Mark Twain, A Biography, 1886-1900
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 2 out of 5
"What will you complete the machine for?"
"What will it cost?"
"Twenty thousand dollars; certainly not over $30,000."
"What will you give?"
"I'll give you half."
Clemens was "flush" at this time. His reading tour with Cable, the great
sale of Huck Finn, the prospect of the Grant book, were rosy realities.
"I'll do it, but the limit must be $30,000."
They agreed to allow Hamersley a tenth interest for the money he had
already invested and for legal advice.
Hamersley consented readily enough, and when in February, 1886, the new
contract was drawn they believed themselves heir to the millions of the
By this time F. G. Whitmore had come into Clemens's business affairs, and
he did not altogether approve of the new contract. Among other things,
it required that Clemens should not only complete the machine, but
promote it, capitalize it commercially. Whitmore said:
"Mr. Clemens, that clause can bankrupt you."
Clemens answered: "Never mind that, Whitmore; I've considered that. I
can get a thousand men worth a million apiece to go in with me if I can
get a perfect machine."
He immediately began to calculate the number of millions he would be
worth presently when the machine was completed and announced to the
waiting world. He covered pages with figures that never ran short of
millions, and frequently approached the billion mark. Colonel Sellers in
his happiest moments never dreamed more lavishly. He obtained a list of
all the newspapers in the United States and in Europe, and he counted up
the machines that would be required by each. To his nephew, Sam Moffett,
visiting him one day, he declared that it would take ten men to count the
profits from the typesetter. He realized clearly enough that a machine
which would set and distribute type and do the work of half a dozen men
or more would revolutionize type composition. The fact that other
inventors besides Paige were working quite as diligently and perhaps
toward more simple conclusions did not disturb him. Rumors came of the
Rogers machine and the Thorne machine and the Mergenthaler linotype, but
Mark Twain only smiled. When the promoters of the Mergenthaler offered
to exchange half their interests for a half interest in the Paige patent,
to obtain thereby a wider insurance of success, it only confirmed his
trust, and he let the golden opportunity go by.
Clemens thinks the thirty thousand dollars lasted about a year. Then
Paige confessed that the machine was still incomplete, but he said that
four thousand dollars more would finish it, and that with ten thousand
dollars he could finish it and give a big exhibition in New York. He had
discarded the old machine altogether, it seems, and at Pratt & Whitney's
shops was building a new one from the ground up--a machine of twenty
thousand minutely exact parts, each of which must be made by expert hand
workmanship after elaborate drawings and patterns even more expensive.
It was an undertaking for a millionaire.
Paige offered to borrow from Clemens the amount needed, offering the
machine as security. Clemens supplied the four thousand dollars, and
continued to advance money from time to time at the rate of three to four
thousand dollars a month, until he had something like eighty thousand
dollars invested, with the machine still unfinished. This would be early
in 1888, by which time other machines had reached a state of completion
and were being placed on the market. The Mergenthaler, in particular,
was attracting wide attention. Paige laughed at it, and Clemens, too,
regarded it as a joke. The moment their machine was complete all other
machines would disappear. Even the fact that the Tribune had ordered
twenty-three of the linotypes, and other journals were only waiting to
see the paper in its new dress before ordering, did not disturb them.
Those linotypes would all go into the scrap-heap presently. It was too
bad people would waste their money so. In January, 1888, Paige promised
that the machine would be done by the 1st of April. On the 1st of April
he promised it for September, but in October he acknowledged there were
still eighty-five days' work to be done on it. In November Clemens wrote
The machine is apparently almost done--but I take no privileges on that
account; it must be done before I spend a cent that can be avoided. I
have kept this family on very short commons for two years and they must
go on scrimping until the machine is finished, no matter how long that
By the end of '88 the income from the books and the business and Mrs.
Clemens's Elmira investments no longer satisfied the demands of the type-
setter, in addition to the household expense, reduced though the latter
was; and Clemens began by selling and hypothecating his marketable
securities. The whole household interest by this time centered in the
machine. What the Tennessee land had been to John and Jane Clemens and
their children, the machine had now become to Samuel Clemens and his
family. "When the machine is finished everything will be all right
again" afforded the comfort of that long-ago sentence, "When the
Tennessee land is sold."
They would have everything they wanted then. Mrs. Clemens planned
benefactions, as was her wont. Once she said to her sister:
"How strange it will seem to have unlimited means, to be able to do
whatever you want to do, to give whatever you want to give without
counting the cost."
Straight along through another year the three thousand dollars and more a
month continued, and then on the 5th of January, 1889, there came what
seemed the end--the machine and justifier were complete! In his notebook
on that day Mark Twain set down this memorandum:
Saturday, January 5, 1889-12.20 P.M. At this moment I have seen a
line of movable type spaced and justified by machinery! This is the
first time in the history of the world that this amazing thing has
ever been done. Present:
J. W. Paige, the inventor;
Charles Davis, | Mathematical assistants
Earll | & mechanical
Graham | experts
Bates, foreman, and S. L. Clemens.
This record is made immediately after the prodigious event.
Two days later he made another note:
Monday, January 7--4.45 P.m. The first proper name ever set by this
new keyboard was William Shakspeare. I set it at the above hour; &
I perceive, now that I see the name written, that I either mis-
spelled it then or I've misspelled it now.
The space-bar did its duty by the electric connections & steam &
separated the two words preparatory to the reception of the space.
It seemed to him that his troubles were at an end. He wrote overflowing
letters, such as long ago he had written about his first mining claims,
to Orion and to other members of the family and to friends in America and
Europe. One of these letters, written to George Standring, a London
printer and publisher, also an author, will serve as an example.
The machine is finished! An hour and forty minutes ago a line of
movable type was spaced and justified by machinery for the first
time in the history of the world. And I was there to see.
That was the final function. I had before seen the machine set
type, automatically, and distribute type, and automatically
distribute its eleven different thicknesses of spaces. So now I
have seen the machine, operated by one individual, do the whole
thing, and do it a deal better than any man at the case can do it.
This is by far and away the most marvelous invention ever contrived
by man. And it is not a thing of rags and patches; it is made of
massive steel, and will last a century.
She will do the work of six men, and do it better than any six men
that ever stood at a case.
The death-warrant of all other type-setting machines in this world
was signed at 12.20 this afternoon, when that first line was shot
through this machine and came out perfectly spaced and justified.
And automatically, mind you.
There was a speck of invisible dirt on one of those nonpareil types.
Well, the machine allowed for that by inserting of its own accord a
space which was the 5-1,000 of an inch thinner than it would have
used if the dirt had been absent. But when I send you the details
you will see that that's nothing for this machine to do; you'll see
that it knows more and has got more brains than all the printers in
the world put together.
His letter to Orion was more technical, also more jubilant. At the end
All the witnesses made written record of the immense historical
birth--the first justification of a line of movable type by
machinery--& also set down the hour and the minute. Nobody had
drank anything, & yet everybody seemed drunk. Well-dizzy,
All the other wonderful inventions of the human brain sink pretty
nearly into commonplaces contrasted with this awful mechanical
miracle. Telephones, telegraphs, locomotives, cotton-gins, sewing-
machines, Babbage calculators, jacquard looms, perfecting presses,
all mere toys, simplicities! The Paige Compositor marches alone and
far in the land of human inventions.
In one paragraph of Orion's letter he refers to the machine as a "cunning
devil, knowing more than any man that ever lived." That was a profound
truth, though not as he intended it. That creation of James Paige's
brain reflected all the ingenuity and elusiveness of its creator, and
added something on its own account. It was discovered presently that it
had a habit of breaking the types. Paige said it was a trifling thing:
he could fix it, but it meant taking down the machine, and that deadly
expense of three thousand or four thousand dollars a month for the band
of workmen and experts in Pratt & Whitney's machine shops did not cease.
In February the machine was again setting and justifying type "to a
hair," and Whitmore's son, Fred, was running it at a rate of six thousand
ems an hour, a rate of composition hitherto unknown in the history of the
world. His speed was increased to eight thousand ems an hour by the end
of the year, and the machine was believed to have a capacity of eleven
thousand. No type-setter invented to this day could match it for
accuracy and precision when it was in perfect order, but its point of
perfection was apparently a vanishing point. It would be just reached,
when it would suddenly disappear, and Paige would discover other needed
corrections. Once, when it was apparently complete as to every detail;
and running like a human thing, with such important customers as the New
York Herald and other great papers ready to place their orders, Paige
suddenly discovered that it required some kind of an air-blast, and it
was all taken down again and the air-blast, which required months to
invent and perfect, was added.
But what is the use of remembering all these bitter details? The steady
expense went on through another year, apparently increasing instead of
diminishing, until, by the beginning of 1890, Clemens was finding it
almost impossible to raise funds to continue the work. Still he
struggled on. It was the old mining fascination--"a foot farther into
the ledge and we shall strike the vein of gold."
He sent for Joe Goodman to come and help him organize a capital-stock
company, in which Senator Jones and John Mackay, old Comstock friends,
were to be represented. He never for a moment lost faith in the final
outcome, and he believed that if they could build their own factory the
delays and imperfections of construction would be avoided. Pratt &
Whitney had been obliged to make all the parts by hand. With their own
factory the new company would have vast and perfect machinery dedicated
entirely to the production of type-setters.
Nothing short of two million dollars capitalization was considered, and
Goodman made at least three trips from California to the East and labored
with Jones and Mackay all that winter and at intervals during the
following year, through which that "cunning devil," the machine, consumed
its monthly four thousand dollars--money that was the final gleanings and
sweepings of every nook and corner of the strong-box and bank-account and
savings of the Clemens family resources. With all of Mark Twain's fame
and honors his life at this period was far from an enviable one. It was,
in fact, a fevered delirium, often a veritable nightmare.
Reporters who approached him for interviews, little guessing what he was
passing through, reported that Mark Twain's success in life had made him
crusty and sour.
Goodman remembers that when they were in Washington, conferring with
Jones, and had rooms at the Arlington, opening together, often in the
night he would awaken to see a light burning in the next room and to hear
Mark Twain's voice calling:
"Joe, are you awake?"
"Yes, Mark, what is it?"
"Oh, nothing, only I can't sleep. Won't you talk awhile? I know it's
wrong to disturb you, but I am so d--d miserable that I can't help it."
Whereupon he would get up and talk and talk, and pace the floor and curse
the delays until he had refreshed himself, and then perhaps wallow in
millions until breakfast-time.
Jones and Mackay, deeply interested, were willing to put up a reasonable
amount of money, but they were unable to see a profit in investing so
large a capital in a plant for constructing the machines.
Clemens prepared estimates showing that the American business alone would
earn thirty-five million dollars a year, and the European business twenty
million dollars more. These dazzled, but they did not convince the
capitalists. Jones was sincerely anxious to see the machine succeed, and
made an engagement to come out to see it work, but a day or two before he
was to come Paige was seized with an inspiration. The type-setter was
all in parts when the day came, and Jones's visit had to be postponed.
Goodman wrote that the fatal delay had "sicklied over the bloom" of
Jones's original enthusiasm.
Yet Clemens seems never to have been openly violent with Paige. In the
memorandum which he completed about this time he wrote:
Paige and I always meet on effusively affectionate terms, and yet he
knows perfectly well that if I had him in a steel trap I would shut
out all human succor and watch that trap until he died.
He was grabbing at straws now. He offered a twentieth or a hundredth or
a thousandth part of the enterprise for varying sums, ranging from one
thousand to one hundred thousand dollars. He tried to capitalize his
advance (machine) royalties, and did dispose of a few of these; but when
the money came in for them he was beset by doubts as to the final
outcome, and though at his wit's ends for further funds, he returned the
checks to the friends who had sent them. One five-thousand-dollar check
from a friend named Arnot, in Elmira, went back by the next mail. He was
willing to sacrifice his own last penny, but he could not take money from
those who were blindly backing his judgment only and not their own. He
still had faith in Jones, faith which lasted up to the 13th of February,
1891. Then came a final letter, in which Jones said that he had
canvassed the situation thoroughly with such men as Mackay, Don Cameron,
Whitney, and others, with the result that they would have nothing to do
with the machine. Whitney and Cameron, he said, were large stockholders
in the Mergenthaler. Jones put it more kindly and more politely than
that, and closed by saying that there could be no doubt as to the
machine's future an ambiguous statement. A letter from young Hall came
about the same time, urging a heavy increase of capital in the business.
The Library of American Literature, its leading feature, was handled on
the instalment plan. The collections from this source were deferred
driblets, while the bills for manufacture and promotion must be paid down
in cash. Clemens realized that for the present at least the dream was
ended. The family securities were exhausted. The book trade was dull;
his book royalties were insufficient even to the demands of the
household. He signed further notes to keep business going, left the
matter of the machine in abeyance, and turned once more to the trade of
authorship. He had spent in the neighborhood of one hundred and ninety
thousand dollars on the typesetter--money that would better have been
thrown into the Connecticut River, for then the agony had been more
quickly over. As it was, it had shadowed many precious years.
"THE CLAIMANT"--LEAVING HARTFORD
For the first time in twenty years Mark Twain was altogether dependent on
literature. He did not feel mentally unequal to the new problem; in
fact, with his added store of experience, he may have felt himself more
fully equipped for authorship than ever before. It had been his habit to
write within his knowledge and observation. To a correspondent of this
time he reviewed his stock in trade
. . . I confine myself to life with which I am familiar when
pretending to portray life. But I confined myself to the boy-life
out on the Mississippi because that had a peculiar charm for me, and
not because I was not familiar with other phases of life. I was a
soldier two weeks once in the beginning of the war, and was hunted
like a rat the whole time. Familiar? My splendid Kipling himself
hasn't a more burnt-in, hard-baked, and unforgetable familiarity
with that death-on-the-pale-horse-with-hell-following-after, which
is a raw soldier's first fortnight in the field--and which, without
any doubt, is the most tremendous fortnight and the vividest he is
ever going to see.
Yes, and I have shoveled silver tailings in a quartz-mill a couple
of weeks, and acquired the last possibilities of culture in that
direction. And I've done "pocket-mining" during three months in the
one little patch of ground in the whole globe where Nature conceals
gold in pockets--or did before we robbed all of those pockets and
exhausted, obliterated, annihilated the most curious freak Nature
ever indulged in. There are not thirty men left alive who, being
told there was a pocket hidden on the broad slope of a mountain,
would know how to go and find it, or have even the faintest idea of
how to set about it; but I am one of the possible 20 or 30 who
possess the secret, and I could go and put my hand on that hidden
treasure with a most deadly precision.
And I've been a prospector, and know pay rock from poor when I find
it--just with a touch of the tongue. And I've been a silver miner
and know how to dig and shovel and drill and put in a blast. And so
I know the mines and the miners interiorly as well as Bret Harte
knows them exteriorly.
And I was a newspaper reporter four years in cities, and so saw the
inside of many things; and was reporter in a legislature two
sessions and the same in Congress one session, and thus learned to
know personally three sample bodies of the smallest minds and the
selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes.
And I was some years a Mississippi pilot, and familiarly knew all
the different kinds of steamboatmen--a race apart, and not like
And I was for some years a traveling "jour" printer, and wandered
from city to city--and so I know that sect familiarly.
And I was a lecturer on the public platform a number of seasons and
was a responder to toasts at all the different kinds of banquets--
and so I know a great many secrets about audiences--secrets not to
be got out of books, but only acquirable by experience.
And I watched over one dear project of mine for years, spent a
fortune on it, and failed to make it go--and the history of that
would make a large book in which a million men would see themselves
as in a mirror; and they would testify and say, Verily, this is not
imagination; this fellow has been there--and after would they cast
dust upon their heads, cursing and blaspheming.
And I am a publisher, and did pay to one author's widow (General
Grant's) the largest copyright checks this world has seen-
aggregating more than L80,000 in the first year.
And I have been an author for 20 years and an ass for 55.
Now then: as the most valuable capital or culture or education
usable in the building of novels is personal experience I ought to
be well equipped for that trade.
I surely have the equipment, a wide culture, and all of it real,
none of it artificial, for I don't know anything about books.
This generous bill of literary particulars was fully warranted. Mark
Twain's equipment was equal to his occasions. It is true that he was no
longer young, and that his health was not perfect, but his resolution and
his energy had not waned.
His need was imminent and he lost no time. He dug out from his
pigeonholes such materials as he had in stock, selecting a few completed
manuscripts for immediate disposal--among them his old article entitled,
"Mental Telegraphy," written in 1878, when he had hesitated to offer it,
in the fear that it would not be accepted by the public otherwise than as
a joke. He added to it now a supplement and sent it to Mr. Alden, of
Psychic interest had progressed in twelve years; also Mark Twain had come
to be rather more seriously regarded. The article was accepted promptly!
--[The publication of this article created a good deal of a stir and
resulted in the first general recognition of what later became known as
Telepathy. A good many readers insisted on regarding the whole matter as
one of Mark Twain's jokes, but its serious acceptance was much wider.]--
The old sketch, "Luck," also found its way to Harper's Magazine, and
other manuscripts were looked over and furbished up with a view to their
disposal. Even the history game was dragged from the dust of its
retirement, and Hall was instructed to investigate its chance of profit.
Then Mark Twain went to work in earnest. Within a week after the
collapse of the Jones bubble he was hard at work on a new book--the
transmigration of the old "Claimant" play into a novel.
Ever since the appearance of the Yankee there had been what was evidently
a concerted movement to induce him to write a novel with the theories of
Henry George as the central idea. Letters from every direction had urged
him to undertake such a story, and these had suggested a more serious
purpose for the Claimant book. A motif in which there is a young lord
who renounces his heritage and class to come to America and labor with
his hands; who attends socialistic meetings at which men inspired by
readings of 'Progress and Poverty' and 'Looking Backward' address their
brothers of toil, could have in it something worth while. Clemens
inserted portions of some of his discarded essays in these addresses, and
had he developed this element further, and abandoned Colonel Sellers's
materialization lunacies to the oblivion they had earned, the result
might have been more fortunate.
But his faith in the new Sellers had never died, and the temptation to
use scenes from the abandoned play proved to be too strong to be
resisted. The result was incongruous enough. The author, however,
admired it amazingly at the time. He sent Howells stirring reports of
his progress. He wrote Hall that the book would be ready soon and that
there must be seventy-five thousand orders by the date of issue, "not a
single one short of that." Then suddenly, at the end of February, the
rheumatism came back into his shoulder and right arm and he could hardly
hold the pen. He conceived the idea of dictating into a phonograph, and
wrote Howells to test this invention and find out as to terms for three
months, with cylinders enough to carry one hundred and seventy-five
I don't want to erase any of them. My right arm is nearly disabled
by rheumatism, but I am bound to write this book (and sell 100,000
copies of it-no, I mean 1,000,000--next fall). I feel sure I can
dictate the book into a phonograph if I don't have to yell. I write
2,000 words a day. I think I can dictate twice as many.
But mind, if this is going to be too much trouble to you--go ahead
and do it all the same.
Howells replied encouragingly. He had talked a letter into a phonograph
and the phonograph man had talked his answer into it, after which the
cylinder had been taken to a typewriter in the-next room and correctly
written out. If a man had the "cheek" to dictate his story into a
phonograph, Howells said, all the rest seemed perfectly easy.
Clemens ordered a phonograph and gave it a pretty fair trial. It was
only a partial success. He said he couldn't write literature with it
because it hadn't any ideas or gift for elaboration, but was just as
matter-of-fact, compressive and unresponsive, grave and unsmiling as the
devil--a poor audience.
I filled four dozen cylinders in two sittings, then I found I could have
said it about as easy with the pen, and said it a deal better. Then I
He did not immediately give it up. To relieve his aching arm he
alternated the phonograph with the pen, and the work progressed rapidly.
Early in May he was arranging for its serial disposition, and it was
eventually sold for twelve thousand dollars to the McClure Syndicate, who
placed it with a number of papers in America and with the Idler Magazine
in England. W. M. Laffan, of the Sun, an old and tried friend, combined
with McClure in the arrangement. Laffan also proposed to join with
McClure in paying Mark Twain a thousand dollars each for a series of six
European letters. This was toward the end of May, 1891, when Clemens had
already decided upon a long European sojourn.
There were several reasons why this was desirable. Neither Clemens nor
his wife was in good health. Both of them were troubled with rheumatism,
and a council of physicians had agreed that Mrs. Clemens had some
disturbance of the heart. The death of Charles L. Webster in April--the
fourth death among relatives in two years--had renewed her forebodings.
Susy, who had been at Bryn Mawr, had returned far from well. The
European baths and the change of travel it was believed would be
beneficial to the family health. Furthermore, the maintenance of the
Hartford home was far too costly for their present and prospective
income. The house with its associations of seventeen incomparable years
must be closed. A great period had ended.
They arranged to sail on the 6th of June by the French line.--[On the
Gascogne.]--Mrs. Crane was to accompany them, and came over in April to
help in breaking the news to the servants. John and Ellen O'Neill (the
gardener and his wife) were to remain in charge; places were found for
George and Patrick. Katie Leary was retained to accompany the family.
It was a sad dissolution.
The day came for departure and the carriage was at the door. Mrs.
Clemens did not come immediately. She was looking into the rooms,
bidding a kind of silent good-by to the home she had made and to all its
memories. Following the others she entered the carriage, and Patrick
McAleer drove them together for the last time. They were going on a long
journey. They did not guess how long, or that the place would never be
home to them again.
A EUROPEAN SUMMER
They landed at Havre and went directly to Paris, where they remained
about a week. From Paris Clemens wrote to Hall that a deal by which he
had hoped to sell out his interest in the type-setter to the Mallorys, of
the Churchman, had fallen through.
"Therefore," he said, "you will have to modify your instalment system to
meet the emergency of a constipated purse; for if you should need to
borrow any more money I would not know how or where to raise it."
The Clemens party went to Geneva, then rested for a time at the baths of
Aix; from Aix to Bayreuth to attend the Wagner festival, and from
Bayreuth to Marienbad for further additions of health. Clemens began
writing his newspaper letters at Aix, the first of which consists of
observations at that "paradise of rheumatics." This letter is really a
careful and faithful description of Aix-les-Bains, with no particular
drift of humor in it. He tells how in his own case the baths at first
developed plenty of pain, but that the subsequent ones removed almost all
"I've got back the use of my arm the last few days, and I am going away
now," he says, and concludes by describing the beautiful drives and
scenery about Aix--the pleasures to be found paddling on little Lake
Bourget and the happy excursions to Annecy.
At the end of an hour you come to Annecy and rattle through its old
crooked lanes, built solidly up with curious old houses that are a
dream of the Middle Ages, and presently you come to the main object
of your trip--Lake Annecy. It is a revelation. It is a miracle.
It brings the tears to a body's eyes. It is so enchanting. That is
to say, it affects you just as all other things that you instantly
recognize as perfect affect you--perfect music, perfect eloquence,
perfect art, perfect joy, perfect grief.
He was getting back into his old descriptive swing, but his dislike for
travel was against him, and he found writing the letters hard. From
Bayreuth he wrote "At the Shrine of St. Wagner," one of the best
descriptions of that great musical festival that has been put into words.
He paid full tribute to the performance, also to the Wagner devotion,
confessing its genuineness.
This opera of "Tristan and Isolde" last night broke the hearts of
all witnesses who were of the faith, and I know of some, and have
heard of many, who could not sleep after it, but cried the night
away. I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the
one sane person in the community of the mad; sometimes I feel like
the one blind man where all others see; the one groping savage in
the college of the learned, and always during service I feel like a
heretic in heaven.
He tells how he really enjoyed two of the operas, and rejoiced in
supposing that his musical regeneration was accomplished and perfected;
but alas! he was informed by experts that those particular events were
not real music at all. Then he says:
Well, I ought to have recognized the sign the old, sure sign that
has never failed me in matters of art. Whenever I enjoy anything in
art it means that it is mighty poor. The private knowledge of this
fact has saved me from going to pieces with enthusiasm in front of
many and many a chromo. However, my base instinct does bring me
profit sometimes; I was the only man out of 3,200 who got his money
back on those two operas.
His third letter was from Marienbad, in Bohemia, another "health-
factory," as he calls it, and is of the same general character as those
preceding. In his fourth letter he told how he himself took charge of
the family fortunes and became courier from Aix to Bayreuth. It is a
very delightful letter, most of it, and probably not greatly burlesqued
or exaggerated in its details. It is included now in the "Complete
Works," as fresh and delightful as ever. They returned to Germany at the
end of August, to Nuremberg, which he notes as the "city of exquisite
glimpses," and to Heidelberg, where they had their old apartment of
thirteen years before, Room 40 at the Schloss Hotel, with its wonderful
prospect of wood and hill, and the haze-haunted valley of the Rhine.
They remained less than a week in that beautiful place, and then were off
for Switzerland, Lucerne, Brienz, Interlaken, finally resting at the
Hotel Beau Rivage, Ouchy, Lausanne, on beautiful Lake Leman.
Clemens had agreed to write six of the newspaper letters, and he had by
this time finished five of them, the fifth being dated from Interlaken,
its subject, "Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty." He wrote to Hall that
it was his intention to write another book of travel and to take a year
or two to collect the material. The Century editors were after him for a
series after the style of Innocents Abroad. He considered this
suggestion, but declined by cable, explaining to Hall that he intended to
write for serial publication no more than the six newspaper letters. He
To write a book of travel would be less trouble than to write six
detached chapters. Each of these letters requires the same variety
of treatment and subject that one puts into a book; but in the book
each chapter doesn't have to be rounded and complete in itself.
He suggested that the six letters be gathered into a small volume which
would contain about thirty-five or forty thousand words, to be sold as
low as twenty-five cents, but this idea appears to have been dropped.
At Ouchy Clemens conceived the idea of taking a little trip on his own
account, an excursion that would be a rest after the strenuous three
months' travel and sightseeing--one that he could turn into literature.
He engaged Joseph Very, a courier used during their earlier European
travels, and highly recommended in the Tramp Abroad. He sent Joseph over
to Lake Bourget to engage a boat and a boatman for a ten days' trip down
the river Rhone. For five dollars Joseph bought a safe, flat-bottom
craft; also he engaged the owner as pilot. A few days later--September
19--Clemens followed. They stopped overnight on an island in Lake
Bourget, and in his notes Clemens tells how he slept in the old castle of
Chatillon, in the room where a pope was born. They started on their
drift next morning. To Mrs. Clemens, in some good-by memoranda, he said:
The lake is as smooth as glass; a brilliant sun is shining.
Our boat is so comfortable and shady with its awning.
11.20. We have crossed the lake and are entering the canal. Shall
presently be in the Rhone.
Noon. Nearly down to the Rhone, passing the village of Chanaz.
Sunday, 3.15 P.M. We have been in the Rhone three hours. It
is unimaginably still & reposeful & cool & soft & breezy. No rowing
or work of any kind to do--we merely float with the current we glide
noiseless and swift--as fast as a London cab-horse rips along--8
miles an hour--the swiftest current I've ever boated in. We have the
entire river to ourselves nowhere a boat of any kind.
Pleasant it must have been in the warm September days to go swinging down
that swift, gray stream which comes racing out of Switzerland into
France, fed from a thousand glaciers. He sent almost daily memoranda of
his progress. Half-way to Arles he wrote:
It's too delicious, floating with the swift current under the
awning these superb, sunshiny days in deep peace and quietness.
Some of these curious old historical towns strangely persuade me,
but it is so lovely afloat that I don't stop, but view them from the
outside and sail on. We get abundance of grapes and peaches for
next to nothing. My, but that inn was suffocating with garlic where
we stayed last night! I had to hold my nose as we went up-stairs or
I believe I should have fainted.
Little bit of a room, rude board floor unswept, 2 chairs, unpainted
white pine table--void the furniture! Had a good firm bed, solid as
a rock, & you could have brained an ox with the bolster.
These six hours have been entirely delightful. I want to do all the
rivers of Europe in an open boat in summer weather.
Still further along he described one of their shore accommodations.
Night caught us yesterday where we had to take quarters in a
peasant's house which was occupied by the family and a lot of cows &
calves, also several rabbits.--[His word for fleas. Neither fleas
nor mosquitoes ever bit him--probably because of his steady use of
tobacco.]--The latter had a ball & I was the ballroom; but they
were very friendly and didn't bite.
The peasants were mighty kind and hearty & flew around & did their
best to make us comfortable. This morning I breakfasted on the
shore in the open air with two sociable dogs & a cat. Clean cloth,
napkins & table furniture, white sugar, a vast hunk of excellent
butter, good bread, first-class coffee with pure milk, fried fish
just caught. Wonderful that so much cleanliness should come out of
such a phenomenally dirty house.
An hour ago we saw the Falls of the Rhone, a prodigiously rough and
dangerous-looking place; shipped a little water, but came to no
harm. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of piloting & boat
management I ever saw. Our admiral knew his business.
We have had to run ashore for shelter every time it has rained
heretofore, but Joseph has been putting in his odd time making a
waterproof sun-bonnet for the boat, & now we sail along dry,
although we have had many heavy showers this morning.
Here follows a pencil-drawing of the boat and its new awning, and he
adds: "I'm on the stern, under the shelter, and out of sight."
The trip down the Rhone proved more valuable as an outing than as
literary material. Clemens covered one hundred and seventy-four pages
with his notes of it, then gave it up. Traveling alone with no one but
Joseph and the Admiral (former owner of the craft) was reposeful and
satisfactory, but it did not inspire literary flights. He tried to
rectify the lack of companionship by introducing fictitious characters,
such as Uncle Abner, Fargo, and Stavely, a young artist; also Harris,
from the Tramp Abroad; but Harris was not really there this time, and
Mark Twain's genius, given rather to elaboration than to construction,
found it too severe a task to imagine a string of adventures without at
least the customary ten per cent. of fact to build upon.
It was a day above Avignon that he had an experience worth while. They
were abreast of an old castle, nearing a village, one of the huddled
jumble of houses of that locality, when, glancing over his left shoulder
toward the distant mountain range, he received what he referred to later
as a soul-stirring shock. Pointing to the outline of the distant range
he said to the courier:
"Name it. Who is it?"
The courier said, "Napoleon."
Clemens assented. The Admiral, when questioned, also promptly agreed
that the mountain outlined was none other than the reclining figure of
the great commander himself. They watched and discussed the phenomenon
until they reached the village. Next morning Clemens was up for a first
daybreak glimpse of his discovery. Later he reported it to Mrs. Clemens:
I did so long for you and Sue yesterday morning--the most superb
sunrise--the most marvelous sunrise--& I saw it all, from the very
faintest suspicion of the coming dawn, all the way through to the
final explosion of glory. But it had an interest private to itself
& not to be found elsewhere in the world; for between me & it, in
the far-distant eastward, was a silhouetted mountain range, in which
I had discovered, the previous afternoon, a most noble face upturned
to the sky, & mighty form outstretched, which I had named Napoleon
Dreaming of Universal Empire--& now this prodigious face, soft,
rich, blue, spirituelle, asleep, tranquil, reposeful, lay against
that giant conflagration of ruddy and golden splendors, all rayed
like a wheel with the up-streaming & far-reaching lances of the sun.
It made one want to cry for delight, it was so supreme in its
unimaginable majesty & beauty.
He made a pencil-sketch of the Napoleon head in his note-book, and stated
that the apparition could be seen opposite the castle of Beauchastel; but
in later years his treacherous memory betrayed him, and, forgetting these
identifying marks, he told of it as lying a few hours above Arles, and
named it the "Lost Napoleon," because those who set out to find it did
not succeed. He even wrote an article upon the subject, in which he
urged tourists to take steamer from Arles and make a short trip upstream,
keeping watch on the right-hand bank, with the purpose of rediscovering
the natural wonder. Fortunately this sketch was not published. It would
have been set down as a practical joke by disappointed travelers. One of
Mark Twain's friends, Mr. Theodore Stanton, made a persistent effort to
find the Napoleon, but with the wrong directions naturally failed.
It required ten days to float to Arles. Then the current gave out and
Clemens ended the excursion and returned to Lausanne by rail. He said:
"It was twenty-eight miles to Marseilles, and somebody would have to row.
That would not have been pleasure; it would have meant work for the
sailor, and I do not like work even when another person does it."
To Twichell in America he wrote:
You ought to have been along--I could have made room for you easily,
& you would have found that a pedestrian tour in Europe doesn't
begin with a raft voyage for hilarity & mild adventure & intimate
contact with the unvisited native of the back settlements &
extinction from the world and newspapers & a conscience in a state
of coma & lazy comfort & solid happiness. In fact, there's nothing
that's so lovely.
But it's all over. I gave the raft away yesterday at Arles & am loafing
along back by short stages on the rail to Ouchy, Lausanne, where the
tribe are staying at the Beau Rivage and are well and prosperous.
They had decided to spend the winter in Berlin, and in October Mrs.
Clemens and Mrs. Crane, after some previous correspondence with an agent,
went up to that city to engage an apartment. The elevator had not
reached the European apartment in those days, and it was necessary, on
Mrs. Clemens's account, to have a ground floor. The sisters searched a
good while without success, and at last reached Kornerstrasse, a short,
secluded street, highly recommended by the agent. The apartment they
examined in Kornerstrasse was Number 7, and they were so much pleased
with the conveniences and comfort of it and so tired that they did not
notice closely its, general social environment. The agent supplied an
assortment of furniture for a consideration, and they were soon settled
in the attractive, roomy place. Clemens and the children, arriving
somewhat later, expressed themselves as satisfied.
Their contentment was somewhat premature. When they began to go out
socially, which was very soon, and friends inquired as to their location,
they noticed that the address produced a curious effect. Semi-
acquaintances said, "Ah, yes, Kornerstrasse"; acquaintances said, "Dear
me, do you like it?" An old friend exclaimed, "Good gracious! How in
the world did you ever come to locate there?" Then they began to notice
what they had not at first seen. Kornerstrasse was not disreputable, but
it certainly was not elegant. There were rag warehouses across the
street and women who leaned out the windows to gossip. The street itself
was thronged with children. They played on a sand pile and were often
noisy and seldom clean. It was eminently not the place for a
distinguished man of letters. The family began to be sensitive on the
subject of their address.
Clemens, of course, made humor out of it. He wrote a newspaper letter on
the subject, a burlesque, naturally, which the family prevailed upon him
not to print. But the humiliation is out of it now, and a bit of its
humor may be preserved. He takes upon himself the renting of the place,
and pictures the tour of inspection with the agent's assistant.
He was greatly moved when they came to the street and said, softly and
"Ah, Korner Street, Korner Street, why did I not think of you
before! A place fit for the gods, dear sir. Quiet?--notice how
still it is; and remember this is noonday--noonday. It is but one
block long, you see, just a sweet, dear little nest hid away here in
the heart of the great metropolis, its presence and its sacred quiet
unsuspected by the restless crowds that swarm along the stately
thoroughfares yonder at its two extremities. And----"
"This building is handsome, but I don't think much of the others.
They look pretty commonplace, compared with the rest of Berlin."
"Dear! dear! have you noticed that? It is just an affectation of
the nobility. What they want----"
"The nobility? Do they live in----"
"In this street? That is good! very good, indeed! I wish the Duke
of Sassafras-Hagenstein could hear you say that. When the Duke
first moved in here he----"
"Does he live in this street?"
"Him! Well, I should say so! Do you see the big, plain house over
there with the placard in the third floor window? That's his
"The placard that says 'Furnished rooms to let'? Does he keep
"What an idea! Him! With a rent-roll of twelve hundred thousand
marks a year? Oh, positively this is too good."
"Well, what does he have that sign up for?"
The assistant took me by the buttonhole & said, with a merry light
beaming in his eye:
"Why, my dear sir, a person would know you are new to Berlin just by
your innocent questions. Our aristocracy, our old, real, genuine
aristocracy, are full of the quaintest eccentricities,
eccentricities inherited for centuries, eccentricities which they
are prouder of than they are of their titles, and that sign-board
there is one of them. They all hang them out. And it's regulated
by an unwritten law. A baron is entitled to hang out two, a count
five, a duke fifteen----"
"Then they are all dukes over on that side, I sup----"
"Every one of them. Now the old Duke of Backofenhofenschwartz not
the present Duke, but the last but one, he----"
"Does he live over the sausage-shop in the cellar?"
"No, the one farther along, where the eighteenth yellow cat is
chewing the door-mat----"
"But all the yellow cats are chewing the door-mats."
"Yes, but I mean the eighteenth one. Count. No, never mind;
there's a lot more come. I'll get you another mark. Let me see---"
They could not remain permanently in Komerstrasse, but they stuck it out
till the end of December--about two months. Then they made such
settlement with the agent as they could--that is to say, they paid the
rest of their year's rent--and established themselves in a handsome
apartment at the Hotel Royal, Unter den Linden. There was no need to be
ashamed of this address, for it was one of the best in Berlin.
As for Komerstrasse, it is cleaner now. It is still not aristocratic,
but it is eminently respectable. There is a new post-office that takes
in Number 7, where one may post mail and send telegrams and use the
Fernsprecher--which is to say the telephone--and be politely treated by
uniformed officials, who have all heard of Mark Twain, but have no
knowledge of his former occupation of their premises.
A WINTER IN BERLIN
Clemens, meantime, had been trying to establish himself in his work, but
his rheumatism racked him occasionally and was always a menace. Closing
a letter to Hall, he said:
"I must stop-my arm is howling."
He put in a good deal of time devising publishing schemes, principal
among them being a plan for various cheap editions of his books,
pamphlets, and such like, to sell for a few cents. These projects appear
never to have been really undertaken, Hall very likely fearing that a
flood of cheap issues would interfere with the more important trade. It
seemed dangerous to trifle with an apparently increasing prosperity, and
Clemens was willing enough to agree with this view.
Clemens had still another letter to write for Laffan and McClure, and he
made a pretty careful study of Berlin with that end in view. But his arm
kept him from any regular work. He made notes, however. Once he wrote:
The first gospel of all monarchies should be Rebellion; the second
should be Rebellion; and the third and all gospels, and the only
gospel of any monarchy, should be Rebellion--against Church and
I wrote a chapter on this language 13 years ago and tried my level
best to improve it and simplify it for these people, and this is the
result--a, word of thirty-nine letters. It merely concentrates the
alphabet with a shovel. It hurts me to know that that chapter is
not in any of their text-books and they don't use it in the
Socially, that winter in Berlin was eventful enough. William Walter
Phelps, of New Jersey (Clemens had known him in America), was United
States minister at the German capital, while at the Emperor's court there
was a cousin, Frau von Versen, nee Clemens, one of the St. Louis family.
She had married a young German officer who had risen to the rank of a
full general. Mark Twain and his family were welcome guests at all the
diplomatic events--often brilliant levees, gatherings of distinguished
men and women from every circle of achievement. Labouchere of 'Truth'
was there, De Blowitz of the 'Times', and authors, ambassadors, and
scientists of rank. Clemens became immediately a distinguished figure at
these assemblies. His popularity in Germany was openly manifested. At
any gathering he was surrounded by a brilliant company, eager to do him
honor. He was recognized whenever he appeared on the street, and
saluted, though in his notes he says he was sometimes mistaken for the
historian Mommsen, whom he resembled in hair and features. His books
were displayed for sale everywhere, and a special cheap edition of them
was issued at a few cents per copy.
Captain Bingham (later General Bingham, Commissioner of Police in New
York City) and John Jackson were attaches of the legation, both of them
popular with the public in general, and especially so with the Clemens
family. Susy Clemens, writing to her father during a temporary absence,
tells of a party at Mrs. Jackson's, and especially refers to Captain
Bingham in the most complimentary terms.
"He never left me sitting alone, nor in an awkward situation of any kind,
but always came cordially to the rescue. My gratitude toward him was
She adds that Mrs. Bingham was very handsome and decidedly the most
attractive lady present. Berlin was Susy's first real taste of society,
and she was reveling in it. In her letter she refers to Minister Phelps
by the rather disrespectful nickname of "Yaas," a term conferred because
of his pronounciation of that affirmative. The Clemens children were not
entirely happy in the company of the minister. They were fond of him,
but he was a great tease. They were quite young enough, but it seemed
always to give him delight to make them appear much younger. In the
letter above quoted Susy says:
When I saw Mr. Phelps I put out my hand enthusiastically and said,
"Oh, Mr. Phelps, good evening," whereat he drew back and said, so
all could hear, "What, you here! why, you're too young. Do you
think you know how to behave?" As there were two or three young
gentlemen near by to whom I hadn't been introduced I wasn't exactly
overjoyed at this greeting.
We may imagine that the nickname "Yaas" had been invented by Susy in
secret retaliation, though she was ready enough to forgive him, for he
was kindness itself at heart.
In one of his later dictations Clemens related an anecdote concerning a
dinner with Phelps, when he (Clemens) had been invited to meet Count
S----, a cabinet minister of long and illustrious descent. Clemens, and
Phelps too, it seems, felt overshadowed by this ancestry.
Of course I wanted to let out the fact that I had some ancestors,
too; but I did not want to pull them out of their graves by the
ears, and I never could seem to get the chance to work them in, in a
way that would look sufficiently casual. I suppose Phelps was in
the same difficulty. In fact he looked distraught now and then just
as a person looks who wants to uncover an ancestor purely by
accident and cannot think of a way that will seem accidental enough.
But at last, after dinner, he made a try. He took us about his
drawing-room, showing us the pictures, and finally stopped before a
rude and ancient engraving. It was a picture of the court that
tried Charles I. There was a pyramid of judges in Puritan slouch
hats, and below them three bareheaded secretaries seated at a table.
Mr. Phelps put his finger upon one of the three and said, with
"An ancestor of mine."
I put a finger on a judge and retorted with scathing languidness:
"Ancestor of mine. But it is a small matter. I have others."
Clemens was sincerely fond of Phelps and spent a good deal of time at the
legation headquarters. Sometimes he wrote there. An American
journalist, Henry W. Fischer, remembers seeing him there several times
scribbling on such scraps of paper as came handy, and recalls that on one
occasion he delivered an address to a German and English audience on the
"Awful German Tongue." This was probably the lecture that brought
Clemens to bed with pneumonia. With Mrs. Clemens he had been down to
Ilsenburg, in the Hartz Mountains, for a week of change. It was pleasant
there, and they would have remained longer but for the Berlin lecture
engagement. As it was, they found Berlin very cold and the lecture-room
crowded and hot. When the lecture was over they stopped at General von
Versen's for a ball, arriving at home about two in the morning. Clemens
awoke with a heavy cold and lung congestion. He remained in bed, a very
sick man indeed, for the better part of a month. It was unpleasant
enough at first, though he rather enjoyed the convalescent period. He
could sit up in bed and read and receive occasional callers. Fischer
brought him Memoirs of the Margravine of Bayreuth, always a favorite.
--[Clemens was deeply interested in the Margravine, and at one time began
a novel with her absorbing history as its theme. He gave it up, probably
feeling that the romantic form could add nothing to the Margravine's own
story.]--The Emperor sent Frau von Versen with an invitation for him to
attend the consecration of some flags in the palace. When she returned,
conveying thanks and excuses, his Majesty commanded her to prepare a
dinner at her home for Mark Twain and himself and a few special guests,
the date to be arranged when Clemens's physician should pronounce him
well enough to attend.
Members of the Clemens household were impressed by this royal attention.
Little Jean was especially awed. She said:
"I wish I could be in papa's clothes"; then, after reflection, "but that
wouldn't be any use. I reckon the Emperor wouldn't recognize me." And a
little later, when she had been considering all the notables and
nobilities of her father's recent association, she added:
"Why, papa, if it keeps on like this, pretty soon there won't be anybody
for you to get acquainted with but God," which Mark Twain decided was not
quite as much of a compliment as it had at first seemed.
It was during the period of his convalescence that Clemens prepared his
sixth letter for the New York Sun and McClure's syndicate, "The German
Chicago," a finely descriptive article on Berlin, and German customs and
institutions generally. Perhaps the best part of it is where he
describes the grand and prolonged celebration which had been given in
honor of Professor Virchow's seventieth birthday.--[Rudolph Virchow, an
eminent German pathologist and anthropologist and scholar; then one of
the most prominent figures of the German Reichstag. He died in 1902.]--
He tells how the demonstrations had continued in one form or another day
after day, and merged at last into the seventieth birthday of Professor
Helmholtz--[Herman von Helmholtz, an eminent German physicist, one of
the most distinguished scientists of the nineteenth century. He died in
1894.]--also how these great affairs finally culminated in a mighty
'commers', or beer-fest, given in their honor by a thousand German
students. This letter has been published in Mark Twain's "Complete
Works," and is well worth reading to-day. His place had been at the
table of the two heroes of the occasion, Virchow and Helmholtz, a place
where he could see and hear all that went on; and he was immensely
impressed at the honor which Germany paid to her men of science. The
climax came when Mommsen unexpectedly entered the room.--[Theodor
Mommsen (1817-1903), an eminent German historian and archeologist, a
powerful factor in all liberal movements. From 1874-1895 permanent
secretary of the Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences.]
There seemed to be some signal whereby the students on the platform
were made aware that a professor had arrived at the remote door of
entrance, for you would see them suddenly rise to their feet, strike
an erect military attitude, then draw their swords; the swords of
all their brethren standing guard at the innumerable tables would
flash from the scabbard and be held aloft--a handsome spectacle.
Three clear bugle-notes would ring out, then all these swords would
come down with a crash, twice repeated, on the tables and be
uplifted and held aloft again; then in the distance you would see
the gay uniforms and uplifted swords of a guard of honor clearing
the way and conducting the guest down to his place. The songs were
stirring, and the immense outpour from young life and young lungs,
the crash of swords, and the thunder of the beer-mugs gradually
worked a body up to what seemed the last possible summit of
excitement. It surely seemed to me that I had reached that summit,
that I had reached my limit, and that there was no higher lift
devisable for me. When apparently the last eminent guest had long
ago taken his place, again those three bugle-blasts rang out, and
once more the swords leaped from their scabbards. Who might this
late comer be? Nobody was interested to inquire. Still, indolent
eyes were turned toward the distant entrance, and we saw the silken
gleam and the lifted sword of a guard of honor plowing through the
remote crowds. Then we saw that end of the house rising to its
feet; saw it rise abreast the advancing guard all along like a wave.
This supreme honor had been offered to no one before. There was an
excited whisper at our table--"Mommsen!"--and the whole house rose--
rose and shouted and stamped and clapped and banged the beer-mugs.
Just simply a storm! Then the little man with his long hair and
Emersonian face edged his way past us and took his seat. I could
have touched him with my hand--Mommsen!--think of it!
This was one of those immense surprises that can happen only a few
times in one's life. I was not dreaming of him; he was to me only a
giant myth, a world-shadowing specter, not a reality. The surprise
of it all can be only comparable to a man's suddenly coming upon
Mont Blanc, with its awful form towering into the sky, when he
didn't suspect he was in its neighborhood. I would have walked a
great many miles to get a sight of him, and here he was, without
trouble, or tramp, or cost of any kind. Here he was, clothed in a
titanic deceptive modesty which made him look like other men. Here
he was, carrying the Roman world and all the Caesars in his
hospitable skull, and doing it as easily as that other luminous
vault, the skull of the universe, carries the Milky Way and the
During his convalescent days, Clemens had plenty of time to reflect and
to look out of the window. His notebook preserves some of his
reflections. In one place he says:
The Emperor passes in a modest open carnage. Next that happy 12-
year-old butcher-boy, all in white apron and turban, standing up
& so proud!
How fast they drive-nothing like it but in London. And the horses
seem to be of very fine breed, though I am not an expert in horses
& do not speak with assurance. I can always tell which is the front
end of a horse, but beyond that my art is not above the ordinary.
The "Court Gazette" of a German paper can be covered with a playing-
card. In an English paper the movements of titled people take up
about three times that room. In the papers of Republican France
from six to sixteen times as much. There, if a Duke's dog should
catch cold in the head they would stop the press to announce it and
cry about it. In Germany they respect titles, in England they
revere them, in France they adore them. That is, the French
Been taken for Mommsen twice. We have the same hair, but on
examination it was found the brains were different.
On February 14th he records that Professor Helmholtz called, but
unfortunately leaves no further memorandum of that visit. He was quite
recovered by this time, but was still cautioned about going out in the
severe weather. In the final entry he says:
Thirty days sick abed--full of interest--read the debates and get
excited over them, though don't 'versteh'. By reading keep in a
state of excited ignorance, like a blind man in a house afire;
flounder around, immensely but unintelligently interested; don't
know how I got in and can't find the way out, but I'm having a
booming time all to myself.
Don't know what a 'Schelgesetzentwurf' is, but I keep as excited over it
and as worried about it as if it was my own child. I simply live on the
Sch.; it is my daily bread. I wouldn't have the question settled for
anything in the world. Especially now that I've lost the 'offentliche
Militargericht circus'. I read all the debates on that question with a
never-failing interest, but all at once they sprung a vote on me a couple
of days ago & did something by a vote of 100 to 143, but I couldn't find
out what it was.
A DINNER WITH WILLIAM II.
The dinner with Emperor William II. at General von Versen's was set for
the 20th of February. A few days before, Mark Twain entered in his note-
In that day the Imperial lion and the Democratic lamb shall sit down
together, and a little General shall feed them.
Mark Twain was the guest of honor on this occasion, and was seated at the
Emperor's right hand. The Emperor's brother, Prince Heinrich, sat
opposite; Prince Radolin farther along. Rudolf Lindau, of the Foreign
Office, was also present. There were fourteen at the table, all told.
In his memorandum made at the time, Clemens gave no account of the dinner
beyond the above details, only adding:
After dinner 6 or 8 officers came in, & all hands adjourned to the
big room out of the smoking-room and held a "smoking parliament"
after the style of the ancient Potsdam one, till midnight, when the
Emperor shook hands and left.
It was not until fourteen years later that Mark Twain related some
special matters pertaining to that evening. He may have expanded then
somewhat to fill out spaces of his memory, and embroidered them, as was
his wont; but that something happened, either in reality or in his
imagination, which justified his version of it we may believe. He told
it as here given, premising: "This may appear in print after I am dead,
but not before.
"From 1891 until day before yesterday I had never mentioned the
matter, nor set it down with a pen, nor ever referred to it in any
way--not even to my wife, to whom I was accustomed to tell
everything that happened to me.
"At the dinner his Majesty chatted briskly and entertainingly along
in easy and flowing English, and now and then he interrupted himself
to address a remark to me or to some other individual of the guests.
When the reply had been delivered he resumed his talk. I noticed
that the table etiquette tallied with that which was the law of my
house at home when we had guests; that is to say, the guests
answered when the host favored them with a remark, and then quieted
down and behaved themselves until they got another chance. If I had
been in the Emperor's chair and he in mine I should have felt
infinitely comfortable and at home, but I was guest now, and
consequently felt less at home. From old experience I was familiar
with the rules of the game and familiar with their exercise from the
high place of host; but I was not familiar with the trammeled and
less satisfactory position of guest, therefore I felt a little
strange and out of place. But there was no animosity--no, the
Emperor was host, therefore, according to my own rule, he had a
right to do the talking, and it was my honorable duty to intrude no
interruptions or other improvements except upon invitation; and of
course it could be my turn some day--some day, on some friendly
visit of inspection to America, it might be my pleasure and
distinction to have him as guest at my table; then I would give him
a rest and a quiet time.
"In one way there was a difference between his table and mine-for
instance, atmosphere; the guests stood in awe of him, and naturally
they conferred that feeling upon me, for, after all, I am only
human, although I regret it. When a guest answered a question he
did it with a deferential voice and manner; he did not put any
emotion into it, and he did not spin it out, but got it out of his
system as quickly as he could, and then looked relieved. The
Emperor was used to this atmosphere, and it did not chill his blood;
maybe it was an inspiration to him, for he was alert, brilliant, and
full of animation; also he was most gracefully and felicitously
complimentary to my books--and I will remark here that the happy
phrasing of a compliment is one of the rarest of human gifts and the
happy delivery of it another. I once mentioned the high compliment
which he paid to the book 'Old Times on the Mississippi'; but there
were others, among them some high praise of my description in 'A
Tramp Abroad' of certain striking phases of German student life.
"Fifteen or twenty minutes before the dinner ended the Emperor made
a remark to me in praise of our generous soldier pensions; then,
without pausing, he continued the remark, not speaking to me, but
across the table to his brother, Prince Heinrich. The Prince
replied, endorsing the Emperor's view of the matter. Then I
followed with my own view of it. I said that in the beginning our
government's generosity to the soldier was clear in its intent and
praiseworthy, since the pensions were conferred upon soldiers who
had earned them, soldiers who had been disabled in the war and could
no longer earn a livelihood for themselves and their families, but
that the pensions decreed and added later lacked the virtue of a
clean motive, and had, little by little, degenerated into a wider
and wider and more and more offensive system of vote-purchasing, and
was now become a source of corruption, which was an unpleasant thing
to contemplate and was a danger besides. I think that that was
about the substance of my remark; but in any case the remark had a
quite definite result, and that is the memorable thing about it--
manifestly it made everybody uncomfortable. I seemed to perceive
this quite plainly. I had committed an indiscretion. Possibly it
was in violating etiquette by intruding a remark when I had not been
invited to make one; possibly it was in taking issue with an opinion
promulgated by his Majesty. I do not know which it was, but I quite
clearly remember the effect which my act produced--to wit, the
Emperor refrained from addressing any remarks to me afterward, and
not merely during the brief remainder of the dinner, but afterward
in the kneip-room, where beer and cigars and hilarious anecdoting
prevailed until about midnight. I am sure that the Emperor's good
night was the only thing he said to me in all that time.
"Was this rebuke studied and intentional? I don't know, but I
regarded it in that way. I can't be absolutely sure of it because
of modifying doubts created afterward by one or two circumstances.
For example: the Empress Dowager invited me to her palace, and the
reigning Empress invited me to breakfast, and also sent for General
von Versen to come to her palace and read to her and her ladies from
It was a personal message from the Emperor that fourteen years later
recalled to him this curious circumstance. A gentleman whom Clemens knew
went on a diplomatic mission to Germany. Upon being presented to Emperor
William, the latter had immediately begun to talk of Mark Twain and his
work. He spoke of the description of German student life as the greatest
thing of its kind ever written, and of the sketch on the German language
as wonderful; then he said:
"Convey to Mr. Clemens my kindest regards, ask him if he remembers that
dinner at Von Versen's, and ask him why he didn't do any more talking at
It seemed a mysterious message. Clemens thought it might have been meant
to convey some sort of an imperial apology; but again it might have meant
that Mark Twain's breach and the Emperor's coolness on that occasion were
purely imaginary, and that the Emperor had really expected him to talk
far more than he did.
Returning to the Royal Hotel after the Von Versen dinner, Mark Twain
received his second high compliment that day on the Mississippi book.
The portier, a tow-headed young German, must have been comparatively new
at the hotel; for apparently he had just that day learned that his
favorite author, whose books he had long been collecting, was actually
present in the flesh. Clemens, all ready to apologize for asking so late
an admission, was greeted by the portier's round face all sunshine and
smiles. The young German then poured out a stream of welcome and
compliments and dragged the author to a small bedroom near the front
door, where he excitedly pointed out a row of books, German translations
of Mark Twain.
"There," he said; "you wrote them. I've found it out. Lieber Gott!
I did not know it before, and I ask a million pardons. That one there,
Old Times on the Mississippi, is the best you ever wrote."
The note-book records only one social event following the Emperor's
dinner--a dinner with the secretary of the legation. The note says:
At the Emperor's dinner black cravats were ordered. Tonight I went in a
black cravat and everybody else wore white ones. Just my luck.
The Berlin activities came to an end then. He was still physically far
from robust, and his doctors peremptorily ordered him to stay indoors or
to go to a warmer climate. This was March 1st. Clemens and his wife
took Joseph Very, and, leaving the others for the time in Berlin, set out
for Mentone, in the south of France.
Mentone was warm and quiet, and Clemens worked when his arm permitted.
He was alone there with Mrs. Clemens, and they wandered about a good
deal, idling and picture-making, enjoying a sort of belated honeymoon.
Clemens wrote to Susy:
Joseph is gone to Nice to educate himself in kodaking--and to get the
pictures mounted which mama thinks she took here; but I noticed she
didn't take the plug out, as a rule. When she did she took nine pictures
on top of each other--composites.
They remained a month in Mentone, then went over to Pisa, and sent Joseph
to bring the rest of the party to Rome. In Rome they spent another
month--a period of sight-seeing, enjoyable, but to Clemens pretty
"I do not expect to be able to write any literature this year," he said
in a letter to Hall near the end of April. "The moment I take up my pen
my rheumatism returns."
Still he struggled along and managed to pile up a good deal of copy in
the course of weeks. From Rome to Florence, at the end of April, and so
pleasing was the prospect, and so salubrious the air of that ancient
city, that they resolved to engage residence there for the next winter.
They inspected accommodations of various kinds, and finally, through
Prof. Willard Fiske, were directed to the Villa Viviani, near Settignano,
on a hill to the eastward of Florence, with vineyard and olive-grove
sloping away to the city lying in a haze-a vision of beauty and peace.
They closed the arrangement for Viviani, and about the middle of May went
up to Venice for a fortnight of sight-seeing--a break in the travel back
to Germany. William Gedney Bunce, the Hartford artist, was in Venice,
and Sarah Orne Jewett and other home friends.
From Venice, by way of Lake Como and "a tangled route" (his note-book
says) to Lucerne, and so northward to Berlin and on to Bad Nauheim, where
they had planned to spend the summer. Clemens for some weeks had
contemplated a trip to America, for matters there seemed to demand his
personal attention. Summer arrangements for the family being now
concluded, he left within the week and set sail on the Havel for New
York. To Jean he wrote a cheerful good-by letter, more cheerful, we may
believe, than he felt.
BREMEN, 7.45 A.M., June 14, 1892.
DEAR JEAN CLEMENS,--I am up & shaved & got my clean shirt on & feel
mighty fine, & am going down to show off before I put on the rest of my
Perhaps mama & Mrs. Hague can persuade the Hauswirth to do right; but if
he don't you go down & kill his dog.
I wish you would invite the Consul-General and his ladies down to take
one of those slim dinners with mama, then he would complain to the
Clemens felt that his presence in America, was demanded by two things.
Hall's reports continued, as ever, optimistic; but the semi-annual
statements were less encouraging. The Library of Literature and some of
the other books were selling well enough; but the continuous increase of
capital required by a business conducted on the instalment plan had
steadily added to the firm's liabilities, while the prospect of a general
tightening in the money-market made the outlook not a particularly happy
one. Clemens thought he might be able to dispose of the Library or an
interest in it, or even of his share of the business itself, to some one
with means sufficient to put it on an easier financial footing. The
uncertainties of trade and the burden of increased debt had become a
nightmare which interfered with his sleep. It seemed hard enough to earn
a living with a crippled arm, without this heavy business care.
The second interest requiring attention was that other old one--the
machine. Clemens had left the matter in Paige's hands, and Paige, with
persuasive eloquence, had interested Chicago capital to a point where a
company had been formed to manufacture the type-setter in that city.
Paige reported that he had got several million dollars subscribed for the
construction of a factory, and that he had been placed on a salary as a
sort of general "consulting omniscient" at five thousand dollars a month.
Clemens, who had been negotiating again with the Mallorys for the
disposal of his machine royalties, thought it proper to find out just
what was going on. He remained in America less than two weeks, during
which he made a flying trip to Chicago and found that Paige's company
really had a factory started, and proposed to manufacture fifty machines.
It was not easy to find out the exact status of this new company, but
Clemens at least was hopeful enough of its prospects to call off the
negotiations with the Mallorys which had promised considerable cash in
hand. He had been able to accomplish nothing material in the publishing
situation, but his heart-to-heart talk with Hall for some reason had
seemed comforting. The business had been expanding; they would now
"concentrate." He returned on the Lahn, and he must have been in better
health and spirits, for it is said he kept the ship very merry during the
passage. He told many extravagantly amusing yarns; so many that a court
was convened to try him on the charge of "inordinate and unscientific
lying." Many witnesses testified, and his own testimony was so
unconvincing that the jury convicted him without leaving the bench. He
was sentenced to read aloud from his own works for a considerable period
every day until the steamer should reach port. It is said that he
faithfully carried out this part of the program, and that the proceeds
from the trial and the various readings amounted to something more than
six hundred dollars, which was turned over to the Seamen's Fund.
Clemens's arm was really much better, and he put in a good deal of spare
time during the trip writing an article on "All Sorts and Conditions of
Ships," from Noah's Ark down to the fine new Havel, then the latest word
in ship-construction. It was an article written in a happy vein and is
profitable reading to-day. The description of Columbus as he appeared on
the deck of his flag-ship is particularly rich and flowing:
If the weather was chilly he came up clad from plumed helmet to
spurred heel in magnificent plate-armor inlaid with arabesques of
gold, having previously warmed it at the galley fire. If the
weather was warm he came up in the ordinary sailor toggery of the
time-great slouch hat of blue velvet, with a flowing brush of snowy
ostrich-plumes, fastened on with a flashing cluster of diamonds and
emeralds; gold-embroidered doublet of green velvet, with slashed
sleeves exposing undersleeves of crimson satin; deep collar and cuff
ruffles of rich, limp lace; trunk hose of pink velvet, with big
knee-knots of brocaded yellow ribbon; pearl-tinted silk stockings,
clocked and daintily embroidered; lemon-colored buskins of unborn
kid, funnel-topped, and drooping low to expose the pretty stockings;
deep gauntlets of finest white heretic skin, from the factory of the
Holy Inquisition, formerly part of the person of a lady of rank;
rapier with sheath crusted with jewels and hanging from a broad
baldric upholstered with rubies and sapphires.
NAUHEIM AND THE PRINCE OF WALES
Clemens was able to write pretty steadily that summer in Nauheim and
turned off a quantity of copy. He completed several short articles and
stories, and began, or at least continued work on, two books--'Tom Sawyer
Abroad' and 'Those Extraordinary Twins'--the latter being the original
form of 'Pudd'nhead Wilson'. As early as August 4th he wrote to Hall
that he had finished forty thousand words of the "Tom Sawyer" story, and
that it was to be offered to some young people's magazine, Harper's Young
People or St. Nicholas; but then he suddenly decided that his narrative
method was altogether wrong. To Hall on the 10th he wrote:
I have dropped that novel I wrote you about because I saw a more
effective way of using the main episode--to wit, by telling it
through the lips of Huck Finn. So I have started Huck Finn & Tom
Sawyer (still 15 years old) & their friend the freed slave Jim
around the world in a stray balloon, with Huck as narrator, &
somewhere after the end of that great voyage he will work in that
original episode & then nobody will suspect that a whole book has
been written & the globe circumnavigated merely to get that episode
in in an effective (& at the same time apparently unintentional)
way. I have written 12,000 words of this new narrative, & find that
the humor flows as easily as the adventures & surprises--so I shall
go along and make a book of from 50,000 to 100,000 words.
It is a story for boys, of course, & I think it will interest any
boy between 8 years & 80.
When I was in New York the other day Mrs. Dodge, editor of St.
Nicholas, wrote and offered me $5,000 for (serial right) a story for
boys 50,000 words long. I wrote back and declined, for I had other
matter in my mind then.
I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write
so that it will not only interest boys, but will also strongly
interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges
Now, this story doesn't need to be restricted to a child's magazine
--it is proper enough for any magazine, I should think, or for a
syndicate. I don't swear it, but I think so.
Proposed title--New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
He was full of his usual enthusiasm in any new undertaking, and writes of
the Extraordinary Twins:
By and by I shall have to offer (for grown folks' magazine) a novel
entitled, 'Those Extraordinary Twins'. It's the howling farce I
told you I had begun awhile back. I laid it aside to ferment while
I wrote Tom Sawyer Abroad, but I took it up again on a little
different plan lately, and it is swimming along satisfactorily now.
I think all sorts of folks will read it. It is clear out of the
common order--it is a fresh idea--I don't think it resembles
anything in literature.
He was quite right; it did not resemble anything in literature, nor did
it greatly resemble literature, though something at least related to
literature would eventually grow out of it.
In a letter written many years afterward by Frank Mason, then consul-
general at Frankfort, he refers to "that happy summer at Nauheim." Mason
was often a visitor there, and we may believe that his memory of the
summer was justified. For one thing, Clemens himself was in better
health and spirits and able to continue his work. But an even greater
happiness lay in the fact that two eminent physicians had pronounced Mrs.
Clemens free from any organic ills. To Orion, Clemens wrote:
We are in the clouds because the bath physicians say positively that
Livy has no heart disease but has only weakness of the heart muscles
and will soon be well again. That was worth going to Europe to find
It was enough to change the whole atmosphere of the household, and
financial worries were less considered. Another letter to Orion relates
The Twichells have been here four days & we have had good times with
them. Joe & I ran over to Homburg, the great pleasure-resort,
Saturday, to dine with friends, & in the morning I went walking in
the promenade & met the British ambassador to the Court of Berlin
and he introduced me to the Prince of Wales. I found him a most
unusually comfortable and unembarrassing Englishman.
Twichell has reported Mark Twain's meeting with the Prince (later Edward
VII) as having come about by special request of the latter, made through
the British ambassador. "The meeting," he says, "was a most cordial one
on both sides, and presently the Prince took Mark Twain's arm and the two
marched up and down, talking earnestly together, the Prince, solid,
erect, and soldierlike, Clemens weaving along in his curious, swinging
gait in a full tide of talk, and brandishing a sun-umbrella of the most
When they parted Clemens said:
"It has been, indeed, a great pleasure to meet your Royal Highness."
The Prince answered:
"And it is a pleasure, Mr. Clemens, to have met you--again."
Clemens was puzzled to reply.
"Why," he said, "have we met before?"
The Prince smiled happily.
"Oh yes," he said; "don't you remember that day on the Strand when you
were on the top of a bus and I was heading a procession and you had on
your new overcoat with flap-pockets?"--[See chap. clxiii, "A Letter to
the Queen of England."]
It was the highest compliment he could have paid, for it showed that he
had read, and had remembered all those years. Clemens expressed to
Twichell regret that he had forgotten to mention his visit to the
Prince's sister, Louise, in Ottawa, but he had his opportunity at a
dinner next day. Later the Prince had him to supper and they passed an
entire evening together.
There was a certain uneasiness in the Nauheim atmosphere that year, for
the cholera had broken out at Hamburg, and its victims were dying at a
terrific rate. It was almost impossible to get authentic news as to the
spread of the epidemic, for the German papers were curiously conservative
in their reports. Clemens wrote an article on the subject but concluded
not to print it. A paragraph will convey its tenor.
What I am trying to make the reader understand is the strangeness of
the situation here--a mighty tragedy being played upon a stage that
is close to us, & yet we are as ignorant of its details as we should
be if the stage were in China. We sit "in front," & the audience is
in fact the world; but the curtain is down, & from behind it we hear
only an inarticulate murmur. The Hamburg disaster must go into
history as the disaster without a history.
He closes with an item from a physician's letter--an item which he says
"gives you a sudden and terrific sense of the situation there."
For in a line it flashes before you--this ghastly picture--a thing
seen by the physician: a wagon going along the street with five sick
people in it, and with them four dead ones.
THE VILLA VIVIANI
'The American Claimant', published in May l (1892), did not bring a very
satisfactory return. For one thing, the book-trade was light, and then
the Claimant was not up to his usual standard. It had been written under
hard circumstances and by a pen long out of practice; it had not paid,
and its author must work all the harder on the new undertakings. The
conditions at Nauheim seemed favorable, and they lingered there until
well into September. To Mrs. Crane, who had returned to America, Clemens
wrote on the 18th, from Lucerne, in the midst of their travel to Italy:
We remained in Nauheim a little too long. If we had left four or
five days earlier we should have made Florence in three days. Hard
trip because it was one of those trains that gets tired every 7
minutes and stops to rest three-quarters of an hour. It took us
3 1/2 hours to get there instead of the regulation 2 hours. We
shall pull through to Milan to-morrow if possible. Next day we
shall start at 10 AM and try to make Bologna, 5 hours. Next day,
Florence, D. V. Next year we will walk. Phelps came to Frankfort
and we had some great times--dinner at his hotel; & the Masons,
supper at our inn--Livy not in it. She was merely allowed a
glimpse, no more. Of course Phelps said she was merely pretending
to be ill; was never looking so well & fine.
A Paris journal has created a happy interest by inoculating one of
its correspondents with cholera. A man said yesterday he wished to
God they would inoculate all of them. Yes, the interest is quite
general and strong & much hope is felt.
Livy says I have said enough bad things, and better send all our
loves & shut up. Which I do--and shut up.
They lingered at Lucerne until Mrs. Clemens was rested and better able to
continue the journey, arriving at last in Florence, September 26th. They
drove out to the Villa Viviani in the afternoon and found everything in
readiness for their reception, even to the dinner, which was prepared and
on the table. Clemens, in his notes, speaks of this and adds:
It takes but a sentence to state that, but it makes an indolent person
tired to think of the planning & work and trouble that lie concealed in
Some further memoranda made at this time have that intimate interest
which gives reality and charm. The 'contadino' brought up their trunks
from the station, and Clemens wrote:
The 'contadino' is middle-aged & like the rest of the peasants--that
is to say, brown, handsome, good-natured, courteous, & entirely
independent without making any offensive show of it. He charged too
much for the trunks, I was told. My informer explained that this
September 27. The rest of the trunks brought up this morning. He
charged too much again, but I was told that this was also customary.
It's all right, then. I do not wish to violate the customs. Hired
landau, horses, & coachman. Terms, 480 francs a month & a pourboire
to the coachman, I to furnish lodging for the man & the horses, but
nothing else. The landau has seen better days & weighs 30 tons.
The horses are feeble & object to the landau; they stop & turn
around every now & then & examine it with surprise & suspicion.
This causes delay. But it entertains the people along the road.
They came out & stood around with their hands in their pockets &
discussed the matter with each other. I was told that they said
that a 30-ton landau was not the thing for horses like those--what
they needed was a wheelbarrow.
His description of the house pictures it as exactly today as it did then,
for it has not changed in these twenty years, nor greatly, perhaps, in
the centuries since it was built.
It is a plain, square building, like a box, & is painted light
yellow & has green window-shutters. It stands in a commanding
position on the artificial terrace of liberal dimensions, which is
walled around with masonry. From the walls the vineyards & olive
orchards of the estate slant away toward the valley. There are
several tall trees, stately stone-pines, also fig-trees & trees of
breeds not familiar to me. Roses overflow the retaining-walls, &
the battered & mossy stone urn on the gate-posts, in pink & yellow
cataracts exactly as they do on the drop-curtains in the theaters.
The house is a very fortress for strength. The main walls--all
brick covered with plaster--are about 3 feet thick. I have several
times tried to count the rooms of the house, but the irregularities
baffle me. There seem to be 28. There are plenty of windows &
worlds of sunlight. The floors are sleek & shiny & full of
reflections, for each is a mirror in its way, softly imaging all
objects after the subdued fashion of forest lakes. The curious
feature of the house is the salon. This is a spacious & lofty
vacuum which occupies the center of the house. All the rest of the
house is built around it; it extends up through both stories & its
roof projects some feet above the rest of the building. The sense
of its vastness strikes you the moment you step into it & cast your
eyes around it & aloft. There are divans distributed along its
walls. They make little or no show, though their aggregate length
is 57 feet. A piano in it is a lost object. We have tried to
reduce the sense of desert space & emptiness with tables & things,
but they have a defeated look, & do not do any good. Whatever
stands or moves under that soaring painted vault is belittled.
He describes the interior of this vast room (they grew to love it),
dwelling upon the plaster-relief portraits above its six doors,
Florentine senators and judges, ancient dwellers there and former owners
of the estate.
The date of one of them is 1305--middle-aged, then, & a judge--he
could have known, as a youth, the very greatest Italian artists, &
he could have walked & talked with Dante, & probably did. The date
of another is 1343--he could have known Boccaccio & spent his
afternoons wandering in Fiesole, gazing down on plague-reeking
Florence & listening to that man's improper tales, & he probably
did. The date of another is 1463--he could have met Columbus & he
knew the magnificent Lorenzo, of course. These are all Cerretanis--
or Cerretani-Twains, as I may say, for I have adopted myself into
their family on account of its antiquity--my origin having been
heretofore too recent to suit me.
We are considering the details of Viviani at some length, for it was in
this setting that he began and largely completed what was to be his most
important work of this later time--in some respects his most important of
any time--the 'Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc'. If the reader
loves this book, and he must love it if he has read it, he will not
begrudge the space here given to the scene of its inspiration. The
outdoor picture of Viviani is of even more importance, for he wrote
oftener out-of-doors than elsewhere. Clemens added it to his notes
several months later, but it belongs here.
The situation of this villa is perfect. It is three miles from
Florence, on the side of a hill. Beyond some hill-spurs is Fiesole
perched upon its steep terraces; in the immediate foreground is the
imposing mass of the Ross castle, its walls and turrets rich with
the mellow weather-stains of forgotten centuries; in the distant
plain lies Florence, pink & gray & brown, with the ruddy, huge dome
of the cathedral dominating its center like a captive balloon, &
flanked on the right by the smaller bulb of the Medici chapel & on
the left by the airy tower of the Palazzo Vecchio; all around the
horizon is a billowy rim of lofty blue hills, snowed white with
innumerable villas. After nine months of familiarity with this
panorama I still think, as I thought in the beginning, that this is
the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon,
the most satisfying to the eye & the spirit. To see the sun sink
down, drowned in his pink & purple & golden floods, & overwhelm
Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim &
faint & turn the solid city into a city of dreams, is a sight to
stir the coldest nature & make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.
The Clemens household at Florence consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Clemens,
Susy, and Jean. Clara had soon returned to Berlin to attend Mrs.
Willard's school and for piano instruction. Mrs. Clemens improved in the
balmy autumn air of Florence and in the peaceful life of their well-
ordered villa. In a memorandum of October 27th Clemens wrote:
The first month is finished. We are wonted now. This carefree life
at a Florentine villa is an ideal existence. The weather is divine,
the outside aspects lovely, the days and nights tranquil and
reposeful, the seclusion from the world and its worries as
satisfactory as a dream. Late in the afternoons friends come out
from the city & drink tea in the open air & tell what is happening
in the world; & when the great sun sinks down upon Florence & the
daily miracle begins they hold their breath & look. It is not a
time for talk.
No wonder he could work in that environment. He finished 'Tom Sawyer
Abroad', also a short story, 'The L 1,000,000 Bank-Note' (planned many
years before), discovered the literary mistake of the 'Extraordinary
Twins' and began converting it into the worthier tale, 'Pudd'nhead
Wilson', soon completed and on its way to America.
With this work out of his hands, Clemens was ready for his great new
undertaking. A seed sown by the wind more than forty years before was
ready to bloom. He would write the story of Joan of Arc.
THE SIEUR DE CONTE AND JOAN
In a note which he made many years later Mark Twain declared that he was
fourteen years at work on Joan of Arc; that he had been twelve years
preparing for it, and that he was two years in writing it.
There is nothing in any of his earlier notes or letters to indicate that
he contemplated the story of Joan as early as the eighties; but there is
a bibliographical list of various works on the subject, probably compiled
for him not much later than 1880, for the latest published work of the
list bears that date. He was then too busy with his inventions and
publishing schemes to really undertake a work requiring such vast
preparation; but without doubt he procured a number of books and renewed
that old interest begun so long ago when a stray wind had blown a leaf
from that tragic life into his own. Joan of Arc, by Janet Tuckey, was
apparently the first book he read with the definite idea of study, for
this little volume had been recently issued, and his copy, which still
exists, is filled with his marginal notes. He did not speak of this
volume in discussing the matter in after-years. He may have forgotten
it. He dwelt mainly on the old records of the trial which had been dug
out and put into modern French by Quicherat; the 'Jeanne d'Arc' of J.
Michelet, and the splendid 'Life of the Maid' of Lord Ronald Gower, these
being remembered as his chief sources of information.--[The book of
Janet Tuckey, however, and ten others, including those mentioned, are
credited as "authorities examined in verification" on a front page of his
published book. In a letter written at the conclusion of "Joan" in 1895,
the author states that in the first two-thirds of the story he used one
French and one English authority, while in the last third he had
constantly drawn from five French and five English sources.]
"I could not get the Quicherat and some of the other books in English,"
he said, "and I had to dig them out of the French. I began the story
None of these discarded beginnings exists to-day, but we may believe they
were wisely put aside, for no story of the Maid could begin more
charmingly, more rarely, than the one supposedly told in his old age by
Sieur Louis de Conte, secretary of Joan of Arc, and translated by Jean
Francois Alden for the world to read. The impulse which had once
prompted Mark Twain to offer The Prince and the Pauper anonymously now
prevailed. He felt that the Prince had missed a certain appreciation by
being connected with his signature, and he resolved that its companion
piece (he so regarded Joan) should be accepted on its merits and without
prejudice. Walking the floor one day at Viviani, smoking vigorously, he
said to Mrs. Clemens and Susy:
"I shall never be accepted seriously over my own signature. People
always want to laugh over what I write and are disappointed if they don't
find a joke in it. This is to be a serious book. It means more to me
than anything I have ever undertaken. I shall write it anonymously."
So it was that that gentle, quaint Sieur de Conte took up the pen, and
the tale of Joan was begun in that beautiful spot which of all others
seems now the proper environment for its lovely telling.
He wrote rapidly once he got his plan perfected and his material
arranged. The reading of his youth and manhood, with the vivid
impressions of that earlier time, became now something remembered, not
merely as reading, but as fact.
Others of the family went down into the city almost daily, but he
remained in that still garden with Joan as his companion--the old Sieur
de Conte, saturated with memories, pouring out that marvelous and tragic
tale. At the end of each day he would read to the others what he had
written, to their enjoyment and wonder.
How rapidly he worked may be judged from a letter which he wrote to Hall
in February, in which he said:
I am writing a companion piece to 'The Prince and the Pauper', which is
half done & will make 200,000 words.
That is to say, he had written one hundred thousand words in a period of
perhaps six weeks, marvelous work when one remembers that after all he
was writing history, some of which he must dig laboriously from a foreign
source. He had always, more or less, kept up his study of the French,
begun so long ago on the river and it stood him in good stead now.
Still, it was never easy for him, and the multitude of notes along the
margin of his French authorities bears evidence of his faithfulness and
the magnitude of his toil. No previous work had ever required so much of
him, such thorough knowledge; none had ever so completely commanded his
interest. He would have been willing to remain shut away from visitors,
to have been released altogether from social obligations; and he did
avoid most of them. Not all, for he could not always escape, and perhaps
did not always really wish to. Florence and its suburbs were full of
delightful people--some of them his old friends. There were luncheons,
dinners, teas, dances, concerts, operas always in progress somewhere, and
not all of these were to be resisted even by an absorbed author who was
no longer himself, but sad old Sieur de Conte, following again the banner
of the Maid of Orleans, marshaling her twilight armies across his
NEW HOPE IN THE MACHINE
If all human events had not been ordered in the first act of the primal
atom, and so become inevitable, it would seem a pity now that he must
abandon his work half-way, and make another hard, distracting trip to
But it was necessary for him to go. Even Hall was no longer optimistic.
His letters provided only the barest shreds of hope. Times were hard and
there was every reason to believe they would be worse. The World's Fair
year promised to be what it speedily became--one of the hardest financial
periods this country has ever seen. Chicago could hardly have selected a
more profitless time for her great exposition. Clemens wrote urging Hall
to sell out all, or a portion, of the business--to do anything, indeed,
that would avoid the necessity of further liability and increased dread.
Every payment that could be spared from the sales of his manuscript was
left in Hall's hands, and such moneys as still came to Mrs. Clemens from
her Elmira interests were flung into the general fund. The latter were
no longer large, for Langdon & Co. were suffering heavily in the general
depression, barely hoping to weather the financial storm.
It is interesting to note that age and misfortune and illness had a
tempering influence on Mark Twain's nature. Instead of becoming harsh
and severe and bitter, he had become more gentle, more kindly. He wrote
often to Hall, always considerately, even tenderly. Once, when something
in Hall's letter suggested that he had perhaps been severe, he wrote:
Mrs. Clemens is deeply distressed, for she thinks I have been
blaming you or finding fault with you about something. But most
assuredly that cannot be. I tell her that although I am prone to
write hasty and regrettable things to other people I am not a bit
likely to write such things to you. I can't believe I have done
anything so ungrateful. If I have, pile coals of fire upon my head
for I deserve it. You have done magnificently with the business, &
we must raise the money somehow to enable you to reap a reward for
all that labor.
He was fond of Hall. He realized how honest and resolute and industrious
he had been. In another letter he wrote him that it was wonderful he had
been able to "keep the ship afloat in the storm that has seen fleets and
fleets go down"; and he added: "Mrs. Clemens says I must tell you not to
send us any money for a month or two, so that you may be afforded what
little relief is in our power."
The type-setter situation seemed to promise something. In fact, the
machine once more had become the principal hope of financial salvation.
The new company seemed really to begetting ahead in spite of the money
stringency, and was said to have fifty machines well under way: About the
middle of March Clemens packed up two of his shorter manuscripts which he
had written at odd times and forwarded them to Hall, in the hope that
they would be disposed of and the money waiting him on his arrival; and a
week later, March 22, 1893, he sailed from Genoa on the Kaiser Wilhelm
II, a fine, new boat. One of the manuscripts was 'The Californian's
Tale' and the other was 'Adam's Diary'.--[It seems curious that neither
of these tales should have found welcome with the magazines. "The
Californian's Tale" was published in the Liber Scriptorum, an Authors'
Club book, edited by Arthur Stedman. The 'Diary' was disposed of to the
Niagara Book, a souvenir of Niagara Falls, which contained sketches by
Howells, Clemens, and others. Harper's Magazine republished both these
stories in later years--the Diary especially with great success.]
Some joke was likely to be played on Mark Twain during these ocean
journeys, and for this particular voyage an original one was planned.
They knew how he would fume and swear if he should be discovered with
dutiable goods and held up in the Custom House, and they planned for this
effect. A few days before arriving in New York one passenger after
another came to him, each with a box of expensive cigars, and some
pleasant speech expressing friendship and appreciation and a hope that
they would be remembered in absence, etc., until he had perhaps ten or a
dozen very choice boxes of smoking material. He took them all with
gratitude and innocence. He had never declared any dutiable baggage,
entering New York alone, and it never occurred to him that he would need
to do so now. His trunk and bags were full; he had the cigars made into
a nice package, to be carried handily, and on his arrival at the North
German Lloyd docks stood waiting among his things for the formality of
Customs examination, his friends assembled for the explosion.
They had not calculated well; the Custom-House official came along
presently with the usual "Open your baggage, please," then suddenly
recognizing the owner of it he said:
"Oh, Mr. Clemens, excuse me. We have orders to extend to you the
courtesies of the port. No examination of your effects is necessary."
It was the evening of Monday, April 3d, when he landed in New York and
went to the Hotel Glenham. In his notes he tells of having a two-hour
talk with Howells on the following night. They had not seen each other
for two years, and their correspondence had been broken off. It was a
happy, even if somewhat sad, reunion, for they were no longer young, and
when they called the roll of friends there were many vacancies. They had
reached an age where some one they loved died every year. Writing to
Mrs. Crane, Clemens speaks of the ghosts of memory; then he says:
I dreamed I was born & grew up & was a pilot on the Mississippi & a
miner & a journalist in Nevada & a pilgrim in the Quaker City & had
a wife & children & went to live in a villa at Florence--& this
dream goes on & on & sometimes seems so real that I almost believe
it is real. I wonder if it is? But there is no way to tell, for if
one applies tests they would be part of the dream, too, & so would
simply aid the deceit. I wish I knew whether it is a dream or real.
He was made handsomely welcome in New York. His note-book says:
Wednesday. Dined with Mary Mapes Dodge, Howells, Rudyard Kipling &
wife, Clarke,--[ William Fayal Clarke, now editor of St. Nicholas
Magazine.]--Jamie Dodge & wife.
Thursday, 6th. Dined with Andrew Carnegie, Prof. Goldwin Smith,
John Cameron, Mr. Glenn. Creation of league for absorbing Canada
into our Union. Carnegie also wants to add Great Britain & Ireland.
It was on this occasion that Carnegie made his celebrated maxim about the
basket and the eggs. Clemens was suggesting that Carnegie take an
interest in the typesetter, and quoted the old adage that one should not
put all of his eggs into one basket. Carnegie regarded him through half-
closed lids, as was his custom, and answered:
"That's a mistake; put all your eggs into one basket--and watch that
He had not come to America merely for entertainment. He was at the New
York office of the type-setter company, acquiring there what seemed to be
good news, for he was assured that his interests were being taken care
of, and that within a year at most his royalty returns would place him
far beyond the fear of want. He forwarded this good news to Italy, where
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