Part 4 out of 4
decided to offer it to Raymond, but rather haughtily, indifferently,
because any number of other actors would be waiting for it.
But this was a miscalculation. Raymond now turned the tables. Though
favorable to the idea of a new play, he declared this one did not present
his old Sellers at all, but a lunatic. In the end he returned the MS.
with a brief note. Attempts had already been made to interest other
actors, and would continue for some time.
LETTERS, 1884, TO HOWELLS AND OTHERS. CABLE'S GREAT APRIL FOOL.
"HUCK FINN" IN PRESS. MARK TWAIN FOR CLEVELAND. CLEMENS AND CABLE
Mark Twain had a lingering attack of the dramatic fever that winter.
He made a play of the Prince and Pauper, which Howells pronounced "too
thin and slight and not half long enough." He made another of Tom
Sawyer, and probably destroyed it, for no trace of the MS. exists to-day.
Howells could not join in these ventures, for he was otherwise occupied
and had sickness in his household.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Jan. 7, '84.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--"O my goodn's", as Jean says. You have now encountered
at last the heaviest calamity that can befall an author. The scarlet
fever, once domesticated, is a permanent member of the family. Money may
desert you, friends forsake you, enemies grow indifferent to you, but the
scarlet fever will be true to you, through thick and thin, till you be
all saved or damned, down to the last one. I say these things to cheer
The bare suggestion of scarlet fever in the family makes me shudder; I
believe I would almost rather have Osgood publish a book for me.
You folks have our most sincere sympathy. Oh, the intrusion of this
hideous disease is an unspeakable disaster.
My billiard table is stacked up with books relating to the Sandwich
Islands: the walls axe upholstered with scraps of paper penciled with
notes drawn from them. I have saturated myself with knowledge of that
unimaginably beautiful land and that most strange and fascinating people.
And I have begun a story. Its hidden motive will illustrate a but-little
considered fact in human nature; that the religious folly you are born in
you will die in, no matter what apparently reasonabler religious folly
may seem to have taken its place meanwhile, and abolished and obliterated
it. I start Bill Ragsdale at 12 years of age, and the heroine at 4, in
the midst of the ancient idolatrous system, with its picturesque and
amazing customs and superstitions, 3 months before the arrival of the
missionaries and the erection of a shallow Christianity upon the ruins of
the old paganism. Then these two will become educated Christians, and
And then I will jump 15 years, and do Ragsdale's leper business. When we
came to dramatize, we can draw a deal of matter from the story, all ready
to our hand.
He never finished the Sandwich Islands story which he and Howells
were to dramatize later. His head filled up with other projects,
such as publishing plans, reading-tours, and the like. The type-
setting machine does not appear in the letters of this period, but
it was an important factor, nevertheless. It was costing several
thousand dollars a month for construction and becoming a heavy drain
on Mark Twain's finances. It was necessary to recuperate, and the
anxiety for a profitable play, or some other adventure that would
bring a quick and generous return, grew out of this need.
Clemens had established Charles L. Webster, his nephew by marriage,
in a New York office, as selling agent for the Mississippi book and
for his plays. He was also planning to let Webster publish the new
book, Huck Finn.
George W. Cable had proven his ability as a reader, and Clemens saw
possibilities in a reading combination, which was first planned to
include Aldrich, and Howells, and a private car.
But Aldrich and Howells did not warm to the idea, and the car was
eliminated from the plan. Cable came to visit Clemens in Hartford,
and was taken with the mumps, so that the reading-trip was
The fortunes of the Sellers play were most uncertain and becoming
daily more doubtful. In February, Howells wrote: "If you have got
any comfort in regard to our play I wish you would heave it into my
Cable recovered in time, and out of gratitude planned a great April-
fool surprise for his host. He was a systematic man, and did it in
his usual thorough way. He sent a "private and confidential"
suggestion to a hundred and fifty of Mark Twain's friends and
admirers, nearly all distinguished literary men. The suggestion was
that each one of them should send a request for Mark Twain's
autograph, timing it so that it would arrive on the 1st of April.
All seemed to have responded. Mark Twain's writing-table on April
Fool morning was heaped with letters, asking in every ridiculous
fashion for his "valuable autograph." The one from Aldrich was a
fair sample. He wrote: "I am making a collection of autographs of
our distinguished writers, and having read one of your works,
Gabriel Convoy, I would like to add your name to the list."
Of course, the joke in this was that Gabriel Convoy was by Bret
Harte, who by this time was thoroughly detested by Mark Twain. The
first one or two of the letters puzzled the victim; then he
comprehended the size and character of the joke and entered into it
thoroughly. One of the letters was from Bloodgood H. Cutter, the
"Poet Lariat" of Innocents Abroad. Cutter, of course, wrote in
"poetry," that is to say, doggerel. Mark Twain's April Fool was a
most pleasant one.
Rhymed letter by Bloodgood H. Cutter to Mark Twain:
LITTLE NECK, LONG ISLAND.
LONG ISLAND FARMER, TO HIS FRIEND AND PILGRIM BROTHER,
SAMUEL L. CLEMENS, ESQ.
Friends, suggest in each one's behalf
To write, and ask your autograph.
To refuse that, I will not do,
After the long voyage had with you.
That was a memorable time You wrote in prose, I wrote in Rhyme To
describe the wonders of each place, And the queer customs of each race.
That is in my memory yet
For while I live I'll not forget.
I often think of that affair
And the many that were with us there.
As your friends think it for the best
I ask your Autograph with the rest,
Hoping you will it to me send
'Twill please and cheer your dear old friend:
BLOODGOOD H. CUTTER.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Apl 8, '84.
MY DEAR HOWELLS, It took my breath away, and I haven't recovered it yet,
entirely--I mean the generosity of your proposal to read the proofs of
Now if you mean it, old man--if you are in earnest--proceed, in God's
name, and be by me forever blest. I cannot conceive of a rational man
deliberately piling such an atrocious job upon himself; but if there is
such a man and you be that man, why then pile it on. It will cost me a
pang every time I think of it, but this anguish will be eingebusst to me
in the joy and comfort I shall get out of the not having to read the
verfluchtete proofs myself. But if you have repented of your
augenblichlicher Tobsucht and got back to calm cold reason again, I won't
hold you to it unless I find I have got you down in writing somewhere.
Herr, I would not read the proof of one of my books for any fair and
reasonable sum whatever, if I could get out of it.
The proof-reading on the P & P cost me the last rags of my religion.
Howells had written that he would be glad to help out in the reading of
the proofs of Huck Finn, which book Webster by this time had in hand.
Replying to Clemens's eager and grateful acceptance now, he wrote: "It is
all perfectly true about the generosity, unless I am going to read your
proofs from one of the shabby motives which I always find at the bottom
of my soul if I examine it." A characteristic utterance, though we may
be permitted to believe that his shabby motives were fewer and less
shabby than those of mankind in general.
The proofs which Howells was reading pleased him mightily. Once, during
the summer, he wrote: "if I had written half as good a book as Huck Finn
I shouldn't ask anything better than to read the proofs; even as it is,
I don't, so send them on; they will always find me somewhere."
This was the summer of the Blaine-Cleveland campaign. Mark Twain, in
company with many other leading men, had mugwumped, and was supporting
Cleveland. From the next letter we gather something of the aspects of
that memorable campaign, which was one of scandal and vituperation. We
learn, too, that the young sculptor, Karl Gerhardt, having completed a
three years' study in Paris, had returned to America a qualified artist.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Aug. 21, '84.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--This presidential campaign is too delicious for
anything. Isn't human nature the most consummate sham and lie that was
ever invented? Isn't man a creature to be ashamed of in pretty much all
his aspects? Man, "know thyself "--and then thou wilt despise thyself,
to a dead moral certainty. Take three quite good specimens--Hawley,
Warner, and Charley Clark. Even I do not loathe Blaine more than they
do; yet Hawley is howling for Blaine, Warner and Clark are eating their
daily crow in the paper for him, and all three will vote for him. O
Stultification, where is thy sting, O slave where is thy hickory!
I suppose you heard how a marble monument for which St. Gaudens was
pecuniarily responsible, burned down in Hartford the other day,
uninsured--for who in the world would ever think of insuring a marble
shaft in a cemetery against a fire?--and left St. Gauden out of pocket
It was a bad day for artists. Gerhardt finished my bust that day, and
the work was pronounced admirable by all the kin and friends; but in
putting it in plaster (or rather taking it out) next day it got ruined.
It was four or five weeks hard work gone to the dogs. The news flew, and
everybody on the farm flocked to the arbor and grouped themselves about
the wreck in a profound and moving silence--the farm-help, the colored
servants, the German nurse, the children, everybody--a silence
interrupted at wide intervals by absent-minded ejaculations wising from
unconscious breasts as the whole size of the disaster gradually worked
its way home to the realization of one spirit after another.
Some burst out with one thing, some another; the German nurse put up her
hands and said, "Oh, Schade! oh, schrecklich! "But Gerhardt said
nothing; or almost that. He couldn't word it, I suppose. But he went to
work, and by dark had everything thoroughly well under way for a fresh
start in the morning; and in three days' time had built a new bust which
was a trifle better than the old one--and to-morrow we shall put the
finishing touches on it, and it will be about as good a one as nearly
anybody can make.
If you run across anybody who wants a bust, be sure and recommend
Gerhardt on my say-so.
But Howells was determinedly for Blaine. "I shall vote for Blaine," he
replied. "I do not believe he is guilty of the things they accuse him
of, and I know they are not proved against him. As for Cleveland, his
private life may be no worse than that of most men, but as an enemy of
that contemptible, hypocritical, lop-sided morality which says a woman
shall suffer all the shame of unchastity and man none, I want to see him
destroyed politically by his past. The men who defend him would take
their wives to the White House if he were president, but if he married
his concubine--'made her an honest woman' they would not go near him. I
can't stand that."
Certainly this was sound logic, in that day, at least. But it left
Clemens far from satisfied.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
ELMIRA, Sept. 17, '84.
MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Somehow I can't seem to rest quiet under the idea of
your voting for Blaine. I believe you said something about the country
and the party. Certainly allegiance to these is well; but as certainly a
man's first duty is to his own conscience and honor--the party or the
country come second to that, and never first. I don't ask you to vote at
all--I only urge you to not soil yourself by voting for Blaine.
When you wrote before, you were able to say the charges against him were
not proven. But you know now that they are proven, and it seems to me
that that bars you and all other honest and honorable men (who are
independently situated) from voting for him.
It is not necessary to vote for Cleveland; the only necessary thing to
do, as I understand it, is that a man shall keep himself clean, (by
withholding his vote for an improper man) even though the party and the
country go to destruction in consequence. It is not parties that make or
save countries or that build them to greatness--it is clean men, clean
ordinary citizens, rank and file, the masses. Clean masses are not made
by individuals standing back till the rest become clean.
As I said before, I think a man's first duty is to his own honor; not to
his country and not to his party. Don't be offended; I mean no offence.
I am not so concerned about the rest of the nation, but--well, good-bye.
There does not appear to be any further discussion of the matter
between Howells and Clemens. Their letters for a time contained no
suggestion of politics.
Perhaps Mark Twain's own political conscience was not entirely clear
in his repudiation of his party; at least we may believe from his
next letter that his Cleveland enthusiasm was qualified by a
willingness to support a Republican who would command his admiration
and honor. The idea of an eleventh-hour nomination was rather
startling, whatever its motive.
To Mr. Pierce, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Oct. 22, '84.
MY DEAR MR. PIERCE,--You know, as well as I do, that the reason the
majority of republicans are going to vote for Blaine is because they feel
that they cannot help themselves. Do not you believe that if Mr. Edmunds
would consent to run for President, on the Independent ticket--even at
this late day--he might be elected?
Well, if he wouldn't consent, but should even strenuously protest and say
he wouldn't serve if elected, isn't it still wise and fair to nominate
him and vote for him? since his protest would relieve him from all
responsibility; and he couldn't surely find fault with people for forcing
a compliment upon him. And do not you believe that his name thus
compulsorily placed at the head of the Independent column would work
absolutely certain defeat to Blain and save the country's honor?
Politicians often carry a victory by springing some disgraceful and
rascally mine under the feet of the adversary at the eleventh hour; would
it not be wholesome to vary this thing for once and spring as formidable
a mine of a better sort under the enemy's works?
If Edmunds's name were put up, I would vote for him in the teeth of all
the protesting and blaspheming he could do in a month; and there are lots
of others who would do likewise.
If this notion is not a foolish and wicked one, won't you just consult
with some chief Independents, and see if they won't call a sudden
convention and whoop the thing through? To nominate Edmunds the 1st of
November, would be soon enough, wouldn't it?
With kindest regards to you and the Aldriches,
S. L. CLEMENS.
Clemens and Cable set out on their reading-tour in November. They were a
curiously-assorted pair: Cable was of orthodox religion, exact as to
habits, neat, prim, all that Clemens was not. In the beginning Cable
undertook to read the Bible aloud to Clemens each evening, but this part
of the day's program was presently omitted by request. If they spent
Sunday in a town, Cable was up bright and early visiting the various
churches and Sunday-schools, while Mark Twain remained at the hotel, in
bed, reading or asleep.
THE GREAT YEAR OF 1885. CLEMENS AND CABLE. PUBLICATION OF "HUCK FINN."
THE GRANT MEMOIRS. MARK TWAIN AT FIFTY
The year 1885 was in some respects the most important, certainly the
most pleasantly exciting, in Mark Twain's life. It was the year in
which he entered fully into the publishing business and launched one
of the most spectacular of all publishing adventures, The Personal
Memoirs of General U. S. Grant. Clemens had not intended to do
general publishing when he arranged with Webster to become sales-
agent for the Mississippi book, and later general agent for Huck
Finn's adventures; he had intended only to handle his own books,
because he was pretty thoroughly dissatisfied with other publishing
arrangements. Even the Library of Humor, which Howells, with Clark,
of the Courant, had put together for him, he left with Osgood until
that publisher failed, during the spring of 1885. Certainly he
never dreamed of undertaking anything of the proportions of the
He had always believed that Grant could make a book. More than
once, when they had met, he had urged the General to prepare his
memoirs for publication. Howells, in his 'My Mark Twain', tells of
going with Clemens to see Grant, then a member of the ill-fated firm
of Grant and Ward, and how they lunched on beans, bacon and coffee
brought in from a near-by restaurant. It was while they were eating
this soldier fare that Clemens--very likely abetted by Howells--
especially urged the great commander to prepare his memoirs. But
Grant had become a financier, as he believed, and the prospect of
literary earnings, however large, did not appeal to him.
Furthermore, he was convinced that he was without literary ability
and that a book by him would prove a failure.
But then, by and by, came a failure more disastrous than anything he
had foreseen--the downfall of his firm through the Napoleonic
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."