The Boys' Life of Mark Twain
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 4 out of 5
elsewhere, asking that they send the humorist a letter to arrive April 1,
requesting his autograph. It would seem that each one receiving this
letter must have responded to it, for on the morning of April 1st an
immense pile of letters was unloaded on Mark Twain's table. He did not
know what to make of it, and Mrs. Clemens, who was party to the joke,
slyly watched results. They were the most absurd requests for autographs
ever written. He was fooled and mystified at first, then realizing the
nature and magnitude of the joke, he entered into it fully-delighted, of
course, for it was really a fine compliment. Some of the letters asked
for autographs by the yard, some by the pound. Some commanded him to sit
down and copy a few chapters from "The Innocents Abroad." Others asked
that his autograph be attached to a check. John Hay requested that he
copy a hymn, a few hundred lines of Young's "Night Thoughts," etc., and
"I want my boy to form a taste for serious and elevated poetry, and
it will add considerable commercial value to have it in your
Altogether, the reading of the letters gave Mark Twain a delightful day.
The platform tour of Clemens and Cable that fall was a success. They had
good houses, and the work of these two favorites read by the authors of
it made a fascinating program.
They continued their tour westward as far as Chicago and gave readings in
Hannibal and Keokuk. Orion Clemens and his wife once more lived in
Keokuk, and with them Jane Clemens, brisk and active for her eighty-one
years. She had visited Hartford more than once and enjoyed "Sam's fine
house," but she chose the West for home. Orion Clemens, honest, earnest,
and industrious, had somehow missed success in life. The more prosperous
brother, however, made an allowance ample for all. Mark Twain's mother
attended the Keokuk reading. Later, at home, when her children asked her
if she could still dance (she had been a great dancer in her youth), she
rose, and in spite of her fourscore, tripped as lightly as a girl. It
was the last time that Mark Twain would see her in full health.
At Christmas-time Cable and Clemens took a fortnight's holiday, and
Clemens went home to Hartford. There a grand surprise awaited him. Mrs.
Clemens had made an adaptation of "The Prince and the Pauper" for the
stage, and his children, with those of the neighborhood, had learned the
parts. A good stage had been set up in George Warner's home, with a
pretty drop-curtain and very good scenery indeed. Clemens arrived in the
late afternoon, and felt an air of mystery in the house, but did not
guess what it meant. By and by he was led across the grounds to George
Warner's home, into a large room, and placed in a seat directly fronting
the stage. Then presently the curtain went up, the play began, and he
knew. As he watched the little performers playing so eagerly the parts
of his story, he was deeply moved and gratified.
It was only the beginning of "The Prince and the Pauper" production. The
play was soon repeated, Clemens himself taking the part of Miles Hendon.
In a "biography" of her father which Susy began a little later, she
"Papa had only three days to learn the part in, but still we were all
sure he could do it . . . . I was the prince, and Papa and I
rehearsed two or three times a day for the three days before the
appointed evening. Papa acted his part beautifully, and he added to
the scene, making it a good deal longer. He was inexpressibly
funny, with his great slouch hat and gait--oh, such a gait!"
Susy's sister, Clara, took the part of Lady Jane Gray, while little Jean,
aged four, in the part of a court official, sat at a small table and
constantly signed state papers and death-warrants.
"THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN"
Meantime, Mark Twain had really become a publisher. His nephew by
marriage, Charles L. Webster, who, with Osgood, had handled the
"Mississippi" book, was now established under the firm name of Charles L.
Webster & Co., Samuel L. Clemens being the company. Clemens had another
book ready, and the new firm were to handle it throughout.
The new book was a story which Mark Twain had begun one day at Quarry
Farm, nearly eight years before. It was to be a continuation of the
adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, especially of the latter as told
by himself. But the author had no great opinion of the tale and
presently laid it aside. Then some seven years later, after his trip
down the river, he felt again the inspiration of the old days, and the
story of Huck's adventures had been continued and brought to a close.
The author believed in it by this time, and the firm of Webster & Co.
was really formed for the purpose of publishing it.
Mark Twain took an active interest in the process. From the pages of
"Life" he selected an artist--a young man named E. W. Kemble, who would
later become one of our foremost illustrators of Southern character. He
also gave attention to the selection of the paper and the binding--even
to the method of canvassing for the sales. In a note to Webster, he
"Get at your canvassing early and drive it with all your might . .
. . If we haven't 40,000 subscriptions we simply postpone
publication till we've got them."
Mark Twain was making himself believe that he was a business man, and in
this instance, at least, he seems to have made no mistake. Some advanced
chapters of "Huck" appeared serially in the "Century Magazine," and the
public was eager for more. By the time the "Century" chapters were
finished the forty thousand advance subscriptions for the book had been
taken, and Huck Finn's own story, so long pushed aside and delayed, came
grandly into its own. Many grown-up readers and most critics declared
that it was greater than the "Tom Sawyer" book, though the younger
readers generally like the first book the best, it being rather more in
the juvenile vein. Huck's story, in fact, was soon causing quite grown-
up discussions--discussions as to its psychology and moral phases,
matters which do not interest small people, who are always on Huck's side
in everything, and quite willing that he should take any risk of body or
soul for the sake of Nigger Jim. Poor, vagrant Ben Blankenship, hiding
his runaway negro in an Illinois swamp, could not dream that his
humanity would one day supply the moral episode for an immortal book!
As literature, the story of "Huck Finn" holds a higher place than that of
"Tom Sawyer." As stories, they stand side by side, neither complete
without the other, and both certain to live as long as there are real
boys and girls to read them.
PUBLISHER TO GENERAL GRANT
Mark Twain was now a successful publisher, but his success thus far was
nothing to what lay just ahead. One evening he learned that General
Grant, after heavy financial disaster, had begun writing the memoirs
which he (Clemens) had urged him to undertake some years before. Next
morning he called on the General to learn the particulars. Grant had
contributed some articles to the "Century" war series, and felt in a mood
to continue the work. He had discussed with the "Century" publishers the
matter of a book. Clemens suggested that such a book should be sold only
by subscription and prophesied its enormous success. General Grant was
less sure. His need of money was very great and he was anxious to get as
much return as possible, but his faith was not large. He was inclined to
make no special efforts in the matter of publication. But Mark Twain
prevailed. Like his own Colonel Sellers, he talked glowingly and
eloquently of millions. He first offered to direct the general to his
own former subscription publisher, at Hartford, then finally proposed to
publish it himself, offering Grant seventy per cent. of the net returns,
and to pay all office expenses out of his own share.
Of course there could be nothing for any publisher in such an arrangement
unless the sales were enormous. General Grant realized this, and at
first refused to consent. Here was a friend offering to bankrupt himself
out of pure philanthropy, a thing he could not permit. But Mark Twain
came again and again, and finally persuaded him that purely as business
proposition the offer was warranted by the certainty of great sales.
So the firm of Charles L. Webster & Co. undertook the Grant book, and the
old soldier, broken in health and fortune, was liberally provided with
means that would enable him to finish his task with his mind at peace.
He devoted himself steadily to the work--at first writing by hand, then
dictating to a stenographer that Webster & Co. provided. His disease,
cancer, made fierce ravages, but he "fought it out on that line," and
wrote the last pages of his memoirs by hand when he could no longer speak
aloud. Mark Twain was much with him, and cheered him with anecdotes and
news of the advance sale of his book. In one of his memoranda of that
time Clemens wrote:
"To-day (May 26) talked with General Grant about his and my first
great Missouri campaign, in 1861. He surprised an empty camp near
Florida, Missouri, on Salt River, which I had been occupying a day
or two before. How near he came to playing the d-- with his future
At Mount McGregor, a few weeks before the end, General Grant asked if any
estimate could now be made of the sum which his family would obtain from
his work, and was deeply comforted by Clemens's prompt reply that more
than one hundred thousand sets had already been sold, the author's share
of which would exceed one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Clemens
added that the gross return would probably be twice as much more.
The last notes came from Grant's hands soon after that, and a few days
later, July 23, 1885, his task completed, he died. To Henry Ward Beecher
"One day he put his pencil aside and said there was nothing more to
do. If I had been there I could have foretold the shock that struck
the world three days later."
In a memorandum estimate made by Mark Twain soon after the canvass for
the Grant memoirs had begun, he had prophesied that three hundred
thousand sets of the book would be sold, and that he would pay General
Grant in royalties $420,000. This prophecy was more than fulfilled. The
first check paid to Mrs. Grant--the largest single royalty check in
history--was for $200,000. Later payments brought her royalty return up
to nearly $450.000. For once, at least, Mark Twain's business vision had
been clear. A fortune had been realized for the Grant family. Even his
own share was considerable, for out of that great sale more than a
hundred thousand dollars' profit was realized by Webster & Co.
THE HIGH-TIDE OF FORTUNE
That summer at Quarry Farm was one of the happiest they had ever known.
Mark Twain, nearing fifty, was in the fullness of his manhood and in the
brightest hour of his fortune. Susy, in her childish "biography," begun
at this time, gives us a picture of him. She begins:
"We are a happy family! We consist of Papa, Mama, Jean, Clara, and
me. It is Papa I am writing about, and I shall have no trouble in
not knowing what to say about him, as he is a very striking
character. Papa's appearance has been described many times, but
very incorrectly; he has beautiful, curly, gray hair, not any too
thick or any too long, just right; a Roman nose, which greatly
improves the beauty of his features, kind blue eyes, and a small
mustache; he has a wonderfully shaped head and profile; he has a
very good figure--in short, is an extraordinarily fine-looking man."
"He is a very good man, and a very funny one; he has got a temper,
but we all have in this family. He is the loveliest man I ever saw,
or ever hope to see, and oh, so absent-minded!"
We may believe this is a true picture of Mark Twain at fifty. He did not
look young for his years, but he was still young in spirit and body.
Susy tells how he blew bubbles for the children, filling them with
tobacco smoke. Also, how he would play with the cats and come clear down
from his study to see how a certain kitten was getting along.
Susy adds that "there are eleven cats at the farm now," and tells of the
day's occupations, but the description is too long to quote. It reveals
a beautiful, busy life.
Susy herself was a gentle, thoughtful, romantic child. One afternoon she
discovered a wonderful tangle of vines and bushes, a still, shut-in
corner not far from the study. She ran breathlessly to her aunt.
"Can I have it--can Clara and I have it all for our own?"
The petition was granted and the place was called Helen's Bower, for they
were reading "Thaddeus of Warsaw", and the name appealed to Susy's poetic
fancy. Something happened to the "bower"--an unromantic workman mowed it
down--but by this time there was a little house there which Mrs. Clemens
had built, just for the children. It was a complete little cottage, when
furnished. There was a porch in front, with comfortable chairs. Inside
were also chairs, a table, dishes, shelves, a broom, even a stove--small,
but practical. They called the little house "Ellerslie," out of Grace
Aguilar's "Days of Robert Bruce." There alone, or with their Langdon
cousins, how many happy summers they played and dreamed away. Secluded
by a hillside and happy trees, overlooking the hazy, distant town, it was
a world apart--a corner of story-book land. When the end of the summer
came its little owners went about bidding their treasures good-by,
closing and kissing the gates of Ellerslie.
Looking back now, Mark Twain at fifty would seem to have been in his
golden prime. His family was ideal--his surroundings idyllic. Favored
by fortune, beloved by millions, honored now even in the highest places,
what more had life to give? When November 30th brought his birthday, one
of the great Brahmins, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote him a beautiful
poem. Andrew Lang, England's foremost critic, also sent verses, while
letters poured in from all sides.
And Mark Twain realized his fortune and was disturbed by it. To a friend
he said: "I am frightened at the proportions of my prosperity. It seems
to me that whatever I touch turns to gold."
BUSINESS DIFFICULTIES. PLEASANTER THINGS
For the time it would seem that Mark Twain had given up authorship for
business. The success of the Grant book had filled his head with plans
for others of a like nature. The memoirs of General McClellan and
General Sheridan were arranged for. Almost any war-book was considered a
good venture. And there was another plan afoot. Pope Leo XIII., in his
old age, had given sanction to the preparation of his memoirs, and it was
to be published, with his blessing, by Webster & Co., of Hartford. It
was generally believed that such a book would have a tremendous sale, and
Colonel Sellers himself could not have piled the figures higher than did
his creator in counting his prospective returns. Every Catholic in the
world must have a copy of the Pope's book, and in America alone there
were millions. Webster went to Rome to consult with the Pope in person,
and was received in private audience. Mark Twain's publishing firm
seemed on the top wave of success.
The McClellan and Sheridan books were issued, and, in due time, the Life
of Pope Leo XIII.--published simultaneously in six languages--issued from
the press. A large advance sale had been guaranteed by the general
canvassing agents--a fortunate thing, as it proved. For, strange as it
may seem, the book did not prove a great success. It is hard to explain
just why. Perhaps Catholics felt that there had been so many popes that
the life of any particular one was no great matter. The book paid, but
not largely. The McClellan and Sheridan books, likewise, were only
partially successful. Perhaps the public was getting tired of war
memoirs. Webster & Co. undertook books of a general sort--travel,
fiction, poetry. Many of them did not pay. Their business from a march
of triumph had become a battle. They undertook a "Library of American
Literature," a work of many volumes, costly to make and even more so to
sell. To float this venture they were obliged to borrow large sums.
It seems unfortunate that Mark Twain should have been disturbed by these
distracting things during what should have been his literary high-tide.
As it was, his business interests and cares absorbed the energy that
might otherwise have gone into books. He was not entirely idle. He did
an occasional magazine article or story, and he began a book which he
worked at from time to time the story of a Connecticut Yankee who
suddenly finds himself back in the days of King Arthur's reign. Webster
was eager to publish another book by his great literary partner, but the
work on it went slowly. Then Webster broke down from two years of
overwork, and the business management fell into other hands. Though
still recognized as a great publishing-house, those within the firm of
Charles L. Webster & Co. knew that its prospects were not bright.
Furthermore, Mark Twain had finally invested in another patent, the type-
setting machine mentioned in a former chapter, and the demands for cash
to promote this venture were heavy. To his sister Pamela, about the end
of 1887, he wrote: "The type-setter goes on forever at $3,000 a month....
We'll be through with it in three or four months, I reckon"--a false
hope, for the three or four months would lengthen into as many years.
But if there were clouds gathering in the business sky, they were not
often allowed to cast a shadow in Mark Twain's home. The beautiful house
in Hartford was a place of welcome and merriment, of many guests and of
happy children. Especially of happy children: during these years--the
latter half of the 'eighties--when Mark Twain's fortunes were on the
decline, his children were at the age to have a good time, and certainly
they had it. The dramatic stage which had been first set up at George
Warner's for the Christmas "Prince and Pauper" performance was brought
over and set up in the Clemens schoolroom, and every Saturday there were
plays or rehearsals, and every little while there would be a grand
general performance in the great library downstairs, which would
accommodate just eighty-four chairs, filled by parents of the performers
and invited guests. In notes dictated many years later, Mark Twain said:
"We dined as we could, probably with a neighbor, and by quarter to
eight in the evening the hickory fire in the hall was pouring a
sheet of flame up the chimney, the house was in a drench of gas-
light from the ground floor up, the guests were arriving, and there
was a babble of hearty greetings, with not a voice in it that was
not old and familiar and affectionate; and when the curtain went up,
we looked out from the stage upon none but faces dear to us, none
but faces that were lit up with welcome for us."
He was one of the children himself, you see, and therefore on the stage
with the others. Katy Leary, for thirty years in the family service,
once said to the author: "The children were crazy about acting, and we
all enjoyed it as much as they did, especially Mr. Clemens, who was the
best actor of all. I have never known a happier household than theirs
was during those years."
The plays were not all given by the children. Mark Twain had kept up his
German study, and a class met regularly in his home to struggle with the
problems of der, die, and das. By and by he wrote a play for the class,
"Meisterschaft," a picturesque mixture of German and English, which they
gave twice, with great success. It was unlike anything attempted before
or since. No one but Mark Twain could have written it. Later (January,
1888), in modified form, it was published in the "Century Magazine." It
is his best work of this period.
Many pleasant and amusing things could be recalled from these days if one
only had room. A visit with Robert Louis Stevenson was one of them.
Stevenson was stopping at a small hotel near Washington Square, and he
and Clemens sat on a bench in the sunshine and talked through at least
one golden afternoon. What marvelous talk that must have been! "Huck
Finn" was one of Stevenson's favorites, and once he told how he had
insisted on reading the book aloud to an artist who was painting his
portrait. The painter had protested at first, but presently had fallen a
complete victim to Huck's story. Once, in a letter, Stevenson wrote:
"My father, an old man, has been prevailed upon to read 'Roughing It'
(his usual amusement being found in theology), and after one evening
spent with the book he declared: 'I am frightened. It cannot be
safe for a man at my time of life to laugh so much.'"
Mark Twain had been a "mugwump" during the Blame-Cleveland campaign in
1880, which means that he had supported the independent Democratic
candidate, Grover Cleveland. He was, therefore, in high favor at the
White House during both Cleveland administrations, and called there
informally whenever business took him to Washington. But on one occasion
(it was his first visit after the President's marriage) there was to be a
party, and Mrs. Clemens, who could not attend, slipped a little note into
the pocket of his evening waistcoat, where he would be sure to find it
when dressing, warning him as to his deportment. Being presented to
young Mrs. Cleveland, he handed her a card on which he had written, "He
didn't," and asked her to sign her name below those words. Mrs.
Cleveland protested that she must know first what it was that he hadn't
done, finally agreeing to sign if he would tell her immediately all about
it, which he promised to do. She signed, and he handed her Mrs.
Clemens's note. It was very brief. It said, "Don't wear your arctics in
the White House."
Mrs. Cleveland summoned a messenger and had the card mailed immediately
to Mrs. Clemens.
Absent-mindedness was characteristic of Mark Twain. He lived so much in
the world within that to him the material outer world was often vague and
shadowy. Once when he was knocking the balls about in the billiard-room,
George, the colored butler, a favorite and privileged household
character, brought up a card. So many canvassers came to sell him one
thing and another that Clemens promptly assumed this to be one of them.
George insisted mildly, but firmly, that, though a stranger, the caller
was certainly a gentleman, and Clemens grumblingly descended the stairs.
As he entered the parlor the caller arose and extended his hand. Clemens
took it rather limply, for he had noticed some water-colors and
engravings leaning against the furniture as if for exhibition, and he was
instantly convinced that the caller was a picture-canvasser. Inquiries
by the stranger as to Mrs. Clemens and the children did not change Mark
Twain's conclusion. He was polite, but unresponsive, and gradually
worked the visitor toward the front door. His inquiry as to the home of
Charles Dudley Warner caused him to be shown eagerly in that direction.
Clemens, on his way back to the billiard-room, heard Mrs. Clemens call
him--she was ill that day: "Youth!"
"Yes, Livy." He went in for a word.
"George brought me Mr. B.'s card. I hope you were nice to him; the B's
were so nice to us, once, in Europe, while you were gone."
"The B's! Why, Livy!"
"Yes, of course; and I asked him to be sure to call when he came to
"Well, he's been here."
"Oh Youth, have you done anything?"
"Yes, of course I have. He seemed to have some pictures to sell, so I
sent him over to Warner's. I noticed he didn't take them with him. Land
sakes! Livy, what can I do?"
"Go right after him--go quick! Tell him what you have done."
He went without further delay, bareheaded and in his slippers, as usual.
Warner and B. were in cheerful conversation. They had met before.
Clemens entered gaily.
"Oh, yes, I see! You found him all right. Charlie, we met Mr. B. and
his wife in Europe, and they made things pleasant for us. I wanted to
come over here with him, but I was a good deal occupied just then. Livy
isn't very well, but she seems now a good deal better; so I just followed
along to have a good talk, all together."
He stayed an hour, and whatever bad impression had formed in B.'s mind
faded long before the hour ended. Returning home, Clemens noticed the
pictures still on the parlor floor.
"George," he said, "what pictures are these that gentleman left?"
"Why, Mr. Clemens, those are our own pictures! Mrs. Clemens had me set
them around to see how they would look in new places. The gentleman was
only looking at them while he waited for you to come down."
It was in June, 1888, that Yale College conferred upon Mark Twain the
degree of Master of Arts. He was proud of the honor, for it was
recognition of a kind that had not come to him before--remarkable
recognition, when we remember how as a child he had hated all schools and
study, having ended his class-room days before he was twelve years old.
He could not go to New Haven at the time, but later in the year made the
students a delightful address. In his capacity of Master of Arts, he
said, he had come down to New Haven to institute certain college reforms.
By advice, I turned my earliest attention to the Greek department. I
told the Greek Professor I had concluded to drop the use of the Greek-
written character, because it is so hard to spell with and so impossible
to read after you get it spelt. Let us draw the curtain there. I saw by
what followed that nothing but early neglect saved him from being a very
He said he had given advice to the mathematical department with about the
same result. The astronomy department he had found in a bad way. He had
decided to transfer the professor to the law department and to put a law-
student in his place.
A boy will be more biddable, more tractable--also cheaper. It is true he
cannot be entrusted with important work at first, but he can comb the
skies for nebula till he gets his hand in.
It was hardly the sort of an address that the holder of a college degree
is expected to make, but doctors and students alike welcomed it
hilariously from Mark Twain.
Not many great things happened to Mark Twain during this long period of
semi-literary inaction, but many interesting ones. When Bill Nye, the
humorist, and James Whitcomb Riley joined themselves in an entertainment
combination, Mark Twain introduced them to their first Boston audience--a
great event to them, and to Boston. Clemens himself gave a reading now
and then, but not for money. Once, when Col. Richard Malcolm Johnston
and Thomas Nelson Page were to give a reading in Baltimore, Page's wife
fell ill, and Colonel Johnston wired to Charles Dudley Warner, asking him
to come in Page's stead. Warner, unable to go, handed the telegram to
Clemens, who promptly answered that he would come. They read to a packed
house, and when the audience had gone and the returns were counted, an
equal amount was handed to each of the authors. Clemens pushed his share
over to Johnston, saying:
"That's yours, Colonel. I'm not reading for money these days."
Colonel Johnston, to whom the sum was important, tried to thank him, but
Clemens only said:
"Never mind, Colonel; it only gives me pleasure to do you that little
favor. You can pass it along some day."
As a matter of fact, Mark Twain himself was beginning to be hard pressed
for funds at this time, but was strong in the faith that he would
presently be a multi-millionaire. The typesetting machine was still
costing a vast sum, but each week its inventor promised that a few more
weeks or months would see it finished, and then a tide of wealth would
come rolling in. Mark Twain felt that a man with ship-loads of money
almost in port could not properly entertain the public for pay. He read
for institutions, schools, benefits, and the like, without charge.
KIPLING AT ELMIRA. ELSIE LESLIE. THE "YANKEE"
One day during the summer of 1889 a notable meeting took place in Elmira.
On a blazing forenoon a rather small and very hot young man, in a slow,
sizzling hack made his way up East Hill to Quarry Faun. He inquired for
Mark Twain, only to be told that he was at the Langdon home, down in the
town which the young man had just left. So he sat for a little time on
the pleasant veranda, and Mrs. Crane and Susy Clemens, who were there,
brought him some cool milk and listened to him talk in a way which seemed
to them very entertaining and wonderful. When he went away he left his
card with a name on it strange to them--strange to the world at that
time. The name was Rudyard Kipling. Also on the card was the address
Allahabad, and Sissy kept it, because, to her, India was fairyland.
Kipling went down into Elmira and found Mark Twain. In his book
"American Notes" he has left an account of that visit. He claimed that
he had traveled around the world to see Mark Twain, and his article
"You are a contemptible lot over yonder. Some of you are
commissioners, and some are lieutenant-governors, and some have the
V. C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm
with the viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning,
have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar--no, two cigars--with him,
and talked with him for more than two hours!"
But one should read the article entire--it is so worth while. Clemens
also, long after, dictated an account of the meeting.
Kipling came down and spent a couple of hours with me, and at the end of
that time I had surprised him as much as he had surprised me--and the
honors were easy. I believed that he knew more than any person I had met
before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had
met before. . . When he had gone, Mrs. Langdon wanted to know about my
visitor. I said:
"He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man--and I am the
other one. Between us we cover all knowledge. He knows all that can be
known, and I know the rest."
He was a stranger to me and all the world, and remained so for twelve
months, but then he became suddenly known and universally known. . .
George Warner came into our library one morning, in Hartford, with a
small book in his hand, and asked me if I had ever heard of Rudyard
Kipling. I said "No."
He said I would hear of him very soon, and that the noise he made would
be loud and continuous. . . A day or two later he brought a copy of
the London "World" which had a sketch of Kipling in it and a mention of
the fact that he had traveled in the United States. According to the
sketch he had passed through Elmira. This remark, with the additional
fact that he hailed from India, attracted my attention--also Susy's. She
went to her room and brought his card from its place in the frame of her
mirror, and the Quarry Farm visitor stood identified.
A theatrical production of "The Prince and the Pauper," dramatized by
Mrs. A. S. Richardson, was one of the events of this period. It was a
charming performance, even if not a great financial success, and little
Elsie Leslie, who played the double part of the Prince and Tom Canty,
became a great favorite in the Clemens home. She was also a favorite of
the actor and playwright, William Gillette,  and once when Clemens and
Gillette were together they decided to give the little girl a surprise--a
pair of slippers, in fact, embroidered by themselves. In his
presentation letter to her, Mark Twain wrote:
"Either of us could have thought of a single slipper, but it took both of
us to think of two slippers. In fact, one of us did think of one
slipper, and then, quick as a flash, the other thought of the other one."
He apologized for his delay:
"You see, it was my first attempt at art, and I couldn't rightly get the
hang of it, along at first. And then I was so busy I couldn't get a
chance to work at home, and they wouldn't let me embroider on the cars;
they said it made the other passengers afraid. . . Take the slippers
and wear them next your heart, Elsie dear, for every stitch in them is a
testimony of the affection which two of your loyalest friends bear you.
Every single stitch cost us blood. I've got twice as many pores in me
now as I used to have . . . . Do not wear these slippers in public,
dear; it would only excite envy; and, as like as not, somebody would try
to shoot you."
For five years Mark Twain had not published a book. Since the appearance
of "Huck Finn" at the end of 1884 he had given the public only an
occasional magazine story or article. His business struggle and the
type-setter had consumed not only his fortune, but his time and energy.
Now, at last, however, a book was ready. "A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court" came from the press of Webster & Co. at the end of 1889,
a handsome book, elaborately and strikingly illustrated by Dan Beard--a
pretentious volume which Mark Twain really considered his last. "It's my
swan-song, my retirement from literature permanently," he wrote Howells,
though certainly he was young, fifty-four, to have reached this
The story of the "Yankee"--a fanciful narrative of a skilled Yankee
mechanic swept backward through the centuries to the dim day of Arthur
and his Round Table--is often grotesque enough in its humor, but under it
all is Mark Twain's great humanity in fierce and noble protest against
unjust laws, the tyranny of an individual or of a ruling class--
oppression of any sort. As in "The Prince and the Pauper," the wandering
heir to the throne is brought in contact with cruel injustice and misery,
so in the "Yankee" the king himself becomes one of a band of fettered
slaves, and through degradation and horror of soul acquires mercy and
The "Yankee in King Arthur's Court" is a splendidly imagined tale.
Edmund Clarence Stedman and William Dean Howells have ranked it very
high. Howells once wrote: "Of all the fanciful schemes in fiction, it
pleases me most." The "Yankee" has not held its place in public favor
with Mark Twain's earlier books, but it is a wonderful tale, and we
cannot afford to leave it unread.
When the summer came again, Mark Twain and his family decided for once to
forego Quarry Farm for a season in the Catskills, and presently found
themselves located in a cottage at Onteora in the midst of a most
delightful colony. Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, then editor of St. Nicholas,
was there, and Mrs. Custer and Brander Matthews and Lawrence Hutton and a
score of other congenial spirits. There was constant visiting from one
cottage to another, with frequent gatherings at the Inn, which was
general headquarters. Susy Clemens, now eighteen, was a central figure,
brilliant, eager, intense, ambitious for achievement--lacking only in
physical strength. She was so flower-like, it seemed always that her
fragile body must be consumed by the flame of her spirit. It was a happy
summer, but it closed sadly. Clemens was called to Keokuk in August, to
his mother's bedside. A few weeks later came the end, and Jane Clemens
had closed her long and useful life. She was in her eighty-eighth year.
A little later, at Elmira, followed the death of Mrs. Clemens's mother, a
sweet and gentle woman.
 Gillette was originally a Hartford boy. Mark Twain had recognized
his ability, advanced him funds with which to complete his dramatic
education, and Gillette's first engagement seems to have been with the
Colonel Sellers company. Mark Twain often advanced money in the interest
of education. A young sculptor he sent to Paris for two years' study.
Among others, he paid the way of two colored students through college.
THE MACHINE. GOOD-BY TO HARTFORD. "JOAN" IS BEGUN
It was hoped that the profits from the Yankee would provide for all needs
until the great sums which were to come from the type-setter should come
rolling in. The book did yield a large return, but, alas! the hope of
the type-setter, deferred year after year and month after month, never
reached fulfilment. Its inventor, James W. Paige, whom Mark Twain once
called "a poet, a most great and genuine poet, whose sublime creations
are written in steel," during ten years of persistent experiment had
created one of the most marvelous machines ever constructed. It would
set and distribute type, adjust the spaces, detect flaws--would perform,
in fact, anything that a human being could do, with more exactness and
far more swiftness. Mark Twain, himself a practical printer, seeing it
in its earlier stages of development, and realizing what a fortune must
come from a perfect type-setting machine, was willing to furnish his last
dollar to complete the invention. But there the trouble lay. It could
never be complete. It was too intricate, too much like a human being,
too easy to get out of order, too hard to set right. Paige, fully
confident, always believed he was just on the verge of perfecting some
appliance that would overcome all difficulties, and the machine finally
consisted of twenty thousand minutely exact parts, each of which required
expert workmanship and had to be fitted by hand. Mark Twain once wrote:
"All other wonderful inventions of the human brain sink pretty nearly
into commonplaces contrasted with this awful, mechanical miracle."
This was true, and it conveys the secret of its failure. It was too much
of a miracle to be reliable. Sometimes it would run steadily for hours,
but then some part of its delicate mechanism would fail, and days, even
weeks, were required to repair it. It is all too long a story to be
given here. It has been fully told elsewhere. By the end of 1890
Mark Twain had put in all his available capital, and was heavily in debt.
He had spent one hundred and ninety thousand dollars on the machine, no
penny of which would ever be returned. Outside capital to carry on the
enterprise was promised, but it failed him. Still believing that there
were "millions in it," he realized that for the present, at least, he
could do no more.
Two things were clear: he must fall back on authorship for revenue, and
he must retrench. In the present low stage of his fortunes he could no
longer afford to live in the Hartford house. He decided to take the
family abroad, where living was cheaper, and where he might be able to
work with fewer distractions.
He began writing at a great rate articles and stories for the magazines.
He hunted out the old play he had written with Howells long before, and
made a book of it, "The American Claimant." Then, in June, 1891, they
closed the beautiful Hartford house, where for seventeen years they had
found an ideal home; where the children had grown through their sweet,
early life; where the world's wisest had come and gone, pausing a little
to laugh with the world's greatest merrymaker. The furniture was
shrouded, the curtains drawn, the light shut away.
While the carriage was waiting, Mrs. Clemens went back and took a last
look into each of the rooms, as if bidding a kind of good-by to the past.
Then she entered the carriage, and Patrick McAleer, who had been with
Mark Twain and his wife since their wedding-day, drove them to the
station for the last time.
Mark Twain had a contract for six newspaper letters at one thousand
dollars each. He was troubled with rheumatism in his arm, and wrote his
first letter from Aix-les-Bains, a watering-place--a "health-factory," as
he called it--and another from Marienbad. They were in Germany in
August, and one day came to Heidelberg, where they occupied their old
apartment of thirteen years before, room forty, in the Schloss Hotel,
with its far prospect of wood and hill, the winding Neckar, and the blue,
distant valley of the Rhine. Then, presently, they came to Switzerland,
to Ouchy-Lausanne, by lovely Lake Geneva, and here Clemens left the
family and, with a guide and a boatman, went drifting down the Rhone in a
curious, flat-bottomed craft, thinking to find material for one or more
articles, possibly for a book. But drifting down that fair river through
still September days, past ancient, drowsy villages, among sloping
vineyards, where grapes were ripening in the tranquil sunlight, was too
restful and soothing for work. In a letter home, he wrote:
"It's too delicious, floating with the swift current under the awning
these superb, sunshiny days, in peace and quietness. Some of the
curious old historical towns strangely persuade me, but it's so
lovely afloat that I don't stop, but view them from the outside and
sail on. . . I want to do all the rivers of Europe in an open boat
in summer weather."
One afternoon, about fifteen miles below the city of Valence, he made a
discovery. Dreamily observing the eastward horizon, he noticed that a
distant blue mountain presented a striking profile outline of Napoleon
Bonaparte. It seemed really a great natural wonder, and he stopped that
night at the village just below, Beauchastel, a hoary huddle of houses
with the roofs all run together, and took a room at the little hotel,
with a window looking to the eastward, from which, next morning, he saw
the profile of the great stone face, wonderfully outlined against the
sunrise. He was excited over his discovery, and made a descriptive note
of it and an outline sketch. Then, drifting farther down the river, he
characteristically forgot all about it and did not remember it again for
ten years, by which time he had forgotten the point on the river where
the Napoleon could be seen, forgotten even that he had made a note and
sketch giving full details. He wished the Napoleon to be found again,
believing, as he declared, that it would become one of the natural
wonders of the world. To travelers going to France he attempted to
describe it, and some of these tried to find it; but, as he located it
too far down the Rhone, no one reported success, and in time he spoke of
his discovery as the "Lost Napoleon." It was not until after Mark
Twain's death that it was rediscovered, and then by the writer of this
memoir, who, having Mark Twain's note-book, with its exact memoranda,
on another September day, motoring up the Rhone, located the blue profile
of the reclining Napoleon opposite the gray village of Beauchastel. It
is a really remarkable effigy, and deserves to be visited.
Clemens finished his trip at Arles--a beautiful trip from beginning to
end, but without literary result. When he undertook to write of it, he
found that it lacked incident, and, what was worse, it lacked humor. To
undertake to create both was too much. After a few chapters he put the
manuscript aside, unfinished, and so it remains to this day.
The Clemens family spent the winter in Berlin, a gay winter, with Mark
Twain as one of the distinguished figures of the German capital. He was
received everywhere and made much of. Once a small, choice dinner was
given him by Kaiser William II., and, later, a breakfast by the Empress.
His books were great favorites in the German royal family. The Kaiser
particularly enjoyed the "Mississippi" book, while the essay on "The
Awful German Language," in the "Tramp Abroad," he pronounced one of the
finest pieces of humor ever written. Mark Twain's books were favorites,
in fact, throughout Germany. The door-man in his hotel had them all in
his little room, and, discovering one day that their guest, Samuel L.
Clemens, and Mark Twain were one, he nearly exploded with excitement.
Dragging the author to his small room, he pointed to the shelf:
"There," he said, "you wrote them! I've found it out. Ach! I did not
know it before, and I ask a million pardons."
Affairs were not going well in America, and in June Clemens made a trip
over to see what could be done. Probably he did very little, and he was
back presently at Nauheim, a watering-place, where he was able to work
rather quietly. He began two stories--one of them, "The Extraordinary
Twins," which was the first form of "Pudd'nhead Wilson;" the other, "Tom
Sawyer Abroad," for "St. Nicholas." Twichell came to Nauheim during the
summer, and one day he and Clemens ran over to Homburg, not far away.
The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII.) was there, and Clemens and
Twichell, walking in the park, met the Prince with the British
ambassador, and were presented. Twichell, in an account of the meeting,
"The meeting between the Prince and Mark was a most cordial one on
both sides, and presently the Prince took Mark Twain's arm and the
two marched up and down, talking earnestly together, the Prince
solid, erect, and soldier-like; Clemens weaving along in his
curious, swinging gait, in full tide of talk, and brandishing a sun
umbrella of the most scandalous description."
At Villa Viviani, an old, old mansion outside of Florence, on the hill
toward Settignano, Mark Twain finished "Tom Sawyer Abroad," also
"Pudd'nhead Wilson", and wrote the first half of a book that really had
its beginning on the day when, an apprentice-boy in Hannibal, he had
found a stray leaf from the pathetic story of "Joan of Arc." All his
life she had been his idol, and he had meant some day to write of her.
Now, in this weather-stained old palace, looking down on Florence,
medieval and hazy, and across to the villa-dotted hills, he began one of
the most beautiful stories ever written, "The Personal Recollections of
Joan of Arc." He wrote in the first person, assuming the character of
Joan's secretary, Sieur Louis de Conte, who in his old age is telling the
great tale of the Maid of Orleans. It was Mark Twain's purpose, this
time, to publish anonymously. Walking the floor one day at Viviani, and
smoking vigorously, he said to Mrs. Clemens and Susy:
"I shall never be accepted seriously over my own signature. People
always want to laugh over what I write, and are disappointed if they
don't find a joke in it. This is to be a serious book. It means
more to me than anything else I have ever undertaken. I shall write
So it was that the gentle Sieur de Conte took up the pen, and the tale of
Joan was begun in the ancient garden of Viviani, a setting appropriate to
its lovely form.
He wrote rapidly when once his plan was perfected and his material
arranged. The reading of his youth and manhood was now recalled, not
merely as reading, but as remembered reality. It was as if he were truly
the old Sieur de Conte, saturated with memories, pouring out the tender,
tragic tale. In six weeks he had written one hundred thousand words--
remarkable progress at any time, the more so when we consider that some
of the authorities he consulted were in a foreign tongue. He had always
more or less kept up his study of French, begun so long ago on the river,
and it stood him now in good stead. Still, it was never easy for him,
and the multitude of notes that still exist along the margin of his
French authorities show the magnitude of his work. Others of the family
went down into the city almost daily, but he stayed in the still garden
with Joan. Florence and its suburbs were full of delightful people, some
of them old friends. There were luncheons, dinners, teas, dances, and
the like always in progress, but he resisted most of these things,
preferring to remain the quaint old Sieur de Conte, following again the
banner of the Maid of Orleans marshaling her twilight armies across his
But the next spring, March, 1893, he was obliged to put aside the
manuscript and hurry to America again, fruitlessly, of course, for a
financial stress was on the land; the business of Webster & Co. was on
the down-grade--nothing could save it. There was new hope in the old
type-setting machine, but his faith in the resurrection was not strong.
The strain of his affairs was telling on him. The business owed a great
sum, with no prospect of relief. Back in Europe again, Mark Twain wrote
F. D. Hall, his business manager in New York:
"I am terribly tired of business. I am by nature and disposition
unfit for it, and I want to get out of it. I am standing on a
volcano. Get me out of business."
Tantalizing letters continued to come, holding out hope in the business--
the machine--in any straw that promised a little support through the
financial storm. Again he wrote Hall:
"Great Scott, but it's a long year for you and me! I never knew the
almanac to drag so. . . I watch for your letters hungrily--just
as I used to watch for the telegram saying the machine was 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 fair way to
They closed Viviani in June and returned to Germany. By the end of
August Clemens could stand no longer the strain of his American affairs,
and, leaving the family at some German baths, he once more sailed for New
 At Mark Twain's death his various literary effects passed into the
hands of his biographer and literary executor, the present writer.
THE FAILURE OF WEBSTER & CO. AROUND THE WORLD. SORROW
In a room at the Players Club--"a cheap room," he wrote home, "at $1.5o
per day"--Mark Twain spent the winter, hoping against hope to weather the
financial storm. His fortunes were at a lower ebb than ever before;
lower even than during those bleak mining days among the Esmeralda hills.
Then there had been no one but himself, and he was young. Now, at fifty-
eight, he had precious lives dependent upon him, and he was weighed down
by debt. The liabilities of his firm were fully two hundred thousand
dollars--sixty thousand of which were owing to Mrs. Clemens for money
advanced--but the large remaining sum was due to banks, printers,
binders, and the manufacturers of paper. A panic was on the land and
there was no business. What he was to do Clemens did not know. He spent
most of his days in his room, trying to write, and succeeded in finishing
several magazine articles. Outwardly cheerful, he hid the bitterness of
A few, however, knew the true state of his affairs. One of these one
night introduced him to Henry H. Rogers, the Standard Oil millionaire.
"Mr. Clemens," said Mr. Rogers, "I was one of your early admirers. I
heard you lecture a long time ago, on the Sandwich Islands."
They sat down at a table, and Mark Twain told amusing stories. Rogers
was in a perpetual gale of laughter. They became friends from that
evening, and in due time the author had confessed to the financier all
his business worries.
"You had better let me look into things a little," Rogers said, and he
advised Clemens to "stop walking the floor."
It was characteristic of Mark Twain to be willing to unload his affairs
upon any one that he thought able to bear the burden. He became a new
man overnight. With Henry Rogers in charge, life was once more worth
while. He accepted invitations from the Rogers family and from many
others, and was presently so gay, so widely sought, and seen in so many
places that one of his acquaintances, "Jamie" Dodge, dubbed him the
"Belle of New York."
Henry Rogers, meanwhile, was "looking into things." He had reasonable
faith in the type-machine, and advanced a large sum on the chance of its
proving a success. This, of course, lifted Mark Twain quite into the
clouds. Daily he wrote and cabled all sorts of glowing hopes to his
family, then in Paris. Once he wrote:
"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
again! I will live in literature, I will wallow in it, revel in it;
I will swim in ink!"
Once he cabled, "Expect good news in ten days"; and a little later, "Look
out for good news"; and in a few days, "Nearing success."
Those Sellers-like messages could not but appeal, Mrs. Clemens's sense of
humor, even in those dark days. To her sister she wrote, "They make me
laugh, for they are so like my beloved Colonel."
The affairs of Webster & Co. Mr. Rogers found a bad way. When, at last,
in April, 1894, the crisis came--a demand by the chief creditors for
payment--he advised immediate assignment as the only course.
So the firm of Webster & Co. closed its doors. The business which less
than ten years before had begun so prosperously had ended in failure.
Mark Twain, nearing fifty-nine, was bankrupt. When all the firm's
effects had been sold and applied on the counts, he was still more than
seventy thousand dollars in debt. Friends stepped in and offered to lend
him money, but he declined these offers. Through Mr. Rogers a basis of
settlement at fifty cents on the dollar was arranged, and Mark Twain
said, "Give me time, and I will pay the other fifty."
No one but his wife and Mr. Rogers, however, believed that at his age he
would be able to make good the promise. Many advised him not to attempt
it, but to settle once and for all on the legal basis as arranged.
Sometimes, in moments of despondency, he almost surrendered. Once he
"I need not dream of paying it. I never could manage it."
But these were only the hard moments. For the most part he kept up good
heart and confidence. It is true that he now believed again in the
future of the type-setter, and that returns from it would pay him out of
bankruptcy. But later in the year this final hope was taken away. Mr.
Rogers wrote to him that in the final test the machine had failed to
prove itself practical and that the whole project had been finally and
permanently abandoned. The shock of disappointment was heavy for the
moment, but then it was over--completely over--for that old mechanical
demon, that vampire of invention that had sapped his fortune so long, was
laid at last. The worst had happened; there was nothing more to dread.
Within a week Mark Twain (he was now back in Paris with the family) had
settled down to work once more on the "Recollections of Joan," and all
mention and memory of the type-setter was forever put away. The machine
stands to-day in the Sibley College of Engineering, where it is exhibited
as the costliest piece of mechanism for its size ever constructed. Mark
Twain once received a letter from an author who had written a book 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 book tells how to exterminate inventors, send me
nine editions. Send them by express.
"Very truly yours,
"S. L. CLEMENS."
Those were economical days. There was no income except from the old
books, and at the time this was not large. The Clemens family, however,
was cheerful, and Mark Twain was once more in splendid working form. The
story of Joan hurried to its tragic conclusion. Each night he read to
the family what he had written that day, and Susy, who was easily moved,
would say, "Wait--wait till I get my handkerchief," and one night when
the last pages had been written and read, and the fearful scene at Rouen
had been depicted, Susy wrote in her diary, "To-night Joan of Arc was
burned at the stake!" Meaning that the book was finished.
Susy herself had fine literary taste, and might have written had not her
greater purpose been to sing. There are fragments of her writing that
show the true literary touch. Both Susy and her father cared more for
Joan than for any of the former books. To Mr. Rogers Clemens wrote,
"Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing--it was mitten for
love." It was placed serially with "Harper's Magazine" and appeared
anonymously, but the public soon identified the inimitable touch of Mark
It was now the spring of 1895, and Mark Twain had decided upon a new plan
to restore his fortunes. Platform work had always paid him well, and
though he disliked it now more than ever, he had resolved upon something
unheard of in that line--nothing less, in fact, than a platform tour
around the world. In May, with the family, he sailed for America, and
after a month or two of rest at Quarry Farm he set out with Mrs. Clemens
and Clara and with his American agent, J. B. Pond, for the Pacific coast.
Susy and Jean remained behind with their aunt at the farm. The travelers
left Elmira at night, and they always remembered the picture of Susy,
standing under the electric light of the railway platform, waving them
Mark Twain's tour of the world was a success from the beginning.
Everywhere he was received with splendid honors--in America, in
Australia, in New Zealand, in India, in Ceylon, in South Africa--wherever
he went his welcome was a grand ovation, his theaters and halls were
never large enough to hold his audiences. With the possible exception of
General Grant's long tour in 1878-9 there had hardly been a more gorgeous
progress than Mark Twain's trip around the world. Everywhere they were
overwhelmed with attention and gifts. We cannot begin to tell the story
of that journey here. In "Following the Equator" the author himself
tells it in his own delightful fashion.
From time to time along the way Mark Twain forwarded his accumulated
profits to Mr. Rogers to apply against his debts, and by the time they
sailed from South Africa the sum was large enough to encourage him to
believe that, with the royalties to be derived from the book he would
write of his travels, he might be able to pay in full and so face the
world once more a free man. Their long trip--it had lasted a full year--
was nearing its end. They would spend the winter in London--Susy and
Jean were notified to join them there. They would all be reunited again.
The outlook seemed bright once more.
They reached England the last of July. Susy and Jean, with Katy Leary,
were to arrive on the 12th of August. But the 12th did not bring them--
it brought, instead, a letter. Susy was not well, the letter said; the
sailing had been postponed. The letter added that it was nothing
serious, but her parents cabled at once for later news. Receiving no
satisfactory answer, Mrs. Clemens, full of forebodings, prepared to sail
with Clara for America. Clemens would remain in London to arrange for
the winter residence. A cable came, saying Susy's recovery would be slow
but certain. Mrs. Clemens and Clara sailed immediately. In some notes
he once dictated, Mark Twain said:
"That was the 15th of August, 1896. Three days later, when my wife
and Clara were about half-way across the ocean, I was standing in
our dining-room, thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram
was put into my hand. It said, 'Susy was peacefully released to-
Mark Twain's life had contained other tragedies, but no other that
equaled this one. The dead girl had been his heart's pride; it was a
year since they parted, and now he knew he would never see her again.
The blow had found him alone and among strangers. In that day he could
not even reach out to those upon the ocean, drawing daily nearer to the
Susy Clemens had died in the old Hartford home. She had been well far a
time at the farm, but then her health had declined. She worked
continuously at her singing lessons and over-tried her strength. Then
she went on a visit to Mrs. Charles Dudley Warner, in Hartford; but she
did not rest, working harder than ever at her singing. Finally she was
told that she must consult a physician. The doctor came and prescribed
soothing remedies, and advised that she have the rest and quiet of her
own home. Mrs. Crane came from Elmira, also her uncle Charles Langdon.
But Susy became worse, and a few days later her malady was pronounced
meningitis. This was the 15th of August, the day that her mother and
Clara sailed from England. She was delirious and burning with fever, but
at last sank into unconsciousness. She died three days later, and on the
night that Mrs. Clemens and Clara arrived was taken to Elmira for burial.
They laid her beside the little brother that had died so long before, and
ordered a headstone with some lines which they had found in Australia,
written by Robert Richardson:
Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light!--
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.
With Clara and Jean, Mrs. Clemens returned to England, and in a modest
house on Tedworth Square, a secluded corner of London, the stricken
family hid themselves away for the winter. Few, even of their closest
friends, knew of their whereabouts. In time the report was circulated
that Mask Twain, old, sick, and deserted by his family, was living in
poverty, toiling to pay his debts. Through the London publishers a
distant cousin, Dr. James Clemens, of St. Louis, located the house on
Tedworth Square, and wrote, offering assistance. He was invited to call,
and found a quiet place--the life there simple--but not poverty. By and
by there was another report--this time that Mark Twain was dead. A
reporter found his way to Tedworth Square, and, being received by Mark
Twain himself, asked what he should say.
Clemens regarded him gravely, then, in his slow, nasal drawl, "Say--that
the report of my death--has been grossly--exaggerated, "a remark that a
day later was amusing both hemispheres. He could not help his humor; it
was his natural form of utterance--the medium for conveying fact,
fiction, satire, philosophy. Whatever his depth of despair, the quaint
surprise of speech would come, and it would be so until his last day.
By November he was at work on his book of travel, which he first thought
of calling "Around the World." He went out not at all that winter, and
the work progressed steadily, and was complete by the following May
Meantime, during his trip around the world, Mark Twain's publishers had
issued two volumes of his work--the "Joan of Arc" book, and another "Tom
Sawyer" book, the latter volume combining two rather short stories, "Tom
Sawyer Abroad," published serially in St. Nicholas, and "Tom Sawyer,
Detective." The "Joan of Arc" book, the tenderest and most exquisite of
all Mark Twain's work--a tale told with the deepest sympathy and the
rarest delicacy--was dedicated by the author to his wife, as being the
only piece of his writing which he considered worthy of this honor. He
regarded it as his best book, and this was an opinion that did not
change. Twelve years later--it was on his seventy-third birthday--he
wrote as his final verdict, November 30, 1908:
"I like the Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I
know it perfectly well, and, besides, it furnished me seven times
the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of
preparation and two years of writing. The others needed no
preparation and got none.
The public at first did not agree with the author's estimate, and the
demand for the book was not large. But the public amended its opinion.
The demand for "Joan" increased with each year until its sales ranked
with the most popular of Mark Twain's books.
The new stories of Tom and Huck have never been as popular as the earlier
adventures of this pair of heroes. The shorter stories are less
important and perhaps less alive, but they are certainly very readable
tales, and nobody but Mark Twain could have written them.
Clemens began some new stories when his travel book was out of the way,
but presently with the family was on the way to Switzerland for the
summer. They lived at Weggis, on Lake Lucerne, in the Villa Buhlegg--a
very modest five-franc-a-day pension, for they were economizing and
putting away money for the debts. Mark Twain was not in a mood for work,
and, besides, proofs of the new book "Following the Equator," as it is
now called--were coming steadily. But on the anniversary of Susy's death
(August 18th) he wrote a poem, "In Memoriam," in which he touched a
literary height never before attained. It was published in "Harper's
Magazine," and now appears in his collected works.
Across from Villa Buhlegg on the lake-front there was a small shaded
inclosure where he loved to sit and look out on the blue water and lofty
mountains, one of which, Rigi, he and Twichell had climbed nineteen years
before. The little retreat is still there, and to-day one of the trees
bears a tablet (in German), "Mark Twain's Rest."
Autumn found the family in Vienna, located for the winter at the Hotel
Metropole. Mrs. Clemens realized that her daughters must no longer be
deprived of social and artistic advantages. For herself, she longed only
Vienna is always a gay city, a center of art and culture and splendid
social functions. From the moment of his arrival, Mark Twain and his
family were in the midst of affairs. Their room at the Metropole became
an assembling-place for distinguished members of the several circles that
go to make up the dazzling Viennese life. Mrs. Clemens, to her sister in
America, once wrote:
"Such funny combinations are here sometimes: one duke, several
counts, several writers, several barons, two princes, newspaper
Mark Twain found himself the literary lion of the Austrian capital.
Every club entertained him and roared with delight at his German
speeches. Wherever he appeared on the streets he was recognized.
"Let him pass! Don't you see it is Herr Mark Twain!" commanded an
officer to a guard who, in the midst of a great assemblage, had presumed
to bar the way.
MARK TWAIN PAYS HIS DEBTS
Mark Twain wrote much and well during this period, in spite of his social
life. His article "Concerning the Jews" was written that first winter in
Vienna--a fine piece of special pleading; also the greatest of his short
stories--one of the greatest of all short stories--"The Man that
But there were good reasons why he should write better now; his mind was
free of a mighty load--he had paid his debts!
Soon after his arrival in Vienna he had written to Mr. Rogers:
"Let us begin on those debts. I cannot bear the weight any longer.
It totally unfits me for work."
He had accumulated a large sum for the purpose, and the royalties from
the new book were beginning to roll in. Payment of the debts was begun.
At the end of December he wrote again:
"Land, we are glad to see those debts diminishing. For the first
time in my life I am getting more pleasure from paying money out
than from pulling it in."
A few days later he wrote to Howells that he had "turned the corner"; and
"We've lived close to the bone and saved every cent we could, and
there's no undisputed claim now that we can't cash . . . . I
hope you will never get the like of the load saddled on to you that
was saddled on to me, three years ago. And yet there is such a
solid pleasure in paying the things that I reckon it is worth while
to get into that kind of a hobble, after all. Mrs. Clemens gets
millions of delight out of it, and the children have never uttered
one complaint about the scrimping from the beginning."
By the end of January, 1898, Clemens had accumulated enough money to make
the final payments to his creditors. At the time of his failure he had
given himself five years to achieve this result. But he had needed less
than four. A report from Mr. Rogers showed that a balance of thirteen
thousand dollars would remain to his credit after the last accounts were
Clemens had tried to keep his money affairs out of the newspapers, but
the payment of the final claims could not be concealed, and the press
made the most of it. Head-lines shouted it. Editorials heralded Mark
Twain as a second Walter Scott, because Scott, too, had labored to lift a
great burden of debt. Never had Mark Twain been so beloved by his
One might suppose now that he had had enough of invention and commercial
enterprises of every sort--that is, one who did not know Mark Twain might
suppose this--but it would not be true. Within a month after his debts
were paid he was negotiating with the Austrian inventor Szczepanik for
the American rights in a wonderful carpet-pattern machine, and, Sellers-
like, was planning to organize a company with a capital of fifteen
hundred million dollars to control the carpet-weaving industries of the
world. He wrote to Mr. Rogers about the great scheme, inviting the
Standard Oil to "come in"; but the plan failed to bear the test of Mr.
Rogers's investigation and was heard of no more.
Samuel Clemens's obligation to Henry Rogers was very great, but it was
not quite the obligation that many supposed it to be. It was often
asserted that the financier lent, even gave, the humorist large sums, and
pointed out opportunities for speculation. No part of this statement is
true. Mr. Rogers neither lent nor gave Mark Twain money, and never
allowed him to speculate when he could prevent it. He sometimes invested
Mark Twain's own funds for him, but he never bought for him a share of
stock without money in hand to pay for it in full--money belonging to,
and earned by, Clemens himself.
What Henry Rogers did give to Mark Twain was his priceless counsel and
time--gifts more precious than any mere sum of money--favors that Mark
Twain could accept without humiliation. He did accept them, and never
ceased to be grateful. He rarely wrote without expressing his gratitude,
and we get the size of Mark Twain's obligation when in one letter we
"I have abundant peace of mind again--no sense of burden. Work is
become a pleasure--it is not labor any longer."
He wrote much and well, mainly magazine articles, including some of those
chapters later gathered it his book on "Christian Science." He reveled
like a boy in his new freedom and fortunes, in the lavish honors paid
him, in the rich circumstance of Viennese life. But always just beneath
the surface were unforgetable sorrows. His face in repose was always
sad. Once, after writing to Howells of his successes, he added:
"All those things might move and interest one. But how desperately
more I have been moved to-night by the thought of a little old copy
in the nursery of "At the Back of the North Wind." Oh, what happy
days they were when that book was read, and how Susy loved it!"
RETURN AFTER EXILE
News came to Vienna of the death of Orion Clemens, at the age of seventy-
two. Orion had died as he had lived--a gentle dreamer, always with a new
plan. He had not been sick at all. One morning early he had seated
himself at a table, with pencil and paper, and was putting down the
details of his latest project, when death came--kindly, in the moment of
new hope. He was a generous, upright man, beloved by all who understood
The Clemenses remained two winters in Vienna, spending the second at the
Hotel Krantz, where their rooms were larger and finer than at the
Metropole, and even more crowded with notabilities. Their salon acquired
the name of the "Second Embassy," and Mark Twain was, in fact, the most
representative American in the Austrian capital. It became the fashion
to consult him on every question of public interest, his comments,
whether serious or otherwise, being always worth printing. When European
disarmament was proposed, Editor William T. Stead, of the "Review of
Reviews," wrote for his opinion. He replied:
"DEAR Mr. STEAD,--The Tsar is ready to disarm. I am
ready to disarm. Collect the others; it should not be
much of a task now. MARK TWAIN."
He refused offers of many sorts. He declined ten thousand dollars for a
tobacco endorsement, though he liked the tobacco well enough. He
declined ten thousand dollars a year for five years to lend his name as
editor of a humorous periodical. He declined another ten thousand for
ten lectures, and another offer for fifty lectures at the same rates--
that is, one thousand dollars per night. He could get along without
these sums, he said, and still preserve some remnants of his self-
It was May, 1899, when Clemens and his family left Vienna. They spent a
summer in Sweden on account of the health of Jean Clemens, and located
in London apartments--30 Wellington Court--for the winter. Then followed
a summer at beautiful Dollis Hill, an old house where Gladstone had often
visited, on a shady hilltop just outside of London. The city had not
quite enclosed the place then, and there were spreading oaks, a pond with
lily-pads, and wide spaces of grassy lawn. The place to-day is converted
into a public garden called Gladstone Park. Writing to Twichell in mid-
summer, Clemens said:
"I am the only person who is ever in the house in the daytime, but I
am working, and deep in the luxury of it. But there is one
tremendous defect. Levy is all so enchanted with the place and so
in love with it that she doesn't know how she is going to tear
herself away from it."
However, there was one still greater attraction than Dollis Hill, and
that was America--home. Mark Twain at sixty-five and a free man once
more had decided to return to his native land. They closed Dollis Hill
at the end of September, and October 6, 1900, sailed on the Minnehaha for
New York, bidding good-by, as Mark Twain believed, and hoped, to foreign
travel. Nine days later, to a reporter who greeted him on the ship, he
"If I ever get ashore I am going to break both of my legs so I can't
get away again."
A PROPHET AT HOME
New York tried to outdo Vienna and London in honoring Mark Twain. Every
newspaper was filled with the story of his great fight against debt, and
his triumph. "He had behaved like Walter Scott," writes Howells, "as
millions rejoiced to know who had not known how Walter Scott behaved till
they knew it was like Clemens." Clubs and societies vied with one
another in offering him grand entertainments. Literary and lecture
proposals poured in. He was offered at the rate of a dollar a word for
his writing--he could name his own terms for lectures.
These sensational offers did not tempt him. He was sick of the platform.
He made a dinner speech here and there--always an event--but he gave no
lectures or readings for profit. His literary work he confined to a few
magazines, and presently concluded an arrangement with "Harper &
Brothers" for whatever he might write, the payment to be twenty (later
thirty) cents per word. He arranged with the same firm for the
publication of all his books, by this time collected in uniform edition.
He wished his affairs to be settled as nearly as might be. His desire
was freedom from care. Also he would have liked a period of quiet and
rest, but that was impossible. He realized that the multitude of honors
tendered him was in a sense a vast compliment which he could not entirely
refuse. Howells writes that Mark Twain's countrymen "kept it up past all
precedent," and in return Mark Twain tried to do his part. "His friends
saw that he was wearing himself out," adds Howells, and certain it is
that he grew thin and pale and had a hacking cough. Once to Richard
Watson Gilder he wrote:
"In bed with a chest cold and other company.
"DEAR GILDER,--I can't. If I were a well man I could explain
with this pencil, but in the cir--ces I will leave it all to
"Was it Grady that killed himself trying to do all the dining
and speeching? No, old man, no, no!
"Ever yours, MARK."
In the various dinner speeches and other utterances made by Mark Twain at
this time, his hearers recognized a new and great seriousness of purpose.
It was not really new, only, perhaps, more emphasized. He still made
them laugh, but he insisted on making them think, too. He preached a new
gospel of patriotism--not the patriotism that means a boisterous cheering
of the Stars and Stripes wherever unfurled, but the patriotism that
proposes to keep the Stars and Stripes clean and worth shouting for. In
one place he said:
"We teach the boys to atrophy their independence. We teach them to
take their patriotism at second hand; to shout with the largest
crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter--
exactly as boys under monarchies are taught, and have always been
He protested against the blind allegiance of monarchies. He was seldom
"with the largest crowd" himself. Writing much of our foreign affairs,
then in a good deal of a muddle, he assailed so fearlessly and fiercely
measures which he held to be unjust that he was caricatured as an armed
knight on a charger and as Huck Finn with a gun.
But he was not always warlike. One of the speeches he made that winter
was with Col. Henry Watterson, a former Confederate soldier, at a Lincoln
birthday memorial at Carnegie Hall. "Think of it!" he wrote Twichell,
"two old rebels functioning there; I as president and Watterson as orator
of the day. Things have changed somewhat in these forty years, thank
The Clemens household did not go back to Hartford. During their early
years abroad it had been Mrs. Clemens's dream to return and open the
beautiful home, with everything the same as before. The death of Susy
had changed all this. The mother had grown more and more to feel that
she could not bear the sorrow of Susy's absence in the familiar rooms.
After a trip which Clemens himself made to Hartford, he wrote, "I realize
that if we ever enter the house again to live, our hearts will break."
So they did not go back. Mrs. Clemens had seen it for the last time on
that day when the carnage waited while she went back to take a last look
into the vacant rooms. They had taken a house at 14 West Tenth Street
for the winter, and when summer came they went to a log cabin on Saranac
Lake, which they called "The Lair." Here Mark Twain wrote "A Double-
barreled Detective Story," a not very successful burlesque of Sherlock
Holmes. But most of the time that summer he loafed and rested, as was
his right. Once during the summer he went on a cruise with H. H. Rogers,
Speaker "Tom" Reed, and others on Mr. Rogers's yacht.
HONORED BY MISSOURI
The family did not return to New York. They took a beautiful house at
Riverdale on the Hudson--the old Appleton homestead. Here they
established themselves and settled down for American residence. They
would have bought the Appleton place, but the price was beyond their
It was in the autumn of 1901 that Mark Twain settled in Riverdale. In
June of the following year he was summoned West to receive the degree of
LL.D. from the university of his native state. He made the journey a
sort of last general visit to old associations and friends. In St. Louis
he saw Horace Bixby, fresh, wiry, and capable as he had been forty-five
years before. Clemens said:
"I have become an old man. You are still thirty-five."
They went over to the rooms of the pilots' association, where the river-
men gathered in force to celebrate his return. Then he took train for
He spent several days in Hannibal and saw Laura Hawkins--Mrs. Frazer, and
a widow now--and John Briggs, an old man, and John RoBards, who had worn
the golden curls and the medal for good conduct. They drove him to the
old house on Hill Street, where once he had lived and set type;
photographers were there and photographed him standing at the front door.
"It all seems so small to me," he said, as he looked through the house.
"A boy's home is a big place to him. I suppose if I should come back
again ten years from now it would be the size of a bird-house." He did
not see "Huck"--Torn Blankenship had not lived in Hannibal for many
years. But he was driven to all the familiar haunts--to Lover's Leap,
the cave, and the rest; and Sunday afternoon, with John Briggs, he walked
over Holliday's Hill--the "Cardiff Hill" of "Tom Sawyer." It was just
such a day, as the one when they had damaged a cooper shop and so nearly
finished the old negro driver. A good deal more than fifty years had
passed since then, and now here they were once more--Tom Sawyer and Joe
Harper--two old men, the hills still fresh and green, the river rippling
in the sun. Looking across to the Illinois shore and the green islands
where they had played, and to Lover's Leap on the south, the man who had
been Sam Clemens said:
"John, that is one of the loveliest sights I ever saw. Down there is the
place we used to swim, and yonder is where a man was drowned, and there's
where the steamboat sank. Down there on Lover's Leap is where the
Millerites put on their robes one night to go to heaven. None of them
went that night, but I suppose most of them have gone now."
John Briggs said, "Sam, do you remember the day we stole peaches from old
man Price, and one of his bow-legged niggers came after us with dogs, and
how we made up our minds we'd catch that nigger and drown him?"
And so they talked on of this thing and that, and by and by drove along
the river, and Sam Clemens pointed out the place where he swam it and was
taken with a cramp on the return.
"Once near the shore I thought I would let down," he said, "but was
afraid to, knowing that if the water was deep I was a goner, but finally
my knee struck the sand and I crawled out. That was the closest call I
They drove by a place where a haunted house had stood. They drank from a
well they had always known--from the bucket, as they had always drunk--
talking, always talking, touching with lingering fondness that most
beautiful and safest of all our possessions--the past.
"Sam," said John, when they parted, "this is probably the last time we
shall meet on earth. God bless you. Perhaps somewhere we shall renew
"John," was the answer, "this day has been worth a thousand dollars to
me. We were like brothers once, and I feel that we are the same now.
Good-by, John. I'll try to meet you somewhere."
Clemens left next day for Columbia, where the university is located. At
each station a crowd had gathered to cheer and wave as the train pulled
in and to offer him flowers. Sometimes he tried to say a few words, but
his voice would not come. This was more than even Tom Sawyer had
Certainly there is something deeply touching in the recognition of one's
native State; the return of the boy who has set out unknown to battle
with life and who is called back to be crowned is unlike any other home-
coming--more dramatic, more moving. Next day at the university Mark
Twain, summoned before the crowded assembly-hall to receive his degree,
stepped out to the center of the stage and paused. He seemed in doubt as
to whether he should make a speech or only express his thanks for the
honor received. Suddenly and without signal the great audience rose and
stood in silence at his feet. He bowed but he could not speak. Then the
vast assembly began a peculiar chant, spelling out slowly the word M-i-s-
s-o-u-r-i, with a pause between each letter. It was tremendously
Mark Twain was not left in doubt as to what was required of him when the
chant ended. The audience demanded a speech--a speech, and he made them
one--such a speech as no one there would forget to his dying day.
Back in St. Louis, he attended the rechristening of the St. Louis harbor
boat; it had been previously called the "St. Louis," but it was now to be
called the "Mark Twain."
THE CLOSE OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
Life which had begun very cheerfully at Riverdale ended sadly enough. In
August, at York Harbor, Maine, Mrs. Clemens's health failed and she was
brought home an invalid, confined almost entirely to her room. She had
been always the life, the center, the mainspring of the household. Now
she must not even be consulted--hardly visited. On her bad days--and
they were many--Clemens, sad and anxious, spent most of his time
lingering about her door, waiting for news, or until he was permitted to
see her for a brief moment. In his memorandum-book of that period he
"Our dear prisoner is where she is through overwork--day and night
devotion to the children and me. We did not know how to value it.
We know now."
And on the margin of a letter praising him for what he had done for the
world's enjoyment, and for his triumph over debt, he wrote:
"Livy never gets her share of those applauses, but it is because the
people do not know. Yet she is entitled to the lion's share."
She improved during the winter, but very slowly. Her husband wrote in
"Feb. 2, 1903--Thirty-third wedding anniversary. I was allowed to
see Livy five minutes this morning, in honor of the day."
Mrs. Clemens had always remembered affectionately their winter in
Florence of ten years before, and she now expressed the feeling that if
she were in Florence again she would be better. The doctors approved,
and it was decided that she should be taken there as soon as she was
strong enough to travel. She had so far improved by June that they
journeyed to Elmira, where in the quiet rest of Quarry Farm her strength
returned somewhat and the hope of her recovery was strong.
Mark Twain wrote a story that summer in Elmira, in the little octagonal
study, shut in now by trees and overgrown with vines. "A Dog's Tale," a
pathetic plea against vivisection, was the last story written in the
little retreat that had seen the beginning of "Tom Sawyer" twenty-nine
There was a feeling that the stay in Europe was this time to be
permanent. On one of the first days of October Clemens wrote in his
"To-day I place flowers on Susy's grave--for the last time, probably
--and read the words, 'Good night, dear heart, good night,
They sailed on the 24th, by way of Naples and Genoa, and were presently
installed in the Villa Reale di Quarto, a fine old Italian palace, in an
ancient garden looking out over Florence toward Vallombrosa and the
Chianti hills. It was a beautiful spot, though its aging walls and
cypresses and matted vines gave it a rather mournful look. Mrs.
Clemens's health improved there for a time, in spite of dull, rainy,
depressing weather; so much so that in May, when the warmth and sun came
back, Clemens was driving about the country, seeking a villa that he
might buy for a home.
On one of these days--it was a Sunday in early June, the 5th--when he had
been out with Jean, and had found a villa which he believed would fill
all their requirements, he came home full of enthusiasm and hope, eager
to tell the patient about the discovery. Certainly she seemed better. A
day or two before she had been wheeled out on the terrace to enjoy the
wonder of early Italian summer.
He found her bright and cheerful, anxious to hear all their plans for the
new home. He stayed with her alone through the dinner hour, and their
talk was as in the old days. Summoned to go at last, he chided himself
for staying so long; but she said there was no harm and kissed him,
saying, "you will come back?" and he answered "Yes, to say good night,"
meaning at half-past nine, as was the permitted custom. He stood a
moment at the door, throwing kisses to her, and she returned them, her
face bright with smiles.
He was so full of hope--they were going to be happy again. Long ago he
had been in the habit of singing jubilee songs to the children. He went
upstairs now to the piano and played the chorus and sang "Swing Low,
Sweet Chariot," and "My Lord He Calls Me." He stopped then, but Jean,
who had come in, asked him to go on. Mrs. Clemens, from her room, heard
the music and said to Katy Leary:
"He is singing a good-night carol to me."
The music ceased presently. A moment later she asked to be lifted up.
Almost in that instant life slipped away without a sound.
Clemens, just then coming to say good-night, saw a little group gathered
about her bed, and heard Clara ask:
"Katy, is it true? Oh, Katy, is it true?"
In his note-book that night he wrote:
"At a quarter-past nine this evening she that was the life of my life
passed to the relief and the peace of death, after twenty-two months
of unjust and unearned suffering. I first saw her thirty-seven
years ago, and now I have looked upon her face for the last time....
I was full of remorse for things done and said in these thirty-
four years of married life that have hurt Livy's heart."
And to Howells a few days later:
"To-day, treasured in her worn, old testament, I found a dear and
gentle letter from you dated Far Rockaway, September 12, 1896, about
our poor Susy's death. I am tired and old; I wish I were with Livy."
They brought her to America; and from the house, and the rooms, where she
had been made a bride bore her to a grave beside Susy and little Langdon.
MARK TWAIN AT SEVENTY
In a small cottage belonging to Richard Watson Gilder, at Tyringham,
Massachusetts, Samuel Clemens and his daughters tried to plan for the
future. Mrs. Clemens had always been the directing force--they were lost
without her. They finally took a house in New York City, No. 21 Fifth
Avenue, at the corner of Ninth Street, installed the familiar
furnishings, and tried once more to establish a home. The house was
handsome within and without--a proper residence for a venerable author
and sage--a suitable setting for Mark Twain. But it was lonely for him.
It lacked soul--comfort that would reach the heart. He added presently a
great Aeolian orchestrelle, with a variety of music for his different
moods. Sometimes he played it himself, though oftener his secretary
played to him. He went out little that winter--seeing only a few old and
intimate friends. His writing, such as it was, was of a serious nature,
protests against oppression and injustice in a variety of forms. Once he
wrote a "War Prayer," supposed to have been made by a mysterious, white-
robed stranger who enters a church during those ceremonies that precede
the marching of the nation's armies to battle. The minister had prayed
for victory, a prayer which the stranger interprets as a petition that
the enemy's country be laid waste, its soldiers be torn by shells, its
people turned out roofless, to wander through their desolated land in
rags and hunger. It was a scathing arraignment of war, a prophecy,
indeed, which to-day has been literally fulfilled. He did not print it,
because then it would have been regarded as sacrilege.
When summer came again, in a beautiful house at Dublin, New Hampshire, on
the Monadnock slope, he seemed to get back into the old swing of work,
and wrote that pathetic story, "A Horse's Tale." Also "Eve's Diary,"
which, under its humor, is filled with tenderness, and he began a wildly
fantastic tale entitled "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes," a
satire in which Gulliver is outdone. He never finished it. He never
could finish it, for it ran off into amazing by-paths that led nowhere,
and the tale was lost. Yet he always meant to get at it again some day
and make order out of chaos.
Old friends were dying, and Mark Twain grew more and more lonely. "My
section of the procession has but a little way to go," he wrote when the
great English actor Henry Irving died. Charles Henry Webb, his first
publisher, John Hay, Bret Harte, Thomas B. Reed, and, indeed, most of his
earlier associates were gone. When an invitation came from San Francisco
to attend a California reunion he replied that his wandering days were
over and that it was his purpose to sit by the fire for the rest of his
life. And in another letter:
"I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old
residents. Since I left there, it has increased in population fully
300,000. I could have done more--I could have gone earlier--it was
A choice example, by the way, of Mark Twain's best humor, with its
perfectly timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would have
been content to end with the statement, "I could have gone earlier."
Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch--"it was
Mark Twain was nearing seventy. With the 30th of November (1905) he
would complete the scriptural limitation, and the president of his
publishing-house, Col. George Harvey, of Harper's, proposed a great
dinner for him in celebration of his grand maturity. Clemens would have
preferred a small assembly in some snug place, with only his oldest and
closest friends. Colonel Harvey had a different view. He had given a
small, choice dinner to Mark Twain on his sixty-seventh birthday; now it
must be something really worth while--something to outrank any former
literary gathering. In order not to conflict with Thanksgiving holidays,
the 5th of December was selected as the date. On that evening, two
hundred American and English men and women of letters assembled in
Delmonico's great banquet-hall to do honor to their chief. What an
occasion it was! The tables of gay diners and among them Mark Twain, his
snow-white hair a gleaming beacon for every eye. Then, by and by,
presented by William Dean Howells, he rose to speak. Instantly the
brilliant throng was on its feet, a shouting billow of life, the white
handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest. It was a supreme moment!
The greatest one of them all hailed by their applause as he scaled the
Never did Mark Twain deliver a more perfect address than he gave that
night. He began with the beginning, the meagerness of that little hamlet
that had seen his birth, and sketched it all so quaintly and delightfully
that his hearers laughed and shouted, though there was tenderness under
it, and often the tears were just beneath the surface. He told of his
habits of life, how he had reached seventy by following a plan of living
that would probably kill anybody else; how, in fact, he believed he had
no valuable habits at all. Then, at last, came that unforgetable close:
"Threescore years and ten!
"It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no
active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time-
expired man, to use Kipling's military phrase: you have served your
term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become
an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions
are not for you, nor any bugle-call but "lights out." You pay the
time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline, if you prefer--and
without prejudice--for they are not legally collectable.
"The previous-engagement plea, which in forty years has cost you so
many twinges, you can lay aside forever; on this side of the grave
you will never need it again. If you shrink at thought of night,
and winter, and the late homecomings from the banquet and the lights
and laughter, through the deserted streets--a desolation which would
not remind you now, as for a generation it did, that your friends
are sleeping and you must creep in a-tiptoe and not disturb them,
but would only remind you that you need not tiptoe, you can never
disturb them more--if you shrink at the thought of these things you
need only reply, 'Your invitation honors me and pleases me because
you still keep me in your remembrance, but I am seventy; seventy,
and would nestle in the chimney-corner, and smoke my pipe, and read
my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and
that when you, in your turn, shall arrive at Pier 70 you may step
aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your
course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart.'"
The tears that had been lying in wait were no longer kept back. If there
were any present who did not let them flow without shame, who did not
shout their applause from throats choked with sobs, they failed to
mention the fact later.
Many of his old friends, one after another, rose to tell their love for
him--Cable, Carnegie, Gilder, and the rest. Mr. Rogers did not speak,
nor the Reverend Twichell, but they sat at his special table. Aldrich
could not be there, but wrote a letter. A group of English authors,
including Alfred Austin, Barrie, Chesterton, Dobson, Doyle, Hardy,
Kipling, Lang, and others, joined in a cable. Helen Keller wrote:
"And you are seventy years old? Or is the report exaggerated, like
that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house
of dear Mr. Hutton, in Princeton, you said:
"'If a man is a pessimist before he is forty-eight, he knows too
much. If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight, he knows too
"Now we know you are an optimist, and nobody would dare to accuse one
on the "seven-terraced summit" of knowing little. So probably you
are not seventy, after all, but only forty-seven!"
Helen Keller was right. Mark Twain was never a pessimist in his heart.
MARK TWAIN ARRANGES FOR HIS BIOGRAPHY
It was at the beginning of 1906--a little more than a month after the
seventieth-birthday dinner--that the writer of these chapters became
personally associated with Mark Twain. I had met him before, and from
time to time he had returned a kindly word about some book I had written
and inconsiderately sent him, for he had been my literary hero from
childhood. Once, indeed, he had allowed me to use some of his letters in
a biography I was writing of Thomas Nast; he had been always an admirer
of the great cartoonist, and the permission was kindness itself. Before
the seating at the birthday dinner I happened to find myself for a moment
alone with Mark Twain and remembered to thank him in person for the use
of the letters; a day or two later I sent him a copy of the book. I did
not expect to hear from it again.
It was a little while after this that I was asked to join in a small
private dinner to be given to Mark Twain at the Players, in celebration
of his being made an honorary member of that club--there being at the
time only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving. I was in the
Players a day or two before the event, and David Munro, of "The North
American Review," a man whose gentle and kindly nature made him "David"
to all who knew him, greeted me joyfully, his face full of something he
knew I would wish to hear.
He had been chosen, he said, to propose the Players' dinner to Mark
Twain, and had found him propped up in bed, and beside him a copy of the
Nast book. I suspect now that David's generous heart prompted Mark Twain
to speak of the book, and that his comment had lost nothing in David's
eager retelling. But I was too proud and happy to question any feature
of the precious compliment, and Munro--always most happy in making others
happy--found opportunity to repeat it, and even to improve upon it--
usually in the presence of others--several times during the evening.
The Players' dinner to Mark Twain was given on the evening of January 3,
19066, and the picture of it still remains clear to me. The guests,
assembled around a single table in the private dining-room, did not
exceed twenty-five in number. Brander Matthews presided, and the
knightly Frank Millet, who would one day go down on the "Titanic," was
there, and Gilder and Munro and David Bispham and Robert Reid, and others
of their kind. It so happened that my seat was nearly facing the guest
of the evening, who by a custom of the Players is placed at the side and
not at the distant end of the long table. Regarding him at leisure, I
saw that he seemed to be in full health. He had an alert, rested look;
his complexion had the tints of a miniature painting. Lit by the soft
glow of the shaded candles, outlined against the richness of the shadowed
walls, he made a figure of striking beauty. I could not take my eyes
from it, for it stirred in me the farthest memories. I saw the interior
of a farm-house sitting-room in the Middle West where I had first heard
the name of Mark Twain, and where night after night a group had gathered
around the evening lamp to hear read aloud the story of the Innocents on
their Holy Land pilgrimage, which to a boy of eight had seemed only a
wonderful poem and fairy-tale. To Charles Harvey Genung, who sat next to
me, I whispered something of this, and how during the thirty-six years
since then no one had meant to me quite what Mark Twain had meant--in
literature and, indeed, in life. Now here he was just across the table.
It was a fairy-tale come true.
Genung said: "You should write his life."
It seemed to me no more than a pleasant remark, but he came back to it
again and again, trying to encourage me with the word that Munro had
brought back concerning the biography of Nast. However, nothing of what
he said had kindled any spark of hope. I put him off by saying that
certainly some one of longer and closer friendship and larger experience
had been selected for the work. Then the speaking began, and the matter
went out of my mind. Later in the evening, when we had left our seats
and were drifting about the table, I found a chance to say a word to our
guest concerning his "Joan of Arc," which I had recently re-read. To my
happiness, he told me that long-ago incident--the stray leaf from Joan's
life, blown to him by the wind--which had led to his interest in all
literature. Then presently I was with Genung again and he was still
insisting that I write the life of Mark Twain. It may have been his
faithful urging, it may have been the quick sympathy kindled by the name
of "Joan of Arc"; whatever it was, in the instant of bidding good-by to
our guest I was prompted to add:
"May I call to see you, Mr. Clemens, some day?" And something--to this
day I do not know what--prompted him to answer:
"Yes, come soon."
Two days later, by appointment with his secretary, I arrived at 21 Fifth
Avenue, and waited in the library to be summoned to his room. A few
moments later I was ascending the long stairs, wondering why I had come
on so useless an errand, trying to think up an excuse for having come at
He was propped up in bed--a regal bed, from a dismantled Italian palace--
delving through a copy of "Huckleberry Finn," in search of a paragraph
concerning which some unknown correspondent had inquired. He pushed the
cigars toward me, commenting amusingly on this correspondent and on
letter-writing in general. By and by, when there came a lull, I told him
what so many thousands had told him before--what his work had meant to
me, so long ago, and recalled my childish impressions of that large
black-and-gilt book with its wonderful pictures and adventures "The
Innocents Abroad." Very likely he was willing enough to let me change
the subject presently and thank him for the kindly word which David Munro
had brought. I do not remember what was his comment, but I suddenly
found myself saying that out of his encouragement had grown a hope
(though certainly it was less), that I might some day undertake a book
about himself. I expected my errand to end at this point, and his
silence seemed long and ominous.
He said at last that from time to time he had himself written chapters of
his life, but that he had always tired of the work and put it aside. He
added that he hoped his daughters would one day collect his letters, but
that a biography--a detailed story of a man's life and effort--was
another matter. I think he added one or two other remarks, then all at
once, turning upon me those piercing agate-blue eyes, he said:
"When would you like to begin?"
There was a dresser, with a large mirror, at the end of the room. I
happened to catch my reflection in it, and I vividly recollect saying to
it, mentally "This is not true; it is only one of many similar dreams."
But even in a dream one must answer, and I said:
"Whenever you like. I can begin now."
He was always eager in any new undertaking.
"Very good," he said, "the sooner, then, the better. Let's begin while
we are in the humor. The longer you postpone a thing of this kind, the
less likely you are ever to get at it."
This was on Saturday; I asked if Tuesday, January 9, would be too soon to
start. He agreed that Tuesday would do, and inquired as to my plan of
work. I suggested bringing a stenographer to make notes of his life-
story as he could recall it, this record to be supplemented by other
material--letters, journals, and what not. He said:
"I think I should enjoy dictating to a stenographer with some one to
prompt me and act as audience. The room adjoining this was fitted up for
my study. My manuscript and notes and private books and many of my
letters are there, and there are a trunkful or two of such things in the
attic. I seldom use the room myself. I do my writing and reading in
bed. I will turn that room over to you for this work. Whatever you need
will be brought to you. We can have the dictations here in the morning,
and you can put in the rest of the day to suit yourself. You can have a
key and come and go as you please."
That was always his way. He did nothing by halves. He got up and showed
me the warm luxury of the study, with its mass of material--disordered,
I have no distinct recollections of how I came away, but presently, back
at the Players, I was confiding the matter to Charles Harvey Genung, who
said he was not surprised; but I think he was.
WORKING WITH MARK TWAIN
It was true, after all; and on Tuesday morning, January 9, 1906, I was on
hand with a capable stenographer, ready to begin. Clemens, meantime, had
developed a new idea: he would like to add, he said, the new dictations
to his former beginnings, completing an autobiography which was to be
laid away and remain unpublished for a hundred years. He would pay the
stenographer himself, and own the notes, allowing me, of course, free use
of them as material for my book. He did not believe that he could follow
the story of his life in its order of dates, but would find it necessary
to wander around, picking up the thread as memory or fancy prompted. I
could suggest subjects and ask questions. I assented to everything, and
we set to work immediately.
As on my former visit, he was in bed when we arrived, though clad now in
a rich Persian dressing gown, and propped against great, snowy pillows.
A small table beside him held his pipes, cigars, papers, also a reading-
lamp, the soft light of which brought out his brilliant coloring and the
gleam of his snowy hair. There was daylight, too, but it was dull winter
daylight, from the north, while the walls of the room were a deep,
Back to Full Books