained a
Clemens often felt called upon to criticize American institutions, but he
was first to come to their defense, especially when the critic was an
alien. When Matthew Arnold offered some strictures on America. Clemens
covered a good many quires of paper with caustic replies. He even
defended American newspapers, which he had himself more than once
violently assailed for misreporting him and for other journalistic
shortcomings, and he bitterly denounced every shaky British institution,
touched upon every weak spot in hereditary rule. He did not print--not
then--[An article on the American press, probably the best of those
prepared at this time, was used, in part, in The American Claimant, as
the paper read before the Mechanics' Club, by "Parker," assistant editor
of the 'Democrat'.]--he was writing mainly for relief--without success,
however, for he only kindled the fires of his indignation. He was at
Quarry Farm and he plunged into his neglected story--A Yankee in King
Arthur's Court--and made his astonishing hero the mouthpiece of his
doctrines. He worked with an inspiration and energy born of his
ferocity. To Whitmore, near the end of the summer, he wrote:
I've got 16 working-days left yet, and in that time I will add another
120,000 words to my book if I have luck.
In his memoranda of this time he says:
There was never a throne which did not represent a crime. There is
no throne to-day which does not represent a crime ....
Show me a lord and I will show you a man whom you couldn't tell from a
journeyman shoemaker if he were stripped, and who, in all that is worth
being, is the shoemaker's inferior; and in the shoemaker I will show you
a dull animal, a poor-spirited insect; for there are enough of him to
rise and chuck the lords and royalties into the sea where they belong,
and he doesn't do it.
But his violence waned, maybe, for he did not finish the Yankee in the
sixteen days as planned. He brought the manuscript back to Hartford, but
found it hard work there, owing to many interruptions. He went over to
Twichell's and asked for a room where he might work in seclusion. They
gave him a big upper chamber, but some repairs were going on below. From
a letter written to Theodore Crane we gather that it was not altogether
Friday, October 5, 1888.
DEAR THEO, I am here in Twichell's house at work, with the noise of
the children and an army of carpenters to help: Of course they don't
help, but neither do they hinder. It's like a boiler factory for
racket, and in nailing a wooden ceiling on to the room under me the
hammering tickles my feet amazingly sometimes and jars my table a
good deal, but I never am conscious of the racket at all, and I move
my feet into positions of relief without knowing when I do it. I
began here Monday morning, and have done eighty pages since. I was
so tired last night that I thought I would lie abed and rest to-day;
but I couldn't resist. I mean to try to knock off tomorrow, but
it's doubtful if I do. I want to finish the day the machine
finishes, and a week ago the closest calculations for that indicated
Oct. 22--but experience teaches me that the calculations will miss
fire as usual.
The other day the children were projecting a purchase, Livy and I to
furnish the money--a dollar and a half. Jean discouraged the idea.
She said, "We haven't got any money. Children, if you would think,
you would remember the machine isn't done."
It's billiards to-night. I wish you were here.
With love to you both, S. L. C.
P. S. I got it all wrong. It wasn't the children, it was Marie.
She wanted a box of blacking for the children's shoes. Jean
reproved her and said, "Why, Marie, you mustn't ask for things now.
The machine isn't done."
Neither the Yankee nor the machine was completed that fall, though
returns from both were beginning to be badly needed. The financial pinch
was not yet severe, but it was noticeable, and it did not relax.
A memorandum of this time tells of an anniversary given to Charles and
Susan Warner in their own home. The guests assembled at the Clemens
home, the Twichells among them, and slipped across to Warner's, entering
through a window. Dinner was then announced to the Warners, who were
sitting by their library fire. They came across the hall and opened the
dining-room door, to be confronted by a table fully spread and lighted
and an array of guests already seated.
INTRODUCING NYE AND RILEY AND OTHERS
It was the winter (1888-89) that the Bill Nye and James Whitcomb Riley
entertainment combination set out on its travels. Mark Twain introduced
them to their first Boston audience. Major J. B. Pond was exploiting Nye
and Riley, and Clemens went on to Boston especially to hear them. Pond
happened upon him in the lobby of the Parker House and insisted that
nothing would do but he must introduce them. In his book of memories
which he published later Pond wrote:
He replied that he believed I was his mortal enemy, and determined that
he should never have an evening's enjoyment in my presence. He
consented, however, and conducted his brother-humorist and the Hoosier
poet to the platform. Mark's presence was a surprise to the audience,
and when they recognized him the demonstration was tremendous. The
audience rose in a body, and men and women shouted at the very top of
their voices. Handkerchiefs waved, the organist even opened every forte
key and pedal in the great organ, and the noise went on unabated for
minutes. It took some time for the crowd to get down to listening, but
when they did subside, as Mark stepped to the front, the silence was as
impressive as the noise had been.
He presented the Nye-Riley pair as the Siamese Twins. "I saw them
first," he sand, "a great many years ago, when Mr. Barnum had them, and
they were just fresh from Siam. The ligature was their best hold then,
but literature became their best hold later, when one of them committed
an indiscretion, and they had to cut the old bond to accommodate the
He continued this comic fancy, and the audience was in a proper frame of
mind, when he had finished, to welcome the "Twins of Genius" who were to
It was a carnival of fun in every sense of the word. Bostonians will not
have another such treat in this generation.
Pond proposed to Clemens a regular tour with Nye and Riley. He wrote:
I will go partners with you, and I will buy Nye and Riley's time and
give an entertainment something like the one we gave in Boston. Let
it be announced that you will introduce the "Twins of Genius."
Ostensibly a pleasure trip for you. I will take one-third of the
profits and you two-thirds. I can tell you it will be the biggest
thing that can be brought before the American public.
But Clemens, badly as he was beginning to need the money, put this
temptation behind him. His chief diversion these days was in gratuitous
appearances. He had made up his mind not to read or lecture again for
pay, but he seemed to take a peculiar enjoyment in doing these things as
a benefaction. That he was beginning to need the money may have added a
zest to the joy of his giving. He did not respond to all invitations; he
could have been traveling constantly had he done so. He consulted with
Mrs. Clemens and gave himself to the cause that seemed most worthy. In
January Col. Richard Malcolm Johnston was billed to give a reading with
Thomas Nelson Page in Baltimore. Page's wife fell ill and died, and
Colonel Johnston, in extremity, wired Charles Dudley Warner to come in
Page's place. Warner, unable to go, handed the invitation to Clemens,
who promptly wired that he would come. They read to a packed house, and
when the audience was gone and the returns had been counted an equal
division of the profits was handed to each of the authors. Clemens
pushed his share over to Johnston, saying:
"That's yours, Colonel. I'm not reading for money these days."
Colonel Johnston, to whom the sum was important, tried to thank him, but
he only said:
"Never mind, Colonel, it only gave me pleasure to do you that little
favor. You can pass it on some day."
As a matter of fact, hard put to it as he was for funds, Clemens at this
time regarded himself as a potential multi-millionaire. The type-setting
machine which for years had been sapping his financial strength was
believed to be perfected, and ship-loads of money were waiting in the
offing. However, we shall come to this later.
Clemens read for the cadets at West Point and for a variety of
institutions and on many special occasions. He usually gave chapters
from his Yankee, now soon to be finished, chapters generally beginning
with the Yankee's impression of the curious country and its people,
ending with the battle of the Sun-belt, when the Yankee and his fifty-
four adherents were masters of England, with twenty-five thousand dead
men lying about them. He gave this at West Point, including the chapter
where the Yankee has organized a West Point of his own in King Arthur's
In April, '89, he made an address at a dinner given to a victorious
baseball team returning from a tour of the world by way of the Sandwich
Islands. He was on familiar ground there. His heart was in his words.
I have been in the Sandwich Islands-twenty-three years ago--that
peaceful land, that beautiful land, that far-off home of solitude,
and soft idleness, and repose, and dreams, where life is one long
slumberous Sabbath, the climate one long summer day, and the good
that die experience no change, for they but fall asleep in one
heaven and wake up in another. And these boys have played baseball
there!--baseball, which is the very symbol, the outward and visible
expression, of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the
living, tearing, booming nineteenth, the mightiest of all the
He told of the curious island habits for his hearers' amusement, but at
the close the poetry of his memories once more possessed him:
Ah, well, it is refreshment to the jaded, it is water to the
thirsty, to look upon men who have so lately breathed the soft air
of those Isles of the Blest and had before their eyes the
inextinguishable vision of their beauty. No alien land in all the
earth has any deep, strong charm for me but that one; no other land
could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and
waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things
leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the
same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas
flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf is in my ear; I can see
its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing
by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the
cloud-rack; I can feel the spirit of its woody solitudes, I hear the
plashing of the brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of
flowers that perished twenty years ago.
THE COMING OF KIPLING
It was the summer of 1889 that Mark Twain first met Rudyard Kipling.
Kipling was making his tour around the world, a young man wholly unheard
of outside of India. He was writing letters home to an Indian journal,
The Pioneer, and he came to Elmira especially to see Mark Twain. It was
night when he arrived, and next morning some one at the hotel directed
him to Quarry Farm. In a hired hack he made his way out through the
suburbs, among the buzzing planing-mills and sash factories, and toiled
up the long, dusty, roasting east hill, only to find that Mark Twain was
at General Langdon's, in the city he had just left behind. Mrs. Crane
and Susy Clemens were the only ones left at the farm, and they gave him a
seat on the veranda and brought him glasses of water or cool milk while
he refreshed them with his talk-talk which Mark Twain once said might be
likened to footprints, so strong and definite was the impression which it
left behind. He gave them his card, on which the address was Allahabad,
and Susy preserved it on that account, because to her India was a
fairyland, made up of magic, airy architecture, and dark mysteries.
Clemens once dictated a memory of Kipling's visit.
Kipling had written upon the card a compliment to me. This gave it
an additional value in Susy's eyes, since, as a distinction, it was
the next thing to being recognized by a denizen of the moon.
Kipling came down that afternoon and spent a couple of hours with
me, and at the end of that time I had surprised him as much as he
had surprised me--and the honors were easy. I believed that he knew
more than any person I had met before, and I knew that he knew that
I knew less than any person he had met before--though he did not say
it, and I was not expecting that he would. When he was gone Mrs.
Langdon wanted to know about my visitor. I said:
"He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man--and I am
the other one. Between us we cover all knowledge; he knows all that
can be known, and I know the rest."
He was a stranger to me and to all the world, and remained so for
twelve months, then he became suddenly known, and universally known.
From that day to this he has held this unique distinction--that of
being the only living person, not head of a nation, whose voice is
heard around the world the moment it drops a remark; the only such
voice in existence that does not go by slow ship and rail, but
always travels first-class--by cable.
About a year after Kipling's visit in Elmira George Warner came into
our library one morning in Hartford with a small book in his hand
and asked me if I had ever heard of Rudyard Kipling. I said, "No."
He said I would hear of him very soon, and that the noise he was
going to make would be loud and continuous. The little book was the
Plain Tales, and he left it for me to read, saying it was charged
with a new and inspiriting fragrance, and would blow a refreshing
breath around the world that would revive the nations. A day or two
later he brought a copy of the London World which had a sketch of
Kipling in it, and a mention of the fact that he had traveled in the
United States. According to this sketch he had passed through
Elmira. This remark, with the additional fact that he hailed from
India, attracted my attention--also Susy's. She went to her room
and brought his card from its place in the frame of her mirror, and
the Quarry Farm visitor stood identified.
Kipling also has left an account of that visit. In his letter recording
it he says:
You are a contemptible lot over yonder. Some of you are
Commissioners and some are Lieutenant-Governors, and some have the
V. C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm
with the Viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning,
have shaken his hand and smoked a cigar--no, two cigars--with him,
and talked with him for more than two hours! Understand clearly
that I do not despise you; indeed, I don't. I am only very sorry
for you, from the Viceroy downward.
A big, darkened drawing-room; a huge chair; a man with eyes, a mane
of grizzled hair, a brown mustache covering a mouth as delicate as a
woman's, a strong, square hand shaking mine, and the slowest,
calmest, levelest voice in all the world saying:
"Well, you think you owe me something, and you've come to tell me
so. That's what I call squaring a debt handsomely."
"Piff!" from a cob-pipe (I always said that a Missouri meerschaum
was the best smoking in the world), and behold! Mark Twain had
curled himself up in the big arm-chair, and I was smoking
reverently, as befits one in the presence of his superior.
The thing that struck me first was that he was an elderly man; yet,
after a minute's thought, I perceived that it was otherwise, and in
five minutes, the eyes looking at me, I saw that the gray hair was
an accident of the most trivial. He was quite young. I was shaking
his hand. I was smoking his cigar, and I was hearing him talk--this
man I had learned to love and admire fourteen thousand miles away.
Reading his books, I had striven to get an idea of his personality,
and all my preconceived notions were wrong and beneath the reality.
Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face
to face with a revered writer.
The meeting of those two men made the summer of '89 memorable in later
years. But it was recalled sadly, too. Theodore Crane, who had been
taken suddenly and dangerously ill the previous autumn, had a recurring
attack and died July 3d. It was the first death in the immediate
families for more than seventeen years, Mrs. Clemens, remembering that
earlier period of sorrow, was depressed with forebodings.
"THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER" ON THE STAGE
There was an unusual dramatic interest in the Clemens home that autumn.
Abby Sage Richardson had dramatized 'The Prince and the Pauper', and
Daniel Frohman had secured Elsie Leslie (Lyde) to take the double role of
the Prince and Tom Canty. The rehearsals were going on, and the Clemens
children were naturally a good deal excited over the outcome. Susy
Clemens was inspired to write a play of her own--a pretty Greek fancy,
called "The Triumph of Music," and when it was given on Thanksgiving
night, by herself, with Clara and Jean and Margaret Warner, it was really
a lovely performance, and carried one back to the days when emotions were
personified, and nymphs haunted the seclusions of Arcady. Clemens was
proud of Susy's achievement, and deeply moved by it. He insisted on
having the play repeated, and it was given again later in the year.
Pretty Elsie Leslie became a favorite of the Clemens household. She was
very young, and when she visited Hartford Jean and she were companions
and romped together in the hay-loft. She was also a favorite of William
Gillette. One day when Clemens and Gillette were together they decided
to give the little girl a surprise--a unique one. They agreed to
embroider a pair of slippers for her--to do the work themselves. Writing
to her of it, Mark Twain said:
Either one of us could have thought of a single slipper, but it took
both of us to think of two slippers. In fact, one of us did think
of one slipper, and then, quick as a flash, the other of the other
one. It shows how wonderful the human mind is....
Gillette embroidered his slipper with astonishing facility and
splendor, but I have been a long time pulling through with mine.
You see, it was my very first attempt at art, and I couldn't rightly
get the hang of it along at first. And then I was so busy that I
couldn't get a chance to work at it at home, and they wouldn't let
me embroider on the cars; they said it made the other passengers
afraid. They didn't like the light that flared into my eye when I
had an inspiration. And even the most fair-minded people doubted me
when I explained what it was I was making--especially brakemen.
Brakemen always swore at it and carried on, the way ignorant people
do about art. They wouldn't take my word that it was a slipper;
they said they believed it was a snow-shoe that had some kind of
He went on to explain and elucidate the pattern of the slipper, and how
Dr. Root had come in and insisted on taking a hand in it, and how
beautiful it was to see him sit there and tell Mrs. Clemens what had been
happening while they were away during the summer, holding the slipper up
toward the end of his nose, imagining the canvas was a "subject" with a
scalp-wound, working with a "lovely surgical stitch," never hesitating a
moment in his talk except to say "Ouch!" when he stuck himself with the
Take the slippers and wear them next your heart, Elsie dear; for
every stitch in them is a testimony of the affection which two of
your loyalest friends bear you. Every single stitch cost us blood.
I've got twice as many pores in me now as I used to have; and you
would never believe how many places you can stick a needle in
yourself until you go into the embroidery line and devote yourself
Do not wear these slippers in public, dear; it would only excite
envy; and, as like as not, somebody would try to shoot you.
Merely use them to assist you in remembering that among the many,
many people who think all the world of you is your friend,
The play of "The Prince and the Pauper," dramatized by Mrs. Richardson
and arranged for the stage by David Belasco, was produced at the Park
Theater, Philadelphia, on Christmas Eve. It was a success, but not a
lavish one. The play was well written and staged, and Elsie Leslie was
charming enough in her parts, but in the duality lay the difficulty. The
strongest scenes in the story had to be omitted when one performer played
both Tom Canty and the little Prince. The play came to New York--to the
Broadway Theater--and was well received. On the opening night there Mark
Twain made a speech, in which he said that the presentation of "The
Prince and the Pauper" realized a dream which fifteen years before had
possessed him all through a long down-town tramp, amid the crowds and
confusion of Broadway. In Elsie Leslie, he said, he had found the
embodiment of his dream, and to her he offered homage as the only prince
clothed in a divine right which was not rags and sham--the divine right
of an inborn supremacy in art.
It seems incredible to-day that, realizing the play's possibilities as
Mark Twain did, and as Belasco and Daniel Frohman must have done, they
did not complete their partial triumph by finding another child actress
to take the part of Tom Canty. Clemens urged and pleaded with them, but
perhaps the undertaking seemed too difficult--at all events they did not
find the little beggar king. Then legal complications developed. Edward
House, to whom Clemens had once given a permission to attempt a
dramatization of the play, suddenly appeared with a demand for
recognition, backed by a lawsuit against all those who had a proprietary
interest in the production. House, with his adopted Japanese daughter
Koto, during a period of rheumatism and financial depression, had made a
prolonged visit in the Clemens home and originally undertook the
dramatization as a sort of return for hospitality. He appears not to
have completed it and to have made no arrangement for its production or
to have taken any definite step until Mrs. Richardson's play was
profitably put on; whereupon his suit and injunction.
By the time a settlement of this claim had been reached the play had run
its course, and it was not revived in that form. It was brought out in
England, where it was fairly prosperous, though it seems not to have been
long continued. Variously reconstructed, it has occasionally been played
since, and always, when the parts of Tom Canty and the Prince were
separate, with great success. Why this beautiful drama should ever be
absent from the boards is one of the unexplainable things. It is a play
for all times and seasons, the difficulty of obtaining suitable "twin"
interpreters for the characters of the Prince and the Pauper being its
"A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT"
From every point of view it seemed necessary to make the 'Yankee in King
Arthur's Court' an important and pretentious publication. It was Mark
Twain's first book after a silence of five years; it was a book badly
needed by his publishing business with which to maintain its prestige and
profit; it was a book which was to come out of his maturity and present
his deductions, as to humanity at large and kings in particular, to a
waiting public. It was determined to spare no expense on the
manufacture, also that its illustrations must be of a sort to illuminate
and, indeed, to elaborate the text. Clemens had admired some pictures
made by Daniel Carter ("Dan") Beard for a Chinese story in the
Cosmopolitan, and made up his mind that Beard was the man for the Yankee.
The manuscript was sent to Beard, who met Clemens a little later in the
office of Webster & Co. to discuss the matter. Clemens said:
"Mr. Beard, I do not want to subject you to any undue suffering, but I
wish you would read the book before you make the pictures."
Beard replied that he had already read it twice.
"Very good," Clemens said; "but I wasn't led to suppose that that was the
usual custom among illustrators, judging from some results I have seen.
You know," he went on, "this Yankee of mine has neither the refinement
nor the weakness of a college education; he is a perfect ignoramus; he is
boss of a machine shop; he can build a locomotive or a Colt's revolver,
he can put up and run a telegraph line, but he's an ignoramus,
nevertheless. I am not going to tell you what to draw. If a man comes
to me and says, 'Mr. Clemens, I want you to write me a story,' I'll write
it for him; but if he undertakes to tell me what to write I'll say, 'Go
hire a typewriter.'"
To Hall a few days later he wrote:
Tell Beard to obey his own inspirations, and when he sees a picture
in his mind put that picture on paper, be it humorous or be it
serious. I want his genius to be wholly unhampered. I sha'n't have
any fear as to results.
Without going further it is proper to say here that the pictures in the
first edition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court justified
the author's faith in the artist of his selection. They are far and away
Dan Beard's best work. The socialism of the text strongly appealed to
him. Beard himself had socialistic tendencies, and the work inspired him
to his highest flights of fancy and to the acme of his technic. Clemens
examined the pictures from time to time, and once was moved to write:
My pleasure in them is as strong and as fresh as ever. I do not
know of any quality they lack. Grace, dignity, poetry, spirit,
imagination, these enrich them and make them charming and beautiful;
and wherever humor appears it is high and fine--easy, unforced, kept
under, masterly, and delicious.
He went on to describe his appreciation in detail, and when the drawings
were complete he wrote again:
Hold me under permanent obligations. What luck it was to find you!
There are hundreds of artists who could illustrate any other book of
mine, but there was only one who could illustrate this one. Yes, it
was a fortunate hour that I went netting for lightning-bugs and
caught a meteor. Live forever!
This was not too much praise. Beard realized the last shade of the
author's allegorical intent and portrayed it with a hundred accents which
the average reader would otherwise be likely to miss.
Clemens submitted his manuscript to Howells and to Stedman, and he read
portions of it, at least, to Mrs. Clemens, whose eyes were troubling her
so that she could not read for herself. Stedman suggested certain
eliminations, but, on the whole, would seem to have approved of the book.
Howells was enthusiastic. It appealed to him as it had appealed to
Beard. Its sociology and its socialism seemed to him the final word that
could be said on those subjects. When he had partly finished it he
It's a mighty great book and it makes my heart, burn with wrath. It
seems that God didn't forget to put a soul in you. He shuts most
literary men off with a brain, merely.
A few days later he wrote again:
The book is glorious-simply noble. What masses of virgin truth
never touched in print before!
And when he had finished it:
Last night I read your last chapter. As Stedman says of the whole
book, it's titanic.
Clemens declared, in one of his replies to Howells:
I'm not writing for those parties who miscall themselves critics,
and I don't care to have them paw the book at all. It's my swan
song, my retirement from literature permanently, and I wish to pass
to the cemetery unclodded . . . . Well, my book is written--let
it go, but if it were only to write over again there wouldn't be so
many things left out. They burn in me; they keep multiplying and
multiplying, but now they can't ever be said; and besides they would
require a library--and a pen warmed up in hell.
In another letter of this time to Sylvester Baxter, apropos of the
tumbling Brazilian throne, he wrote:
When our great brethren, the disenslaved Brazilians, frame their
declaration of independence I hope they will insert this missing
link: "We hold these truths to be self-evident--that all monarchs
are usurpers and descendants of usurpers, for the reason that no
throne was ever set up in this world by the will, freely exercised,
of the only body possessing the legitimate right to set it up--the
numerical mass of the nation."
He was full of it, as he had been all along, and 'A Connecticut Yankee in
King Arthur's Court' is nothing less than a brief for human rights and
human privileges. That is what it is, and it is a pity that it should be
more than that. It is a pity that he should have been beset by his old
demon of the burlesque, and that no one should have had the wisdom or the
strength to bring it under control.
There is nothing more charming in any of Mark Twain's work than his
introductory chapter, nothing more delightful than the armoring of the
Yankee and the outset and the wandering with Alisande. There is nothing
more powerful or inspiring than his splendid panoramic picture--of the
King learning mercy through his own degradation, his daily intercourse
with a band of manacled slaves; nothing more fiercely moving than that
fearful incident of the woman burned to warm those freezing chattels, or
than the great gallows scene, where the priest speaks for the young
mother about to pay the death penalty for having stolen a halfpenny's
worth, that her baby might have bread. Such things as these must save
the book from oblivion; but alas! its greater appeal is marred almost to
ruin by coarse and extravagant burlesque, which destroys illusion and
antagonizes the reader often at the very moment when the tale should fill
him with a holy fire of a righteous wrath against wrong. As an example
of Mark Twain at his literary worst and best the Yankee ranks supreme.
It is unnecessary to quote examples; one cannot pick up the volume and
read ten pages of it, or five pages, without finding them. In the midst
of some exalted passage, some towering sublimity, you are brought
suddenly to earth with a phrase which wholly destroys the illusion and
the diviner purpose. Howells must have observed these things, or was he
so dazzled by the splendor of its intent, its righteous charge upon the
ranks of oppression, that he regarded its offenses against art as
unimportant. This is hard to explain, for the very thing that would
sustain such a great message and make it permanent would be the care, the
restraint, the artistic worthiness of its construction. One must believe
in a story like that to be convinced of its logic. To lose faith in it--
in its narrative--is absolutely fatal to its purpose. The Yankee in King
Arthur's Court not only offended the English nation, but much of it
offended the better taste of Mark Twain's own countrymen, and in time it
must have offended even Mark Twain himself. Reading it, one can
visualize the author as a careering charger, with a bit in his teeth,
trampling the poetry and the tradition of the romantic days, the very
things which he himself in his happier moods cared for most. Howells
likened him to Cervantes, laughing Spain's chivalry away. The comparison
was hardly justified. It was proper enough to laugh chivalry out of
court when it was a reality; but Mark Twain, who loved Sir Thomas Malory
to the end of his days, the beauty and poetry of his chronicles; who had
written 'The Prince and the Pauper', and would one day write that divine
tale of the 'Maid of Orleans'; who was himself no more nor less than a
knight always ready to redress wrong, would seem to have been the last
person to wish to laugh it out of romance.
And yet, when all is said, one may still agree with Howells in ranking
the Yankee among Mark Twain's highest achievements in the way of "a
greatly imagined and symmetrically developed tale." It is of that class,
beyond doubt. Howells goes further:
Of all the fanciful schemes in fiction it pleases me most, and I
give myself with absolute delight to its notion of a keen East
Hartford Yankee finding himself, by a retroactionary spell, at the
court of King Arthur of Britain, and becoming part of the sixth
century with all the customs and ideas of the nineteenth in him and
about him. The field for humanizing satire which this scheme opens
Colossal it certainly is, as Howells and Stedman agreed: colossal in its
grotesqueness as in its sublimity. Howells, summarizing Mark Twain's
gifts (1901), has written:
He is apt to burlesque the lighter colloquiality, and it is only in
the more serious and most tragical junctures that his people utter
themselves with veracious simplicity and dignity. That great, burly
fancy of his is always tempting him to the exaggeration which is the
condition of so much of his personal humor, but which when it
invades the drama spoils the illusion. The illusion renews itself
in the great moments, but I wish it could be kept intact in the
small, and I blame him that he does not rule his fancy better.
All of which applies precisely to the writing of the Yankee in King
Arthur's Court. Intended as a fierce heart-cry against human injustice--
man's inhumanity to man--as such it will live and find readers; but, more
than any other of Mark Twain's pretentious works, it needs editing--
trimming by a fond but relentless hard.
THE "YANKEE" IN ENGLAND
The London publishers of the Yankee were keenly anxious to revise the
text for their English readers. Clemens wrote that he had already
revised the Yankee twice, that Stedman had critically read it, and that
Mrs. Clemens had made him strike out many passages and soften others. He
added that he had read chapters of it in public several times where
Englishmen were present and had profited by their suggestions. Then he
Now, mind you, I have taken all this pains because I wanted to say a
Yankee mechanic's say against monarchy and its several natural
props, and yet make a book which you would be willing to print
exactly as it comes to you, without altering a word.
We are spoken of (by Englishmen) as a thin-skinned people. It is
you who are thin-skinned. An Englishman may write with the most
brutal frankness about any man or institution among us and we
republish him without dreaming of altering a line or a word. But
England cannot stand that kind of a book written about herself. It
is England that is thin-skinned. It causeth me to smile when I read
the modifications of my language which have been made in my English
editions to fit them for the sensitive English palate.
Now, as I say, I have taken laborious pains to so trim this book of
offense that you'll not lack the nerve to print it just as it
stands. I am going to get the proofs to you just as early as I can.
I want you to read it carefully. If you can publish it without
altering a single word, go ahead. Otherwise, please hand it to
J. R. Osgood in time for him to have it published at my expense.
This is important, for the reason that the book was not written for
America; it was written for England. So many Englishmen have done
their sincerest best to teach us something for our betterment that
it seems to me high time that some of us should substantially
recognize the good intent by trying to pry up the English nation to
a little higher level of manhood in turn.
So the Yankee was published in England just as he had written it,--[The
preface was shortened and modified for both the American and English
editions. The reader will find it as originally written under Appendix
S, at the end of last volume.]--and the criticisms were as plentiful as
they were frank. It was referred to as a "lamentable failure" and as an
"audacious sacrilege" and in terms still less polite. Not all of the
English critics were violent. The Daily Telegraph gave it something more
than a column of careful review, which did not fail to point out the
book's sins with a good deal of justice and dignity; but the majority of
English papers joined in a sort of objurgatory chorus which, for a time
at least, spared neither the author nor his work. Strictures on the
Yankee extended to his earlier books. After all, Mark Twain's work was
not for the cultivated class.
These things must have begun to gravel Clemens a good deal at last, for
he wrote to Andrew Lang at considerable length, setting forth his case in
general terms--that is to say, his position as an author--inviting Lang
to stand as his advocate before the English public. In part he said:
The critic assumes every time that if a book doesn't meet the
cultivated-class standard it isn't valuable . . . The critic has
actually imposed upon the world the superstition that a painting by
Raphael is more valuable to the civilizations of the earth than is a
chromo; and the august opera more than the hurdy-gurdy and the
villagers' singing society; and the Latin classics than Kipling's
far-reaching bugle-note; and Jonathan Edwards than the Salvation
Army . . . . If a critic should start a religion it would not
have any object but to convert angels, and they wouldn't need it.
It is not that little minority who are already saved that are best
worth lifting up, I should think, but the mighty mass of the
uncultivated who are underneath! That mass will never see the old
masters--that sight is for the few; but the chromo-maker can lift
them all one step upward toward appreciation of art; they cannot
have the opera, but the hurdy-gurdy and the singing-class lift them
a little way toward that far height; they will never know Homer, but
the passing rhymester of their day leaves them higher than he found
them; they may never even hear of the Latin classics, but they will
strike step with Kipling's drum-beat and they will march; for all
Jonathan Edwards's help they would die in their slums, but the
Salvation Army will beguile some of them to a purer air and a
cleaner life .
. . . I have never tried, in even one single little instance, to
help cultivate the cultivated classes. I was not equipped for it
either by native gifts or training. And I never had any ambition in
that direction, but always hunted for bigger game--the masses. I
have seldom deliberately tried to instruct them, but I have done my
best to entertain them, for they can get instruction elsewhere . .
. . My audience is dumb; it has no voice in print, and so I cannot
know whether I have won its approval or only got its censure.
He closed by asking that Lang urge the critics to adopt a rule
recognizing the masses, and to formulate a standard whereby work done for
them might be judged. "No voice can reach further than yours in a case
of this kind," he said, "or carry greater weight of authority." There
was no humor in this letter, and the writer of it was clearly in earnest.
Lang's response was an article published in the Illustrated London News
on the art of Mark Twain. He began by gently ridiculing hyperculture--
the new culture--and ended with a eulogy on Huck Finn. It seems worth
while, however, to let Andrew Lang speak for himself.
I have been educated till I nearly dropped; I have lived with the
earliest apostles of culture, in the days when Chippendale was first
a name to conjure with, and Japanese art came in like a raging lion,
and Ronsard was the favorite poet, and Mr. William Morris was a
poet, too, and blue and green were the only wear, and the name of
Paradise was Camelot. To be sure, I cannot say that I took all this
quite seriously, but "we, too, have played" at it, and know all
about it. Generally speaking, I have kept up with culture. I can
talk (if desired) about Sainte-Beuve, and Merimee, and Felicien
Rops; I could rhyme "Ballades" when they were "in," and knew what a
"pantoom" was . . . . And yet I have not culture. My works are
but tinkling brass because I have not culture. For culture has got
into new regions where I cannot enter, and, what is perhaps worse,
I find myself delighting in a great many things which are under the
ban of culture.
He confesses that this is a dreadful position; one that makes a man feel
like one of those Liberal politicians who are always "sitting on the
fence," and who follow their party, if follow it they do, with the
reluctant acquiescence of the prophet's donkey. He further confesses
that he has tried Hartmann and prefers Plato, that he is shaky about
Blake, though stalwart concerning Rudyard Kipling.
This is not the worst of it. Culture has hardly a new idol but I
long to hurl things at it. Culture can scarcely burn anything, but
I am impelled to sacrifice to that same. I am coming to suspect
that the majority of culture's modern disciples are a mere crowd of
very slimly educated people who have no natural taste or impulses;
who do not really know the best things in literature; who have a
feverish desire to admire the newest thing, to follow the latest
artistic fashion; who prate about "style," without the faintest
acquaintance with the ancient examples of style in Greek, French, or
English; who talk about the classics and--criticize the classical
critics and poets, without being able to read a line of them in the
original. Nothing of the natural man is left in these people; their
intellectual equipment is made up of ignorant vanity and eager
desire for novelty, and a yearning to be in the fashion. Take, for
example--and we have been a long time in coming to him--Mark Twain.
[Here follow some observations concerning the Yankee, which Lang
confesses that he has not read, and has abstained from reading
because----]. Here Mark Twain is not, and cannot be, at the proper
point of view. He has not the knowledge which would enable him to
be a sound critic of the ideals of the Middle Ages. An Arthurian
Knight in New York or in Washington would find as much to blame, and
justly, as a Yankee at Camelot.
Of Mark Twain's work in general he speaks with another conclusion:
Mark Twain is a benefactor beyond most modern writers, and the
cultured who do not laugh are merely to be pitied. But his art is
not only that of the maker of the scarce article--mirth. I have no
hesitation in saying that Mark Twain is one among the greatest
contemporary makers of fiction . . . . I can never forget or be
ungrateful for the exquisite pleasure with which I read Huckleberry
Finn for the first time years ago. I read it again last night,
deserting Kenilworth for Huck. I never laid it down till I had
finished it. I perused several passages more than once, and rose
from it with a higher opinion of its merits than ever.
What is it that we want in a novel? We want a vivid and original
picture of life; we want character naturally displayed in action;
and if we get the excitement of adventure into the bargain, and that
adventure possible and plausible, I so far differ from the newest
school of criticism as to think that we have additional cause for
gratitude. If, moreover, there is an unstrained sense of humor in
the narrator we have a masterpiece, and Huckleberry Finn is, nothing
He reviews Huck sympathetically in detail, and closes:
There are defects of taste, or passages that to us seem deficient in
taste, but the book remains a nearly flawless gem of romance and of
humor. The world appreciates it, no doubt, but "cultured critics"
are probably unaware of its singular value. The great American
novel has escaped the eyes of those who watch to see this new planet
swim into their ken. And will Mark Twain never write such another?
One is enough for him to live by, and for our gratitude, but not
enough for our desire.
In the brief column and a half which it occupies, this comment of Andrew
Lang's constitutes as thoughtful and fair an estimate of Mark Twain's
work as was ever written.
W. T. Stead, of the Review of Reviews, was about the only prominent
English editor to approve of the Yankee and to exploit its merits. Stead
brought down obloquy upon himself by so doing, and his separation from
his business partner would seem to have been at least remotely connected
with this heresy.
The Yankee in King Arthur's Court was dramatized in America by Howard
Taylor, one of the Enterprise compositors, whom Clemens had known in the
old Comstock days. Taylor had become a playwright of considerable
success, with a number of well-known actors and actresses starring in his
plays. The Yankee, however, did not find a manager, or at least it seems
not to have reached the point of production.
A SUMMER AT ONTEORA
With the exception of one article--" A Majestic Literary Fossil"--
[Harper's Magazine, February, 1890. Included in the "Complete Works."]--
Clemens was writing nothing of importance at this time. This article
grew out of a curious old medical work containing absurd prescriptions
which, with Theodore Crane, he had often laughed over at the farm. A
sequel to Huckleberry Finn--Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians--
was begun, and a number of its chapters were set in type on the new Paige
compositor, which had cost such a gallant sum, and was then thought to be
complete. There seems to have been a plan to syndicate the story, but at
the end of Chapter IX Huck and Tom had got themselves into a predicament
from which it seemed impossible to extricate them, and the plot was
suspended for further inspiration, which apparently never came.
Clemens, in fact, was troubled with rheumatism in his arm and shoulder,
which made writing difficult. Mrs. Clemens, too, had twinges of the
malady. They planned to go abroad for the summer of 1890, to take the
waters of some of the German baths, but they were obliged to give up the
idea. There were too many business complications; also the health of
Clemens's mother had become very feeble. They went to Tannersville in
the Catskills, instead--to the Onteora Club, where Mrs. Candace Wheeler
had gathered a congenial colony in a number of picturesque cottages, with
a comfortable hotel for the more transient visitor. The Clemenses
secured a cottage for the season. Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, Laurence
Hutton, Carroll Beckwith, the painter; Brander Matthews, Dr. Heber
Newton, Mrs. Custer, and Dora Wheeler were among those who welcomed Mark
Twain and his family at a generous home-made banquet.
It was the beginning of a happy summer. There was a constant visiting
from one cottage to another, with frequent assemblings at the Bear and
Fox Inn, their general headquarters. There were pantomimes and charades,
in which Mark Twain and his daughters always had star parts. Susy
Clemens, who was now eighteen, brilliant and charming, was beginning to
rival her father as a leader of entertainment. Her sister Clara gave
impersonations of Modjeska and Ada Rehan. When Fourth of July came there
were burlesque races, of which Mark Twain was starter, and many of that
lighthearted company took part. Sometimes, in the evening, they gathered
in one of the cottages and told stories by the firelight, and once he
told the story of the Golden Arm, so long remembered, and brought them up
with the same old jump at the sudden climax. Brander Matthews remembers
that Clemens was obliged frequently to go to New York on business
connected with the machine and the publishing, and that during one of
these absences a professional entertainer came along, and in the course
of his program told a Mark Twain story, at which Mrs. Clemens and the
girls laughed without recognizing its authorship. Matthews also
remembers Jean, as a little girl of ten, allowed to ride a pony and to go
barefoot, to her great delight, full of health and happiness, a favorite
of the colony.
Clemens would seem to have forgiven Brander Matthews for his copyright
articles, for he walked over to the Matthews cottage one morning and
asked to be taught piquet, the card game most in vogue there that season.
At odd times he sat to Carroll Beckwith for his portrait, and smoked a
cob pipe meantime, so Beckwith painted him in that way.
It was a season that closed sadly. Clemens was called to Keokuk in
August, to his mother's bedside, for it was believed that her end was
near. She rallied, and he returned to Onteora. But on the 27th of
October came the close of that long, active life, and the woman who two
generations before had followed John Clemens into the wilderness, and
along the path of vicissitude, was borne by her children to Hannibal and
laid to rest at his side. She was in her eighty-eighth year.
The Clemens family were back in Hartford by this time, and it was only a
little later that Mrs. Clemens was summoned to the death-bed of her own
mother, in Elmira. Clemens accompanied her, but Jean being taken
suddenly ill he returned to Hartford. Watching by the little girl's
bedside on the night of the 27th of November, he wrote Mrs. Clemens a
birthday letter, telling of Jean's improved condition and sending other
good news and as many loving messages as he could devise. But it proved
a sad birthday for Mrs. Clemens, for on that day her mother's gentle and
beautiful soul went out from among them. The foreboding she had felt at
the passing of Theodore Crane had been justified. She had a dread that
the harvest of death was not yet ended. Matters in general were going
badly with them, and an anxiety began to grow to get away from America,
and so perhaps leave sorrow and ill-luck behind. Clemens, near the end
of December, writing to his publishing manager, Hall, said:
Merry Christmas to you, and I wish to God I could have one myself
before I die.
The house was emptier that winter than before, for Susy was at Bryn Mawr.
Clemens planned some literary work, but the beginning, after his long
idleness, was hard. A diversion was another portrait of himself, this
time undertaken by Charles Noel Flagg. Clemens rather enjoyed portrait-
sittings. He could talk and smoke, and he could incidentally acquire
information. He liked to discuss any man's profession with him, and in
his talks with Flagg he made a sincere effort to get that insight which
would enable him to appreciate the old masters. Flagg found him a
tractable sitter, and a most interesting one. Once he paid him a
compliment, then apologized for having said the obvious thing.
"Never mind the apology," said Clemens. "The compliment that helps us on
our way is not the one that is shut up in the mind, but the one that is
When Flagg's portrait was about completed, Mrs. Clemens and Mrs. Crane
came to the studio to look at it. Mrs. Clemens complained only that the
necktie was crooked.
"But it's always crooked," said Flagg, "and I have a great fancy for the
line it makes."
She straightened it on Clemens himself, but it immediately became crooked
again. Clemens said:
"If you were to make that necktie straight people would say; ' Good
portrait, but there is something the matter with it. I don't know where
The tie was left unchanged.
The reader may have realized that by the beginning of 1891 Mark Twain's
finances were in a critical condition. The publishing business had
managed to weather along. It was still profitable, and could have been
made much more so if the capital necessary to its growth had not been
continuously and relentlessly absorbed by that gigantic vampire of
inventions--that remorseless Frankenstein monster--the machine.
The beginning of this vast tragedy (for it was no less than that) dated
as far back as 1880, when Clemens one day had taken a minor and purely
speculative interest in patent rights, which was to do away with setting
type by hand. In some memoranda which he made more than ten years later,
when the catastrophe was still a little longer postponed, he gave some
account of the matter.
This episode has now spread itself over more than one-fifth of my
life, a considerable stretch of time, as I am now 55 years old.
Ten or eleven years ago Dwight Buell, a jeweler, called at our house
and was shown up to the billiard-room-which was my study; and the
game got more study than the other sciences. He wanted me to take
some stock in a type-setting machine. He said it was at the Colt's
Arms factory, and was about finished. I took $2,000 of the stock.
I was always taking little chances like that, and almost always
losing by it, too. Some time afterward I was invited to go down to
the factory and see the machine. I went, promising myself nothing,
for I knew all about type-setting by practical experience, and held
the settled and solidified opinion that a successful type-setting
machine was an impossibility, for the reason that a machine cannot
be made to think, and the thing that sets movable type must think or
retire defeated. So, the performance I witnessed did most
thoroughly amaze me. Here was a machine that was really setting
type, and doing it with swiftness and accuracy, too. Moreover, it
was distributing its case at the same time. The distribution was
automatic; the machine fed itself from a galley of dead matter and
without human help or suggestion, for it began its work of its own
accord when the type channels needed filling, and stopped of its own
accord when they were full enough. The machine was almost a
complete compositor; it lacked but one feature--it did not "justify"
the lines. This was done by the operator's assistant.
I saw the operator set at the rate of 3,000 ems an hour, which,
counting distribution, was but little short of four casemen's work.
William Hamersley was there. He said he was already a considerable
owner, and was going to take as much more of the stock as he could
afford. Wherefore, I set down my name for an additional $3,000. It
is here that the music begins.
It was the so-called Farnham machine that he saw, invented by James W.
Paige, and if they had placed it on the market then, without waiting for
the inventor to devise improvements, the story might have been a
different one. But Paige was never content short of absolute perfection
--a machine that was not only partly human, but entirely so. Clemens'
used to say later that the Paige type-setter would do everything that a
human being could do except drink and swear and go on a strike. He might
properly have omitted the last item, but of that later. Paige was a
small, bright-eyed, alert, smartly dressed man, with a crystal-clear
mind, but a dreamer and a visionary. Clemens says of him: "He is a poet;
a most great and genuine poet, whose sublime creations are written in
It is easy to see now that Mark Twain and Paige did not make a good
business combination. When Paige declared that, wonderful as the machine
was, he could do vastly greater things with it, make it worth many more
and much larger fortunes by adding this attachment and that, Clemens was
just the man to enter into his dreams and to furnish the money to realize
them. Paige did not require much money at first, and on the capital
already invested he tinkered along with his improvements for something
like four or five years; Hamersley and Clemens meantime capitalizing the
company and getting ready to place the perfected invention on the market.
By the time the Grant episode had ended Clemens had no reason to believe
but that incalculable wealth lay just ahead, when the newspapers should
be apprised of the fact that their types were no longer to be set by
hand. Several contracts had been made with Paige, and several new
attachments had been added to the machine. It seemed to require only one
thing more, the justifier, which would save the labor of the extra man.
Paige could be satisfied with nothing short of that, even though the
extra man's wage was unimportant. He must have his machine do it all,
and meantime five precious years had slipped away. Clemens, in his
End of 1885. Paige arrives at my house unheralded. I had seen
little or nothing of him for a year or two. He said:
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