Part 12 out of 29
necessary; you will soon be in Hartford, where I have already hired
a hall; the admission fee will be but a trifle.
It is curious to note the change in the stock-quotations of the
Affection Board brought about by throwing this new security on the
market. Four weeks ago the children still put Mama at the head of
the list right along, where she had always been. But now:
That is the way it stands now. Mama is become No. 2; I have dropped
from No. 4, and am become No. 5. Some time ago it used to be nip
and tuck between me and the cats, but after the cats "developed" I
didn't stand any more show.
Been reading Daniel Webster's Private Correspondence. Have read a
hundred of his diffuse, conceited, "eloquent," bathotic (or
bathostic) letters, written in that dim (no, vanished) past, when he
was a student. And Lord! to think that this boy, who is so real to
me now, and so booming with fresh young blood and bountiful life,
and sappy cynicisms about girls, has since climbed the Alps of fame
and stood against the sun one brief, tremendous moment with the
world's eyes on him, and then----fzt! where is he? Why, the only
long thing, the only real thing about the whole shadowy business, is
the sense of the lagging dull and hoary lapse of time that has
drifted by since then; a vast, empty level, it seems, with a
formless specter glimpsed fitfully through the smoke and mist that
lie along its remote verge.
Well, we are all getting along here first-rate. Livy gains strength
daily and sits up a deal; the baby is five weeks old and----But no
more of this. Somebody may be reading this letter eighty years
hence. And so, my friend (you pitying snob, I mean, who are holding
this yellow paper in your hand in 1960), save yourself the trouble
of looking further. I know how pathetically trivial our small
concerns would seem to you, and I will not let your eye profane
them. No, I keep my news; you keep your compassion. Suffice it you
to know, scoffer and ribald, that the little child is old and blind
now, and once more tooth less; and the rest of us are shadows these
many, many years. Yes, and your time cometh!
It is the ageless story. He too had written his youthful letters, and
later had climbed the Alps of fame and was still outlined against the
sun. Happily, the little child was to evade that harsher penalty--the
unwarranted bitterness and affront of a lingering, palsied age.
Mrs. Clemens, in a letter somewhat later, set down a thought similar to
"We are all going so fast. Pretty soon we shall have been dead a hundred
Clemens varied his work that summer, writing alternately on 'The Prince
and the Pauper' and on the story about 'Huck Finn', which he had begun
four years earlier.
He read the latter over and found in it a new interest. It did not
fascinate him, as did the story of the wandering prince. He persevered
only as the spirit moved him, piling up pages on both the tales.
He always took a boy's pride in the number of pages he could complete at
a sitting, and if the day had gone well he would count them triumphantly,
and, lighting a fresh cigar, would come tripping down the long stair that
led to the level of the farm-house, and, gathering his audience, would
read to them the result of his industry; that is to say, he proceeded
with the story of the Prince. Apparently he had not yet acquired
confidence or pride enough in poor Huck to exhibit him, even to friends.
The reference (in the letter to Twichell) to the cats at the farm
introduces one of the most important features of that idyllic resort.
There were always cats at the farm. Mark Twain himself dearly loved
cats, and the children inherited this passion. Susy once said:
"The difference between papa and mama is, that mama loves morals and papa
The cats did not always remain the same, but some of the same ones
remained a good while, and were there from season to season, always
welcomed and adored. They were commendable cats, with such names as
Fraulein, Blatherskite, Sour Mash, Stray Kit, Sin, and Satan, and when,
as happened now and then, a vacancy occurred in the cat census there
followed deep sorrow and elaborate ceremonies.
Naturally, there would be stories about cats: impromptu bedtime stories,
which began anywhere and ended nowhere, and continued indefinitely
through a land inhabited only by cats and dreams. One of these stories,
as remembered and set down later, began:
Once upon a time there was a noble, big cat whose christian name was
Catasaqua, because she lived in that region; but she didn't have any
surname, because she was a short-tailed cat, being a manx, and
didn't need one. It is very just and becoming in a long-tailed cat
to have a surname, but it would be very ostentatious, and even
dishonorable, in a manx. Well, Catasaqua had a beautiful family of
cattings; and they were of different colors, to harmonize with their
characters. Cattaraugus, the eldest, was white, and he had high
impulses and a pure heart; Catiline, the youngest, was black, and he
had a self-seeking nature, his motives were nearly always base, he
was truculent and insincere. He was vain and foolish, and often
said that he would rather be what he was, and live like a bandit,
yet have none above him, than be a cat-o'-nine-tails and eat with
And so on without end, for the audience was asleep presently and the end
There was less enthusiasm over dogs at Quarry Farm.
Mark Twain himself had no great love for the canine breed. To a woman
who wrote, asking for his opinion on dogs, he said, in part:
By what right has the dog come to be regarded as a "noble" animal?
The more brutal and cruel and unjust you are to him the more your
fawning and adoring slave he becomes; whereas, if you shamefully
misuse a cat once she will always maintain a dignified reserve
toward you afterward you can never get her full confidence again.
He was not harsh to dogs; occasionally he made friends with them. There
was once at the farm a gentle hound, named Bones, that for some reason
even won his way into his affections. Bones was always a welcome
companion, and when the end of summer came, and Clemens, as was his
habit, started down the drive ahead of the carriage, Bones, half-way to
the entrance, was waiting for him. Clemens stooped down, put his arms
around him, and bade him an affectionate good-by. He always recalled
Bones tenderly, and mentioned him in letters to the farm.
COPYRIGHT AND OTHER FANCIES
The continued assault of Canadian pirates on his books kept Mark Twain's
interest sharply alive on the subject of copyright reform. He invented
one scheme after another, but the public-mind was hazy on the subject,
and legislators were concerned with purposes that interested a larger
number of voters. There were too few authors to be of much value at the
polls, and even of those few only a small percentage were vitally
concerned. For the others, foreign publishers rarely paid them the
compliment of piracy, while at home the copyright limit of forty-two
years was about forty-two times as long as they needed protection. Bliss
suggested a law making the selling of pirated books a penal offense, a
plan with a promising look, but which came to nothing.
Clemens wrote to his old friend Rollin M. Daggett, who by this time was a
Congressman. Daggett replied that he would be glad to introduce any bill
that the authors might agree upon, and Clemens made at least one trip to
Washington to discuss the matter, but it came to nothing in the end. It
was a Presidential year, and it would do just as well to keep the authors
quiet by promising to do something next year. Any legislative stir is
never a good thing for a campaign.
Clemens's idea for copyright betterment was not a fixed one. Somewhat
later, when an international treaty which would include protection for
authors was being discussed, his views had undergone a change. He wrote,
Will the proposed treaty protect us (and effectually) against
Canadian piracy? Because, if it doesn't, there is not a single
argument in favor of international copyright which a rational
American Senate could entertain for a moment. My notions have
mightily changed lately. I can buy Macaulay's History, three vols.;
bound, for $1.25; Chambers's Cyclopaedia, ten vols., cloth, for
$7.25 (we paid $60), and other English copyrights in proportion; I
can buy a lot of the great copyright classics, in paper, at from
three cents to thirty cents apiece. These things must find their
way into the very kitchens and hovels of the country. A generation
of this sort of thing ought to make this the most intelligent and
the best-read nation in the world. International copyright must
becloud this sun and bring on the former darkness and dime novel
Morally this is all wrong; governmentally it is all right. For it
is the duty of governments and families to be selfish, and look out
simply for their own. International copyright would benefit a few
English authors and a lot of American publishers, and be a profound
detriment to twenty million Americans; it would benefit a dozen
American authors a few dollars a year, and there an end. The real
advantages all go to English authors and American publishers.
And even if the treaty will kill Canadian piracy, and thus save me
an average of $5,000 a year, I'm down on it anyway, and I'd like
cussed well to write an article opposing the treaty.
It is a characteristic expression. Mark Twain might be first to grab for
the life-preserver, but he would also be first to hand it to a humanity
in greater need. He could damn the human race competently, but in the
final reckoning it was the interest of that race that lay closest to his
Mention has been made in an earlier chapter of Clemens's enthusiasms or
"rages" for this thing and that which should benefit humankind. He was
seldom entirely without them. Whether it was copyright legislation, the
latest invention, or a new empiric practice, he rarely failed to have a
burning interest in some anodyne that would provide physical or mental
easement for his species. Howells tells how once he was going to save
the human race with accordion letter-files--the system of order which
would grow out of this useful device being of such nerve and labor saving
proportions as to insure long life and happiness to all. The fountain-
pen, in its first imperfect form, must have come along about the same
time, and Clemens was one of the very earliest authors to own one. For a
while it seemed that the world had known no greater boon since the
invention of printing; but when it clogged and balked, or suddenly
deluged his paper and spilled in his pocket, he flung it to the outer
darkness. After which, the stylo-graphic pen. He tried one, and wrote
severally to Dr. Brown, to Howells, and to Twichell, urging its adoption.
Even in a letter to Mrs. Howells he could not forget his new possession:
And speaking of Howells, he ought to use the stylographic pen, the
best fountain-pen yet invented; he ought to, but of course he won't
--a blamed old sodden-headed conservative--but you see yourself what
a nice, clean, uniform MS. it makes.
And at the same time to Twichell:
I am writing with a stylographic pen. It takes a royal amount of
cussing to make the thing go the first few days or a week, but by
that time the dullest ass gets the hang of the thing, and after that
no enrichments of expression are required, and said ass finds the
stylographic a genuine God's blessing. I carry one in each breeches
pocket, and both loaded. I'd give you one of them if I had you
where I could teach you how to use it--not otherwise. For the
average ass flings the thing out of the window in disgust the second
day, believing it hath no virtue, no merit of any sort; whereas the
lack lieth in himself, God of his mercy damn him.
It was not easy to withstand Mark Twain's enthusiasm. Howells, Twichell,
and Dr. Brown were all presently struggling and swearing (figuratively)
over their stylographic pens, trying to believe that salvation lay in
their conquest. But in the midst of one letter, at last, Howells broke
down, seized his old steel weapon, and wrote savagely: "No white man
ought to use a stylographic pen, anyhow!" Then, with the more ancient
implement, continued in a calmer spirit.
It was only a little later that Clemens himself wrote:
You see I am trying a new pen. I stood the stylograph as long as I
could, and then retired to the pencil. The thing I am trying now is
that fountain-pen which is advertised to employ and accommodate
itself to any kind of pen. So I selected an ordinary gold pen--a
limber one--and sent it to New York and had it cut and fitted to
this thing. It goes very well indeed--thus far; but doubtless the
devil will be in it by tomorrow.
Mark Twain's schemes were not all in the line of human advancement; some
of them were projected, primarily at least, for diversion. He was likely
at any moment to organize a club, a sort of private club, and at the time
of which we are writing he proposed what was called the "Modest" Club.
He wrote to Howells, about it:
At present I am the only member, and as the modesty required must be
of a quite aggravated type the enterprise did seem for a time doomed
to stop dead still with myself, for lack of further material; but on
reflection I have come to the conclusion that you are eligible.
Therefore, I have held a meeting and voted to offer you the
distinction of membership. I do not know that we can find any
others, though I have had some thought of Hay, Warner, Twichell,
Aldrich, Osgood, Fields, Higginson, and a few more, together with
Mrs. Howells, Mrs. Clemens, and certain others of the sex. I have
long felt there ought to be an organized gang of our kind.
He appends the by-laws, the main ones being:
The object of the club shall be to eat and talk.
Qualification for membership shall be aggravated modesty,
unobtrusiveness, native humility, learning, talent, intelligence,
There shall be no officers except a president, and any member who
has anything to eat and talk about may constitute himself president
for the time being.
Any brother or sister of the order finding a brother or a sister in
imminently deadly peril shall forsake his own concerns, no matter at
what cost, and call the police.
Any member knowing anything scandalous about himself shall
immediately inform the club, so that they shall call a meeting and
have the first chance to talk about it.
It was one of his whimsical fancies, and Howells replied that he would
like to join it, only that he was too modest--that is, too modest to
confess that he was modest enough for membership.
He added that he had sent a letter, with the rules, to Hay, but doubted
his modesty. He said:
"He will think he has a right to belong as much as you or I."
Howells agreed that his own name might be put down, but the idea seems
never to have gone any further. Perhaps the requirements of membership
were too severe.
WORKING FOR GARFIELD
Eighteen hundred and eighty was a Presidential year. General Garfield
was nominated on the Republican ticket (against General Hancock), and
Clemens found him satisfactory.
Garfield suits me thoroughly and exactly [he wrote Howells]. I prefer
him to Grant's friends. The Presidency can't add anything to Grant; he
will shine on without it. It is ephemeral; he is eternal.
That was the year when the Republican party became panicky over the
disaffection in its ranks, due to the defeat of Grant in the convention,
and at last, by pleadings and promises, conciliated Platt and Conkling
and brought them into the field. General Grant also was induced to save
the party from defeat, and made a personal tour of oratory for that
purpose. He arrived in Hartford with his family on the 16th of October,
and while his reception was more or less partizan, it was a momentous
event. A vast procession passed in review before him, and everywhere
houses and grounds were decorated. To Mrs. Clemens, still in Elmira,
I found Mr. Beals hard at work in the rain with his decorations.
With a ladder he had strung flags around our bedroom balcony, and
thence around to the porte-cochere, which was elaborately flagged;
thence the flags of all nations were suspended from a line which
stretched past the greenhouse to the limit of our grounds. Against
each of the two trees on the mound, half-way down to our gate,
stands a knight in complete armor. Piles of still-bundled flags
clutter up the ombra (to be put up), also gaudy shields of various
shapes (arms of this and other countries), also some huge glittering
arches and things done in gold and silver paper, containing mottoes
in big letters. I broke Mr. Beals's heart by persistently and
inflexibly annulling and forbidding the biggest and gorgeousest of
the arches--it had on it, in all the fires of the rainbow, "The Home
of Mark Twain," in letters as big as your head. Oh, we're going to
be decorated sufficient, don't you worry about that, madam.
Clemens was one of those delegated to receive Grant and to make a speech
of welcome. It was a short speech but an effective one, for it made
Grant laugh. He began:
"I am among those deputed to welcome you to the sincere and cordial
hospitalities of Hartford, the city of the historic and revered
Charter Oak, of which most of the town is built." He seemed to be
at loss what to say next, and, leaning over, pretended to whisper to
Grant; then, as if he had obtained the information he wanted, he
suddenly straightened up and poured out the old-fashioned eulogy on
Grant's achievements, adding, in an aside, as he finished:
"I nearly forgot that part of my speech," which evoked roars of
laughter from the assembly and a grim smile from Grant. He spoke of
Grant as being out of public employment, with private opportunities
closed against him, and added, "But your country will reward you,
Then he closed:
When Wellington won Waterloo, a battle about on a level with any one
of a dozen of your victories, sordid England tried to pay him for
that service with wealth and grandeurs. She made him a duke and
gave him $4,000,000. If you had done and suffered for any other
country what you have done and suffered for your own you would have
been affronted in the same sordid way. But, thank God! this vast
and rich and mighty republic is imbued to the core with a delicacy
which will forever preserve her from so degrading you.
Your country loves you--your country's proud of you--your country is
grateful to you. Her applauses, which have been many, thundering in
your ears all these weeks and months, will never cease while the
flag you saved continues to wave.
Your country stands ready from this day forth to testify her
measureless love and pride and gratitude toward you in every
conceivable--inexpensive way. Welcome to Hartford, great soldier,
honored statesman, unselfish citizen.
Grant's grim smile showed itself more than once during the speech, and
when Clemens reached the sentence that spoke of his country rewarding him
in "every conceivable--inexpensive way" his composure broke up completely
and he "nearly laughed his entire head off," according to later
testimony, while the spectators shouted their approval.
Grant's son, Col. Fred Grant,--[Maj.-Gen'l, U. S. Army, 1906. Died
April, 1912.]--dined at the Clemens home that night, and Rev. Joseph
Twichell and Henry C. Robinson. Twichell's invitation was in the form
of a telegram. It said:
I want you to dine with us Saturday half past five and meet Col.
Fred Grant. No ceremony. Wear the same shirt you always wear.
The campaign was at its height now, and on the evening of October 26th
there was a grand Republican rally at the opera-house with addresses by
Charles Dudley Warner, Henry C. Robinson, and Mark Twain. It was an
unpleasant, drizzly evening, but the weather had no effect on their
audience. The place was jammed and packed, the aisles, the windows, and
the gallery railings full. Hundreds who came as late as the hour
announced for the opening were obliged to turn back, for the building had
been thronged long before. Mark Twain's speech that night is still
remembered in Hartford as the greatest effort of his life. It was hardly
that, except to those who were caught in the psychology of the moment,
the tumult and the shouting of patriotism, the surge and sweep of the
political tide. The roaring delight of the audience showed that to them
at least it was convincing. Howells wrote that he had read it twice, and
that he could not put it out of his mind. Whatever its general effect
was need not now be considered. Garfield was elected, and perhaps
Grant's visit to Hartford and the great mass-meeting that followed
contributed their mite to that result.
Clemens saw General Grant again that year, but not on political business.
The Educational Mission, which China had established in Hartford--a
thriving institution for eight years or more--was threatened now by
certain Chinese authorities with abolishment. Yung Wing (a Yale
graduate), the official by whom it had been projected and under whose
management it had prospered, was deeply concerned, as was the Rev. Joseph
Twichell, whose interest in the mission was a large and personal one.
Yung Wing declared that if influence could be brought upon Li Hung Chang,
then the most influential of Chinese counselors, the mission might be
saved. Twichell, remembering the great honors which Li Hung Chang had
paid to General Grant in China, also Grant's admiration of Mark Twain,
went to the latter without delay. Necessarily Clemens would be
enthusiastic, and act promptly. He wrote to Grant, and Grant replied by
telegraph, naming a day when he would see them in New York.
They met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Grant was in fine spirits, and by no
means the "silent man" of his repute.
He launched at once into as free and flowing talk as I have ever heard
[says Twichell], marked by broad and intelligent views on the subject of
China, her wants, disadvantages, etc. Now and then he asked a question,
but kept the lead of the conversation. At last he proposed, of his own
accord, to write a letter to Li Hung Chang, advising the continuance of
the Mission, asking only that I would prepare him some notes, giving him
points to go by. Thus we succeeded easily beyond our expectations,
thanks, very largely, to Clemens's assistance.
Clemens wrote Howells of the interview, detailing at some length
Twichell's comical mixture of delight and chagrin at not being given time
to air the fund of prepared statistics with which he had come loaded.
It was as if he had come to borrow a dollar and had been offered a
thousand before he could unfold his case.
A NEW PUBLISHER
It was near the end of the year that Clemens wrote to his mother:
I have two stories, and by the verbal agreement they are both going
into the same book; but Livy says they're not, and by George! she
ought to know. She says they're going into separate books, and that
one of them is going to be elegantly gotten up, even if the elegance
of it eats up the publisher's profits and mine too.
I anticipate that publisher's melancholy surprise when he calls here
Tuesday. However, let him suffer; it is his own fault. People who
fix up agreements with me without first finding out what Livy's
plans are take their fate into their own hands.
I said two stories, but one of them is only half done; two or three
months' work on it yet. I shall tackle it Wednesday or Thursday;
that is, if Livy yields and allows both stories to go in one book,
which I hope she won't.
The reader may surmise that the finished story--the highly regarded
story--was 'The Prince and the Pauper'. The other tale--the unfinished
and less considered one was 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'. Nobody
appears to have been especially concerned about Huck, except, possibly,
The publisher was not the American Company. Elisha Bliss, after long ill
health, had died that fall, and this fact, in connection with a growing
dissatisfaction over the earlier contracts, had induced Clemens to listen
to offers from other makers of books. The revelation made by the "half-
profit" returns from A Tramp Abroad meant to him, simply that the profits
had not been fairly apportioned, and he was accordingly hostile. To
Orion he wrote that, had Bliss lived, he would have remained with the
company and made it reimburse him for his losses, but that as matters
stood he would sever the long connection. It seemed a pity, later, that
he did this, but the break was bound to come. Clemens was not a business
man, and Bliss was not a philanthropist. He was, in fact, a shrewd,
capable publisher, who made as good a contract as he could; yet he was
square in his dealings, and the contract which Clemens held most bitterly
against him--that of 'Roughing It'--had been made in good faith and in
accordance with the conditions, of that period. In most of the later
contracts Clemens himself had named his royalties, and it was not in
human nature--business human nature--for Bliss to encourage the size of
these percentages. If one wished to draw a strictly moral conclusion
from the situation, one might say that it would have been better for the
American Publishing Company, knowing Mark Twain, voluntarily to have
allowed him half profits, which was the spirit of his old understanding
even if not the letter of it, rather than to have waited till he demanded
it and then to lose him by the result. Perhaps that would be also a
proper business deduction; only, as a rule, business morals are regulated
by the contract, and the contract is regulated by the necessities and the
urgency of demand.
Never mind. Mark Twain revised 'The Prince and the Pauper', sent it to
Howells, who approved of it mightily (though with reservations as to
certain chapters), and gave it to James R. Osgood, who was grateful and
agreed to make it into a book upon which no expense for illustration or
manufacture should be spared. It was to be a sort of partnership
arrangement as between author and publisher, and large returns were
Among the many letters which Clemens was just then writing to Howells one
was dated "Xmas Eve." It closes with the customary pleasantries and the
"But it is growing dark. Merry Christmas to all of you!"
That last was a line of large significance. It meant that the air was
filled with the whisper of hovering events and that he must mingle with
the mystery of preparation. Christmas was an important season in the
Clemens home. Almost the entire day before, Patrick was out with the
sleigh, delivering food and other gifts in baskets to the poor, and the
home preparations were no less busy. There was always a tree--a large
one--and when all the gifts had been gathered in--when Elmira and
Fredonia had delivered their contributions, and Orion and his wife in
Keokuk had sent the annual sack of hickory-nuts (the big river-bottom
nuts, big as a silver dollar almost, such nuts as few children of this
later generation ever see) when all this happy revenue had been gathered,
and the dusk of Christmas Eve had hurried the children off to bed, it was
Mrs. Clemens who superintended the dressing of the tree, her husband
assisting, with a willingness that was greater than his skill, and with a
boy's anticipation in the surprise of it next morning.
Then followed the holidays, with parties and dances and charades, and
little plays, with the Warner and Twichell children. To the Clemens home
the Christmas season brought all the old round of juvenile happiness--the
spirit of kindly giving, the brightness and the merrymaking, the gladness
and tenderness and mystery that belong to no other season, and have been
handed down through all the ages since shepherds watched on the plains of
THE THREE FIRES--SOME BENEFACTIONS
The tradition that fires occur in groups of three was justified in the
Clemens household that winter. On each of three successive days flames
started that might have led to ghastly results.
The children were croupy, and one morning an alcohol lamp near little
Clara's bed, blown by the draught, set fire to the canopy. Rosa, the
nurse, entered just as the blaze was well started. She did not lose her
presence of mind,--[Rosa was not the kind to lose her head. Once, in
Europe, when Bay had crept between the uprights of a high balustrade, and
was hanging out over destruction, Rosa, discovering her, did not scream
but spoke to her playfully and lifted her over into safety.]--but
snatched the little girl out of danger, then opened the window and threw
the burning bedding on the lawn. The child was only slightly scorched,
but the escape was narrow enough.
Next day little Jean was lying asleep in her crib, in front of an open
wood fire, carefully protected by a firescreen, when a spark, by some
ingenuity, managed to get through the mesh of the screen and land on the
crib's lace covering. Jean's nurse, Julia, arrived to find the lace a
gust of flame and the fire spreading. She grabbed the sleeping Jean and
screamed. Rosa, again at hand, heard the scream, and rushing in once
more opened a window and flung out the blazing bedclothes. Clemens
himself also arrived, and together they stamped out the fire.
On the third morning, just before breakfast-time, Susy was practising at
the piano in the school-room, which adjoined the nursery. At one end of
the room a fire of large logs was burning. Susy was at the other end of
the room, her back to the fire. A log burned in two and fell, scattering
coals around the woodwork which supported the mantel. Just as the blaze
was getting fairly started a barber, waiting to trim Mr. Clemens's hair,
chanced to look in and saw what was going on. He stepped into the
nursery bath-room, brought a pitcher of water and extinguished the
flames. This period was always referred to in the Clemens household as
the "three days of fire."
Clemens would naturally make philosophical deductions from these
coincidental dangers and the manner in which they had been averted. He
said that all these things were comprehended in the first act of the
first atom; that, but for some particular impulse given in that remote
time, the alcohol flame would not have blown against the canopy, the
spark would not have found its way through the screen, the log would not
have broken apart in that dangerous way, and that Rosa and Julia and the
barber would not have been at hand to save precious life and property.
He did not go further and draw moral conclusions as to the purpose of
these things: he never drew conclusions as to purpose. He was willing to
rest with the event. Logically he did not believe in reasons for things,
but only that things were.
Nevertheless, he was always trying to change them; to have a hand in
their improvement. Had you asked him, he would have said that this, too,
was all in the primal atom; that his nature, such as it was, had been
minutely embodied there.
In that charming volume, 'My Mark Twain', Howells tells us of Clemens's
consideration, and even tenderness, for the negro race and his effort to
repair the wrong done by his nation. Mark Twain's writings are full of
similar evidence, and in his daily life he never missed an opportunity to
pay tribute to the humbler race. He would go across the street to speak
to an old negro, and to take his hand. He would read for a negro church
when he would have refused a cathedral. Howells mentions the colored
student whose way through college Clemens paid as a partial reparation
"due from every white man to every black man."--[Mark Twain paid two
colored students through college. One of them, educated in a Southern
institution, became a minister of the gospel. The other graduated from
the Yale Law School.]--This incident belongs just to the period of which
we are now writing, and there is another which, though different enough,
indicates the same tendency.
Garfield was about to be inaugurated, and it was rumored that Frederick
Douglass might lose his position as Marshal of the District of Columbia.
Clemens was continually besought by one and another to use his influence
with the Administration, and in every case had refused. Douglass had
made no such, application. Clemens, learning that the old negro's place
was in danger, interceded for him of his own accord. He closed his
letter to General Garfield:
A simple citizen may express a desire, with all propriety, in the
matter of recommendation to office, and so I beg permission to hope
that you will retain Mr. Douglass in his present office of Marshal
of the District of Columbia, if such a course will not clash with
your own preferences or with the expediencies and interests of your
Administration. I offer this petition with peculiar pleasure and
strong desire, because I so honor this man's high and blemishless
character, and so admire his brave, long crusade for the liberties
and elevation of his race.
He is a personal friend of mine, but that is nothing to the point;
his history would move me to say these things without that, and I
feel them, too.
Douglass wrote to Clemens, thanking him for his interest; at the end he
I think if a man is mean enough to want an office he ought to be
noble enough to ask for it, and use all honorable means of getting
it. I mean to ask, and I will use your letter as a part of my
petition. It will put the President-elect in a good humor, in any
case, and that is very important.
With great respect,
Mark Twain's benefactions were not all for the colored race. One morning
in February of this same year, while the family were at late breakfast,
George came in to announce "a lady waiting to see Mr. Clemens in the
drawing-room." Clemens growled.
"George," he said, "it's a book agent. I won't see her. I'll die, in my
He went, fuming and raging inwardly, and began at once to ask the nature
of the intruder's business. Then he saw that she was very young and
modest, with none of the assurance of a canvasser, so he gave her a
chance to speak. She told him that a young man employed in Pratt &
Whitney's machine-shops had made a statue in clay, and would like to have
Mark Twain come and look at it and see if it showed any promise of future
achievement. His name, she said, was Karl Gerhardt, and he was her
husband. Clemens protested that he knew nothing about art, but the young
woman's manner and appearance (she seemed scarcely more than a child) won
him. He wavered, and finally promised that he would come the first
chance he had; that in fact he would come some time during the next week.
On her suggestion he agreed to come early in the week; he specified
Monday, "without fail."
When she was gone, and the door shut behind her, his usual remorse came
upon him. He said to himself:
"Why didn't I go now? Why didn't I go with her now?"
She went from Clemens's over to Warner's. Warner also resisted, but,
tempted beyond his strength by her charm, laid down his work and went at
once. When he returned he urged Clemens to go without fail, and, true to
promise, Clemens took Patrick, the coachman, and hunted up the place.
Clemens saw the statue, a seminude, for which the young wife had posed,
and was struck by its evident merit. Mrs. Gerhardt told him the story of
her husband's struggles between his daily work and the effort to develop
his talent. He had never had a lesson, she said; if he could only have
lessons what might he not accomplish?
Mrs. Clemens and Miss Spaulding called next day, and were equally carried
away with Karl Gerhardt, his young wife, and his effort to win his way in
art. Clemens and Warner made up their minds to interest themselves
personally in the matter, and finally persuaded the painter J. Wells
Champney to come over from New York and go with them to the Gerhardts'
humble habitation, to see his work. Champney approved of it. He thought
it well worth while, he said, for the people of Hartford to go to the
expense of Gerhardt's art education. He added that it would be better to
get the judgment of a sculptor. So they brought over John Quincy Adams
Ward, who, like all the others, came away bewitched with these young
people and their struggles for the sake of art. Ward said:
"If any stranger had told me that this 'prentice did not model that thing
from plaster-casts I should not have believed it. It's full of
crudities, but it's full of genius, too. Hartford must send him to Paris
for two years; then, if the promise holds good, keep him there three
When he was gone Mrs. Clemens said:
"Youth, we won't wait for Hartford to do it. It would take too long.
Let us send the Gerhardts to Paris ourselves, and say nothing about it to
any one else."
So the Gerhardts, provided with funds and an arrangement that would
enable them to live for five years in Paris if necessary, were started
across the sea without further delay.
Clemens and his wife were often doing something of this sort. There was
seldom a time that they were not paying the way of some young man or
woman through college, or providing means and opportunity for development
in some special field of industry.
LITERARY PROJECTS AND A MONUMENT TO ADAM
Mark Twain's literary work languished during this period. He had a world
of plans, as usual, and wrote plentifully, but without direction or
conclusion. "A Curious Experience," which relates a circumstance told to
him by an army officer, is about the most notable of the few completed
manuscripts of this period.
Of the books projected (there were several), a burlesque manual of
etiquette would seem to have been the most promising. Howells had faith
in it, and of the still remaining fragments a few seem worth quoting:
If your ball glides along in the intense and immediate vicinity of
the object-ball, and a count seems exquisitely imminent, lift one
leg; then one shoulder; then squirm your body around in sympathy
with the direction of the moving ball; and at the instant when the
ball seems on the point of colliding throw up both of your arms
violently. Your cue will probably break a chandelier, but no
matter; you have done what you could to help the count.
AT THE DOG-FIGHT
If it occur in your block, courteously give way to strangers
desiring a view, particularly ladies.
Avoid showing partiality toward the one dog, lest you hurt the
feelings of the other one.
Let your secret sympathies and your compassion be always with the
under dog in the fight--this is magnanimity; but bet on the other
one--this is business.
If you draw to a flush and fail to fill, do not continue the
If you hold a pair of trays, and your opponent is blind, and it
costs you fifty to see him, let him remain unperceived.
If you hold nothing but ace high, and by some means you know that
the other man holds the rest of the aces, and he calls, excuse
yourself; let him call again another time.
If you live in the country, buy at 80, sell at 40. Avoid all forms
IN THE RESTAURANT
When you wish to get the waiter's attention, do not sing out "Say!"
Simply say "Szt!"
His old abandoned notion of "Hamlet" with an added burlesque character
came back to him and stirred his enthusiasm anew, until even Howells
manifested deep interest in the matter. One reflects how young Howells
must have been in those days; how full of the joy of existence; also how
mournfully he would consider such a sacrilege now.
Clemens proposed almost as many things to Howells as his brother Orion
proposed to him. There was scarcely a letter that didn't contain some
new idea, with a request for advice or co-operation. Now it was some
book that he meant to write some day, and again it would be a something
that he wanted Howells to write.
Once he urged Howells to make a play, or at least a novel, out of Orion.
At another time he suggested as material the "Rightful Earl of Durham."
He is a perfectly stunning literary bonanza, and must be dug up and put
on the market. You must get his entire biography out of him and have it
ready for Osgood's magazine. Even if it isn't worth printing, you must
have it anyway, and use it one of these days in one of your stories or in
It was this notion about 'The American Claimant' which somewhat later
would lead to a collaboration with Howells on a drama, and eventually to
a story of that title.
But Clemens's chief interest at this time lay in publishing, rather than
in writing. His association with Osgood inspired him to devise new
ventures of profit. He planned a 'Library of American Humor', which
Howells (soon to leave the Atlantic) and "Charley" Clark--[Charles
Hopkins Clark, managing editor of the Hartford Courant.]--were to edit,
and which Osgood would publish, for subscription sale. Without realizing
it, Clemens was taking his first step toward becoming his own publisher.
His contract with Osgood for 'The Prince and the Pauper' made him
essentially that, for by the terms of it he agreed to supply all the
money for the making of the book, and to pay Osgood a royalty of seven
and one-half per cent. for selling it, reversing the usual conditions.
The contract for the Library of Humor was to be a similar one, though in
this case Osgood was to have a larger royalty return, and to share
proportionately in the expense and risk. Mark Twain was entering into a
field where he did not belong; where in the end he would harvest only
disaster and regret.
One curious project came to an end in 1881--the plan for a monument to
Adam. In a sketch written a great many years later Mark Twain tells of
the memorial which the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher and himself once proposed
to erect to our great common ancestor. The story is based on a real
incident. Clemens, in Elmira one day (it was October, 1879), heard of a
jesting proposal made by F. G. Hall to erect a monument in Elmira to
Adam. The idea promptly caught Mark Twain's fancy. He observed to
Beecher that the human race really showed a pretty poor regard for its
great progenitor, who was about to be deposed by Darwin's simian, not to
pay him the tribute of a single monument. Mankind, he said, would
probably accept the monkey ancestor, and in time the very name of Adam
would be forgotten. He declared Mr. Hall's suggestion to be a sound
Beecher agreed that there were many reasons why a monument should be
erected to Adam, and suggested that a subscription be started for the
purpose. Certain business men, seeing an opportunity for advertising the
city, took the matter semi-seriously, and offered to contribute large
sums in the interest of the enterprise. Then it was agreed that Congress
should be petitioned to sanction the idea exclusively to Elmira,
prohibiting the erection of any such memorial elsewhere. A document to
this effect was prepared, headed by F. G. Hall, and signed by other
leading citizens of Elmira, including Beecher himself. General Joe
Hawley came along just then on a political speech-making tour. Clemens
introduced him, and Hawley, in turn, agreed to father the petition in
Congress. What had begun merely as pleasantry began to have a formidable
But alas! in the end Hawley's courage had failed him. He began to hate
his undertaking. He was afraid of the national laugh it would arouse,
the jeers of the newspapers. It was certain to leak out that Mark Twain
was behind it, in spite of the fact that his name nowhere appeared; that
it was one of his colossal jokes. Now and then, in the privacy of his
own room at night, Hawley would hunt up the Adam petition and read it and
feel the cold sweat breaking out. He postponed the matter from one
session to another till the summer of 1881, when he was about to sail for
Europe. Then he gave the document to his wife, to turn over to Clemens,
and ignominiously fled.
[For text of the petition in full, etc., see Appendix P, at the end of
Mark Twain's introduction of Hawley at Elmira contained this pleasantry:
"General Hawley was president of the Centennial Commission. Was a
gallant soldier in the war. He has been Governor of Connecticut, member
of Congress, and was president of the convention that nominated Abraham
General Hawley: "That nominated Grant."
Twain: "He says it was Grant, but I know better. He is a member of my
church at Hartford, and the author of 'Beautiful Snow.' Maybe he will
deny that. But I am only here to give him a character from his last
place. As a pure citizen, I respect him; as a personal friend of years,
I have the warmest regard for him; as a neighbor whose vegetable garden
joins mine, why--why, I watch him. That's nothing; we all do that with
any neighbor. General Hawley keeps his promises, not only in private,
but in public. He is an editor who believes what he writes in his own
paper. As the author of 'Beautiful Snow' he added a new pang to winter.
He is broad-souled, generous, noble, liberal, alive to his moral and
religious responsibilities. Whenever the contribution-box was passed I
never knew him to take out a cent."
A TRIP WITH SHERMAN AND AN INTERVIEW WITH GRANT.
The Army of the Potomac gave a dinner in Hartford on the 8th of June,
1881. But little memory remains of it now beyond Mark Twain's speech and
a bill of fare containing original comments, ascribed to various revered
authors, such as Johnson, Milton, and Carlyle. A pleasant incident
followed, however, which Clemens himself used to relate. General Sherman
attended the banquet, and Secretary of War, Robert Lincoln. Next morning
Clemens and Twichell were leaving for West Point, where they were to
address the military students, guests on the same special train on which
Lincoln and Sherman had their private car. This car was at the end of
the train, and when the two passengers reached the station, Sherman and
Lincoln were out on the rear platform addressing the multitude. Clemens
and Twichell went in and, taking seats, waited for them.
As the speakers finished the train started, but they still remained
outside, bowing and waving to the assembled citizens, so that it was
under good headway before they came in. Sherman came up to Clemens, who
sat smoking unconcernedly.
"Well," he said, "who told you you could go in this car?"
"Nobody," said Clemens.
"Do you expect to pay extra fare?" asked Sherman.
"No," said Clemens. "I don't expect to pay any fare."
"Oh, you don't. Then you'll work your way."
Sherman took off his coat and military hat and made Clemens put them on.
"Now," said he, "whenever the train stops you go out on the platform and
represent me and make a speech."
It was not long before the train stopped, and Clemens, according to
orders, stepped out on the rear platform and bowed to the crowd. There
was a cheer at the sight of his military uniform. Then the cheer waned,
became a murmur of uncertainty, followed by an undertone of discussion.
Presently somebody said:
"Say, that ain't Sherman, that's Mark Twain," which brought another
Then Sherman had to come out too, and the result was that both spoke.
They kept this up at the different stations, and sometimes Lincoln came
out with them. When there was time all three spoke, much to the
satisfaction of their audiences.
President Garfield was shot that summer--July 2, 1881.--[On the day that
President Garfield was shot Mrs. Clemens received from their friend
Reginald Cholmondeley a letter of condolence on the death of her husband
in Australia; startling enough, though in reality rather comforting than
otherwise, for the reason that the "Mark Twain" who had died in Australia
was a very persistent impostor. Clemens wrote Cholmondeley: "Being dead
I might be excused from writing letters, but I am not that kind of a
corpse. May I never be so dead as to neglect the hail of a friend from a
far land." Out of this incident grew a feature of an anecdote related in
Following the Equator the joke played by the man from Bendigo.]--He died
September 19th, and Arthur came into power. There was a great feeling of
uncertainty as to what he would do. He was regarded as "an excellent
gentleman with a weakness for his friends." Incumbents holding
appointive offices were in a state of dread.
Howells's father was consul at Toronto, and, believing his place to be in
danger, he appealed to his son. In his book Howells tells how, in turn,
he appealed to Clemens, remembering his friendship with Grant and Grant's
friendship with Arthur. He asked Clemens to write to Grant, but Clemens
would hear of nothing less than a call on the General, during which the
matter would be presented to him in person. Howells relates how the
three of them lunched together, in a little room just out of the office,
on baked beans and coffee, brought in from some near-by restaurant:
The baked beans and coffee were of about the railroad-refreshment
quality; but eating them with Grant was like sitting down to baked
beans and coffee with Julius Caesar, or Alexander, or some other
great Plutarchan captain.
Clemens, also recalling the interview, once added some interesting
"I asked Grant if he wouldn't write a word on a card which Howells could
carry to Washington and hand to the President. But, as usual, General
Grant was his natural self--that is to say, ready and determined to do a
great deal more for you than you could possibly ask him to do. He said
he was going to Washington in a couple of days to dine with the
President, and he would speak to him himself on the subject and make it a
personal matter. Grant was in the humor to talk--he was always in a
humor to talk when no strangers were present--he forced us to stay and
take luncheon in a private room, and continued to talk all the time. It
was baked beans, but how 'he sits and towers,' Howells said, quoting
Dame. Grant remembered 'Squibob' Derby (John Phoenix) at West Point very
well. He said that Derby was always drawing caricatures of the
professors and playing jokes on every body. He told a thing which I had
heard before but had never seen in print. A professor questioning a
class concerning certain particulars of a possible siege said, 'Suppose a
thousand men are besieging a fortress whose equipment of provisions is
so-and-so; it is a military axiom that at the end of forty-five days the
fort will surrender. Now, young men, if any of you were in command of
such a fortress, how would you proceed?'
"Derby held up his hand in token that he had an answer for that question.
He said, 'I would march out, let the enemy in, and at the end of forty-
five days I would change places with him.'
"I tried hard, during that interview, to get General Grant to agree to
write his personal memoirs for publication, but he wouldn't listen to the
suggestion. His inborn diffidence made him shrink from voluntarily
coming before the public and placing himself under criticism as an
author. He had no confidence in his ability to write well; whereas we
all know now that he possessed an admirable literary gift and style. He
was also sure that the book would have no sale, and of course that would
be a humility too. I argued that the book would have an enormous sale,
and that out of my experience I could save him from making unwise
contracts with publishers, and would have the contract arranged in such a
way that they could not swindle him, but he said he had no necessity for
any addition to his income. Of course he could not foresee that he was
camping on a volcano; that as Ward's partner he was a ruined man even
then, and of course I had no suspicion that in four years from that time
I would become his publisher. He would not agree to write his memoirs.
He only said that some day he would make very full notes and leave them
behind him, and then if his children chose to make them into a book they
could do so. We came away then. He fulfilled his promise entirely
concerning Howells's father, who held his office until he resigned of his
"THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER"
During the summer absence alterations were made in the Hartford home,
with extensive decorations by Tiffany. The work was not completed when
the family returned. Clemens wrote to Charles Warren Stoddard, then in
the Sandwich Islands, that the place was full of carpenters and
decorators, whereas what they really needed was "an incendiary."
If the house would only burn down we would pack up the cubs and fly to
the isles of the blest, and shut ourselves up in the healing solitudes of
the crater of Haleakala and get a good rest, for the mails do not intrude
there, nor yet the telephone and the telegraph; and after resting we
would come down the mountain a piece and board with a godly, breech-
clouted native, and eat poi and dirt, and give thanks to whom all thanks
belong for these privileges, and never housekeep any more.
They had acquired more ground. One morning in the spring Mark Twain had
looked out of his window just in time to see a man lift an ax to cut down
a tree on the lot which lay between his own and that of his neighbor. He
had heard that a house was to be built there; altogether too close to him
for comfort and privacy. Leaning out of the window he called sonorously,
"Woodman, spare that tree!" Then he hurried down, obtained a stay of
proceedings, and without delay purchased the lot from the next-door
neighbor who owned it, acquiring thereby one hundred feet of extra ground
and a greenhouse which occupied it. It was a costly purchase; the owner
knew he could demand his own price; he asked and received twelve thousand
dollars for the strip.
In November, Clemens found that he must make another trip to Canada.
'The Prince and the Pauper' was ready for issue, and to insure Canadian
copyright the author must cross the line in person. He did not enjoy the
prospect of a cold-weather trip to the north, and tried to tempt Howells
to go with him, but only succeeded in persuading Osgood, who would do
anything or go anywhere that offered the opportunity for pleasant company
It was by no means an unhappy fortnight. Clemens took a note-book, and
there are plenty of items that give reality to that long-ago excursion.
He found the Canadian girls so pretty that he records it as a relief now
and then to see a plain one. On another page he tells how one night in
the hotel a mouse gnawed and kept him awake, and how he got up and hunted
for it, hoping to destroy it. He made a rebus picture for the children
of this incident in a letter home.
We get a glimpse just here of how he was constantly viewing himself as
literary material--human material--an example from which some literary
aspect or lesson may be drawn. Following the mouse adventure we find it
Trace Father Brebeuf all through this trip, and when I am in a rage
and can't endure the mouse be reading of Brebeuf's marvelous
endurances and be shamed.
And finally, after chasing the bright-eyed rascal several days, and
throwing things and trying to jump on him when in my overshoes, he
darts away with those same bright eyes, then straightway I read
Brebeuf's magnificent martyrdom, and turn in, subdued and wondering.
By and by the thought occurs to me, Brebeuf, with his good, great
heart would spare even that poor humble mousie--and for his sake so
will I--I will throw the trap in the fire--jump out of bed, reach
under, fetch out the trap, and find him throttled there and not two
They gave him a dinner in Montreal. Louis Frechette, the Canadian poet,
was there and Clemens addressed him handsomely in the response he made to
the speech of welcome. From that moment Frechette never ceased to adore
Mark Twain, and visited him soon after the return to Hartford.
'The Prince and the Pauper' was published in England, Canada, Germany,
and America early in December, 1881. There had been no stint of money,
and it was an extremely handsome book. The pen-and-ink drawings were
really charming, and they were lavish as to number. It was an attractive
volume from every standpoint, and it was properly dedicated "To those
good-mannered and agreeable children, Susy and Clara Clemens."
The story itself was totally unlike anything that Mark Twain had done
before. Enough of its plan and purpose has been given in former chapters
to make a synopsis of it unnecessary here. The story of the wandering
prince and the pauper king--an impressive picture of ancient legal and
regal cruelty--is as fine and consistent a tale as exists in the realm of
pure romance. Unlike its great successor, the 'Yankee at King Arthur's
Court', it never sacrifices the illusion to the burlesque, while through
it all there runs a delicate vein of humor. Only here and there is there
the slightest disillusion, and this mainly in the use of some ultra-
modern phrase or word.
Mark Twain never did any better writing than some of the splendid scenes
in 'The Prince and the Pauper'. The picture of Old London Bridge; the
scene in the vagabond's retreat, with its presentation to the little king
of the wrongs inflicted by the laws of his realm; the episode of the jail
where his revelation reaches a climax--these are but a few of the
splendid pictures which the chapters portray, while the spectacle of
England acquiring mercy at the hands of two children, a king and a
beggar, is one which only genius could create. One might quote here, but
to do so without the context would be to sacrifice atmosphere, half the
story's charm. How breathlessly interesting is the tale of it! We may
imagine that first little audience at Mark Twain's fireside hanging
expectant on every paragraph, hungry always for more. Of all Mark
Twain's longer works of fiction it is perhaps the most coherent as to
plot, the most carefully thought out, the most perfect as to workmanship.
This is not to say that it is his greatest story. Probably time will not
give it that rank, but it comes near to being a perfectly constructed
story, and it has an imperishable charm.
It was well received, though not always understood by the public. The
reviewer was so accustomed to looking for the joke in Mark Twain's work,
that he found it hard to estimate this new product. Some even went so
far as to refer to it as one of Mark Twain's big jokes, meaning probably
that he had created a chapter in English history with no foundation
beyond his fancy. Of course these things pained the author of the book.
At one time, he had been inclined to publish it anonymously, to avert
this sort of misunderstanding, and sometimes now he regretted not having
Yet there were many gratifying notices. The New York Herald reviewer
gave the new book two columns of finely intelligent appreciation. In
part he said:
To those who have followed the career of Mark Twain, his appearance
as the author of a charming and noble romance is really no more of a
surprise than to see a stately structure risen upon sightly ground
owned by an architect of genius, with the resources of abundant
building material and ample training at command. Of his capacity
they have had no doubt, and they rejoice in his taking a step which
they felt he was able to take. Through all his publications may be
traced the marks of the path which half led up to this happy height.
His humor has often been the cloak, but not the mask, of a sturdy
purpose. His work has been characterized by a manly love of truth,
a hatred of humbug, and a scorn for cant. A genial warmth and
whole-souledness, a beautiful fancy, a fertile imagination, and a
native feeling for the picturesque and a fine eye for color have
afforded the basis of a style which has become more and more plastic
And in closing:
The characters of these two boys, twins in spirit, will rank with
the purest and loveliest creations of child-life in the realm of
CERTAIN ATTACKS AND REPRISALS
Beyond the publication of The Prince and the Pauper Clemens was sparingly
represented in print in '81. A chapter originally intended for the book,
the "Whipping Boy's Story," he gave to the Bazaar Budget, a little
special-edition sheet printed in Hartford. It was the story of the 'Bull
and the Bees' which he later adapted for use in Joan of Arc, the episode
in which Joan's father rides a bull to a funeral. Howells found that it
interfered with the action in the story of the Prince, and we might have
spared it from the story of Joan, though hardly without regret.
The military story "A Curious Episode" was published in the Century
Magazine for November. The fact that Clemens had heard, and not
invented, the story was set forth quite definitely and fully in his
opening paragraphs. Nevertheless, a "Captious Reader" thought it
necessary to write to a New York publication concerning its origin:
I am an admirer of the writings of Mr. Mark Twain, and consequently,
when I saw the table of contents of the November number of the
Century, I bought it and turned at once to the article bearing his
name, and entitled, "A Curious Episode." When I began to read it,
it struck me as strangely familiar, and I soon recognized the story
as a true one, told me in the summer of 1878 by an officer of the
United States artillery. Query: Did Mr. Twain expect the public to
credit this narrative to his clever brain?
The editor, seeing a chance for Mark Twain "copy," forwarded a clipping
to Clemens and asked him if he had anything to say in the matter.
Clemens happened to know the editor very well, and he did have something
to say, not for print, but for the editor's private ear.
The newspaper custom of shooting a man in the back and then calling
upon him to come out in a card and prove that he was not engaged in
any infamy at the time is a good enough custom for those who think
it justifiable. Your correspondent is not stupid, I judge, but
purely and simply malicious. He knew there was not the shadow of a
suggestion, from the beginning to the end of "A Curious Episode,"
that the story was an invention; he knew he had no warrant for
trying to persuade the public that I had stolen the narrative and
was endeavoring to palm it off as a piece of literary invention; he
also knew that he was asking his closing question with a base
motive, else he would have asked it of me by letter, not spread it
before the public.
I have never wronged you in any way, and I think you had no right to
print that communication; no right, neither any excuse. As to
publicly answering that correspondent, I would as soon think of
bandying words in public with any other prostitute.
The editor replied in a manly, frank acknowledgment of error. He had not
looked up the article itself in the Century before printing the
"Your letter has taught me a lesson," he said. "The blame belongs
to me for not hunting up the proofs. Please accept my apology."
Mark Twain was likely to be peculiarly sensitive to printed innuendos.
Not always. Sometimes he would only laugh at them or be wholly
indifferent. Indeed, in his later years, he seldom cared to read
anything about himself, one way or the other, but at the time of which we
are now writing--the period of the early eighties--he was alive to any
comment of the press. His strong sense of humor, and still stronger
sense of human weakness, caused him to overlook many things which another
might regard as an affront; but if the thing printed were merely an
uncalled-for slur, an inexcusable imputation, he was inclined to rage and
plan violence. Sometimes he conceived retribution in the form of libel
suits with heavy damages. Sometimes he wrote blasting answers, which
Mrs. Clemens would not let him print.
At one time he planned a biography of a certain editor who seemed to be
making a deliberate personal campaign against his happiness. Clemens had
heard that offending items were being printed in this man's paper;
friends, reporting with customary exaggeration, declared that these
sneers and brutalities appeared almost daily, so often as to cause
This was enough. He promptly began to collect data--damaging data--
relating to that editor's past history. He even set a man to work in
England collecting information concerning his victim. One of his
notebooks contains the memoranda; a few items will show how terrific was
to be the onslaught.
When the naturalist finds a new kind of animal, he writes him up in
the interest of science. No matter if it is an unpleasant animal.
This is a new kind of animal, and in the cause of society must be
written up. He is the polecat of our species . . . . He is
purely and simply a Guiteau with the courage left out . . . .
Steel portraits of him as a sort of idiot, from infancy up--to a
dozen scattered through the book--all should resemble him.
But never mind the rest. When he had got thoroughly interested in his
project Mrs. Clemens, who had allowed the cyclone to wear itself out a
little with its own vehemence, suggested that perhaps it would be well to
have some one make an examination of the files of the paper and see just
what had been said of him. So he subscribed for the paper himself and
set a man to work on the back numbers. We will let him tell the
conclusion of the matter himself, in his report of it to Howells:
The result arrived from my New York man this morning. Oh, what a
pitiable wreck of high hopes! The "almost daily" assaults for two
months consist of (1) adverse criticism of P. & P. from an enraged
idiot in the London Athenaeum, (2) paragraphs from some indignant
Englishman in the Pall Mall Gazette, who pays me the vast compliment
of gravely rebuking some imaginary ass who has set me up in the
neighborhood of Rabelais, (3) a remark about the Montreal dinner,
touched with an almost invisible satire, and, (4) a remark about
refusal of Canadian copyright, not complimentary, but not
necessarily malicious; and of course adverse criticism which is not
malicious is a thing which none but fools irritate themselves about.
There, that is the prodigious bugaboo in its entirety! Can you
conceive of a man's getting himself into a sweat over so diminutive
a provocation? I am sure I can't. What the devil can those friends
of mine have been thinking about to spread those three or four
harmless things out into two months of daily sneers and affronts?
Boiled down, this vast outpouring of malice amounts to simply this:
one jest (one can make nothing more serious than that out of it).
One jest, and that is all; for foreign criticisms do not count, they
being matters of news, and proper for publication in anybody's
newspaper . . . .
Well, my mountain has brought forth its mouse, and a sufficiently
small mouse it is, God knows. And my three weeks' hard work has got
to go into the ignominious pigeonhole. Confound it, I could have
earned ten thousand dollars with infinitely less trouble.
Howells refers to this episode, and concludes:
So the paper was acquitted and the editor's life was spared. The
wretch never, never knew how near he was to losing it, with
incredible preliminaries of obloquy, and a subsequent devotion to
To write a detailed biography of Mark Twain at this period would be to
defy perusal. Even to set down all the interesting matters, interesting
to the public of his time, would mean not only to exhaust the subject,
but the reader. He lived at the top of his bent, and almost anything
relating to him was regarded as news. Daily and hourly he mingled with
important matters or spoke concerning them. A bare list of the
interesting events of Mark Twain's life would fill a large volume.
He was so busy, so deeply interested himself, so vitally alive to every
human aspect. He read the papers through, and there was always enough to
arouse his indignation--the doings of the human race at large could be
relied upon to do that--and he would write, and write, to relieve
himself. His mental Niagara was always pouring away, turning out
articles, essays, communications on every conceivable subject, mainly
with the idea of reform. There were many public and private abuses, and
he wanted to correct them all. He covered reams of paper with lurid
heresies--political, religious, civic--for most of which there was no
hope of publication.
Now and then he was allowed to speak out: An order from the Past-office
Department at Washington concerning the superscription of envelopes
seemed to him unwarranted. He assailed it, and directly the nation was
being entertained by a controversy between Mark Twain and the Postmaster-
General's private secretary, who subsequently receded from the field.
At another time, on the matter of postage rates he wrote a paper which
began: "Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member
of Congress. But I repeat myself."
It is hardly necessary to add that the paper did not appear.
On the whole, Clemens wrote his strictures more for relief than to print,
and such of these papers as are preserved to-day form a curious
collection of human documents. Many of them could be printed to-day,
without distress to any one. The conditions that invited them are
changed; the heresies are not heresies any more. He may have had some
thought of their publication in later years, for once he wrote:
Sometimes my feelings are so hot that I have to take the pen and put
them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside; then
all that ink and labor are wasted because I can't print the result.
I have just finished an article of this kind, and it satisfies me
entirely. It does my weather-beaten soul good to read it, and
admire the trouble it would make for me and the family. I will
leave it behind and utter it from the grave. There is a free speech
there, and no harm to the family.
It is too late and too soon to print most of these things; too late to
print them for their salutary influence, too soon to print them as
He was interested in everything: in music, as little as he knew of it.
He had an ear for melody, a dramatic vision, and the poetic conception of
sound. Reading some lilting lyric, he could fancy the words marching to
melody, and would cast about among his friends for some one who could
supply a tuneful setting. Once he wrote to his friend the Rev. Dr.
Parker, who was a skilled musician, urging him to write a score for
Tennyson's "Bugle Song," outlining an attractive scheme for it which the
order of his fancy had formulated. Dr. Parker replied that the "Bugle
Song," often attempted, had been the despair of many musicians.
He was interested in business affairs. Already, before the European
trip, he had embarked in, and disembarked from, a number of pecuniary
ventures. He had not been satisfied with a strictly literary income.
The old tendency to speculative investment, acquired during those
restless mining days, always possessed him. There were no silver mines
in the East, no holes in the ground into which to empty money and effort;
but there were plenty of equivalents--inventions, stock companies, and
the like. He had begun by putting five thousand dollars into the
American Publishing Company; but that was a sound and profitable venture,
and deserves to be remembered for that reason.
Then a man came along with a patent steam generator which would save
ninety per cent. of the fuel energy, or some such amount, and Mark Twain
was early persuaded that it would revolutionize the steam manufactures of
the world; so he put in whatever bank surplus he had and bade it a
Following the steam generator came a steam pulley, a rather small
contrivance, but it succeeded in extracting thirty-two thousand dollars
from his bank account in a period of sixteen months.
By the time he had accumulated a fresh balance, a new method of marine
telegraphy was shown him, so he used it up on that, twenty-five thousand
dollars being the price of this adventure.
A watch company in western New York was ready to sell him a block of
shares by the time he was prepared to experiment again, but it did not
quite live to declare the first dividend on his investment.
Senator John P. Jones invited him to join in the organization of an
accident insurance company, and such was Jones's confidence in the
venture that he guaranteed Clemens against loss. Mark Twain's only
profit from this source was in the delivery of a delicious speech, which
he made at a dinner given to Cornelius Walford, of London, an insurance
author of repute. Jones was paying back the money presently, and about
that time came a young inventor named Graham Bell, offering stock in a
contrivance for carrying the human voice on an electric wire. At almost
any other time Clemens would eagerly have welcomed this opportunity; but
he was so gratified at having got his money out of the insurance venture
that he refused to respond to the happy "hello" call of fortune. In some
memoranda made thirty years later he said:
I declined. I said I didn't want anything more to do with wildcat
speculation. Then he [Bell] offered the stock to me at twenty-five. I
said I didn't want it at any price. He became eager; insisted that I
take five hundred dollars' worth. He said he would sell me as much as I
wanted for five hundred dollars; offered to let me gather it up in my
hands and measure it in a plug hat; said I could have a whole hatful for
five hundred dollars. But I was the burnt child, and I resisted all
these temptations-resisted them easily; went off with my check intact,
and next day lent five thousand of it, on an unendorsed note, to a friend
who was going to go bankrupt three days later.
About the end of the year I put up a telephone wire from my house down to
the Courant office, the only telephone wire in town, and the first one
that was ever used in a private house in the world.
That had been only a little while before he sailed for Europe. When he
returned he would have been willing to accept a very trifling interest in
the telephone industry for the amount of his insurance salvage.
He had a fresh interest in patents now, and when his old friend Dan Slote
got hold of a new process for engraving--the kaolatype or "chalk-plate"
process--which was going to revolutionize the world of illustration, he
promptly acquired a third interest, and eventually was satisfied with
nothing short of control. It was an ingenious process: a sheet of
perfectly smooth steel was coated with a preparation of kaolin (or china
clay), and a picture was engraved through the coating down to the steel
surface. This formed the matrix into which the molten metal was poured
to make the stereotype plate, or die, for printing. It was Clemens's
notion that he could utilize this process for the casting of brass dies
for stamping book covers--that, so applied, the fortunes to be made out
of it would be larger and more numerous. Howells tells how, at one time,
Clemens thought the "damned human race" was almost to be redeemed by a
process of founding brass without air-bubbles in it. This was the time
referred to and the race had to go unredeemed; for, after long, worried,
costly experimenting, the brass refused to accommodate its nature to the
new idea, while the chalk plate itself, with all its subsidiary and
auxiliary possibilities, was infringed upon right and left, and the
protecting patent failed to hold. The process was doomed, in any case.
It was barely established before the photographic etching processes,
superior in all ways, were developed and came quickly into use. The
kaolatype enterprise struggled nobly for a considerable period. Clemens
brought his niece's husband, young Charles L. Webster, from Fredonia to
manage it for him, and backed it liberally. Webster was vigorous, hard-
working, and capable; but the end of each month showed a deficit, until
Clemens was from forty to fifty thousand dollars out of pocket in his
effort to save the race with chalk and brass. The history of these
several ventures (and there were others), dismissed here in a few
paragraphs, would alone make a volume not without interest, certainly not
without humor. Following came the type-setting machine, but we are not
ready for that. Of necessity it is a longer, costlier story.
Mrs. Clemens did not share his enthusiasm in these various enterprises.
She did not oppose them, at least not strenuously, but she did not
encourage them. She did not see their need. Their home was beautiful;
they were happy; he could do his work in deliberation and comfort. She
knew the value of money better than he, cared more for it in her own way;
but she had not his desire to heap up vast and sudden sums, to revel in
torrential golden showers. She was willing to let well enough alone.
Clemens could not do this, and suffered accordingly. In the midst of
fair home surroundings and honors we find him writing to his mother:
Life has come to be a very serious matter with me. I have a
badgered, harassed feeling a good part of my time. It comes mainly
from business responsibilities and annoyances.
He had no moral right to be connected with business at all. He had a
large perception of business opportunity, but no vision of its
requirements--its difficulties and details. He was the soul of honor,
but in anything resembling practical direction he was but a child.
During any period of business venture he was likely to be in hot water:
eagerly excited, worried, impatient; alternately suspicious and over-
trusting, rash, frenzied, and altogether upset.
Yet never, even to the end of his days, would he permanently lose faith
in speculative ventures. Human traits are sometimes modified, but never
eliminated. The man who is born to be a victim of misplaced confidence
will continue to be one so long as he lives and there are men willing to
victimize him. The man who believes in himself as an investor will
uphold that faith against all disaster so long as he draws breath and has
money to back his judgments.
FINANCIAL AND LITERARY
By a statement made on the 1st of January, 1882, of Mark Twain's
disbursements for the preceding year, it is shown that considerably more
than one hundred thousand dollars had been expended during that twelve
months. It is a large sum for an author to pay out in one year. It
would cramp most authors to do it, and it was not the best financing,
even for Mark Twain. It required all that the books could earn, all the
income from the various securities, and a fair sum from their principal.
There is a good deal of biography in the statement. Of the amount
expended forty-six thousand dollars represented investments; but of this
comfortable sum less than five thousand dollars would cover the
legitimate purchases; the rest had gone in the "ventures" from whose
bourne no dollar would ever return. Also, a large sum had been spent for
the additional land and for improvements on the home--somewhat more than
thirty thousand dollars altogether--while the home life had become more
lavish, the establishment had grown each year to a larger scale, the
guests and entertainments had become more and, more numerous, until the
actual household expenditure required about as much as the books and
securities could earn.
It was with the increased scale of living that Clemens had become
especially eager for some source of commercial profit; something that
would yield a return, not in paltry thousands, but hundreds of thousands.
Like Colonel Sellers, he must have something with "millions in it."
Almost any proposition that seemed to offer these possible millions
appealed to him, and in his imagination he saw the golden freshet pouring
His natural taste was for a simple, inexpensive life; yet in his large
hospitality, and in a certain boyish love of grandeur, he gloried in the
splendor of his entertainment, the admiration and delight of his guests.
There were always guests; they were coming and going constantly. Clemens
used to say that he proposed to establish a bus line between their house
and the station for the accommodation of his company. He had the
Southern hospitality. Much company appealed to a very large element in
his strangely compounded nature. For the better portion of the year he
was willing to pay the price of it, whether in money or in endurance, and
Mrs. Clemens heroically did her part. She loved these things also, in
her own way. She took pride in them, and realized that they were a part
of his vast success. Yet in her heart she often longed for the simpler
life--above all, for the farm life at Elmira. Her spirit cried out for
the rest and comfort there. In one of her letters she says:
The house has been full of company, and I have been "whirled
around." How can a body help it? Oh, I cannot help sighing for the
peace and quiet of the farm. This is my work, and I know that I do
very wrong when I feel chafed by it, but how can I be right about
it? Sometimes it seems as if the simple sight of people would drive
me mad. I am all wrong; if I would simply accept the fact that this
is my work and let other things go, I know I should not be so
fretted; but I want so much to do other things, to study and do
things with the children, and I cannot.
I have the best French teacher that I ever had, and if I could give
any time to it I could not help learning French.
When we reflect on the conditions, we are inclined to say how much better
it would have been to have remained there among the hills in that quiet,
inexpensive environment, to have let the world go. But that was not
possible. The game was of far larger proportions than any that could be
restricted to the limits of retirement and the simpler round of life.
Mark Twain's realm had become too large for his court to be established
in a cottage.
It is hard to understand that in spite of a towering fame Mark Twain was
still not regarded by certain American arbiters of reputations as a
literary fixture; his work was not yet recognized by them as being of
important meaning and serious purport.
In Boston, at that time still the Athens of America, he was enjoyed,
delighted in; but he was not honored as being quite one of the elect.
Howells tells us that:
In proportion as people thought themselves refined they questioned
that quality which all recognize in him now, but which was then the
inspired knowledge of the simple-hearted multitude.
Even at the Atlantic dinners his place was "below the salt"--a place of
honor, but not of the greatest honor. He did not sit on the dais with
Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, Howells, and Aldrich. We of a
later period, who remember him always as the center of every board--the
one supreme figure, his splendid head and crown of silver hair the target
of every eye-find it hard to realize the Cambridge conservatism that clad
him figuratively always in motley, and seated him lower than the throne
Howells clearly resented this condition, and from random review corners
had ventured heresy. Now in 1882 he seems to have determined to declare
himself, in a large, free way, concerning his own personal estimate of
Mark Twain. He prepared for the Century Magazine a biographical
appreciation, in which he served notice to the world that Mark Twain's
work, considered even as literature, was of very considerable importance
indeed. Whether or not Howells then realized the "inspired knowledge of
the multitude," and that most of the nation outside of the counties of
Suffolk and Essex already recognized his claim, is not material. Very
likely he did; but he also realized the mental dusk of the cultured
uninspired and his prerogative to enlighten them. His Century article
was a kind of manifesto, a declaration of independence, no longer
confined to the obscurities of certain book notices, where of course one
might be expected to stretch friendly favor a little for a popular
Atlantic contributor. In the open field of the Century Magazine Howells
ventured to declare:
Mark Twain's humor is as simple in form and as direct as the
statesmanship of Lincoln or the generalship of Grant.
When I think how purely and wholly American it is I am a little
puzzled at its universal acceptance . . . . Why, in fine, should
an English chief-justice keep Mark Twain's books always at hand?
Why should Darwin have gone to them for rest and refreshment at
midnight, when spent with scientific research?
I suppose that Mark Twain transcends all other American humorists in
the universal qualities. He deals very little with the pathetic,
which he nevertheless knows very well how to manage, as he has
shown, notably in the true story of the old slave-mother; but there
is a poetic lift in his work, even when he permits you to recognize
it only as something satirized. There is always the touch of
nature, the presence of a sincere and frank manliness in what he
says, the companionship of a spirit which is at once delightfully
open and deliciously shrewd. Elsewhere I have tried to persuade the
reader that his humor is, at its best, the foamy break of the strong
tide of earnestness in him. But it would be limiting him unjustly
to describe him as a satirist, and it is hardly practicable to
establish him in people's minds as a moralist; he has made them
laugh too long; they will not believe him serious; they think some
joke is always intended. This is the penalty, as Dr. Holmes has
pointed out, of making one's first success as a humorist. There was
a paper of Mark Twain's printed in the Atlantic Monthly some years
ago and called, "The Facts Concerning the Late Carnival of Crime in
Connecticut," which ought to have won popular recognition of the
ethical intelligence underlying his humor. It was, of course,
funny; but under the fun it was an impassioned study of the human
conscience. Hawthorne or Bunyan might have been proud to imagine
that powerful allegory, which had a grotesque force far beyond
either of them.... Yet it quite failed of the response I had hoped
for it, and I shall not insist here upon Mark Twain as a moralist;
though I warn the reader that if he leaves out of the account an
indignant sense of right and wrong, a scorn of all affectations and
pretense, an ardent hate of meanness and injustice, he will come
infinitely short of knowing Mark Twain.
Howells realized the unwisdom and weakness of dogmatic insistence, and
the strength of understatement. To him Mark Twain was already the
moralist, the philosopher, and the statesman; he was willing that the
reader should take his time to realize these things. The article, with
his subject's portrait as a frontispiece, appeared in the Century for
September, 1882. If it carried no new message to many of its readers, it
at least set the stamp of official approval upon what they had already
established in their hearts.
DOWN THE RIVER
Osgood was doing no great things with The Prince and the Pauper, but
Clemens gave him another book presently, a collection of sketches--The
Stolen White Elephant. It was not an especially important volume, though
some of the features, such as "Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning" and the
"Carnival of Crime," are among the best of their sort, while the
"Elephant" story is an amazingly good take-off on what might be called
the spectacular detective. The interview between Inspector Blunt and the
owner of the elephant is typical. The inspector asks:
"Now what does this elephant eat, and how much?"
"Well, as to what he eats--he will eat anything. He will eat a man,
he will eat a Bible; he will eat anything between a man and a
"Good-very good, indeed, but too general. Details are necessary;
details are the only valuable thing in our trade. Very well, as to
men. At one meal--or, if you prefer, during one day--how many men
will he eat if fresh?"
"He would not care whether they were fresh or not; at a single meal
he would eat five ordinary men."
"Very good; five men. We will put that down. What nationalities
would he prefer?"
"He is indifferent about nationalities. He prefers acquaintances,
but is not prejudiced against strangers."
"Very good. Now, as to Bibles. How many Bibles would he eat at a
"He would eat an entire edition."
Clemens and Osgood had a more important publishing enterprise on hand.
The long-deferred completion of the Mississippi book was to be
accomplished; the long-deferred trip down the river was to be taken.
Howells was going abroad, but the charming Osgood was willing to make the
excursion, and a young man named Roswell Phelps, of Hartford, was engaged
as a stenographer to take the notes.
Clemens made a farewell trip to Boston to see Howells before his
departure, and together they went to Concord to call on Emerson; a
fortunate thing, for he lived but a few weeks longer. They went again in
the evening, not to see him, but to stand reverently outside and look at
his house. This was in April. Longfellow had died in March. The fact
that Howells was going away indefinitely, made them reminiscent and sad.
Just what breach Clemens committed during this visit is not remembered
now, and it does not matter; but his letter to Howells, after his return
to Hartford, makes it pretty clear that it was memorable enough at the
time. Half-way in it he breaks out:
But oh, hell, there is no hope for a person that is built like me,
because there is no cure, no cure.
If I could only know when I have committed a crime: then I could
conceal it, and not go stupidly dribbling it out, circumstance by
circumstance, into the ears of a person who will give no sign till
the confession is complete; and then the sudden damnation drops on a
body like the released pile-driver, and he finds himself in the
earth down to his chin. When he merely supposed he was being
Next day he was off with Osgood and the stenographer for St. Louis, where
they took the steamer Gold Dust down the river. He intended to travel
under an assumed name, but was promptly recognized, both at the Southern
Hotel and on the boat. In 'Life on the Mississippi' he has given us the
atmosphere of his trip, with his new impressions of old scenes; also his
first interview with the pilot, whom he did not remember, but who easily
"I did not write that story in the book quite as it happened," he
reflected once, many years later. "We went on board at night. Next
morning I was up bright and early and out on deck to see if I could
recognize any of the old landmarks. I could not remember any. I did not
know where we were at all. It was a new river to me entirely. I climbed
up in the pilot-house and there was a fellow of about forty at the wheel.
I said 'Good morning.' He answered pleasantly enough. His face was
entirely strange to me. Then I sat down on the high seat back of the
wheel and looked out at the river and began to ask a few questions, such
as a landsman would ask. He began, in the old way, to fill me up with
the old lies, and I enjoyed letting him do it. Then suddenly he turned
round to me and said:
"'I want to get a cup of coffee. You hold her, will you, till I come
back?' And before I could say a word he was out of the pilot-house door
and down the steps. It all came so suddenly that I sprang to the wheel,
of course, as I would have done twenty years before. Then in a moment I
realized my position. Here I was with a great big steamboat in the
middle of the Mississippi River, without any further knowledge than that
fact, and the pilot out of sight. I settled my mind on three
conclusions: first, that the pilot might be a lunatic; second, that he
had recognized me and thought I knew the river; third, that we were in a
perfectly safe place, where I could not possibly kill the steamboat. But
that last conclusion, though the most comforting, was an extremely
doubtful one. I knew perfectly well that no sane pilot would trust his
steamboat for a single moment in the hands of a greenhorn unless he were
standing by the greenhorn's side. Of course, by force of habit, when I
grabbed the wheel, I had taken the steering marks ahead and astern, and I
made up my mind to hold her on those marks to the hair; but I could feel
myself getting old and gray. Then all at once I recognized where we
were; we were in what is called the Grand Chain--a succession of hidden
rocks, one of the most dangerous places on the river. There were two
rocks there only about seventy feet apart, and you've got to go exactly
between them or wreck the boat. There was a time when I could have done
it without a tremor, but that time wasn't now. I would have given any
reasonable sum to have been on the shore just at that moment. I think I
was about ready to drop dead when I heard a step on the pilothouse stair;
then the door opened and the pilot came in, quietly picking his teeth,
and took the wheel, and I crawled weakly back to the seat. He said:
"'You thought you were playing a nice joke on me, didn't you? You
thought I didn't know who you were. Why, I recognized that drawl of
yours as soon as you opened your mouth.'
"I said, 'Who the h--l are you? I don't remember you.'
"'Well,' he said, 'perhaps you don't, but I was a cub pilot on the
river before the war, when you were a licensed pilot, and I couldn't get
a license when I was qualified for one, because the Pilots' Association
was so strong at that time that they could keep new pilots out if they
wanted to, and the law was that I had to be examined by two licensed
pilots, and for a good while I could not get any one to make that
examination. But one day you and another pilot offered to do it, and you
put me through a good, healthy examination and indorsed my application
for a license. I had never seen you before, and I have never seen you
since until now, but I recognized you.'
"'All right,' I said. 'But if I had gone half a mile farther with that
steamboat we might have all been at the bottom of the river.'
"We got to be good friends, of course, and I spent most of my time up
there with him. When we got down below Cairo, and there was a big, full
river--for it was highwater season and there was no danger of the boat
hitting anything so long as she kept in the river--I had her most of the
time on his watch. He would lie down and sleep, and leave me there to
dream that the years had not slipped away; that there had been no war, no
mining days, no literary adventures; that I was still a pilot, happy and
care-free as I had been twenty years before."
From the book we gather that he could not keep out of the pilot-house.
He was likely to get up at any hour of the night to stand his watch, and
truly enough the years had slipped away. He was the young fellow in his
twenties again, speculating on the problems of existence and reading his
fortune in the stars. To heighten the illusion, he had himself called
regularly with the four-o'clock watch, in order not to miss the mornings.
--[It will repay the reader to turn to chap. xxx of Life on the
Mississippi, and consider Mark Twain's word-picture of the river
The majesty and solitude of the river impressed him more than ever
before, especially its solitude. It had been so full of life in his
time; now it had returned once more to its primal loneliness--the
loneliness of God.
At one place two steamboats were in sight at once an unusual spectacle.
Once, in the mouth of a river, he noticed a small boat, which he made out
to be the Mark Twain. There had been varied changes in twenty-one years;
only the old fascination of piloting remained unchanged. To Bixby
afterward he wrote:
"I'd rather be a pilot than anything else I've ever done in my life. How
do you run Plum Point?"
He met Bixby at New Orleans. Bixby was captain now on a splendid new
Anchor Line steamboat, the City of Baton Rouge. The Anchor Line steamers
were the acme of Mississippi River steamboat-building, and they were
about the end of it. They were imposingly magnificent, but they were
only as gorgeous clouds that marked the sunset of Mississippi steamboat
travel. Mark Twain made his trip down the river just in time.
In New Orleans he met George W. Cable and Joel Chandler Harris, and they
had a fraternizing good time together, mousing about the old French
Quarter or mingling with the social life of the modern city. He made a
trip with Bixby in a tug to the Warmouth plantation, and they reviewed
old days together, as friends parted for twenty-one years will.
Altogether the New Orleans sojourn was a pleasant one, saddened only by a
newspaper notice of the death, in Edinburgh, of the kindly and gentle and
beloved Dr. Brown.
Clemens arranged to make the trip up the river on the Baton Rouge. Bixby
had one pretty inefficient pilot, and stood most of the watches himself,
so that with "Sam Clemens" in the pilot-house with him, it was
wonderfully like those old first days of learning the river, back in the
"Sam was ever making notes in his memorandum-book, just as he always
did," said Bixby to the writer, recalling the time. "I was sorry I had
to stay at the wheel so much. I wanted to have more time with Sam
without thinking of the river at all. Sam was sorry, too, from what he
wrote after he got home."
Bixby produced a letter in the familiar handwriting. It was a tender,
I didn't see half enough of you. It was a sore disappointment.
Osgood could have told you, if he would--discreet old dog--I
expected to have you with me all the time. Altogether, the most
pleasant part of my visit with you was after we arrived in St.
Louis, and you were your old natural self again. Twenty years have
not added a month to your age or taken a fraction from your
Said Bixby: "When we arrived in St. Louis we came to the Planters' Hotel;
to this very table where you and I are sitting now, and we had a couple
of hot Scotches between us, just as we have now, and we had a good last
talk over old times and old acquaintances. After he returned to New York
he sent for my picture. He wanted to use it in his book."
At St. Louis the travelers changed boats, and proceeded up the
Mississippi toward St. Paul. Clemens laid off three days at Hannibal.
Delightful days [he wrote home]. Loitering around all day long,
examining the old localities, and talking with the gray heads who were
boys and girls with me thirty or forty years ago. I spent my nights with
John and Helen Garth, three miles from town, in their spacious and
beautiful house. They were children with me, and afterward schoolmates.
That world which I knew in its blooming youth is old and bowed and
melancholy now; its soft cheeks are leathery and withered, the fire has
gone out of its eyes, the spring from its step. It will be dust and
ashes when I come again.
He had never seen the far upper river, and he found it very satisfying.
His note-book says:
The bluffs all along up above St. Paul are exquisitely beautiful
where the rough and broken turreted rocks stand up against the sky
above the steep, verdant slopes. They are inexpressibly rich and
mellow in color; soft dark browns mingled with dull greens--the very
tints to make an artist worship.
In a final entry he wrote:
The romance of boating is gone now. In Hannibal the steamboat man is no
longer the god.
LITERATURE AND PHILOSOPHY
Clemens took a further step toward becoming a publisher on his own
account. Not only did he contract to supply funds for the Mississippi
book, but, as kaolatype, the chalk-engraving process, which had been
lingeringly and expensively dying, was now become merely something to
swear at, he had his niece's husband, Webster, installed as Osgood's New
York subscription manager, with charge of the general agencies. There
was no delay in this move. Webster must get well familiarized with the
work before the Mississippi book's publication.
He had expected to have the manuscript finished pretty promptly, but the
fact that he had promised it for a certain time paralyzed his effort.
Even at the farm he worked without making much headway. At the end of
October he wrote Howells:
The weather turned cold, and we had to rush home, while I still
lacked thirty thousand words. I had been sick and got delayed. I
am going to write all day and two-thirds of the night until the
thing is done or break down at it. The spur and burden of the
contract are intolerable to me. I can endure the irritation of it
no longer. I went to work at nine o'clock yesterday morning and
went to bed an hour after midnight. Result of the day (mainly
stolen from books though credit given), 9,500 words, so I reduced my
burden by one-third in one day. It was five days' work in one. I
have nothing more to borrow or steal; the rest must all be written.
It is ten days' work and unless something breaks it will be finished
He had sworn once, when he had finally finished 'A Tramp Abroad', that he
would never limit himself as to time again. But he had forgotten that
vow, and was suffering accordingly.
Howells wrote from London urging him to drop everything and come over to
Europe for refreshment.
We have seen lots of nice people, and have been most pleasantly made
of; but I would rather have you smoke in my face and talk for half a
day, just for pleasure, than to go to the best house or club in
Yes, it would be more profitable to me to do that because, with your
society to help me, I should swiftly finish this now apparently
interminable book. But I cannot come, because I am not boss here,
and nothing but dynamite can move Mrs. Clemens away from home in the
This was in November, and he had broken all restrictions as to time. He
declared that he had never had such a fight over any book before, and
that he had told Osgood and everybody concerned that they must wait.
I have said with sufficient positiveness that I will finish the book
at no particular date; that I will not hurry it; that I will not
hurry myself; that I will take things easy and comfortably--write
when I choose to write, leave it alone when I do so prefer . . .
I have got everything at a dead standstill, and that is where it
ought to be, and that is where it must remain; to follow any other
policy would be to make the book worse than it already is. I ought
to have finished it before showing it to anybody, and then sent it
across the ocean to you to be edited, as usual; for you seem to be a
great many shades happier than you deserve to be, and if I had
thought of this thing earlier I would have acted upon it and taken
the tuck somewhat out of your joyousness.
It was a long, heartfelt letter. Near the end of it he said:
Cable has been here, creating worshipers on all hands. He is a
marvelous talker on a deep subject. I do not see how even Spencer
could unwind a thought more smoothly or orderly, and do it in
cleaner, clearer, crisper English. He astounded Twichell with his
faculty. You know that when it comes down to moral honesty, limpid
innocence, and utterly blemishless piety, the apostles were mere
policemen to Cable; so with this in mind you must imagine him at a
midnight dinner in Boston the other night, where we gathered around
the board of the Summerset Club: Osgood full, Boyle O'Reilly full,
Fairchild responsively loaded, and Aldrich and myself possessing the
floor and properly fortified. Cable told Mrs. Clemens, when he
returned here, that he seemed to have been entertaining himself with
horses, and had a dreamy idea that he must have gone to Boston in a
cattle-car. It was a very large time. He called it an orgy. And
no doubt it was, viewed from his standpoint.
Osgood wanted Mark Twain to lecture that fall, as preliminary advertising
for the book, with "Life on the Mississippi" as his subject. Osgood was
careful to make this proposition by mail, and probably it was just as
well; for if there was any single straw that could have broken the back
of Clemens's endurance and made him violent at this particular time, it
was a proposition to go back on the platform. His answer to Osgood has
not been preserved.
Clemens spoke little that winter. In February he addressed the Monday
Evening Club on "What is Happiness?" presenting a theory which in later
years he developed as a part of his "gospel," and promulgated in a
privately printed volume, 'What is Man'? It is the postulate already
mentioned in connection with his reading of Lecky, that every human
action, bad or good, is the result of a selfish impulse; that is to say,
the result of a desire for the greater content of spirit. It is not a