Mark Twain, A Biography, 1886-1900
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 3 out of 5
it was sorely needed, for Mrs. Clemens found her courage not easy to
sustain in his absence. That he had made his letter glowing enough, we
may gather from her answer.
It does not seem credible that we are really again to have money to
spend. I think I will jump around and spend money just for fun, and
give a little away, if we really get some. What should we do and
how should we feel if we had no bright prospects before us, and yet
how many people are situated in that way?
He decided to make another trip to Chicago to verify, with his own eyes,
the manufacturing reports, and to see Paige, who would appear to have
become more elusive than ever as to contracts, written and implied. He
took Hall with him, and wrote Orion to meet him at the Great Northern
Hotel. This would give him a chance to see Orion and would give Orion a
chance to see the great Fair. He was in Chicago eleven days, and in bed
with a heavy cold almost the whole of that time. Paige came to see him
at his rooms, and, as always, was rich in prospects and promises; full of
protestations that, whatever came, when the tide of millions rolled in,
they would share and share alike. The note-book says:
Paige shed even more tears than usual. What a talker he is! He
could persuade a fish to come out and take a walk with him. When he
is present I always believe him; I can't help it.
Clemens returned to New York as soon as he was able to travel. Going
down in the elevator a man stepped in from one of the floors swearing
violently. Clemens, leaning over to Hall, with his hand to his mouth,
and in a whisper audible to every one, said:
"Bishop of Chicago."
The man, with a quick glance, recognized his fellow-passenger and
On May 13th Clemens took the Kaiser Wilhelm II. for Genoa. He had
accomplished little, but he was in better spirits as to the machine.
If only the strain of his publishing business had slackened even for a
moment! Night and day it was always with him. Hall presently wrote that
the condition of the money-market was "something beyond description. You
cannot get money on anything short of government bonds." The Mount
Morris Bank would no longer handle their paper. The Clemens household
resorted to economies hitherto undreamed of. Mrs. Clemens wrote to her
sister that she really did not see sometimes where their next money would
come from. She reported that her husband got up in the night and walked
the floor in his distress.
He wrote again to Hall, urging him to sell and get rid of the debts and
responsibilities at whatever sacrifice:
I am terribly tired of business. I am by nature and disposition
unfit for it, & I want to get out of it. I am standing on the Mount
Morris volcano with help from the machine a long, long way off--&
doubtless a long way further off than the Connecticut company
Get me out of business!
He knew something of the delays of completing a typesetting machine, and
he had little faith in any near relief from that source. He wrote again
go Hall, urging him to sell some of his type-setter royalties. They
should be worth something now since the manufacturing company was
actually in operation; but with the terrible state of the money-market
there was no sale for anything. Clemens attempted to work, but put in
most of his time footing up on the margin of his manuscript the amount of
his indebtedness, the expenses of his household, and the possibilities of
his income. It was weary, hard, nerve-racking employment. About the
muddle of June they closed Viviani. Susy Clemens went to Paris to
cultivate her voice, a rare soprano, with a view to preparing for the
operatic stage. Clemens took Mrs. Clemens, with little Jean, to Germany
for the baths. Clara, who had graduated from Mrs. Willard's school in
Berlin, joined them in Munich, and somewhat later Susy also joined them,
for Madame Marchesi, the great master of voice-culture, had told her that
she must acquire physique to carry that voice of hers before she would
undertake to teach her.
In spite of his disturbed state of mind Clemens must have completed some
literary work during this period, for we find first mention, in a letter
to Hall, of his immortal defense of Harriet Shelley, a piece of writing
all the more marvelous when we consider the conditions of its
performance. Characteristically, in the same letter, he suddenly
develops a plan for a new enterprise--this time for a magazine which
Arthur Stedman or his father will edit, and the Webster company will
publish as soon as their present burdens are unloaded. But we hear no
more of this project.
But by August he was half beside himself with anxiety. On the 6th he
Here we never see a newspaper, but even if we did I could not come
anywhere near appreciating or correctly estimating the tempest you
have been buffeting your way through--only the man who is in it can
do that--but I have tried not to burden you thoughtlessly or
wantonly. I have been overwrought & unsettled in mind by
apprehensions, & that is a thing that is not helpable when one is in
a strange land & sees his resources melt down to a two months'
supply & can't see any sure daylight beyond. The bloody machine
offers but a doubtful outlook--& will still offer nothing much
better for a long time to come; for when the "three weeks" are up,
there will be three months' tinkering to follow, I guess. That is
unquestionably the boss machine of the world, but is the toughest
one on prophets when it is in an incomplete state that has ever seen
And three days later:
Great Scott, but it's a long year--for you & me! I never knew the
almanac to drag so. At least not since I was finishing that other
I watch for your letters hungrily--just as I used to watch for the
telegram saying the machine's finished--but when "next week
certainly" suddenly swelled into "three weeks sure" I recognized the
old familiar tune I used to hear so much. W---- don't know what
sick-heartedness is--but he is in a way to find out.
And finally, on the 4th:
I am very glad indeed if you and Mr. Langdon are able to see any
daylight ahead. To me none is visible. I strongly advise that
every penny that comes in shall be applied to paying off debts. I
may be in error about this, but it seems to me that we have no other
course open. We can pay a part of the debts owing to outsiders--
none to Clemenses. In very prosperous times we might regard our
stock & copyrights as assets sufficient, with the money owing to us,
to square up & quit even, but I suppose we may not hope for such
luck in the present condition of things.
What I am mainly hoping for is to save my book royalties. If they
come into danger I hope you will cable me so that I can come over &
try to save them, for if they go I am a beggar.
I would sail to-day if I had anybody to take charge of my family &
help them through the difficult journeys commanded by the doctors.
A few days later he could stand it no longer, and on August 29 (1893)
sailed, the second time that year, for New York.
AN INTRODUCTION TO H. H. ROGERS
Clemens took a room at The Players--"a cheap room," he wrote, "at $1.50
per day." It was now the end of September, the beginning of a long half-
year, during which Mark Twain's fortunes were at a lower ebb than ever
before; lower, even, than during those mining days among the bleak
Esmeralda hills. Then he had no one but him self and was young. Now, at
fifty-eight, he had precious lives dependent upon him, and he was weighed
down with a vast burden of debt. The liabilities of Charles L. Webster
& Co. were fully two hundred thousand dollars. Something like sixty
thousand dollars of this was money supplied by Mrs. Clemens, but the vast
remaining sum was due to banks, to printers, to binders, and to dealers
in various publishing materials. Somehow it must be paid. As for their
assets, they looked ample enough on paper, but in reality, at a time like
this, they were problematical. In fact, their value was very doubtful
indeed. What he was to do Clemens did not know. He could not even send
cheerful reports to Europe. There was no longer anything to promise
concerning the type-setter. The fifty machines which the company had
started to build had dwindled to ten machines; there was a prospect that
the ten would dwindle to one, and that one a reconstruction of the
original Hartford product, which had cost so much money and so many weary
years. Clemens spent a good part of his days at The Players, reading or
trying to write or seeking to divert his mind in the company of the
congenial souls there, waiting for-he knew not what.
Yet at this very moment a factor was coming into his life, a human
element, a man to whom in his old age Mark Twain owed more than to any
other of his myriad of friends. One night, when he was with Dr. Clarence
C. Rice at the Murray Hill Hotel, Rice said:
"Clemens, I want you to know my friend, Mr. H. H. Rogers. He is an
admirer of your books."
Clemens turned and was looking into the handsome, clean-cut features of
the great financier, whose name was hardly so familiar then as it became
at a later period, but whose power was already widely known and felt
among his kind.
"Mr. Clemens," said Mr. Rogers, "I was one of your early admirers.
I heard you lecture a long time ago on the Sandwich Islands. I was
interested in the subject in those days, and I heard that Mark Twain was
a man who had been there. I didn't suppose I'd have any difficulty
getting a seat, but I did; the house was jammed. When I came away I
realized that Mark Twain was a great man, and I have read everything of
yours since that I could get hold of."
They sat down at a table, and Clemens told some of his amusing stories.
Rogers was in a perpetual gale of laughter. When at last he rose to go
the author and the financier were as old friends. Mr. Rogers urged him
to visit him at his home. He must introduce him to Mrs. Rogers, he said,
who was also his warm admirer. It was only a little while after this
that Dr. Rice said to the millionaire:
"Mr. Rogers, I wish you would look into Clemens's finances a little: I am
afraid they are a good deal confused."
This would be near the end of September, 1893. On October 18 Clemens
wrote home concerning a possible combination of Webster & Co. with John
Brisben Walker, of the 'Cosmopolitan', and added:
I have got the best and wisest man of the whole Standard Oil group-a
multi-millionaire--a good deal interested in looking into the type-
setter. He has been searching into that thing for three weeks and
yesterday he said to me:
"I find the machine to be all you represent it. I have here
exhaustive reports from my own experts, and I know every detail of
its capacity, its immense construction, its cost, its history, and
all about its inventor's character. I know that the New York
company and the Chicago company are both stupid, and that they are
unbusinesslike people, destitute of money and in a hopeless boggle."
Then he told me the scheme he had planned and said:
"If I can arrange with these people on this basis--it will take
several weeks to find out--I will see to it that they get the money
they need. In the mean time you 'stop walking the floor'."
Of course, with this encouragement, Clemens was in the clouds again.
Furthermore, Rogers had suggested to his son-in-law, William Evarts
Benjamin, also a subscription publisher, that he buy from the Webster
company The Library of American Literature for fifty thousand dollars, a
sum which provided for the more insistent creditors. There was hope that
the worst was over. Clemens did in reality give up walking the floor,
and for the time, at least, found happier diversions. He must not return
to Europe as yet, for the type-setter matter was still far from
conclusion. On the 11th of November he was gorgeously entertained by the
Lotos Club in its new building. Introducing him, President Frank
"What name is there in literature that can be likened to his? Perhaps
some of the distinguished gentlemen about this table can tell us, but I
know of none. Himself his only parallel, it seems to me. He is all our
own--a ripe and perfect product of the American soil."
"THE BELLE OF NEW YORK"
Those were feverish weeks of waiting, with days of alternate depression
and exaltation as the pendulum swung to and fro between hope and despair.
By daylight Clemens tried to keep himself strenuously busy; evenings and
nights he plunged into social activities--dinners, amusements, suppers,
balls, and the like. He was be sieged with invitations, sought for by
the gayest and the greatest; "Jamie" Dodge conferred upon him the
appropriate title: of "The Belle of New York." In his letters home he
describes in detail many of the festivities and the wildness with which
he has flung himself into them, dilating on his splendid renewal of
health, his absolute immunity from fatigue. He attributes this to his
indifference to diet and regularities of meals and sleep; but we may
guess that it was due to a reaction from having shifted his burden to
stronger financial shoulders. Henry Rogers had taken his load upon him.
"It rests me," Rogers said, "to experiment with the affairs of a friend
when I am tired of my own. You enjoy yourself. Let me work at the
puzzle a little."
And Clemens, though his conscience pricked him, obeyed, as was his habit
at such times. To Mrs. Clemens (in Paris now, at the Hotel Brighton) he
He is not common clay, but fine-fine & delicate. I did hate to
burden his good heart & overworked head, but he took hold with
avidity & said it was no burden to work for his friends, but a
pleasure. When I arrived in September, Lord! how black the prospect
was & how desperate, how incurably desperate! Webster & Co. had to
have a small sum of money or go under at once. I flew to Hartford--
to my friends--but they were not moved, not strongly interested, & I
was ashamed that I went. It was from Mr. Rogers, a stranger, that I
got the money and was by it saved. And then--while still a
stranger--he set himself the task of saving my financial life
without putting upon me (in his native delicacy) any sense that I
was the recipient of a charity, a benevolence. He gave time to me--
time, which could not be bought by any man at $100,000 a month--no,
nor for three times the money.
He adds that a friend has just offered to Webster & Co. a book that
arraigns the Standard Oil magnates individual by individual.
I wanted to say the only man I care for in the world, the only man I
would give a d---n for, the only man who is lavishing his sweat &
blood to save me & mine from starvation is a Standard Oil magnate.
If you know me, you know whether I want the book or not.
But I didn't say that. I said I didn't want any book; I wanted to
get out of this publishing business & out of all business & was here
for that purpose & would accomplish it if I could.
He tells how he played billiards with Rogers, tirelessly as always, until
the millionaire had looked at him helplessly and asked:
"Don't you ever get tired?"
And he answered:
"I don't know what it is to get tired. I wish I did."
He wrote of going with Mr. Rogers to the Madison Square Garden to see an
exhibition of boxing given by the then splendid star of pugilism, James
J. Corbett. Dr. Rice accompanied him, and painters Robert Reid and
Edward Simmons, from The Players. They had five seats in a box, and
Stanford White came along presently and took Clemens into the champion's
Corbett has a fine face and is modest and diffident, besides being
the most perfectly & beautifully constructed human animal in the
world. I said:
"You have whipped Mitchell & maybe you will whip Jackson in June--
but you are not done then. You will have to tackle me."
He answered, so gravely that one might easily have thought him in
"No, I am not going to meet you in the ring. It is not fair or
right to require it. You might chance to knock me out, by no merit
of your own, but by a purely accidental blow, & then my reputation
would be gone & you would have a double one. You have got fame
enough & you ought not to want to take mine away from me."
Corbett was for a long time a clerk in the Nevada Bank, in San
There were lots of little boxing-matches to entertain the crowd;
then at last Corbett appeared in the ring & the 8,000 people present
went mad with enthusiasm. My two artists went mad about his form.
They said they had never seen anything that came reasonably near
equaling its perfection except Greek statues, & they didn't surpass
Corbett boxed 3 rounds with the middle-weight Australian champion--
oh, beautiful to see!--then the show was over and we struggled out
through a perfect mash of humanity. When we reached the street I
found I had left my arctics in the box. I had to have them, so
Simmons said he would go back & get them, & I didn't dissuade him.
I wouldn't see how he was going to make his way a single yard into
that solid incoming wave of people--yet he must plow through it full
50 yards. He was back with the shoes in 3 minutes!
How do you reckon he accomplished that miracle? By saying:
"Way, gentlemen, please--coming to fetch Mr. Corbett's overshoes."
The word flew from mouth to mouth, the Red Sea divided, & Simmons
walked comfortably through & back, dry-shod. This is Fire-escape
Simmons, the inveterate talker, you know: Exit--in case of Simmons.
I had an engagement at a beautiful dwelling close to The Players for
10.30; I was there by 10.45. Thirty cultivated & very musical
ladies & gentlemen present--all of them acquaintances & many of them
personal friends of mine. That wonderful Hungarian band was there
(they charge $500 for an evening). Conversation and band until
midnight; then a bite of supper; then the company was compactly
grouped before me & I told them about Dr. B. E. Martin & the
etchings, & followed it with the Scotch-Irish christening. My, but
the Martin is a darling story! Next, the head tenor from the Opera
sang half a dozen great songs that set the company wild, yes, mad
with delight, that nobly handsome young Damrosch accompanying on the
Just a little pause, then the band burst out into an explosion of
weird and tremendous dance-music, a Hungarian celebrity & his wife
took the floor; I followed--I couldn't help it; the others drifted
in, one by one, & it was Onteora over again.
By half past 4. I had danced all those people down--& yet was not
tired; merely breathless. I was in bed at 5 & asleep in ten
minutes. Up at 9 & presently at work on this letter to you. I
think I wrote until 2 or half past. Then I walked leisurely out to
Mr. Rogers's (it is called 3 miles, but is short of it), arriving at
3.30, but he was out--to return at 5.30--so I didn't stay, but
dropped over and chatted with Howells until five.
--[Two Mark Twain anecdotes are remembered of that winter at The Players:
Just before Christmas a member named Scott said one day:
"Mr. Clemens, you have an extra overcoat hanging in the coatroom. I've
got to attend my uncle's funeral and it's raining very hard. I'd like to
The coat was an old one, in the pockets of which Clemens kept a
melancholy assortment of pipes, soiled handkerchiefs, neckties, letters,
and what not.
"Scott," he said, "if you won't lose anything out of the pockets of that
coat you may wear it."
An hour or two later Clemens found a notice in his mail-box that a
package for him was in the office. He called for it and found a neat
bundle, which somehow had a Christmas look. He carried it up to the
reading-room with a showy, air.
"Now, boys," he said, "you may make all the fun of Christmas you like,
but it's pretty nice, after all, to be remembered."
They gathered around and he undid the package. It was filled with the
pipes, soiled handkerchiefs, and other articles from the old overcoat.
Scott had taken special precautions against losing them.
Mark Twain regarded them a moment in silence, then he drawled:
"Well--, d---n Scott. I hope his uncle's funeral will be a failure!"
The second anecdote concerns The Player egg-cups. They easily hold two
eggs, but not three. One morning a new waiter came to take the breakfast
order. Clemens said:
"Boy, put three soft eggs in that cup for me."
By and by the waiter returned, bringing the breakfast. Clemens looked at
the egg portion and asked:
"Boy, what was my order?"
"Three soft eggs broken in the cup, Mr. Clemens."
"And you've filled that order, have you?"
"Yes, Mr. Clemens."
"Boy, you are trifling with the truth; I've been trying all winter to get
three eggs into that cup."]
In one letter he tells of a dinner with his old Comstock friend, John
Mackay--a dinner without any frills, just soup and raw oysters and corned
beef and cabbage, such as they had reveled in sometimes, in prosperous
moments, thirty years before.
"The guests were old gray Pacific coasters," he said, "whom I knew when
they were young and not gray. The talk was of the days when we went
gipsying-along time ago--thirty years."
Indeed, it was a talk of the dead. Mainly that. And of how they looked
& the harum-scarum things they did & said. For there were no cares in
that life, no aches & pains, & not time enough in the day (& three-
fourths of the night) to work off one's surplus vigor & energy. Of the
midnight highway-robbery joke played upon me with revolvers at my head on
the windswept & desolate Gold Hill Divide no witness was left but me, the
victim. Those old fools last night laughed till they cried over the
particulars of that old forgotten crime.
In still another letter he told of a very wonderful entertainment at
Robert Reid's studio. There were present, he says:
Richard Harding Davis;
Harrison, the great outdoor painter;
Wm. H. Chase, the artist;
Bettini, inventor of the new phonograph;
Nikola Tesla, the world-wide illustrious electrician; see article
about him in Jan. or Feb. Century.
John Drew, actor;
James Barnes, a marvelous mimic; my, you should see him!
Smedley, the artist;
Zorn, " "
Zogbaum, " "
Reinhart, " "
Metcalf, " "
Ancona, head tenor at the Opera;
Oh, & a great lot of others. Everybody there had done something &
was in his way famous.
Somebody welcomed Coquelin in a nice little French speech, John Drew
did the like for me in English, & then the fun began. Coquelin did
some excellent French monologues--one of them an ungrammatical
Englishman telling a colorless historiette in French. It nearly
killed the fifteen or twenty people who understood it.
I told a yarn, Ancona sang half a dozen songs, Barnes did his
darling imitations, Handing Davis sang the hanging of Danny Deever,
which was of course good, but he followed it with that mast
fascinating (for what reason I don't know) of all Kipling's poems,
"On the Road to Mandalay," sang it tenderly, & it searched me deeper
& charmed me more than the Deever.
Young Gerrit Smith played some ravishing dance-music, & we all
danced about an hour. There couldn't be a pleasanter night than
that one was. Some of those people complained of fatigue, but I
don't seem to know what the sense of fatigue is.
In his reprieve he was like some wild thing that had regained liberty.
He refers to Susy's recent illness and to Mrs. Clemens's own poor state
Dear, dear Susy! My strength reproaches me when I think of her and
It is an unspeakable pity that you should be without any one to go
about with the girls, & it troubles me, & grieves me, & makes me
curse & swear; but you see, dear heart, I've got to stick right
where I am till I find out whether we are rich or whether the
poorest person we are acquainted with in anybody's kitchen is better
off than we are. . I stand on the land-end of a springboard, with
the family clustered on the other end; if I take my foot----
He realized his hopes to her as a vessel trying to make port; once he
The ship is in sight now ....
When the anchor is down then I shall say:
"Farewell--a long farewell--to business! I will never touch it
I will live in literature, I will wallow in it, revel in it; I will
swim in ink! 'Joan of Arc'--but all this is premature; the anchor
is not down yet.
Sometimes he sent her impulsive cables calculating to sustain hope. Mrs.
Clemens, writing to her sister in January, said:
Mr. Clemens now for ten days has been hourly expecting to send me
word that Paige had signed the (new) contract, but as yet no
despatch comes . . . . On the 5th of this month I received a
cable, "Expect good news in ten days." On the 15th I receive a
cable, "Look out for good news." On the 19th a cable, "Nearing
It appealed to her sense of humor even in these dark days. She added:
They make me laugh, for they are so like my beloved "Colonel."
Mr. Rogers had agreed that he would bring Paige to rational terms, and
with Clemens made a trip to Chicago. All agreed now that the machine
promised a certain fortune as soon as a contract acceptable to everybody
could be concluded--Paige and his lawyer being the last to dally and
dicker as to terms. Finally a telegram came from Chicago saying that
Paige had agreed to terms. On that day Clemens wrote in his note-book:
This is a great date in my history. Yesterday we were paupers with but
3 months' rations of cash left and $160,000 in debt, my wife & I, but
this telegram makes us wealthy.
But it was not until a fortnight later that Paige did actually sign.
This was on the 1st of February, '94, and Clemens that night cabled to
Paris, so that Mrs. Clemens would have it on her breakfast-plate the
morning of their anniversary:
"Wedding news. Our ship is safe in port. I sail the moment Rogers can
So this painted bubble, this thing of emptiness, had become as substance
again--the grand hope. He was as concerned with it as if it had been an
actual gold-mine with ore and bullion piled in heaps--that shadow, that
farce, that nightmare. One longs to go back through the years and face
him to the light and arouse him to the vast sham of it all.
SOME LITERARY MATTERS
Clemens might have lectured that winter with profit, and Major Pond did
his best to persuade him; but Rogers agreed that his presence in New York
was likely to be too important to warrant any schedule of absence. He
went once to Boston to lecture for charity, though his pleasure in the
experience was a sufficient reward. On the evening before the lecture
Mrs. James T. Fields had him to her house to dine with Dr. Holmes, then
not far from the end of his long, beautiful life.--[He died that same
year, October, 1894.]
Clemens wrote to Paris of their evening together:
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes never goes out (he is in his 84th year), but he
came out this time--said he wanted to "have a time" once more with me.
Mrs. Fields said Aldrich begged to come, & went away crying because she
wouldn't let him. She allowed only her family (Sarah Orne Jewett &
sister) to be present, because much company would overtax Dr. Holmes.
Well, he was just delightful! He did as brilliant and beautiful talking
(& listening) as he ever did in his life, I guess. Fields and Jewett
said he hadn't been in such splendid form for years. He had ordered his
carriage for 9. The coachman sent in for him at 9, but he said, "Oh,
nonsense!--leave glories & grandeurs like these? Tell him to go away &
come in an hour!"
At 10 he was called for again, & Mrs. Fields, getting uneasy, rose, but
he wouldn't go--& so we rattled ahead the same as ever. Twice more Mrs.
Fields rose, but he wouldn't go--& he didn't go till half past 10--an
unwarrantable dissipation for him in these days. He was prodigiously
complimentary about some of my books, & is having Pudd'nhead read to him.
I told him you & I used the Autocrat as a courting book & marked it all
through, & that you keep it in the sacred green box with the loveletters,
& it pleased him.
One other address Clemens delivered that winter, at Fair Haven, on the
opening of the Millicent Library, a present to the town from Mrs. Rogers.
Mrs. Rogers had suggested to her husband that perhaps Mr. Clemens would
be willing to say a few words there. Mr. Rogers had replied, "Oh,
Clemens is in trouble. I don't like to ask him," but a day or two later
told him of Mrs. Rogers's wish, adding:
"Don't feel at all that you need to do it. I know just how you are
feeling, how worried you are."
Clemens answered, "Mr. Rogers, do you think there is anything I could do
for you that I wouldn't do?"
It was on this occasion that he told for the first time the "stolen
watermelon" story, so often reprinted since; how once he had stolen a
watermelon, and when he found it to be a green one, had returned it to
the farmer, with a lecture on honesty, and received a ripe one in its
In spite of his cares and diversions Clemens's literary activities of
this time were considerable. He wrote an article for the Youth's
Companion--"How to Tell a Story"--and another for the North American
Review on Fenimore Cooper's "Literary Offenses." Mark Twain had not much
respect for Cooper as a literary artist. Cooper's stilted
artificialities and slipshod English exasperated him and made it hard for
him to see that in spite of these things the author of the Deerslayer was
a mighty story-teller. Clemens had also promised some stories to Walker,
of the Cosmopolitan, and gave him one for his Christmas number,
"Traveling with a Reformer," which had grown out of some incidents of
that long-ago journey with Osgood to Chicago, supplemented by others that
had happened on the more recent visit to that city with Hall. This story
had already appeared when Clemens and Rogers had made their Chicago trip.
Rogers had written for passes over the Pennsylvania road, and the
president, replying, said:
"No, I won't give Mark Twain a pass over our road. I've been reading his
'Traveling with a Reformer,' in which he abuses our road. I wouldn't let
him ride over it again if I could help it. The only way I'll agree to
let him go over it at all is in my private car. I have stocked it with
everything he can possibly want, and have given orders that if there is
anything else he wants the train is to be stopped until they can get it."
"Pudd'nhead Wilson" was appearing in the Century during this period, and
"Tom Sawyer Abroad" in the St. Nicholas. The Century had issued a tiny
calendar of the Pudd'nhead maxims, and these quaint bits of philosophy,
the very gems of Mark Twain mental riches, were in everybody's mouth.
With all this going on, and with his appearance at various social events,
he was rather a more spectacular figure that winter than ever before.
From the note-book:
The Haunted Looking-glass. The guest (at midnight a dim light
burning) wakes up & sees appear & disappear the faces that have
looked into the glass during 3 centuries.
Love seems the swiftest but is the slowest of all growths. No man
and woman really know what perfect love is until they have been
married a quarter of a century.
It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.
Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made the
slave of the lash--that one is the cat.
Truth is stranger than fiction--to some people, but I am measurably
familiar with it.
It was the first week in March before it was thought to be safe for
Clemens to return to France, even for a brief visit to his family. He
hurried across and remained with them what seemed an infinitesimal time,
a bare three weeks, and was back again in New York by the middle of
April. The Webster company difficulties had now reached an acute stage.
Mr. Rogers had kept a close watch on its financial affairs, hoping to be
able to pull it through or to close it without failure, paying all the
creditors in full; but on the afternoon of the 16th of April, 1894, Hall
arrived at Clemens's room at The Players in a panic. The Mount Morris
Bank had elected a new president and board of directors, and had
straightway served notice on him that he must pay his notes--two notes of
five thousand dollars each in a few days when due. Mr. Rogers was
immediately notified, of course, and said he would sleep on it and advise
them next day. He did not believe that the bank would really push them
to the wall. The next day was spent in seeing what could be done, and by
evening it was clear that unless a considerable sum of money was raised a
voluntary assignment was the proper course. The end of the long struggle
had come. Clemens hesitated less on his own than on his wife's account.
He knew that to her the word failure would be associated with disgrace.
She had pinched herself with a hundred economies to keep the business
afloat, and was willing to go on economizing to avert this final
disaster. Mr. Rogers said:
"Mr. Clemens, assure her from me that there is not even a tinge of
disgrace in making this assignment. By doing it you will relieve
yourself of a fearful load of dread, and in time will be able to pay
everything and stand clear before the world. If you don't do it you will
probably never be free from debt, and it will kill you and Mrs. Clemens
both. If there is any disgrace it would be in not taking the course that
will give you and her your freedom and your creditors a better chance for
their claims. Most of them will be glad enough to help you."
It was on the afternoon of the next day, April 18, 1894, that the firm of
Charles L. Webster & Co. executed assignment papers and closed its
doors. A meeting of the creditors was called, at which H. H. Rogers was
present, representing Clemens. For the most part the creditors were
liberal and willing to agree to any equitable arrangement. But there
were a few who were grumpy and fussy. They declared that Mark Twain
should turn over his copyrights, his Hartford home, and whatever other
odds and ends could be discovered. Mr. Rogers, discussing the matter in
"They were bent on devouring every pound of flesh in sight and picking
the bones afterward, as Clemens and his wife were perfectly willing they
should do. I was getting a little warm all the time at the highhanded
way in which these few men were conducting the thing, and presently I got
on my feet and said, 'Gentlemen, you are not going to have this thing all
your way. I have something to say about Mr. Clemens's affairs. Mrs.
Clemens is the chief creditor of this firm. Out of her own personal
fortune she has lent it more than sixty thousand dollars. She will be a
preferred creditor, and those copyrights will be assigned to her until
her claim is paid in full. As for the home in Hartford, it is hers
"There was a good deal of complaint, but I refused to budge. I insisted
that Mrs. Clemens had the first claims on the copyrights, though, to tell
the truth, these did not promise much then, for in that hard year the
sale of books was small enough. Besides Mrs. Clemens's claim the debts
amounted to one hundred thousand dollars, and of course there must be a
definite basis of settlement, so it was agreed that Clemens should pay
fifty cents on the dollar, when the assets were finally realized upon,
and receive a quittance. Clemens himself declared that sooner or later
he would pay the other fifty cents, dollar for dollar, though I believe
there was no one besides himself and his wife and me who believed he
would ever be able to do it. Clemens himself got discouraged sometimes,
and was about ready to give it up, for he was getting on in years--nearly
sixty--and he was in poor health. Once when we found the debt, after the
Webster salvage, was going to be at least seventy thousand dollars, he
said, 'I need not dream of paying it. I never could manage it.' But he
stuck to it. He was at my house a good deal at first. We gave him a
room there and he came and went as he chose. The worry told upon him.
He became frail during those weeks, almost ethereal, yet it was strange
how brilliant he was, how cheerful."
The business that had begun so promisingly and prosperously a decade
before had dwindled to its end. The last book it had in hand was 'Tom
Sawyer Abroad', just ready for issue. It curiously happened that on the
day of the failure copies of it were filed in Washington for copyright.
Frank Bliss came over from Hartford, and Clemens arranged with him for
the publication of 'Pudd'nhead Wilson', thereby renewing the old
relationship with the American Publishing Company after a break of a
Naturally, the failure of Mark Twain's publishing firm made a public
stir, and it showed how many and sincere were his friends, how ready they
were with sympathy and help of a more material kind. Those who
understood best, congratulated him on being out of the entanglement.
Poultney Bigelow, Douglas Taylor, Andrew Carnegie, Charles Dudley Warner,
and others extended financial help, Bigelow and Taylor each inclosing him
a check of one thousand dollars for immediate necessities. He was
touched by these things, but the checks were returned. Many of his
creditors sent him personal letters assuring him that he was to forget
his obligation to them completely until such time as the remembering
would cost him no uneasiness.
Clemens, in fact, felt relieved, now that the worst had come, and wrote
bright letters home. In one he said:
Mr. Rogers is perfectly satisfied that our course was right, absolutely
right and wise--cheer up, the best is yet to come.
Now & then a good and dear Joe Twichell or Susy Warner condoles with
me & says, "Cheer up-don't be downhearted," and some other friend
says, "I'm glad and surprised to see how cheerful you are & how
bravely you stand it," & none of them suspect what a burden has been
lifted from me & how blithe I am inside. Except when I think of
you, dear heart--then I am not blithe; for I seem to see you
grieving and ashamed, & dreading to look people in the face. For in
the thick of the fight there is cheer, but you are far away & cannot
hear the drum nor see the wheeling squadrons. You only seem to see
rout, retreat, & dishonored colors dragging in the dirt--whereas
none of these things exist. There is temporary defeat, but no
dishonor--& we will march again. Charley Warner said to-day, "Sho,
Livy isn't worrying. So long as she's got you and the children she
doesn't care what happens. She knows it isn't her affair." Which
didn't convince me.
Olivia Clemens wrote bravely and encouragingly to him, and more
cheerfully than she felt, for in a letter to her sister she said:
The hideous news of Webster & Co.'s failure reached me by cable on
Thursday, and Friday morning Galignani's Messenger had a squib about
it. Of course I knew it was likely to come, but I had great hope
that it would be in some way averted. Mr. Rogers was so sure there
was no way out but failure that I suppose it was true. But I have a
perfect horror and heart-sickness over it. I cannot get away from
the feeling that business failure means disgrace. I suppose it
always will mean that to me. We have put a great deal of money into
the concern, and perhaps there would have been nothing but to keep
putting it in and losing it. We certainly now have not much to
lose. We might have mortgaged the house; that was the only thing I
could think of to do. Mr. Clemens felt that there would never be
any end, and perhaps he was right. At any rate, I know that he was
convinced that it was the only thing, because when he went back he
promised me that if it was possible to save the thing he would do so
if only on account of my sentiment in the matter.
Sue, if you were to see me you would see that I have grown old very
fast during this last year. I have wrinkled.
Most of the time I want to lie down and cry. Everything seems to me
so impossible. I do not make things go very well, and I feel that
my life is an absolute and irretrievable failure. Perhaps I am
thankless, but I so often feel that I should like to give it up and
die. However, I presume that if I could have the opportunity I
should at once desire to live.
Clemens now hurried back to Paris, arriving about the middle of May,
his second trip in two months. Scarcely had he got the family
settled at La Bourboule-les-Bains, a quiet watering-place in the
southern part of France, when a cable from Mr. Rogers, stating that
the typesetter was perfected, made him decide to hurry back to
America to assist in securing the new fortune. He did not go,
however. Rogers wrote that the machine had been installed in the
Times-Herald office, Chicago, for a long and thorough trial. There
would be plenty of time, and Clemens concluded to rest with his
family at La Bourboule-les-Bains. Later in the summer they went to
Etretat, where he settled down to work.
AN EVENTFUL YEAR ENDS
That summer (July, '94.) the 'North American Review' published "In
Defense of Harriet Shelley," a rare piece of literary criticism and
probably the most human and convincing plea ever made for that injured,
ill-fated woman. An admirer of Shelley's works, Clemens could not resist
taking up the defense of Shelley's abandoned wife. It had become the
fashion to refer to her slightingly, and to suggest that she had not been
without blame for Shelley's behavior. A Shelley biography by Professor
Dowden, Clemens had found particularly irritating. In the midst of his
tangle of the previous year he had paused to give it attention. There
were times when Mark Twain wrote without much sequence, digressing this
way and that, as his fancy led him, charmingly and entertainingly enough,
with no large, logical idea. He pursued no such method in this instance.
The paper on Harriet Shelley is a brief as direct and compact and
cumulative as could have been prepared by a trained legal mind of the
highest order, and it has the added advantage of being the utterance of a
human soul voicing an indignation inspired by human suffering and human
wrong. By no means does it lack humor, searching and biting sarcasm.
The characterization of Professor Dowden's Life of Shelley as a "literary
cake-walk" is a touch which only Mark Twain could have laid on. Indeed,
the "Defense of Harriet Shelly," with those early chapters of Joan at
Florence, maybe counted as the beginning for Mark Twain of a genuine
literary renaissance. It was to prove a remarkable period less
voluminous than the first, but even more choice, containing, as it would,
besides Joan and the Shelley article, the rest of that remarkable series
collected now as Literary Essays; the Hadleyburg story; "Was it Heaven or
Hell?"; those masterly articles on our national policies; closing at last
with those exquisite memories, in his final days.
The summer of 1894 found Mark Twain in the proper frame of mind for
literary work. He was no longer in a state of dread. At Etretat, a
watering-place on the French coast, he returned eagerly to the long-
neglected tale of Joan--"a book which writes itself," he wrote Mr.
Rogers"--a tale which tells itself; I merely have to hold the pen."
Etretat, originally a fishing-village, was less pretentious than to-day,
and the family had taken a small furnished cottage a little way back from
the coast--a charming place, and a cheap one--as became their means.
Clemens worked steadily at Etretat for more than a month, finishing the
second part of his story, then went over to Rouen to visit the hallowed
precincts where Joan dragged out those weary months that brought her to
the stake. Susy Clemens was taken ill at Rouen, and they lingered in
that ancient city, wandering about its venerable steets, which have been
changed but slowly by the centuries, and are still full of memories.
They returned to Paris at length--to the Brighton; their quarters of the
previous winter--but presently engaged for the winter the studio home of
the artist Pomroy at 169 rue de l'Universite, beyond the Seine. Mark
Twain wrote of it once:
It was a lovely house; large, rambling, quaint, charmingly furnished
and decorated, built upon no particular plan, delightfully uncertain
and full of surprises. You were always getting lost in it, and
finding nooks and corners which you did not know were there and
whose presence you had not suspected before. It was built by a rich
French artist, and he had also furnished it and decorated it
himself. The studio was coziness itself. With us it served as a
drawing-room, sitting-room, living-room, dancing-room--we used it
for everything. We couldn't get enough of it. It is odd that it
should have been so cozy, for it was 40 feet long, 40 feet high, and
30 feet wide, with a vast fireplace on, each side, in the middle,
and a musicians' gallery at one end.
Mrs. Clemens had hoped to return to America, to their Hartford home.
That was her heart's desire--to go back once more to their old life and
fireside, to forget all this period of exile and wandering. Her letters
were full of her home-longing; her three years of absence seemed like an
In its way, the Pomroy house was the best substitute for home they had
found. Its belongings were of the kind she loved. Susy had better
health, and her husband was happy in his work. They had much delightful
and distinguished company. Her letters tell of these attractive things,
and of their economies to make their income reach.
It was near the end of the year that the other great interest--the
machine--came finally to a conclusion. Reports from the test had been
hopeful during the summer. Early in October Clemens, receiving a copy of
the Times-Herald, partly set by the machine, wrote: "The Herald has just
arrived, and that column is healing for sore eyes. It affects me like
Columbus sighting land." And again on the 28th:
It seems to me that things couldn't well be going better at Chicago
than they are. There's no other machine that can set type eight
hours with only seventeen minutes' stoppage through cussedness. The
others do rather more stopping than working. By and by our machines
will be perfect; then they won't stop at all.
But that was about the end of the good news. The stoppages became worse
and worse. The type began to break--the machine had its old trouble: it
was too delicately adjusted--too complicated.
"Great guns, what is the matter with it?" wrote Clemens in November when
he received a detailed account of its misconduct.
Mr. Rogers and his son-in-law, Mr. Broughton, went out to Chicago to
investigate. They went to the Times-Herald office to watch the type-
setter in action. Mr. Rogers once told of this visit to the writer of
these chapters. He said:
"Certainly it was a marvelous invention. It was the nearest approach to
a human being in the wonderful things it could do of any machine I have
ever known. But that was just the trouble; it was too much of a human
being and not enough of a machine. It had all the complications of the
human mechanism, all the liability of getting out of repair, and it could
not be replaced with the ease and immediateness of the human being. It
was too costly; too difficult of construction; too hard to set up. I
took out my watch and timed its work and counted its mistakes. We
watched it a long time, for it was most interesting, most fascinating,
but it was not practical--that to me was clear."
It had failed to stand the test. The Times-Herald would have no more of
it. Mr. Rogers himself could see the uselessness of the endeavor. He
instructed Mr. Broughton to close up the matter as best he could and
himself undertook the harder task of breaking the news to Mark Twain.
His letters seem not to have been preserved, but the replies to them tell
169 rue de l'Universite,
PARIS, December 22, 1894.
DEAR MR. ROGERS,--I seemed to be entirely expecting your letter, and
also prepared and resigned; but Lord, it shows how little we know
ourselves and how easily we can deceive ourselves. It hit me like a
thunder-clap. It knocked every rag of sense out of my head, and I
went flying here and there and yonder, not knowing what I was doing,
and only one clearly defined thought standing up visible and
substantial out of the crazy storm-drift--that my dream of ten years
was in desperate peril and out of the 60,000 or 70,000 projects for
its rescue that came flocking through my skull not one would hold
still long enough for me to examine it and size it up. Have you
ever been like that? Not so much, I reckon.
There was another clearly defined idea--I must be there and see it
die. That is, if it must die; and maybe if I were there we might
hatch up some next-to-impossible way to make it take up its bed and
take a walk.
So, at the end of four hours I started, still whirling, and walked
over to the rue Scribe--4 p.m.--and asked a question or two and was
told I should be running a big risk if I took the 9 p.m. train for
London and Southampton; "better come right along at 6.52 per Havre
special and step aboard the New York all easy and comfortable."
Very! and I about two miles from home and no packing done.
Then it occurred to me that none of these salvation notions that
were whirlwinding through my head could be examined or made
available unless at least a month's time could be secured. So I
cabled you, and said to myself that I would take the French steamer
to-morrow (which will be Sunday).
By bedtime Mrs. Clemens had reasoned me into a fairly rational and
contented state of mind; but of course it didn't last long. So I
went on thinking--mixing it with a smoke in the dressing-room once
an hour--until dawn this morning. Result--a sane resolution; no
matter what your answer to my cable might be I would hold still and
not sail until I should get an answer to this present letter which I
am now writing or a cable answer from you saying "Come" or "Remain."
I have slept 6 hours, my pond has clarified, and I find the sediment
of my 70,000 projects to be of this character:
He follows with a detailed plan for reconstructing the machine, using
brass type, etc., and concludes:
Don't say I'm wild. For really I'm sane again this morning.
I am going right along with Joan now, and wait untroubled till I
hear from you. If you think I can be of the least use cable me
"Come." I can write Joan on board ship and lose no time. Also I
could discuss my plan with the publisher for a de luxe Joan, time
being an object, for some of the pictures could be made over here,
cheaply and quickly, that would cost much more time and money in
The second letter followed five days later:
169 rue de l'Universite,
PARIS, December 27, 1894.
DEAR MR. ROGERS,--Notwithstanding your heart is "old and hard" you
make a body choke up. I know you "mean every word you say" and I do
take it "in the same spirit in which you tender it." I shall keep
your regard while we two live--that I know; for I shall always
remember what you have done for me, and that will insure me against
ever doing anything that could forfeit it or impair it.
It is six days or seven days ago that I lived through that
despairing day, and then through a night without sleep; then settled
down next day into my right mind (or thereabouts) and wrote you. I
put in the rest of that day till 7 P.m. plenty comfortably enough
writing a long chapter of my book; then went to a masked ball
blacked up as Uncle Remus, taking Clara along, and we had a good
time. I have lost no day since, and suffered no discomfort to speak
of, but drove my troubles out of my mind and had good success in
keeping them out--through watchfulness. I have done a good week's
work and put the book a good way ahead in the Great Trial [of Joan],
which is the difficult part: the part which requires the most
thought and carefulness. I cannot see the end of the Trial yet, but
I am on the road. I am creeping surely toward it.
"Why not leave them all to me?" My business brothers? I take you by
the hand! I jump at the chance!
I ought to be ashamed and I am trying my best to be ashamed--and yet
I do jump at the chance in spite of it. I don't want to write
Irving and I don't want to write Stoker. It doesn't seem as if I
could. But I can suggest something for you to write them; and then
if you see that I am unwise you can write them something quite
different. Now this is my idea:
1. To return Stoker's $100 to him and keep his stock.
2. And tell Irving that when luck turns with me I will make
good to him what the salvage from the dead Co. fails to pay him
of his $500.
[P. S. Madam says No, I must face the music. So I inclose my
effort--to be used if you approve, but not otherwise.]
We shall try to find a tenant for our Hartford house; not an easy
matter, for it costs heavily to live in. We can never live in it
again; though it would break the family's hearts if they could
Nothing daunts Mrs. Clemens or makes the world look black to her--
which is the reason I haven't drowned myself.
I got the Xmas journals which you sent and I thank you for that Xmas
We all send our deepest and warmest greetings to you and all of
yours and a Happy New Year!
S. L. CLEMENS.
--[Brain Stoker and Sir Henry Irving had each taken a small interest in
the machine. The inclosure for Stoker ran as follows:]
MY DEAR STOKER,--I am not dating this, because it is not to be
mailed at present.
When it reaches you it will mean that there is a hitch in my machine
enterprise--a, hitch so serious as to make it take to itself the
aspect of a dissolved dream. This letter, then, will contain cheque
for the $100 which you have paid. And will you tell Irving for me--
I can't get up courage enough to talk about this misfortune myself,
except to you, whom by good luck I haven't damaged yet--that when
the wreckage presently floats ashore he will get a good deal of his
$500 back; and a dab at a time I will make up to him the rest.
I'm not feeling as fine as I was when I saw you there in your home.
Please remember me kindly to Mrs. Stoker. I gave up that London
lecture-project entirely. Had to--there's never been a chance since
to find the time.
S. L. CLEMENS.
A week later he added what was about his final word on the subject:
Yours of December 21 has arrived, containing the circular to
stockholders, and I guess the Co. will really quit--there doesn't
seem to be any other wise course.
There's one thing which makes it difficult for me to soberly realize
that my ten-year dream is actually dissolved; and that is that it
reverses my horoscope. The proverb says, "Born lucky, always lucky."
It was usual for one or two of our lads (per annum) to get drowned
in the Mississippi or in Bear Creek, but I was pulled out in a
drowned condition 9 times before I learned to swim, and was
considered to be a cat in disguise. When the Pennsylvania blew up
and the telegraph reported my brother as fatally injured (with 60
others) but made no mention of me, my uncle said to my mother "it
means that Sam was somewhere else, after being on that boat a year
and a half--he was born lucky." Yes, I was somewhere else. I am so
superstitious that I have always been afraid to have business
dealings with certain relatives and friends of mine because they
were unlucky people. All my life I have stumbled upon lucky chances
of large size, and whenever they were wasted it was because of my
own stupidity and carelessness. And so I have felt entirely certain
that the machine would turn up trumps eventually. It disappointed
me lots of times, but I couldn't shake off the confidence of a
lifetime in my luck.
Well, whatever I get out of the wreckage will be due to good luck-
the good luck of getting you into the scheme--for, but for that
there wouldn't be any wreckage; it would be total loss.
I wish you had been in at the beginning. Then we should have had
the good luck to step promptly ashore.
So it was that the other great interest died and was put away forever.
Clemens scarcely ever mentioned it again, even to members of his family.
It was a dead issue; it was only a pity that it had ever seemed a live
one. A combination known as the Regius Company took over Paige's
interest, but accomplished nothing. Eventually--irony of fate--the
Mergenthaler Company, so long scorned and derided, for twenty thousand
dollars bought out the rights and assets and presented that marvelous
work of genius, the mechanical wonder of the age, to the Sibley College
of Engineering, where it is shown as the costliest piece of machinery,
for its size, ever constructed. Mark Twain once received a letter from
an author who had written a book calculated to assist inventors and
patentees, asking for his indorsement. He replied:
DEAR SIR,--I have, as you say, been interested in patents and
patentees. If your books tell how to exterminate inventors send me
nine editions. Send them by express.
Very truly yours,
S. L. CLEMENS.
The collapse of the "great hope" meant to the Clemens household that
their struggle with debt was to continue, that their economies were to
become more rigid. In a letter on her wedding anniversary, February a
(1895), Mrs. Clemens wrote to her sister:
As I was starting down the stairs for my breakfast this morning Mr.
Clemens called me back and took out a five-franc piece and gave it to me,
saying: "It is our silver-wedding day, and so I give you a present."
It was a symbol of their reduced circumstances--of the change that
twenty-five years had brought.
Literary matters, however, prospered. The new book progressed amazingly.
The worst had happened; other and distracting interests were dead. He
was deep in the third part-the story of Joan's trial and condemnation,
and he forgot most other things in his determination to make that one a
As at Viviani, Clemens read his chapters to the family circle. The story
was drawing near the end now; tragedy was closing in on the frail martyr;
the farce of her trial was wringing their hearts. Susy would say, "Wait,
wait till I get a handkerchief," and one night when the last pages had
been written and read, and Joan had made the supreme expiation for
devotion to a paltry king, Susy wrote in her diary, "To-night Joan of Arc
was burned at the stake," meaning that the book was finished.
Susy herself had literary taste and might have written had it not been
that she desired to sing. There are fragments of her writing that show
the true literary touch. Her father, in an unpublished article which he
once wrote of her, quoted a paragraph, doubtless intended some day to
take its place at the end of a story:
And now at last when they lie at rest they must go hence. It is
always so. Completion; perfection, satisfaction attained--a human
life has fulfilled its earthly destiny. Poor human life! It may
not pause and rest, for it must hasten on to other realms and
She was a deep reader, and she had that wonderful gift of brilliant,
flowing, scintillating speech. From her father she had inherited a rare
faculty of oral expression, born of a superior depth of mind, swiftness
and clearness of comprehension, combined with rapid, brilliant, and
forceful phrasing. Her father wrote of her gift:
Sometimes in those days of swift development her speech was rocket-
like for vividness and for the sense it carried of visibility. I
seem to see it stream into the sky and burst full in a shower of
We are dwelling here a moment on Susy, for she was at her best that
She was more at home than the others. Her health did not permit her to
go out so freely and her father had more of her companionship. They
discussed many things--the problems of life and of those beyond life,
philosophies of many kinds, and the subtleties of literary art. He
recalled long after how once they lost themselves in trying to solve the
mystery of the emotional effect of certain word-combinations--certain
phrases and lines of verse--as, for instance, the wild, free breath of
the open that one feels in "the days when we went gipsying a long time
ago" and the tender, sunlit, grassy slope and mossy headstones suggested
by the simple words, "departed this life." Both Susy and her father
cared more for Joan than any of the former books. To Mr. Rogers, Clemens
"Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing--it was written for
love." A memorandum which he made at the time, apparently for no one but
himself, brings us very close to the personality behind it.
Do you know that shock? I mean when you come at your regular hour
into the sick-room where you have watched for months and find the
medicine-bottles all gone, the night-table removed, the bed
stripped, the furniture set stiffly to rights, the windows up, the
room cold, stark, vacant--& you catch your breath & realize what has
Do you know that shock?
The man who has written a long book has that experience the morning
after he has revised it for the last time & sent it away to the
printer. He steps into his study at the hour established by the
habit of months--& he gets that little shock. All the litter &
confusion are gone. The piles of dusty reference-books are gone
from the chairs, the maps from the floor; the chaos of letters,
manuscripts, note-books, paper-knives, pipes, matches, photographs,
tobacco-jars, & cigar-boxes is gone from the writing-table, the
furniture is back where it used to be in the long-ago. The
housemaid, forbidden the place for five months, has been there &
tidied it up & scoured it clean & made it repellent & awful.
I stand here this morning contemplating this desolation, & I realize
that if I would bring back the spirit that made this hospital home-
like & pleasant to me I must restore the aids to lingering
dissolution to their wonted places & nurse another patient through
& send it forth for the last rites, With many or few to assist
there, as may happen; & that I will do.
STARTING ON THE LONG TRAIL
The tragedy of 'Pudd'nhead Wilson', with its splendid illustrations by
Louis Loeb, having finished its course in the Century Magazine, had been
issued by the American Publishing Company. It proved not one of Mark
Twain's great books, but only one of his good books. From first to last
it is interesting, and there are strong situations and chapters finely
written. The character of Roxy is thoroughly alive, and her weird
relationship with her half-breed son is startling enough. There are not
many situations in fiction stronger than that where half-breed Tom sells
his mother down the river into slavery. The negro character is well
drawn, of course-Mark Twain could not write it less than well, but its
realism is hardly to be compared with similar matter in his other books--
in Tom Sawyer, for instance, or Huck Finn. With the exceptions of Tom,
Roxy, and Pudd'nhead the characters are slight. The Twins are mere
bodiless names that might have been eliminated altogether. The character
of Pudd'nhead Wilson is lovable and fine, and his final triumph at the
murder trial is thrilling in the extreme. Identification by thumb-marks
was a new feature in fiction then--in law, too, for that matter. But it
is chiefly Pudd'nhead Wilson's maxims, run at the head of each chapter,
that will stick in the memory of men. Perhaps the book would live
without these, but with them it is certainly immortal.
Such aphorisms as: "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits";
"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good
example"; "When angry count four, and when very angry swear," cannot
perish; these, with the forty or so others in this volume and the added
collection of rare philosophies that head the chapters of Following the
Equator, have insured to Philosopher Pudd'nhead a respectful hearing for
all time.--[The story of Pudd'nhead Wilson was dramatized by Frank Mayo,
who played it successfully as long as he lived. It is by no means dead,
and still pays a royalty to the Mayo and Clemens estates.]
Clemens had meant to begin another book, but he decided first to make a
trip to America, to give some personal attention to publishing matters
there. They were a good deal confused. The Harpers had arranged for the
serial and book publication of Joan, and were negotiating for the Webster
contracts. Mr. Rogers was devoting priceless time in an effort to
establish amicable relations between the Harpers and the American Company
at Hartford so that they could work on some general basis that would be
satisfactory and profitable to all concerned. It was time that Clemens
was on the scene of action. He sailed on the New York on the end of
February, and a little more than a month later returned by the Paris--
that is, at the end of March. By this time he had altogether a new
thought. It was necessary to earn a large sum of money as promptly as
possible, and he adopted the plan which twice before in his life in 1872
and in 1884:--had supplied him with needed funds. Loathing the platform
as he did, he was going back to it. Major Pond had proposed. a lecture
tour soon after his failure.
"The loss of a fortune is tough," wrote Pond, "but there are other
resources for another fortune. You and I will make the tour together."
Now he had resolved to make a tour-one that even Pond himself had not
contemplated. He would go platforming around the world! He would take
Pond with him as far as the Pacific coast, arranging with some one
equally familiar with the lecture circuit on the other side of the
Pacific. He had heard of R. S. Smythe, who had personally conducted
Henry M. Stanley and other great lecturers through Australia and the
East, and he wrote immediately, asking information and advice concerning
such a tour. Clemens himself has told us in one of his chapters how his
mental message found its way to Smythe long before his written one, and
how Smythe's letter, proposing just such a trip, crossed his own.
He sailed for America, with the family on the 11th of May, and a little
more than a week later, after four years of exile, they found themselves
once more at beautiful Quarry Farm. We may imagine how happy they were
to reach that peaceful haven. Mrs. Clemens had written:
"It is, in a way, hard to go home and feel that we are not able to open
our house. But it is an immense delight to me to think of seeing our
Little at the farm was changed. There were more vines on the home--the
study was overgrown--that was all. Even Ellerslie remained as the
children had left it, with all the small comforts and utensils in place.
Most of the old friends were there; only Mrs. Langdon and Theodore Crane
were missing. The Beechers drove up to see them, as formerly, and the
old discussions on life and immortality were taken up in the old places.
Mrs. Beecher once came with some curious thin layers of leaves of stone
which she had found, knowing Mark Twain's interest in geology. Later,
when they had been discussing the usual problems, he said he would write
an agreement on those imperishable leaves, to be laid away until the ages
should solve their problems. He wrote it in verse:
If you prove right and I prove wrong,
A million years from now,
In language plain and frank and strong
My error I'll avow
To your dear waking face.
If I prove right, by God His grace,
Full sorry I shall be,
For in that solitude no trace
There'll be of you and me.
A million years, O patient stone,
You've waited for this message.
Deliver it a million hence;
(Survivor pays expressage.)
Contract with Mrs. T. K. Beecher, July 2, 1895.
Pond came to Elmira and the route westward was arranged. Clemens decided
to give selections from his books, as he had done with Cable, and to
start without much delay. He dreaded the prospect of setting out on that
long journey alone, nor could Mrs. Clemens find it in her heart to
consent to such a plan. It was bitterly hard to know what to do, but it
was decided at last that she and one of the elder daughters should
accompany him, the others remaining with their aunt at Quarry Farm.
Susy, who had the choice, dreaded ocean travel, and felt that she would
be happier and healthier to rest in the quiet of that peaceful hilltop.
She elected to remain with her aunt and jean; and it fell to Clara to go.
Major Pond and his wife would accompany them as far as Vancouver. They
left Elmira on the night of the 14th of July. When the train pulled away
their last glimpse was of Susy, standing with the others under the
electric light of the railway platform, waving them good-by.
Clemens had been ill in Elmira with a distressing carbuncle, and was
still in no condition to undertake steady travel and entertainment in
that fierce summer heat. He was fearful of failure. "I sha'n't be able
to stand on a platform," he wrote Mr. Rogers; but they pushed along
steadily with few delays. They began in Cleveland, thence by the Great
Lakes, traveling by steamer from one point to another, going constantly,
with readings at every important point--Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul,
Winnipeg, Butte, and through the great Northwest, arriving at Vancouver
at last on August 16th, but one day behind schedule time.
It had been a hot, blistering journey, but of immense interest, for none
of them had traveled through the Northwest, and the wonder and grandeur
of it all, its scenery, its bigness, its mighty agriculture, impressed
them. Clemens in his notes refers more than once to the "seas" and
"ocean" of wheat.
There is the peace of the ocean about it and a deep contentment, a
heaven-wide sense of ampleness, spaciousness, where pettiness and
all small thoughts and tempers must be out of place, not suited to
it, and so not intruding. The scattering, far-off homesteads, with
trees about them, were so homelike and remote from the warring
world, so reposeful and enticing. The most distant and faintest
under the horizon suggested fading ships at sea.
The Lake travel impressed him; the beauties and cleanliness of the Lake
steamers, which he compares with those of Europe, to the disadvantage of
the latter. Entering Port Huron he wrote:
The long approach through narrow ways with flat grass and wooded
land on both sides, and on the left a continuous row of summer
cottages, with small-boat accommodations for visiting across the
little canals from family to family, the groups of summer-dressed
young people all along waving flags and handkerchiefs and firing
cannon, our boat replying with toots of the hoarse whistle and now
and then a cannon, and meeting steamers in the narrow way, and once
the stately sister-ship of the line crowded with summer-dressed
people waving-the rich browns and greens of the rush-grown, far-
reaching flat-lands, with little glimpses of water away on their
farther edges, the sinking sun throwing a crinkled broad carpet of
gold on the water-well, it is the perfection of voyaging.
It had seemed a doubtful experiment to start with Mrs. Clemens on that
journey in the summer heat; but, strange to say, her health improved, and
she reached Vancouver by no means unfit for the long voyage ahead. No
doubt the change and continuous interest and their splendid welcome
everywhere and their prosperity were accountable. Everywhere they were
entertained; flowers filled their rooms; carriages and committees were
always waiting. It was known that Mark Twain had set out for the purpose
of paying his debts, and no cause would make a deeper appeal to his
countrymen than that, or, for that matter, to the world at large.
From Winnipeg he wrote to Mr. Rogers:
At the end of an hour and a half I offered to let the audience go,
but they said "go on," and I did.
He had five thousand dollars to forward to Rogers to place against his
debt account by the time he reached the Coast, a fine return for a
month's travel in that deadly season. At no more than two places were
the houses less than crowded. One of these was Anaconda, then a small
place, which they visited only because the manager of the entertainment
hall there had known Clemens somewhere back in the sixties and was eager
to have him. He failed to secure the amount of the guarantee required by
Pond, and when Pond reported to Clemens that he had taken "all he had"
"And you took the last cent that poor fellow had. Send him one hundred
dollars, and if you can't afford to stand your share charge it all to me.
I'm not going around robbing my friends who are disappointed in my
commercial value. I don't want to get money that way."
"I sent the money," said Pond afterward, "and was glad of the privilege
of standing my share."
Clemens himself had not been in the best of health during the trip. He
had contracted a heavy cold and did not seem to gain strength. But in a
presentation copy of 'Roughing It', given to Pond as a souvenir, he
"Here ends one of the smoothest and pleasantest trips across the
continent that any group of five has ever made."
There were heavy forest fires in the Northwest that year, and smoke
everywhere. The steamer Waryimoo, which was to have sailed on the 16th,
went aground in the smoke, and was delayed a week. While they were
waiting, Clemens lectured in Victoria, with the Governor-General and Lady
Aberdeen and their little son in the audience. His note-book says:
They came in at 8.45, 15 minutes late; wish they would always be
present, for it isn't permissible to begin until they come; by that
time the late-comers are all in.
Clemens wrote a number of final letters from Vancouver. In one of them
to Mr. J. Henry Harper, of Harper & Brothers, he expressed the wish that
his name might now be printed as the author of "Joan," which had begun
serially in the April Magazine. He thought it might, help his lecturing
tour and keep his name alive. But a few days later, with Mrs. Clemens's
help, he had reconsidered, and wrote:
My wife is a little troubled by my wanting my nom de plume put to
the "Joan of Arc" so soon. She thinks it might go counter to your
plans, and that you ought to be left free and unhampered in the
All right-so be it. I wasn't strenuous about it, and wasn't meaning
to insist; I only thought my reasons were good, and I really think
so yet, though I do confess the weight and fairness of hers.
As a matter of fact the authorship of "Joan" had been pretty generally
guessed by the second or third issue. Certain of its phrasing and humor
could hardly have come from another pen than Mark Twain's. The
authorship was not openly acknowledged, however, until the publication of
the book, the following May.
Among the letters from Vancouver was this one to Rudyard Kipling
DEAR KIPLING,--It is reported that you are about to visit India.
This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may
unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago you
came from India to Elmira to visit me, as you said at the time. It
has always been my purpose to return that visit & that great
compliment some day. I shall arrive next January & you must be
ready. I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with
silver bells & ribbons & escorted by a troop of native howdahs
richly clad & mounted upon a herd of wild bungalows; & you must be
on hand with a few bottles of ghee, for I shall be thirsty.
To the press he gave this parting statement:
It has been reported that I sacrificed for the benefit of the
creditors the property of the publishing firm whose financial backer
I was and that I am now lecturing for my own benefit. This is an
error. I intend the lectures as well as the property for the
creditors. The law recognizes no mortgage on a man's brain, and a
merchant who has given up all he has may take advantage of the laws
of insolvency and start free again for himself. But I am not a
business man, and honor is a harder master than the law. It cannot
compromise for less than 100 cents on the dollar and its debts never
outlaw. From my reception thus far on my lecturing tour I am
confident that if I live I can pay off the last debt within four
years, after which, at the age of sixty-four, I can make a fresh and
unincumbered start in life. I am going to Australia, India, and
South Africa, and next year I hope to make a tour of the great
cities of the United States. I meant, when I began, to give my
creditors all the benefit of this, but I am beginning to feel that I
am gaining something from it, too, and that my dividends, if not
available for banking purposes, may be even more satisfactory than
There was one creditor, whose name need, not be "handed down to infamy,"
who had refused to consent to any settlement except immediate payment in
full, and had pursued with threatened attachment of earnings and
belongings, until Clemens, exasperated, had been disposed to turn over to
his creditors all remaining properties and let that suffice, once and for
all. But this was momentary. He had presently instructed Mr. Rogers to
"pay Shylock in full," and to assure any others that he would pay them,
too, in the end. But none of the others annoyed him.
It was on the afternoon of August 23, 1895, that they were off at last.
Major Pond and his wife lunched with them on board and waved them good-by
as long as they could see the vessel. The far voyage which was to carry
them for the better part of the year to the under side of the world had
"FOLLOWING THE EQUATOR"
Mark Twain himself has written with great fulness the story of that
traveling--setting down what happened, and mainly as it happened, with
all the wonderful description, charm, and color of which he was so great
a master. We need do little more than summarize then--adding a touch
here and there, perhaps, from another point of view.
They had expected to stop at the Sandwich Islands, but when they arrived
in the roadstead of Honolulu, word came that cholera had broken out and
many were dying daily. They could not land. It was a double
disappointment; not only were the lectures lost, but Clemens had long
looked forward to revisiting the islands he had so loved in the days of
his youth. There was nothing for them to do but to sit on the decks in
the shade of the awnings and look at the distant shore. In his book he
We lay in luminous blue water; shoreward the water was green-green
and brilliant; at the shore itself it broke in a long, white ruffle,
and with no crash, no sound that we could hear. The town was buried
under a mat of foliage that looked like a cushion of moss. The
silky mountains were clothed in soft, rich splendors of melting
color, and some of the cliffs were veiled in slanting mists. I
recognized it all. It was just as I had seen it long before, with
nothing of its beauty lost, nothing of its charm wanting.
In his note-book he wrote: "If I might, I would go ashore and never
This was the 31 st of August. Two days later they were off again,
sailing over the serene Pacific, bearing to the southwest for Australia.
They crossed the equator, which he says was wisely put where it is,
because if it had been run through Europe all the kings would have tried
to grab it. They crossed it September 6th, and he notes that Clara
kodaked it. A day or two later the north star disappeared behind them
and the constellation of the Cross came into view above the southern
horizon. Then presently they were among the islands of the southern
Pacific, and landed for a little time on one of the Fiji group. They had
twenty-four days of halcyon voyaging between Vancouver and Sydney with
only one rough day. A ship's passengers get closely acquainted on a trip
of that length and character. They mingle in all sorts of diversions to
while away the time; and at the end have become like friends of many
On the night of September 15th-a night so dark that from the ship's deck
one could not see the water--schools of porpoises surrounded the ship,
setting the water alive with phosphorescent splendors: "Like glorified
serpents thirty to fifty feet long. Every curve of the tapering long
body perfect. The whole snake dazzlingly illumined. It was a weird
sight to see this sparkling ghost come suddenly flashing along out of the
solid gloom and stream past like a meteor."
They were in Sydney next morning, September 16, 1895, and landed in a
pouring rain, the breaking up of a fierce drought. Clemens announced
that he had brought Australia good-fortune, and should expect something
Mr. Smythe was ready for them and there was no time lost in getting to
work. All Australia was ready for them, in fact, and nowhere in their
own country were they more lavishly and royally received than in that
faraway Pacific continent. Crowded houses, ovations, and gorgeous
entertainment--public and private--were the fashion, and a little more
than two weeks after arrival Clemens was able to send back another two
thousand dollars to apply on his debts. But he had hard luck, too, for
another carbuncle developed at Melbourne and kept him laid up for nearly
a week. When he was able to go before an audience again he said:
"The doctor says I am on the verge of being a sick man. Well, that may
be true enough while I am lying abed all day trying to persuade his
cantankerous, rebellious medicines to agree with each other; but when I
come out at night and get a welcome like this I feel as young and healthy
as anybody, and as to being on the verge of being a sick man I don't take
any stock in that. I have been on the verge of being an angel all my
life, but it's never happened yet."
In his book Clemens has told us his joy in Australia, his interest in the
perishing native tribes, in the wonderfully governed cities, in the gold-
mines, and in the advanced industries. The climate he thought superb;
"a darling climate," he says in a note-book entry.
Perhaps one ought to give a little idea of the character of his
entertainment. His readings were mainly from his earlier books,
'Roughing It' and 'Innocents Abroad'. The story of the dead man which,
as a boy, he had discovered in his father's office was one that he often
told, and the "Mexican Plug" and his "Meeting with Artemus Ward" and the
story of Jim Blaine's old ram; now and again he gave chapters from 'Huck
Finn' and 'Tom Sawyer'. He was likely to finish with that old fireside
tale of his early childhood, the "Golden Arm." But he sometimes told the
watermelon story, written for Mrs. Rogers, or gave extracts from Adam's
Diary, varying his program a good deal as he went along, and changing it
entirely where he appeared twice in one city.
Mrs. Clemens and Clara, as often as they had heard him, generally went
when the hour of entertainment came: They enjoyed seeing his triumph with
the different audiences, watching the effect of his subtle art.
One story, the "Golden Arm," had in it a pause, an effective, delicate
pause which must be timed to the fraction of a second in order to realize
its full value. Somewhere before we have stated that no one better than
Mark Twain knew the value of a pause. Mrs. Clemens and Clara were
willing to go night after night and hear that tale time and again, for
its effect on each new, audience.
From Australia to New Zealand--where Clemens had his third persistent
carbuncle,--[In Following the Equator the author says: "The dictionary
says a carbuncle is a kind of jewel. Humor is out of place in a
dictionary."]--and again lost time in consequence. It was while he was
in bed with this distressing ailment that he wrote Twichell:
I think it was a good stroke of luck that knocked me on my back here
at Napier instead of in some hotel in the center of a noisy city.
Here we have the smooth & placidly complaining sea at our door, with
nothing between us & it but 20 yards of shingle--& hardly a
suggestion of life in that space to mar it or to make a noise. Away
down here fifty-five degrees south of the equator this sea seems to
murmur in an unfamiliar tongue--a foreign tongue--a tongue bred
among the ice-fields of the antarctic--a murmur with a note of
melancholy in it proper to the vast unvisited solitudes it has come
from. It was very delicious and solacing to wake in the night &
find it still pulsing there. I wish you were here--land, but it
would be fine!
Mrs. Clemens and himself both had birthdays in New Zealand; Clemens
turned sixty, and his wife passed the half-century mark.
"I do not like it one single bit," she wrote to her sister. "Fifty years
old-think of it; that seems very far on."
And Clemens wrote:
Day before yesterday was Livy's birthday (underworld time) &
tomorrow will be mine. I shall be 60--no thanks for it!
From New Zealand back to Australia, and then with the new year away to
Ceylon. Here they were in the Orient at last, the land of color,
enchantment, and gentle races. Clemens was ill with a heavy cold when
they arrived; and in fact, at no time during this long journeying was his
health as good as that of his companions. The papers usually spoke of
him as looking frail, and he was continually warned that he must not
remain in India until the time of the great heat. He was so determined
to work, however, and working was so profitable, that he seldom spared
He traveled up and down and back and forth the length and breadth of
India--from Bombay to Allahabad, to Benares, to Calcutta and Darjeeling,
to Lahore, to Lucknow, to Delhi--old cities of romance--and to Jeypore--
through the heat and dust on poor, comfortless railways, fighting his
battle and enjoying it too, for he reveled in that amazing land--its
gorgeous, swarming life, the patience and gentleness of its servitude,
its splendid pageantry, the magic of its architecture, the maze and
mystery of its religions, the wonder of its ageless story.
One railway trip he enjoyed--a thirty-five-mile flight down the steep
mountain of Darjeeling in a little canopied hand-car. In his book he
That was the most enjoyable time I have spent in the earth. For
rousing, tingling, rapturous pleasure there is no holiday trip that
approaches the bird-flight down the Himalayas in a handcar. It has
no fault, no blemish, no lack, except that there are only thirty-
five miles of it, instead of five hundred.
Mark Twain found India all that Rudyard Kipling had painted it and more.
"INDIA THE MARVELOUS" he printed in his note-book in large capitals, as
an effort to picture his thought, and in his book he wrote:
So far as I am able to judge nothing has been left undone, either by
man or Nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the
sun visits on his rounds. "Where every prospect pleases, and only
man is vile."
Marvelous India is, certainly; and he saw it all to the best advantage,
for government official and native grandee spared no effort to do honor
to his party--to make their visit something to be remembered for a
lifetime. It was all very gratifying, and most of it of extraordinary
interest. There are not many visitors who get to see the inner household
of a native prince of India, and the letter which Mark Twain wrote to
Kumar Shri Samatsinhji, a prince of the Palitana state, at Bombay, gives
us a notion of how his unostentatious, even if lavish, hospitality was
DEAR KUMAR SAHIB,--It would be hard for me to put into words how
much my family & I enjoyed our visit to your hospitable house. It
was our first glimpse of the home of an Eastern Prince, & the charm
of it, the grace & beauty & dignity of it realized to us the
pictures which we had long ago gathered from books of travel &
Oriental tales. We shall not forget that happy experience, nor your
kind courtesies to us, nor those of her Highness to my wife &
daughter. We shall keep always the portrait & the beautiful things
you gave us; & as long as we live a glance at them will bring your
house and its life & its sumptuous belongings & rich harmonies of
color instantly across the years & the oceans, & we shall see them
again, & how welcome they will be!
We make our salutation to your Highness & to all members of your
family--including, with affectionate regard, that littlest little
sprite of a Princess--& I beg to sign myself
S. L. CLEMENS.
BENARES, February 5, 1896.
They had been entertained in truly royal fashion by Prince Kumar, who,
after refreshments, had ordered in "bales of rich stuffs" in the true
Arabian Nights fashion, and commanded his servants to open them and allow
his guests to select for themselves.
With the possible exception of General Grant's long trip in '78 and '79
there has hardly been a more royal progress than Mark Twain's trip around
the world. Everywhere they were overwhelmed with honors and invitations,
and their gifts became so many that Mrs. Clemens wrote she did not see
how they were going to carry them all. In a sense, it was like the Grant
trip, for it was a tribute which the nations paid not only to a beloved
personality, but to the American character and people.
The story of that East Indian sojourn alone would fill a large book, and
Mark Twain, in his own way, has written that book, in the second volume
of Following the Equator, an informing, absorbing, and enchanting story
of Indian travel.
Clemens lectured everywhere to jammed houses, which were rather less
profitable than in Australia, because in India the houses were not built
for such audiences as he could command. He had to lecture three times in
Calcutta, and then many people were turned away. At one place, however,
his hall was large enough. This was in the great Hall of the Palace,
where durbars are held, at Bombay.
Altogether they were two months in India, and then about the middle of
March an English physician at Jeypore warned them to fly for Calcutta and
get out of the country immediately before the real heat set in.
They sailed toward the end of March, touched at Madras and again at
Ceylon, remaining a day or two at Colombo, and then away to sea again,
across the Indian Ocean on one of those long, peaceful, eventless, tropic
voyages, where at night one steeps on deck and in daytime wears the
whitest and lightest garments and cares to do little more than sit
drowsily in a steamer-chair and read and doze and dream.
From the note-book:
Here in the wastes of the Indian Ocean just under the equator the
sea is blue, the motion gentle, the sunshine brilliant, the broad
decks with their grouped companies of talking, reading, or game-
playing folk suggestive of a big summer hotel--but outside of the
ship is no life visible but the occasional flash of a flying-fish.
I would like the voyage, under these conditions, to continue
The Injian Ocean sits and smiles
So sof', so bright, so bloomin' blue,
There aren't a wave for miles an' miles
Excep' the jiggle of the screw.
How curiously unanecdotical the colonials and the ship-going English
are--I believe I haven't told an anecdote or heard one since I left
America, but Americans when grouped drop into anecdotes as soon as
they get a little acquainted.
Preserve your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist,
but not live.
Swore off from profanity early this morning--I was on deck in the
peaceful dawn, the calm of holy dawn. Went down, dressed, bathed,
put on white linen, shaved--a long, hot, troublesome job and no
profanity. Then started to breakfast. Remembered my tonic--first
time in 3 months without being told--poured it into measuring-glass,
held bottle in one hand, it in the other, the cork in my teeth--
reached up & got a tumbler--measuring-glass slipped out of my
fingers--caught it, poured out another dose, first setting the
tumbler on wash-stand--just got it poured, ship lurched, heard a
crash behind me--it was the tumbler, broken into millions of
fragments, but the bottom hunk whole. Picked it up to throw out of
the open port, threw out the measuring-glass instead--then I
released my voice. Mrs. Clemens behind me in the door.
"Don't reform any more. It is not an improvement."
This is a good time to read up on scientific matters and improve the
mind, for about us is the peace of the great deep. It invites to
dreams, to study, to reflection. Seventeen days ago this ship
sailed out of Calcutta, and ever since, barring a day or two in
Ceylon, there has been nothing in sight but the tranquil blue sea &
a cloudless blue sky. All down the Bay of Bengal it was so. It is
still so in the vast solitudes of the Indian Ocean--17 days of
heaven. In 11 more it will end. There will be one passenger who
will be sorry. One reads all day long in this delicious air. Today
I have been storing up knowledge from Sir John Lubbock about the
ant. The thing which has struck me most and most astonished me is
the ant's extraordinary powers of identification--memory of his
friend's person. I will quote something which he says about Formica
fusca. Formica fusca is not something to eat; it's the name of a
breed of ants.
He does quote at great length and he transferred most of it later to his
book. In another note he says:
In the past year have read Vicar of Wakefield and some of Jane
Austen--thoroughly artificial. Have begun Children of the Abbey.
It begins with this "Impromptu" from the sentimental heroine:
"Hail, sweet asylum of my infancy! Content and innocence reside
beneath your humble roof and charity unboastful of the good it
renders . . . . Here unmolested may I wait till the rude storm
of sorrow is overblown and my father's arms are again extended to
Has the ear-marks of preparation.
They were at the island of Mauritius by the middle of April, that curious
bit of land mainly known to the world in the romance of Paul and
Virginia, a story supposed by some in Mauritius to be "a part of the
Bible." They rested there for a fortnight and then set sail for South
Africa on the ship Arundel Castle, which he tells us is the finest boat
he has seen in those waters.
It was the end of the first week in May when they reached Durban and felt
that they were nearing home.
One more voyage and they would be in England, where they had planned for
Susy and Jean to join them.
Mrs. Clemens, eager for letters, writes of her disappointment in not
finding one from Susy. The reports from Quarry Farm had been cheerful,
and there had been small snap-shot photographs which were comforting, but
her mother heart could not be entirely satisfied that Susy did not send
letters. She had a vague fear that some trouble, some illness, had come
to Susy which made her loath to write. Susy was, in fact, far from well,
though no one, not even Susy herself, suspected how serious was her
Mrs. Clemens writes of her own hopefulness, but adds that her husband is
Mr. Clemens has not as much courage as I wish he had, but, poor old
darling, he has been pursued with colds and inabilities of various
sorts. Then he is so impressed with the fact that he is sixty years
old. Naturally I combat that thought all I can, trying to make him
rejoice that he is not seventy . . . .
He does not believe that any good thing will come, but that we must
all our lives live in poverty. He says he never wants to go back to
America. I cannot think that things are as black as he paints them,
and I trust that if I get him settled down for work in some quiet
English village he will get back much of his cheerfulness; in fact,
I believe he will because that is what he wants to do, and that is
the work that he loves: The platform he likes for the two hours that
he is on it, but all the rest of the time it grinds him, and he says
he is ashamed of what he is doing. Still, in spite of this sad
undercurrent, we are having a delightful trip. People are so nice,
and with people Mr. Clemens seems cheerful. Then the ocean trips
are a great rest to him.
Mrs. Clemens and Clara remained at the hotel in Durban while Clemens made
his platform trip to the South African cities. It was just at the time
when the Transvaal invasion had been put down--when the Jameson raid had
come to grief and John Hares Hammond, chief of the reformers, and fifty
or more supporters were lying in the jail at Pretoria under various
sentences, ranging from one to fifteen years, Hammond himself having
received the latter award. Mrs. Hammond was a fellow-Missourian; Clemens
had known her in America. He went with her now to see the prisoners, who
seemed to be having a pretty good time, expecting to be pardoned
presently; pretending to regard their confinement mainly as a joke.
Clemens, writing of it to Twichell, said:
A Boer guard was at my elbow all the time, but was courteous &
polite, only he barred the way in the compound (quadrangle or big
open court) & wouldn't let me cross a white mark that was on the
ground--the "deathline," one of the prisoners called it. Not in
earnest, though, I think. I found that I had met Hammond once when
he was a Yale senior & a guest of General Franklin's. I also found
that I had known Captain Mein intimately 32 years ago. One of the
English prisoners had heard me lecture in London 23 years ago....
These prisoners are strong men, prominent men, & I believe they are
all educated men. They are well off; some of them are wealthy.
They have a lot of books to read, they play games & smoke, & for a
while they will be able to bear up in their captivity; but not for
long, not for very long, I take it. I am told they have times of
deadly brooding and depression. I made them a speech--sitting down.
It just happened so. I don't prefer that attitude. Still, it has
one advantage--it is only a talk, it doesn't take the form of a
speech . . . . I advised them at considerable length to stay
where they were--they would get used to it & like it presently; if
they got out they would only get in again somewhere else, by the
look of their countenances; & I promised to go and see the President
& do what I could to get him to double their jail terms....
We had a very good sociable time till the permitted time was up &.
a little over & we outsiders had to go. I went again to-day, but
the Rev. Mr. Gray had just arrived, & the warden, a genial, elderly
Boer named Du Plessis, explained that his orders wouldn't allow him
to admit saint & sinner at the same time, particularly on a Sunday.
Du Plessis descended from the Huguenot fugitives, you see, of 200
years ago--but he hasn't any French left in him now--all Dutch.
Clemens did visit President Kruger a few days later, but not for the
purpose explained. John Hayes Hammond, in a speech not long ago (1911),
told how Mark Twain was interviewed by a reporter after he left the jail,
and when the reporter asked if the prisoners were badly treated Clemens
had replied that he didn't think so, adding:
"As a matter of fact, a great many of these gentlemen have fared far
worse in the hotels and mining-camps of the West."
Said Hammond in his speech: "The result of this was that the interview
was reported literally and a leader appeared in the next morning's issue
protesting against such lenience. The privations, already severe enough,
were considerably augmented by that remark, and it required some three or
four days' search on the part of some of our friends who were already
outside of jail to get hold of Mark Twain and have him go and explain to
Kruger that it was all a joke."
Clemens made as good a plea to "Oom Paul" as he could, and in some degree
may have been responsible for the improved treatment and the shortened
terms of the unlucky reformers.
They did not hurry away from South Africa. Clemens gave many readings
and paid a visit to the Kimberley mines. His note-book recalls how poor
Riley twenty-five years before had made his fatal journey.
It was the 14th of July, 1896, a year to a day since they left Elmira,
that they sailed by the steamer Norman for England, arriving at
Southampton the 31st. It was from Southampton that they had sailed for
America fourteen months before. They had completed the circuit of the
THE PASSING OF SUSY
It had been arranged that Katie Leary should bring Jean and Susy to
England. It was expected that they would arrive soon, not later than the
12th, by which time the others would be established. The travelers
proceeded immediately to London and engaged for the summer a house in
Guildford, modest quarters, for they were still economizing, though Mark
Twain had reason to hope that with the money already earned and the
profits of the book he would write of his travels he could pay himself
free. Altogether, the trip had been prosperous. Now that it was behind
him, his health and spirits had improved. The outlook was brighter.
August 12th came, but it did not bring Katie and the children. A letter
came instead. Clemens long afterward wrote:
It explained that Susy was slightly ill-nothing of consequence. But
we were disquieted and began to cable for later news. This was
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