Part 9 out of 16
rascality of Ward. General Grant was utterly ruined; he was left
without income and apparently without the means of earning one. It
was the period when the great War Series was appeasing in the
Century Magazine. General Grant, hard-pressed, was induced by the
editors to prepare one or more articles, and, finding that he could
write them, became interested in the idea of a book. It is
unnecessary to repeat here the story of how the publication of this
important work passed into the hands of Mark Twain; that is to say,
the firm of Charles L. Webster & Co., the details having been fully
given elsewhere.--[See Mark Twain: A Biography, chap. cliv.]--
We will now return for the moment to other matters, as reported in
order by the letters. Clemens and Cable had continued their
reading-tour into Canada, and in February found themselves in
Montreal. Here they were invited by the Toque Bleue Snow-shoe Club
to join in one of their weekly excursions across Mt. Royal. They
could not go, and the reasons given by Mark Twain are not without
interest. The letter is to Mr. George Iles, author of Flame,
Electricity, and the Camera, and many other useful works.
To George Iles, far the Toque Blew Snow-shoe Club,
DETROIT, February 12, 1885.
MY DEAR ILES,--I got your other telegram a while ago, and answered it,
explaining that I get only a couple of hours in the middle of the day for
social life. I know it doesn't seem rational that a man should have to
lie abed all day in order to be rested and equipped for talking an hour
at night, and yet in my case and Cable's it is so. Unless I get a great
deal of rest, a ghastly dulness settles down upon me on the platform, and
turns my performance into work, and hard work, whereas it ought always to
be pastime, recreation, solid enjoyment. Usually it is just this latter,
but that is because I take my rest faithfully, and prepare myself to do
my duty by my audience.
I am the obliged and appreciative servant of my brethren of the Snow-shoe
Club, and nothing in the world would delight me more than to come to
their house without naming time or terms on my own part--but you see how
it is. My cast iron duty is to my audience--it leaves me no liberty and
With kindest regards to the Club, and to you,
I am Sincerely yours
S. L. CLEMENS.
In the next letter we reach the end of the Clemens-Cable venture and
get a characteristic summing up of Mark Twain's general attitude
toward the companion of his travels. It must be read only in the
clear realization of Mark Twain's attitude toward orthodoxy, and his
habit of humor. Cable was as rigidly orthodox as Mark Twain was
revolutionary. The two were never anything but the best of friends.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
PHILADA. Feb. 27, '85.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--To-night in Baltimore, to-morrow afternoon and night in
Washington, and my four-months platform campaign is ended at last. It
has been a curious experience. It has taught me that Cable's gifts of
mind are greater and higher than I had suspected. But--
That "But" is pointing toward his religion. You will never, never know,
never divine, guess, imagine, how loathsome a thing the Christian
religion can be made until you come to know and study Cable daily and
hourly. Mind you, I like him; he is pleasant company; I rage and swear
at him sometimes, but we do not quarrel; we get along mighty happily
together; but in him and his person I have learned to hate all religions.
He has taught me to abhor and detest the Sabbath-day and hunt up new and
troublesome ways to dishonor it.
Nat Goodwin was on the train yesterday. He plays in Washington all the
coming week. He is very anxious to get our Sellers play and play it
under changed names. I said the only thing I could do would be to write
to you. Well, I've done it.
Clemens and Webster were often at the house of General Grant during
these early days of 1885, and it must have been Webster who was
present with Clemens on the great occasion described in the
following telegram. It was on the last day and hour of President
Arthur's administration that the bill was passed which placed
Ulysses S. Grant as full General with full pay on the retired list,
and it is said that the congressional clock was set back in order
that this enactment might become a law before the administration
changed. General Grant had by this time developed cancer and was
already in feeble health.
Telegram to Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:
NEW YORK, Mar. 4, 1885.
To MRS. S. L. CLEMENS, We were at General Grant's at noon and a telegram
arrived that the last act of the expiring congress late this morning
retired him with full General's rank and accompanying emoluments. The
effect upon him was like raising the dead. We were present when the
telegram was put in his hand.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Something has been mentioned before of Mark Twain's investments and
the generally unprofitable habit of them. He had a trusting nature,
and was usually willing to invest money on any plausible
recommendation. He was one of thousands such, and being a person of
distinction he now and then received letters of inquiry, complaint,
or condolence. A minister wrote him that he had bought some stocks
recommended by a Hartford banker and advertised in a religious
paper. He added, "After I made that purchase they wrote me that you
had just bought a hundred shares and that you were a 'shrewd' man."
The writer closed by asking for further information. He received
it, as follows:
To the Rev. J----, in Baltimore:
WASHINGTON, Mch. 2,'85.
MY DEAR SIR,--I take my earliest opportunity to answer your favor of Feb.
B---- was premature in calling me a "shrewd man." I wasn't one at that
time, but am one now--that is, I am at least too shrewd to ever again
invest in anything put on the market by B----. I know nothing whatever
about the Bank Note Co., and never did know anything about it. B----
sold me about $4,000 or $5,000 worth of the stock at $110, and I own it
yet. He sold me $10,000 worth of another rose-tinted stock about the
same time. I have got that yet, also. I judge that a peculiarity of
B----'s stocks is that they are of the staying kind. I think you should
have asked somebody else whether I was a shrewd man or not for two
reasons: the stock was advertised in a religious paper, a circumstance
which was very suspicious; and the compliment came to you from a man who
was interested to make a purchaser of you. I am afraid you deserve your
loss. A financial scheme advertised in any religious paper is a thing
which any living person ought to know enough to avoid; and when the
factor is added that M. runs that religious paper, a dead person ought to
know enough to avoid it.
Very Truly Yours
S. L. CLEMENS.
The story of Huck Finn was having a wide success. Webster handled
it skillfully, and the sales were large. In almost every quarter
its welcome was enthusiastic. Here and there, however, could be
found an exception; Huck's morals were not always approved of by
library reading-committees. The first instance of this kind was
reported from Concord; and would seem not to have depressed the
To Chas. L. Webster, in New York:
Mch 18, '85.
DEAR CHARLEY,--The Committee of the Public Library of Concord, Mass, have
given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the
country. They have expelled Huck from their library as "trash and
suitable only for the slums." That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure.
S. L. C.
Perhaps the Concord Free Trade Club had some idea of making amends
to Mark Twain for the slight put upon his book by their librarians,
for immediately after the Huck Finn incident they notified him of
his election to honorary membership.
Those were the days of "authors' readings," and Clemens and Howells
not infrequently assisted at these functions, usually given as
benefits of one kind or another. From the next letter, written
following an entertainment given for the Longfellow memorial, we
gather that Mark Twain's opinion of Howells's reading was steadily
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, May 5, '85.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--.....Who taught you to read? Observation and thought,
I guess. And practice at the Tavern Club?--yes; and that was the best
teaching of all:
Well, you sent even your daintiest and most delicate and fleeting points
home to that audience--absolute proof of good reading. But you couldn't
read worth a damn a few years ago. I do not say this to flatter. It is
true I looked around for you when I was leaving, but you had already
Alas, Osgood has failed at last. It was easy to see that he was on the
very verge of it a year ago, and it was also easy to see that he was
still on the verge of it a month or two ago; but I continued to hope--but
not expect that he would pull through. The Library of Humor is at his
dwelling house, and he will hand it to you whenever you want it.
To save it from any possibility of getting mixed up in the failure,
perhaps you had better send down and get it. I told him, the other day,
that an order of any kind from you would be his sufficient warrant for
its delivery to you.
In two days General Grant has dictated 50 pages of foolscap, and thus the
Wilderness and Appomattox stand for all time in his own words. This
makes the second volume of his book as valuable as the first.
He looks mighty well, these latter days.
"I am exceedingly glad," wrote Howells, "that you approve of my
reading, for it gives me some hope that I may do something on the
platform next winter..... but I would never read within a hundred
miles of you, if I could help it. You simply straddled down to the
footlights and took that house up in the hollow of your hand and
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, July 21, 1885.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--You are really my only author; I am restricted to you,
I wouldn't give a damn for the rest.
I bored through Middlemarch during the past week, with its labored and
tedious analyses of feelings and motives, its paltry and tiresome people,
its unexciting and uninteresting story, and its frequent blinding flashes
of single-sentence poetry, philosophy, wit, and what not, and nearly died
from the overwork. I wouldn't read another of those books for a farm.
I did try to read one other--Daniel Deronda. I dragged through three
chapters, losing flesh all the time, and then was honest enough to quit,
and confess to myself that I haven't any romance literature appetite, as
far as I can see, except for your books.
But what I started to say, was, that I have just read Part II of Indian
Summer, and to my mind there isn't a waste line in it, or one that could
be improved. I read it yesterday, ending with that opinion; and read it
again to-day, ending with the same opinion emphasized. I haven't read
Part I yet, because that number must have reached Hartford after we left;
but we are going to send down town for a copy, and when it comes I am to
read both parts aloud to the family. It is a beautiful story, and makes
a body laugh all the time, and cry inside, and feel so old and so
forlorn; and gives him gracious glimpses of his lost youth that fill him
with a measureless regret, and build up in him a cloudy sense of his
having been a prince, once, in some enchanted far-off land, and of being
an exile now, and desolate--and Lord, no chance ever to get back there
again! That is the thing that hurts. Well, you have done it with
marvelous facility and you make all the motives and feelings perfectly
clear without analyzing the guts out of them, the way George Eliot does.
I can't stand George Eliot and Hawthorne and those people; I see what
they are at a hundred years before they get to it and they just tire me
to death. And as for "The Bostonians," I would rather be damned to John
Bunyan's heaven than read that.
It is as easy to understand Mark Twain's enjoyment of Indian Summer
as his revolt against Daniel Deronda and The Bostonians. He cared
little for writing that did not convey its purpose in the simplest
and most direct terms. It is interesting to note that in thanking
Clemens for his compliment Howells wrote: "What people cannot see is
that I analyze as little as possible; they go on talking about the
analytical school, which I am supposed to belong to, and I want to
thank you for using your eyes..... Did you ever read De Foe's
'Roxana'? If not, then read it, not merely for some of the deepest
insights into the lying, suffering, sinning, well-meaning human
soul, but for the best and most natural English that a book was ever
General Grant worked steadily on his book, dictating when he could,
making brief notes on slips of paper when he could no longer speak.
Clemens visited him at Mt. McGregor and brought the dying soldier
the comforting news that enough of his books were already sold to
provide generously for his family, and that the sales would
aggregate at least twice as much by the end of the year.
This was some time in July. On the 23d of that month General Grant
died. Immediately there was a newspaper discussion as to the most
suitable place for the great chieftain to lie. Mark Twain's
contribution to this debate, though in the form of an open letter,
seems worthy of preservation here.
To the New York "Sun," on the proper place for Grant's Tomb:
To THE EDITOR OP' THE SUN:--SIR,--The newspaper atmosphere is charged
with objections to New York as a place of sepulchre for General Grant,
and the objectors are strenuous that Washington is the right place. They
offer good reasons--good temporary reasons--for both of these positions.
But it seems to me that temporary reasons are not mete for the occasion.
We need to consider posterity rather than our own generation. We should
select a grave which will not merely be in the right place now, but will
still be in the right place 500 years from now.
How does Washington promise as to that? You have only to hit it in one
place to kill it. Some day the west will be numerically strong enough to
move the seat of government; her past attempts are a fair warning that
when the day comes she will do it. Then the city of Washington will lose
its consequence and pass out of the public view and public talk. It is
quite within the possibilities that, a century hence, people would wonder
and say, "How did your predecessors come to bury their great dead in this
But as long as American civilisation lasts New York will last. I cannot
but think she has been well and wisely chosen as the guardian of a grave
which is destined to become almost the most conspicuous in the world's
history. Twenty centuries from now New York will still be New York,
still a vast city, and the most notable object in it will still be the
tomb and monument of General Grant.
I observe that the common and strongest objection to New York is that she
is not "national ground." Let us give ourselves no uneasiness about
that. Wherever General Grant's body lies, that is national ground.
S. L. CLEMENS.
ELMIRA, July 27.
The letter that follows is very long, but it seems too important and
too interesting to be omitted in any part. General Grant's early
indulgence in liquors had long been a matter of wide, though not
very definite, knowledge. Every one had heard how Lincoln, on being
told that Grant drank, remarked something to the effect that he
would like to know what kind of whisky Grant used so that he might
get some of it for his other generals. Henry Ward Beecher, selected
to deliver a eulogy on the dead soldier, and doubtless wishing
neither to ignore the matter nor to make too much of it, naturally
turned for information to the publisher of Grant's own memoirs,
hoping from an advance copy to obtain light.
To Henry Ward Beecher,.Brooklyn:
ELMIRA, N. Y. Sept. 11, '85.
MY DEAR MR. BEECHER,--My nephew Webster is in Europe making contracts for
the Memoirs. Before he sailed he came to me with a writing, directed to
the printers and binders, to this effect:
"Honor no order for a sight or copy of the Memoirs while I am absent,
even though it be signed by Mr. Clemens himself."
I gave my permission. There were weighty reasons why I should not only
give my permission, but hold it a matter of honor to not dissolve the
order or modify it at any time. So I did all of that--said the order
should stand undisturbed to the end. If a principal could dissolve his
promise as innocently as he can dissolve his written order unguarded by
his promise, I would send you a copy of the Memoirs instantly. I did not
foresee you, or I would have made an exception.
My idea gained from army men, is that the drunkenness (and sometimes
pretty reckless spreeing, nights,) ceased before he came East to be Lt.
General. (Refer especially to Gen. Wm. B. Franklin--[If you could see
Franklin and talk with him--then he would unbosom,]) It was while Grant
was still in the West that Mr. Lincoln said he wished he could find out
what brand of whisky that fellow used, so he could furnish it to some of
the other generals. Franklin saw Grant tumble from his horse drunk,
while reviewing troops in New Orleans. The fall gave him a good deal of
a hurt. He was then on the point of leaving for the Chattanooga region.
I naturally put "that and that together" when I read Gen. O. O. Howards's
article in the Christian Union, three or four weeks ago--where he
mentions that the new General arrived lame from a recent accident.
(See that article.) And why not write Howard?
Franklin spoke positively of the frequent spreeing. In camp--in time of
Captain Grant was frequently threatened by the Commandant of his Oregon
post with a report to the War Department of his conduct unless he
modified his intemperance. The report would mean dismissal from the
service. At last the report had to be made out; and then, so greatly was
the captain beloved, that he was privately informed, and was thus enabled
to rush his resignation to Washington ahead of the report. Did the
report go, nevertheless? I don't know. If it did, it is in the War
Department now, possibly, and seeable. I got all this from a regular
army man, but I can't name him to save me.
The only time General Grant ever mentioned liquor to me was about last
April or possibly May. He said:
"If I could only build up my strength! The doctors urge whisky and
champagne; but I can't take them; I can't abide the taste of any kind of
Had he made a conquest so complete that even the taste of liquor was
become an offense? Or was he so sore over what had been said about his
habit that he wanted to persuade others and likewise himself that he
hadn't even ever had any taste for it? It sounded like the latter, but
that's no evidence.
He told me in the fall of '84 that there was something the matter with
his throat, and that at the suggestion of his physicians he had reduced
his smoking to one cigar a day. Then he added, in a casual fashion, that
he didn't care for that one, and seldom smoked it.
I could understand that feeling. He had set out to conquer not the habit
but the inclination--the desire. He had gone at the root, not the trunk.
It's the perfect way and the only true way (I speak from experience.)
How I do hate those enemies of the human race who go around enslaving
God's free people with pledges--to quit drinking instead of to quit
wanting to drink.
But Sherman and Van Vliet know everything concerning Grant; and if you
tell them how you want to use the facts, both of them will testify.
Regular army men have no concealments about each other; and yet they make
their awful statements without shade or color or malice with a frankness
and a child-like naivety, indeed, which is enchanting-and stupefying.
West Point seems to teach them that, among other priceless things not to
be got in any other college in this world. If we talked about our guild-
mates as I have heard Sherman, Grant, Van Vliet and others talk about
theirs--mates with whom they were on the best possible terms--we could
never expect them to speak to us again.
I am reminded, now, of another matter. The day of the funeral I sat an
hour over a single drink and several cigars with Van Vliet and Sherman
and Senator Sherman.; and among other things Gen. Sherman said, with
"The idea of all this nonsense about Grant not being able to stand rude
language and indelicate stories! Why Grant was full of humor, and full
of the appreciation of it. I have sat with him by the hour listening to
Jim Nye's yarns, and I reckon you know the style of Jim Nye's histories,
Clemens. It makes me sick--that newspaper nonsense. Grant was no namby-
pamby fool, he was a man--all over--rounded and complete."
I wish I had thought of it! I would have said to General Grant: "Put
the drunkenness in the Memoirs--and the repentance and reform. Trust the
But I will wager there is not a hint in the book. He was sore, there.
As much of the book as I have read gives no hint, as far as I recollect.
The sick-room brought out the points of Gen. Grant's character--some of
them particularly, to wit:
His patience; his indestructible equability of temper; his exceeding
gentleness, kindness, forbearance, lovingness, charity; his loyalty: to
friends, to convictions, to promises, half-promises, infinitesimal
fractions and shadows of promises; (There was a requirement of him which
I considered an atrocity, an injustice, an outrage; I wanted to implore
him to repudiate it; Fred Grant said, "Save your labor, I know him; he is
in doubt as to whether he made that half-promise or not--and, he will
give the thing the benefit of the doubt; he will fulfill that half-
promise or kill himself trying;" Fred Grant was right--he did fulfill
it;) his aggravatingly trustful nature; his genuineness, simplicity,
modesty, diffidence, self-depreciation, poverty in the quality of vanity-
and, in no contradiction of this last, his simple pleasure in the flowers
and general ruck sent to him by Tom, Dick and Harry from everywhere--a
pleasure that suggested a perennial surprise that he should be the object
of so much fine attention--he was the most lovable great child in the
world; (I mentioned his loyalty: you remember Harrison, the colored body-
servant? the whole family hated him, but that did not make any
difference, the General always stood at his back, wouldn't allow him to
be scolded; always excused his failures and deficiencies with the one
unvarying formula, "We are responsible for these things in his race--it
is not fair to visit our fault upon them--let him alone;" so they did let
him alone, under compulsion, until the great heart that was his shield
was taken away; then--well they simply couldn't stand him, and so they
were excusable for determining to discharge him--a thing which they
mortally hated to do, and by lucky accident were saved from the necessity
of doing;) his toughness as a bargainer when doing business for other
people or for his country (witness his "terms" at Donelson, Vicksburg,
etc.; Fred Grant told me his father wound up an estate for the widow and
orphans of a friend in St. Louis--it took several years; at the end every
complication had been straightened out, and the property put upon a
prosperous basis; great sums had passed through his hands, and when he
handed over the papers there were vouchers to show what had been done
with every penny) and his trusting, easy, unexacting fashion when doing
business for himself (at that same time he was paying out money in
driblets to a man who was running his farm for him--and in his first
Presidency he paid every one of those driblets again (total, $3,000 F.
said,) for he hadn't a scrap of paper to show that he had ever paid them
before; in his dealings with me he would not listen to terms which would
place my money at risk and leave him protected--the thought plainly gave
him pain, and he put it from him, waved it off with his hands, as one
does accounts of crushings and mutilations--wouldn't listen, changed the
subject;) and his fortitude! He was under, sentence of death last
spring; he sat thinking, musing, several days--nobody knows what about;
then he pulled himself together and set to work to finish that book,
a colossal task for a dying man. Presently his hand gave out; fate
seemed to have got him checkmated. Dictation was suggested. No, he
never could do that; had never tried it; too old to learn, now. By and
by--if he could only do Appomattox-well. So he sent for a stenographer,
and dictated 9,000 words at a single sitting!--never pausing, never
hesitating for a word, never repeating--and in the written-out copy he
made hardly a correction. He dictated again, every two or three days--
the intervals were intervals of exhaustion and slow recuperation--and at
last he was able to tell me that he had written more matter than could be
got into the book. I then enlarged the book--had to. Then he lost his
voice. He was not quite done yet, however:--there was no end of little
plums and spices to be stuck in, here and there; and this work he
patiently continued, a few lines a day, with pad and pencil, till far
into July, at Mt. McGregor. One day he put his pencil aside, and said
he was done--there was nothing more to do. If I had been there I could
have foretold the shock that struck the world three days later.
Well, I've written all this, and it doesn't seem to amount to anything.
But I do want to help, if I only could. I will enclose some scraps from
my Autobiography--scraps about General Grant--they may be of some trifle
of use, and they may not--they at least verify known traits of his
character. My Autobiography is pretty freely dictated, but my idea is to
jack-plane it a little before I die, some day or other; I mean the rude
construction and rotten grammar. It is the only dictating I ever did,
and it was most troublesome and awkward work. You may return it to
S. L. CLEMENS.
The old long-deferred Library of Humor came up again for discussion,
when in the fall of 1885 Howells associated himself with Harper &
Brothers. Howells's contract provided that his name was not to
appear on any book not published by the Harper firm. He wrote,
therefore, offering to sell out his interest in the enterprise for
two thousand dollars, in addition to the five hundred which he had
already received--an amount considered to be less than he was to
have received as joint author and compiler. Mark Twain's answer
pretty fully covers the details of this undertaking.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 18, 1885.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I reckon it would ruin the book that is, make it
necessary to pigeon-hole it and leave it unpublished. I couldn't publish
it without a very responsible name to support my own on the title page,
because it has so much of my own matter in it. I bought Osgood's rights
for $3,000 cash, I have paid Clark $800 and owe him $700 more, which must
of course be paid whether I publish or not. Yet I fully recognize that I
have no sort of moral right to let that ancient and procrastinated
contract hamper you in any way, and I most certainly won't. So, it is my
decision,--after thinking over and rejecting the idea of trying to buy
permission of the Harpers for $2,500 to use your name, (a proposition
which they would hate to refuse to a man in a perplexed position, and yet
would naturally have to refuse it,) to pigeon-hole the "Library": not
destroy it, but merely pigeon-hole it and wait a few years and see what
new notion Providence will take concerning it. He will not desert us
now, after putting in four licks to our one on this book all this time.
It really seems in a sense discourteous not to call it "Providence's
Library of Humor."
Now that deal is all settled, the next question is, do you need and must
you require that $2,000 now? Since last March, you know, I am carrying a
mighty load, solitary and alone--General Grant's book--and must carry it
till the first volume is 30 days old (Jan. 1st) before the relief money
will begin to flow in. From now till the first of January every dollar
is as valuable to me as it could be to a famishing tramp. If you can
wait till then--I mean without discomfort, without inconvenience--it will
be a large accommodation to me; but I will not allow you to do this favor
if it will discommode you. So, speak right out, frankly, and if you need
the money I will go out on the highway and get it, using violence, if
Mind, I am not in financial difficulties, and am not going to be. I am
merely a starving beggar standing outside the door of plenty--obstructed
by a Yale time-lock which is set for Jan. 1st. I can stand it, and stand
it perfectly well; but the days do seem to fool along considerable slower
than they used to.
I am mighty glad you are with the Harpers. I have noticed that good men
in their employ go there to stay.
In the next letter we begin to get some idea of the size of Mark
Twain's first publishing venture, and a brief summary of results may
not be out of place here.
The Grant Life was issued in two volumes. In the early months of
the year when the agents' canvass was just beginning, Mark Twain,
with what seems now almost clairvoyant vision, prophesied a sale of
three hundred thousand sets. The actual sales ran somewhat more
than this number. On February 27, 1886, Charles L. Webster & Co.
paid to Mrs. Grant the largest single royalty check in the history
of book-publishing. The amount of it was two hundred thousand
dollars. Subsequent checks increased the aggregate return to
considerably more than double this figure. In a memorandum made by
Clemens in the midst of the canvass he wrote."
"During 100 consecutive days the sales (i. e., subscriptions) of
General Grant's book averaged 3,000 sets (6,000 single volumes) per
day: Roughly stated, Mrs. Grant's income during all that time was
$5,000 a day."
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
NEW YORK, Dec. 2, '85.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--I told Webster, this afternoon, to send you that
$2,000; but he is in such a rush, these first days of publication, that
he may possibly forget it; so I write lest I forget it too. Remind me,
if he should forget. When I postponed you lately, I did it because I
thought I should be cramped for money until January, but that has turned
out to be an error, so I hasten to cut short the postponement.
I judge by the newspapers that you are in Auburndale, but I don't know it
I've got the first volume launched safely; consequently, half of the
suspense is over, and I am that much nearer the goal. We've bound and
shipped 200,000 books; and by the 10th shall finish and ship the
remaining 125,000 of the first edition. I got nervous and came down to
help hump-up the binderies; and I mean to stay here pretty much all the
time till the first days of March, when the second volume will issue.
Shan't have so much trouble, this time, though, if we get to press pretty
soon, because we can get more binderies then than are to be had in front
of the holidays. One lives and learns. I find it takes 7 binderies four
months to bind 325,000 books.
This is a good book to publish. I heard a canvasser say, yesterday, that
while delivering eleven books he took 7 new subscriptions. But we shall
be in a hell of a fix if that goes on--it will "ball up" the binderies
November 30th that year was Mark Twain's fiftieth birthday, an event
noticed by the newspapers generally, and especially observed by many
of his friends. Warner, Stockton and many others sent letters;
Andrew Lang contributed a fine poem; also Oliver Wendell. Holmes--
the latter by special request of Miss Gilder--for the Critic. These
attentions came as a sort of crowning happiness at the end of a
golden year. At no time in his life were Mark Twain's fortunes and
prospects brighter; he had a beautiful family and a perfect home.
Also, he had great prosperity. The reading-tour with Cable had been
a fine success. His latest book, The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, had added largely to his fame and income. The publication of
the Grant Memoirs had been a dazzling triumph. Mark Twain had
become recognized, not only as America's most distinguished author,
but as its most envied publisher. And now, with his fiftieth
birthday, had come this laurel from Holmes, last of the Brahmins, to
add a touch of glory to all the rest. We feel his exaltation in his
note of acknowledgment.
To Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in Boston:
DEAR MR. HOLMES,--I shall never be able to tell you the half of how proud
you have made me. If I could you would say you were nearly paid for the
trouble you took. And then the family: If I can convey the electrical
surprise and gratitude and exaltation of the wife and the children last
night, when they happened upon that Critic where I had, with artful
artlessness, spread it open and retired out of view to see what would
happen--well, it was great and fine and beautiful to see, and made me
feel as the victor feels when the shouting hosts march by; and if you
also could have seen it you would have said the account was squared. For
I have brought them up in your company, as in the company of a warm and
friendly and beneficent but far-distant sun; and so, for you to do this
thing was for the sun to send down out of the skies the miracle of a
special ray and transfigure me before their faces. I knew what that poem
would be to them; I knew it would raise me up to remote and shining
heights in their eyes, to very fellowship with the chambered Nautilus
itself, and that from that fellowship they could never more dissociate me
while they should live; and so I made sure to be by when the surprise
Charles Dudley Warner is charmed with the poem for its own felicitous
sake; and so indeed am I, but more because it has drawn the sting of my
fiftieth year; taken away the pain of it, the grief of it, the somehow
shame of it, and made me glad and proud it happened.
With reverence and affection,
S. L. CLEMENS.
Holmes wrote with his own hand: "Did Miss Gilder tell you I had
twenty-three letters spread out for answer when her suggestion came
about your anniversary? I stopped my correspondence and made my
letters wait until the lines were done."
MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS 1886-1900
ARRANGED WITH COMMENT BY ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE
LETTERS, 1886-87. JANE CLEMENS'S ROMANCE. UNMAILED LETTERS, ETC.
When Clemens had been platforming with Cable and returned to
Hartford for his Christmas vacation, the Warner and Clemens families
had joined in preparing for him a surprise performance of The Prince
and the Pauper. The Clemens household was always given to
theatricals, and it was about this time that scenery and a stage
were prepared--mainly by the sculptor Gerhardt--for these home
performances, after which productions of The Prince and the Pauper
were given with considerable regularity to audiences consisting of
parents and invited friends. The subject is a fascinating one, but
it has been dwelt upon elsewhere.--[In Mark Twain: A Biography,
chaps. cliff and clx.]--We get a glimpse of one of these occasions
as well as of Mark Twain's financial progress in the next brief
To W. D. Howells; in Boston:
Jan. 3, '86.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--The date set for the Prince and Pauper play is ten
days hence--Jan. 13. I hope you and Pilla can take a train that arrives
here during the day; the one that leaves Boston toward the end of the
afternoon would be a trifle late; the performance would have already
begun when you reached the house.
I'm out of the woods. On the last day of the year I had paid out
$182,000 on the Grant book and it was totally free from debt.
Mark Twain's mother was a woman of sturdy character and with a keen
sense of humor and tender sympathies. Her husband, John Marshall
Clemens, had been a man of high moral character, honored by all who
knew him, respected and apparently loved by his wife. No one would
ever have supposed that during all her years of marriage, and almost
to her death, she carried a secret romance that would only be told
at last in the weary disappointment of old age. It is a curious
story, and it came to light in this curious way:
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, May 19, '86.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--..... Here's a secret. A most curious and pathetic
romance, which has just come to light. Read these things, but don't
mention them. Last fall, my old mother--then 82--took a notion to attend
a convention of old settlers of the Mississippi Valley in an Iowa town.
My brother's wife was astonished; and represented to her the hardships
and fatigues of such a trip, and said my mother might possibly not even
survive them; and said there could be no possible interest for her in
such a meeting and such a crowd. But my mother insisted, and persisted;
and finally gained her point. They started; and all the way my mother
was young again with excitement, interest, eagerness, anticipation. They
reached the town and the hotel. My mother strode with the same eagerness
in her eye and her step, to the counter, and said:
"Is Dr. Barrett of St. Louis, here?"
"No. He was here, but he returned to St. Louis this morning."
"Will he come again?"
My mother turned away, the fire all gone from her, and said, "Let us go
They went straight back to Keokuk. My mother sat silent and thinking for
many days--a thing which had never happened before. Then one day she
"I will tell you a secret. When I was eighteen, a young medical student
named Barrett lived in Columbia (Ky.) eighteen miles away; and he used to
ride over to see me. This continued for some time. I loved him with my
whole heart, and I knew that he felt the same toward me, though no words
had been spoken. He was too bashful to speak--he could not do it.
Everybody supposed we were engaged--took it for granted we were--but we
were not. By and by there was to be a party in a neighboring town, and
he wrote my uncle telling him his feelings, and asking him to drive me
over in his buggy and let him (Barrett) drive me back, so that he might
have that opportunity to propose. My uncle should have done as he was
asked, without explaining anything to me; but instead, he read me the
letter; and then, of course, I could not go--and did not. He (Barrett)
left the country presently, and I, to stop the clacking tongues, and to
show him that I did not care, married, in a pet. In all these sixty-four
years I have not seen him since. I saw in a paper that he was going to
attend that Old Settlers' Convention. Only three hours before we reached
that hotel, he had been standing there!"
Since then, her memory is wholly faded out and gone; and now she writes
letters to the school-mates who had been dead forty years, and wonders
why they neglect her and do not answer.
Think of her carrying that pathetic burden in her old heart sixty-four
years, and no human being ever suspecting it!
We do not get the idea from this letter that those two long ago
sweethearts quarreled, but Mark Twain once spoke of their having done so,
and there may have been a disagreement, assuming that there was a
subsequent meeting. It does not matter, now. In speaking of it, Mark
Twain once said: "It is as pathetic a romance as any that has crossed the
field of my personal experience in a long lifetime."--[When Mark Twain:
A Biography was written this letter had not come to light, and the matter
was stated there in accordance with Mark Twain's latest memory of it.]
Howells wrote: "After all, how poor and hackneyed all the inventions are
compared with the simple and stately facts. Who could have imagined such
a heart-break as that? Yet it went along with the fulfillment of
everyday duty and made no more noise than a grave under foot. I doubt if
fiction will ever get the knack of such things."
Jane Clemens now lived with her son Orion and his wife, in Keokuk, where
she was more contented than elsewhere. In these later days her memory
had become erratic, her realization of events about her uncertain, but
there were times when she was quite her former self, remembering clearly
and talking with her old-time gaiety of spirit. Mark Twain frequently
sent her playful letters to amuse her, letters full of such boyish gaiety
as had amused her long years before. The one that follows is a fair
example. It was written after a visit which Clemens and his family had
paid to Keokuk.
To Jane Clemens, in Keokuk:
ELMIRA, Aug. 7, '86.
DEAR MA,--I heard that Molly and Orion and Pamela had been sick, but I
see by your letter that they are much better now, or nearly well. When
we visited you a month ago, it seemed to us that your Keokuk weather was
pretty hot; Jean and Clara sat up in bed at Mrs. McElroy's and cried
about it, and so did I; but I judge by your letter that it has cooled
down, now, so that a person is comparatively comfortable, with his skin
off. Well it did need cooling; I remember that I burnt a hole in my
shirt, there, with some ice cream that fell on it; and Miss Jenkins told
me they never used a stove, but cooked their meals on a marble-topped
table in the drawing-room, just with the natural heat. If anybody else
had told me, I would not have believed it. I was told by the Bishop of
Keokuk that he did not allow crying at funerals, because it scalded the
furniture. If Miss Jenkins had told me that, I would have believed it.
This reminds me that you speak of Dr. Jenkins and his family as if they
were strangers to me. Indeed they are not. Don't you suppose I remember
gratefully how tender the doctor was with Jean when she hurt her arm, and
how quickly he got the pain out of the hurt, whereas I supposed it was
going to last at least an hour? No, I don't forget some things as easily
as I do others.
Yes, it was pretty hot weather. Now here, when a person is going to die,
he is always in a sweat about where he is going to; but in Keokuk of
course they don't care, because they are fixed for everything. It has
set me reflecting, it has taught me a lesson. By and by, when my health
fails, I am going to put all my affairs in order, and bid good-bye to my
friends here, and kill all the people I don't like, and go out to Keokuk
and prepare for death.
They are all well in this family, and we all send love.
Affly Your Son
The ways of city officials and corporations are often past
understanding, and Mark Twain sometimes found it necessary to write
picturesque letters of protest. The following to a Hartford
lighting company is a fair example of these documents.
To a gas and electric-lighting company, in Hartford:
GENTLEMEN,--There are but two places in our whole street where lights
could be of any value, by any accident, and you have measured and
appointed your intervals so ingeniously as to leave each of those places
in the centre of a couple of hundred yards of solid darkness. When I
noticed that you were setting one of your lights in such a way that I
could almost see how to get into my gate at night, I suspected that it
was a piece of carelessness on the part of the workmen, and would be
corrected as soon as you should go around inspecting and find it out.
My judgment was right; it is always right, when you axe concerned. For
fifteen years, in spite of my prayers and tears, you persistently kept a
gas lamp exactly half way between my gates, so that I couldn't find
either of them after dark; and then furnished such execrable gas that I
had to hang a danger signal on the lamp post to keep teams from running
into it, nights. Now I suppose your present idea is, to leave us a
little more in the dark.
Don't mind us--out our way; we possess but one vote apiece, and no rights
which you are in any way bound to respect. Please take your electric
light and go to--but never mind, it is not for me to suggest; you will
probably find the way; and any way you can reasonably count on divine
assistance if you lose your bearings.
S. L. CLEMENS.
[Etext Editor's Note: Twain wrote another note to Hartford Gas and
Electric, which he may not have mailed and which Paine does not
include in these volumes:
"Gentleman:--Someday you are going to move me almost to the point
of irritation with your God-damned chuckle headed fashion of
turning off your God-damned gas without giving notice to your
God-damned parishioners--and you did it again last night--"
Frequently Clemens did not send letters of this sort after they were
written. Sometimes he realized the uselessness of such protest,
sometimes the mere writing of them had furnished the necessary
relief, and he put, the letter away, or into the wastebasket, and
wrote something more temperate, or nothing at all. A few such
letters here follow.
Clemens was all the time receiving application from people who
wished him to recommend one article or another; books, plays,
tobacco, and what not. They were generally persistent people,
unable to accept a polite or kindly denial. Once he set down some
remarks on this particular phase of correspondence. He wrote:
No doubt Mr. Edison has been offered a large interest in many and many an
electrical project, for the use of his name to float it withal. And no
doubt all men who have achieved for their names, in any line of activity
whatever, a sure market value, have been familiar with this sort of
solicitation. Reputation is a hall-mark: it can remove doubt from pure
silver, and it can also make the plated article pass for pure.
And so, people without a hall-mark of their own are always trying to get
the loan of somebody else's.
As a rule, that kind of a person sees only one side of the case. He sees
that his invention or his painting or his book is--apparently--a trifle
better than you yourself can do, therefore why shouldn't you be willing
to put your hall-mark on it? You will be giving the purchaser his full
money's worth; so who is hurt, and where is the harm? Besides, are you
not helping a struggling fellow-craftsman, and is it not your duty to do
That side is plenty clear enough to him, but he can't and won't see the
other side, to-wit: that you are a rascal if you put your hall-mark upon
a thing which you did not produce yourself, howsoever good it may be.
How simple that is; and yet there are not two applicants in a hundred who
can, be made to see it.
When one receives an application of this sort, his first emotion is an
indignant sense of insult; his first deed is the penning of a sharp
answer. He blames nobody but that other person. That person is a very
base being; he must be; he would degrade himself for money, otherwise it
would not occur to him that you would do such a thing. But all the same,
that application has done its work, and taken you down in your own
estimation. You recognize that everybody hasn't as high an opinion of
you as you have of yourself; and in spite of you there ensues an interval
during which you are not, in your own estimation as fine a bird as you
However, being old and experienced, you do not mail your sharp letter,
but leave it lying a day. That saves you. For by that time you have
begun to reflect that you are a person who deals in exaggerations--and
exaggerations are lies. You meant yours to be playful, and thought you
made them unmistakably so. But you couldn't make them playfulnesses to a
man who has no sense of the playful and can see nothing but the serious
side of things. You rattle on quite playfully, and with measureless
extravagance, about how you wept at the tomb of Adam; and all in good
time you find to your astonishment that no end of people took you at your
word and believed you. And presently they find out that you were not in
earnest. They have been deceived; therefore, (as they argue--and there
is a sort of argument in it,) you are a deceiver. If you will deceive in
one way, why shouldn't you in another? So they apply for the use of your
trade-mark. You are amazed and affronted. You retort that you are not
that kind of person. Then they are amazed and affronted; and wonder
By this time you have got your bearings. You realize that perhaps there
is a little blame on both sides. You are in the right frame, now. So
you write a letter void of offense, declining. You mail this one; you
pigeon-hole the other.
That is, being old and experienced, you do, but early in your career, you
don't: you mail the first one.
An enthusiast who had a new system of musical notation, wrote to me and
suggested that a magazine article from me, contrasting the absurdities of
the old system with the simplicities of his new one, would be sure to
make a "rousing hit." He shouted and shouted over the marvels wrought by
his system, and quoted the handsome compliments which had been paid it by
famous musical people; but he forgot to tell me what his notation was
like, or what its simplicities consisted in. So I could not have written
the article if I had wanted to--which I didn't; because I hate strangers
with axes to grind. I wrote him a courteous note explaining how busy I
was--I always explain how busy I am--and casually drooped this remark:
"I judge the X-X notation to be a rational mode of representing music, in
place of the prevailing fashion, which was the invention of an idiot."
Next mail he asked permission to print that meaningless remark.
I answered, no--courteously, but still, no; explaining that I could not
afford to be placed in the attitude of trying to influence people with a
mere worthless guess. What a scorcher I got, next mail! Such irony!
such sarcasm, such caustic praise of my superhonorable loyalty to the
public! And withal, such compassion for my stupidity, too, in not being
able to understand my own language. I cannot remember the words of this
letter broadside, but there was about a page used up in turning this idea
round and round and exposing it in different lights.
DEAR SIR,--What is the trouble with you? If it is your viscera, you
cannot have them taken out and reorganized a moment too soon. I mean,
if they are inside. But if you are composed of them, that is another
matter. Is it your brain? But it could not be your brain. Possibly it
is your skull: you want to look out for that. Some people, when they get
an idea, it pries the structure apart. Your system of notation has got
in there, and couldn't find room, without a doubt that is what the
trouble is. Your skull was not made to put ideas in, it was made to
throw potatoes at.
DEAR SIR,--Come, come--take a walk; you disturb the children.
There was a day, now happily nearly over, when certain newspapers made a
practice of inviting men distinguished in any walk of life to give their
time and effort without charge to express themselves on some subject of
the day, or perhaps they were asked to send their favorite passages in
prose or verse, with the reasons why. Such symposiums were "features"
that cost the newspapers only the writing of a number of letters,
stationery, and postage. To one such invitation Mark Twain wrote two
replies. They follow herewith:
DEAR SIR,--I have received your proposition--which you have imitated from
a pauper London periodical which had previously imitated the idea of this
sort of mendicancy from seventh-rate American journalism, where it
originated as a variation of the inexpensive "interview."
Why do you buy Associated Press dispatches? To make your paper the more
salable, you answer. But why don't you try to beg them? Why do you
discriminate? I can sell my stuff; why should I give it to you? Why
don't you ask me for a shirt? What is the difference between asking me
for the worth of a shirt and asking me for the shirt itself? Perhaps you
didn't know you were begging. I would not use that argument--it makes
the user a fool. The passage of poetry--or prose, if you will--which has
taken deepest root in my thought, and which I oftenest return to and
dwell upon with keenest no matter what, is this: That the proper place
for journalists who solicit literary charity is on the street corner with
their hats in their hands.
DEAR SIR,--Your favor of recent date is received, but I am obliged by
press of work to decline.
The manager of a traveling theatrical company wrote that he had
taken the liberty of dramatizing Tom Sawyer, and would like also the
use of the author's name--the idea being to convey to the public
that it was a Mark Twain play. In return for this slight favor the
manager sent an invitation for Mark Twain to come and see the play--
to be present on the opening night, as it were, at his (the
manager's) expense. He added that if the play should be a go in the
cities there might be some "arrangement" of profits. Apparently
these inducements did not appeal to Mark Twain. The long unmailed
reply is the more interesting, but probably the briefer one that
follows it was quite as effective.
HARTFORD, Sept. 8, '87.
DEAR SIR,--And so it has got around to you, at last; and you also have
"taken the liberty." You are No. 1365. When 1364 sweeter and better
people, including the author, have "tried" to dramatize Tom Sawyer and
did not arrive, what sort of show do you suppose you stand? That is a
book, dear sir, which cannot be dramatized. One might as well try to
dramatize any other hymn. Tom Sawyer is simply a hymn, put into prose
form to give it a worldly air.
Why the pale doubt that flitteth dim and nebulous athwart the forecastle
of your third sentence? Have no fears. Your piece will be a Go.
It will go out the back door on the first night. They've all done it
--the 1364. So will 1365. Not one of us ever thought of the simple
device of half-soling himself with a stove-lid. Ah, what suffering a
little hindsight would have saved us. Treasure this hint.
How kind of you to invite me to the funeral. Go to; I have attended a
thousand of them. I have seen Tom Sawyer's remains in all the different
kinds of dramatic shrouds there are. You cannot start anything fresh.
Are you serious when you propose to pay my expence--if that is the
Susquehannian way of spelling it? And can you be aware that I charge a
hundred dollars a mile when I travel for pleasure? Do you realize that
it is 432 miles to Susquehanna? Would it be handy for you to send me the
$43,200 first, so I could be counting it as I come along; because
railroading is pretty dreary to a sensitive nature when there's nothing
sordid to buck at for Zeitvertreib.
Now as I understand it, dear and magnanimous 1365, you are going to
recreate Tom Sawyer dramatically, and then do me the compliment to put me
in the bills as father of this shady offspring. Sir, do you know that
this kind of a compliment has destroyed people before now? Listen.
Twenty-four years ago, I was strangely handsome. The remains of it are
still visible through the rifts of time. I was so handsome that human
activities ceased as if spellbound when I came in view, and even
inanimate things stopped to look--like locomotives, and district
messenger boys and so-on. In San Francisco, in the rainy season I was
often mistaken for fair weather. Upon one occasion I was traveling in
the Sonora region, and stopped for an hour's nooning, to rest my horse
and myself. All the town came out to look. The tribes of Indians
gathered to look. A Piute squaw named her baby for me,--a voluntary
compliment which pleased me greatly. Other attentions were paid me.
Last of all arrived the president and faculty of Sonora University and
offered me the post of Professor of Moral Culture and the Dogmatic
Humanities; which I accepted gratefully, and entered at once upon my
duties. But my name had pleased the Indians, and in the deadly kindness
of their hearts they went on naming their babies after me. I tried to
stop it, but the Indians could not understand why I should object to so
manifest a compliment. The thing grew and grew and spread and spread and
became exceedingly embarrassing. The University stood it a couple of
years; but then for the sake of the college they felt obliged to call a
halt, although I had the sympathy of the whole faculty. The president
himself said to me, "I am as sorry as I can be for you, and would still
hold out if there were any hope ahead; but you see how it is: there are a
hundred and thirty-two of them already, and fourteen precincts to hear
from. The circumstance has brought your name into most wide and
unfortunate renown. It causes much comment--I believe that that is not
an over-statement. Some of this comment is palliative, but some of it
--by patrons at a distance, who only know the statistics without the
explanation,--is offensive, and in some cases even violent. Nine
students have been called home. The trustees of the college have been
growing more and more uneasy all these last months--steadily along with
the implacable increase in your census--and I will not conceal from you
that more than once they have touched upon the expediency of a change in
the Professorship of Moral Culture. The coarsely sarcastic editorial in
yesterday's Alta, headed Give the Moral Acrobat a Rest--has brought
things to a crisis, and I am charged with the unpleasant duty of
receiving your resignation."
I know you only mean me a kindness, dear 1365, but it is a most deadly
mistake. Please do not name your Injun for me. Truly Yours.
NEW YORK, Sept. 8. 1887.
DEAR SIR,--Necessarily I cannot assent to so strange a proposition. And
I think it but fair to warn you that if you put the piece on the stage,
you must take the legal consequences.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Before the days of international copyright no American author's
books were pirated more freely by Canadian publishers than those of
Mark Twain. It was always a sore point with him that these books,
cheaply printed, found their way into the United States, and were
sold in competition with his better editions. The law on the
subject seemed to be rather hazy, and its various interpretations
exasperating. In the next unmailed letter Mark Twain relieves
himself to a misguided official. The letter is worth reading today,
if for no other reason, to show the absurdity of copyright
conditions which prevailed at that time.
Unmailed Letter to H. C. Christiancy, on book Piracy:
HARTFORD, Dec. 18, '87.
H. C. CHRISTIANCY, ESQ.
DEAR SIR,--As I understand it, the position of the U. S. Government is
this: If a person be captured on the border with counterfeit bonds in his
hands--bonds of the N. Y. Central Railway, for instance--the procedure in
his case shall be as follows:
1. If the N. Y. C. have not previously filed in the several police
offices along the border, proof of ownership of the originals of the
bonds, the government officials must collect a duty on the counterfeits,
and then let them go ahead and circulate in this country.
2. But if there is proof already on file, then the N. Y. C. may pay the
duty and take the counterfeits.
But in no case will the United States consent to go without its share of
the swag. It is delicious. The biggest and proudest government on earth
turned sneak-thief; collecting pennies on stolen property, and pocketing
them with a greasy and libidinous leer; going into partnership with
foreign thieves to rob its own children; and when the child escapes the
foreigner, descending to the abysmal baseness of hanging on and robbing
the infant all alone by itself! Dear sir, this is not any more
respectable than for a father to collect toll on the forced prostitution
of his own daughter; in fact it is the same thing. Upon these terms,
what is a U. S. custom house but a "fence?" That is all it is: a
legalized trader in stolen goods.
And this nasty law, this filthy law, this unspeakable law calls itself a
"regulation for the protection of owners of copyright!" Can sarcasm go
further than that? In what way does it protect them? Inspiration itself
could not furnish a rational answer to that question. Whom does it
protect, then? Nobody, as far as I can see, but the foreign thief-
sometimes--and his fellow-footpad the U. S. government, all the time.
What could the Central Company do with the counterfeit bonds after it had
bought them of the star spangled banner Master-thief? Sell them at a
dollar apiece and fetch down the market for the genuine hundred-dollar
bond? What could I do with that 20-cent copy of "Roughing It" which the
United States has collared on the border and is waiting to release to me
for cash in case I am willing to come down to its moral level and help
rob myself? Sell it at ten or fifteen cents--duty added--and destroy the
market for the original $3,50 book? Who ever did invent that law? I
would like to know the name of that immortal jackass.
Dear sir, I appreciate your courtesy in stretching your authority in the
desire to do me a kindness, and I sincerely thank you for it. But I have
no use for that book; and if I were even starving for it I would not pay
duty on in either to get it or suppress it. No doubt there are ways in
which I might consent to go into partnership with thieves and fences,
but this is not one of them. This one revolts the remains of my self-
respect; turns my stomach. I think I could companion with a highwayman
who carried a shot-gun and took many risks; yes, I think I should like
that if I were younger; but to go in with a big rich government that robs
paupers, and the widows and orphans of paupers and takes no risk--why the
thought just gags me.
Oh, no, I shall never pay any duties on pirated books of mine. I am much
too respectable for that--yet awhile. But here--one thing that grovels
me is this: as far as I can discover--while freely granting that the
U. S. copyright laws are far and away the most idiotic that exist
anywhere on the face of the earth--they don't authorize the government to
admit pirated books into this country, toll or no toll. And so I think
that that regulation is the invention of one of those people--as a rule,
early stricken of God, intellectually--the departmental interpreters of
the laws, in Washington. They can always be depended on to take any
reasonably good law and interpret the common sense all out of it. They
can be depended on, every time, to defeat a good law, and make it
inoperative--yes, and utterly grotesque, too, mere matter for laughter
and derision. Take some of the decisions of the Post-office Department,
for instance--though I do not mean to suggest that that asylum is any
worse than the others for the breeding and nourishing of incredible
lunatics--I merely instance it because it happens to be the first to come
into my mind. Take that case of a few years ago where the P. M. General
suddenly issued an edict requiring you to add the name of the State after
Boston, New York, Chicago, &c, in your superscriptions, on pain of having
your letter stopped and forwarded to the dead-letter office; yes, and I
believe he required the county, too. He made one little concession in
favor of New York: you could say "New York City," and stop there; but if
you left off the "city," you must add "N. Y." to your "New York." Why,
it threw the business of the whole country into chaos and brought
commerce almost to a stand-still. Now think of that! When that man goes
to--to--well, wherever he is going to--we shan't want the microscopic
details of his address. I guess we can find him.
Well, as I was saying, I believe that this whole paltry and ridiculous
swindle is a pure creation of one of those cabbages that used to be at
the head of one of those Retreats down there--Departments, you know--and
that you will find it so, if you will look into it. And moreover--but
land, I reckon we are both tired by this time.
MISCELLANEOUS LETTERS OF 1887. LITERARY ARTICLES. PEACEFUL DAYS AT THE
FARM. FAVORITE READING. APOLOGY TO MRS. CLEVELAND, ETC.
We have seen in the preceding chapter how unknown aspirants in one field
or another were always seeking to benefit by Mark Twain's reputation.
Once he remarked, "The symbol of the human race ought to be an ax; every
human being has one concealed about him somewhere." He declared when a
stranger called on him, or wrote to him, in nine cases out of ten he
could distinguish the gleam of the ax almost immediately. The following
letter is closely related to those of the foregoing chapter, only that
this one was mailed--not once, but many times, in some form adapted to
the specific applicant. It does not matter to whom it was originally
written, the name would not be recognized.
To Mrs. T. Concerning unearned credentials, etc.
MY DEAR MADAM,--It is an idea which many people have had, but it is of no
value. I have seen it tried out many and many a time. I have seen a
lady lecturer urged and urged upon the public in a lavishly complimentary
document signed by Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes and some others of
supreme celebrity, but--there was nothing in her and she failed. If
there had been any great merit in her she never would have needed those
men's help and (at her rather mature age,) would never have consented to
ask for it.
There is an unwritten law about human successes, and your sister must bow
to that law, she must submit to its requirements. In brief this law is:
1. No occupation without an apprenticeship.
2. No pay to the apprentice.
This law stands right in the way of the subaltern who wants to be a
General before he has smelt powder; and it stands (and should stand) in
everybody's way who applies for pay or position before he has served his
apprenticeship and proved himself. Your sister's course is perfectly
plain. Let her enclose this letter to Maj. J. B. Pond, and offer to
lecture a year for $10 a week and her expenses, the contract to be
annullable by him at any time, after a month's notice, but not annullable
by her at all. The second year, he to have her services, if he wants
them, at a trifle under the best price offered her by anybody else.
She can learn her trade in those two years, and then be entitled to
remuneration--but she can not learn it in any less time than that, unless
she is a human miracle.
Try it, and do not be afraid. It is the fair and right thing. If she
wins, she will win squarely and righteously, and never have to blush.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Howells wrote, in February, offering to get a publisher to take the
Library of Humor off Mark Twain's hands. Howells had been paid
twenty-six hundred dollars for the work on it, and his conscience
hurt him when he reflected that the book might never be used. In
this letter he also refers to one of the disastrous inventions in
which Clemens had invested--a method of casting brass dies for
stamping book-covers and wall-paper. Howells's purpose was to
introduce something of the matter into his next story. Mark Twain's
reply gives us a light on this particular invention.
HARTFORD, Feb. 15, '87.
DEAR HOWELLS,--I was in New York five days ago, and Webster mentioned the
Library, and proposed to publish it a year or a year and half hence.
I have written him your proposition to-day. (The Library is part of the
property of the C. L. W. & Co. firm.)
I don't remember what that technical phrase was, but I think you will
find it in any Cyclopedia under the head of "Brass." The thing I best
remember is, that the self-styled "inventor" had a very ingenious way of
keeping me from seeing him apply his invention: the first appointment was
spoiled by his burning down the man's shop in which it was to be done,
the night before; the second was spoiled by his burning down his own shop
the night before. He unquestionably did both of these things. He really
had no invention; the whole project was a blackmailing swindle, and cost
me several thousand dollars.
The slip you sent me from the May "Study" has delighted Mrs. Clemens and
me to the marrow. To think that thing might be possible to many; but to
be brave enough to say it is possible to you only, I certainly believe.
The longer I live the clearer I perceive how unmatchable, how
unapproachable, a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the
courage (to utter) his convictions." Haven't you had reviewers talk Alps
to you, and then print potato hills?
I haven't as good an opinion of my work as you hold of it, but I've
always done what I could to secure and enlarge my good opinion of it.
I've always said to myself, "Everybody reads it and that's something--it
surely isn't pernicious, or the most acceptable people would get pretty
tired of it." And when a critic said by implication that it wasn't high
and fine, through the remark "High and fine literature is wine" I
retorted (confidentially, to myself,) "yes, high and fine literature is
wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water."
You didn't tell me to return that proof-slip, so I have pasted it into my
private scrap-book. None will see it there. With a thousand thanks.
Our next letter is an unmailed answer, but it does not belong with
the others, having been withheld for reasons of quite a different
sort. Jeanette Gilder, then of the Critic, was one of Mark Twain's
valued friends. In the comment which he made, when it was shown to
him twenty-two years later, he tells us why he thinks this letter
was not sent. The name, "Rest-and-be-Thankful," was the official
title given to the summer place at Elmira, but it was more often
known as "Quarry Farm."
To Jeannette Gilder (not mailed):
HARTFORD, May 14, '87.
MY DEAR MISS GILDER,--We shall spend the summer at the same old place-the
remote farm called "Rest-and-be-Thankful," on top of the hills three
miles from Elmira, N. Y. Your other question is harder to answer. It is
my habit to keep four or five books in process of erection all the time,
and every summer add a few courses of bricks to two or three of them; but
I cannot forecast which of the two or three it is going to be. It takes
seven years to complete a book by this method, but still it is a good
method: gives the public a rest. I have been accused of "rushing into
print" prematurely, moved thereto by greediness for money; but in truth
I have never done that. Do you care for trifles of information? (Well,
then, "Tom Sawyer" and "The Prince and the Pauper" were each on the
stocks two or three years, and "Old Times on the Mississippi" eight.)
One of my unfinished books has been on the stocks sixteen years; another
seventeen. This latter book could have been finished in a day, at any
time during the past five years. But as in the first of these two
narratives all the action takes place in Noah's ark, and as in the other
the action takes place in heaven, there seemed to be no hurry, and so I
have not hurried. Tales of stirring adventure in those localities do not
need to be rushed to publication lest they get stale by waiting. In
twenty-one years, with all my time at my free disposal I have written and
completed only eleven books, whereas with half the labor that a
journalist does I could have written sixty in that time. I do not
greatly mind being accused of a proclivity for rushing into print, but
at the same time I don't believe that the charge is really well founded.
Suppose I did write eleven books, have you nothing to be grateful for?
Go to---remember the forty-nine which I didn't write.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Notes (added twenty-two years later):
Stormfield, April 30, 1909. It seems the letter was not sent. I
probably feared she might print it, and I couldn't find a way to say so
without running a risk of hurting her. No one would hurt Jeannette
Gilder purposely, and no one would want to run the risk of doing it
unintentionally. She is my neighbor, six miles away, now, and I must
ask her about this ancient letter.
I note with pride and pleasure that I told no untruths in my unsent
answer. I still have the habit of keeping unfinished books lying around
years and years, waiting. I have four or five novels on hand at present
in a half-finished condition, and it is more than three years since I
have looked at any of them. I have no intention of finishing them.
I could complete all of them in less than a year, if the impulse should
come powerfully upon me: Long, long ago money-necessity furnished that
impulse once, (" Following the Equator"), but mere desire for money has
never furnished it, so far as I remember. Not even money-necessity was
able to overcome me on a couple of occasions when perhaps I ought to have
allowed it to succeed. While I was a bankrupt and in debt two offers
were made me for weekly literary contributions to continue during a year,
and they would have made a debtless man of me, but I declined them, with
my wife's full approval, for I had known of no instance where a man had
pumped himself out once a week and failed to run "emptyings" before the
year was finished.
As to that "Noah's Ark" book, I began it in Edinburgh in 1873;--[This is
not quite correct. The "Noah's Ark" book was begun in Buffalo in 1870.]
I don't know where the manuscript is now. It was a Diary, which
professed to be the work of Shem, but wasn't. I began it again several
months ago, but only for recreation; I hadn't any intention of carrying
it to a finish
--or even to the end of the first chapter, in fact.
As to the book whose action "takes place in Heaven." That was a small
thing, ("Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven.") It lay in my pigeon-
holes 40 years, then I took it out and printed it in Harper's Monthly
S. L. C.
In the next letter we get a pretty and peaceful picture of "Rest-and-be-
Thankful." These were Mark Twain's balmy days. The financial drain of
the type-machine was heavy but not yet exhausting, and the prospect of
vast returns from it seemed to grow brighter each day. His publishing
business, though less profitable, was still prosperous, his family life
was ideal. How gratefully, then, he could enter into the peace of that
To Mrs. Orion Clemens, in Keokuk, Ia.:
ON THE HILL NEAR ELMIRA, July 10, '87.
DEAR MOLLIE,--This is a superb Sunday for weather--very cloudy, and the
thermometer as low as 65. The city in the valley is purple with shade,
as seen from up here at the study. The Cranes are reading and loafing in
the canvas-curtained summer-house 50 yards away on a higher (the highest)
point; the cats are loafing over at "Ellerslie" which is the children's
estate and dwellinghouse in their own private grounds (by deed from Susie
Crane) a hundred yards from the study, amongst the clover and young oaks
and willows. Livy is down at the house, but I shall now go and bring her
up to the Cranes to help us occupy the lounges and hammocks--whence a
great panorama of distant hill and valley and city is seeable. The
children have gone on a lark through the neighboring hills and woods.
It is a perfect day indeed.
With love to you all.
Two days after this letter was written we get a hint of what was the
beginning of business trouble--that is to say, of the failing health of
Charles L. Webster. Webster was ambitious, nervous, and not robust.
He had overworked and was paying the penalty. His trouble was
neurasthenia, and he was presently obliged to retire altogether from the
business. The "Sam and Mary" mentioned were Samuel Moffet and his wife.
To Mrs. Pamela Moffett, in Fredonia, N. Y.
ELMIRA, July 12, '87
MY DEAR SISTER,--I had no idea that Charley's case was so serious.
I knew it was bad, and persistent, but I was not aware of the full size
of the matter.
I have just been writing to a friend in Hartford' who treated what I
imagine was a similar case surgically last fall, and produced a permanent
cure. If this is a like case, Charley must go to him.
If relief fails there, he must take the required rest, whether the
business can stand it or not.
It is most pleasant to hear such prosperous accounts of Sam and Mary,
I do not see how Sam could well be more advantageously fixed. He can
grow up with that paper, and achieve a successful life.
It is not all holiday here with Susie and Clara this time. They have to
put in some little time every day on their studies. Jean thinks she is
studying too, but I don't know what it is unless it is the horses; she
spends the day under their heels in the stables--and that is but a
continuation of her Hartford system of culture.
With love from us all to you all.
Mark Twain had a few books that he read regularly every year or two.
Among these were 'Pepys's Diary', Suetonius's 'Lives of the Twelve
Caesars', and Thomas Carlyle's 'French Revolution'. He had a passion for
history, biography, and personal memoirs of any sort. In his early life
he had cared very little for poetry, but along in the middle eighties he
somehow acquired a taste for Browning and became absorbed in it.
A Browning club assembled as often as once a week at the Clemens home in
Hartford to listen to his readings of the master. He was an impressive
reader, and he carefully prepared himself for these occasions, indicating
by graduated underscorings, the exact values he wished to give to words
and phrases. Those were memorable gatherings, and they must have
continued through at least two winters. It is one of the puzzling phases
of Mark Twain's character that, notwithstanding his passion for direct
and lucid expression, he should have found pleasure in the poems of
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 22, '87.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--How stunning are the changes which age makes in a man
while he sleeps. When I finished Carlyle's French Revolution in 1871,
I was a Girondin; every time I have read it since, I have read it
differently being influenced and changed, little by little, by life and
environment (and Taine and St. Simon): and now I lay the book down once
more, and recognize that I am a Sansculotte!--And not a pale,
characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat. Carlyle teaches no such gospel
so the change is in me--in my vision of the evidences.
People pretend that the Bible means the same to them at 50 that it did at
all former milestones in their journey. I wonder how they can lie so.
It comes of practice, no doubt. They would not say that of Dickens's or
Scott's books. Nothing remains the same. When a man goes back to look
at the house of his childhood, it has always shrunk: there is no instance
of such a house being as big as the picture in memory and imagination
call for. Shrunk how? Why, to its correct dimensions: the house hasn't
altered; this is the first time it has been in focus.
Well, that's loss. To have house and Bible shrink so, under the
disillusioning corrected angle, is loss-for a moment. But there are
compensations. You tilt the tube skyward and bring planets and comets
and corona flames a hundred and fifty thousand miles high into the field.
Which I see you have done, and found Tolstoi. I haven't got him in focus
yet, but I've got Browning . . . .
Mention has been made already of Mark Twain's tendency to
absentmindedness. He was always forgetting engagements, or getting
them wrong. Once he hurried to an afternoon party, and finding the
mistress of the house alone, sat down and talked to her comfortably
for an hour or two, not remembering his errand at all. It was only
when he reached home that he learned that the party had taken place
the week before. It was always dangerous for him to make
engagements, and he never seemed to profit by sorrowful experience.
We, however, may profit now by one of his amusing apologies.
To Mrs. Grover Cleveland, in Washington:
HARTFORD, Nov. 6, 1887.
MY DEAR MADAM,--I do not know how it is in the White House, but in this
house of ours whenever the minor half of the administration tries to run
itself without the help of the major half it gets aground. Last night
when I was offered the opportunity to assist you in the throwing open the
Warner brothers superb benefaction in Bridgeport to those fortunate
women, I naturally appreciated the honor done me, and promptly seized my
chance. I had an engagement, but the circumstances washed it out of my
mind. If I had only laid the matter before the major half of the
administration on the spot, there would have been no blunder; but I never
thought of that. So when I did lay it before her, later, I realized once
more that it will not do for the literary fraction of a combination to
try to manage affairs which properly belong in the office of the business
bulk of it. I suppose the President often acts just like that: goes and
makes an impossible promise, and you never find it out until it is next
to impossible to break it up and set things straight again. Well, that
is just our way, exactly-one half of the administration always busy
getting the family into trouble, and the other half busy getting it out
again. And so we do seem to be all pretty much alike, after all. The
fact is, I had forgotten that we were to have a dinner party on that
Bridgeport date--I thought it was the next day: which is a good deal of
an improvement for me, because I am more used to being behind a day or
two than ahead. But that is just the difference between one end of this
kind of an administration and the other end of it, as you have noticed,
yourself--the other end does not forget these things. Just so with a
funeral; if it is the man's funeral, he is most always there, of course-
but that is no credit to him, he wouldn't be there if you depended on
hint to remember about it; whereas, if on the other hand--but I seem to
have got off from my line of argument somehow; never mind about the
funeral. Of course I am not meaning to say anything against funerals--
that is, as occasions--mere occasions--for as diversions I don't think
they amount to much But as I was saying--if you are not busy I will look
back and see what it was I was saying.
I don't seem to find the place; but anyway she was as sorry as ever
anybody could be that I could not go to Bridgeport, but there was no help
for it. And I, I have been not only sorry but very sincerely ashamed of
having made an engagement to go without first making sure that I could
keep it, and I do not know how to apologize enough for my heedless breach
of good manners.
With the sincerest respect,
S. L. CLEMENS.
Samuel Clemens was one of the very few authors to copyright a book
in England before the enactment of the international copyright law.
As early as 1872 he copyrighted 'Roughing It' in England, and
piratical publishers there respected his rights. Finally, in 1887,
the inland revenue office assessed him with income tax, which he
very willingly paid, instructing his London publishers, Chatto &
Windus, to pay on the full amount he had received from them. But
when the receipt for his taxes came it was nearly a yard square with
due postage of considerable amount. Then he wrote:
To Mr. Chatto, of Chatto & Windus, in London:
HARTFORD, Dec. 5, '87.
MY DEAR CHATTO,--Look here, I don't mind paying the tax, but don't you
let the Inland Revenue Office send me any more receipts for it, for the
postage is something perfectly demoralizing. If they feel obliged to
print a receipt on a horse-blanket, why don't they hire a ship and send
it over at their own expense?
Wasn't it good that they caught me out with an old book instead of a new
one? The tax on a new book would bankrupt a body. It was my purpose to
go to England next May and stay the rest of the year, but I've found that
tax office out just in time. My new book would issue in March, and they
would tax the sale in both countries. Come, we must get up a compromise
somehow. You go and work in on the good side of those revenue people and
get them to take the profits and give me the tax. Then I will come over
and we will divide the swag and have a good time.
I wish you to thank Mr. Christmas for me; but we won't resist. The
country that allows me copyright has a right to tax me.
S. L. CLEMENS.
Another English tax assessment came that year, based on the report
that it was understood that he was going to become an English
resident, and had leased Buckenham Hall, Norwich, for a year.
Clemens wrote his publishers: "I will explain that all that about
Buckenham Hall was an English newspaper's mistake. I was not in
England, and if I had been I wouldn't have been at Buckenham Hall,
anyway, but at Buckingham Palace, or I would have endeavored to find
out the reason why." Clemens made literature out of this tax
experience. He wrote an open letter to Her Majesty Queen Victoria.
Such a letter has no place in this collection. It was published in
the "Drawer" of Harper's Magazine, December, 1887, and is now
included in the uniform edition of his works under the title of,
"A Petition to the Queen of England."
From the following letter, written at the end of the year, we gather
that the type-setter costs were beginning to make a difference in
the Clemens economies.
To Mrs. Moffett, in Fredonia:
HARTFORD, Dec. 18, '87.
DEAR PAMELA,--will you take this $15 and buy some candy or some other
trifle for yourself and Sam and his wife to remember that we remember
If we weren't a little crowded this year by the typesetter, I'd send a
check large enough to buy a family Bible or some other useful thing like
that. However we go on and on, but the type-setter goes on forever--at
$3,000 a month; which is much more satisfactory than was the case the
first seventeen months, when the bill only averaged $2,000, and promised
to take a thousand years. We'll be through, now, in 3 or 4 months, I
reckon, and then the strain will let up and we can breathe freely once
more, whether success ensues or failure.
Even with a type-setter on hand we ought not to be in the least scrimped-
but it would take a long letter to explain why and who is to blame.
All the family send love to all of you and best Christmas wishes for your
LETTERS,1888. A YALE DEGREE. WORK ON "THE YANKEE." ON INTERVIEWING,
Mark Twain received his first college degree when he was made Master
of Arts by Yale, in June, 1888. Editor of the Courant, Charles H.
Clarke, was selected to notify him of his new title. Clarke was an
old friend to whom Clemens could write familiarly.
To Charles H. Clarke, in Hartford:
ELMIRA, July 2, '88.
MY DEAR CHARLES,--Thanks for your thanks, and for your initiation
intentions. I shall be ready for you. I feel mighty proud of that
degree; in fact, I could squeeze the truth a little closer and say vain
of it. And why shouldn't I be?--I am the only literary animal of my
particular subspecies who has ever been given a degree by any College in
any age of the world, as far as I know.
S. L. Clemens M. A.
Reply: Charles H. Clarke to S. L Clemens:
MY DEAR FRIEND, You are "the only literary animal of your particular
subspecies" in existence and you've no cause for humility in the fact.
Yale has done herself at least as much credit as she has done you, and
"Don't you forget it."
C. H. C.
With the exception of his brief return to the river in 1882. Mark
Twain had been twenty-seven years away from pilots and piloting.
Nevertheless, he always kept a tender place in his heart for the old
times and for old river comrades. Major "Jack" Downing had been a
Mississippi pilot of early days, but had long since retired from the
river to a comfortable life ashore, in an Ohio town. Clemens had
not heard from him for years when a letter came which invited the
To Major "Jack" Downing, in Middleport Ohio:
ELMIRA, N. Y.[no month] 1888.
DEAR MAJOR,--And has it come to this that the dead rise up and speak?
For I supposed that you were dead, it has been so long since I heard your
And how young you've grown! I was a mere boy when I knew you on the
river, where you had been piloting for 35 years, and now you are only a
year and a half older than I am! I mean to go to Hot Springs myself and
get 30 or 40 years knocked off my age. It's manifestly the place that
Ponce de Leon was striking for, but the poor fellow lost the trail.
Possibly I may see you, for I shall be in St. Louis a day or two in
November. I propose to go down the river and "note the changes" once
more before I make the long crossing, and perhaps you can come there.
Will you? I want to see all the boys that are left alive.
And so Grant Marsh, too, is flourishing yet? A mighty good fellow, and
smart too. When we were taking that wood flat down to the Chambers,
which was aground, I soon saw that I was a perfect lubber at piloting
such a thing. I saw that I could never hit the Chambers with it, so I
resigned in Marsh's favor, and he accomplished the task to my admiration.
We should all have gone to the mischief if I had remained in authority.
I always had good judgement, more judgement than talent, in fact.
No; the nom de plume did not originate in that way. Capt. Sellers used
the signature, "Mark Twain," himself, when he used to write up the
antiquities in the way of river reminiscences for the New Orleans
Picayune. He hated me for burlesquing them in an article in the True
Delta; so four years later when he died, I robbed the corpse--that is I
confiscated the nom de plume. I have published this vital fact 3,000
times now. But no matter, it is good practice; it is about the only fact
that I can tell the same way every time. Very glad, indeed, to hear from
you Major, and shall be gladder still to see you in November.
S. L. CLEMENS.
He did not make the journey down the river planned for that year.
He had always hoped to make another steamboat trip with Bixby, but
one thing and another interfered and he did not go again.
Authors were always sending their books to Mark Twain to read, and
no busy man was ever more kindly disposed toward such offerings,
more generously considerate of the senders. Louis Pendleton was a
young unknown writer in 1888, but Clemens took time to read his
story carefully, and to write to him about it a letter that cost
precious time, thought, and effort. It must have rejoiced the young
man's heart to receive a letter like that, from one whom all young
authors held supreme.
To Louis Pendleton, in Georgia:
ELMIRA, N. Y., Aug. 4, '88.
MY DEAR SIR,--I found your letter an hour ago among some others which had
lain forgotten a couple of weeks, and I at once stole time enough to read
Ariadne. Stole is the right word, for the summer "Vacation" is the only
chance I get for work; so, no minute subtracted from work is borrowed, it
is stolen. But this time I do not repent. As a rule, people don't send
me books which I can thank them for, and so I say nothing--which looks
uncourteous. But I thank you. Ariadne is a beautiful and satisfying
story; and true, too--which is the best part of a story; or indeed of any
other thing. Even liars have to admit that, if they are intelligent
liars; I mean in their private [the word conscientious written but
erased] intervals. (I struck that word out because a man's private
thought can never be a lie; what he thinks, is to him the truth, always;
what he speaks--but these be platitudes.)
If you want me to pick some flaws--very well--but I do it unwillingly.
I notice one thing--which one may notice also in my books, and in all
books whether written by man or God: trifling carelessness of statement
or Expression. If I think that you meant that she took the lizard from
the water which she had drawn from the well, it is evidence--it is almost
proof--that your words were not as clear as they should have been. True,
it is only a trifling thing; but so is mist on a mirror. I would have
hung the pail on Ariadne's arm. You did not deceive me when you said
that she carried it under her arm, for I knew she didn't; still it was
not your right to mar my enjoyment of the graceful picture. If the pail
had been a portfolio, I wouldn't be making these remarks. The engraver
of a fine picture revises, and revises, and revises--and then revises,
and revises, and revises; and then repeats. And always the charm of that
picture grows, under his hand. It was good enough before--told its
story, and was beautiful. True: and a lovely girl is lovely, with
freckles; but she isn't at her level best with them.
This is not hypercriticism; you have had training enough to know that.
So much concerning exactness of statement. In that other not-small
matter--selection of the exact single word--you are hard to catch.
Still, I should hold that Mrs. Walker considered that there was no
occasion for concealment; that "motive" implied a deeper mental search
than she expended on the matter; that it doesn't reflect the attitude of
her mind with precision. Is this hypercriticism? I shan't dispute it.
I only say, that if Mrs. Walker didn't go so far as to have a motive, I
had to suggest that when a word is so near the right one that a body
can't quite tell whether it is or isn't, it's good politics to strike it
out and go for the Thesaurus. That's all. Motive may stand; but you
have allowed a snake to scream, and I will not concede that that was the
I do not apologize for saying these things, for they are not said in the
speck-hunting spirit, but in the spirit of want-to-help-if-I-can. They
would be useful to me if said to me once a month, they may be useful to
you, said once.
I save the other stories for my real vacation--which is nine months long,
to my sorrow. I thank you again.
S. L. CLEMENS.
In the next letter we get a sidelight on the type-setting machine,
the Frankenstein monster that was draining their substance and
holding out false hopes of relief and golden return. The program
here outlined was one that would continue for several years yet,
with the end always in sight, but never quite attained.
To Orion Clemens, in Keokuk, Ia.:
Oct. 3, '88.
Saturday 29th, by a closely calculated estimate, there were 85 days' work
to do on the machine.
We can use 4 men, but not constantly. If they could work constantly it
would complete the machine in 21 days, of course. They will all be on
hand and under wages, and each will get in all the work there is
opportunity for, but by how much they can reduce the 85 days toward the
21 days, nobody can tell.
To-day I pay Pratt & Whitney $10,000. This squares back indebtedness and
everything to date. They began about May or April or March 1886--along
there somewhere, and have always kept from a dozen to two dozen master-
hands on the machine.
That outgo is done; 4 men for a month or two will close up that leak and
caulk it. Work on the patents is also kind of drawing toward a
Love to you both. All well here.
And give our love to Ma if she can get the idea.
Mark Twain that year was working pretty steadily on 'The Yankee at
King Arthur's Court', a book which he had begun two years before.
He had published nothing since the Huck Finn story, and his company
was badly in need of a new book by an author of distinction. Also
it was highly desirable to earn money for himself; wherefore he set
to work to finish the Yankee story. He had worked pretty steadily
that summer in his Elmira study, but on his return to Hartford found
a good deal of confusion in the house, so went over to Twichell's,
where carpenter work was in progress. He seems to have worked there
successfully, though what improvement of conditions he found in that
numerous, lively household, over those at home it would be difficult
To Theodore W. Crane, at Quarry Farm, Elmira, N. Y.
Friday, Oct.,5, '88.
DEAR THEO,--I am here in Twichell's house at work, with the noise of the
children and an army of carpenters to help. Of course they don't help,
but neither do they hinder. It's like a boiler-factory for racket, and
in nailing a wooden ceiling onto the room under me the hammering tickles
my feet amazingly sometimes, and jars my table a good deal; but I never
am conscious of the racket at all, and I move my feet into position of
relief without knowing when I do it. I began here Monday morning, and
have done eighty pages since. I was so tired last night that I thought I
would lie abed and rest, to-day; but I couldn't resist. I mean to try to
knock off tomorrow, but it's doubtful if I do. I want to finish the day
the machine finishes, and a week ago the closest calculations for that
indicated Oct. 22--but experience teaches me that their calculations will
miss fire, as usual.
The other day the children were projecting a purchase, Livy and I to
furnish the money--a dollar and a half. Jean discouraged the idea. She
said: "We haven't got any money. Children, if you would think, you would
remember the machine isn't done."
It's billiards to-night. I wish you were here.
With love to you both
S. L. C.
P. S. I got it all wrong. It wasn't the children, it was Marie. She
wanted a box of blacking, for the children's shoes. Jean reproved her-
"Why, Marie, you mustn't ask for things now. The machine isn't done."
S. L. C.
The letter that follows is to another of his old pilot friends, one
who was also a schoolmate, Will Bowen, of Hannibal. There is today
no means of knowing the occasion upon which this letter was written,
but it does not matter; it is the letter itself that is of chief
To Will Bowen, in Hannibal, Mo.:
HARTFORD, Nov 4, '88.
DEAR WILL,--I received your letter yesterday evening, just as I was
starting out of town to attend a wedding, and so my mind was privately
busy, all the evening, in the midst of the maelstrom of chat and chaff
and laughter, with the sort of reflections which create themselves,
examine themselves, and continue themselves, unaffected by surroundings
--unaffected, that is understood, by the surroundings, but not
uninfluenced by them. Here was the near presence of the two supreme
events of life: marriage, which is the beginning of life, and death which
is the end of it. I found myself seeking chances to shirk into corners
where I might think, undisturbed; and the most I got out of my thought,
was this: both marriage and death ought to be welcome: the one promises
happiness, doubtless the other assures it. A long procession of people
filed through my mind--people whom you and I knew so many years ago--so
many centuries ago, it seems like-and these ancient dead marched to the
soft marriage music of a band concealed in some remote room of the house;
and the contented music and the dreaming shades seemed in right accord
with each other, and fitting. Nobody else knew that a procession of the
dead was passing though this noisy swarm of the living, but there it was,
and to me there was nothing uncanny about it; Rio, they were welcome
faces to me. I would have liked to bring up every creature we knew in
those days--even the dumb animals--it would be bathing in the fabled
Fountain of Youth.
We all feel your deep trouble with you; and we would hope, if we might,
but your words deny us that privilege. To die one's self is a thing that
must be easy, and of light consequence, but to lose a part of one's self
--well, we know how deep that pang goes, we who have suffered that
disaster, received that wound which cannot heal.
Sincerely your friend
S. L. CLEMENS.
His next is of quite a different nature. Evidently the typesetting
conditions had alarmed Orion, and he was undertaking some economies
with a view of retrenchment. Orion was always reducing economy to
science. Once, at an earlier date, he recorded that he had figured
his personal living expenses down to sixty cents a week, but