THE BOYS' LIFE OF MARK TWAIN
By Albert Bigelow Paine
I. THE FAMILY OF JOHN CLEMENS
II. THE NEW HOME, AND UNCLE JOHN QUARLES'S FARM
IV. EDUCATION OUT OF SCHOOL
V. TOM SAWYER AND HIS BAND
VI. CLOSING SCHOOL-DAYS
VII. THE APPRENTICE
VIII. ORION'S PAPER
IX. THE OPEN ROAD
X. A WIND OF CHANCE
XI. THE LONG WAY To THE AMAZON
XII. RENEWING AN OLD AMBITION
XIII. LEARNING THE RIVER
XIV. RIVER DAYS
XV. THE WRECK OF THE "PENNSYLVANIA"
XVI. THE PILOT
XVII. THE END OF PILOTING
XVIII. THE SOLDIER
XIX. THE PIONEER
XX. THE MINER
XXI. THE TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE
XXII. "MARK TWAIN"
XXIII. ARTEMUS WARD AND LITERARY SAN FRANCISCO
XXIV. THE DISCOVERY OF "THE JUMPING FROG"
XXV. HAWAII AND ANSON BURLINGAME
XXVI. MARK TWAIN, LECTURER
XXVII. AN INNOCENT ABROAD, AND HOME AGAIN
XXVIII. OLIVIA LANGDON. WORK ON THE "INNOCENTS"
XXIX. THE VISIT TO ELMIRA AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
XXX. THE NEW BOOK AND A WEDDING
XXXI. MARK TWAIN IN BUFFALO
XXXII. AT WORK ON "ROUGHING IT"
XXXIII. IN ENGLAND
XXXIV. A NEW BOOK AND NEW ENGLISH TRIUMPHS
XXXV. BEGINNING "TOM SAWYER"
XXXVI. THE NEW HOME
XXXVII. "OLD TIMES, "SKETCHES," AND "TOM SAWYER"
XXXVIII. HOME PICTURES
XXXIX. TRAMPING ABROAD
XL. "THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER"
XLI. GENERAL GRANT AT HARTFORD
XLII. MANY INVESTMENTS
XLIII. BACK TO THE RIVER, WITH BIXBY
XLIV. A READING-TOUR WITH CABLE
XLV. "THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN"
XLVI. PUBLISHER TO GENERAL GRANT
XLVII. THE HIGH-TIDE OF FORTUNE
XLVIII. BUSINESS DIFFICULTIES. PLEASANTER THINGS
XLIX. KIPLING AT ELMIRA. ELSIE LESLIE. THE "YANKEE"
L. THE MACHINE. GOOD-BY TO HARTFORD. "JOAN" IS BEGUN
LI. THE FAILURE OF WEBSTER & CO. AROUND THE WORLD. SORROW
LII. EUROPEAN ECONOMIES
LIII. MARK TWAIN PAYS HIS DEBTS
LIV. RETURN AFTER EXILE
LV. A PROPHET AT HOME
LVI. HONORED BY MISSOURI
LVII. THE CLOSE OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
LVIII. MARK TWAIN AT SEVENTY
LIX. MARK TWAIN ARRANGES FOR HIS BIOGRAPHY
LX. WORKING WITH MARK TWAIN
LXI. DICTATIONS AT DUBLIN, N. H.
LXII. A NEW ERA OF BILLIARDS
LXIII. LIVING WITH MARK TWAIN
LXIV. A DEGREE FROM OXFORD
LXV. THE REMOVAL TO REDDING
LXVI. LIFE AT STORMFIELD
LXVII. THE DEATH OF JEAN
LXVIII. DAYS IN BERMUDA
LXIX. THE RETURN TO REDDING
LXX. THE CLOSE OF A GREAT LIFE
This is the story of a boy, born in the humblest surroundings, reared
almost without schooling, and amid benighted conditions such as to-day
have no existence, yet who lived to achieve a world-wide fame; to attain
honorary degrees from the greatest universities of America and Europe; to
be sought by statesmen and kings; to be loved and honored by all men in
all lands, and mourned by them when he died. It is the story of one of
the world's very great men—the story of Mark Twain.
THE FAMILY OF JOHN CLEMENS
A long time ago, back in the early years of another century, a family
named Clemens moved from eastern Tennessee to eastern Missouri—from a
small, unheard-of place called Pall Mall, on Wolf River, to an equally
small and unknown place called Florida, on a tiny river named the Salt.
That was a far journey, in those days, for railway trains in 1835 had not
reached the South and West, and John Clemens and his family traveled in
an old two-horse barouche, with two extra riding-horses, on one of which
rode the eldest child, Orion Clemens, a boy of ten, and on the other
Jennie, a slave girl.
In the carriage with the parents were three other children—Pamela and
Margaret, aged eight and five, and little Benjamin, three years old. The
time was spring, the period of the Old South, and, while these youngsters
did not realize that they were passing through a sort of Golden Age, they
must have enjoyed the weeks of leisurely journeying toward what was then
the Far West—the Promised Land.
The Clemens fortunes had been poor in Tennessee. John Marshall Clemens,
the father, was a lawyer, a man of education; but he was a dreamer, too,
full of schemes that usually failed. Born in Virginia, he had grown up
in Kentucky, and married there Jane Lampton, of Columbia, a descendant of
the English Lamptons and the belle of her region. They had left Kentucky
for Tennessee, drifting from one small town to another that was always
smaller, and with dwindling law-practice John Clemens in time had been
obliged to open a poor little store, which in the end had failed to pay.
Jennie was the last of several slaves he had inherited from his Virginia
ancestors. Besides Jennie, his fortune now consisted of the horses and
barouche, a very limited supply of money, and a large, unsalable tract of
east Tennessee land, which John Clemens dreamed would one day bring his
Readers of the "Gilded Age" will remember the journey of the Hawkins
family from the "Knobs" of Tennessee to Missouri and the important part
in that story played by the Tennessee land. Mark Twain wrote those
chapters, and while they are not history, but fiction, they are based
upon fact, and the picture they present of family hardship and struggle
is not overdrawn. The character of Colonel Sellers, who gave the
Hawkinses a grand welcome to the new home, was also real. In life he was
James Lampton, cousin to Mrs. Clemens, a gentle and radiant merchant of
dreams, who believed himself heir to an English earldom and was always on
the verge of colossal fortune. With others of the Lampton kin, he was
already settled in Missouri and had written back glowing accounts; though
perhaps not more glowing than those which had come from another relative,
John Quarles, brother-in-law to Mrs. Clemens, a jovial, whole-hearted
optimist, well-loved by all who knew him.
It was a June evening when the Clemens family, with the barouche and the
two outriders, finally arrived in Florida, and the place, no doubt,
seemed attractive enough then, however it may have appeared later. It
was the end of a long journey; relatives gathered with fond welcome;
prospects seemed bright. Already John Quarles had opened a general store
in the little town. Florida, he said, was certain to become a city.
Salt River would be made navigable with a series of locks and dams. He
offered John Clemens a partnership in his business.
Quarles, for that time and place, was a rich man. Besides his store he
had a farm and thirty slaves. His brother-in-law's funds, or lack of
them, did not matter. The two had married sisters. That was capital
enough for his hearty nature. So, almost on the moment of arrival in the
new land, John Clemens once more found himself established in trade.
The next thing was to find a home. There were twenty-one houses in
Florida, and none of them large. The one selected by John and Jane
Clemens had two main rooms and a lean-to kitchen—a small place and
lowly—the kind of a place that so often has seen the beginning of
exalted lives. Christianity began with a babe in a manger; Shakespeare
first saw the light in a cottage at Stratford; Lincoln entered the world
by way of a leaky cabin in Kentucky, and into the narrow limits of the
Clemens home in Florida, on a bleak autumn day—November 30, 1835—there
was born one who under the name of Mark Twain would live to cheer and
comfort a tired world.
The name Mark Twain had not been thought of then, and probably no one
prophesied favorably for the new-comer, who was small and feeble, and not
over-welcome in that crowded household. They named him Samuel, after his
paternal grandfather, and added Langhorne for an old friend—a goodly
burden for so frail a wayfarer. But more appropriately they called him
"Little Sam," or "Sammy," which clung to him through the years of his
It seems a curious childhood, as we think of it now. Missouri was a
slave State—Little Sam's companions were as often black as white. All
the children of that time and locality had negroes for playmates, and
were cared for by them. They were fond of their black companions and
would have felt lost without them. The negro children knew all the best
ways of doing things—how to work charms and spells, the best way to cure
warts and heal stone-bruises, and to make it rain, and to find lost
money. They knew what signs meant, and dreams, and how to keep off
hoodoo; and all negroes, old and young, knew any number of weird tales.
John Clemens must have prospered during the early years of his Florida
residence, for he added another slave to his household—Uncle Ned, a man
of all work—and he built a somewhat larger house, in one room of which,
the kitchen, was a big fireplace. There was a wide hearth and always
plenty of wood, and here after supper the children would gather, with
Jennie and Uncle Ned, and the latter would tell hair-lifting tales of
"ha'nts," and lonely roads, and witch-work that would make his hearers
shiver with terror and delight, and look furtively over their shoulders
toward the dark window-panes and the hovering shadows on the walls.
Perhaps it was not the healthiest entertainment, but it was the kind to
cultivate an imagination that would one day produce "Tom Sawyer" and
True, Little Sam was very young at this period, but even a little chap of
two or three would understand most of that fireside talk, and get
impressions more vivid than if the understanding were complete. He was
barely four when this earliest chapter of his life came to a close.
John Clemens had not remained satisfied with Florida and his undertakings
there. The town had not kept its promises. It failed to grow, and the
lock-and-dam scheme that would make Salt River navigable fell through.
Then one of the children, Margaret, a black-eyed, rosy little girl of
nine, suddenly died. This was in August, 1839. A month or two later the
saddened family abandoned their Florida home and moved in wagons, with
their household furnishings, to Hannibal, a Mississippi River town,
thirty miles away. There was only one girl left now, Pamela, twelve
years old, but there was another boy, baby Henry, three years younger
than Little Sam—four boys in all.
THE NEW HOME, AND UNCLE JOHN QUARLES'S FARM
Hannibal was a town with prospects and considerable trade. It was
slumbrous, being a slave town, but it was not dead. John Clemens
believed it a promising place for business, and opened a small general
store with Orion Clemens, now fifteen, a studious, dreamy lad, for clerk.
The little city was also an attractive place of residence. Mark Twain
remembered it as "the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer
morning, . . . the great Mississippi, the magnificent Mississippi,
rolling its mile-wide tide along, …. the dense forest away on the
The "white town" was built against green hills, and abutting the river
were bluffs—Holliday's Hill and Lover's Leap. A distance below the town
was a cave—a wonderful cave, as every reader of Tom Sawyer knows—while
out in the river, toward the Illinois shore, was the delectable island
that was one day to be the meeting-place of Tom's pirate band, and later
to become the hiding-place of Huck and Nigger Jim.
The river itself was full of interest. It was the highway to the outside
world. Rafts drifted by; smartly painted steamboats panted up and down,
touching to exchange traffic and travelers, a never-ceasing wonder to
those simple shut-in dwellers whom the telegraph and railway had not yet
reached. That Hannibal was a pleasant place of residence we may believe,
and what an attractive place for a boy to grow up in!
Little Sam, however, was not yet ready to enjoy the island and the cave.
He was still delicate—the least promising of the family. He was queer
and fanciful, and rather silent. He walked in his sleep and was often
found in the middle of the night, fretting with the cold, in some dark
corner. Once he heard that a neighbor's children had the measles, and,
being very anxious to catch the complaint, slipped over to the house and
crept into bed with an infected playmate. Some days later, Little Sam's
relatives gathered about his bed to see him die. He confessed, long
after, that the scene gratified him. However, he survived, and fell into
the habit of running away, usually in the direction of the river.
"You gave me more uneasiness than any child I had," his mother once said
to him, in her old age.
"I suppose you were afraid I wouldn't live," he suggested.
She looked at him with the keen humor which had been her legacy to him.
"No, afraid you would," she said. Which was only her joke, for she had
the tenderest of hearts, and, like all mothers, had a weakness for the
child that demanded most of her mother's care. It was chiefly on his
account that she returned each year to Florida to spend the summer on
John Quarles's farm.
If Uncle John Quarles's farm was just an ordinary Missouri farm, and his
slaves just average negroes, they certainly never seemed so to Little
Sam. There was a kind of glory about everything that belonged to Uncle
John, and it was not all imagination, for some of the spirit of that
jovial, kindly hearted man could hardly fail to radiate from his
The farm was a large one for that locality, and the farm-house was a big
double log building—that is, two buildings with a roofed-over passage
between, where in summer the lavish Southern meals were served, brought
in on huge dishes by the negroes, and left for each one to help himself.
Fried chicken, roast pig, turkeys, ducks, geese, venison just killed,
squirrels, rabbits, partridges, pheasants, prairie-chickens, green corn,
watermelon—a little boy who did not die on that bill of fare would be
likely to get well on it, and to Little Sam the farm proved a life-saver.
It was, in fact, a heavenly place for a little boy. In the corner of the
yard there were hickory and black-walnut trees, and just over the fence
the hill sloped past barns and cribs to a brook, a rare place to wade,
though there were forbidden pools. Cousin Tabitha Quarles, called
"Puss," his own age, was Little Sam's playmate, and a slave girl, Mary,
who, being six years older, was supposed to keep them out of mischief.
There were swings in the big, shady pasture, where Mary swung her charges
and ran under them until their feet touched the branches. All the woods
were full of squirrels and birds and blooming flowers; all the meadows
were gay with clover and butterflies, and musical with singing
grasshoppers and calling larks; the fence-rows were full of wild
blackberries; there were apples and peaches in the orchard, and plenty of
melons ripening in the corn. Certainly it was a glorious place!
Little Sam got into trouble once with the watermelons. One of them had
not ripened quite enough when he ate several slices of it. Very soon
after he was seized with such terrible cramps that some of the household
did not think he could live.
But his mother said: "Sammy will pull through. He was not born to die
that way." Which was a true prophecy. Sammy's slender constitution
withstood the strain. It was similarly tested more than once during
those early years. He was regarded as a curious child. At times dreamy
and silent, again wild-headed and noisy, with sudden impulses that sent
him capering and swinging his arms into the wind until he would fall with
shrieks and spasms of laughter and madly roll over and over in the grass.
It is not remembered that any one prophesied very well for his future at
The negro quarters on Uncle John's farm were especially fascinating. In
one cabin lived a bedridden old woman whom the children looked upon with
awe. She was said to be a thousand years old, and to have talked with
Moses. She had lost her health in the desert, coming out of Egypt. She
had seen Pharaoh drown, and the fright had caused the bald spot on her
head. She could ward off witches and dissolve spells.
Uncle Dan'l was another favorite, a kind-hearted, gentle soul, who long
after, as Nigger Jim in the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn tales, would
win world-wide love and sympathy.
Through that far-off, warm, golden summer-time Little Sam romped and
dreamed and grew. He would return each summer to the farm during those
early years. It would become a beautiful memory. His mother generally
kept him there until the late fall, when the chilly evenings made them
gather around the wide, blazing fireplace. Sixty years later he wrote:
"I can see the room yet with perfect clearness. I can see all
its belongings, all its details; the family-room of the house, with
the trundle-bed in one corner and the spinning-wheel in another—a
wheel whose rising and falling wail, heard from a distance, was the
mournfulest of all sounds to me and made me homesick and low-
spirited and filled my atmosphere with the wandering spirits of the
dead; the vast fireplace, piled high with flaming logs from whose
ends a sugary sap bubbled out but did not go to waste, for we
scraped it off and ate it; . . . the lazy cat spread out on the
rough hearthstones, the drowsy dogs braced against the jambs,
blinking; my aunt in one chimney-corner, and my uncle in the other,
smoking his corn-cob pipe."
It is hard not to tell more of the farm, for the boy who was one day
going to write of Tom and Huck and the rest learned there so many things
that Tom and Huck would need to know.
But he must have "book-learning," too, Jane Clemens said. On his return
to Hannibal that first summer, she decided that Little Sam was ready for
school. He was five years old and regarded as a "stirring child."
"He drives me crazy with his didoes when he's in the house," his mother
declared, "and when he's out of it I'm expecting every minute that some
one will bring him home half dead."
Mark Twain used to say that he had had nine narrow escapes from drowning,
and it was at this early age that he was brought home one afternoon in a
limp state, having been pulled from a deep hole in Bear Creek by a slave
When he was restored, his mother said: "I guess there wasn't much danger.
People born to be hanged are safe in water."
Mark Twain's mother was the original of Aunt Polly in the story of Tom
Sawyer, an outspoken, keen-witted, charitable woman, whom it was good to
know. She had a heart full of pity, especially for dumb creatures. She
refused to kill even flies, and punished the cat for catching mice. She
would drown young kittens when necessary, but warmed the water for the
purpose. She could be strict, however, with her children, if occasion
required, and recognized their faults.
Little Sam was inclined to elaborate largely on fact. A neighbor once
said to her: "You don't believe anything that child says, I hope."
"Oh yes, I know his average. I discount him ninety per cent. The rest
is pure gold."
She declared she was willing to pay somebody to take him off her hands
for a part of each day and try to teach him "manners." A certain Mrs. E.
Horr was selected for the purpose.
Mrs. Horr's school on Main Street, Hannibal, was of the old-fashioned
kind. There were pupils of all ages, and everything was taught up to the
third reader and long division. Pupils who cared to go beyond those
studies went to a Mr. Cross, on the hill, facing what is now the public
square. Mrs. Horr received twenty-five cents a week for each pupil, and
the rules of conduct were read daily. After the rules came the A-B-C
class, whose recitation was a hand-to-hand struggle, requiring no
The rules of conduct that first day interested Little Sam. He wondered
how nearly he could come to breaking them and escape. He experimented
during the forenoon, and received a warning. Another experiment would
mean correction. He did not expect to be caught again; but when he least
expected it he was startled by a command to go out and bring a stick for
his own punishment.
This was rather dazing. It was sudden, and, then, he did not know much
about choosing sticks for such a purpose. Jane Clemens had commonly used
her hand. A second command was needed to start him in the right
direction, and he was still dazed when he got outside. He had the
forests of Missouri to select from, but choice was not easy. Everything
looked too big and competent. Even the smallest switch had a wiry look.
Across the way was a cooper's shop. There were shavings outside, and one
had blown across just in front of him. He picked it up, and, gravely
entering the room, handed it to Mrs. Horr. So far as known, it is the
first example of that humor which would one day make Little Sam famous
before all the world.
It was a failure in this instance. Mrs. Horr's comic side may have
prompted forgiveness, but discipline must be maintained.
"Samuel Langhorne Clemens," she said (he had never heard it all strung
together in that ominous way), "I am ashamed of you! Jimmy Dunlap, go
and bring a switch for Sammy." And the switch that Jimmy Dunlap brought
was of a kind to give Little Sam a permanent distaste for school. He
told his mother at noon that he did not care for education; that he did
not wish to be a great man; that his desire was to be an Indian and scalp
such persons as Mrs. Horr. In her heart Jane Clemens was sorry for him,
but she openly said she was glad there was somebody who could take him in
Little Sam went back to school, but he never learned to like it. A
school was ruled with a rod in those days, and of the smaller boys Little
Sam's back was sore as often as the next. When the days of early summer
came again, when from his desk he could see the sunshine lighting the
soft green of Holliday's Hill, with the glint of the river and the purple
distance beyond, it seemed to him that to be shut up with a Webster
spelling-book and a cross teacher was more than human nature could bear.
There still exists a yellow slip of paper upon which, in neat,
old-fashioned penmanship is written:
MISS PAMELA CLEMENS
Has won the love of her teacher and schoolmates by her amiable
deportment and faithful application to her various studies.
E. HORR, Teacher.
Thus we learn that Little Sam's sister, eight years older than himself,
attended the same school, and that she was a good pupil. If any such
reward of merit was ever conferred on Little Sam, it has failed to come
to light. If he won the love of his teacher and playmates, it was
probably for other reasons.
Yet he must have learned somehow, for he could read, presently, and was a
good speller for his age.
EDUCATION OUT OF SCHOOL
On their arrival in Hannibal, the Clemens family had moved into a part of
what was then the Pavey Hotel. They could not have remained there long,
for they moved twice within the next few years, and again in 1844 into a
new house which Judge Clemens, as he was generally called, had built
on Hill Street—a house still standing, and known to-day as the Mark
John Clemens had met varying fortunes in Hannibal. Neither commerce nor
the practice of law had paid. The office of justice of the peace, to
which he was elected, returned a fair income, but his business losses
finally obliged him to sell Jennie, the slave girl. Somewhat later his
business failure was complete. He surrendered everything to his
creditors, even to his cow and household furniture, and relied upon his
law practice and justice fees. However, he seems to have kept the
Tennessee land, possibly because no one thought it worth taking. There
had been offers for it earlier, but none that its owner would accept. It
appears to have been not even considered by his creditors, though his own
faith in it never died.
The struggle for a time was very bitter. Orion Clemens, now seventeen,
had learned the printer's trade and assisted the family with his wages.
Mrs. Clemens took a few boarders. In the midst of this time of hardship
little Benjamin Clemens died. He was ten years old. It was the darkest
Then conditions slowly improved. There was more law practice and better
justice fees. By 1844 Judge Clemens was able to build the house
mentioned above—a plain, cheap house, but a shelter and a home. Sam
Clemens—he was hardly "Little Sam" any more—was at this time nine years
old. His boyhood had begun.
Heretofore he had been just a child—wild and mischievous, often
exasperating, but still a child—a delicate little lad to be worried
over, mothered, or spanked and put to bed. Now at nine he had acquired
health, with a sturdy ability to look out for himself, as boys in such a
community will. "Sam," as they now called him, was "grown up" at nine
and wise for his years. Not that he was old in spirit or manner—he was
never that, even to his death—but he had learned a great number of
things, many of them of a kind not taught at school.
He had learned a good deal of natural history and botany—the habits of
plants, insects, and animals. Mark Twain's books bear evidence of this
early study. His plants, bugs, and animals never do the wrong things.
He was learning a good deal about men, and this was often less pleasant
knowledge. Once Little Sam—he was still Little Sam then—saw an old man
shot down on Main Street at noon day. He saw them carry him home, lay
him on the bed, and spread on his breast an open family Bible, which
looked as heavy as an anvil. He thought if he could only drag that great
burden away the poor old dying man would not breathe so heavily.
He saw a young emigrant stabbed with a bowie-knife by a drunken comrade,
and two young men try to kill their uncle, one holding him while the
other snapped repeatedly an Allen revolver, which failed to go off. Then
there was the drunken rowdy who proposed to raid the "Welshman's" house,
one sultry, threatening evening—he saw that, too. With a boon
companion, John Briggs, he followed at a safe distance behind. A widow
with her one daughter lived there. They stood in the shadow of the dark
porch; the man had paused at the gate to revile them. The boys heard the
mother's voice warning the intruder that she had a loaded gun and would
kill him if he stayed where he was. He replied with a tirade, and she
warned him that she would count ten—that if he remained a second longer
she would fire. She began slowly and counted up to five, the man
laughing and jeering. At six he grew silent, but he did not go. She
counted on: seven, eight, nine—
The boys, watching from the dark roadside, felt their hearts stop. There
was a long pause, then the final count, followed a second later by a gush
of flame. The man dropped, his breast riddled. At the same instant the
thunder-storm that had been gathering broke loose. The boys fled wildly,
believing that Satan himself had arrived to claim the lost soul.
That was a day and locality of violent impulse and sudden action.
Happenings such as these were not infrequent in a town like Hannibal.
And there were events connected with slavery. Sam once saw a slave
struck down and killed with a piece of slag, for a trifling offense. He
saw an Abolitionist attacked by a mob that would have lynched him had not
a Methodist minister defended him on a plea that he must be crazy. He
did not remember in later years that he had ever seen a slave auction,
but he added:
"I am suspicious that it was because the thing was a commonplace
spectacle and not an uncommon or impressive one. I do vividly
remember seeing a dozen black men and women, chained together, lying
in a group on the pavement, waiting shipment to a Southern slave-
market. They had the saddest faces I ever saw."
Readers of Mark Twain's books—especially the stories of Huck and Tom,
will hardly be surprised to hear of these early happenings that formed so
large a portion of the author's early education. Sam, however, did not
regard them as education—not at the time. They got into his dreams. He
set them down as warnings, or punishments, intended to give him a taste
for a better life. He felt that it was his conscience that made such
things torture him. That was his mother's idea, and he had a high
respect for her opinion in such matters. Among other things, he had seen
her one day defy a vicious and fierce Corsican—a common terror in the
town—who had chased his grown daughter with a heavy rope in his hand,
declaring he would wear it out on her. Cautious citizens got out of the
way, but Jane Clemens opened her door to the fugitive; then, instead of
rushing in and closing it, spread her arms across it, barring the way.
The man raved, and threatened her with the rope, but she did not flinch
or show any sign of fear. She stood there and shamed and defied him
until he slunk off, crestfallen and conquered. Any one as brave as his
mother must have a perfect conscience, Sam thought, and would know how to
take care of it. In the darkness he would say his prayers, especially
when a thunderstorm was coming, and vow to begin a better life. He
detested Sunday-school as much as he did day-school, and once his brother
Orion, who was moral and religious, had threatened to drag him there by
the collar, but, as the thunder got louder, Sam decided that he loved
Sunday-school and would go the next Sunday without being invited.
Sam's days were not all disturbed by fierce events. They were mostly
filled with pleasanter things. There were picnics sometimes, and
ferryboat excursions, and any day one could roam the woods, or fish,
alone or in company. The hills and woods around Hannibal were never
disappointing. There was the cave with its marvels. There was Bear
Creek, where he had learned to swim. He had seen two playmates drown;
twice, himself, he had been dragged ashore, more dead than alive; once by
a slave girl, another time by a slave man—Neal Champ, of the Pavey
Hotel. But he had persevered, and with success. He could swim better
than any playmate of his age.
It was the river that he cared for most. It was the pathway that led to
the great world outside. He would sit by it for hours and dream. He
would venture out on it in a quietly borrowed boat, when he was barely
strong enough to lift an oar. He learned to know all its moods and
More than anything in the world he hungered to make a trip on one of the
big, smart steamers that were always passing. "You can hardly imagine
what it meant," he reflected, once, "to a boy in those days, shut in as
we were, to see those steamboats pass up and down, and never take a trip
It was at the mature age of nine that he found he could endure this no
longer. One day when the big packet came down and stopped at Hannibal,
he slipped aboard and crept under one of the boats on the upper deck.
Then the signal-bells rang, the steamer backed away and swung into
midstream; he was really going at last. He crept from beneath the boat
and sat looking out over the water and enjoying the scenery. Then it
began to rain—a regular downpour. He crept back under the boat, but his
legs were outside, and one of the crew saw him. He was dragged out and
at the next stop set ashore. It was the town of Louisiana, where there
were Lampton relatives, who took him home. Very likely the home-coming
was not entirely pleasant, though a "lesson," too, in his general
And always, each summer, there was the farm, where his recreation was no
longer mere girl plays and swings, with a colored nurse following about,
but sports with his older boy cousins, who went hunting with the men, for
partridges by day and for 'coons and 'possums by night. Sometimes the
little boy followed the hunters all night long, and returned with them
through the sparkling and fragrant morning, fresh, hungry, and
triumphant, just in time for breakfast. So it is no wonder that Little
Sam, at nine, was no longer Little Sam, but plain Sam Clemens, and grown
up. If there were doubtful spots in his education—matters related to
smoking and strong words—it is also no wonder, and experience even in
these lines was worth something in a book like Tom Sawyer.
The boy Sam Clemens was not a particularly attractive lad. He was rather
undersized, and his head seemed too large for his body. He had a mass of
light sandy hair, which he plastered down to keep from curling. His eyes
were keen and blue and his features rather large. Still, he had a fair,
delicate complexion when it was not blackened by grime and tan; a gentle,
winning manner; a smile and a slow way of speaking that made him a
favorite with his companions. He did not talk much, and was thought to
be rather dull—was certainly so in most of his lessons—but, for some
reason, he never spoke that every playmate in hearing did not stop,
whatever he was doing, to listen. Perhaps it would be a plan for a new
game or lark; perhaps it was something droll; perhaps it was just a
casual remark that his peculiar drawl made amusing. His mother always
referred to his slow fashion of speech as "Sammy's long talk." Her own
speech was even more deliberate, though she seemed not to notice it. Sam
was more like his mother than the others. His brother, Henry Clemens,
three years younger, was as unlike Sam as possible. He did not have the
"long talk," and was a handsome, obedient little fellow whom the
mischievous Sam loved to tease. Henry was to become the Sid of Tom
Sawyer, though he was in every way a finer character than Sid. With the
death of little Benjamin, Sam and Henry had been drawn much closer
together, and, in spite of Sam's pranks, loved each other dearly. For
the pranks were only occasional, and Sam's love for Henry was constant.
He fought for him oftener than with him.
Many of the home incidents in the Tom Sawyer book really happened. Sam
did clod Henry for getting him into trouble about the colored thread
with which he sewed his shirt when he came home from swimming; he did
inveigle a lot of boys into whitewashing a fence for him; he did give
painkiller to Peter, the cat. As for escaping punishment for his
misdeeds, as described in the book, this was a daily matter, and his
methods suited the occasions. For, of course, Tom Sawyer was Sam Clemens
himself, almost entirely, as most readers of that book have imagined.
However, we must have another chapter for Tom Sawyer and his doings—the
real Tom and his real doings with those graceless, lovable associates,
Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn.
TOM SAWYER AND HIS BAND
In beginning "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" the author says, "Most of the
adventures recorded in this book really occurred," and he tells us that
Huck Finn is drawn from life; Tom Sawyer also, though not from a single
individual, being a composite of three boys whom Mark Twain had known.
The three boys were himself, almost entirely, with traces of two
schoolmates, John Briggs and Will Bowen. John Briggs was also the
original of Joe Harper, the "Terror of the Seas." As for Huck Finn, the
"Red-Handed," his original was a village waif named Tom Blankenship, who
needed no change for his part in the story.
The Blankenship family picked up an uncertain livelihood, fishing and
hunting, and lived at first under a tree in a bark shanty, but later
moved into a large, barn-like building, back of the Clemens home on Hill
Street. There were three male members of the household: Old Ben, the
father, shiftless and dissolute; young Ben, the eldest son—a doubtful
character, with certain good traits; and Tom—that is to say, Huck, who
was just as he is described in the book—a ruin of rags, a river-rat,
kind of heart, and accountable for his conduct to nobody in the world.
He could come and go as he chose; he never had to work or go to school;
he could do all the things, good and bad, that other boys longed to do
and were forbidden. To them he was the symbol of liberty; his knowledge
of fishing, trapping, signs, and of the woods and river gave value to his
society, while the fact that it was forbidden made it necessary to Sam
The Blankenships being handy to the back gate of the Hill Street house,
he adopted them at sight. Their free mode of life suited him. He was
likely to be there at any hour of the day, and Tom made cat-call signals
at night that would bring Sam out on the shed roof at the back and down a
little trellis and flight of steps to the group of boon companions,
which, besides Tom, usually included John Briggs, Will Pitts, and the two
younger Bowen boys. They were not malicious boys, but just mischievous,
fun-loving boys—little boys of ten or twelve—rather thoughtless, being
mainly bent on having a good time.
They had a wide field of action: they ranged from Holliday's Hill on the
north to the cave on the south, and over the fields and through all the
woods between. They explored both banks of the river, the islands, and
the deep wilderness of the Illinois shore. They could run like turkeys
and swim like ducks; they could handle a boat as if born in one. No
orchard or melon-patch was entirely safe from them. No dog or slave
patrol was so watchful that they did not sooner or later elude it. They
borrowed boats with or without the owner's consent—it did not matter.
Most of their expeditions were harmless enough. They often cruised up to
Turtle Island, about two miles above Hannibal, and spent the day
feasting. There were quantities of turtles and their eggs there, and
mussels, and plenty of fish. Fishing and swimming were their chief
pastimes, with incidental raiding, for adventure. Bear Creek was their
swimming-place by day, and the river-front at night-fall—a favorite spot
being where the railroad bridge now ends. It was a good distance across
to the island where, in the book, Tom Sawyer musters his pirate band, and
where later Huck found Nigger Jim, but quite often in the evening they
swam across to it, and when they had frolicked for an hour or more on the
sandbar at the head of the island, they would swim back in the dusk,
breasting the strong, steady Mississippi current without exhaustion or
dread. They could swim all day, those little scamps, and seemed to have
no fear. Once, during his boyhood, Sam Clemens swam across to the
Illinois side, then turned and swam back again without landing, a
distance of at least two miles as he had to go. He was seized with a
cramp on the return trip. His legs became useless and he was obliged to
make the remaining distance with his arms.
The adventures of Sam Clemens and his comrades would fill several books
of the size of Tom Sawyer. Many of them are, of course, forgotten now,
but those still remembered show that Mark Twain had plenty of real
It was not easy to get money in those days, and the boys were often
without it. Once "Huck" Blankenship had the skin of a 'coon he had
captured, and offered to sell it to raise capital. At Selms's store, on
Wild Cat Corner, the 'coon-skin would bring ten cents. But this was not
enough. The boys thought of a plan to make it bring more. Selms's back
window was open, and the place where he kept his pelts was pretty handy.
Huck went around to the front door and sold the skin for ten cents to
Selms, who tossed it back on the pile. Then Huck came back and, after
waiting a reasonable time, crawled in the open window, got the
'coon-skin, and sold it to Selms again. He did this several times that
afternoon, and the capital of the band grew. But at last John Pierce,
Selms's clerk, said:
"Look here, Mr. Selms, there's something wrong about this. That boy has
been selling us 'coonskins all the afternoon."
Selms went back to his pile of pelts. There were several sheep-skins and
some cow-hides, but only one 'coon-skin—the one he had that moment
Selms himself, in after years, used to tell this story as a great joke.
One of the boys' occasional pastimes was to climb Holliday's Hill and
roll down big stones, to frighten the people who were driving by.
Holliday's Hill above the road was steep; a stone once started would go
plunging downward and bound across the road with the deadly momentum of a
shell. The boys would get a stone poised, then wait until they saw a
team approaching, and, calculating the distance, would give the boulder a
start. Dropping behind the bushes, they would watch the sudden effect
upon the party below as the great missile shot across the road a few
yards before them. This was huge sport, but they carried it too far.
For at last they planned a grand climax that would surpass anything
before attempted in the stone-rolling line.
A monstrous boulder was lying up there in the right position to go
down-hill, once started. It would be a glorious thing to see that
great stone go smashing down a hundred yards or so in front of some
peaceful-minded countryman jogging along the road. Quarrymen had been
getting out rock not far away and had left their picks and shovels handy.
The boys borrowed the tools and went to work to undermine the big stone.
They worked at it several hours. If their parents had asked them to work
like that, they would have thought they were being killed.
Finally, while they were still digging, the big stone suddenly got loose
and started down. They were not ready for it at all. Nobody was coming
but an old colored man in a cart; their splendid stone was going to be
One could hardly call it wasted, however; they had planned for a
thrilling result, and there was certainly thrill enough while it lasted.
In the first place the stone nearly caught Will Bowen when it started.
John Briggs had that moment quit digging and handed Will the pick. Will
was about to take his turn when Sam Clemens leaped aside with a yell:
"Lookout, boys; she's coming!"
She came. The huge boulder kept to the ground at first, then, gathering
momentum, it went bounding into the air. About half-way down the hill it
struck a sapling and cut it clean off. This turned its course a little,
and the negro in the cart, hearing the noise and seeing the great mass
come crashing in his direction, made a wild effort to whip up his mule.
The boys watched their bomb with growing interest. It was headed
straight for the negro, also for a cooper-shop across the road. It made
longer leaps with every bound, and, wherever it struck, fragments and
dust would fly. The shop happened to be empty, but the rest of the
catastrophe would call for close investigation. They wanted to fly, but
they could not move until they saw the rock land. It was making mighty
leaps now, and the terrified negro had managed to get exactly in its
path. The boys stood holding their breath, their mouths open.
Then, suddenly, they could hardly believe their eyes; a little way above
the road the boulder struck a projection, made one mighty leap into the
air, sailed clear over the negro and his mule, and landed in the soft
dirt beyond the road, only a fragment striking the shop, damaging, but
not wrecking it. Half buried in the ground, the great stone lay there
for nearly forty years; then it was broken up. It was the last rock the
boys ever rolled down. Nearly sixty years later John Briggs and Mark
Twain walked across Holliday's Hill and looked down toward the river
Mark Twain said: "It was a mighty good thing, John, that stone acted the
way it did. We might have had to pay a fancy price for that old darky I
can see him yet."
It can be no harm now, to confess that the boy Sam Clemens—a pretty
small boy, a good deal less than twelve at the time, and by no means
large for his years—was the leader of this unhallowed band. In any
case, truth requires this admission. If the band had a leader, it was
Sam, just as it was Tom Sawyer in the book. They were always ready to
listen to him—they would even stop fishing to do that—and to follow his
plans. They looked to him for ideas and directions, and he gloried in
being a leader and showing off, just as Tom did in the book. It seems
almost a pity that in those far-off barefoot days he could not have
looked down the years and caught a glimpse of his splendid destiny.
But of literary fame he could never have dreamed. The chief ambition
—the "permanent ambition"—of every Hannibal boy was to be a pilot. The
pilot in his splendid glass perch with his supreme power and princely
salary was to them the noblest of all human creatures. An elder Bowen
boy was already a pilot, and when he came home, as he did now and then,
his person seemed almost too sacred to touch.
Next to being a pilot, Sam thought he would like to be a pirate or a
bandit or a trapper-scout—something gorgeous and awe-inspiring, where
his word, his nod, would still be law. The river kept his river ambition
always fresh, and with the cave and the forest round about helped him to
imagine those other things.
The cave was the joy of his heart. It was a real cave, not merely a
hole, but a marvel of deep passages and vaulted chambers that led back
into the bluffs and far down into the earth, even below the river, some
said. Sam Clemens never tired of the cave. He was willing any time to
quit fishing or swimming or melon-hunting for the three-mile walk, or
pull, that brought them to its mystic door. With its long corridors, its
royal chambers hung with stalactites, its remote hiding-places, it was
exactly suitable, Sam thought, to be the lair of an outlaw, and in it he
imagined and carried out adventures which his faithful followers may not
always have understood, though enjoying them none the less for that
In Tom Sawyer, Indian Joe dies in the cave. He did not die there in real
life, but was lost there once and was very weak when they found him. He
was not as bad as painted in the book, though he was dissolute and
accounted dangerous; and when one night he died in reality, there came a
thunder-storm so terrific that Sam Clemens at home, in bed, was certain
that Satan had come in person for the half-breed's soul. He covered his
head and said his prayers with fearful anxiety lest the evil one might
decide to save another trip by taking him along then.
The treasure-digging adventure in the book had this foundation in fact:
It was said that two French trappers had once buried a chest of gold
about two miles above Hannibal, and that it was still there. Tom
Blankenship (Huck) one morning said he had dreamed just where the
treasure was, and that if the boys—Sam Clemens and John Briggs—would go
with him and help dig, he would divide. The boys had great faith in
dreams, especially in Huck's dreams. They followed him to a place with
some shovels and picks, and he showed them just where to dig. Then he
sat down under the shade of a pawpaw-bush and gave orders.
They dug nearly all day. Huck didn't dig any himself, because he had
done the dreaming, which was his share. They didn't find the treasure
that day, and next morning they took two long iron rods to push and drive
into the ground until they should strike something. They struck a number
of things, but when they dug down it was never the money they found.
That night the boys said they wouldn't dig any more.
But Huck had another dream. He dreamed the gold was exactly under the
little pawpaw-tree. This sounded so circumstantial that they went back
and dug another day. It was hot weather, too—August—and that night
they were nearly dead. Even Huck gave it up then. He said there was
something wrong about the way they dug.
This differs a good deal from the treasure incident in the book, but it
shows us what respect the boys had for the gifts of the ragamuffin
original of Huck Finn. Tom Blankenship's brother Ben was also used, and
very importantly, in the creation of our beloved Huck. Ben was
considerably older, but certainly no more reputable, than Tom. He
tormented the smaller boys, and they had little love for him. Yet
somewhere in Ben Blankenship's nature there was a fine, generous strain
of humanity that provided Mark Twain with that immortal episode—the
sheltering of Nigger Jim. This is the real story:
A slave ran off from Monroe County, Missouri, and got across the
river into Illinois. Ben used to fish and hunt over there in the
swamps, and one day found him. It was considered a most worthy act
in those days to return a runaway slave; in fact, it was a crime not
to do it. Besides, there was for this one a reward of fifty
dollars—a fortune to ragged, out-cast Ben Blankenship. That money,
and the honor he could acquire, must have been tempting to the waif,
but it did not outweigh his human sympathy. Instead of giving him
up and claiming the reward, Ben kept the runaway over there in the
marshes all summer. The negro fished, and Ben carried him scraps of
other food. Then, by and by, the facts leaked out. Some wood-
choppers went on a hunt for the fugitive and chased him to what was
called Bird Slough. There, trying to cross a drift, he was drowned.
Huck's struggle in the book is between conscience and the law, on one
side, and deep human sympathy on the other. Ben Blankenship's struggle,
supposing there was one, would be between sympathy and the offered
reward. Neither conscience nor law would trouble him. It was his native
humanity that made him shelter the runaway, and it must have been strong
and genuine to make him resist the lure of the fifty-dollar prize.
There was another chapter to this incident. A few days after the
drowning of the runaway, Sam Clemens and his band made their way to the
place and were pushing the drift about, when, all at once, the negro shot
up out of the water, straight and terrible, a full half-length in the
air. He had gone down foremost and had been caught in the drift. The
boys did not stop to investigate, but flew in terror to report their
Those early days seem to have been full of gruesome things. In "The
Innocents Abroad," the author tells how he once spent a night in his
father's office and discovered there a murdered man. This was a true
incident. The man had been stabbed that afternoon and carried into the
house to die. Sam and John Briggs had been playing truant all day and
knew nothing of the matter. Sam thought the office safer than his home,
where his mother was probably sitting up for him. He climbed in by a
window and lay down on the lounge, but did not sleep. Presently he
noticed what appeared to be an unusual shape on the floor. He tried to
turn his face to the wall and forget it, but that would not do. In agony
he watched the thing until at last a square of moonlight gradually
revealed a sight that he never forgot. In the book he says:
"I went away from there. I do not say that I went in any sort of
hurry, but I simply went—that is sufficient. I went out of the
window, and I carried the sash along with me. I did not need the
sash, but it was handier to take it than to leave it, and so I took
it. I was not scared, but I was considerable agitated."
Sam was not yet twelve, for his father was no longer living when the boy
had reached that age. And how many things had crowded themselves into
his few brief years! We must be content here with only a few of them.
Our chapter is already too long.
Ministers and deacons did not prophesy well for Sam Clemens and his mad
companions. They spoke feelingly of state prison and the gallows. But
the boys were a disappointing lot. Will Bowen became a fine river-pilot.
Will Pitts was in due time a leading merchant and bank president. John
Briggs grew into a well-to-do and highly respected farmer. Huck Finn
—which is to say, Tom Blankenship—died an honored citizen and justice of
the peace in a Western town. As for Sam Clemens, we shall see what he
became as the chapters pass.
 John Briggs died in 1907; earlier in the same year the writer of this
memoir spent an afternoon with him and obtained from him most of the
material for this chapter.
Sam was at Mr. Cross's school on the Square in due time, and among the
pupils were companions that appealed to his gentler side. There were the
Robards boys—George, the best Latin scholar, and John, who always won
the good-conduct medal, and would one day make all the other boys envious
by riding away with his father to California, his curls of gold blowing
in the wind.
There was Buck Brown, a rival speller, and John Garth, who would marry
little Helen Kercheval, and Jimmy MacDaniel, whom it was well to know
because his father kept a pastry-shop and he used to bring cakes and
candy to school.
There were also a number of girls. Bettie Ormsley, Artemisia Briggs, and
Jennie Brady were among the girls he remembered in later years, and Mary
Miller, who was nearly double his age and broke his heart by getting
married one day, a thing he had not expected at all.
Yet through it all he appears, like Tom Sawyer, to have had one faithful
sweetheart. In the book it is Becky Thatcher—in real life she was Laura
Hawkins. The Clemens and Hawkins families lived opposite, and the
children were early acquainted. The "Black Avenger of the Spanish Main"
was very gentle when he was playing at house-building with little Laura,
and once, when he dropped a brick on her finger, he cried the louder and
longer of the two.
For he was a tender-hearted boy. He would never abuse an animal, except
when his tendency to mischief ran away with him, as in the "pain-killer"
incident. He had a real passion for cats. Each summer he carried his
cat to the farm in a basket, and it always had a place by him at the
table. He loved flowers—not as a boy botanist or gardener, but as a
companion who understood their thoughts. He pitied dead leaves and dry
weeds because their lives were ended and they would never know summer
again or grow glad with another spring. Even in that early time he had
that deeper sympathy which one day would offer comfort to humanity and
make every man his friend.
But we are drifting away from Sam Clemens's school-days. They will not
trouble us much longer now. More than anything in the world Sam detested
school, and he made any excuse to get out of going. It is hard to say
just why, unless it was the restraint and the long hours of confinement.
The Square in Hannibal, where stood the school of Mr. Cross, was a grove
in those days, with plum-trees and hazel-bushes and grape-vines. When
spring came, the children gathered flowers at recess, climbed trees, and
swung in the vines. It was a happy place enough, only—it was school.
To Sam Clemens, the spelling-bee every Friday afternoon was the one thing
that made it worth while. Sam was a leader at spelling—it was one of
his gifts—he could earn compliments even from Mr. Cross, whose name, it
would seem, was regarded as descriptive. Once in a moment of inspiration
Sam wrote on his late:
"Cross by name and Cross by nature,
Cross jumped over an Irish potato."
John Briggs thought this a great effort, and urged the author to write it
on the blackboard at noon. Sam hesitated.
"Oh, pshaw!" said John, "I wouldn't be afraid to do it."
"I dare you to do it," said Sam.
This was enough. While Mr. Cross was at dinner John wrote in a large
hand the fine couplet. The teacher returned and called the school to
order. He looked at the blackboard, then, searchingly, at John Briggs.
The handwriting was familiar.
"Did you do that?" he asked, ominously.
It was a time for truth.
"Yes, sir," said John.
"Come here!" And John came and paid handsomely for his publishing
venture. Sam Clemens expected that the author would be called for next;
but perhaps Mr. Cross had exhausted himself on John. Sam did not often
escape. His back kept fairly warm from one "flailing" to the next.
Yet he usually wore one of the two medals offered in that school—the
medal for spelling. Once he lost it by leaving the first "r" out of
February. Laura Hawkins was on the floor against him, and he was a
gallant boy. If it had only been Huck Brown he would have spelled that
and all the other months backward, to show off. There were moments of
triumph that almost made school worth while; the rest of the time it was
prison and servitude.
But then one day came freedom. Judge Clemens, who, in spite of
misfortune, had never lost faith in humanity, indorsed a large note for a
neighbor, and was obliged to pay it. Once more all his property was
taken away. Only a few scanty furnishings were rescued from the wreck.
A St. Louis cousin saved the home, but the Clemens family could not
afford to live in it. They moved across the street and joined
housekeeping with another family.
Judge Clemens had one hope left. He was a candidate for the clerkship of
the surrogate court, a good office, and believed his election sure. His
business misfortunes had aroused wide sympathy. He took no chances,
however, and made a house-to house canvas of the district, regardless of
the weather, probably undermining his health. He was elected by a large
majority, and rejoiced that his worries were now at an end. They were,
indeed, over. At the end of February he rode to the county seat to take
the oath of office. He returned through a drenching storm and reached
home nearly frozen. Pneumonia set in, and a few days later he was
dying. His one comfort now was the Tennessee land. He said it would
make them all rich and happy. Once he whispered:
"Cling to the land; cling to the land and wait. Let nothing beguile it
away from you."
He was a man who had rarely displayed affection for his children. But
presently he beckoned to Pamela, now a lovely girl of nineteen, and,
putting his arm around her neck, kissed her for the first time in years.
"Let me die," he said.
He did not speak again. A little more, and his worries had indeed ended.
The hard struggle of an upright, impractical man had come to a close.
This was in March, 1847. John Clemens had lived less than forty-nine
The children were dazed. They had loved their father and honored his
nobility of purpose. The boy Sam was overcome with remorse. He recalled
his wildness and disobedience—a thousand things trifling enough at the
time, but heartbreaking now. Boy and man, Samuel Clemens was never
spared by remorse. Leading him into the room where his father lay, his
mother said some comforting words and asked him to make her a promise.
He flung himself into her arms, sobbing: "I will promise anything, if you
won't make me go to school! Anything!"
After a moment his mother said: "No, Sammy, you need not go to school any
more. Only promise me to be a better boy. Promise not to break my
He gave his promise to be faithful and industrious and upright, like his
father. Such a promise was a serious matter, and Sam Clemens, underneath
all, was a serious lad. He would not be twelve until November, but his
mother felt that he would keep his word.
Orion Clemens returned to St. Louis, where he was receiving a salary of
ten dollars a week—high wage for those days—out of which he could send
three dollars weekly to the family. Pamela, who played the guitar and
piano very well, gave music lessons, and so helped the family fund.
Pamela Clemens, the original of Cousin Mary, in "Tom Sawyer," was a sweet
and noble girl. Henry was too young to work, but Sam was apprenticed to
a printer named Ament, who had recently moved to Hannibal and bought a
weekly paper, "The Courier." Sam agreed with his mother that the
printing trade offered a chance for further education without attending
school, and then, some day, there might be wages.
The terms of Samuel Clemens's apprenticeship were the usual thing for
that day: board and clothes—"more board than clothes, and not much of
either," Mark Twain used to say.
"I was supposed to get two suits of clothes a year, but I didn't get
them. I got one suit and took the rest out in Ament's old garments,
which didn't fit me in any noticeable way. I was only about half as big
as he was, and when I had on one of his shirts I felt as if I had on a
circus-tent. I had to turn the trousers up to my ears to make them short
Another apprentice, a huge creature, named Wales McCormick, was so large
that Ament's clothes were much too small for him. The two apprentices,
fitted out with their employer's cast-off garments, were amusing enough,
no doubt. Sam and Wales ate in the kitchen at first, but later at the
family table with Mr. and Mrs. Ament and Pet McMurry, a journeyman
printer. McMurry was a happy soul, as one could almost guess from his
name. He had traveled far and learned much. What the two apprentices
did not already know, Pet McMurry could teach them. Sam Clemens had
promised to be a good boy, and he was so, by the standards of boyhood.
He was industrious, regular at his work, quick to learn, kind, and
truthful. Angels could hardly be more than that in a printing-office.
But when food was scarce, even an angel—a young printer-angel—could
hardly resist slipping down the cellar stairs at night, for raw potatoes,
onions, and apples, which they cooked in the office, where the boys slept
on a pallet on the floor. Wales had a wonderful way of cooking a potato
which his fellow apprentice never forgot.
How one wishes for a photograph of Sam Clemens at that period! But in
those days there were only daguerreotypes, and they were expensive
things. There is a letter, though, written long afterward, by Pet
McMurry to Mark Twain, which contains this paragraph:
"If your memory extends so far back, you will recall a little sandy-
haired boy of nearly a quarter of a century ago, in the printing-
office at Hannibal, over the Brittingham drug-store, mounted upon a
little box at the case, who used to love to sing so well the
expression of the poor drunken man who was supposed to have fallen
by the wayside, 'If ever I get up again, I'll stay up—if I kin.'"
And with this portrait we must be content—we cannot doubt its truth.
Sam was soon office favorite and in time became chief stand-by. When he
had been at work a year, he could set type accurately, run the job press
to the tune of "Annie Laurie," and he had charge of the circulation.
That is to say, he carried the papers—a mission of real importance, for
a long, sagging span of telegraph-wire had reached across the river to
Hannibal, and Mexican-war news delivered hot from the front gave the
messenger a fine prestige.
He even did editing, of a kind. That is to say, when Ament was not in
the office and copy was needed, Sam hunted him up, explained the
situation, and saw that the necessary matter was produced. He was not
ambitious to write—not then. He wanted to be a journeyman printer, like
Pet, and travel and see the world. Sometimes he thought he would like to
be a clown, or "end man" in a minstrel troupe. Once for a week he served
as subject for a traveling hypnotist-and was dazzled by his success.
But he stuck to printing, and rapidly became a neat, capable workman.
Ament gave him a daily task, after which he was free. By three in the
afternoon he was likely to finish his stint. Then he was off for the
river or the cave, joining his old comrades. Or perhaps he would go with
Laura Hawkins to gather wild columbine on the high cliff above the river,
known as Lover's Leap. When winter came these two sometimes went to
Bear Creek, skating; or together they attended parties, where the
old-fashioned games "Ring-around-Rosy" and "Dusty Miller" were the chief
In "The Gilded Age," Laura Hawkins at twelve is pictured "with her dainty
hands propped into the ribbon-bordered pockets of her apron . . . a
vision to warm the coldest heart and bless and cheer the saddest." That
was the real Laura, though her story in that book in no way resembles the
It was just at this time that an incident occurred which may be looked
back upon now as a turning-point in Samuel Clemens's life. Coming home
from the office one afternoon, he noticed a square of paper being swept
along by the wind. He saw that it was printed—was interested
professionally in seeing what it was like. He chased the flying scrap
and overtook it. It was a leaf from some old history of Joan of Arc, and
pictured the hard lot of the "maid" in the tower at Rouen, reviled and
mistreated by her ruffian captors. There were some paragraphs of
description, but the rest was pitiful dialogue.
Sam had never heard of Joan before—he knew nothing of history. He was
no reader. Orion was fond of books, and Pamela; even little Henry had
read more than Sam. But now, as he read, there awoke in him a deep
feeling of pity and indignation, and with it a longing to know more of
the tragic story. It was an interest that would last his life through,
and in the course of time find expression in one of the rarest books ever
The first result was that Sam began to read. He hunted up everything he
could find on the subject of Joan, and from that went into French history
in general—indeed, into history of every kind. Samuel Clemens had
suddenly become a reader—almost a student. He even began the study of
languages, German and Latin, but was not able to go on for lack of time
He became a hater of tyranny, a champion of the weak. Watching a game of
marbles or tops, he would remark to some offender, in his slow drawling
way, "You mustn't cheat that boy."
And the cheating stopped, or trouble followed.
A Hannibal paper, the "Journal," was for sale under a mortgage of five
hundred dollars, and Orion Clemens, returning from St. Louis, borrowed
the money and bought it. Sam's two years' apprenticeship with Ament had
been completed, and Orion felt that together they could carry on the
paper and win success. Henry Clemens, now eleven, was also taken out of
school to learn type-setting.
Orion was a better printer than proprietor. Like so many of his family,
he was a visionary, gentle and credulous, ready to follow any new idea.
Much advice was offered him, and he tried to follow it all.
He began with great hopes and energy. He worked like a slave and did not
spare the others. The paper was their hope of success. Sam, especially,
was driven. There were no more free afternoons. In some chapters
written by Orion Clemens in later life, he said:
"I was tyrannical and unjust to Sam. He was swift and clean as a
good journeyman. I gave him 'takes,' and, if he got through well, I
begrudged him the time and made him work more."
Orion did not mean to be unjust. The struggle against opposition and
debt was bitter. He could not be considerate.
The paper for a time seemed on the road to success, but Orion worked too
hard and tried too many schemes. His enthusiasm waned and most of his
schemes turned out poorly. By the end of the year the "Journal" was on
the down grade.
In time when the need of money became great, Orion made a trip to
Tennessee to try to raise something on the land which they still held
there. He left Sam in charge of the paper, and, though its proprietor
returned empty-handed, his journey was worth while, for it was during his
absence that Samuel Clemens began the career that would one day make him
Sam had concluded to edit the paper in a way that would liven up the
circulation. He had never written anything for print, but he believed he
knew what the subscribers wanted. The editor of a rival paper had been
crossed in love, and was said to have tried to drown himself. Sam wrote
an article telling all the history of the affair, giving names and
details. Then on the back of two big wooden letters, used for
bill-printing, he engraved illustrations of the victim wading out
into the river, testing the depth of the water with a stick.
The paper came out, and the demand for it kept the Washington hand-press
busy. The injured editor sent word that he was coming over to thrash the
whole Journal staff, but he left town, instead, for the laugh was too
Sam also wrote a poem which startled orthodox readers. Then Orion
returned and reduced him to the ranks. In later years Orion saw his
"I could have distanced all competitors, even then," he wrote,
"if I had recognized Sam's ability and let him go ahead, merely
keeping him from offending worthy persons."
Sam was not discouraged. He liked the taste of print. He sent two
anecdotes to the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post. Both were accepted
—without payment, of course, in those days—and when they appeared he
walked on air. This was in 1851. Nearly sixty years later he said:
"Seeing them in print was a joy which rather exceeded anything in
that line I have ever experienced since."
However, he wrote nothing further for the "Post." Orion printed two of
his sketches in the "Journal," which was the extent of his efforts at
this time. None of this early work has been preserved. Files of the
"Post" exist, but the sketches were unsigned and could hardly be
The Hannibal paper dragged along from year to year. Orion could pay
nothing on the mortgage—financial matters becoming always worse. He
could barely supply the plainest food and clothing for the family. Sam
and Henry got no wages, of course. Then real disaster came. A cow got
into the office one night, upset a type-case, and ate up two composition
rollers. Somewhat later a fire broke out and did considerable damage.
There was partial insurance, with which Orion replaced a few necessary
articles; then, to save rent, he moved the office into the front room of
the home on Hill Street, where they were living again at this time.
Samuel Clemens, however, now in his eighteenth year, felt that he was no
longer needed in Hannibal. He was a capable workman, with little to do
and no reward. Orion, made irritable by his misfortunes, was not always
kind. Pamela, who, meantime, had married well, was settled in St. Louis.
Sam told his mother that he would visit Pamela and look about the city.
There would be work in St. Louis at good wages.
He was going farther than St. Louis, but he dared not tell her. Jane
Clemens, consenting, sighed as she put together his scanty belongings.
Sam was going away. He had been a good boy of late years, but her faith
in his resisting powers was not strong. Presently she held up a little
"I want you to take hold of the other end of this, Sam," she said, "and
make me a promise."
The slim, wiry woman of forty-nine, gray-eyed, tender, and resolute,
faced the fair-cheeked youth of seventeen, his eyes as piercing and
unwavering as her own. How much alike they were!
"I want you," Jane Clemens said, "to repeat after me, Sam, these words: I
do solemnly swear that I will not throw a card or drink a drop of liquor
while I am gone."
He repeated the vow after her, and she kissed him.
"Remember that, Sam, and write to us," she said.
"And so," writes Orion, "he went wandering in search of that comfort and
advancement, and those rewards of industry, which he had failed to find
where I was—gloomy, taciturn, and selfish. I not only missed his labor;
we all missed his abounding activity and merriment."
THE OPEN ROAD
Samuel Clemens went to visit his sister Pamela in St. Louis and was
presently at work, setting type on the "Evening News." He had no
intention, however, of staying there. His purpose was to earn money
enough to take him to New York City. The railroad had by this time
reached St. Louis, and he meant to have the grand experience of a long
journey "on the cars." Also, there was a Crystal Palace in New York,
where a world's exposition was going on.
Trains were slow in 1853, and it required several days and nights to go
from St. Louis to New York City, but to Sam Clemens it was a wonderful
journey. All day he sat looking out of the window, eating when he chose
from the food he carried, curling up in his seat at night to sleep. He
arrived at last with a few dollars in his pocket and a ten-dollar bill
sewed into the lining of his coat.
New York was rather larger than he expected. All of the lower end of
Manhattan Island was covered by it. The Crystal Palace—some distance
out—stood at Forty-second Street and Sixth Avenue—the present site of
Bryant Park. All the world's newest wonders were to be seen there—a
dazzling exhibition. A fragment of the letter which Sam Clemens wrote to
his sister Pamela—the earliest piece of Mark Twain's writing that has
been preserved—expresses his appreciation of the big fair:
"From the gallery (second floor) you have a glorious sight—the
flags of the different countries represented, the lofty dome,
glittering jewelry, gaudy tapestry, etc., with the busy crowd
passing to and fro—'tis a perfect fairy palace—beautiful beyond
"The machinery department is on the main floor, but I cannot
enumerate any of it on account of the lateness of the hour (past one
o'clock). It would take more than a week to examine everything on
exhibition, and I was only in a little over two hours to-night. I
only glanced at about one-third of the articles; and, having a poor
memory, I have enumerated scarcely any of even the principal
objects. The visitors to the Palace average 6,000 daily—double the
population of Hannibal. The price of admission being fifty cents,
they take in about $3,000.
"The Latting Observatory (height about 280 feet) is near the Palace.
From it you can obtain a grand view of the city and the country
around. The Croton Aqueduct, to supply the city with water, is the
greatest wonder yet. Immense pipes are laid across the bed of the
Harlem River, and pass through the country to Westchester County,
where a whole river is turned from its course and brought to New
York. From the reservoir in the city to Westchester County
reservoir the distance is thirty-eight miles, and, if necessary,
they could easily supply every family in New York with one hundred
barrels of water a day!
"I am very sorry to learn that Henry has been sick. He ought to go
to the country and take exercise, for he is not half so healthy as
Ma thinks he is. If he had my walking to do, he would be another
boy entirely. Four times every day I walk a little over a mile; and
working hard all day and walking four miles is exercise. I am used
to it now, though, and it is no trouble. Where is it Orion's going
to? Tell Ma my promises are faithfully kept; and if I have my
health I will take her to Ky. in the spring. I shall save money for
"(It has just struck 2 A.M., and I always get up at six and am at
work at 7.) You ask where I spend my evenings. Where would you
suppose, with a free printers' library containing more than 4,000
volumes within a quarter of a mile of me, and nobody at home to talk
"I shall write to Ella soon. Write soon.
"Truly your Brother,
"P.S.—I have written this by a light so dim that you nor Ma could
not read by it."
We get a fair idea of Samuel Clemens at seventeen from this letter. For
one thing, he could write good, clear English, full of interesting facts.
He is enthusiastic, but not lavish of words. He impresses us with his
statement that the visitors to the Palace each day are in number double
the population of Hannibal; a whole river is turned from its course to
supply New York City with water; the water comes thirty-eight miles, and
each family could use a hundred barrels a day! The letter reveals his
personal side—his kindly interest in those left behind, his anxiety for
Henry, his assurance that the promise to his mother was being kept, his
memory of her longing to visit her old home. And the boy who hated
school has become a reader—he is reveling in a printers' library of
thousands of volumes. We feel, somehow, that Samuel Clemens has suddenly
become quite a serious-minded person, that he has left Tom Sawyer and Joe
Harper and Huck Finn somewhere in a beautiful country a long way behind.
He found work with the firm of John A. Gray & Green, general printers, in
Cliff Street. His pay was four dollars a week, in wild-cat money—that
is, money issued by private banks—rather poor money, being generally at
a discount and sometimes worth less. But if wages were low, living
was cheap in those days, and Sam Clemens, lodging in a mechanics'
boarding-house in Duane Street, sometimes had fifty cents left on
Saturday night when his board and washing were paid.
Luckily, he had not set out to seek his fortune, but only to see
something of the world. He lingered in New York through the summer of
1853, never expecting to remain long. His letters of that period were
few. In October he said, in a letter to Pamela, that he did not write to
the family because he did not know their whereabouts, Orion having sold
the paper and left Hannibal.
"I have been fooling myself with the idea that I was going to leave
New York every day for the last two weeks," he adds, which sounds
like the Mark Twain of fifty years later. Farther along, he tells
of going to see Edwin Forrest, then playing at the Broadway Theater:
"The play was the 'Gladiator.' I did not like part of it much, but
other portions were really splendid. In the latter part of the last
act. . . the man's whole soul seems absorbed in the part he is
playing; and it is real startling to see him. I am sorry I did not
see him play 'Damon and Pythias,' the former character being the
greatest. He appears in Philadelphia on Monday night."
A little farther along he says:
"If my letters do not come often, you need not bother yourself about
me; for if you have a brother nearly eighteen years old who is not
able to take care of himself a few miles from home, such a brother
is not worth one's thoughts."
Sam Clemens may have followed Forrest to Philadelphia. At any rate, he
was there presently, "subbing" in the composing-rooms of the "Inquirer,"
setting ten thousand ems a day, and receiving pay accordingly. When
there was no vacancy for him to fill, he put in the time visiting the
Philadelphia libraries, art galleries, and historic landmarks. After
all, his chief business was sight-seeing. Work was only a means to this
end. Chilly evenings, when he returned to his boarding-house, his
room-mate, an Englishman named Sumner, grilled a herring over their small
open fire, and this was a great feast. He tried writing—obituary poetry,
for the "Philadelphia Ledger"—but it was not accepted.
"My efforts were not received with approval" was his comment long after.
In the "Inquirer" office there was a printer named Frog, and sometimes,
when he went out, the office "devils" would hang over his case a line
with a hook on it baited with a piece of red flannel. They never got
tired of this joke, and Frog never failed to get fighting mad when he saw
that dangling string with the bit of red flannel at the end. No doubt
Sam Clemens had his share in this mischief.
Sam found that he liked Philadelphia. He could save a little money and
send something to his mother—small amounts, but welcome. Once he
inclosed a gold dollar, "to serve as a specimen of the kind of stuff we
are paid with in Philadelphia." Better than doubtful "wild-cat,"
certainly. Of his work he writes:
"One man has engaged me to work for him every Sunday till the first
of next April, when I shall return home to take Ma to Ky . . . .
If I want to, I can get subbing every night of the week. I go to
work at seven in the evening and work till three the next morning.
. . . The type is mostly agate and minion, with some bourgeois,
and when one gets a good agate 'take,' he is sure to make money. I
made $2.50 last Sunday."
There is a long description of a trip on the Fairmount stage in this
letter, well-written and interesting, but too long to have place here.
In the same letter he speaks of the graves of Benjamin Franklin and his
wife, which he had looked at through the iron railing of the locked
inclosure. Probably it did not occur to him that there might be points
of similarity between Franklin's career and his own. Yet in time these
would be rather striking: each learned the printer's trade; each worked
in his brother's office and wrote for the paper; each left quietly and
went to New York, and from New York to Philadelphia, as a journeyman
printer; each in due season became a world figure, many-sided, human, and
of incredible popularity.
Orion Clemens, meantime, had bought a paper in Muscatine, Iowa, and
located the family there. Evidently by this time he had realized the
value of his brother as a contributor, for Sam, in a letter to Orion,
says, "I will try to write for the paper occasionally, but I fear my
letters will be very uninteresting, for this incessant night work dulls
one's ideas amazingly."
Meantime, he had passed his eighteenth birthday, winter was coming on, he
had been away from home half a year, and the first attack of homesickness
was due. "One only has to leave home to learn how to write interesting
letters to an absent friend," he wrote; and again. "I don't like our
present prospect for cold weather at all."
He declared he only wanted to get back to avoid night work, which was
injuring his eyes, but we may guess there was a stronger reason, which
perhaps he did not entirely realize. The novelty of wandering had worn
off, and he yearned for familiar faces, the comfort of those he loved.
But he did not go. He made a trip to Washington in January—a
sight-seeing trip—returning to Philadelphia, where he worked for the
"Ledger" and "North American." Eventually he went back to New York, and
from there took ticket to St. Louis. This was in the late summer of 1854;
he had been fifteen months away from his people when he stepped aboard
the train to return.
Sam was worn out when he reached St. Louis; but the Keokuk packet was
leaving, and he stopped only long enough to see Pamela, then went aboard
and, flinging himself into his berth, did not waken until the boat
reached Muscatine, Iowa, thirty-six hours later.
It was very early when he arrived, too early to rouse the family. He sat
down in the office of a little hotel to wait for morning, and picked up a
small book that lay on the writing-table. It contained pictures of the
English rulers with the brief facts of their reigns. Sam Clemens
entertained himself learning these data by heart. He had a fine memory
for such things, and in an hour or two had those details so perfectly
committed that he never forgot one of them as long as he lived. The
knowledge acquired in this stray fashion he found invaluable in later
life. It was his groundwork for all English history.
A WIND OF CHANCE
Orion could not persuade his brother to remain in Muscatine. Sam
returned to his old place on the "Evening News," in St. Louis, where he
remained until the following year, rooming with a youth named Burrough, a
journeyman chair-maker with literary taste, a reader of the English
classics, a companionable lad, and for Samuel Clemens a good influence.
By spring, Orion Clemens had married and had sold out in Muscatine. He
was now located in Keokuk, Iowa. When presently Brother Sam came
visiting to Keokuk, Orion offered him five dollars a week and his board
to remain. He accepted. Henry Clemens, now seventeen, was also in
Orion's employ, and a lad named Dick Hingham. Henry and Sam slept in the
office; Dick and a young fellow named Brownell, who roomed above, came in
for social evenings.
They were pretty lively evenings. A music-teacher on the floor below did
not care for them—they disturbed his class. He was furious, in fact,
and assailed the boys roughly at first, with no result but to make
matters worse. Then he tried gentleness, and succeeded. The boys
stopped their capers and joined his class. Sam, especially, became a
distinguished member of that body. He was never a great musician, but
with his good nature, his humor, his slow, quaint speech and originality,
he had no rival in popularity. He was twenty now, and much with young
ladies, yet he was always a beau rather than a suitor, a good comrade to
all, full of pranks and pleasantries, ready to stop and be merry with any
that came along. If they prophesied concerning his future, it is not
likely that they spoke of literary fame. They thought him just
easy-going and light-minded. True, they noticed that he often carried a
book under his arm—a history, a volume of Dickens, or the tales of Poe.
He read more than any one guessed. At night, propped up in bed—a habit
continued until his death—he was likely to read until a late hour. He
enjoyed smoking at such times, and had made himself a pipe with a large
bowl which stood on the floor and had a long rubber stem, something like
the Turkish hubble-bubble. He liked to fill the big bowl and smoke at
ease through the entire evening. But sometimes the pipe went out, which
meant that he must strike a match and lean far over to apply it, just
when he was most comfortable. Sam Clemens never liked unnecessary
exertion. One night, when the pipe had gone out for the second time, he
happened to hear the young book-clerk, Brownell, passing up to his room
on the top floor. Sam called to him:
"Ed, come here!"
Brownell poked his head in the door. The two were great chums.
"What will you have, Sam?" he asked.
"Come in, Ed; Henry's asleep, and I'm in trouble. I want somebody to
light my pipe."
"Why don't you light it yourself?" Brownell asked.
"I would, only I knew you'd be along in a few minutes and would do it for
Brownell scratched a match, stooped down, and applied it.
"What are you reading, Sam?"
"Oh, nothing much—a so-called funny book. One of these days I'll write
a funnier book myself."
Brownell laughed. "No, you won't, Sam," he said. "You're too lazy ever
to write a book."
Years later, in the course of a lecture which he delivered in Keokuk,
Mark Twain said that he supposed the most untruthful man in the world
lived right there in Keokuk, and that his name was Ed Brownell.
Orion Clemens did not have the gift of prosperity, and his
printing-office did not flourish. When he could no longer pay Sam's wages
he took him into partnership, which meant that Sam got no wages at all,
though this was of less consequence, since his mother, now living with
Pamela, was well provided for. The disorder of the office, however,
distressed him. He wrote home that he could not work without system, and,
a little later, that he was going to leave Keokuk, that, in fact, he was
planning a great adventure—a trip to the upper Amazon!
His interest in the Amazon had been awakened by a book. Lynch and
Herndon had surveyed the upper river, and Lieutenant Herndon's book was
widely read. Sam Clemens, propped up in bed, pored over it through long
evenings, and nightly made fabulous fortunes collecting cocoa and other
rare things—resolving, meantime, to start in person for the upper Amazon
with no unnecessary delay. Boy and man, Samuel Clemens was the same.
His vision of grand possibilities ahead blinded him to the ways and means
of arrival. It was an inheritance from both sides of his parentage.
Once, in old age, he wrote:
"I have been punished many and many a time, and bitterly, for doing
things and reflecting afterward . . . . When I am reflecting on
these occasions, even deaf persons can hear me think."
He believed, however, that he had reflected carefully concerning the
Amazon, and that in a brief time he should be there at the head of an
expedition, piling up untold wealth. He even stirred the imaginations of
two other adventurers, a Dr. Martin and a young man named Ward. To
Henry, then in St. Louis, he wrote, August 5, 1856:
"Ward and I held a long consultation Sunday morning, and the result
was that we two have determined to start to Brazil, if possible, in
six weeks from now, in order to look carefully into matters there
and report to Dr. Martin in time for him to follow on the first of
The matter of finance troubled him. Orion could not be depended on for
any specified sum, and the fare to the upper Amazon would probably be
considerable. Sam planned different methods of raising it. One of them
was to go to New York or Cincinnati and work at his trade until he saved
the amount. He would then sail from New York direct, or take boat for
New Orleans and sail from there. Of course there would always be vessels
clearing for the upper Amazon. After Lieutenant Herndon's book the ocean
would probably be full of them.
He did not make the start with Ward, as planned, and Ward and Martin seem
to have given up the Amazon idea. Not so with Samuel Clemens. He went
on reading Herndon, trying meantime to raise money enough to get him out
of Keokuk. Was it fate or Providence that suddenly placed it in his
hands? Whatever it was, the circumstance is so curious that it must be
classed as one of those strange facts that have no place in fiction.
The reader will remember how, one day in Hannibal, the wind had brought
to Sam Clemens, then printer's apprentice, a stray leaf from a book about
"Joan of Arc," and how that incident marked a turning-point in his mental
life. Now, seven years later, it was the wind again that directed his
fortune. It was a day in early November—bleak, bitter, and
gusty, with whirling snow; most persons were indoors. Samuel Clemens,
going down Main Street, Keokuk, saw a flying bit of paper pass him and
lodge against a building. Something about it attracted him and he
captured it. It was a fifty-dollar bill! He had never seen one before,
but he recognized it. He thought he must be having a pleasant dream.
He was tempted to pocket his good fortune and keep still. But he had
always a troublesome conscience. He went to a newspaper office and
advertised that he had found a sum of money, a large bill.
Once, long after, he said: "I didn't describe it very particularly, and I
waited in daily fear that the owner would turn up and take away my
fortune. By and by I couldn't stand it any longer. My conscience had
gotten all that was coming to it. I felt that I must take that money out
Another time he said, "I advertised the find and left for the Amazon the
same day." All of which we may take with his usual literary discount
—the one assigned to him by his mother in childhood. As a matter of fact,
he remained for an ample time, and nobody came for the money. What was
its origin? Was it swept out of a bank, or caught up by the wind from
some counting-room table? Perhaps it materialized out of the unseen.
THE LONG WAY TO THE AMAZON
Sam decided on Cincinnati as his base. From there he could go either to
New York or New Orleans to catch the Amazon boat. He paid a visit to St.
Louis, where his mother made him renew his promise as to drink and cards.
Then he was seized with a literary idea, and returned to Keokuk, where he
proposed to a thriving weekly paper, the "Saturday Post," to send letters
of travel, which might even be made into a book later on. George Reese,
owner of the "Post," agreed to pay five dollars each for the letters,
which speaks well for his faith in Samuel Clemens's talent, five dollars
being good pay for that time and place—more than the letters were worth,
judged by present standards. The first was dated Cincinnati, November
14, 1856, and was certainly not promising literature. It was written in
the ridiculous dialect which was once thought to be the dress of humor;
and while here and there is a comic flash, there is in it little promise
of the future Mark Twain. One extract is enough:
"When we got to the depo', I went around to git a look at the iron
hoss. Thunderation! It wasn't no more like a hoss than a meetin'-
house. If I was goin' to describe the animule, I'd say it looked
like—well, it looked like—blamed if I know what it looked like,
snorting fire and brimstone out of his nostrils, and puffin' out
black smoke all 'round, and pantin', and heavin', and swellin', and
chawin' up red-hot coals like they was good. A feller stood in a
little house like, feedin' him all the time; but the more he got,
the more he wanted and the more he blowed and snorted. After a
spell the feller ketched him by the tail, and great Jericho! he set
up a yell that split the ground for more'n a mile and a half, and
the next minit I felt my legs a-waggin', and found myself at t'other
end of the string o' vehickles. I wasn't skeered, but I had three
chills and a stroke of palsy in less than five minits, and my face
had a cur'us brownish-yaller-greenbluish color in it, which was
perfectly unaccountable. 'Well,' say I, 'comment is super-flu-ous.'"
How Samuel Clemens could have written that, and worse, at twenty-one, and
a little more than ten years later have written "The Innocents Abroad,"
is one of the mysteries of literature. The letters were signed
"Snodgrass," and there are but two of them. Snodgrass seems to have
found them hard work, for it is said he raised on the price, which,
fortunately, brought the series to a close. Their value to-day lies in
the fact that they are the earliest of Mark Twain's newspaper
contributions that have been preserved—the first for which he received a
Sam remained in Cincinnati until April of the following year, 1857,
working for Wrightson & Co., general printers, lodging in a cheap
boarding-house, saving every possible penny for his great adventure.
He had one associate at the boarding-house, a lank, unsmiling Scotchman
named Macfarlane, twice young Clemens's age, and a good deal of a
mystery. Sam never could find out what Macfarlane did. His hands were
hardened by some sort of heavy labor; he left at six in the morning and
returned in the evening at the same hour. He never mentioned his work,
and young Clemens had the delicacy not to inquire.
For Macfarlane was no ordinary person. He was a man of deep knowledge, a
reader of many books, a thinker; he was versed in history and philosophy,
he knew the dictionary by heart. He made but two statements concerning
himself: one, that he had acquired his knowledge from reading, and not at
school; the other, that he knew every word in the English dictionary. He
was willing to give proof of the last, and Sam Clemens tested him more
than once, but found no word that Macfarlane could not define.
Macfarlane was not silent—he would discuss readily enough the deeper
problems of life and had many startling theories of his own. Darwin had
not yet published his "Descent of Man," yet Macfarlane was already
advancing ideas similar to those in that book. He went further than
Darwin. He had startling ideas of the moral evolution of man, and these
he would pour into the ears of his young listener until ten o'clock,
after which, like the English Sumner in Philadelphia, he would grill a
herring, and the evening would end. Those were fermenting discourses
that young Samuel Clemens listened to that winter in Macfarlane's room,
and they did not fail to influence his later thought.
It was the high-tide of spring, late in April, when the prospective
cocoa-hunter decided that it was time to set out for the upper Amazon.
He had saved money enough to carry him at least as far as New Orleans,
where he would take ship, it being farther south and therefore nearer his
destination. Furthermore, he could begin with a lazy trip down the
Mississippi, which, next to being a pilot, had been one of his most
cherished dreams. The Ohio River steamers were less grand than those of
the Mississippi, but they had a homelike atmosphere and did not hurry.
Samuel Clemens had the spring fever and was willing to take his time.
In "Life on the Mississippi" we read that the author ran away, vowing
never to return until he could come home a pilot, shedding glory. But
this is the fiction touch. He had always loved the river, and his
boyhood dream of piloting had time and again returned, but it was not
uppermost when he bade good-by to Macfarlane and stepped aboard the "Paul
Jones," bound for New Orleans, and thus conferred immortality on that
ancient little craft.
Now he had really started on his voyage. But it was a voyage that would
continue not for a week or a fortnight, but for four years—four
marvelous, sunlit years, the glory of which would color all that followed
RENEWING AN OLD AMBITION
A reader of Mark Twain's Mississippi book gets the impression that the
author was a boy of about seventeen when he started to learn the river,
and that he was painfully ignorant of the great task ahead. But this
also is the fiction side of the story. Samuel Clemens was more than
twenty-one when he set out on the "Paul Jones," and in a way was familiar
with the trade of piloting. Hannibal had turned out many pilots. An
older brother of the Bowen boys was already on the river when Sam Clemens
was rolling rocks down Holliday's Hill. Often he came home to air his
grandeur and hold forth on the wonder of his work. That learning the
river was no light task Sam Clemens would know as well as any one who had
not tried it.
Nevertheless, as the drowsy little steamer went puffing down into softer,
sunnier lands, the old dream, the "permanent ambition" of boyhood,
returned, while the call of the far-off Amazon and cocoa drew faint.
Horace Bixby, pilot of the "Paul Jones," a man of thirty-two, was
looking out over the bow at the head of Island No. 35 when he heard a
slow, pleasant voice say, "Good morning."
Bixby was a small, clean-cut man. "Good morning, sir," he said, rather
briskly, without looking around.
He did not much care for visitors in the pilothouse. This one entered
and stood a little behind him.
"How would you like a young man to learn the river?" came to him in that
serene, deliberate speech.
The pilot glanced over his shoulder and saw a rather slender,
loose-limbed youth with a fair, girlish complexion and a great mass
of curly auburn hair.
"I wouldn't like it. Cub pilots are more trouble than they're worth. A
great deal more trouble than profit."
"I am a printer by trade," the easy voice went on. "It doesn't agree
with me. I thought I'd go to South America."
Bixby kept his eye on the river, but there was interest in his voice when
he spoke. "What makes you pull your words that way?" he asked—"pulling"
being the river term for drawling.
The young man, now seated comfortably on the visitors' bench, said more
slowly than ever: "You'll have to ask my mother—she pulls hers, too."
Pilot Bixby laughed. The manner of the reply amused him. His guest was
"Do you know the Bowen boys?" he asked, "pilots in the St. Louis and New
"I know them well—all three of them. William Bowen did his first
steering for me; a mighty good boy. I know Sam, too, and Bart."
"Old schoolmates of mine in Hannibal. Sam and Will, especially, were my
Bixby's tone became friendly. "Come over and stand by me," he said.
"What is your name?"
The applicant told him, and the two stood looking out on the sunlit
"Do you drink?"
"Do you gamble?"
"Do you swear?"
"N-not for amusement; only under pressure."
"Do you chew?"
"No, sir, never; but I must—smoke."
"Did you ever do any steering?"
"I have steered everything on the river but a steamboat, I guess."
"Very well. Take the wheel and see what you can do with a steamboat.
Keep her as she is—toward that lower cottonwood snag."
Bixby had a sore foot and was glad of a little relief. He sat on the
bench where he could keep a careful eye on the course. By and by he said
"There is just one way I would take a young man to learn the river—that
is, for money."
"Five hundred dollars, and I to be at no expense whatever."
In those days pilots were allowed to carry a learner, or "cub," board
free. Mr. Bixby meant that he was to be at no expense in port or for
incidentals. His terms seemed discouraging.
"I haven't got five hundred dollars in money," Sam said. "I've got a lot
of Tennessee land worth two bits an acre. I'll give you two thousand
acres of that."
Bixby shook his head. "No," he said, "I don't want any unimproved real
estate. I have too much already."
Sam reflected. He thought he might be able to borrow one hundred dollars
from William Moffett, Pamela's husband, without straining his credit.
"Well, then," he proposed, "I'll give you one hundred dollars cash, and
the rest when I earn it."
Something about this young man had won Horace Bixby's heart. His slow,
pleasant speech, his unhurried, quiet manner at the wheel, his evident
simplicity and sincerity—the inner qualities of mind and heart which
would make the world love Mark Twain. The terms proposed were accepted.
The first payment was to be in cash; the others were to begin when the
pupil had learned the river and was earning wages. During the rest of
the trip to New Orleans the new pupil was often at the wheel, while Mr.
Bixby nursed his sore foot and gave directions. Any literary ambitions
that Samuel Clemens still nourished waned rapidly. By the time he had
reached New Orleans he had almost forgotten he had ever been a printer.
As for the Amazon and cocoa, why, there had been no ship sailing in that
direction for years, and it was unlikely that any would ever sail again,
a fact that rather amused the would-be adventurer now, since Providence
had regulated his affairs in accordance with his oldest and longest
At New Orleans Bixby left the "Paul Jones" for a fine St. Louis boat,
taking his cub with him. This was a sudden and happy change, and Sam was
a good deal impressed with his own importance in belonging to so imposing
a structure, especially when, after a few days' stay in New Orleans, he
stood by Bixby's side in the big glass turret while they backed out of
the line of wedged-in boats and headed up the great river.
This was glory, but there was sorrow ahead. He had not really begun
learning the river as yet he had only steered under directions. He had
known that to learn the river would be hard, but he had never realized
quite how hard. Serenely he had undertaken the task of mastering twelve
hundred miles of the great, changing, shifting river as exactly and as
surely by daylight or darkness as one knows the way to his own features.
Nobody could realize the full size of that task—not till afterward.
 Horace Bixby lived until 1912 and remained at the wheel until within
a short time of his death, in his eighty-seventh year. The writer of
this memoir visited him in 1910 and took down from his dictation the
dialogue that follows.
LEARNING THE RIVER
In that early day, to be a pilot was to be "greater than a king." The
Mississippi River pilot was a law unto himself—there was none above him.
His direction of the boat was absolute; he could start or lay up when he
chose; he could pass a landing regardless of business there, consulting
nobody, not even the captain; he could take the boat into what seemed
certain destruction, if he had that mind, and the captain was obliged to
stand by, helpless and silent, for the law was with the pilot in
Furthermore, the pilot was a gentleman. His work was clean and
physically light. It ended the instant the boat was tied to the landing,
and did not begin again until it was ready to back into the stream.
Also, for those days his salary was princely—the Vice-President of the
United States did not receive more. As for prestige, the Mississippi
pilot, perched high in his glass inclosure, fashionably dressed, and
commanding all below him, was the most conspicuous and showy, the most
observed and envied creature in the world. No wonder Sam Clemens, with
his love of the river and his boyish fondness for honors, should aspire
to that stately rank. Even at twenty-one he was still just a boy—as,
indeed, he was till his death—and we may imagine how elated he was,
starting up the great river as a real apprentice pilot, who in a year or
two would stand at the wheel, as his chief was now standing, a monarch
with a splendid income and all the great river packed away in his head.
In that last item lay the trouble. In the Mississippi book he tells of
it in a way that no one may hope to equal, and if the details are not
exact, the truth is there—at least in substance.
For a distance above New Orleans Mr. Bixby had volunteered information
about the river, naming the points and crossings, in what seemed a casual
way, all through his watch of four hours. Their next watch began in the
middle of the night, and Mark Twain tells how surprised and disgusted he
was to learn that pilots must get up in the night to run their boats, and
his amazement to find Mr. Bixby plunging into the blackness ahead as if
it had been daylight. Very likely this is mainly fiction, but hardly the
Presently he turned to me and said: "What's the name of the first
point above New Orleans?"
I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I
His manner jolted me. I was down at the foot again, in a moment.
But I had to say just what I had said before.
"Well, you're a smart one," said Mr. Bixby. "What's the name of the
Once more I didn't know.
"Well, this beats anything! Tell me the name of any point or place
I told you."
I studied awhile and decided that I couldn't.
"Look here! What do you start from, above Twelve Mile Point, to
"'You—you don't know,"' mimicking my drawling manner of speech.
"What do you know?"
"I—I—Nothing, for certain."
Bixby was a small, nervous man, hot and quick-firing. He went off
now, and said a number of severe things. Then:
"Look here, what do you suppose I told you the names of those points
I tremblingly considered a moment—then the devil of temptation
provoked me to say: "Well—to—to—be entertaining, I thought."
This was a red flag to the bull. He raged and stormed so (he was
crossing the river at the time) that I judged it made him blind,
because he ran over the steering-oar of a trading-scow. Of course
the traders sent up a volley of red-hot profanity. Never was a man
so grateful as Mr. Bixby was, because he was brimful, and here were
subjects who would talk back. He threw open a window, thrust his
head out, and such an irruption followed as I had never heard before
. . . . When he closed the window he was empty. Presently he
said to me, in the gentlest way:
"My boy, you must get a little memorandum-book, and every time I
tell you a thing, put it down right away. There's only one way to
be a pilot, and that is to get this entire river by heart. You have
to know it just like A-B-C."
The little memorandum-book which Sam Clemens bought, probably at the next
daylight landing, still exists—the same that he says "fairly bristled
with the names of towns, points, bars, islands, bends, reaches, etc.";
but it made his heart ache to think he had only half the river set down,
for, as the watches were four hours off and four hours on, there were the
long gaps where he had slept.
It is not easy to make out the penciled notes today. The small, neat
writing is faded, and many of them are in an abbreviation made only for
himself. It is hard even to find these examples to quote:
One-fourth less 3—run shape of upper bar and go into the low place in
the willows about 200 (ft.) lower down than last year.
OUTSIDE OF MONTEZUMA
Six or eight feet more water. Shape bar till high timber on towhead gets
nearly even with low willows. Then hold a little open on right of low
willows—run 'em close if you want to, but come out 200 yards when you
get nearly to head of towhead.
The average mind would not hold a single one of these notes ten seconds,
yet by the time he reached St. Louis he had set down pages that to-day
make one's head weary even to contemplate. And those long four-hour gaps
where he had been asleep—they are still there; and now, after nearly
sixty years, the old heartache is still in them. He must have bought a
new book for the next trip and laid this one away.
To the new "cub" it seemed a long way to St. Louis that first trip, but
in the end it was rather grand to come steaming up to the big, busy city,
with its thronging waterfront flanked with a solid mile of steamboats,
and to nose one's way to a place in that stately line.
At St. Louis, Sam borrowed from his brother-in-law the one hundred
dollars he had agreed to pay, and so closed his contract with Bixby. A
few days later his chief was engaged to go on a very grand boat indeed—a
"sumptuous temple," he tells us, all brass and inlay, with a pilot-house
so far above the water that he seemed perched on a mountain. This part
of learning the river was worth while; and when he found that the
regiment of natty servants respectfully "sir'd" him, his happiness was
But he was in the depths again, presently, for when they started down the
river and he began to take account of his knowledge, he found that he had
none. Everything had changed—that is, he was seeing it all from the
other direction. What with the four-hour gaps and this transformation,
he was lost completely.
How could the easy-going, dreamy, unpractical man whom the world knew as
Mark Twain ever have persisted against discouragement like that to
acquire the vast, the absolute, limitless store of information necessary
to Mississippi piloting? The answer is that he loved the river, the
picturesqueness and poetry of a steamboat, the ease and glory of a
pilot's life; and then, in spite of his own later claims to the contrary,
Samuel Clemens, boy and man, in the work suited to his tastes and gifts,
was the most industrious of persons. Work of the other sort he avoided,
overlooked, refused to recognize, but never any labor for which he was
qualified by his talents or training. Piloting suited him exactly, and
he proved an apt pupil.
Horace Bixby said to the writer of this memoir: "Sam was always
good-natured, and he had a natural taste for the river. He had a fine
memory and never forgot what I told him."
Yet there must have been hard places all along, for to learn every crook
and turn and stump and snag and bluff and bar and sounding of that twelve
hundred miles of mighty, shifting water was a gigantic task. Mark Twain
tells us how, when he was getting along pretty well, his chief one day
turned on him suddenly with this "settler":
"What is the shape of Walnut Bend?"
He might as well have asked me my grandmother's opinion of
protoplasm. I replied respectfully and said I didn't know it had
any particular shape. My gun-powdery chief went off with a bang, of
course, and then went on loading and firing until he was out of
adjectives ….I waited. By and by he said:
"My boy, you've got to know the shape of the river perfectly. It is
all that is left to steer by on a very dark night. Everything else
is blotted out and gone. But mind you, it hasn't got the same shape
in the night that it has in the daytime."
"How on earth am I going to learn it, then?"
"How do you follow a hall at home in the dark? Because you know the
shape of it. You can't see it."
"Do you mean to say that I've got to know all the million trifling
variations of shape in the banks of this interminable river as well
as I know the shape of the front hall at home?"
"On my honor, you've got to know them better than any man ever did
know the shapes of the halls in his own house."
"I wish I was dead!"
But the reader must turn to Chapter VIII of "Life on the Mississippi" and
read, or reread, the pages which follow this extract—nothing can better
convey the difficulties of piloting. That Samuel Clemens had the courage
to continue is the best proof, not only of his great love of the river,
but of that splendid gift of resolution that one rarely fails to find in
men of the foremost rank.
 Depth of water. One-quarter less than three fathoms.
Piloting was only a part of Sam Clemens's education on the Mississippi.
He learned as much of the reefs and shallows of human nature as of the
river-bed. In one place he writes:
In that brief, sharp schooling I got personally and familiarly
acquainted with all the different types of human nature that are to
be found in fiction, biography, or history.
All the different types, but most of them in the rough. That Samuel
Clemens kept the promise made to his mother as to drink and cards during
those apprentice days is well worth remembering.
Horace Bixby, answering a call for pilots from the Missouri River,
consigned his pupil, as was customary, tonne of the pilots of the "John
J. Roe," a freight-boat, owned and conducted by some retired farmers, and
in its hospitality reminding Sam of his Uncle John Quarles's farm. The
"Roe" was a very deliberate boat. It was said that she could beat an
island to St. Louis, but never quite overtake the current going
down-stream. Sam loved the "Roe." She was not licensed to carry
passengers, but she always had a family party of the owners' relations
aboard, and there was a big deck for dancing and a piano in the cabin.
The young pilot could play the chords, and sing, in his own fashion,
about a grasshopper that; sat on a sweet-potato vine, and about—
An old, old horse whose name was Methusalem,
Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem,
A long time ago.
The "Roe" was a heavenly place, but Sam's stay there did not last. Bixby
came down from the Missouri, and perhaps thought he was doing a fine
thing for his pupil by transferring him to a pilot named Brown, then on a
large passenger-steamer, the "Pennsylvania." The "Pennsylvania" was new
and one of the finest boats on the river. Sam Clemens, by this time, was
accounted a good steersman, so it seemed fortunate and a good arrangement
for all parties.
But Brown was a tyrant. He was illiterate and coarse, and took a dislike
to Sam from the start. His first greeting was a question, harmless
enough in form but offensive in manner.
"Are you Horace Bigsby's cub?"—Bixby being usually pronounced "Bigsby"
in river parlance.
Sam answered politely enough that he was, and Brown proceeded to comment
on the "style" of his clothes and other personal matters.
He had made an effort to please Brown, but it was no use. Brown was
never satisfied. At a moment when Sam was steering, Brown, sitting on
the bench, would shout: "Here! Where are you going now? Pull her down!
Pull her down! Do you hear me? Blamed mud-cat!"
The young pilot soon learned to detest his chief, and presently was
putting in a good deal of his time inventing punishments for him.
I could imagine myself killing Brown; there was no law against that, and
that was the thing I always used to do the moment I was abed. Instead of
going over the river in my mind, as was my duty, I threw business aside
for pleasure, and killed Brown.
He gave up trying to please Brown, and was even willing to stir him up
upon occasion. One day when the cub was at the wheel his chief noticed
that the course seemed peculiar.
"Here! Where you headin' for now?" he yelled. "What in the nation you
steerin' at, anyway? Blamed numskull!"
"Why," said Sam in his calm, slow way, "I didn't see much else I could
steer for, so I was heading for that white heifer on the bank."
"Get away from that wheel! And get outen this pilot-house!" yelled
Brown. "You ain't fitten to become no pilot!" An order that Sam found
welcome enough. The other pilot, George Ealer, was a lovable soul who
played the flute and chess during his off watch, and read aloud to Sam
from "Goldsmith" and "Shakespeare." To be with George Ealer was to
forget the persecutions of Brown.
Young Clemens had been on the river nearly a year at this time, and,
though he had learned a good deal and was really a fine steersman, he
received no wages. He had no board to pay, but there were things he must
buy, and his money supply had become limited. Each trip of the
"Pennsylvania" she remained about two days and nights in New Orleans,
during which time the young man was free. He found he could earn two and
a half to three dollars a night watching freight on the levee, and, as
this opportunity came around about once a month, the amount was useful.
Nor was this the only return; many years afterward he said:
"It was a desolate experience, watching there in the dark, among
those piles of freight; not a sound, not a living creature astir.
But it was not a profitless one. I used to have inspirations as I
sat there alone those nights. I used to imagine all sots of
situations and possibilities. These things got into my books by and
by, and furnished me with many a chapter. I can trace the effects
of those nights through most of my books, in one way and another."
Piloting, even with Brown, had its pleasant side. In St. Louis, young
Clemens stopped with his sister, and often friends were there from
Hannibal. At both ends of the line he visited friendly boats, especially
the "Roe," where a grand welcome was always waiting. Once among the
guests of that boat a young girl named Laura so attracted him that he
forgot time and space until one of the "Roe" pilots, Zeb Leavenworth,
came flying aft, shouting:
"The 'Pennsylvania' is backing out!"
A hasty good-by, a wild flight across the decks of several boats, and a
leap across several feet of open water closed the episode. He wrote to
Laura, but there was no reply. He never saw her again, never heard from
her for nearly fifty years, when both were widowed and old. She had not
received his letter.
Occasionally there were stirring adventures aboard the "Pennsylvania."
In a letter written in March, 1858, the young pilot tells of an exciting
night search in the running ice for Hat Island soundings:
Brown, the pilot, stood in the bow with an oar, to keep her head out, and
I took the tiller. We would start the men, and all would go well until
the yawl would bring us on a heavy cake of ice, and then the men would
drop like so many tenpins, while Brown assumed the horizontal in the
bottom of the boat. After an hour's hard work we got back, with ice half
an inch thick on the oars . . . . The next day was colder still. I
was out in the yawl twice, and then we got through, but the infernal
steamboat came near running over us . . . . The "Maria Denning" was
aground at the head of the island; they hailed us; we ran alongside, and
they hoisted us in and thawed us out. We had been out in the yawl from
four in the morning until half-past nine without being near a fire.
There was a thick coating of ice over men and yawl, ropes, and
everything, and we looked like rock-candy statuary.
He was at the right age to enjoy such adventures, and to feel a pride in
them. In the same letter he tells how he found on the "Pennsylvania" a
small clerkship for his brother Henry, who was now nearly twenty, a
handsome, gentle boy of whom Sam was lavishly fond and proud. The young
pilot was eager to have Henry with him—to see him started in life. How
little he dreamed what sorrow would come of his well-meant efforts in the
lad's behalf! Yet he always believed, later, that he had a warning, for
one night at the end of May, in St. Louis, he had a vivid dream, which
time would presently fulfil.
An incident now occurred on the "Pennsylvania" that closed Samuel
Clemens's career on that boat. It was the down trip, and the boat was in
Eagle Bend when Henry Clemens appeared on the hurricane deck with an
announcement from the captain of a landing a little lower down. Brown,
who would never own that he was rather deaf, probably misunderstood the
order. They were passing the landing when the captain appeared on the
"Didn't Henry tell you to land here?" he called to Brown.
Captain Klinefelter turned to Sam. "Didn't you hear him?"
Brown said: "Shut your mouth! You never heard anything of the kind!"
Henry appeared, not suspecting any trouble.
Brown said, fiercely, "Here, why didn't you tell me we had got to land at
"I did tell you, Mr. Brown," Henry said, politely.
"It's a lie!"
Sam Clemens could stand Brown's abuse of himself, but not of Henry. He
said: "You lie yourself. He did tell you!"
For a cub pilot to defy his chief was unheard of. Brown was dazed, then
"I'll attend to your case in half a minute!" And to Henry, "Get out of
Henry had started when Brown seized him by the collar and struck him in
the face. An instant later Sam was upon Brown with a heavy stool and
stretched him on the floor. Then all the repressed fury of months broke
loose; and, leaping upon Brown and holding him down with his knees,
Samuel Clemens pounded the tyrant with his fists till his strength gave
out. He let Brown go then, and the latter, with pilot instinct, sprang
to the wheel, for the boat was drifting. Seeing she was safe, he seized
a spy-glass as a weapon and ordered his chastiser out of the pilot-house.
But Sam lingered. He had become very calm, and he openly corrected
"Don't give me none of your airs!" yelled Brown. "I ain't goin' to stand
nothin' more from you!"
"You should say, `Don't give me any of your airs,'" Sam said, sweetly,
"and the last half of your sentence almost defies correction."
A group of passengers and white-aproned servants, assembled on the deck
forward, applauded the victor. Sam went down to find Captain
Klinefelter. He expected to be put in irons, for it was thought to be
mutiny to strike a pilot.
The captain took Sam into his private room and made some inquiries. Mark
Twain, in the "Mississippi" boot remembers them as follows:
"Did you strike him first?" Captain Klinefelter asked.
"A stool, sir."
"Did it knock him down?"
"He—he fell, sir."
"Did you follow it up? Did you do anything further?"
"What did you do?"
"Pounded him, sir."
"Did you pound him much—that is, severely?"
"One might call it that, sir, maybe."
"I am mighty glad of it! Hark ye—never mention that I said that! You
have been guilty of a great crime; and don't ever be guilty of it again
on this boat, but—lay for him ashore! Give him a good, sound thrashing,
do you hear? I'll pay the expenses."
In a letter which Samuel Clemens wrote to Orion's wife, immediately after
this incident, he gives the details of the encounter with Brown and
speaks of Captain Klinefelter's approval. Brown declared he would
leave the boat at New Orleans if Sam Clemens remained on it, and the
captain told him to go, offering to let Sam himself run the daylight
watches back to St. Louis, thus showing his faith in the young steersman.
The "cub," however, had less confidence, and advised that Brown be kept
for the up trip, saying he would follow by the next boat. It was a
decision that probably saved his life.
That night, watching on the levee, Henry joined him, when his own duties
were finished, and the brothers made the round together. It may have
been some memory of his dream that made Samuel Clemens say:
"Henry, in case of accident, whatever you do, don't lose your head—the
passengers will do that. Rush for the hurricane-deck and to the
life-boat, and obey the mate's orders. When the boat is launched, help
the women and children into it. Don't get in yourself. The river is only
a mile wide. You can swim ashore easily enough."
It was good, manly advice, but a long grief lay behind it.
 In the Mississippi book the author says that Brown was about to
strike Henry with a lump of coal, but in the letter above mentioned the
details are as here given.
THE WRECK OF THE "PENNSYLVANIA"
The "A. T. Lacy," that brought Samuel Clemens up the river, was two days
behind the "Pennsylvania." At Greenville, Mississippi, a voice from
the landing shouted "The 'Pennsylvania' is blown up just below Memphis,
at Ship Island. One hundred and fifty lives lost!"
It proved a true report. At six o'clock that warm mid-June morning,
while loading wood, sixty miles below Memphis, four out of eight of the
Pennsylvania's boilers had suddenly exploded, with fearful results.
Henry Clemens had been one of the victims. He had started to swim for
the shore, only a few hundred yards away, but had turned back to assist
in the rescue of others. What followed could not be clearly learned. He
was terribly injured, and died on the fourth night after the catastrophe.
His brother was with him by that time, and believed he recognized the
exact fulfilment of his dream.
The young pilot's grief was very great. In a letter home he spoke of the
dying boy as "My darling, my pride, my glory, my all." His heavy sorrow,
and the fact that with unsparing self-blame he held himself in a measure
responsible for his brother's tragic death, saddened his early life. His
early gaiety came back, but his face had taken on the serious, pathetic
look which from that time it always wore in repose. Less than
twenty-three, he had suddenly the look of thirty, and while Samuel
Clemens in spirit, temperament, and features never would become really
old, neither would he ever look really young again.
He returned to the river as steersman for George Ealer, whom he loved,
and in September of that year obtained a full license as Mississippi
River pilot from St. Louis to New Orleans. In eighteen months he had
packed away in his head all those wearisome details and acquired that
confidence that made him one of the elect. He knew every snag and bank
and dead tree and depth in all those endless miles of shifting current,
every cut-off and crossing. He could read the surface of the water by
day, he could smell danger in the dark. To the writer of these chapters,
Horace Bixby said:
"In a year and a half from the time he came to the river, Sam was not
only a pilot, but a good one. Sam was a fine pilot, and in a day when
piloting on the Mississippi required a great deal more brains and skill
and application than it does now. There were no signal-lights along the
shore in those days, and no search-lights on the vessels; everything was
blind; and on a dark, misty night, in a river full of snags and shifting
sandbars and changing shores, a pilot's judgment had to be founded on
Bixby had returned from the Missouri by the time his pupil's license was
issued, and promptly took him as full partner on the "Crescent City," and
later on a fine new boat, the "New Falls City." Still later, they appear
to have been together on a very large boat, the "City of Memphis," and
again on the "Alonzo Child."
For Samuel Clemens these were happy days—the happiest, in some respects,
he would ever know. He had plenty of money now. He could help his
mother with a liberal hand, and could put away fully a hundred dollars a
month for himself. He had few cares, and he loved the ease and romance
and independence of his work as he would never quite love anything again.
His popularity on the river was very great. His humorous stories and
quaint speech made a crowd collect wherever he appeared. There were
pilot-association rooms in St. Louis and New Orleans, and his appearance
at one of these places was a signal for the members to gather.
A friend of those days writes: "He was much given to spinning yarns so
funny that his hearers were convulsed, and yet all the time his own face
was perfectly sober. Occasionally some of his droll yarns got into the
papers. He may have written them himself."
Another old river-man remembers how, one day, at the association, they
were talking of presence of mind in an accident, when Pilot Clemens said:
"Boys, I had great presence of mind once. It was at a fire. An old man
leaned out of a four-story building, calling for help. Everybody in the
crowd below looked up, but nobody did anything. The ladders weren't long
enough. Nobody had any presence of mind—nobody but me. I came to the
rescue. I yelled for a rope. When it came I threw the old man the end
of it. He caught it, and I told him to tie it around his waist. He did
so, and I pulled him down."
This was a story that found its way into print, probably his own
"Sam was always scribbling when not at the wheel," said Bixby, "but the
best thing he ever did was the burlesque of old Isaiah Sellers. He
didn't write it for print, but only for his own amusement and to show to
a few of the boys. Bart Bowen, who was with him on the "Edward J. Gay"
at the time, got hold of it, and gave it to one of the New Orleans
The burlesque on Captain Sellers would be of little importance if it were
not for its association with the origin, or, at least, with the
originator, of what is probably the best known of literary names—the
name Mark Twain.
This strong, happy title—a river term indicating a depth of two fathoms
on the sounding-line—was first used by the old pilot, Isaiah Sellers,
who was a sort of "oldest inhabitant" of the river, with a passion for
airing his ancient knowledge before the younger men. Sellers used to
send paragraphs to the papers, quaint and rather egotistical in tone,
usually beginning, "My opinion for the citizens of New Orleans," etc.,
prophesying river conditions and recalling memories as far back as 1811.
These he generally signed "Mark Twain."
Naturally, the younger pilots amused themselves by imitating Sellers, and
when Sam Clemens wrote abroad burlesque of the old man's contributions,
relating a perfectly impossible trip, supposed to have been made in 1763
with a Chinese captain and a Choctaw crew, it was regarded as a
masterpiece of wit.
It appeared in the "True Delta" in May, 1859, and broke Captain Sellers's
literary heart. He never wrote another paragraph. Clemens always
regretted the whole matter deeply, and his own revival of the name
afterward was a sort of tribute to the old man he had thoughtlessly and
Old pilots of that day remembered Samuel Clemens as a slender,
fine-looking man, well dressed, even dandified, generally wearing blue
serge, with fancy shirts, white duck trousers, and patent-leather shoes.
A pilot could do that, for his surroundings were speckless.
The pilots regarded him as a great reader—a student of history, travels,
and the sciences. In the association rooms they often saw him poring
over serious books. He began the study of French one day in New Orleans,
when he had passed a school of languages where French, German, and
Italian were taught, one in each of three rooms. The price was
twenty-five dollars for one language, or three for fifty. The student was
provided with a set of conversation cards for each, and was supposed to
walk from one apartment to another, changing his nationality at each
threshold. The young pilot, with his usual enthusiasm, invested in all
three languages, but after a few round trips decided that French would
do. He did not return to the school, but kept the cards and added
text-books. He studied faithfully when off watch and in port, and his
old river note-book, still preserved, contains a number of advanced
exercises, neatly written out.
Still more interesting are the river notes themselves. They are not the
timid, hesitating memoranda of the "little book" which, by Bixby's
advice, he bought for his first trip. They are quick, vigorous records
that show confidence and knowledge. Under the head of "Second high-water
trip—Jan., 1861 'Alonzo Child,'" the notes tell the story of a rising
river, with overflowing banks, blind passages, and cut-offs—a new river,
in fact, that must be judged by a perfect knowledge of the old—guessed,
but guessed right.
Good deal of water all over Cole's Creek Chute, 12 or 15 ft. bank—could
have gone up above General Taylor's—too much drift . . . .
Night—didn't run either 77 or 76 towheads—8-ft. bank on main shore
To the reader to-day it means little enough, but one may imagine,
perhaps, a mile-wide sweep of boiling water, full of drift, shifting
currents with newly forming bars, and a lone figure in the dark
pilot-house, peering into the night for blind and disappearing landmarks.
But such nights were not all there was of piloting. There were glorious
nights when the stars were blazing out, and the moon was on the water,
and the young pilot could follow a clear channel and dream long dreams.
He was very serious at such times—he reviewed the world's history he had
read, he speculated on the future, he considered philosophies, he lost
himself in a study of the stars. Mark Twain's love of astronomy, which
never waned until his last day, began with those lonely river watches.
Once a great comet blazed in the sky, a "wonderful sheaf of light," and
glorified his long hours at the wheel.
Samuel Clemens was now twenty-five, full of health and strong in his
courage. In the old notebook there remains a well-worn clipping, the
words of some unknown writer, which he may have kept as a sort of creed:
HOW TO TAKE LIFE.—Take it just as though it was—as it is—an earnest,
vital, and important affair. Take it as though you were born to the task
of performing a merry part in it—as though the world had awaited for
your coming. Take it as though it was a grand opportunity to do and
achieve, to carry forward great and good schemes to help and cheer a
suffering, weary, it may be heartbroken, brother. Now and then a man
stands aside from the crowd, labors earnestly, steadfastly, confidently,
and straightway becomes famous for wisdom, intellect, skill, greatness of
some sort. The world wonders, admires, idolizes, and it only illustrates
what others may do if they take hold of life with a purpose. The
miracle, or the power that elevates the few, is to be found in their
industry, application, and perseverance under the promptings of a brave,
Bixby and Clemens were together that winter on the "Child," and were the
closest friends. Once the young pilot invited his mother to make the
trip to New Orleans, and the river journey and a long drive about the
beautiful Southern city filled Jane Clemens with wonder and delight. She
no longer shad any doubts of Sam. He had long since become the head of
the family. She felt called upon to lecture him, now and then, but down
in her heart she believed that he could really do no wrong. They joked
each other unmercifully, and her wit, never at a loss, was quite as keen
THE END OF PILOTING
When one remembers how much Samuel Clemens loved the river, and how
perfectly he seemed suited to the ease and romance of the pilot-life, one
is almost tempted to regret that it should so soon have come to an end.
Those trips of early '61, which the old note-book records, were the last
he would ever make. The golden days of Mississippi steam-boating were
Nobody, however, seemed to suspect it. Even a celebrated fortune-teller
in New Orleans, whom the young pilot one day consulted as to his future,
did not mention the great upheaval then close at hand. She told him
quite remarkable things, and gave him some excellent advice, but though
this was February, 1861, she failed to make any mention of the Civil War!
Yet, a month later, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated and trouble was in
the air. Then in April Fort Sumter was fired upon and the war had come.
It was a feverish time among the pilots. Some were for the Union—others
would go with the Confederacy. Horace Bixby stood for the North, and in
time was chief of the Union river-service. A pilot named Montgomery
(Clemens had once steered for him) went with the South and by and by
commanded the Confederate Mississippi fleet. In the beginning a good
many were not clear as to their opinions. Living both North and South,
as they did, they divided their sympathies. Samuel Clemens was
thoughtful, and far from bloodthirsty. A pilothouse, so fine and showy
in times of peace, seemed a poor place to be in when fighting was going
on. He would consider the matter.
"I am not anxious to get up into a glass perch and be shot at by either
side," he said. "I'll go home and reflect."
He went up the river as a passenger on a steamer named the "Uncle Sam."
Zeb Leavenworth, formerly of the "John J. Roe," was one of the pilots,
and Clemens usually stood the watch with him. At Memphis they barely
escaped the blockade. At Cairo they saw soldiers drilling—troops later
commanded by Grant.
The "Uncle Sam" came steaming up to St. Louis, glad to have slipped
through safely. They were not quite through, however. Abreast of
Jefferson Barracks they heard the boom of a cannon, and a great ring of
smoke drifted in their direction. They did not recognize it as a
thunderous "Halt!" and kept on. Less than a minute later, a shell
exploded directly in front of the pilot-house, breaking a lot of glass
and damaging the decoration. Zeb Leavenworth tumbled into a corner.
"Gee-mighty, Sam!" he said. "What do they mean by that?"
Clemens stepped from the visitors' bench to the wheel and brought the
"I guess—they want us—to wait a minute—Zeb," he said.
They were examined and passed. It was the last steamboat to make the
trip through from New Orleans to St. Louis. Mark Twain's pilot days were
over. He would have grieved had he known this fact.
"I loved the profession far better than any I have followed since," he
long afterward declared, "and I took a measureless pride in it."
At the time, like many others, he expected the war to be brief, and his
life to be only temporarily interrupted. Within a year, certainly, he
would be back in the pilot-house. Meantime the war must be settled; he
would go up to Hannibal to see about it.
When he reached Hannibal, Samuel Clemens found a very mixed condition of
affairs. The country was in an uproar of war preparation; in a border
State there was a confusion of sympathies, with much ignorance as to what
it was all about. Any number of young men were eager to enlist for a
brief camping-out expedition, and small private companies were formed,
composed about half-and-half of Union and Confederate men, as it turned
Missouri, meantime, had allied herself with the South, and Samuel
Clemens, on his arrival in Hannibal, decided that, like Lee, he would go
with his State. Old friends, who were getting up a company "to help
Governor `Claib' Jackson repel the invader," offered him a lieutenancy if
he would join. It was not a big company; it had only about a dozen
members, most of whom had been schoolmates, some of them fellow-pilots,
and Sam Clemens was needed to make it complete. It was just another Tom
Sawyer band, and they met in a secret place above Bear Creek Hill and
planned how they would sell their lives on the field of glory, just as
years before fierce raids had been arranged on peach-orchards and
melon-patches. Secrecy was necessary, for the Union militia had a habit
of coming over from Illinois and arresting suspicious armies on sight. It
would humiliate the finest army in the world to spend a night or two in
So they met secretly at night, and one mysterious evening they called on
girls who either were their sweethearts or were pretending to be for the
occasion, and when the time came for good-by the girls were invited to
"walk through the pickets" with them, though the girls didn't notice any
pickets, because the pickets were calling on their girls, too, and were a
little late getting to their posts.
That night they marched, through brush and vines, because the highroad
was thought to be dangerous, and next morning arrived at the home of
Colonel Ralls, of Ralls County, who had the army form in dress parade and
made it a speech and gave it a hot breakfast in good Southern style.
Then he sent out to Col. Bill Splawn and Farmer Nuck Matson a requisition
for supplies that would convert this body of infantry into cavalry
—rough-riders of that early day. The community did not wish to keep an
army on its hands, and were willing to send it along by such means as
they could spare handily. When the outfitting was complete, Lieutenant
Samuel Clemens, mounted on a small yellow mule whose tail had been
trimmed in the paint-brush pattern then much worn by mules, and
surrounded by variously attached articles—such as an extra pair of
cowhide boots, a pair of gray blankets, a home-made quilt, a frying-pan,
a carpet-sack, a small valise, an overcoat, an old-fashioned Kentucky
rifle, twenty yards of rope, and an umbrella—was a fair sample of the
An army like that, to enjoy itself, ought to go into camp; so it went
over to Salt River, near the town of Florida, and took up headquarters in
a big log stable. Somebody suggested that an army ought to have its hair
cut, so that in a hand-to-hand conflict the enemy could not get hold of
it. There was a pair of sheep-shears in the stable, and Private Tom
Lyons acted as barber. They were not sharp shears, and a group of little
darkies gathered from the farm to enjoy the torture.
Regular elections were now held—all officers, down to sergeants and
orderlies, being officially chosen. There were only three privates, and
you couldn't tell them from officers. The discipline in that army was
It became worse soon. Pouring rain set in. Salt River rose and
overflowed the bottoms. Men ordered on picket duty climbed up into the
stable-loft and went to bed. Twice, on black, drenching nights, word
came from the farmhouse that the enemy, commanded by a certain Col.
Ulysses Grant, was in the neighborhood, and the Hannibal division went
hastily slopping through mud and brush in the other direction, dragging
wearily back when the alarm was over. Military ardor was bound to cool
under such treatment. Then Lieutenant Clemens developed a very severe
boil, and was obliged to lie most of the day on some hay in a
horse-trough, where he spent his time denouncing the war and the mistaken
souls who had invented it. When word that "General" Tom Harris, commander
of the district—formerly telegraph-operator in Hannibal—was at a
near-by farm-house, living on the fat of the land, the army broke camp
without further ceremony. Halfway there they met General Harris, who
ordered them back to quarters. They called him familiarly "Tom," and told
him they were through with that camp forever. He begged them, but it was
no use. A little farther on they stopped at a farm-house for supplies. A
tall, bony woman came to the door.
"You're Secesh, ain't you?"
Lieutenant Clemens said: "We are, madam, defenders of the noble cause,
and we should like to buy a few provisions."
The request seemed to inflame her.
"Provisions!" she screamed. "Provisions for Secesh, and my husband a
colonel in the Union Army. You get out of here!"
She reached for a hickory hoop-pole  that stood by the door, and the
army moved on. When they reached the home of Col. Bill Splawn it was
night and the family had gone to bed. So the hungry army camped in the
barn-yard and crept into the hay-loft to sleep. Presently somebody
yelled "Fire!" One of the boys had been smoking and had ignited the hay.
Lieutenant Clemens, suddenly wakened, made a quick rotary movement away
from the blaze, and rolled out of a big hay-window into the barn-yard
below. The rest of the brigade seized the burning hay and pitched it out
of the same window. The lieutenant had sprained his ankle when he
struck, and his boil was still painful, but the burning hay cured him
—for the moment. He made a spring from under it; then, noticing that the
rest of the army, now that the fire was out, seemed to think his
performance amusing, he rose up and expressed himself concerning the war,
and military life, and the human race in general. They helped him in,
then, for his ankle was swelling badly.
In the morning, Colonel Splawn gave the army a good breakfast, and it
moved on. Lieutenant Clemens, however, did not get farther than Farmer
Nuck Matson's. He was in a high fever by that time from his injured
ankle, and Mrs. Matson put him to bed. So the army left him, and
presently disbanded. Some enlisted in the regular service, North or
South, according to preference. Properly officered and disciplined, that
"Tom Sawyer" band would have made as good soldiers as any.
Lieutenant Clemens did not enlist again. When he was able to walk, he
went to visit Orion in Keokuk. Orion was a Union Abolitionist, but there
would be no unpleasantness on that account. Samuel Clemens was beginning
to have leanings in that direction himself.
 In an earlier day, barrel hoops were made of small hickory trees,
split and shaved. The hoop-pole was a very familiar article of commerce,
and of household defense.
He arrived in Keokuk at what seemed a lucky moment. Through Edward
Bates, a member of Lincoln's Cabinet, Orion Clemens had received an
appointment as territorial secretary of Nevada, and only needed the money
to carry him to the seat of his office at Carson City. Out of his
pilot's salary his brother had saved more than enough for the journey,
and was willing to pay both their fares and go along as private secretary
to Orion, whose position promised something in the way of adventure and a
possible opportunity for making a fortune.
The brothers went at once to St. Louis for final leave-taking, and there
took boat for "St. Jo," Missouri, terminus of the great Overland Stage
Route. They paid one hundred and fifty dollars each for their passage,
and about the end of July, 1861, set out on that long, delightful trip,
behind sixteen galloping horses, never stopping except for meals or to
change teams, heading steadily into the sunset over the billowy plains
and snow-clad Rockies, covering the seventeen hundred miles between St.
Jo and Carson City in nineteen glorious days.
But one must read Mark Twain's "Roughing It" for the story of that
long-ago trip—the joy and wonder of it, and the inspiration. "Even at
this day," he writes, "it thrills me through and through to think of the
life, the gladness, and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the
blood dance in my face on those fine overland mornings."
It was a hot dusty, August day when they arrived, dusty, unshaven, and
weather-beaten, and Samuel Clemens's life as a frontiersman began.
Carson City, the capital of Nevada, was a wooden town with an assorted
population of two thousand souls. The mining excitement was at its
height and had brought together the drift of every race.
The Clemens brothers took up lodgings with a genial Irishwoman, the Mrs.
O'Flannigan of "Roughing It," and Orion established himself in a modest
office, for there was no capitol building as yet, no government
headquarters. Orion could do all the work, and Samuel Clemens, finding
neither duties nor salary attached to his position, gave himself up to
the study of the life about him, and to the enjoyment of the freedom of
the frontier. Presently he had a following of friends who loved his
quaint manner of speech and his yarns. On cool nights they would collect
about Orion's office-stove, and he would tell stories in the wonderful
way that one day would delight the world. Within a brief time Sam
Clemens (he was always "Sam" to the pioneers) was the most notable figure
on the Carson streets. His great, bushy head of auburn hair, has
piercing, twinkling eyes, his loose, lounging walk, his careless disorder
of dress invited a second look, even from strangers. From a river dandy
he had become the roughest-clad of pioneers—rusty slouch hat, flannel
shirt, coarse trousers slopping half in and half out of heavy cowhide
boots, this was his make-up. Energetic citizens did not prophesy success
for him. Often they saw him leaning against an awning support, staring
drowsily at the motley human procession, for as much as an hour at a
time. Certainly that could not be profitable.
But they did like to hear him talk.
He did not catch the mining fever at once. He was interested first in
the riches that he could see. Among these was the timber-land around
Lake Bigler (now Tahoe)—splendid acres, to be had for the asking. The
lake itself was beautifully situated.
With an Ohio boy, John Kinney, he made an excursion afoot to Tahoe, a
trip described in one of the best chapters of "Roughing It." They staked
out a timber claim and pretended to fence it and to build a house, but
their chief employment was loafing in the quiet luxury of the great woods
or drifting in a boat on the transparent water. They did not sleep in
the house. In "Roughing It" he says:
"It never occurred to us, for one thing; and, besides, it was built
to hold the ground, and that was enough. We did not wish to strain
They made their camp-fires on the borders of the lake, and one evening it
got away from them, fired the forest, and destroyed their fences and
habitation. In a letter home he describes this fire in a fine, vivid
way. At one place he says:
"The level ranks of flame were relieved at intervals by the standard-
bearers, as we called the tall dead trees, wrapped in fire, and
waving their blazing banners a hundred feet in the air. Then we
could turn from the scene to the lake, and see every branch and leaf
and cataract of flame upon its banks perfectly reflected, as in a
gleaming, fiery mirror."
He was acquiring the literary vision and touch. The description of this
same fire in "Roughing It," written ten years later, is scarcely more
Most of his letters home at this time tell of glowing prospects—the
certainty of fortune ahead. The fever of the frontier is in them. Once,
to Pamela Moffett, he wrote:
"Orion and I have enough confidence in this country to think that, if
the war lets us alone, we can make Mr. Moffett rich without its ever
costing him a cent or a particle of trouble."
From the same letter we gather that the brothers are now somewhat
interested in mining claims:
"We have about 1,650 feet of mining-ground, and, if it proves good,
Mr. Moffett's name will go in; and if not, I can get 'feet' for him
in the spring."
This was written about the end of October. Two months later, in
midwinter, the mining fever came upon him with full force.
The wonder is that Samuel Clemens, always speculative and visionary, had
not fallen an earlier victim. Everywhere one heard stories of sudden
fortune—of men who had gone to bed paupers and awakened millionaires.
New and fabulous finds were reported daily. Cart-loads of bricks—silver
and gold bricks—drove through the Carson streets.
Then suddenly from the newly opened Humboldt region came the wildest
reports. The mountains there were said to be stuffed with gold. A
correspondent of the "Territorial Enterprise" was unable to find words to
picture the riches of the Humboldt mines.
The air for Samuel Clemens began to shimmer. Fortune was waiting to be
gathered in a basket. He joined the first expedition for Humboldt—in
fact, helped to organize it. In "Roughing It" he says:
"Hurry was the word! We wasted no time. Our party consisted of four
persons—a blacksmith sixty years of age, two young lawyers, and
myself. We bought a wagon and two miserable old horses. We put
eighteen hundred pounds of provisions and mining-tools in the wagon
and drove out of Carson on a chilly December afternoon.."
The two young lawyers were W. H. Clagget, whom Clemens had known in
Keokuk, and A. W. Oliver, called Oliphant in "Roughing It." The
blacksmith was named Tillou (Ballou in "Roughing It"), a sturdy, honest
man with a knowledge of mining and the repair of tools. There were also
two dogs in the party—a curly-tailed mongrel and a young hound.
The horses were the weak feature of the expedition. It was two hundred
miles to Humboldt, mostly across sand. The miners rode only a little
way, then got out to lighten the load. Later they pushed. Then it began
to snow, also to blow, and the air became filled with whirling clouds of
snow and sand. On and on they pushed and groaned, sustained by the
knowledge that they must arrive some time, when right away they would be
millionaires and all their troubles would be over.
The nights were better. The wind went down and they made a camp-fire in
the shelter of the wagon, cooked their bacon, crept under blankets with
the dogs to warm them, and Sam Clemens spun yarns till they fell asleep.
There had been an Indian war, and occasionally they passed the charred
ruin of a cabin and new graves. By and by they came to that deadly waste
known as the Alkali Desert, strewn with the carcasses of dead beasts and
with the heavy articles discarded by emigrants in their eagerness to
reach water. All day and night they pushed through that choking,
waterless plain to reach camp on the other side. When they arrived at
three in the morning, they dropped down exhausted. Judge Oliver, the
last survivor of the party, in a letter to the writer of these chapters,
"The sun was high in the heavens when we were aroused from our sleep
by a yelling band of Piute warriors. We were upon our feet in an
instant. The picture of burning cabins and the lonely graves we had
passed was in our minds. Our scalps were still our own, and not
dangling from the belts of our visitors. Sam pulled himself
together, put his hand on his head, as if to make sure he had not
been scalped, and, with his inimitable drawl, said 'Boys, they have
left us our scalps. Let us give them all the flour and sugar they
ask for.' And we did give them a good supply, for we were grateful."
The Indians left them unharmed, and the prospective millionaires moved
on. Across that two hundred miles to the Humboldt country they pushed,
arriving at the little camp of Unionville at the end of eleven weary
In "Roughing It" Mark Twain has told us of Unionville and the mining
experience there. Their cabin was a three-sided affair with a cotton
roof. Stones rolled down the mountainside on them; also, the author
says, a mule and a cow.
The author could not gather fortune in a basket, as he had dreamed.
Masses of gold and silver were not lying about. He gathered a back-load
of yellow, glittering specimens, but they proved worthless. Gold in the
rough did not glitter, and was not yellow. Tillou instructed the others
in prospecting, and they went to work with pick and shovel—then with
drill and blasting-powder. The prospect of immediately becoming
"One week of this satisfied me. I resigned," is Mark Twain's brief
The Humboldt reports had been exaggerated. The Clemens-Clagget-Oliver-
Tillou millionaire combination soon surrendered its claims. Clemens and
Tillou set out for Carson City with a Prussian named Pfersdorff, who
nearly got them drowned and got them completely lost in the snow before
they arrived there. Oliver and Clagget remained in Unionville, began law
practice, and were elected to office. It is not known what became of the
wagon and horses and the two dogs.
It was the end of January when our miner returned to Carson. He was not
discouraged—far from it. He believed he had learned something that
would be useful to him in a camp where mines were a reality. Within a
few weeks from his return we find him at Aurora, in the Esmeralda region,
on the edge of California. It was here that the Clemens brothers owned
the 1,650 feet formerly mentioned. He had came down to work it.
It was the dead of winter, but he was full of enthusiasm, confident of a
fortune by early summer. To Pamela he wrote:
"I expect to return to St. Louis in July—per steamer. I don't say
that I will return then, or that I shall be able to do it—but I
expect to—you bet . . . . If nothing goes wrong, we'll strike
the ledge in June."
He was trying to be conservative, and further along he cautions his
sister not to get excited.
"Don't you know I have only talked as yet, but proved nothing? Don't
you know I have never held in my hands a gold or silver bar that
belonged to me? Don't you know that people who always feel jolly,
no matter where they are or what happens to them—who have the organ
of hope preposterously developed—who are endowed with an
uncongealable, sanguine temperament—who never feel concerned about
the price of corn—and who cannot, by any possibility, discover any
but the bright side of a picture—are very apt to go to extremes and
exaggerate with a 40-horse microscopic power?
In the bright lexicon of youth,
There is no such word as fail,
and I'll prove it."
Whereupon he soars again, adding page after page full of glowing
expectations and plans such as belong only with speculation in treasures
buried in the ground—a very difficult place, indeed, to find them.
His money was about exhausted by this time, and funds to work the mining
claims must come out of Orion's rather modest salary. The brothers owned
all claims in partnership, and it was now the part of "Brother Sam" to do
the active work. He hated the hard picking and prying and blasting into
the flinty ledges, but the fever drove him on. He camped with a young
man named Phillips at first, and, later on, with an experienced miner,
Calvin H. Higbie, to whom "Roughing It" would one day be dedicated. They
lived in a tiny cabin with a cotton roof, and around their rusty stove
they would paw over their specimens and figure the fortune that their
mines would be worth in the spring.
Food ran low, money gave out almost entirely, but they did not give up.
When it was stormy and they could not dig, and the ex-pilot was in a
talkative vein, he would sit astride the bunk and distribute to his
hearers riches more valuable than any they would dig from the Esmeralda
hills. At other times he did not talk at all, but sat in a corner and
wrote. They thought he was writing home; they did not know that he was
"literary." Some of his home letters had found their way into a Keokuk
paper and had come back to Orion, who had shown them to an assistant on
the "Territorial Enterprise," of Virginia City. The "Enterprise" man had
caused one of them to be reprinted, and this had encouraged its author to
send something to the paper direct. He signed these contributions
"Josh," and one told of:
"An old, old horse whose name was Methusalem,
Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem,
A long time ago."
He received no pay for these offerings and expected none. He considered
them of no value. If any one had told him that he was knocking at the
door of the house of fame, however feebly, he would have doubted that
person's judgment or sincerity.
His letters to Orion, in Carson City, were hasty compositions, reporting
progress and progress, or calling for remittances to keep the work going.
On April 13, he wrote:
"Work not begun on the Horatio and Derby—haven't seen it yet. It is
still in the snow. Shall begin on it within three or four weeks
—strike the ledge in July."
Again, later in the month:
"I have been at work all day, blasting and digging in one of our new
claims, 'Dashaway,' which I don't think a great deal of, but which I
am willing to try. We are down now ten or twelve feet."
It must have been disheartening work, picking away at the flinty ledges.
There is no further mention of the "Dashaway," but we hear of the
"Flyaway," the "Annipolitan," the "Live Yankee," and of many another,
each of which holds out a beacon of hope for a brief moment, then passes
from notice forever. Still, he was not discouraged. Once he wrote:
"I am a citizen here and I am satisfied, though 'Ratio and I are
'strapped' and we haven't three days' rations in the house. I shall
work the "Monitor" and the other claims with my own hands.
"The pick and shovel are the only claims I have confidence in now,"
he wrote, later; "my back is sore and my hands are blistered with
handling them to-day."
His letters began to take on a weary tone. Once in midsummer he wrote
that it was still snowing up there in the hills, and added, "It always
snows here I expect. If we strike it rich, I've lost my guess, that's
all." And the final heartsick line, "Don't you suppose they have pretty
much quit writing at home?"
In time he went to work in a quartz-mill at ten dollars a week, though it
was not entirely for the money, as in "Roughing It" he would have us
believe. Samuel Clemens learned thoroughly what he undertook, and he
proposed to master the science of mining. From Phillips and Higbie he
had learned what there was to know about prospecting. He went to the
mill to learn refining, so that, when his claims developed, he could
establish a mill and personally superintend the work. His stay was
brief. He contracted a severe cold and came near getting poisoned by the
chemicals. Recovering, he went with Higbie for an outing to Mono Lake, a
ghastly, lifeless alkali sea among the hills, vividly described in
At another time he went with Higbie on a walking trip to the Yosemite,
where they camped and fished undisturbed, for in those days few human
beings came to that far isolation. Discouragement did not reach them
there—amid that vast grandeur and quiet the quest for gold hardly seemed
worth while. Now and again that summer he went alone into the wilderness
to find his balance and to get entirely away from humankind.
In "Roughing It" Mark Twain tells the story of how he and Higbie finally
located a "blind lead," which made them really millionaires, until they
forfeited their claim through the sharp practice of some rival miners and
their own neglect. It is true that the "Wide West" claim was forfeited
in some such manner, but the size of the loss was magnified in "Roughing
It," to make a good story. There was never a fortune in "Wide West,"
except the one sunk in it by its final owners. The story as told in
"Roughing It" is a tale of what might have happened, and ends the
author's days in the mines with a good story-book touch.
The mining career of Samuel Clemens really came to a close gradually, and
with no showy climax. He fought hard and surrendered little by little,
without owning, even to the end, that he was surrendering at all. It was
the gift of resolution that all his life would make his defeats long and
costly—his victories supreme.
By the end of July the money situation in the Aurora camp was getting
desperate. Orion's depleted salary would no longer pay for food, tools,
and blasting-powder, and the miner began to cast about far means to earn
an additional sum, however small. The "Josh" letters to the "Enterprise"
had awakened interest as to their author, and Orion had not failed to let
"Josh's" identity be known. The result had been that here and there a
coast paper had invited contributions and even suggested payment. A
letter written by the Aurora miner at the end of July tells this part of
"My debts are greater than I thought for . . . . The fact is, I
must have something to do, and that shortly, too . . . . Now
write to the "Sacramento Union" folks, or to Marsh, and tell them
that I will write as many letters a week as they want, for $10 a
week. My board must be paid.
"Tell them I have corresponded with the "New Orleans Crescent" and
other papers—and the "Enterprise."
"If they want letters from here—who'll run from morning till night
collecting material cheaper? I'll write a short letter twice a week,
for the present, for the "Age," for $5 per week. Now it has been a
long time since I couldn't make my own living, and it shall be a long
time before I loaf another year."
This all led to nothing, but about the same time the "Enterprise"
assistant already mentioned spoke to Joseph T. Goodman, owner and editor
of the paper, about adding "Josh" to their regular staff. "Joe" Goodman,
a man of keen humor and literary perception, agreed that the author of
the "Josh" letters might be useful to them. One of the sketches
particularly appealed to him—a burlesque report of a Fourth of July
"That is the kind of thing we want," he said. "Write to him, Barstow,
and ask him if he wants to come up here."
Barstow wrote, offering twenty-five dollars a week—a tempting sum. This
was at the end of July, 1862.
Yet the hard-pressed miner made no haste to accept the offer. To leave
Aurora meant the surrender of all hope in the mines, the confession of
another failure. He wrote Barstow, asking when he thought he might be
needed. And at the same time, in a letter to Orion, he said:
"I shall leave at midnight to-night, alone and on foot, for a walk of
sixty or seventy miles through a totally uninhabited country. But
do you write Barstow that I have left here for a week or so, and, in
case he should want me, he must write me here, or let me know
He had gone into the wilderness to fight out his battle alone, postponing
the final moment of surrender—surrender that, had he known, only meant
the beginning of victory. He was still undecided when he returned eight
days later and wrote to his sister Pamela a letter in which there is no
mention of newspaper prospects.
Just how and when the end came at last cannot be known; but one hot,
dusty August afternoon, in Virginia City, a worn, travel-stained pilgrim
dragged himself into the office of the "Territorial Enterprise," then in
its new building on C Street, and, loosening a heavy roll of blankets
from his shoulder, dropped wearily into a chair. He wore a rusty slouch
hat, no coat, a faded blue-flannel shirt, a navy revolver; his trousers
were tucked into his boot-tops; a tangle of reddish-brown hair fell on
his shoulders; a mass of tawny beard, dingy with alkali dust, dropped
half-way to his waist.
Aurora lay one hundred and thirty miles from Virginia City. He had
walked that distance, carrying his heavy load. Editor Goodman was absent
at the moment, but the other proprietor, Dennis E. McCarthy, asked the
caller to state his errand. The wanderer regarded him with a far-away
look and said, absently, and with deliberation:
"My starboard leg seems to be unshipped. I'd like about one hundred
yards of line; I think I'm falling to pieces." Then he added: "I
want to see Mr. Barstow or Mr. Goodman. My name is Clemens, and
I've come to write for the paper."
It was the master of the world's widest estate come to claim his kingdom!
THE TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE
In 1852 Virginia City, Nevada, was the most flourishing of mining towns.
A half-crazy miner, named Comstock, had discovered there a vein of such
richness that the "Comstock Lode" was presently glutting the mineral
markets of the world. Comstock himself got very little out of it, but
those who followed him made millions. Miners, speculators, adventurers
swarmed in. Every one seemed to have money. The streets seethed with an
eager, affluent, boisterous throng whose chief business seemed to be to
spend the wealth that the earth was yielding in such a mighty stream.
Business of every kind boomed. Less than two years earlier, J. T.
Goodman, a miner who was also a printer and a man of literary taste, had
joined with another printer, Dennis McCarthy, and the two had managed to
buy a struggling Virginia City paper, the "Territorial Enterprise." But
then came the hightide of fortune. A year later the "Enterprise," from a
starving sheet in a leaky shanty, had become a large, handsome paper in a
new building, and of such brilliant editorial management that it was the
most widely considered journal on the Pacific coast.
Goodman was a fine, forceful writer, and he surrounded himself with able
men. He was a young man, full of health and vigor, overflowing with the
fresh spirit and humor of the West. Comstockers would always laugh at a
joke, and Goodman was always willing to give it to them. The
"Enterprise" was a newspaper, but it was willing to furnish entertainment
even at the cost of news. William Wright, editorially next to Goodman,
was a humorist of ability. His articles, signed Dan de Quille, were
widely copied. R. M. Daggett (afterward United States Minister to
Hawaii) was also an "Enterprise" man, and there were others of their
Samuel Clemens fitted precisely into this group. He brought with him a
new turn of thought and expression; he saw things with open eyes, and
wrote of them in a fresh, wild way that Comstockers loved. He was
allowed full freedom. Goodman suppressed nothing; his men could write as
they chose. They were all young together—if they pleased themselves,
they were pretty sure to please their readers. Often they wrote of one
another—squibs and burlesques, which gratified the Comstock far more
than mere news. It was just the school to produce Mark Twain.
The new arrival found acquaintance easy. The whole "Enterprise" force
was like one family; proprietors, editor, and printers were social
equals. Samuel Clemens immediately became "Sam" to his associates, just
as De Quille was "Dan," and Goodman "Joe." Clemens was supposed to
report city items, and did, in fact, do such work, which he found easy,
for his pilot-memory made notes unnecessary.
He could gather items all day, and at night put down the day's budget
well enough, at least, to delight his readers. When he was tired of
facts, he would write amusing paragraphs, as often as not something about
Dan, or a reporter on a rival paper. Dan and the others would reply, and
the Comstock would laugh. Those were good old days.
Sometimes he wrote hoaxes. Once he told with great circumstance and
detail of a petrified prehistoric man that had been found embedded in a
rock in the desert, and how the coroner from Humboldt had traveled more
than a hundred miles to hold an inquest over a man dead for centuries,
and had refused to allow miners to blast the discovery from its position.
The sketch was really intended as a joke on the Humboldt coroner, but it
was so convincingly written that most of the Coast papers took it
seriously and reprinted it as the story of a genuine discovery. In time
they awoke, and began to inquire as to who was the smart writer on the
Mark Twain did a number of such things, some of which are famous on the
Coast to this day.
Clemens himself did not escape. Lamps were used in the "Enterprise"
office, but he hated the care of a lamp, and worked evenings by the light
of a candle. It was considered a great joke in the office to "hide Sam's
candle" and hear him fume and rage, walking in a circle meantime—a habit
acquired in the pilothouse—and scathingly denouncing the culprits.
Eventually the office-boy, supposedly innocent, would bring another
candle, and quiet would follow. Once the office force, including De
Quille, McCarthy, and a printer named Stephen Gillis, of whom Clemens was
very fond, bought a large imitation meerschaum pipe, had a German-silver
plate set on it, properly engraved, and presented it to Samuel Clemens as
genuine, in testimony of their great esteem. His reply to the
presentation speech was so fine and full of feeling that the jokers felt
ashamed of their trick. A few days later, when he discovered the
deception, he was ready to destroy the lot of them. Then, in atonement,
they gave him a real meerschaum. Such things kept the Comstock
There was a side to Samuel Clemens that, in those days, few of his
associates saw. This was the poetic, the reflective side. Joseph
Goodman, like Macfarlane in Cincinnati several years earlier, recognized
this phase of his character and developed it. Often these two, dining or
walking together, discussed the books and history they had read, quoted
from poems that gave them pleasure. Clemens sometimes recited with great
power the "Burial of Moses," whose noble phrasing and majestic imagery
seemed to move him deeply. With eyes half closed and chin lifted, a
lighted cigar between his fingers, he would lose himself in the music of
the stately lines:
By Nebo's lonely mountain,
On this side Jordan's wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab
There lies a lonely grave.
And no man knows that sepulcher,
And no man saw it e'er,
For the angels of God upturned the sod,
And laid the dead man there.
That his own writing would be influenced by the simple grandeur of this
poem we can hardly doubt. Indeed, it may have been to him a sort of
literary touchstone, that in time would lead him to produce, as has been
said, some of the purest English written by any modern author.
It was once when Goodman and Clemens were dining together that the latter
asked to be allowed to report the proceedings of the coming legislature
at Carson City. He knew nothing of such work, and Goodman hesitated.
Then, remembering that Clemens would, at least, make his reports
readable, whether they were parliamentary or not, he consented.
So, at the beginning of the year (1863), Samuel Clemens undertook a new
and interesting course in the study of human nature—the political human
nature of the frontier. There could have been no better school for him.
His wit, his satire, his phrasing had full swing—his letters, almost
from the beginning, were copied as choice reading up and down the Coast.
He made curious blunders, at first, as to the proceedings, but his open
confession of ignorance in the early letters made these blunders their
chief charm. A young man named Gillespie, clerk of the House, coached
him, and in return was christened "Young Jefferson's Manual," a title
which he bore for many years.
A reporter named Rice, on a rival Virginia City paper, the "Union," also
earned for himself a title through those early letters.
Rice concluded to poke fun at the "Enterprise" reports, pointing out
their mistakes. But this was not wise. Clemens, in his next
contribution, admitted that Rice's reports might be parliamentary enough,
but declared his glittering technicalities were only to cover
misstatements of fact. He vowed they were wholly untrustworthy, dubbed
the author of them "The Unreliable," and never thereafter referred to him
by any other term. Carson and the Comstock papers delighted in this
foolery, and Rice became "The Unreliable" for life. There was no real
feeling between Rice and Clemens. They were always the best of friends.
But now we arrive at the story of still another name, one of vastly
greater importance than either of those mentioned, for it is the name
chosen by Samuel Clemens for himself. In those days it was the fashion
for a writer to have a pen-name, especially for his journalistic and
humorous work. Clemens felt that his "Enterprise" letters, copied up and
down the Coast, needed a mark of identity.
He gave the matter a good deal of thought. He wanted something brief and
strong—something that would stick in the mind. It was just at this time
that news came of the death of Capt. Isaiah Sellers, the old pilot who
had signed himself "Mark Twain." Mark Twain! That was the name he
wanted. It was not trivial. It had all the desired qualities. Captain
Sellers would never need it again. It would do no harm to keep it alive
—to give it a new meaning in a new land. Clemens took a trip from Carson
up to Virginia City.
"Joe," he said to Goodman, "I want to sign my articles. I want to be
identified to a wider audience."
"All right, Sam. What name do you want to use Josh?"
"No, I want to sign them Mark Twain. It is an old river term, a
leadsman's call, signifying two fathoms—twelve feet. It has a richness
about it; it was always a pleasant sound for a pilot to hear on a dark
night; it meant safe waters."
He did not mention that Captain Sellers had used and dropped the name.
He was not proud of his part in that episode, and it was too recent for
Goodman considered a moment. "Very well, Sam," he said, "that sounds
like a good name."
A good name, indeed! Probably, if he had considered every combination of
words in the language, he could not have found a better one. To-day we
recognize it as the greatest nom de plume ever chosen, and, somehow, we
cannot believe that the writer of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn" and
"Roughing It" could have selected any other had he tried.
The name Mark Twain was first signed to a Carson letter, February 2,
1863, and after that to all of Samuel Clemens's work. The letters that
had amused so many readers had taken on a new interest—the interest that
goes with a name. It became immediately more than a pen-name. Clemens
found he had attached a name to himself as well as to his letters.
Everybody began to address him as Mark. Within a few weeks he was no
longer "Sam" or "Clemens," but Mark—Mark Twain. The Coast papers liked
the sound of it. It began to mean something to their readers. By the
end of that legislative session Samuel Clemens, as Mark Twain, had
acquired out there on that breezy Western slope something resembling
Curiously, he fails to mention any of this success in his letters home of
that period. Indeed, he seldom refers to his work, but more often speaks
of mining shares which he has accumulated, and their possible values.
His letters are airy, full of the joy of life and of the wild doings of
the frontier. Closing one of them, he says: "I have just heard five
pistolshots down the street. As such things are in my line, I will go
and see about it."
And in a postscript, later, he adds:
"5 A.M.—The pistol-shots did their work well. One man, a Jackson
County Missourian, shot two of my friends (police officers) through
the heart—both died within three minutes. The murderer's name is
The Comstock was a great school for Mark Twain, and in "Roughing It" he
has left us a faithful picture of its long-vanished glory.
More than one national character came out of the Comstock school.
Senator James G. Fair was one of them, and John Mackay, both miners with
pick and shovel at first, though Mackay presently became a
superintendent. Mark Twain one day laughingly offered to trade jobs with
"No," Mackay said, "I can't trade. My business is not worth as much as
yours. I have never swindled anybody, and I don't intend to begin now."
For both these men the future held splendid gifts: for Mackay vast
wealth, for Mark Twain the world's applause, and neither would have long
ARTEMUS WARD AND LITERARY SAN FRANCISCO
It was about the end of 1863 that a new literary impulse came into Mark
Twain's life. The gentle and lovable humorist Artemus Ward (Charles F.
Browne) was that year lecturing in the West, and came to Virginia City.
Ward had intended to stay only a few days, but the whirl of the Comstock
fascinated him. He made the "Enterprise" office his headquarters and
remained three weeks. He and Mark Twain became boon companions. Their
humor was not unlike; they were kindred spirits, together almost
constantly. Ward was then at the summit of his fame, and gave the
younger man the highest encouragement, prophesying great things for ha
work. Clemens, on his side, was stirred, perhaps for the first time,
with a real literary ambition, and the thought that he, too, might win a
place of honor. He promised Ward that he would send work to the Eastern
On Christmas Eve, Ward gave a dinner to the "Enterprise" staff, at
Chaumond's, a fine French restaurant of that day. When refreshments
came, Artemus lifted his glass, and said:
"I give you Upper Canada."
The company rose and drank the toast in serious silence. Then Mr.
"Of course, Artemus, it's all right, but why did you give us Upper
"Because I don't want it myself," said Ward, gravely.
What would one not give to have listened to the talk of that evening!
Mark Twain's power had awakened; Artemus Ward was in his prime. They
were giants of a race that became extinct when Mark Twain died.
Goodman remained rather quiet during the evening. Ward had appointed him
to order the dinner, and he had attended to this duty without mingling
much in the conversation. When Ward asked him why he did not join the
banter, he said:
"I am preparing a joke, Artemus, but I am keeping it for the present."
At a late hour Ward finally called for the bill. It was two hundred and
"What!" exclaimed Artemus.
"That's my joke," said Goodman.
"But I was only exclaiming because it was not twice as much," laughed
Ward, laying the money on the table.
Ward remained through the holidays, and later wrote back an affectionate
letter to Mark Twain.
"I shall always remember Virginia as a bright spot in my existence," he
said, "as all others must, or rather, cannot be, as it were."
With Artemus Ward's encouragement, Mark Twain now began sending work
eastward. The "New York Sunday Mercury" published one, possibly more, of
his sketches, but they were not in his best vein, and made little
impression. He may have been too busy for outside work, for the
legislative session of 1864 was just beginning. Furthermore, he had been
chosen governor of the "Third House," a mock legislature, organized for
one session, to be held as a church benefit. The "governor" was to
deliver a message, which meant that he was to burlesque from the platform
all public officials and personages, from the real governor down.
With the exception of a short talk he had once given at a printer's
dinner in Keokuk, it was Mark Twain's first appearance as a speaker, and
the beginning of a lifelong series of triumphs on the platform. The
building was packed—the aisles full. The audience was ready for fun,
and he gave it to them. Nobody escaped ridicule; from beginning to end
the house was a storm of laughter and applause.
Not a word of this first address of Mark Twain's has been preserved, but
those who heard it always spoke of it as the greatest effort of his life,
as to them it seemed, no doubt.
For his Third House address, Clemens was presented with a gold watch,
inscribed "To Governor Mark Twain." Everywhere, now, he was pointed out
as a distinguished figure, and his quaint remarks were quoted. Few of
these sayings are remembered to-day, though occasionally one is still
unforgotten. At a party one night, being urged to make a conundrum, he
"Well, why am I like the Pacific Ocean?"
Several guesses were made, but he shook his head. Some one said:
"We give it up. Tell us, Mark, why are you like the Pacific Ocean?"
"I—don't—know," he drawled. "I was just—asking for information."
The governor of Nevada was generally absent, and Orion Clemens was
executive head of the territory. His wife, who had joined him in Carson
City, was social head of the little capital, and Brother Sam, with his
new distinction and now once more something of a dandy in dress, was
society's chief ornament—a great change, certainly, from the early
months of his arrival less than three years before.
It was near the end of May, 1864, when Mark Twain left Nevada for San
Francisco. The immediate cause of his going was a duel—a duel
elaborately arranged between Mark Twain and the editor of a rival paper,
but never fought. In fact, it was mainly a burlesque affair throughout,
chiefly concocted by that inveterate joker, Steve Gillis, already
mentioned in connection with the pipe incident. The new dueling law,
however, did not distinguish between real and mock affrays, and the
prospect of being served with a summons made a good excuse for Clemens
and Gillis to go to San Francisco, which had long attracted them. They
were great friends, these two, and presently were living together and
working on the same paper, the "Morning Call," Clemens as a reporter and
Gillis as a compositor.
Gillis, with his tendency to mischief, was a constant exasperation to his
room-mate, who, goaded by some new torture, would sometimes denounce him
in feverish terms. Yet they were never anything but the closest friends.
Mark Twain did not find happiness in his new position on the "Call."
There was less freedom and more drudgery than he had known on the
"Enterprise." His day was spent around the police court, attending
fires, weddings, and funerals, with brief glimpses of the theaters at
Once he wrote: "It was fearful drudgery—soulless drudgery—and almost
destitute of interest. It was an awful slavery for a lazy man."
It must have been so. There was little chance for original work. He had
become just a part of a news machine. He saw many public abuses that he
wished to expose, but the policy of the paper opposed him. Once,
however, he found a policeman asleep on his beat. Going to a near-by
vegetable stall, he borrowed a large cabbage-leaf, came back, and stood
over the sleeper, gently fanning him. He knew the paper would not
publish the policeman's negligence, but he could advertise it in his own
way. A large crowd soon collected, much amused. When he thought the
audience large enough, he went away. Next day the joke was all over the
He grew indifferent to the "Call" work, and, when an assistant was
allowed him to do part of the running for items, it was clear to
everybody that presently the assistant would be able to do it all.
But there was a pleasant and profitable side to the San Francisco life.
There were real literary people there—among them a young man, with rooms
upstairs in the "Call" office, Francis Bret Harte, editor of the
"Californian," a new literary weekly which Charles Henry Webb had
recently founded. Bret Harte was not yet famous, but his gifts were
recognized on the Pacific slope, especially by the "Era" group of
writers, the "Golden Era" being a literary monthly of considerable
distinction. Joaquin Miller recalls, from his diary of that period,
having seen Prentice Mulford, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark
Twain, Artemus Ward, and others, all assembled there at one time—a
remarkable group, certainly, to be dropped down behind the Sierras so
long ago. They were a hopeful, happy lot, and sometimes received five
dollars for an article, which, of course, seemed a good deal more
precious than a much larger sum earned in another way.
Mark Twain had contributed to the "Era" while still in Virginia City, and
now, with Bret Harte, was ranked as a leader of the group. The two were
much together, and when Harte became editor of the "Californian" he
engaged Clemens as a regular contributor at the very fancy rate of twelve
dollars an article. Some of the brief chapters included to-day in
"Sketches New and Old" were done at this time. They have humor, but are
not equal to his later work, and beyond the Pacific slope they seem to
have attracted little attention.
In "Roughing It" the author tells us how he finally was dismissed from
the "Call" for general incompetency, and presently found himself in the
depths of hard luck, debt, and poverty. But this is only his old habit
of making a story on himself sound as uncomplimentary as possible. The
true version is that the "Call" publisher and Mark Twain had a friendly
talk and decided that it was better for both to break off the connection.
Almost immediately he arranged to write a daily San Francisco letter for
the "Enterprise," for which he received thirty dollars a week. This,
with his earnings from the "Californian," made his total return larger
than before. Very likely he was hard up from time to time—literary men
are often that—but that he was ever in abject poverty, as he would have
us believe, is just a good story and not history.
THE DISCOVERY OF "THE JUMPING FROG"
Mark Twain's daily letters to the "Enterprise" stirred up trouble for him
in San Francisco. He was free, now, to write what he chose, and he
attacked the corrupt police management with such fierceness that, when
copies of the "Enterprise" got back to San Francisco, they started a
commotion at the city hall. Then Mark Twain let himself go more
vigorously than ever. He sent letters to the "Enterprise" that made even
the printers afraid. Goodman, however, was fearless, and let them go in,
word for word. The libel suit which the San Francisco chief of police
brought against the Enterprise advertised the paper amazingly.
But now came what at the time seemed an unfortunate circumstance. Steve
Gillis, always a fearless defender of the weak, one night rushed to the
assistance of two young fellows who had been set upon by three roughs.
Gillis, though small of stature, was a terrific combatant, and he
presently put two of the assailants to flight and had the other ready for
the hospital. Next day it turned out that the roughs were henchmen of
the police, and Gillis was arrested.
Clemens went his bail, and advised Steve to go down to Virginia City
until the storm blew over.
But it did not blow over for Mark Twain. The police department was only
too glad to have a chance at the author of the fierce "Enterprise"
letters, and promptly issued a summons for him, with an execution against
his personal effects. If James N. Gillis, brother of Steve, had not
happened along just then and spirited Mark Twain away to his mining-camp
in the Tuolumne Hills, the beautiful gold watch given to the governor of
the Third House might have been sacrificed in the cause of friendship.
As it was, he found himself presently in the far and peaceful seclusion
of that land which Bret Harte would one day make famous with his tales of
"Roaring Camp" and "Sandy Bar." Jim Gillis was, in fact, the Truthful
James of Bret Harte, and his cabin on jackass Hill had been the retreat
of Harte and many another literary wayfarer who had wandered there for
rest and refreshment and peace. It was said the sick were made well, and
the well made better, in Jim Gillis's cabin. There were plenty of books
and a variety of out-of-door recreation. One could mine there if he
chose. Jim would furnish the visiting author with a promising claim, and
teach him to follow the little fan-like drift of gold specks to the
pocket of treasure somewhere up the hillside.
Gillis himself had literary ability, though he never wrote. He told his
stories, and with his back to the open fire would weave the most amazing
tales, invented as he went along. His stories were generally wonderful
adventures that had happened to his faithful companion, Stoker; and
Stoker never denied them, but would smoke and look into the fire, smiling
a little sometimes, but never saying a word. A number of the tales later
used by Mark Twain were first told by Jim Gillis in the cabin on Jackass
Hill. "Dick Baker's Cat" was one of these, the jay-bird and acorn story
in "A Tramp Abroad" was another. Mark Twain had little to add to these
"They are not mine, they are Jim's," he said, once; "but I never could
get them to sound like Jim—they were never as good as his."
It was early in December, 1864, when Mark Twain arrived at the humble
retreat, built of logs under a great live-oak tree, and surrounded by a
stretch of blue-grass. A younger Gillis boy was there at the time, and
also, of course, Dick Stoker and his cat, Tom Quartz, which every reader
of "Roughing It" knows.
It was the rainy season, but on pleasant days they all went
pocket-mining, and, in January, Mark Twain, Gillis, and Stoker crossed
over into Calaveras County and began work near Angel's Camp, a place well
known to readers of Bret Harte. They put up at a poor hotel in Angel's,
and on good days worked pretty faithfully. But it was generally raining,
and the food was poor.
In his note-book, still preserved, Mark Twain wrote: "January 27 (1865).
—Same old diet—same old weather—went out to the pocket-claim—had to
So they spent a good deal of their time around the rusty stove in the
dilapidated tavern at Angel's Camp. It seemed a profitless thing to do,
but few experiences were profitless to Mark Twain, and certainly this one
At this barren mining hotel there happened to be a former Illinois River
pilot named Ben Coon, a solemn, sleepy person, who dozed by the stove or
told slow, pointless stories to any one who would listen. Not many would
stay to hear him, but Jim Gillis and Mark Twain found him a delight.
They would let him wander on in his dull way for hours, and saw a vast
humor in a man to whom all tales, however trivial or absurd, were serious
At last, one dreary afternoon, he told them about a frog—a frog that had
belonged to a man named Coleman, who had trained it to jump, and how the
trained frog had failed to win a wager because the owner of the rival
frog had slyly loaded the trained jumper with shot. It was not a new
story in the camps, but Ben Coon made a long tale of it, and it happened
that neither Clemens nor Gillis had heard it before. They thought it
amusing, and his solemn way of telling it still more so.
"I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's better than any other
frog," became a catch phrase among the mining partners; and, "I 'ain't
got no frog, but if I had a frog, I'd bet you."
Out on the claim, Clemens, watching Gillis and Stoker anxiously washing,
would say, "I don't see no pints about that pan o' dirt that's any better
than any other pan o' dirt." And so they kept the tale going. In his
note-book Mark Twain made a brief memorandum of the story for possible
The mining was rather hopeless work. The constant and heavy rains were
disheartening. Clemens hated it, and even when, one afternoon, traces of
a pocket began to appear, he rebelled as the usual chill downpour set in.
"Jim," he said, "let's go home; we'll freeze here."
Gillis, as usual, was washing, and Clemens carrying the water. Gillis,
seeing the gold "color" improving with every pan, wanted to go on washing
and climbing toward the precious pocket, regardless of wet and cold.
Clemens, shivering and disgusted, vowed that each pail of water would be
his last. His teeth were chattering, and he was wet through. Finally he
"Jim, I won't carry any more water. This work too disagreeable."
Gillis had just taken out a panful of dirt.
"Bring one more pail, Sam," he begged.
"Jim I won't do it. I'm-freezing."
"Just one more pail, Sam!" Jim pleaded.
"No, sir; not a drop—not if I knew there was a million dollars in that
Gillis tore out a page of his note-book and hastily posted a
thirty-day-claim notice by the pan of dirt. Then they set out for Angel's
Camp, never to return. It kept on raining, and a letter came from Steve
Gillis, saying he had settled all the trouble in San Francisco. Clemens
decided to return, and the miners left Angel's without visiting their
Meantime the rain had washed away the top of the pan of dirt they had
left standing on the hillside, exposing a handful of nuggets, pure gold.
Two strangers, Austrians, happening along, gathered it up and, seeing the
claim notice posted by Jim Gillis, sat down to wait until it expired.
They did not mind the rain—not under the circumstances—and the moment
the thirty days were up they followed the lead a few pans farther and
took out, some say ten, some say twenty, thousand dollars. In either
case it was a good pocket that Mark Twain missed by one pail of water.
Still, without knowing it, he had carried away in his note-book a single
nugget of far greater value the story of "The Jumping Frog."
He did not write it, however, immediately upon his return to San
Francisco. He went back to his "Enterprise" letters and contributed some
sketches to the Californian. Perhaps he thought the frog story too mild
in humor for the slope. By and by he wrote it, and by request sent it to
Artemus Ward to be used in a book that Ward was about to issue. It
arrived too late, and the publisher handed it to the editor of the
"Saturday Press," Henry Clapp, saying:
"Here, Clapp, is something you can use in your paper."
The "Press" was struggling, and was glad to get a story so easily. "Jim
Smiley and his jumping Frog" appeared in the issue of November 18, 1865,
and was at once copied and quoted far and near. It carried the name of
Mark Twain across the mountains and the prairies of the Middle West; it
bore it up and down the Atlantic slope. Some one said, then or later,
that Mark Twain leaped into fame on the back of a jumping frog.
Curiously, this did not at first please the author. He thought the tale
poor. To his mother he wrote:
I do not know what to write; my life is so uneventful. I wish I was back
there piloting up and down the river again. Verily, all is vanity and
little worth—save piloting.
To think that, after writing many an article a man might be excused for
thinking tolerably good, those New York people should single out a
villainous backwoods sketch to compliment me on!—"Jim Smiley and his
Jumping Frog"—a squib which would never have been written but to please
However, somewhat later he changed his mind considerably, especially when
he heard that James Russell Lowell had pronounced the story the finest
piece of humorous writing yet produced in America.
HAWAII AND ANSON BURLINGAME
Mark Twain remained about a year in San Francisco after his return from
the Gillis cabin and Angel's Camp, adding to his prestige along the Coast
rather than to his national reputation. Then, in the spring of 1866 he
was commissioned by the "Sacramento Union" to write a series of letters
that would report the life, trade, agriculture, and general aspects of
the Hawaiian group. He sailed in March, and his four months in those
delectable islands remained always to him a golden memory—an experience
which he hoped some day to repeat. He was young and eager for adventure
then, and he went everywhere—horseback and afoot—saw everything, did
everything, and wrote of it all for his paper. His letters to the
"Union" were widely read and quoted, and, though not especially literary,
added much to his journalistic standing. He was a great sight-seer in
those days, and a persevering one. No discomfort or risk discouraged
him. Once, with a single daring companion, he crossed the burning floor
of the mighty crater of Kilauea, racing across the burning lava, leaping
wide and bottomless crevices where a misstep would have meant death. His
open-air life on the river and in the mining-camps had nerved and
hardened him for adventure. He was thirty years old and in his physical
prime. His mental growth had been slower, but it was sure, and it would
seem always to have had the right guidance at the right time.
Clemens had been in the islands three months when one day Anson
Burlingame arrived there, en route to his post as minister to China.
With him was his son Edward, a boy of eighteen, and General Van
Valkenburg, minister to Japan. Young Burlingame had read about Jim
Smiley's jumping frog and, learning that the author was in Honolulu, but
ill after a long trip inland, sent word that the party would call on him
next morning. But Mark Twain felt that he could not accept this honor,
and, crawling out of bed, shaved himself and drove to the home of the
American minister, where the party was staying. He made a great
impression with the diplomats. It was an occasion of good stories and
much laughter. On leaving, General Van Valkenburg said to him:
"California is proud of Mark Twain, and some day the American people
will be, too, no doubt." Which was certainly a good prophecy.
It was only a few days later that the diplomats rendered him a great
service. Report had come of the arrival at Sanpahoe of an open boat
containing fifteen starving men, who had been buffeting a stormy sea for
forty-three days—sailors from the missing ship Hornet of New York,
which, it appeared, had been burned at sea. Presently eleven of the
rescued men were brought to Honolulu and placed in the hospital.
Mark Twain recognized the great importance as news of this event. It
would be a splendid beat if he could interview the castaways and be the
first to get their story in his paper. There was no cable, but a vessel
was sailing for San Francisco next morning. It seemed the opportunity of
a lifetime, but he was now bedridden and could scarcely move.
Then suddenly appeared in his room Anson Burlingame and his party, and,
almost before Mark Twain realized what was happening, he was on a cot
and, escorted by the heads of two legations, was on his way to the
hospital to get the precious interview. Once there, Anson Burlingame,
with his gentle manner and courtly presence, drew from those enfeebled
castaways all the story of the burning of the vessel, followed by the
long privation and struggle that had lasted through forty-three fearful
days and across four thousand miles of stormy sea. All that Mark Twain
had to do was to listen and make notes. That night he wrote against
time, and next morning, just as the vessel was drifting from the dock, a
strong hand flung his bulky manuscript aboard and his great beat was
sure. The three-column story, published in the "Sacramento Union" of
July 9, gave the public the first detailed history of the great disaster.
The telegraph carried it everywhere, and it was featured as a sensation.
Mark Twain and the Burlingame party were much together during the rest of
their stay in Hawaii, and Samuel Clemens never ceased to love and honor
the memory of Anson Burlingame. It was proper that he should do so, for
he owed him much—far more than has already been told.
Anson Burlingame one day said to him: "You have great ability; I believe
you have genius. What you need now is the refinement of association.
Seek companionship among men of superior intellect and character. Refine
yourself and your work. Never affiliate with inferiors; always climb."
This, coming to him from a man of Burlingame's character and position,
was like a gospel from some divine source. Clemens never forgot the
advice. It gave him courage, new hope, new resolve, new ideals.
Burlingame came often to the hotel, and they discussed plans for Mark
Twain's future. The diplomat invited the journalist to visit him in
"Come to Pekin," he said, "and make my house your home."
Young Burlingame also came, when the patient became convalescent, and
suggested walks. Once, when Clemens hesitated, the young man said:
"But there is a scriptural command for you to go."
"If you can quote one, I'll obey," said Clemens.
"Very well; the Bible says: `If any man require thee to walk a mile, go
with him Twain.'"
The walk was taken.
Mark Twain returned to California at the end of July, and went down to
Sacramento. It was agreed that a special bill should be made for the
"How much do you think it ought to be, Mark?" asked one of the
Clemens said: "Oh, I'm a modest man; I don't want the whole 'Union'
office; call it a hundred dollars a column."
There was a general laugh. The bill was made out at that figure, and he
took it to the office for payment.
"The cashier didn't faint," he wrote many years later, "but he came
rather near it. He sent for the proprietors, and they only laughed in
their jolly fashion, and said it was robbery, but `no matter, pay it.
It's all right.' The best men that ever owned a paper." 
 "My Debut as a Literary Person."
MARK TWAIN, LECTURER
In spite of the success of his Sandwich Island letters, Samuel Clemens
felt, on his return to San Francisco, that his future was not bright. He
was not a good, all-round newspaper man—he was special correspondent and
sketch-writer, out of a job.
He had a number of plans, but they did not promise much. One idea was to
make a book from his Hawaiian material. Another was to write magazine
articles, beginning with one on the Hornet disaster. He did, in fact,
write the Hornet article, and its prompt acceptance by "Harper's
Magazine" delighted him, for it seemed a start in the right direction. A
third plan was to lecture on the islands.
This prospect frightened him. He had succeeded in his "Third House"
address of two years before, but then he had lectured without charge and
for a church benefit. This would be a different matter.
One of the proprietors of a San Francisco paper, Col. John McComb, of the
"Alta California," was strong in his approval of the lecture idea.
"Do it, by all means," he said. "Take the largest house in the city, and
charge a dollar a ticket."
Without waiting until his fright came back, Mark Twain hurried to the
manager of the Academy of Music, and engaged it for a lecture to be given
October 2d (1866), and sat down and wrote his announcement. He began by
stating what he would speak upon, and ended with a few absurdities, such
A SPLENDID ORCHESTRA
is in town, but has not been engaged.
A DEN OF FEROCIOUS WILD BEASTS
will be on exhibition in the next block.
A GRAND TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION
may be expected; in fact, the public are privileged to
expect whatever they please.
Doors open at 7 o'clock. The trouble to begin at 8 o'clock.
Mark Twain was well known in San Francisco, and was pretty sure to have a
good house. But he did not realize this, and, as the evening approached,
his dread of failure increased. Arriving at the theater, he entered by
the stage door, half expecting to find the place empty. Then, suddenly,
he became more frightened than ever; peering from the wings, he saw that
the house was jammed—packed from the footlights to the walls!
Terrified, his knees shaking, his tongue dry, he managed to emerge, and
was greeted with a roar, a crash of applause that nearly finished him.
Only for an instant—reaction followed; these people were his friends,
and he was talking to them. He forgot to be afraid, and, as the applause
came in great billows that rose ever higher, he felt himself borne with
it as on a tide of happiness and success. His evening, from beginning to
end, was a complete triumph. Friends declared that for descriptive
eloquence, humor, and real entertainment nothing like his address had
ever been delivered. The morning papers were enthusiastic.
Mark Twain no longer hesitated as to what he should do now. He would
lecture. The book idea no longer attracted him; the appearance of the
"Hornet" article, signed, through a printer's error, "Mark Swain," cooled
his desire to be a magazine contributor. No matter—lecturing was the
thing. Dennis McCarthy, who had sold his interest in the "Enterprise,"
was in San Francisco. Clemens engaged this honest, happy-hearted
Irishman as manager, and the two toured California and Nevada with
Those who remember Mark Twain as a lecturer in that early day say that on
entering he would lounge loosely across the platform, his manuscript
—written on wrapping-paper and carried under his arm—looking like a
ruffled hen. His delivery they recall as being even more quaint and
drawling than in later life. Once, when his lecture was over, an old man
came up to him and said:
"Be them your natural tones of eloquence?"
In those days it was thought proper that a lecturer should be introduced,
and Clemens himself used to tell of being presented by an old miner, who
"Ladies and gentlemen, I know only two things about this man: the first
is that he's never been in jail, and the second is, I don't know why."
When he reached Virginia, his old friend Goodman said, "Sam, you don't
need anybody to introduce you," and he suggested a novel plan. That
night, when the curtain rose, it showed Mark Twain seated at a piano,
playing and singing, as if still cub pilot on the "John J. Roe:"
"Had an old horse whose name was Methusalem,
Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem,
A long time ago."
Pretending to be surprised and startled at the burst of applause, he
sprang up and began to talk. How the audience enjoyed it!
Mark Twain continued his lecture tour into December, and then, on the
15th of that month, sailed by way of the Isthmus of Panama for New York.
He had made some money, and was going home to see his people. He had
planned to make a trip around the world later, contributing a series of
letters to the "Alta California," lecturing where opportunity afforded.
He had been on the Coast five and a half years, and to his professions of
printing and piloting had added three others—mining, journalism, and
lecturing. Also, he had acquired a measure of fame. He could come back
to his people with a good account of his absence and a good heart for the
But it seems now only a chance that he arrived at all. Crossing the
Isthmus, he embarked for New York on what proved to be a cholera ship.
For a time there were one or more funerals daily. An entry in his diary
"Since the last two hours all laughter, all levity, has ceased on the
ship—a settled gloom is upon the faces of the passengers.
"But the winter air of the North checked the contagion, and there
were no new cases when New York City was reached."
Clemens remained but a short time in New York, and was presently in St.
Louis with his mother and sister. They thought he looked old, but he had
not changed in manner, and the gay banter between mother and son was soon
as lively as ever. He was thirty-one now, and she sixty-four, but the
years had made little difference. She petted him, joked with him, and
scolded him. In turn, he petted and comforted and teased her. She
decided he was the same Sam and always would be—a true prophecy.
He visited Hannibal and lectured there, receiving an ovation that would
have satisfied even Tom Sawyer. In Keokuk he lectured again, then
returned to St. Louis to plan his trip around the world.
He was not to make a trip around the world, however—not then. In St.
Louis he saw the notice of the great "Quaker City" Holy Land excursion
—the first excursion of the kind ever planned—and was greatly taken with
the idea. Impulsive as always, he wrote at once to the "Alta
California," proposing that they send him as their correspondent on this
grand ocean picnic. The cost of passage was $1.200, and the "Alta"
hesitated, but Colonel McComb, already mentioned, assured his associates
that the investment would be sound. The "Alta" wrote, accepting Mark
Twain's proposal, and agreed to pay twenty dollars each for letters.
Clemens hurried to New York to secure a berth, fearing the passenger-list
might be full. Furthermore, with no one of distinction to vouch for him,
according to advertised requirements, he was not sure of being accepted.
Arriving in New York, he learned from an "Alta" representative that
passage had already been reserved for him, but he still doubted his
acceptance as one of the distinguished advertised company. His mind was
presently relieved on this point. Waiting his turn at the booking-desk,
he heard a newspaper man inquire:
"What notables are going?"
A clerk, with evident pride, rattled off the names:
"Lieutenant-General Sherman, Henry Ward Beecher, and Mark Twain; also,
probably, General Banks."
It was very pleasant to hear the clerk say that. Not only was he
accepted, but billed as an attraction.
The "Quaker City" would not sail for two months yet, and during the
period of waiting Mark Twain was far from idle. He wrote New York
letters to the "Alta," and he embarked in two rather important ventures
—he published his first book and he delivered a lecture in New York City.
Both these undertakings were planned and carried out by friends from the
Coast. Charles Henry Webb, who had given up his magazine to come East,
had collected "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other
Sketches," and, after trying in vain to find a publisher for them,
brought them out himself, on the 1st of May, 1867. It seems curious
now that any publisher should have declined the little volume, for the
sketches, especially the frog story, had been successful, and there was
little enough good American humor in print. However, publishing was a
matter not lightly undertaken in those days.
Mark Twain seems to have been rather pleased with the appearance of his
first book. To Bret Harte he wrote:
The book is out and is handsome. It is full of . . . errors….but be a
friend and say nothing about those things. When my hurry is over, I will
send you a copy to pizen the children with.
The little cloth-and-gold volume, so valued by book-collectors to-day,
contained the frog story and twenty-six other sketches, some of which are
still preserved in Mark Twain's collected works. Most of them were not
Mark Twain's best literature, but they were fresh and readable and suited
the taste of that period. The book sold very well, and, while it did not
bring either great fame or fortune to its author, it was by no means a
The "hurry" mentioned in Mark Twain's letter to Bret Harte related to his
second venture—that is to say, his New York lecture, an enterprise
managed by an old Comstock friend, Frank Fuller, ex-Governor of Utah.
Fuller, always a sanguine and energetic person, had proposed the lecture
idea as soon as Mark Twain arrived in New York. Clemens shook his head.
"I have no reputation with the general public here," he said. "We
couldn't get a baker's dozen to hear me."
But Fuller insisted, and eventually engaged the largest hall in New York,
the Cooper Union. Full of enthusiasm and excitement, he plunged into the
business of announcing and advertising his attraction, and inventing
schemes for the sale of seats. Clemens caught Fuller's enthusiasm by
spells, but between times he was deeply depressed. Fuller had got up a
lot of tiny hand-bills, and had arranged to hang bunches of these in the
horse-cars. The little dangling clusters fascinated Clemens, and he rode
about to see if anybody else noticed them. Finally, after a long time, a
passenger pulled off one of the bills and glanced at it. A man with him
"Who's Mark Twain?"
"Goodness knows! I don't."
The lecturer could not ride any farther. He hunted up his patron.
"Fuller," he groaned, "there isn't a sign—a ripple of interest."
Fuller assured him that things were "working underneath," and would be
all right. But Clemens wrote home: "Everything looks shady, at least, if
not dark." And he added that, after hiring the largest house in New
York, he must play against Schuyler Colfax, Ristori, and a double troupe
of Japanese jugglers, at other places of amusement.
When the evening of the lecture approached and only a few tickets had
been sold, the lecturer was desperate.
"Fuller," he said, "there'll be nobody in Cooper Union that night but you
and me. I am on the verge of suicide. I would commit suicide if I had
the pluck and the outfit. You must paper the house, Fuller. You must
send out a flood of complimentaries!"
"Very well," said Fuller. "What we want this time is reputation, anyway
—money is secondary. I'll put you before the choicest and most
intelligent audience that was ever gathered in New York City."
Fuller immediately sent out complimentary tickets to the school-teachers
of New York and Brooklyn—-a general invitation to come and hear Mark
Twain's great lecture on the Sandwich Islands. There was nothing to do
after that but wait results.
Mark Twain had lost faith—he did not believe anybody in New York would
come to hear him even on a free ticket. When the night arrived, he drove
with Fuller to the Cooper Union half an hour before the lecture was to
begin. Forty years later he said:
"I couldn't keep away. I wanted to see that vast Mammoth Cave, and
die. But when we got near the building, I saw all the streets were
blocked with people and that traffic had stopped. I couldn't
believe that these people were trying to get to the Cooper
Institute—but they were; and when I got to the stage, at last, the
house was jammed full—packed; there wasn't room enough left for a
"I was happy and I was excited beyond expression. I poured the
Sandwich Islands out on those people, and they laughed and shouted
to my entire content. For an hour and fifteen minutes I was in
So in its way this venture was a success. It brought Mark Twain a good
deal of a reputation in New York, even if no financial profit, though, in
spite of the flood of complimentaries, there was a cash return of
something like three hundred dollars. This went a good way toward paying
the expenses, while Fuller, in his royal way, insisted on making up the
deficit, declaring he had been paid for everything in the fun and joy of
"Mark," he said, "it's all right. The fortune didn't come, but it will.
The fame has arrived; with this lecture and your book just out, you are
going to be the most-talked-of man in the country. Your letters to the
'Alta' and the 'Tribune' will get the widest reception of any letters of
travel ever written."
AN INNOCENT ABROAD, AND HOME AGAIN
It was early in May—the 6th—that Mark Twain had delivered his Cooper
Union lecture, and a month later, June 8, 1867, he sailed on the "Quaker
City," with some sixty-six other "pilgrims," on the great Holy Land
excursion, the story of which has been so fully and faithfully told in
"The Innocent Abroad."
What a wonderful thing it must have seemed in that time for a party of
excursionists to have a ship all to themselves to go a-gipsying in from
port to port of antiquity and romance! The advertised celebrities did
not go, none of them but Mark Twain, but no one minded, presently, for
Mark Twain's sayings and stories kept the company sufficiently
entertained, and sometimes he would read aloud to his fellow-passengers
from the newspaper letters he was writing, and invite comment and
criticism. That was entertainment for them, and it was good for him, for
it gave him an immediate audience, always inspiring to an author.
Furthermore, the comments offered were often of the greatest value,
especially suggestions from one Mrs. Fairbanks, of Cleveland, a
middle-aged, cultured woman, herself a correspondent for her husband's
paper, the "Herald". It requires not many days for acquaintances to form
on shipboard, and in due time a little group gathered regularly each
afternoon to hear Mark Twain read what he had written of their day's
doings, though some of it he destroyed later because Mrs. Fairbanks
thought it not his best.
All of the "pilgrims" mentioned in "The Innocents Abroad" were real
persons. "Dan" was Dan Slote, Mark Twain's room-mate; the Doctor who
confused the guides was Dr. A. Reeves Jackson, of Chicago; the poet
Lariat was Bloodgood H. Cutter, an eccentric from Long Island; "Jack" was
Jack Van Nostrand, of New Jersey; and "Moult" and "Blucher" and "Charlie"
were likewise real, the last named being Charles J. Langdon, of Elmira,
N. Y., a boy of eighteen, whose sister would one day become Mark Twain's
It has been said that Mark Twain first met Olivia Langdon on the "Quaker
City," but this is not quite true; he met only her picture—the original
was not on that ship. Charlie Langdon, boy fashion, made a sort of hero
of the brilliant man called Mark Twain, and one day in the Bay of Smyrna
invited him to his cabin and exhibited his treasures, among them a dainty
miniature of a sister at home, Olivia, a sweet, delicate creature whom
the boy worshiped.
Samuel Clemens gazed long at the exquisite portrait and spoke of it
reverently, for in the sweet face he seemed to find something spiritual.
Often after that he came to young Langdon's cabin to look at the pictured
countenance, in his heart dreaming of a day when he might learn to know
We need not follow in detail here the travels of the "pilgrims" and their
adventures. Most of them have been fully set down in "The Innocents
Abroad," and with not much elaboration, for plenty of amusing things were
happening on a trip of that kind, and Mark Twain's old note-books are
full of the real incidents that we find changed but little in the book.
If the adventures of Jack, Dan, and the Doctor are embroidered here and
there, the truth is always there, too.
Yet the old note-books have a very intimate interest of their own. It is
curious to be looking through them to-day, trying to realize that those
penciled memoranda were the fresh first impressions that would presently
grow into the world's most delightful book of travel; that they were set
down in the very midst of that historic little company that frolicked
through Italy and climbed wearily the arid Syrian hills.
It required five months for the "Quaker City" to make the circuit of the
Mediterranean and return to New York. Mark Twain in that time
contributed fifty two or three letters to the "Alta California" and six
to the "New York Tribune," or an average of nearly three a week—a vast
amount of labor to be done in the midst of sight-seeing. And what
letters of travel they were! The most remarkable that had been written
up to that time. Vivid, fearless, full of fresh color, humor, poetry,
they came as a revelation to a public weary of the tiresome descriptive
drivel of that day. They preached a new gospel in travel literature—the
gospel of seeing honestly and speaking frankly—a gospel that Mark Twain
would continue to preach during the rest of his career.
Furthermore, the letters showed a great literary growth in their author.
No doubt the cultivated associations of the ship, the afternoon reading
aloud of his work, and Mrs. Fairbanks's advice had much to do with this.
But we may believe, also, that the author's close study of the King James
version of the Old Testament during the weeks of travel through Palestine
exerted a powerful influence upon his style. The man who had recited
"The Burial of Moses" to Joe Goodman, with so much feeling, could not
fail to be mastered by the simple yet stately Bible phrase and imagery.
Many of the fine descriptive passages in "The Innocents Abroad" have
something almost Biblical in their phrasing. The writer of this memoir
heard in childhood "The Innocents Abroad" read aloud, and has never
forgotten the poetic spell that fell upon him as he listened to a
paragraph written of Tangier:
"Here is a crumbled wall that was old when Columbus discovered
America; old when Peter the Hermit roused the knightly men of the
Middle Ages to arm for the first Crusade; old when Charlemagne and
his paladins beleaguered enchanted castles and battled with giants
and genii in the fabled days of the olden time; old when Christ and
His disciples walked the earth; stood where it stands to-day when
the lips of Memnon were vocal and men bought and sold in the streets
of ancient Thebes."
Mark Twain returned to America to find himself, if not famous, at least
in very high repute. The "Alta" and "Tribune" letters had carried his
name to every corner of his native land. He was in demand now. To his
mother he wrote:
"I have eighteen offers to lecture, at $100 each, in various parts of
the Union—have declined them all . . . . Belong on the
"Tribune" staff and shall write occasionally. Am offered the same
berth to-day on the 'Herald,' by letter."
He was in Washington at this time, having remained in New York but one
day. He had accepted a secretaryship from Senator Stewart of Nevada, but
this arrangement was a brief one. He required fuller freedom for his
Washington correspondence and general literary undertakings.
He had been in Washington but a few days when he received a letter that
meant more to him than he could possibly have dreamed at the moment. It
was from Elisha Bliss, Jr., manager of the American Publishing Company,
of Hartford, Connecticut, and it suggested gathering the Mediterranean
travel-letters into a book. Bliss was a capable, energetic man, with a
taste for humor, and believed there was money for author and publisher in
The proposition pleased Mark Twain, who replied at once, asking for
further details as to Bliss's plan. Somewhat later he made a trip to
Hartford, and the terms for the publication of "The Innocents Abroad"
were agreed upon. It was to be a large illustrated book for subscription
sale, and the author was to receive five per cent of the selling price.
Bliss had offered him the choice between this royalty and ten thousand
dollars cash. Though much tempted by the large sum to be paid in hand,
Mark Twain decided in favor of the royalty plan—"the best business
judgment I ever displayed," he used to say afterward. He agreed to
arrange the letters for book publication, revising and rewriting where
necessary, and went back to Washington well pleased. He did not realize
that his agreement with Bliss marked the beginning of one of the most
notable publishing connections in American literary history.
OLIVIA LANGDON. WORK ON THE "INNOCENTS"
Certainly this was a momentous period in Mark Twain's life. It was a
time of great events, and among them was one which presently would come
to mean more to him than all the rest—the beginning of his acquaintance
with Olivia Langdon.
One evening in late December when Samuel Clemens had come to New York to
visit his old "Quaker City" room-mate, Dan Slote, he found there other
ship comrades, including Jack Van Nostrand and Charlie Langdon. It was a
joyful occasion, but one still happier followed it. Young Langdon's
father and sister Olivia were in New York, and an evening or two later
the boy invited his distinguished "Quaker City" shipmate to dine with
them at the old St. Nicholas Hotel. We may believe that Samuel Clemens
went willingly enough. He had never forgotten the September day in the
Bay of Smyrna when he had first seen the sweet-faced miniature—now, at
last he looked upon the reality.
Long afterward he said: "It was forty years ago. From that day to this
she has never been out of my mind."
Charles Dickens gave a reading that night at Steinway Hall. The Langdons
attended, and Samuel Clemens with them. He recalled long after that
Dickens wore a black velvet coat with a fiery-red flower in his
buttonhole, and that he read the storm scene from "David Copperfield"
—the death of James Steerforth; but he remembered still more clearly the
face and dress and the slender, girlish figure of Olivia Langdon at his
Olivia Langdon was twenty-two years old at this time, delicate as the
miniature he had seen, though no longer in the fragile health of her
girlhood. Gentle, winning, lovable, she was the family idol, and Samuel
Clemens was no less her worshiper from the first moment of their meeting.
Miss Langdon, on her part, was at first rather dazed by the strange,
brilliant, handsome man, so unlike anything she had known before. When
he had gone, she had the feeling that something like a great meteor had
crossed her sky. To her brother, who was eager for her good opinion of
his celebrity, she admitted her admiration, if not her entire approval.
Her father had no doubts. With a keen sense of humor and a deep
knowledge of men, Jervis Langdon was from that first evening the devoted
champion of Mark Twain. Clemens saw Miss Langdon again during the
holidays, and by the week's end he had planned to visit Elmira—soon.
But fate managed differently. He was not to see Elmira for the better
part of a year.
He returned to his work in Washington—the preparation of the book and
his newspaper correspondence. It was in connection with the latter that
he first met General Grant, then not yet President. The incident,
characteristic of both men, is worth remembering. Mark Twain had called
by permission, elated with the prospect of an interview. But when he
looked into the square, smileless face of the soldier he found himself,
for the first time in his life, without anything particular to say.
Grant nodded slightly and waited. His caller wished something would
happen. It did. His inspiration returned.
"General," he said, "I seem to be slightly embarrassed. Are you?"
Grant's severity broke up in laughter. There were no further
Work on the book did not go so well. There were many distractions in
Washington, and Clemens did not like the climate there. Then he found
the "Alta" had copyrighted his letters and were reluctant to allow him to
use them. He decided to sail at once for San Francisco. If he could
arrange the "Alta" matter, he would finish his work there. He did, in
fact, carry out this plan, and all difficulties vanished on his arrival.
His old friend Colonel McComb obtained for him free use of the "Alta"
letters. The way was now clear for his book. His immediate need of
funds, however, induced him to lecture. In May he wrote Bliss:
"I lectured here on the trip (the Quaker City excursion) the other
night; $1,600 in gold in the house; every seat taken and paid for
He settled down to work now with his usual energy, editing and rewriting,
and in two months had the big manuscript ready for delivery.
Mark Twain's friends urged him to delay his return to "the States" long
enough to make a lecture tour through California and Nevada. He must
give his new lecture, they told him, to his old friends. He agreed, and
was received at Virginia City, Carson, and elsewhere like a returning
conqueror. He lectured again in San Francisco just before sailing.
The announcement of his lecture was highly original. It was a hand-bill
supposed to have been issued by the foremost citizens of San Francisco, a
mock protest against his lecture, urging him to return to New York
without inflicting himself on them again. On the same bill was printed
his reply. In it he said:
"I will torment the people if I want to. It only costs them $1
apiece, and, if they can't stand it, what do they stay here for?"
He promised positively to sail on July 6th if they would let him talk
just this once.
There was a good deal more of this drollery on the bill, which ended with
the announcement that he would appear at the Mercantile Library on July
2d. It is unnecessary to say that the place was jammed on that evening.
It was probably the greatest lecture event San Francisco has ever known.
Four days later, July 6, 1868, Mark Twain sailed, via Aspinwall, for New
York, and on the 28th delivered the manuscript of "The Innocents Abroad,
or the New Pilgrim's Progress," to his Hartford publisher.
THE VISIT TO ELMIRA AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Samuel Clemens now decided to pay his long-deferred visit to the Langdon
home in Elmira. Through Charlie Langdon he got the invitation renewed,
and for a glorious week enjoyed the generous hospitality of the beautiful
Langdon home and the society of fair Olivia Langdon—Livy, as they called
her—realizing more and more that for him there could never be any other
woman in the world. He spoke no word of this to her, but on the morning
of the day when his visit would end he relieved himself to Charlie
Langdon, much to the young man's alarm. Greatly as he admired Mark Twain
himself, he did not think him, or, indeed, any man, good enough for
"Livy," whom he considered little short of a saint. Clemens was to take
a train that evening, but young Langdon said, when he recovered:
"Look here, Clemens, there's a train in half an hour. I'll help you
catch it. Don't wait until tonight; go now!"
Mark Twain shook his head.
"No, Charlie," he said, in his gentle drawl. "I want to enjoy your
hospitality a little longer. I promise to be circumspect, and I'll go
That night after dinner, when it was time to take the train, a light
two-seated wagon was at the gate. Young Langdon and his guest took the
back seat, which, for some reason, had not been locked in its place. The
horse started with a quick forward spring, and the seat with its two
occupants described a circle and landed with force on the cobbled street.
Neither passenger was seriously hurt—only dazed a little for the moment.
But to Mark Twain there came a sudden inspiration. Here was a chance to
prolong his visit. When the Langdon household gathered with
restoratives, he did not recover at once, and allowed himself to be
supported to an arm-chair for further remedies. Livy Langdon showed
He was not allowed to go, now, of course; he must stay until it was
certain that his recovery was complete. Perhaps he had been internally
injured. His visit was prolonged two weeks, two weeks of pure happiness,
and when he went away he had fully resolved to win Livy Langdon for his
Mark Twain now went to Hartford to look after his book proofs, and there
for the first time met the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, who would become his
closest friend. The two men, so different in many ways, always had the
fondest admiration for each other; each recognized in the other great
courage, humanity, and sympathy. Clemens would gladly have remained in
Hartford that winter. Twichell presented him to many congenial people,
including Charles Dudley Warner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and other writing
folk. But flattering lecture offers were made him, and he could no
He called his new lecture "The Vandal Abroad," it being chapters from the
forthcoming book, and it was a great success everywhere. His houses were
crowded; the newspapers were enthusiastic. His delivery was described as
a "long, monotonous drawl, with fun invariably coming in at the end of a
sentence—after a pause." He began to be recognized everywhere—to have
great popularity. People came out on the street to see him pass.
Many of his lecture engagements were in central New York, no great
distance from Elmira. He had a standing invitation to visit the Langdon
home, and went when he could. His courtship, however, was not entirely
smooth. Much as Mr. Langdon honored his gifts and admired him
personally, he feared that his daughter, who had known so little of life
and the outside world, and the brilliant traveler, lecturer, author,
might not find happiness in marriage. Many absurd stories have been told
of Mark Twain's first interview with Jervis Langdon on this subject, but
these are without foundation. It was an earnest discussion on both
sides, and left Samuel Clemens rather crestfallen, though not without
hope. More than once the subject was discussed between the two men that
winter as the lecturer came and went, his fame always growing. In time
the Langdon household had grown to feel that he belonged to them. It
would be only a step further to make him really one of the family.
There was no positive engagement at first, for it was agreed between
Clemens and Jervis Langdon that letters should be sent by Mr. Langdon to
those who had known his would-be son-in-law earlier, with inquiries as to
his past conduct and general character. It was a good while till answers
to these came, and when they arrived Samuel Clemens was on hand to learn
the result. Mr. Langdon had a rather solemn look when they were alone
Clemens asked, "You've heard from those gentlemen out there?"
"Yes, and from another gentlemen I wrote to concerning you."
"They don't appear to have been very enthusiastic, from your manner."
"Well, yes, some of them were."
"I suppose I may ask what particular form their emotion took."
"Oh, yes, yes; they agree unanimously that you are a brilliant, able man
—a man with a future, and that you would make about the worst husband on
The applicant had a forlorn look. "There is nothing very evasive about
that," he said.
"Haven't you any other friend that you could suggest?"
"Apparently none whose testimony would be valuable."
Jervis Langdon held out his hand.
"You have at least one," he said. "I believe in you. I know you better
then they do."
The engagement of Samuel Langhorne Clemens and Olivia Lewis Langdon was
ratified next day, February 4, 1869. To Jane Clemens her son wrote:
"She is a little body, but she hasn't her peer in Christendom."
THE NEW BOOK AND A WEDDING
Clemens closed his lecture tour in March with a profit of something more
than eight thousand dollars. He had intended to make a spring tour of
California, but went to Elmira instead. The revised proofs of his book
were coming now, and he and gentle Livy Langdon read them together.
Samuel Clemens realized presently that the girl he had chosen had a
delicate literary judgment. She became all at once his editor, a
position she held until her death. Her refining influence had much to do
with Mark Twain's success, then and later, and the world owes her a debt
of gratitude. Through that first pleasant summer these two worked at the
proofs and planned for their future, and were very happy indeed.
It was about the end of July when the big book appeared at last, and its
success was startling. Nothing like it had ever been known before. Mark
Twain's name seemed suddenly to be on every tongue—his book in
everybody's hands. From one end of the country to the other, readers
were hailing him as the greatest humorist and descriptive writer of
modern times. By the first of the year more than thirty thousand volumes
had been sold. It was a book of travel; its lowest price was three and a
half dollars; the record has not been equaled since. In England also
large editions had been issued, and translations into foreign languages
were under way. It was and is a great book, because it is a human book
—a book written straight from the heart.
If Mark Twain had not been famous before, he was so now. Indeed, it is
doubtful if any other American author was so widely known and read as the
author of "The Innocents Abroad" during that first half-year after its
Yet for some reason he still did not regard himself as a literary man.
He was a journalist, and began to look about for a paper which he could
buy-his idea being to establish a business and a home. Through Mr.
Langdon's assistance, he finally obtained an interest in the "Buffalo
Express," and the end of the year 1869 found him established as its
associate editor, though still lecturing here and there, because his
wedding-day was near at hand and there must be no lack of funds.
It was the 2d of February, 1870, that Samuel Clemens and Olivia Langdon
were married. A few days before, he sat down one night and wrote to
Jim Gillis, away out in the Tuolumne Hills, and told him of all his good
fortune, recalling their days at Angel's Camp, and the absurd frog story,
which he said had been the beginning of his happiness. In the five years
since then he had traveled a long way, but he had not forgotten.
On the morning of his wedding-day Mark Twain received from his publisher
a check for four thousand dollars, his profit from three months' sales of
the book, a handsome sum.
The wedding was mainly a family affair. Twichell and his wife came over
from Hartford—Twichell to assist Thomas K. Beecher in performing the
ceremony. Jane Clemens could not come, nor Orion and his wife; but
Pamela, a widow now, and her daughter Annie, grown to a young lady,
arrived from St. Louis. Not more than one hundred guests gathered in the
stately Langdon parlors that in future would hold so much history for
Samuel Clemens and Olivia Langdon—so much of the story of life and death
that thus made its beginning there. Then, at seven in the evening, they
were married, and the bride danced with her father, and the Rev. Thomas
Beecher declared she wore the longest gloves he had ever seen.
It was the next afternoon that the wedding-party set out for Buffalo.
Through a Mr. Slee, an agent of Mr. Langdon's, Clemens had engaged, as he
supposed, a boarding-house, quiet and unpretentious, for he meant to
start his married life modestly. Jervis Langdon had a plan of his own
for his daughter, but Clemens had received no inkling of it, and had full
faith in the letter which Slee had written, saying that a choice and
inexpensive boarding-house had been secured. When, about nine o'clock
that night, the party reached Buffalo, they found Mr. Slee waiting at the
station. There was snow, and sleighs had been ordered. Soon after
starting, the sleigh of the bride and groom fell behind and drove about
rather aimlessly, apparently going nowhere in particular. This disturbed
the groom, who thought they should arrive first and receive their guests.
He criticized Slee for selecting a house that was so hard to find, and
when they turned at last into Delaware Avenue, Buffalo's finest street,
and stopped before a handsome house, he was troubled concerning the
richness of the locality.
They were on the steps when the door opened and a perfect fairyland of
lights and decoration was revealed within. The friends who had gone
ahead came out with greetings to lead in the bride and groom. Servants
hurried forward to take bags and wraps. They were ushered inside; they
were led through beautiful rooms, all newly appointed and garnished. The
bridegroom was dazed, unable to understand the meaning of it all—the
completeness of their possession. At last his young wife put her hand
upon his arm.
"Don't you understand, Youth?" she said—that was always her name for
him. "Don't you understand? It is ours, all ours—everything—a gift
But still he could not quite grasp it, and Mr. Langdon brought a little
box and, opening it, handed them the deeds.
Nobody quite remembers what was the first remark that Samuel Clemens
made, but either then or a little later he said:
"Mr. Langdon, whenever you are in Buffalo, if it's twice a year, come
right here. Bring your bag and stay overnight if you want to. It
sha'n't cost you a cent."
MARK TWAIN IN BUFFALO
Mark Twain remained less than two years in Buffalo—a period of much
In the beginning, prospects could hardly have been brighter. His
beautiful home seemed perfect. At the office he found work to his hand,
and enjoyed it. His co-editor, J. W. Larned, who sat across the table
from him, used to tell later how Mark enjoyed his work as he went along
—the humor of it—frequently laughing as some new absurdity came into his
mind. He was not very regular in his arrivals, but he worked long hours
and turned in a vast amount of "copy"—skits, sketches, editorials, and
comments of a varied sort. Not all of it was humorous; he would stop
work any time on an amusing sketch to attack some abuse or denounce an
injustice, and he did it in scorching words that made offenders pause.
Once, when two practical jokers had sent in a marriage notice of persons
not even contemplating matrimony, he wrote:
"This deceit has been practised maliciously by a couple of men whose
small souls will escape through their pores some day if they do not
varnish their hides."
In May he considerably increased his income by undertaking a department
called "Memoranda" for the new "Galaxy" magazine. The outlook was now so
promising that to his lecture agent, James Redpath, he wrote:
"DEAR RED: I'm not going to lecture any more forever. I've got
things ciphered down to a fraction now. I know just about what it
will cost to live, and I can make the money without lecturing.
Therefore, old man, count me out."
And in a second letter:
"I guess I'm out of the field permanently. Have got a lovely wife, a
lovely house bewitchingly furnished, a lovely carriage, and a
coachman whose style and dignity are simply awe-inspiring, nothing
less; and I'm making more money than necessary, by considerable, and
therefore why crucify myself nightly on the platform! The
subscriber will have to be excused, for the present season, at
The little household on Delaware Avenue was indeed a happy place during
those early months. Neither Clemens nor his wife in those days cared
much for society, preferring the comfort of their own home. Once when a
new family moved into a house across the way they postponed calling until
they felt ashamed. Clemens himself called first. One Sunday morning he
noticed smoke pouring from an upper window of their neighbor's house.
The occupants, seated on the veranda, evidently did not suspect their
danger. Clemens stepped across to the gate and, bowing politely, said:
"My name is Clemens; we ought to have called on you before, and I
beg your pardon for intruding now in this informal way, but your
house is on fire."
It was at the moment when life seemed at its best that shadows gathered.
Jervis Langdon had never accepted his son-in-law's playful invitation to
"bring his bag and stay overnight," and now the time for it was past. In
the spring his health gave way. Mrs. Clemens, who adored him, went to
Elmira to be at his bedside. Three months of lingering illness brought
the end. His death was a great blow to Mrs. Clemens, and the strain of
watching had been very hard. Her own health, never robust, became poor.
A girlhood friend, who came to cheer her with a visit, was taken down
with typhoid fever. Another long period of anxiety and nursing ended
with the young woman's death in the Clemens home.
To Mark Twain and his wife it seemed that their bright days were over.
The arrival of little Langdon Clemens, in November, brought happiness,
but his delicate hold on life was so uncertain that the burden of anxiety
Amid so many distractions Clemens found his work hard. His "Memoranda"
department in the "Galaxy" must be filled and be bright and readable.
His work at the office could not be neglected. Then, too, he had made a
contract with Bliss for another book "Roughing It"—and he was trying to
get started on that.
He began to chafe under the relentless demands of the magazine and
newspaper. Finally he could stand it no longer. He sold his interest in
the "Express," at a loss, and gave up the "Memoranda." In the closing
number (April, 1871) he said:
"For the last eight months, with hardly an interval, I have had for
my fellows and comrades, night and day, doctors and watchers of the
sick! During these eight months death has taken two members of my
home circle and malignantly threatened two others. All this I have
experienced, yet all the time have been under contract to furnish
humorous matter, once a month, for this magazine …. To be a
pirate on a low salary and with no share of the profits in the
business used to be my idea of an uncomfortable occupation, but I
have other views now. To be a monthly humorist in a cheerless time
AT WORK ON "ROUGHING IT"
The Clemens family now went to Elmira, to Quarry Farm—a beautiful
hilltop place, overlooking the river and the town—the home of Mrs.
Clemens's sister, Mrs. Theodore Crane. They did not expect to return to
Buffalo, and the house there was offered for sale. For them the sunlight
had gone out of it.
Matters went better at Quarry Farm. The invalids gained strength; work
on the book progressed. The Clemenses that year fell in love with the
place that was to mean so much to them in the many summers to come.
Mark Twain was not altogether satisfied, however, with his writing. He
was afraid it was not up to his literary standard. His spirits were at
low ebb when his old first editor, Joe Goodman, came East and stopped off
at Elmira. Clemens hurried him out to the farm, and, eagerly putting the
chapters of "Roughing It" into his hands, asked him to read them.
Goodman seated himself comfortably by a window, while the author went
over to a table and pretended to write, but was really watching Goodman,
who read page after page solemnly and with great deliberation. Presently
Mark Twain could stand it no longer. He threw down his pen, exclaiming:
"I knew it! I knew it! I've been writing nothing but rot. You have sat
there all this time reading without a smile—but I am not wholly to
blame. I have been trying to write a funny book with dead people and
sickness everywhere. Oh, Joe, I wish I could die myself!"
"Mark," said Goodman, "I was reading critically, not for amusement, and
so far as I have read, and can judge, this is one of the best things you
have ever written. I have found it perfectly absorbing. You are doing a
That was enough. Clemens knew that Goodman never spoke idly of such
matters. The author of "Roughing It" was a changed man—full of
enthusiasm, eager to go on. He offered to pay Goodman a salary to stay
and furnish inspiration. Goodman declined the salary, but remained for
several weeks, and during long walks which the two friends took over the
hills gave advice, recalled good material, and was a great help and
comfort. In May, Clemens wrote to Bliss that he had twelve hundred
manuscript pages of the new book written and was turning out from thirty
to sixty-five per day. He was in high spirits. The family health had
improved—once more prospects were bright. He even allowed Redpath to
persuade him to lecture again during the coming season. Selling his
share of the "Express" at a loss had left Mark Twain considerably in debt
and lecture profits would furnish the quickest means of payment.
When the summer ended the Clemens family took up residence in Hartford,
Connecticut, in the fine old Hooker house, on Forest Street. Hartford
held many attractions for Mark Twain. His publishers were located there,
also it was the home of a distinguished group of writers, and of the Rev.
"Joe" Twichell. Neither Clemens nor his wife had felt that they could
return to Buffalo. The home there was sold—its contents packed and
shipped. They did not see it again.
His book finished, Mark Twain lectured pretty steadily that winter, often
in the neighborhood of Boston, which was lecture headquarters. Mark
Twain enjoyed Boston. In Redpath's office one could often meet and "swap
stories" with Josh Billings (Henry W. Shaw) and Petroleum V. Nasby (David
R. Locke)—well-known humorists of that day—while in the strictly
literary circle there were William Dean Howells, Thomas Bailey Aldrich,
Bret Harte (who by this time had become famous and journeyed eastward),
and others of their sort. They were all young and eager and merry, then,
and they gathered at luncheons in snug corners and talked gaily far into
the dimness of winter afternoons. Harte had been immediately accorded a
high place in the Boston group. Mark Twain as a strictly literary man
was still regarded rather doubtfully by members of the older set—the
Brahmins, as they were called—but the young men already hailed him
joyfully, reveling in the fine, fearless humor of his writing, his
wonderful talk, his boundless humanity.
Mark Twain closed his lecture season in February (1872), and during the
same month his new book, "Roughing It," came from the press. He disliked
the lecture platform, and he felt that he could now abandon it. He had
made up his loss in Buffalo and something besides. Furthermore, the
advance sales on his book had been large.
"Roughing It," in fact, proved a very successful book. Like "The
Innocents Abroad," it was the first of its kind, fresh in its humor and
description, true in its picture of the frontier life he had known. In
three months forty thousand copies had been sold, and now, after more
than forty years, it is still a popular book. The life it describes is
all gone-the scenes are changed. It is a record of a vanished time—a
delightful history—as delightful to-day as ever.
Eighteen hundred and seventy-two was an eventful year for Mark Twain. In
March his second child, a little girl whom they named Susy, was born, and
three months later the boy, Langdon, died. He had never been really
strong, and a heavy cold and diphtheria brought the end.
Clemens did little work that summer. He took his family to Saybrook,
Connecticut, for the sea air, and near the end of August, when Mrs.
Clemens had regained strength and courage, he sailed for England to
gather material for a book on English life and customs. He felt very
friendly toward the English, who had been highly appreciative of his
writings, and he wished their better acquaintance. He gave out no word
of the book idea, and it seems unlikely that any one in England ever
suspected it. He was there three months, and beyond some notebook
memoranda made during the early weeks of his stay he wrote not a line.
He was too delighted with everything to write a book—a book of his kind.
In letters home he declared the country to be as beautiful as fairyland.
By all classes attentions were showered upon him—honors such as he had
never received even in America. W. D. Howells writes:
"In England rank, fashion, and culture rejoiced in him. Lord mayors,
lord chief justices, and magnates of many kinds were his hosts; he
was desired in country houses, and his bold genius captivated the
favor of periodicals, that spurned the rest of our nation."
He could not make a book—a humorous book—out of these people and their
country; he was too fond of them.
England fairly reveled in Mark Twain. At one of the great banquets, a
roll of the distinguished guests was called, and the names properly
applauded. Mark Twain, busily engaged in low conversation with his
neighbor, applauded without listening, vigorously or mildly, as the
others led. Finally a name was followed by a great burst of long and
vehement clapping. This must be some very great person indeed, and Mark
Twain, not to be outdone in his approval, stoutly kept his hands going
when all others had finished.
"Whose name was that we were just applauding?" he asked of his neighbor.
But it was no matter; they took it all as one of his jokes. He was a
wonder and a delight to them. Whatever he did or said was to them
supremely amusing. When, on one occasion, a speaker humorously referred
to his American habit of carrying a cotton umbrella, his reply that he
did so "because it was the only kind of an umbrella that an Englishman
wouldn't steal," was repeated all over England next day as one of the
finest examples of wit since the days of Swift.
He returned to America at the end of November; promising to come back and
lecture to them the following year.
 From "My Mark Twain," by W. D. Howells.
A NEW BOOK AND NEW ENGLISH TRIUMPHS
But if Mark Twain could find nothing to write of in England, he found no
lack of material in America. That winter in Hartford, with Charles
Dudley Warner, he wrote "The Gilded Age." The Warners were neighbors,
and the families visited back and forth. One night at dinner, when the
two husbands were criticizing the novels their wives were reading, the
wives suggested that their author husbands write a better one. The
challenge was accepted. On the spur of the moment Warner and Clemens
agreed that they would write a book together, and began it immediately.
Clemens had an idea already in mind. It was to build a romance around
that lovable dreamer, his mother's cousin, James Lampton, whom the reader
will recall from an earlier chapter. Without delay he set to work and
soon completed the first three hundred and ninety-nine pages of the new
story. Warner came over and, after listening to its reading, went home
and took up the story. In two months the novel was complete, Warner
doing most of the romance, Mark Twain the character parts. Warner's
portion was probably pure fiction, but Mark Twain's chapters were full of
Judge Hawkins and wife were Mark Twain's father and mother; Washington
Hawkins, his brother Orion. Their doings, with those of James Lampton as
Colonel Sellers, were, of course, elaborated, but the story of the
Tennessee land, as told in that book, is very good history indeed. Laura
Hawkins, however, was only real in the fact that she bore the name of
Samuel Clemens's old playmate. "The Gilded Age," published later in the
year, was well received and sold largely. The character of Colonel
Sellers at once took a place among the great fiction characters of the
world, and is probably the best known of any American creation. His
watchword, "There's millions in it!" became a byword.
The Clemenses decided to build in Hartford. They bought a plot of land
on Farmington Avenue, in the literary neighborhood, and engaged an
architect and builder. By spring, the new house was well under way, and,
matters progressing so favorably, the owners decided to take a holiday
while the work was going on. Clemens had been eager to show England to
his wife; so, taking little Sissy, now a year old, they sailed in May, to
be gone half a year.
They remained for a time in London—a period of honors and entertainment.
If Mark Twain had been a lion on his first visit, he was hardly less than
royalty now. His rooms at the Langham Hotel were like a court. The
nation's most distinguished men—among them Robert Browning, Sir John
Millais, Lord Houghton, and Sir Charles Dilke—came to pay their
respects. Authors were calling constantly. Charles Reade and Wilkie
Collins could not get enough of Mark Twain. Reade proposed to join with
him in writing a novel, as Warner had done. Lewis Carroll did not call,
being too timid, but they met the author of "Alice in Wonderland" one
night at a dinner, "the shyest full-grown man, except Uncle Remiss, I
ever saw," Mark Twain once declared.
Little Sissy and her father thrived on London life, but it wore on Mrs.
Clemens. At the end of July they went quietly to Edinburgh, and settled
at Veitch's Hotel, on George Street. The strain of London life had been
too much for Mrs. Clemens, and her health became poor. Unacquainted in
Edinburgh, Clemens only remembered that Dr. John Brown, author of "Rab
and His Friends," lived there. Learning the address, he walked around to
23 Rutland Street, and made himself known. Doctor Brown came forthwith,
and Mrs. Clemens seemed better from the moment of his arrival.
The acquaintance did not end there. For a month the author of "Rab" and
the little Clemens family were together daily. Often they went with him
to make his round of visits. He was always leaning out of the carriage
to look at dogs. It was told of him that once when he suddenly put his
head from a carriage window he dropped back with a disappointed look.
"Who was it?" asked his companion. "Some one you know?"
"No, a dog I don't know."
Dr. John was beloved by everybody in Scotland, and his story of "Rab" had
won him a world-wide following. Children adored him. Little Susy and he
were playmates, and he named her "Megalopis," a Greek term, suggested by
her great, dark eyes.
Mark Twain kept his promise to lecture to a London audience. On the 13th
of October, in the Queen's Concert Rooms, Hanover Square, he gave "Our
Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands." The house was packed. Clemens
was not introduced. He appeared on the platform in evening dress,
assuming the character of a manager, announcing a disappointment. Mr.
Clemens, he said, had fully expected to be present. He paused, and loud
murmurs arose from the audience. He lifted his hand and the noise
subsided. Then he added, "I am happy to say that Mark Twain is present
and will now give his lecture." The audience roared its approval.
He continued his lectures at Hanover Square through the week, and at no
time in his own country had he won such a complete triumph. He was the
talk of the streets. The papers were full of him. The "London Times"
declared his lectures had only whetted the public appetite for more. His
manager, George Dolby (formerly manager for Charles Dickens), urged him
to remain and continue the course through the winter. Clemens finally
agreed that he would take his family back to America and come back
himself within the month. This plan he carried out. Returning to
London, he lectured steadily for two months in the big Hanover Square
rooms, giving his "Roughing It" address, and it was only toward the end
that his audience showed any sign of diminishing. There is probably no
other such a lecture triumph on record.
Mark Twain was at the pinnacle of his first glory: thirty-six, in full
health, prosperous, sought by the world's greatest, hailed in the highest
places almost as a king. Tom Sawyer's dreams of greatness had been all
too modest. In its most dazzling moments his imagination had never led
him so far.
BEGINNING "TOM SAWYER"
It was at the end of January, 1874, when Mark Twain returned to America.
His reception abroad had increased his prestige at home. Howells and
Aldrich came over from Boston to tell him what a great man he had become
—to renew those Boston days of three years before—to talk and talk of
all the things between the earth and sky. And Twichell came in, of
course, and Warner, and no one took account of time, or hurried, or
worried about anything at all.
"We had two such days as the aging sun no longer shines on in his round,"
wrote Howells, long after, and he tells how he and Aldrich were so
carried away with Clemens's success in subscription publication that on
the way back to Boston they planned a book to sell in that way. It was
to be called "Twelve Memorable Murders," and they had made two or three
fortunes from it by the time they reached Boston.
"But the project ended there. We never killed a single soul," Howells
once confessed to the writer of this memoir.
At Quarry Farm that summer Mark Twain began the writing of "The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer." He had been planning for some time to set
down the story of those far-off days along the river-front at Hannibal,
with John Briggs, Tom Blankenship, and the rest of that graceless band,
and now in the cool luxury of a little study which Mrs. Crane had built
for him on the hillside he set himself to spin the fabric of his youth.
The study was a delightful place to work. It was octagonal in shape,
with windows on all sides, something like a pilot-house. From any
direction the breeze could come, and there were fine views. To Twichell
"It is a cozy nest, and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three
or four chairs, and when the storm sweeps down the remote valley and
the lightning flashes behind the hills beyond, and the rain beats on
the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!"
He worked steadily there that summer. He would begin mornings, soon
after breakfast, keeping at it until nearly dinner-time, say until five
or after, for it was not his habit to eat the midday meal. Other members
of the family did not venture near the place; if he was wanted urgently,
a horn was blown. His work finished, he would light a cigar and,
stepping lightly down the stone flight that led to the house-level, he
would find where the family had assembled and read to them his day's
work. Certainly those were golden days, and the tale of Tom and Huck and
Joe Harper progressed. To Dr. John Brown, in Scotland, he wrote:
"I have been writing fifty pages of manuscript a day, on an average,
for some time now, .. . . and consequently have been so wrapped
up in it and dead to everything else that I have fallen mighty short
But the inspiration of Tom and Huck gave out when the tale was half
finished, or perhaps it gave way to a new interest. News came one day
that a writer in San Francisco, without permission, had dramatized "The
Gilded Age," and that it was being played by John T. Raymond, an actor of
much power. Mark Twain had himself planned to dramatize the character of
Colonel Sellers and had taken out dramatic copyright. He promptly
stopped the California production, then wrote the dramatist a friendly
letter, and presently bought the play of him, and set in to rewrite it.
It proved a great success. Raymond played it for several years. Colonel
Sellers on the stage became fully as popular as in the book, and very
THE NEW HOME
The new home in Hartford was ready that autumn—the beautiful house
finished, or nearly finished, the handsome furnishings in place. It was
a lovely spot. There were trees and grass—a green, shady slope that
fell away to a quiet stream. The house itself, quite different from the
most of the houses of that day, had many wings and balconies, and toward
the back a great veranda that looked down the shaded slope. The kitchen
was not at the back. As Mark Twain was unlike any other man that ever
lived, so his house was not like other houses. When asked why he built
the kitchen toward the street, he said:
"So the servants can see the circus go by without running into the
But this was probably his afterthought. The kitchen wing extended toward
Farmington Avenue, but it was a harmonious detail of the general plan.
Many frequenters have tried to express the charm of Mark Twain's
household. Few have succeeded, for it lay not in the house itself, nor
in its furnishings, beautiful as these things were, but in the
personality of its occupants—the daily round of their lives—the
atmosphere which they unconsciously created. From its wide entrance-hall
and tiny, jewel like conservatory below to the billiard-room at the top
of the house, it seemed perfectly appointed, serenely ordered, and full
of welcome. The home of one of the most unusual and unaccountable
personalities in the world was filled with gentleness and peace. It was
Mrs. Clemens who was chiefly responsible. She was no longer the
half-timid, inexperienced girl he had married. Association, study, and
travel had brought her knowledge and confidence. When the great ones of
the world came to visit America's most picturesque literary figure, she
gave welcome to them, and filled her place at his side with such sweet
grace that those who came to pay their dues to him often returned to pay
still greater devotion to his companion. William Dean Howells, so often a
visitor there, once said to the writer:
"Words cannot express Mrs. Clemens—her fineness, her delicate,
wonderful tact." And again, "She was not only a beautiful soul, but
a woman of singular intellectual power."
There were always visitors in the Clemens home. Above the mantel in the
library was written: "The ornament of a house is the friends that
frequent it," and the Clemens home never lacked of those ornaments, and
they were of the world's best. No distinguished person came to America
that did not pay a visit to Hartford and Mark Twain. Generally it was
not merely a call, but a stay of days. The welcome was always genuine,
the entertainment unstinted. George Warner, a close neighbor, once said:
"The Clemens house was the only one I have ever known where there
was never any preoccupation in the evenings and where visitors were
always welcome. Clemens was the best kind of a host; his evenings
after dinner were an unending flow of stories."
As for friends living near, they usually came and went at will, often
without the ceremony of knocking or formal leave-taking. The two Warner
famines were among these, the home of Charles Dudley Warner being only a
step away. Dr. and Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe were also close neighbors,
while the Twichell parsonage was not far. They were all like one great
family, of which Mark Twain's home was the central gathering-place.
"OLD TIMES," "SKETCHES," AND "TOM SAWYER"
The Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and Mark Twain used to take many long walks
together, and once they decided to walk from Hartford to Boston—about
one hundred miles. They decided to allow three days for the trip, and
really started one morning, with some luncheon in a basket, and a little
bag of useful articles. It was a bright, brisk November day, and they
succeeded in getting to Westford, a distance of twenty-eight miles, that
evening. But they were lame and foot-sore, and next morning, when they
had limped six miles or so farther, Clemens telegraphed to Redpath:
"We have made thirty-five miles in less than five days. This shows
the thing can be done. Shall finish now by rail. Did you have any
bets on us?"
He also telegraphed Howells that they were about to arrive in Boston, and
they did, in fact, reach the Howells home about nine o'clock, and found
excellent company—the Cambridge set—and a most welcome supper waiting.
Clemens and Twichell were ravenous. Clemens demanded food immediately.
"I can see him now as he stood up in the midst of our friends, with
his head thrown back, and in his hands a dish of those scalloped
oysters without which no party in Cambridge was really a party,
exulting in the tale of his adventure, which had abounded in the
most original characters and amusing incidents at every mile of
The pedestrians returned to Hartford a day or two later—by train. It
was during another, though less extended, tour which Twichell and Clemens
made that fall, that the latter got his idea for a Mississippi book.
Howells had been pleading for something for the January "Atlantic," of
which he was now chief editor, but thus far Mark Twain's inspiration had
failed. He wrote at last, "My head won't go," but later, the same day,
he sent another hasty line.
"I take back the remark that I can't write for the January number,
for Twichell and I have had a long walk in the woods, and I got to
telling him about old Mississippi days of steam-boating glory and
grandeur as I saw them (during four years) from the pilot-house. He
said, 'What a virgin subject to hurl into a magazine!' I hadn't
thought of that before. Would you like a series of papers to run
through three months, or six, or nine—or about four months, say?"
Howells wrote at once, welcoming the idea. Clemens forthwith sent the
first instalment of that marvelous series of river chapters which rank
to-day among the very best of his work. As pictures of the vanished
Mississippi life they are so real, so convincing, so full of charm that
they can never grow old. As long as any one reads of the Mississippi
they will look up those chapters of Mark Twain's piloting days. When the
first number appeared, John Hay wrote:
"It is perfect; no more, no less. I don't see how you do it."
The "Old Times" chapter ran through seven numbers of the "Atlantic," and
show Mark Twain at his very best. They form now most of the early
chapters of "Life on the Mississippi." The remainder of that book was
added about seven years later.
Those were busy literary days for Mark Twain. Writing the river chapters
carried him back, and hardly had he finished them when he took up the
neglected story of "Tom and Huck," and finished that under full steam.
He at first thought of publishing it in the "Atlantic", but decided
against this plan. He sent Howells the manuscript to read, and received
the fullest praise. Howells wrote:
"It is altogether the best boy's story I ever read. It will be an
Clemens, however, delayed publication. He had another volume in press—a
collection of his sketches—among them the "Jumping Frog," and others of
his California days. The "Jumping Frog" had been translated into French,
and in this book Mark Twain published the French version and then a
literal retranslation of his own, which is one of the most amusing
features in the volume. As an example, the stranger's remark, "I don't
see no p'ints about that frog that's any better than any other frog," in
the literal retranslation becomes, "I no saw not that that frog had
nothing of better than each frog," and Mark Twain parenthetically adds,
"If that isn't grammar gone to seed, then I count myself no judge."
"Sketches New and Old" went very well, but the book had no such sale as
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," which appeared a year later, December,
1876. From the date of its issue it took its place as foremost of
American stories of boy life, a place that to this day it shares only
with "Huck Finn." Mark Twain's own boy life in the little drowsy town of
Hannibal, with John Briggs and Tom Blankenship—their adventures in and
about the cave and river—made perfect material. The story is full of
pure delight. The camp on the island is a picture of boy heaven. No boy
that reads it but longs for the woods and a camp-fire and some bacon
strips in the frying-pan. It is all so thrillingly told and so vivid.
We know certainly that it must all have happened. "The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer" has taken a place side by side with "Treasure Island."
Mark Twain was now regarded by many as the foremost American author.
Certainly he was the most widely known. As a national feature he rivaled
Niagara Falls. No civilized spot on earth that his name had not reached.
Letters merely addressed "Mark Twain" found their way to him. "Mark
Twain, United States," was a common superscription. "Mark Twain, The
World," also reached him without delay, while "Mark Twain, Somewhere,"
and "Mark Twain, Anywhere," in due time came to Hartford. "Mark Twain,
God Knows Where," likewise arrived promptly, and in his reply he said,
"He did." Then a letter addressed "The Devil Knows Where" also reached
him, and he answered, "He did, too." Surely these were the farthermost
limits of fame.
Countless anecdotes went the rounds of the press. Among them was one
which happened to be true:
Their near neighbor, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, was leaving for Florida
one morning, and Clemens ran over early to say good-by. On his return
Mrs. Clemens looked at him severely.
"Why, Youth," she said, "you haven't on any collar and tie."
He said nothing, but went to his room, wrapped up those items in a neat
package, which he sent over by a servant to Mrs. Stowe, with the line:
"Herewith receive a call from the rest of me."
Mrs. Stowe returned a witty note, in which she said he had discovered a
new principle—that of making calls by instalments, and asked whether in
extreme cases a man might not send his clothes and be himself excused.
Most of his work Mark Twain did at Quarry Farm. Each summer the family
—there were two little girls now, Susy and Clara—went to that lovely
place on the hilltop above Elmira, where there were plenty of green
fields and cows and horses and apple-trees, a spot as wonderful to them
as John Quarles's farm had been to their father, so long ago. All the
family loved Quarry Farm, and Mark Twain's work went more easily there.
His winters were not suited to literary creation—there were too many
social events, though once—it was the winter of '76—he wrote a play
with Bret Harte, who came to Hartford and stayed at the Clemens home
while the work was in progress. It was a Chinese play, "Ah Sin," and the
two had a hilarious time writing it, though the result did not prove much
of a success with the public. Mark Twain often tried plays—one with
Howells, among others—but the Colonel Sellers play was his only success.
Grand dinners, trips to Boston and New York, guests in his own home,
occupied much of Mark Twain's winter season. His leisure he gave to his
children and to billiards. He had a passion for the game, and at any
hour of the day or night was likely to be found in the room at the top of
the house, knocking the balls about alone or with any visitor that he had
enticed to that den. He mostly received his callers there, and impressed
them into the game. If they could play, well and good. If not, so much
the better; he could beat them extravagantly, and he took huge delight in
such contests. Every Friday evening a party of billiard lovers—Hartford
men—gathered and played, and told stories, and smoked, until the room
was blue. Clemens never tired of the game. He could play all night. He
would stay until the last man dropped from sheer weariness, and then go
on knocking the balls about alone.
But many evenings at home—early evenings—he gave to Susy and Clara.
They had learned his gift as a romancer and demanded the most startling
inventions. They would bring him a picture requiring him to fit a story
to it without a moment's delay. Once he was suddenly ordered by Clara to
make a story out of a plumber and a "bawgunstictor," which, on the whole,
was easier than some of their requirements. Along the book-shelves were
ornaments and pictures. A picture of a girl whom they called "Emeline"
was at one end, and at the other a cat. Every little while they
compelled him to make a story beginning with the cat and ending with
Emeline. Always a new story, and never the other way about. The
literary path from the cat to Emeline was a perilous one, but in time he
could have traveled it in his dreams.
It was now going on ten years since the publication of "The Innocents
Abroad," and there was a demand for another Mark Twain book of travel.
Clemens considered the matter, and decided that a walking-tour in Europe
might furnish the material he wanted. He spoke to his good friend, the
Rev. "Joe" Twichell, and invited him to become his guest on such an
excursion, because, as he explained, he thought he could "dig material
enough out of Joe to make it a sound investment." As a matter of fact,
he loved Twichell's companionship, and was always inviting him to share
his journeys—to Boston, to Bermuda, to Washington—wherever interest or
fancy led him. His plan now was to take the family to Germany in the
spring, and let Twichell join them later for a summer tramp down through
the Black Forest and Switzerland. Meantime the Clemens household took up
the study of German. The children had a German nurse—others a German
teacher. The household atmosphere became Teutonic. Of course it all
amused Mark Twain, as everything amused him, but he was a good student.
In a brief time he had a fair knowledge of every-day German and a
really surprising vocabulary. The little family sailed in April (1878),
and a few weeks later were settled in the Schloss Hotel, on a hill above
Heidelberg, overlooking the beautiful old castle, the ancient town, with
the Neckar winding down the hazy valley—as fair a view as there is in
Clemens found a room for his work in a small house not far from the
hotel. On the day of his arrival he had pointed out this house and said
he had decided to work there—that his room would be the middle one on
the third floor. Mrs. Clemens laughed, and thought the occupants of the
house might be surprised when he came over to take possession. They
amused themselves by watching "his people" and trying to make out what
they were like. One day he went over that way, and, sure enough, there
was a sign, "Furnished Rooms," and the one he had pointed out from the
hotel was vacant. It became his study forthwith.
The travelers were delighted with their location. To Howells, Clemens
"Our bedroom has two great glass bird-cages (inclosed balconies), one
looking toward the Rhine Valley and sunset, the other looking up the
Neckar cul de sac, and, naturally, we spent nearly all our time in
these. We have tables and chairs in them . . . . It must have
been a noble genius who devised this hotel. Lord! how blessed is
the repose, the tranquillity of this place! Only two sounds: the
happy clamor of the birds in the groves and the muffled music of the
Neckar tumbling over the opposing dikes. It is no hardship to lie
awake awhile nights, for thin subdued roar has exactly the sound of
a steady rain beating upon a roof. It is so healing to the spirit;
and it bears up the thread of one's imaginings as the accompaniment
bears up a song."
Twichell was summoned for August, and wrote back eagerly at the prospect:
"Oh, my! Do you realize, Mark, what a symposium it is to be? I do.
To begin with, I am thoroughly tired, and the rest will be worth
everything. To walk with you and talk with you for weeks together
—why, it's my dream of luxury!"
Meantime the struggle with the "awful German language" went on. Rosa,
the maid, was required to speak to the children only in German, though
little Clara at first would have none of it. Susy, two years older,
tried, and really made progress, but one day she said, pathetically:
"Mama, I wish Rosa was made in English."
But presently she was writing to "Aunt Sue" (Mrs. Crane) at Quarry Farm:
"I know a lot of German; everybody says I know a lot. I give you a
million dollars to see you, and you would give two hundred dollars
to see the lovely woods we see."
Twichell arrived August 1st. Clemens met him at Baden-Baden, and they
immediately set forth on a tramp through the Black Forest, excursioning
as they pleased and having a blissful time. They did not always walk.
They were likely to take a carriage or a donkey-cart, or even a train,
when one conveniently happened along. They did not hurry, but idled and
talked and gathered flowers, or gossiped with wayside natives
—picturesque peasants in the Black Forest costume. In due time they
crossed into Switzerland and prepared to conquer the Alps.
The name Mark Twain had become about as well known in Europe as it was in
America. His face, however, was less familiar. He was not often
recognized in these wanderings, and his pen-name was carefully concealed.
It was a relief to him not to be an object of curiosity and lavish
attention. Twichell's conscience now and then prompted him to reveal the
truth. In one of his letters home he wrote how a young man at a hotel
had especially delighted in Mark's table conversation, and how he
(Twichell) had later taken the young man aside and divulged the speaker's
"I could not forbear telling him who Mark was, and the mingled
surprise and pleasure his face exhibited made me glad I had done so."
They did not climb many of the Alps on foot. They did scale the Rigi,
after which Mark Twain was not in the best walking trim; though later
they conquered Gemmi Pass—no small undertaking—that trail that winds up
and up until the traveler has only the glaciers and white peaks and the
little high-blooming flowers for company.
All day long the friends would tramp and walk together, and when they did
not walk they would hire a diligence or any vehicle that came handy, but,
whatever their means of travel the joy of comradeship amid those superb
surroundings was the same.
In Twichell's letters home we get pleasant pictures of the Mark Twain of
"Mark, to-day, was immensely absorbed in flowers. He scrambled
around and gathered a great variety, and manifested the intensest
pleasure in them . . . . Mark is splendid to walk with amid such
grand scenery, for he talks so well about it, has such a power of
strong, picturesque expression. I wish you might have heard him
today. His vigorous speech nearly did justice to the things we saw."
And in another place:
"He can't bear to see the whip used, or to see a horse pull hard.
To-day when the driver clucked up his horse and quickened his pace a
little, Mark said, 'The fellow's got the notion that we were in a
Another extract refers to an incident which Mark Twain also mentions in
"A Tramp Abroad:" 
"Mark is a queer fellow. There is nothing so delights him as a
swift, strong stream. You can hardly get him to leave one when once
he is in the influence of its fascinations. To throw in stones and
sticks seems to afford him rapture."
Twichell goes on to tell how he threw some driftwood into a racing
torrent and how Mark went running down-stream after it, waving and
shouting in a sort of mad ecstasy.
When a piece went over a fall and emerged to view in the foam below, he
would jump up and down and yell. He acted just like a boy.
Boy he was, then and always. Like Peter Pan, he never really grew up
—that is, if growing up means to grow solemn and uninterested in play.
Climbing the Gorner Grat with Twichell, they sat down to rest, and a lamb
from a near-by flock ventured toward them. Clemens held out his hand and
called softly. The lamb ventured nearer, curious but timid.
It was a scene for a painter: the great American humorist on one side of
the game, and the silly little creature on the other, with the Matterhorn
for a background. Mark was reminded that the time he was consuming was
valuable, but to no purpose. The Gorner Grat could wait. He held on
with undiscouraged perseverance till he carried his point; the lamb
finally put its nose in Mark's hand, and he was happy all the rest of the
"In A Tramp Abroad" Mark Twain burlesques most of the walking-tour with
Harris (Twichell), feeling, perhaps, that he must make humor at whatever
cost. But to-day the other side of the picture seems more worth while.
That it seemed so to him, also, even at the time, we may gather from a
letter he sent after Twichell when it was all over and Twichell was on
his way home:
"DEAR OLD JOE,—It is actually all over! I was so low-spirited at
the station yesterday, and this morning, when I woke, I couldn't
seem to accept the dismal truth that you were really gone and the
pleasant tramping and talking at an end. Ah, my boy! It has been
such a rich holiday for me, and I feel under such deep and honest
obligations to you for coming. I am putting out of my mind all
memory of the time when I misbehaved toward you and hurt you; I am
resolved to consider it forgiven, and to store up and remember only
the charming hours of the journey and the times when I was not
unworthy to be with you and share a companionship which to me stands
first after Livy's."
Clemens had joined his family at Lausanne, and presently they journeyed
down into Italy, returning later to Germany—to Munich, where they lived
quietly with Fraulein Dahlweiner at No. 1a Karlstrasse, while he worked
on his new book of travel. When spring came they went to Paris, and
later to London, where the usual round of entertainment briefly claimed
them. It was the 3d of September, 1879, when they finally reached New
York. The papers said that Mark Twain had changed in his year and a half
of absence. He had, somehow, taken on a traveled look. One paper
remarked that he looked older than when he went to Germany, and that his
hair had turned quite gray.
 Chapter XXXIII.
"THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER"
They went directly to Quarry Farm, where Clemens again took up work on
his book, which he hoped to have ready for early publication. But his
writing did not go as well as he had hoped, and it was long after they
had returned to Hartford that the book was finally in the printer's
Meantime he had renewed work on a story begun two years before at Quarry
Farm. Browsing among the books there one summer day, he happened to pick
up "The Prince and the Page," by Charlotte M. Yonge. It was a story of a
prince disguised as a blind beggar, and, as Mark Twain read, an idea came
to him for an altogether different story, or play, of his own. He would
have a prince and a pauper change places, and through a series of
adventures learn each the trials and burdens of the other life. He
presently gave up the play idea, and began it as a story. His first
intention had been to make the story quite modern, using the late King
Edward VII. (then Prince of Wales) as his prince, but it seemed to him
that it would not do to lose a prince among the slums of modern London
—he could not make it seem real; so he followed back through history until
he came to the little son of Henry VIII., Edward Tudor, and decided that
he would do.
It was the kind of a story that Mark Twain loved to read and to write.
By the end of that first summer he had finished a good portion of the
exciting adventures of "The Prince and the Pauper," and then, as was
likely to happen, the inspiration waned and the manuscript was laid
But with the completion of "A Tramp Abroad"—a task which had grown
wearisome—he turned to the luxury of romance with a glad heart. To
Howells he wrote that he was taking so much pleasure in the writing that
he wanted to make it last.
"Did I ever tell you the plot of it? It begins at 9 A.M., January
27, 1547 . . . . My idea is to afford a realizing sense of the
exceeding severity of the laws of that day by inflicting some of
their penalties upon the king himself, and allowing him a chance to
see the rest of them applied to others."
Susy and Clara Clemens were old enough now to understand the story, and
as he finished the chapters he read them aloud to his small home
audience—a most valuable audience, indeed, for he could judge from its
eager interest, or lack of attention, just the measure of his success.
These little creatures knew all about the writing of books. Susy's
earliest recollection was "Tom Sawyer" read aloud from the manuscript.
Also they knew about plays. They could not remember a time when they did
not take part in evening charades—a favorite amusement in the Clemens
Mark Twain, who always loved his home and played with his children,
invented the charades and their parts for them, at first, but as they
grew older they did not need much help. With the Twichell and Warner
children they organized a little company for their productions, and
entertained the assembled households. They did not make any preparation
for their parts. A word was selected and the syllables of it whispered
to the little actors. Then they withdrew to the hall, where all sorts of
costumes had been laid out for the evening, dressed their parts, and each
group marched into the library, performed its syllable, and retired,
leaving the audience of parents to guess the answer. Now and then, even
at this early day, they gave little plays, and of course Mark Twain could
not resist joining them. In time the plays took the place of the
charades and became quite elaborate, with a stage and scenery, but we
shall hear of this later on.
"The Prince and the Pauper" came to an end in due season, in spite of the
wish of both author and audience for it to go on forever. It was not
published at once, for several reasons, the main one being that "A Tramp
Abroad" had just been issued from the press, and a second book might
interfere with its sale.
As it was, the "Tramp" proved a successful book—never as successful as
the "Innocents," for neither its humor nor its description had quite the
fresh quality of the earlier work. In the beginning, however, the sales
were large, the advance orders amounting to twenty-five thousand copies,
and the return to the author forty thousand dollars for the first year.
GENERAL GRANT AT HARTFORD
A third little girl came to the Clemens household during the summer of
1880. They were then at Quarry Farm, and Clemens wrote to his friend
"DEAR OLD JOE,—Concerning Jean Clemens, if anybody said he 'didn't
see no p'ints about that frog that's any better than any other
frog,' I should think he was convicting himself of being a pretty
poor sort of an observer. . . It is curious to note the change in
the stock-quotations of the Affection Board. Four weeks ago the
children put Mama at the head of the list right along, where she has
always been, but now:
"That is the way it stands now. Mama is become No. 2; I have dropped
from 4 and become No. 5. Some time ago it used to be nip and tuck
between me and the cats, but after the cats 'developed' I didn't
stand any more show."
Those were happy days at Quarry Farm. The little new baby thrived on
that summer hilltop.
Also, it may be said, the cats. Mark Twain's children had inherited
his love for cats, and at the farm were always cats of all ages and
varieties. Many of the bed-time stories were about these pets—stories
invented by Mark Twain as he went along—stories that began anywhere and
ended nowhere, and continued indefinitely from evening to evening,
trailing off into dreamland.
The great humorist cared less for dogs, though he was never unkind to
them, and once at the farm a gentle hound named Bones won his affection.
When the end of the summer came and Clemens, as was his habit, started
down the drive ahead of the carriage, Bones, half-way to the entrance,
was waiting for him. Clemens stooped down, put his arms about him, and
bade him an affectionate good-by.
Eighteen hundred and eighty was a Presidential year. Mark Twain was for
General Garfield, and made a number of remarkable speeches in his favor.
General Grant came to Hartford during the campaign, and Mark Twain was
chosen to make the address of welcome. Perhaps no such address of
welcome was ever made before. He began:
"I am among those deputed to welcome you to the sincere and cordial
hospitalities of Hartford, the city of the historic and revered
Charter Oak, of which most of the town is built."
He seemed to be at a loss what to say next, and, leaning over, pretended
to whisper to Grant. Then, as if he had been prompted by the great
soldier, he straightened up and poured out a fervid eulogy on Grant's
victories, adding, in an aside, as he finished, "I nearly forgot that
part of my speech," to the roaring delight of his hearers, while Grant
himself grimly smiled.
He then spoke of the General being now out of public employment, and how
grateful his country was to him, and how it stood ready to reward him in
Grant had smiled more than once during the speech, and when this sentence
came out at the end his composure broke up altogether, while the throng
shouted approval. Clemens made another speech that night at the
opera-house—a speech long remembered in Hartford as one of the great
efforts of his life.
A very warm friendship had grown up between Mark Twain and General Grant.
A year earlier, on the famous soldier's return from his trip around the
world, a great birthday banquet had been given him in Chicago, at which
Mark Twain's speech had been the event of the evening. The colonel who
long before had chased the young pilot-soldier through the Mississippi
bottoms had become his conquering hero, and Grant's admiration for
America's foremost humorist was most hearty. Now and again Clemens urged
General Grant to write his memoirs for publication, but the hero of many
battles was afraid to venture into the field of letters. He had no
confidence in his ability to write. He did not realize that the man who
had written "I will fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,"
and, later, "Let us have peace," was capable of English as terse and
forceful as the Latin of Caesar's Commentaries.
The "Prince and the Pauper," delayed for one reason and another, did not
make its public appearance until the end of 1881. It was issued by
Osgood, of Boston, and was a different book in every way from any that
Mark Twain had published before. Mrs. Clemens, who loved the story, had
insisted that no expense should be spared in its making, and it was,
indeed, a handsome volume. It was filled with beautiful pen-and-ink
drawings, and the binding was rich. The dedication to its two earliest
"To those good-mannered and agreeable
children, Susy and Clara Clemens."
The story itself was unlike anything in Mark Twain's former work. It was
pure romance, a beautiful, idyllic tale, though not without his touch of
humor and humanity on every page. And how breathlessly interesting it
is! We may imagine that first little audience—the "two good-mannered
and agreeable children," drawing up in their little chairs by the
fireside, hanging on every paragraph of the adventures of the wandering
prince and Tom Canty, the pauper king, eager always for more.
The story, at first, was not entirely understood by the reviewers. They
did not believe it could be serious. They expected a joke in it
somewhere. Some even thought they had found it. But it was not a joke,
it was just a simple tale—a beautiful picture of a long-vanished time.
One critic, wiser than the rest, said:
"The characters of those two boys, twin in spirit, will rank with the
purest and loveliest creations of child-life in the realm of
Mark Twain was now approaching the fullness of his fame and prosperity.
The income from his writing was large; Mrs. Clemens possessed a
considerable fortune of her own; they had no debts. Their home was as
perfectly appointed as a home could well be, their family life was ideal.
They lived in the large, hospitable way which Mrs. Clemens had known in
her youth, and which her husband, with his Southern temperament, loved.
Their friends were of the world's chosen, and they were legion in number.
There were always guests in the Clemens home—so many, indeed, were
constantly coming and going that Mark Twain said he was going to set up a
private 'bus to save carriage hire. Yet he loved it all dearly, and for
the most part realized his happiness.
Unfortunately, there were moments when he forgot that his lot was
satisfactory, and tried to improve it. His Colonel Sellers imagination,
inherited from both sides of his family, led him into financial
adventures which were generally unprofitable. There were no silver-mines
in the East into which to empty money and effort, as in the old Nevada
days, but there were plenty of other things—inventions, stock companies,
and the like.
When a man came along with a patent steam-generator which would save
ninety per cent. of the usual coal-supply, Mark Twain invested whatever
bank surplus he had at the moment, and saw that money no more forever.
After the steam-generator came a steam-pulley, a small affair, but
powerful enough to relieve him of thirty-two thousand dollars in a brief
A new method of marine telegraphy was offered him by the time his balance
had grown again, a promising contrivance, but it failed to return the
twenty-five thousand dollars invested in it by Mark Twain. The list of
such adventures is too long to set down here. They differ somewhat, but
there is one feature common to all—none of them paid. At last came a
chance in which there was really a fortune. A certain Alexander Graham
Bell, an inventor, one day appeared, offering stock in an invention for
carrying the human voice on an electric wire. But Mark Twain had grown
wise, he thought. Long after he wrote:
"I declined. I said I did not want any more to do with wildcat
speculation …. I said I didn't want it at any price. He (Bell)
became eager; and insisted I take five hundred dollars' worth. He
said he would sell me as much as I wanted for five hundred dollars;
offered to let me gather it up in my hands and measure it in a plug-
hat; said I could have a whole hatful for five hundred dollars. But
I was a burnt child, and resisted all these temptations—resisted
them easily; went off with my money, and next day lent five thousand
of it to a friend who was going to go bankrupt three days later."
It was the chance of fortune thus thrown away which, perhaps, led him to
take up later with an engraving process—an adventure which lasted
through several years and ate up a heavy sum. Altogether, these
experiences in finance cost Mark Twain a fair-sized fortune, though,
after all, they were as nothing compared with the great type-machine
calamity which we shall hear of in a later chapter.
BACK TO THE RIVER, WITH BIXBY
Fortunately, Mark Twain was not greatly upset by his losses. They
exasperated him for the moment, perhaps, but his violence waned
presently, and the whole matter was put aside forever. His work went on
with slight interference. Looking over his Mississippi chapters one day,
he was taken with a new interest in the river, and decided to make the
steamboat trip between St. Louis and New Orleans, to report the changes
that had taken place in his twenty-one years of absence. His Boston
publisher, Osgood, agreed to accompany him, and a stenographer was
engaged to take down conversations and comments.
At St. Louis they took passage on the steamer "Gold Dust"—Clemens under
an assumed name, though he was promptly identified. In his book he tells
how the pilot recognized him and how they became friends. Once, in later
years, he said:
"I spent most of my time up there with him. When we got down below
Cairo, where there was a big, full river—for it was high-water
season and there was no danger of the boat hitting anything so long
as she kept in the river—I had her most of the time on his watch.
He would lie down and sleep and leave me there to dream that the
years had not slipped away; that there had been no war, no mining
days, no literary adventures; that I was still a pilot, happy and
care-free as I had been twenty years before."
To heighten the illusion he had himself called regularly with the
four-o'clock watch, in order not to miss the mornings. The points along
the river were nearly all new to him, everything had changed, but during
high-water this mattered little. He was a pilot again—a young fellow in
his twenties, speculating on the problems of existence and reading his
fortunes in the stars. The river had lost none of its charm for him. To
Bixby he wrote:
"I'd rather be a pilot than anything else I've ever been in my life.
How do you run Plum Point?"
He met Bixby at New Orleans. Bixby was a captain now, on the splendid
new Anchor Line steamer "City of Baton Rouge," one of the last of the
fine river boats. Clemens made the return trip to St. Louis with Bixby
on the "Baton Rouge"—almost exactly twenty-five years from their first
trip together. To Bixby it seemed wonderfully like those old days back
in the fifties.
"Sam was making notes in his memorandum-book, just as he always did,"
said Bixby, long after, to the writer of this history.
Mark Twain decided to see the river above St. Louis. He went to Hannibal
to spend a few days with old friends. "Delightful days," he wrote home,
"loitering around all day long, and talking with grayheads who were boys
and girls with me thirty or forty years ago." He took boat for St. Paul
and saw the upper river, which he had never seen before. He thought the
scenery beautiful, but he found a sadness everywhere because of the decay
of the river trade. In a note-book entry he said: "The romance of
boating is gone now. In Hannibal the steamboatman is no longer a god."
He worked at the Mississippi book that summer at the farm, but did not
get on very well, and it was not until the following year (1883) that it
came from the press. Osgood published it, and Charles L. Webster, who
had married Mark Twain's niece, Annie (daughter of his sister Pamela),
looked after the agency sales. Mark Twain, in fact, was preparing to
become his own publisher, and this was the beginning. Webster was a man
of ability, and the book sold well.
"Life on the Mississippi" is one of Mark Twain's best books—one of those
which will live longest. The first twenty chapters are not excelled in
quality anywhere in his writings. The remainder of the book has an
interest of its own, but it lacks the charm of those memories of his
youth—the mellow light of other days which enhances all of his better
A READING-TOUR WITH CABLE
Every little while Mark Twain had a fever of play-writing, and it was
about this time that he collaborated with W. D. Howells on a second
Colonel Sellers play. It was a lively combination.
Once to the writer Howells said: "Clemens took one scene and I another.
We had loads of fun about it. We cracked our sides laughing over it
as we went along. We thought it mighty good, and I think to this day it
was mighty good."
But actors and managers did not agree with them. Raymond, who had played
the original Sellers, declared that in this play the Colonel had not
become merely a visionary, but a lunatic. The play was offered
elsewhere, and finally Mark Twain produced it at his own expense. But
perhaps the public agreed with Raymond, for the venture did not pay.
It was about a year after this (the winter of 1884-5) that Mark Twain
went back to the lecture platform—or rather, he joined with George W.
Cable in a reading-tour. Cable had been giving readings on his own
account from his wonderful Creole stories, and had visited Mark Twain in
Hartford. While there he had been taken down with the mumps, and it was
during his convalescence that the plan for a combined reading-tour had
been made. This was early in the year, and the tour was to begin in the
Cable, meantime, having quite recovered, conceived a plan to repay Mark
Twain's hospitality. It was to be an April-fool—a great complimentary
joke. A few days before the first of the month he had a "private and
confidential" circular letter printed, and mailed it to one hundred and
fifty of Mark Twain's friends and admirers in Boston, New York, and
elsewhere, asking that they send the humorist a letter to arrive April 1,
requesting his autograph. It would seem that each one receiving this
letter must have responded to it, for on the morning of April 1st an
immense pile of letters was unloaded on Mark Twain's table. He did not
know what to make of it, and Mrs. Clemens, who was party to the joke,
slyly watched results. They were the most absurd requests for autographs
ever written. He was fooled and mystified at first, then realizing the
nature and magnitude of the joke, he entered into it fully-delighted, of
course, for it was really a fine compliment. Some of the letters asked
for autographs by the yard, some by the pound. Some commanded him to sit
down and copy a few chapters from "The Innocents Abroad." Others asked
that his autograph be attached to a check. John Hay requested that he
copy a hymn, a few hundred lines of Young's "Night Thoughts," etc., and
"I want my boy to form a taste for serious and elevated poetry, and
it will add considerable commercial value to have it in your
Altogether, the reading of the letters gave Mark Twain a delightful day.
The platform tour of Clemens and Cable that fall was a success. They had
good houses, and the work of these two favorites read by the authors of
it made a fascinating program.
They continued their tour westward as far as Chicago and gave readings in
Hannibal and Keokuk. Orion Clemens and his wife once more lived in
Keokuk, and with them Jane Clemens, brisk and active for her eighty-one
years. She had visited Hartford more than once and enjoyed "Sam's fine
house," but she chose the West for home. Orion Clemens, honest, earnest,
and industrious, had somehow missed success in life. The more prosperous
brother, however, made an allowance ample for all. Mark Twain's mother
attended the Keokuk reading. Later, at home, when her children asked her
if she could still dance (she had been a great dancer in her youth), she
rose, and in spite of her fourscore, tripped as lightly as a girl. It
was the last time that Mark Twain would see her in full health.
At Christmas-time Cable and Clemens took a fortnight's holiday, and
Clemens went home to Hartford. There a grand surprise awaited him. Mrs.
Clemens had made an adaptation of "The Prince and the Pauper" for the
stage, and his children, with those of the neighborhood, had learned the
parts. A good stage had been set up in George Warner's home, with a
pretty drop-curtain and very good scenery indeed. Clemens arrived in the
late afternoon, and felt an air of mystery in the house, but did not
guess what it meant. By and by he was led across the grounds to George
Warner's home, into a large room, and placed in a seat directly fronting
the stage. Then presently the curtain went up, the play began, and he
knew. As he watched the little performers playing so eagerly the parts
of his story, he was deeply moved and gratified.
It was only the beginning of "The Prince and the Pauper" production. The
play was soon repeated, Clemens himself taking the part of Miles Hendon.
In a "biography" of her father which Susy began a little later, she
"Papa had only three days to learn the part in, but still we were all
sure he could do it . . . . I was the prince, and Papa and I
rehearsed two or three times a day for the three days before the
appointed evening. Papa acted his part beautifully, and he added to
the scene, making it a good deal longer. He was inexpressibly
funny, with his great slouch hat and gait—oh, such a gait!"
Susy's sister, Clara, took the part of Lady Jane Gray, while little Jean,
aged four, in the part of a court official, sat at a small table and
constantly signed state papers and death-warrants.
"THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN"
Meantime, Mark Twain had really become a publisher. His nephew by
marriage, Charles L. Webster, who, with Osgood, had handled the
"Mississippi" book, was now established under the firm name of Charles L.
Webster & Co., Samuel L. Clemens being the company. Clemens had another
book ready, and the new firm were to handle it throughout.
The new book was a story which Mark Twain had begun one day at Quarry
Farm, nearly eight years before. It was to be a continuation of the
adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, especially of the latter as told
by himself. But the author had no great opinion of the tale and
presently laid it aside. Then some seven years later, after his trip
down the river, he felt again the inspiration of the old days, and the
story of Huck's adventures had been continued and brought to a close.
The author believed in it by this time, and the firm of Webster & Co.
was really formed for the purpose of publishing it.
Mark Twain took an active interest in the process. From the pages of
"Life" he selected an artist—a young man named E. W. Kemble, who would
later become one of our foremost illustrators of Southern character. He
also gave attention to the selection of the paper and the binding—even
to the method of canvassing for the sales. In a note to Webster, he
"Get at your canvassing early and drive it with all your might . .
. . If we haven't 40,000 subscriptions we simply postpone
publication till we've got them."
Mark Twain was making himself believe that he was a business man, and in
this instance, at least, he seems to have made no mistake. Some advanced
chapters of "Huck" appeared serially in the "Century Magazine," and the
public was eager for more. By the time the "Century" chapters were
finished the forty thousand advance subscriptions for the book had been
taken, and Huck Finn's own story, so long pushed aside and delayed, came
grandly into its own. Many grown-up readers and most critics declared
that it was greater than the "Tom Sawyer" book, though the younger
readers generally like the first book the best, it being rather more in
the juvenile vein. Huck's story, in fact, was soon causing quite
grown-up discussions—discussions as to its psychology and moral phases,
matters which do not interest small people, who are always on Huck's side
in everything, and quite willing that he should take any risk of body or
soul for the sake of Nigger Jim. Poor, vagrant Ben Blankenship, hiding
his runaway negro in an Illinois swamp, could not dream that his
humanity would one day supply the moral episode for an immortal book!
As literature, the story of "Huck Finn" holds a higher place than that of
"Tom Sawyer." As stories, they stand side by side, neither complete
without the other, and both certain to live as long as there are real
boys and girls to read them.
PUBLISHER TO GENERAL GRANT
Mark Twain was now a successful publisher, but his success thus far was
nothing to what lay just ahead. One evening he learned that General
Grant, after heavy financial disaster, had begun writing the memoirs
which he (Clemens) had urged him to undertake some years before. Next
morning he called on the General to learn the particulars. Grant had
contributed some articles to the "Century" war series, and felt in a mood
to continue the work. He had discussed with the "Century" publishers the
matter of a book. Clemens suggested that such a book should be sold only
by subscription and prophesied its enormous success. General Grant was
less sure. His need of money was very great and he was anxious to get as
much return as possible, but his faith was not large. He was inclined to
make no special efforts in the matter of publication. But Mark Twain
prevailed. Like his own Colonel Sellers, he talked glowingly and
eloquently of millions. He first offered to direct the general to his
own former subscription publisher, at Hartford, then finally proposed to
publish it himself, offering Grant seventy per cent. of the net returns,
and to pay all office expenses out of his own share.
Of course there could be nothing for any publisher in such an arrangement
unless the sales were enormous. General Grant realized this, and at
first refused to consent. Here was a friend offering to bankrupt himself
out of pure philanthropy, a thing he could not permit. But Mark Twain
came again and again, and finally persuaded him that purely as business
proposition the offer was warranted by the certainty of great sales.
So the firm of Charles L. Webster & Co. undertook the Grant book, and the
old soldier, broken in health and fortune, was liberally provided with
means that would enable him to finish his task with his mind at peace.
He devoted himself steadily to the work—at first writing by hand, then
dictating to a stenographer that Webster & Co. provided. His disease,
cancer, made fierce ravages, but he "fought it out on that line," and
wrote the last pages of his memoirs by hand when he could no longer speak
aloud. Mark Twain was much with him, and cheered him with anecdotes and
news of the advance sale of his book. In one of his memoranda of that
time Clemens wrote:
"To-day (May 26) talked with General Grant about his and my first
great Missouri campaign, in 1861. He surprised an empty camp near
Florida, Missouri, on Salt River, which I had been occupying a day
or two before. How near he came to playing the d— with his future
At Mount McGregor, a few weeks before the end, General Grant asked if any
estimate could now be made of the sum which his family would obtain from
his work, and was deeply comforted by Clemens's prompt reply that more
than one hundred thousand sets had already been sold, the author's share
of which would exceed one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Clemens
added that the gross return would probably be twice as much more.
The last notes came from Grant's hands soon after that, and a few days
later, July 23, 1885, his task completed, he died. To Henry Ward Beecher
"One day he put his pencil aside and said there was nothing more to
do. If I had been there I could have foretold the shock that struck
the world three days later."
In a memorandum estimate made by Mark Twain soon after the canvass for
the Grant memoirs had begun, he had prophesied that three hundred
thousand sets of the book would be sold, and that he would pay General
Grant in royalties $420,000. This prophecy was more than fulfilled. The
first check paid to Mrs. Grant—the largest single royalty check in
history—was for $200,000. Later payments brought her royalty return up
to nearly $450.000. For once, at least, Mark Twain's business vision had
been clear. A fortune had been realized for the Grant family. Even his
own share was considerable, for out of that great sale more than a
hundred thousand dollars' profit was realized by Webster & Co.
THE HIGH-TIDE OF FORTUNE
That summer at Quarry Farm was one of the happiest they had ever known.
Mark Twain, nearing fifty, was in the fullness of his manhood and in the
brightest hour of his fortune. Susy, in her childish "biography," begun
at this time, gives us a picture of him. She begins:
"We are a happy family! We consist of Papa, Mama, Jean, Clara, and
me. It is Papa I am writing about, and I shall have no trouble in
not knowing what to say about him, as he is a very striking
character. Papa's appearance has been described many times, but
very incorrectly; he has beautiful, curly, gray hair, not any too
thick or any too long, just right; a Roman nose, which greatly
improves the beauty of his features, kind blue eyes, and a small
mustache; he has a wonderfully shaped head and profile; he has a
very good figure—in short, is an extraordinarily fine-looking man."
"He is a very good man, and a very funny one; he has got a temper,
but we all have in this family. He is the loveliest man I ever saw,
or ever hope to see, and oh, so absent-minded!"
We may believe this is a true picture of Mark Twain at fifty. He did not
look young for his years, but he was still young in spirit and body.
Susy tells how he blew bubbles for the children, filling them with
tobacco smoke. Also, how he would play with the cats and come clear down
from his study to see how a certain kitten was getting along.
Susy adds that "there are eleven cats at the farm now," and tells of the
day's occupations, but the description is too long to quote. It reveals
a beautiful, busy life.
Susy herself was a gentle, thoughtful, romantic child. One afternoon she
discovered a wonderful tangle of vines and bushes, a still, shut-in
corner not far from the study. She ran breathlessly to her aunt.
"Can I have it—can Clara and I have it all for our own?"
The petition was granted and the place was called Helen's Bower, for they
were reading "Thaddeus of Warsaw", and the name appealed to Susy's poetic
fancy. Something happened to the "bower"—an unromantic workman mowed it
down—but by this time there was a little house there which Mrs. Clemens
had built, just for the children. It was a complete little cottage, when
furnished. There was a porch in front, with comfortable chairs. Inside
were also chairs, a table, dishes, shelves, a broom, even a stove—small,
but practical. They called the little house "Ellerslie," out of Grace
Aguilar's "Days of Robert Bruce." There alone, or with their Langdon
cousins, how many happy summers they played and dreamed away. Secluded
by a hillside and happy trees, overlooking the hazy, distant town, it was
a world apart—a corner of story-book land. When the end of the summer
came its little owners went about bidding their treasures good-by,
closing and kissing the gates of Ellerslie.
Looking back now, Mark Twain at fifty would seem to have been in his
golden prime. His family was ideal—his surroundings idyllic. Favored
by fortune, beloved by millions, honored now even in the highest places,
what more had life to give? When November 30th brought his birthday, one
of the great Brahmins, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote him a beautiful
poem. Andrew Lang, England's foremost critic, also sent verses, while
letters poured in from all sides.
And Mark Twain realized his fortune and was disturbed by it. To a friend
he said: "I am frightened at the proportions of my prosperity. It seems
to me that whatever I touch turns to gold."
BUSINESS DIFFICULTIES. PLEASANTER THINGS
For the time it would seem that Mark Twain had given up authorship for
business. The success of the Grant book had filled his head with plans
for others of a like nature. The memoirs of General McClellan and
General Sheridan were arranged for. Almost any war-book was considered a
good venture. And there was another plan afoot. Pope Leo XIII., in his
old age, had given sanction to the preparation of his memoirs, and it was
to be published, with his blessing, by Webster & Co., of Hartford. It
was generally believed that such a book would have a tremendous sale, and
Colonel Sellers himself could not have piled the figures higher than did
his creator in counting his prospective returns. Every Catholic in the
world must have a copy of the Pope's book, and in America alone there
were millions. Webster went to Rome to consult with the Pope in person,
and was received in private audience. Mark Twain's publishing firm
seemed on the top wave of success.
The McClellan and Sheridan books were issued, and, in due time, the Life
of Pope Leo XIII.—published simultaneously in six languages—issued from
the press. A large advance sale had been guaranteed by the general
canvassing agents—a fortunate thing, as it proved. For, strange as it
may seem, the book did not prove a great success. It is hard to explain
just why. Perhaps Catholics felt that there had been so many popes that
the life of any particular one was no great matter. The book paid, but
not largely. The McClellan and Sheridan books, likewise, were only
partially successful. Perhaps the public was getting tired of war
memoirs. Webster & Co. undertook books of a general sort—travel,
fiction, poetry. Many of them did not pay. Their business from a march
of triumph had become a battle. They undertook a "Library of American
Literature," a work of many volumes, costly to make and even more so to
sell. To float this venture they were obliged to borrow large sums.
It seems unfortunate that Mark Twain should have been disturbed by these
distracting things during what should have been his literary high-tide.
As it was, his business interests and cares absorbed the energy that
might otherwise have gone into books. He was not entirely idle. He did
an occasional magazine article or story, and he began a book which he
worked at from time to time the story of a Connecticut Yankee who
suddenly finds himself back in the days of King Arthur's reign. Webster
was eager to publish another book by his great literary partner, but the
work on it went slowly. Then Webster broke down from two years of
overwork, and the business management fell into other hands. Though
still recognized as a great publishing-house, those within the firm of
Charles L. Webster & Co. knew that its prospects were not bright.
Furthermore, Mark Twain had finally invested in another patent, the
type-setting machine mentioned in a former chapter, and the demands for
cash to promote this venture were heavy. To his sister Pamela, about the
end of 1887, he wrote: "The type-setter goes on forever at $3,000 a
month…. We'll be through with it in three or four months, I reckon"
—a false hope, for the three or four months would lengthen into as
But if there were clouds gathering in the business sky, they were not
often allowed to cast a shadow in Mark Twain's home. The beautiful house
in Hartford was a place of welcome and merriment, of many guests and of
happy children. Especially of happy children: during these years—the
latter half of the 'eighties—when Mark Twain's fortunes were on the
decline, his children were at the age to have a good time, and certainly
they had it. The dramatic stage which had been first set up at George
Warner's for the Christmas "Prince and Pauper" performance was brought
over and set up in the Clemens schoolroom, and every Saturday there were
plays or rehearsals, and every little while there would be a grand
general performance in the great library downstairs, which would
accommodate just eighty-four chairs, filled by parents of the performers
and invited guests. In notes dictated many years later, Mark Twain said:
"We dined as we could, probably with a neighbor, and by quarter to
eight in the evening the hickory fire in the hall was pouring a
sheet of flame up the chimney, the house was in a drench of gas-
light from the ground floor up, the guests were arriving, and there
was a babble of hearty greetings, with not a voice in it that was
not old and familiar and affectionate; and when the curtain went up,
we looked out from the stage upon none but faces dear to us, none
but faces that were lit up with welcome for us."
He was one of the children himself, you see, and therefore on the stage
with the others. Katy Leary, for thirty years in the family service,
once said to the author: "The children were crazy about acting, and we
all enjoyed it as much as they did, especially Mr. Clemens, who was the
best actor of all. I have never known a happier household than theirs
was during those years."
The plays were not all given by the children. Mark Twain had kept up his
German study, and a class met regularly in his home to struggle with the
problems of der, die, and das. By and by he wrote a play for the class,
"Meisterschaft," a picturesque mixture of German and English, which they
gave twice, with great success. It was unlike anything attempted before
or since. No one but Mark Twain could have written it. Later (January,
1888), in modified form, it was published in the "Century Magazine." It
is his best work of this period.
Many pleasant and amusing things could be recalled from these days if one
only had room. A visit with Robert Louis Stevenson was one of them.
Stevenson was stopping at a small hotel near Washington Square, and he
and Clemens sat on a bench in the sunshine and talked through at least
one golden afternoon. What marvelous talk that must have been! "Huck
Finn" was one of Stevenson's favorites, and once he told how he had
insisted on reading the book aloud to an artist who was painting his
portrait. The painter had protested at first, but presently had fallen a
complete victim to Huck's story. Once, in a letter, Stevenson wrote:
"My father, an old man, has been prevailed upon to read 'Roughing It'
(his usual amusement being found in theology), and after one evening
spent with the book he declared: 'I am frightened. It cannot be
safe for a man at my time of life to laugh so much.'"
Mark Twain had been a "mugwump" during the Blame-Cleveland campaign in
1880, which means that he had supported the independent Democratic
candidate, Grover Cleveland. He was, therefore, in high favor at the
White House during both Cleveland administrations, and called there
informally whenever business took him to Washington. But on one occasion
(it was his first visit after the President's marriage) there was to be a
party, and Mrs. Clemens, who could not attend, slipped a little note into
the pocket of his evening waistcoat, where he would be sure to find it
when dressing, warning him as to his deportment. Being presented to
young Mrs. Cleveland, he handed her a card on which he had written, "He
didn't," and asked her to sign her name below those words. Mrs.
Cleveland protested that she must know first what it was that he hadn't
done, finally agreeing to sign if he would tell her immediately all about
it, which he promised to do. She signed, and he handed her Mrs.
Clemens's note. It was very brief. It said, "Don't wear your arctics in
the White House."
Mrs. Cleveland summoned a messenger and had the card mailed immediately
to Mrs. Clemens.
Absent-mindedness was characteristic of Mark Twain. He lived so much in
the world within that to him the material outer world was often vague and
shadowy. Once when he was knocking the balls about in the billiard-room,
George, the colored butler, a favorite and privileged household
character, brought up a card. So many canvassers came to sell him one
thing and another that Clemens promptly assumed this to be one of them.
George insisted mildly, but firmly, that, though a stranger, the caller
was certainly a gentleman, and Clemens grumblingly descended the stairs.
As he entered the parlor the caller arose and extended his hand. Clemens
took it rather limply, for he had noticed some water-colors and
engravings leaning against the furniture as if for exhibition, and he was
instantly convinced that the caller was a picture-canvasser. Inquiries
by the stranger as to Mrs. Clemens and the children did not change Mark
Twain's conclusion. He was polite, but unresponsive, and gradually
worked the visitor toward the front door. His inquiry as to the home of
Charles Dudley Warner caused him to be shown eagerly in that direction.
Clemens, on his way back to the billiard-room, heard Mrs. Clemens call
him—she was ill that day: "Youth!"
"Yes, Livy." He went in for a word.
"George brought me Mr. B.'s card. I hope you were nice to him; the B's
were so nice to us, once, in Europe, while you were gone."
"The B's! Why, Livy!"
"Yes, of course; and I asked him to be sure to call when he came to
"Well, he's been here."
"Oh Youth, have you done anything?"
"Yes, of course I have. He seemed to have some pictures to sell, so I
sent him over to Warner's. I noticed he didn't take them with him. Land
sakes! Livy, what can I do?"
"Go right after him—go quick! Tell him what you have done."
He went without further delay, bareheaded and in his slippers, as usual.
Warner and B. were in cheerful conversation. They had met before.
Clemens entered gaily.
"Oh, yes, I see! You found him all right. Charlie, we met Mr. B. and
his wife in Europe, and they made things pleasant for us. I wanted to
come over here with him, but I was a good deal occupied just then. Livy
isn't very well, but she seems now a good deal better; so I just followed
along to have a good talk, all together."
He stayed an hour, and whatever bad impression had formed in B.'s mind
faded long before the hour ended. Returning home, Clemens noticed the
pictures still on the parlor floor.
"George," he said, "what pictures are these that gentleman left?"
"Why, Mr. Clemens, those are our own pictures! Mrs. Clemens had me set
them around to see how they would look in new places. The gentleman was
only looking at them while he waited for you to come down."
It was in June, 1888, that Yale College conferred upon Mark Twain the
degree of Master of Arts. He was proud of the honor, for it was
recognition of a kind that had not come to him before—remarkable
recognition, when we remember how as a child he had hated all schools and
study, having ended his class-room days before he was twelve years old.
He could not go to New Haven at the time, but later in the year made the
students a delightful address. In his capacity of Master of Arts, he
said, he had come down to New Haven to institute certain college reforms.
By advice, I turned my earliest attention to the Greek department. I
told the Greek Professor I had concluded to drop the use of the
Greek-written character, because it is so hard to spell with and so
impossible to read after you get it spelt. Let us draw the curtain there.
I saw by what followed that nothing but early neglect saved him from
being a very profane man.
He said he had given advice to the mathematical department with about the
same result. The astronomy department he had found in a bad way. He had
decided to transfer the professor to the law department and to put a
law-student in his place.
A boy will be more biddable, more tractable—also cheaper. It is true he
cannot be entrusted with important work at first, but he can comb the
skies for nebula till he gets his hand in.
It was hardly the sort of an address that the holder of a college degree
is expected to make, but doctors and students alike welcomed it
hilariously from Mark Twain.
Not many great things happened to Mark Twain during this long period of
semi-literary inaction, but many interesting ones. When Bill Nye, the
humorist, and James Whitcomb Riley joined themselves in an entertainment
combination, Mark Twain introduced them to their first Boston audience—a
great event to them, and to Boston. Clemens himself gave a reading now
and then, but not for money. Once, when Col. Richard Malcolm Johnston
and Thomas Nelson Page were to give a reading in Baltimore, Page's wife
fell ill, and Colonel Johnston wired to Charles Dudley Warner, asking him
to come in Page's stead. Warner, unable to go, handed the telegram to
Clemens, who promptly answered that he would come. They read to a packed
house, and when the audience had gone and the returns were counted, an
equal amount was handed to each of the authors. Clemens pushed his share
over to Johnston, saying:
"That's yours, Colonel. I'm not reading for money these days."
Colonel Johnston, to whom the sum was important, tried to thank him, but
Clemens only said:
"Never mind, Colonel; it only gives me pleasure to do you that little
favor. You can pass it along some day."
As a matter of fact, Mark Twain himself was beginning to be hard pressed
for funds at this time, but was strong in the faith that he would
presently be a multi-millionaire. The typesetting machine was still
costing a vast sum, but each week its inventor promised that a few more
weeks or months would see it finished, and then a tide of wealth would
come rolling in. Mark Twain felt that a man with ship-loads of money
almost in port could not properly entertain the public for pay. He read
for institutions, schools, benefits, and the like, without charge.
KIPLING AT ELMIRA. ELSIE LESLIE. THE "YANKEE"
One day during the summer of 1889 a notable meeting took place in Elmira.
On a blazing forenoon a rather small and very hot young man, in a slow,
sizzling hack made his way up East Hill to Quarry Faun. He inquired for
Mark Twain, only to be told that he was at the Langdon home, down in the
town which the young man had just left. So he sat for a little time on
the pleasant veranda, and Mrs. Crane and Susy Clemens, who were there,
brought him some cool milk and listened to him talk in a way which seemed
to them very entertaining and wonderful. When he went away he left his
card with a name on it strange to them—strange to the world at that
time. The name was Rudyard Kipling. Also on the card was the address
Allahabad, and Sissy kept it, because, to her, India was fairyland.
Kipling went down into Elmira and found Mark Twain. In his book
"American Notes" he has left an account of that visit. He claimed that
he had traveled around the world to see Mark Twain, and his article
"You are a contemptible lot over yonder. Some of you are
commissioners, and some are lieutenant-governors, and some have the
V. C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm
with the viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning,
have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar—no, two cigars—with him,
and talked with him for more than two hours!"
But one should read the article entire—it is so worth while. Clemens
also, long after, dictated an account of the meeting.
Kipling came down and spent a couple of hours with me, and at the end of
that time I had surprised him as much as he had surprised me—and the
honors were easy. I believed that he knew more than any person I had met
before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had
met before. . . When he had gone, Mrs. Langdon wanted to know about my
visitor. I said:
"He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man—and I am the
other one. Between us we cover all knowledge. He knows all that can be
known, and I know the rest."
He was a stranger to me and all the world, and remained so for twelve
months, but then he became suddenly known and universally known. . .
George Warner came into our library one morning, in Hartford, with a
small book in his hand, and asked me if I had ever heard of Rudyard
Kipling. I said "No."
He said I would hear of him very soon, and that the noise he made would
be loud and continuous. . . A day or two later he brought a copy of
the London "World" which had a sketch of Kipling in it and a mention of
the fact that he had traveled in the United States. According to the
sketch he had passed through Elmira. This remark, with the additional
fact that he hailed from India, attracted my attention—also Susy's. She
went to her room and brought his card from its place in the frame of her
mirror, and the Quarry Farm visitor stood identified.
A theatrical production of "The Prince and the Pauper," dramatized by
Mrs. A. S. Richardson, was one of the events of this period. It was a
charming performance, even if not a great financial success, and little
Elsie Leslie, who played the double part of the Prince and Tom Canty,
became a great favorite in the Clemens home. She was also a favorite of
the actor and playwright, William Gillette,  and once when Clemens and
Gillette were together they decided to give the little girl a surprise—a
pair of slippers, in fact, embroidered by themselves. In his
presentation letter to her, Mark Twain wrote:
"Either of us could have thought of a single slipper, but it took both of
us to think of two slippers. In fact, one of us did think of one
slipper, and then, quick as a flash, the other thought of the other one."
He apologized for his delay:
"You see, it was my first attempt at art, and I couldn't rightly get the
hang of it, along at first. And then I was so busy I couldn't get a
chance to work at home, and they wouldn't let me embroider on the cars;
they said it made the other passengers afraid. . . Take the slippers
and wear them next your heart, Elsie dear, for every stitch in them is a
testimony of the affection which two of your loyalest friends bear you.
Every single stitch cost us blood. I've got twice as many pores in me
now as I used to have . . . . Do not wear these slippers in public,
dear; it would only excite envy; and, as like as not, somebody would try
to shoot you."
For five years Mark Twain had not published a book. Since the appearance
of "Huck Finn" at the end of 1884 he had given the public only an
occasional magazine story or article. His business struggle and the
type-setter had consumed not only his fortune, but his time and energy.
Now, at last, however, a book was ready. "A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court" came from the press of Webster & Co. at the end of 1889,
a handsome book, elaborately and strikingly illustrated by Dan Beard—a
pretentious volume which Mark Twain really considered his last. "It's my
swan-song, my retirement from literature permanently," he wrote Howells,
though certainly he was young, fifty-four, to have reached this
The story of the "Yankee"—a fanciful narrative of a skilled Yankee
mechanic swept backward through the centuries to the dim day of Arthur
and his Round Table—is often grotesque enough in its humor, but under it
all is Mark Twain's great humanity in fierce and noble protest against
unjust laws, the tyranny of an individual or of a ruling class
—oppression of any sort. As in "The Prince and the Pauper," the wandering
heir to the throne is brought in contact with cruel injustice and misery,
so in the "Yankee" the king himself becomes one of a band of fettered
slaves, and through degradation and horror of soul acquires mercy and
The "Yankee in King Arthur's Court" is a splendidly imagined tale.
Edmund Clarence Stedman and William Dean Howells have ranked it very
high. Howells once wrote: "Of all the fanciful schemes in fiction, it
pleases me most." The "Yankee" has not held its place in public favor
with Mark Twain's earlier books, but it is a wonderful tale, and we
cannot afford to leave it unread.
When the summer came again, Mark Twain and his family decided for once to
forego Quarry Farm for a season in the Catskills, and presently found
themselves located in a cottage at Onteora in the midst of a most
delightful colony. Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, then editor of St. Nicholas,
was there, and Mrs. Custer and Brander Matthews and Lawrence Hutton and a
score of other congenial spirits. There was constant visiting from one
cottage to another, with frequent gatherings at the Inn, which was
general headquarters. Susy Clemens, now eighteen, was a central figure,
brilliant, eager, intense, ambitious for achievement—lacking only in
physical strength. She was so flower-like, it seemed always that her
fragile body must be consumed by the flame of her spirit. It was a happy
summer, but it closed sadly. Clemens was called to Keokuk in August, to
his mother's bedside. A few weeks later came the end, and Jane Clemens
had closed her long and useful life. She was in her eighty-eighth year.
A little later, at Elmira, followed the death of Mrs. Clemens's mother, a
sweet and gentle woman.
 Gillette was originally a Hartford boy. Mark Twain had recognized
his ability, advanced him funds with which to complete his dramatic
education, and Gillette's first engagement seems to have been with the
Colonel Sellers company. Mark Twain often advanced money in the interest
of education. A young sculptor he sent to Paris for two years' study.
Among others, he paid the way of two colored students through college.
THE MACHINE. GOOD-BY TO HARTFORD. "JOAN" IS BEGUN
It was hoped that the profits from the Yankee would provide for all needs
until the great sums which were to come from the type-setter should come
rolling in. The book did yield a large return, but, alas! the hope of
the type-setter, deferred year after year and month after month, never
reached fulfilment. Its inventor, James W. Paige, whom Mark Twain once
called "a poet, a most great and genuine poet, whose sublime creations
are written in steel," during ten years of persistent experiment had
created one of the most marvelous machines ever constructed. It would
set and distribute type, adjust the spaces, detect flaws—would perform,
in fact, anything that a human being could do, with more exactness and
far more swiftness. Mark Twain, himself a practical printer, seeing it
in its earlier stages of development, and realizing what a fortune must
come from a perfect type-setting machine, was willing to furnish his last
dollar to complete the invention. But there the trouble lay. It could
never be complete. It was too intricate, too much like a human being,
too easy to get out of order, too hard to set right. Paige, fully
confident, always believed he was just on the verge of perfecting some
appliance that would overcome all difficulties, and the machine finally
consisted of twenty thousand minutely exact parts, each of which required
expert workmanship and had to be fitted by hand. Mark Twain once wrote:
"All other wonderful inventions of the human brain sink pretty nearly
into commonplaces contrasted with this awful, mechanical miracle."
This was true, and it conveys the secret of its failure. It was too much
of a miracle to be reliable. Sometimes it would run steadily for hours,
but then some part of its delicate mechanism would fail, and days, even
weeks, were required to repair it. It is all too long a story to be
given here. It has been fully told elsewhere. By the end of 1890
Mark Twain had put in all his available capital, and was heavily in debt.
He had spent one hundred and ninety thousand dollars on the machine, no
penny of which would ever be returned. Outside capital to carry on the
enterprise was promised, but it failed him. Still believing that there
were "millions in it," he realized that for the present, at least, he
could do no more.
Two things were clear: he must fall back on authorship for revenue, and
he must retrench. In the present low stage of his fortunes he could no
longer afford to live in the Hartford house. He decided to take the
family abroad, where living was cheaper, and where he might be able to
work with fewer distractions.
He began writing at a great rate articles and stories for the magazines.
He hunted out the old play he had written with Howells long before, and
made a book of it, "The American Claimant." Then, in June, 1891, they
closed the beautiful Hartford house, where for seventeen years they had
found an ideal home; where the children had grown through their sweet,
early life; where the world's wisest had come and gone, pausing a little
to laugh with the world's greatest merrymaker. The furniture was
shrouded, the curtains drawn, the light shut away.
While the carriage was waiting, Mrs. Clemens went back and took a last
look into each of the rooms, as if bidding a kind of good-by to the past.
Then she entered the carriage, and Patrick McAleer, who had been with
Mark Twain and his wife since their wedding-day, drove them to the
station for the last time.
Mark Twain had a contract for six newspaper letters at one thousand
dollars each. He was troubled with rheumatism in his arm, and wrote his
first letter from Aix-les-Bains, a watering-place—a "health-factory," as
he called it—and another from Marienbad. They were in Germany in
August, and one day came to Heidelberg, where they occupied their old
apartment of thirteen years before, room forty, in the Schloss Hotel,
with its far prospect of wood and hill, the winding Neckar, and the blue,
distant valley of the Rhine. Then, presently, they came to Switzerland,
to Ouchy-Lausanne, by lovely Lake Geneva, and here Clemens left the
family and, with a guide and a boatman, went drifting down the Rhone in a
curious, flat-bottomed craft, thinking to find material for one or more
articles, possibly for a book. But drifting down that fair river through
still September days, past ancient, drowsy villages, among sloping
vineyards, where grapes were ripening in the tranquil sunlight, was too
restful and soothing for work. In a letter home, he wrote:
"It's too delicious, floating with the swift current under the awning
these superb, sunshiny days, in peace and quietness. Some of the
curious old historical towns strangely persuade me, but it's so
lovely afloat that I don't stop, but view them from the outside and
sail on. . . I want to do all the rivers of Europe in an open boat
in summer weather."
One afternoon, about fifteen miles below the city of Valence, he made a
discovery. Dreamily observing the eastward horizon, he noticed that a
distant blue mountain presented a striking profile outline of Napoleon
Bonaparte. It seemed really a great natural wonder, and he stopped that
night at the village just below, Beauchastel, a hoary huddle of houses
with the roofs all run together, and took a room at the little hotel,
with a window looking to the eastward, from which, next morning, he saw
the profile of the great stone face, wonderfully outlined against the
sunrise. He was excited over his discovery, and made a descriptive note
of it and an outline sketch. Then, drifting farther down the river, he
characteristically forgot all about it and did not remember it again for
ten years, by which time he had forgotten the point on the river where
the Napoleon could be seen, forgotten even that he had made a note and
sketch giving full details. He wished the Napoleon to be found again,
believing, as he declared, that it would become one of the natural
wonders of the world. To travelers going to France he attempted to
describe it, and some of these tried to find it; but, as he located it
too far down the Rhone, no one reported success, and in time he spoke of
his discovery as the "Lost Napoleon." It was not until after Mark
Twain's death that it was rediscovered, and then by the writer of this
memoir, who, having Mark Twain's note-book, with its exact memoranda,
on another September day, motoring up the Rhone, located the blue profile
of the reclining Napoleon opposite the gray village of Beauchastel. It
is a really remarkable effigy, and deserves to be visited.
Clemens finished his trip at Arles—a beautiful trip from beginning to
end, but without literary result. When he undertook to write of it, he
found that it lacked incident, and, what was worse, it lacked humor. To
undertake to create both was too much. After a few chapters he put the
manuscript aside, unfinished, and so it remains to this day.
The Clemens family spent the winter in Berlin, a gay winter, with Mark
Twain as one of the distinguished figures of the German capital. He was
received everywhere and made much of. Once a small, choice dinner was
given him by Kaiser William II., and, later, a breakfast by the Empress.
His books were great favorites in the German royal family. The Kaiser
particularly enjoyed the "Mississippi" book, while the essay on "The
Awful German Language," in the "Tramp Abroad," he pronounced one of the
finest pieces of humor ever written. Mark Twain's books were favorites,
in fact, throughout Germany. The door-man in his hotel had them all in
his little room, and, discovering one day that their guest, Samuel L.
Clemens, and Mark Twain were one, he nearly exploded with excitement.
Dragging the author to his small room, he pointed to the shelf:
"There," he said, "you wrote them! I've found it out. Ach! I did not
know it before, and I ask a million pardons."
Affairs were not going well in America, and in June Clemens made a trip
over to see what could be done. Probably he did very little, and he was
back presently at Nauheim, a watering-place, where he was able to work
rather quietly. He began two stories—one of them, "The Extraordinary
Twins," which was the first form of "Pudd'nhead Wilson;" the other, "Tom
Sawyer Abroad," for "St. Nicholas." Twichell came to Nauheim during the
summer, and one day he and Clemens ran over to Homburg, not far away.
The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII.) was there, and Clemens and
Twichell, walking in the park, met the Prince with the British
ambassador, and were presented. Twichell, in an account of the meeting,
"The meeting between the Prince and Mark was a most cordial one on
both sides, and presently the Prince took Mark Twain's arm and the
two marched up and down, talking earnestly together, the Prince
solid, erect, and soldier-like; Clemens weaving along in his
curious, swinging gait, in full tide of talk, and brandishing a sun
umbrella of the most scandalous description."
At Villa Viviani, an old, old mansion outside of Florence, on the hill
toward Settignano, Mark Twain finished "Tom Sawyer Abroad," also
"Pudd'nhead Wilson", and wrote the first half of a book that really had
its beginning on the day when, an apprentice-boy in Hannibal, he had
found a stray leaf from the pathetic story of "Joan of Arc." All his
life she had been his idol, and he had meant some day to write of her.
Now, in this weather-stained old palace, looking down on Florence,
medieval and hazy, and across to the villa-dotted hills, he began one of
the most beautiful stories ever written, "The Personal Recollections of
Joan of Arc." He wrote in the first person, assuming the character of
Joan's secretary, Sieur Louis de Conte, who in his old age is telling the
great tale of the Maid of Orleans. It was Mark Twain's purpose, this
time, to publish anonymously. Walking the floor one day at Viviani, and
smoking vigorously, he said to Mrs. Clemens and Susy:
"I shall never be accepted seriously over my own signature. People
always want to laugh over what I write, and are disappointed if they
don't find a joke in it. This is to be a serious book. It means
more to me than anything else I have ever undertaken. I shall write
So it was that the gentle Sieur de Conte took up the pen, and the tale of
Joan was begun in the ancient garden of Viviani, a setting appropriate to
its lovely form.
He wrote rapidly when once his plan was perfected and his material
arranged. The reading of his youth and manhood was now recalled, not
merely as reading, but as remembered reality. It was as if he were truly
the old Sieur de Conte, saturated with memories, pouring out the tender,
tragic tale. In six weeks he had written one hundred thousand words
—remarkable progress at any time, the more so when we consider that some
of the authorities he consulted were in a foreign tongue. He had always
more or less kept up his study of French, begun so long ago on the river,
and it stood him now in good stead. Still, it was never easy for him,
and the multitude of notes that still exist along the margin of his
French authorities show the magnitude of his work. Others of the family
went down into the city almost daily, but he stayed in the still garden
with Joan. Florence and its suburbs were full of delightful people, some
of them old friends. There were luncheons, dinners, teas, dances, and
the like always in progress, but he resisted most of these things,
preferring to remain the quaint old Sieur de Conte, following again the
banner of the Maid of Orleans marshaling her twilight armies across his
But the next spring, March, 1893, he was obliged to put aside the
manuscript and hurry to America again, fruitlessly, of course, for a
financial stress was on the land; the business of Webster & Co. was on
the down-grade—nothing could save it. There was new hope in the old
type-setting machine, but his faith in the resurrection was not strong.
The strain of his affairs was telling on him. The business owed a great
sum, with no prospect of relief. Back in Europe again, Mark Twain wrote
F. D. Hall, his business manager in New York:
"I am terribly tired of business. I am by nature and disposition
unfit for it, and I want to get out of it. I am standing on a
volcano. Get me out of business."
Tantalizing letters continued to come, holding out hope in the business
—the machine—in any straw that promised a little support through the
financial storm. Again he wrote Hall:
"Great Scott, but it's a long year for you and me! I never knew the
almanac to drag so. . . I watch for your letters hungrily—just
as I used to watch for the telegram saying the machine was finished
—but when "next week certainly" suddenly swelled into 'three weeks
sure,' I recognized the old familiar tune I used to hear so much.
W. don't know what sick-heartedness is, but he is in a fair way to
They closed Viviani in June and returned to Germany. By the end of
August Clemens could stand no longer the strain of his American affairs,
and, leaving the family at some German baths, he once more sailed for New
 At Mark Twain's death his various literary effects passed into the
hands of his biographer and literary executor, the present writer.
THE FAILURE OF WEBSTER & CO. AROUND THE WORLD. SORROW
In a room at the Players Club—"a cheap room," he wrote home, "at $1.50
per day"—Mark Twain spent the winter, hoping against hope to weather the
financial storm. His fortunes were at a lower ebb than ever before;
lower even than during those bleak mining days among the Esmeralda hills.
Then there had been no one but himself, and he was young. Now, at
fifty-eight, he had precious lives dependent upon him, and he was weighed
down by debt. The liabilities of his firm were fully two hundred thousand
dollars—sixty thousand of which were owing to Mrs. Clemens for money
advanced—but the large remaining sum was due to banks, printers,
binders, and the manufacturers of paper. A panic was on the land and
there was no business. What he was to do Clemens did not know. He spent
most of his days in his room, trying to write, and succeeded in finishing
several magazine articles. Outwardly cheerful, he hid the bitterness of
A few, however, knew the true state of his affairs. One of these one
night introduced him to Henry H. Rogers, the Standard Oil millionaire.
"Mr. Clemens," said Mr. Rogers, "I was one of your early admirers. I
heard you lecture a long time ago, on the Sandwich Islands."
They sat down at a table, and Mark Twain told amusing stories. Rogers
was in a perpetual gale of laughter. They became friends from that
evening, and in due time the author had confessed to the financier all
his business worries.
"You had better let me look into things a little," Rogers said, and he
advised Clemens to "stop walking the floor."
It was characteristic of Mark Twain to be willing to unload his affairs
upon any one that he thought able to bear the burden. He became a new
man overnight. With Henry Rogers in charge, life was once more worth
while. He accepted invitations from the Rogers family and from many
others, and was presently so gay, so widely sought, and seen in so many
places that one of his acquaintances, "Jamie" Dodge, dubbed him the
"Belle of New York."
Henry Rogers, meanwhile, was "looking into things." He had reasonable
faith in the type-machine, and advanced a large sum on the chance of its
proving a success. This, of course, lifted Mark Twain quite into the
clouds. Daily he wrote and cabled all sorts of glowing hopes to his
family, then in Paris. Once he wrote:
"The ship is in sight now …. When the anchor is down, then I shall
say: Farewell—a long farewell—to business! I will never touch it
again! I will live in literature, I will wallow in it, revel in it;
I will swim in ink!"
Once he cabled, "Expect good news in ten days"; and a little later, "Look
out for good news"; and in a few days, "Nearing success."
Those Sellers-like messages could not but appeal, Mrs. Clemens's sense of
humor, even in those dark days. To her sister she wrote, "They make me
laugh, for they are so like my beloved Colonel."
The affairs of Webster & Co. Mr. Rogers found a bad way. When, at last,
in April, 1894, the crisis came—a demand by the chief creditors for
payment—he advised immediate assignment as the only course.
So the firm of Webster & Co. closed its doors. The business which less
than ten years before had begun so prosperously had ended in failure.
Mark Twain, nearing fifty-nine, was bankrupt. When all the firm's
effects had been sold and applied on the counts, he was still more than
seventy thousand dollars in debt. Friends stepped in and offered to lend
him money, but he declined these offers. Through Mr. Rogers a basis of
settlement at fifty cents on the dollar was arranged, and Mark Twain
said, "Give me time, and I will pay the other fifty."
No one but his wife and Mr. Rogers, however, believed that at his age he
would be able to make good the promise. Many advised him not to attempt
it, but to settle once and for all on the legal basis as arranged.
Sometimes, in moments of despondency, he almost surrendered. Once he
"I need not dream of paying it. I never could manage it."
But these were only the hard moments. For the most part he kept up good
heart and confidence. It is true that he now believed again in the
future of the type-setter, and that returns from it would pay him out of
bankruptcy. But later in the year this final hope was taken away. Mr.
Rogers wrote to him that in the final test the machine had failed to
prove itself practical and that the whole project had been finally and
permanently abandoned. The shock of disappointment was heavy for the
moment, but then it was over—completely over—for that old mechanical
demon, that vampire of invention that had sapped his fortune so long, was
laid at last. The worst had happened; there was nothing more to dread.
Within a week Mark Twain (he was now back in Paris with the family) had
settled down to work once more on the "Recollections of Joan," and all
mention and memory of the type-setter was forever put away. The machine
stands to-day in the Sibley College of Engineering, where it is exhibited
as the costliest piece of mechanism for its size ever constructed. Mark
Twain once received a letter from an author who had written a book to
assist inventors and patentees, asking for his indorsement. He replied:
"DEAR SIR,—I have, as you say, been interested in patents and
patentees. If your book tells how to exterminate inventors, send me
nine editions. Send them by express.
"Very truly yours,
"S. L. CLEMENS."
Those were economical days. There was no income except from the old
books, and at the time this was not large. The Clemens family, however,
was cheerful, and Mark Twain was once more in splendid working form. The
story of Joan hurried to its tragic conclusion. Each night he read to
the family what he had written that day, and Susy, who was easily moved,
would say, "Wait—wait till I get my handkerchief," and one night when
the last pages had been written and read, and the fearful scene at Rouen
had been depicted, Susy wrote in her diary, "To-night Joan of Arc was
burned at the stake!" Meaning that the book was finished.
Susy herself had fine literary taste, and might have written had not her
greater purpose been to sing. There are fragments of her writing that
show the true literary touch. Both Susy and her father cared more for
Joan than for any of the former books. To Mr. Rogers Clemens wrote,
"Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing—it was mitten for
love." It was placed serially with "Harper's Magazine" and appeared
anonymously, but the public soon identified the inimitable touch of Mark
It was now the spring of 1895, and Mark Twain had decided upon a new plan
to restore his fortunes. Platform work had always paid him well, and
though he disliked it now more than ever, he had resolved upon something
unheard of in that line—nothing less, in fact, than a platform tour
around the world. In May, with the family, he sailed for America, and
after a month or two of rest at Quarry Farm he set out with Mrs. Clemens
and Clara and with his American agent, J. B. Pond, for the Pacific coast.
Susy and Jean remained behind with their aunt at the farm. The travelers
left Elmira at night, and they always remembered the picture of Susy,
standing under the electric light of the railway platform, waving them
Mark Twain's tour of the world was a success from the beginning.
Everywhere he was received with splendid honors—in America, in
Australia, in New Zealand, in India, in Ceylon, in South Africa—wherever
he went his welcome was a grand ovation, his theaters and halls were
never large enough to hold his audiences. With the possible exception of
General Grant's long tour in 1878-9 there had hardly been a more gorgeous
progress than Mark Twain's trip around the world. Everywhere they were
overwhelmed with attention and gifts. We cannot begin to tell the story
of that journey here. In "Following the Equator" the author himself
tells it in his own delightful fashion.
From time to time along the way Mark Twain forwarded his accumulated
profits to Mr. Rogers to apply against his debts, and by the time they
sailed from South Africa the sum was large enough to encourage him to
believe that, with the royalties to be derived from the book he would
write of his travels, he might be able to pay in full and so face the
world once more a free man. Their long trip—it had lasted a full year
—was nearing its end. They would spend the winter in London—Susy and
Jean were notified to join them there. They would all be reunited again.
The outlook seemed bright once more.
They reached England the last of July. Susy and Jean, with Katy Leary,
were to arrive on the 12th of August. But the 12th did not bring them
—it brought, instead, a letter. Susy was not well, the letter said; the
sailing had been postponed. The letter added that it was nothing
serious, but her parents cabled at once for later news. Receiving no
satisfactory answer, Mrs. Clemens, full of forebodings, prepared to sail
with Clara for America. Clemens would remain in London to arrange for
the winter residence. A cable came, saying Susy's recovery would be slow
but certain. Mrs. Clemens and Clara sailed immediately. In some notes
he once dictated, Mark Twain said:
"That was the 15th of August, 1896. Three days later, when my wife
and Clara were about half-way across the ocean, I was standing in
our dining-room, thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram
was put into my hand. It said, 'Susy was peacefully released
Mark Twain's life had contained other tragedies, but no other that
equaled this one. The dead girl had been his heart's pride; it was a
year since they parted, and now he knew he would never see her again.
The blow had found him alone and among strangers. In that day he could
not even reach out to those upon the ocean, drawing daily nearer to the
Susy Clemens had died in the old Hartford home. She had been well far a
time at the farm, but then her health had declined. She worked
continuously at her singing lessons and over-tried her strength. Then
she went on a visit to Mrs. Charles Dudley Warner, in Hartford; but she
did not rest, working harder than ever at her singing. Finally she was
told that she must consult a physician. The doctor came and prescribed
soothing remedies, and advised that she have the rest and quiet of her
own home. Mrs. Crane came from Elmira, also her uncle Charles Langdon.
But Susy became worse, and a few days later her malady was pronounced
meningitis. This was the 15th of August, the day that her mother and
Clara sailed from England. She was delirious and burning with fever, but
at last sank into unconsciousness. She died three days later, and on the
night that Mrs. Clemens and Clara arrived was taken to Elmira for burial.
They laid her beside the little brother that had died so long before, and
ordered a headstone with some lines which they had found in Australia,
written by Robert Richardson:
Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light!
—Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.
With Clara and Jean, Mrs. Clemens returned to England, and in a modest
house on Tedworth Square, a secluded corner of London, the stricken
family hid themselves away for the winter. Few, even of their closest
friends, knew of their whereabouts. In time the report was circulated
that Mask Twain, old, sick, and deserted by his family, was living in
poverty, toiling to pay his debts. Through the London publishers a
distant cousin, Dr. James Clemens, of St. Louis, located the house on
Tedworth Square, and wrote, offering assistance. He was invited to call,
and found a quiet place—the life there simple—but not poverty. By and
by there was another report—this time that Mark Twain was dead. A
reporter found his way to Tedworth Square, and, being received by Mark
Twain himself, asked what he should say.
Clemens regarded him gravely, then, in his slow, nasal drawl, "Say—that
the report of my death—has been grossly—exaggerated, "a remark that a
day later was amusing both hemispheres. He could not help his humor; it
was his natural form of utterance—the medium for conveying fact,
fiction, satire, philosophy. Whatever his depth of despair, the quaint
surprise of speech would come, and it would be so until his last day.
By November he was at work on his book of travel, which he first thought
of calling "Around the World." He went out not at all that winter, and
the work progressed steadily, and was complete by the following May
Meantime, during his trip around the world, Mark Twain's publishers had
issued two volumes of his work—the "Joan of Arc" book, and another "Tom
Sawyer" book, the latter volume combining two rather short stories, "Tom
Sawyer Abroad," published serially in St. Nicholas, and "Tom Sawyer,
Detective." The "Joan of Arc" book, the tenderest and most exquisite of
all Mark Twain's work—a tale told with the deepest sympathy and the
rarest delicacy—was dedicated by the author to his wife, as being the
only piece of his writing which he considered worthy of this honor. He
regarded it as his best book, and this was an opinion that did not
change. Twelve years later—it was on his seventy-third birthday—he
wrote as his final verdict, November 30, 1908:
"I like the Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I
know it perfectly well, and, besides, it furnished me seven times
the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of
preparation and two years of writing. The others needed no
preparation and got none.
The public at first did not agree with the author's estimate, and the
demand for the book was not large. But the public amended its opinion.
The demand for "Joan" increased with each year until its sales ranked
with the most popular of Mark Twain's books.
The new stories of Tom and Huck have never been as popular as the earlier
adventures of this pair of heroes. The shorter stories are less
important and perhaps less alive, but they are certainly very readable
tales, and nobody but Mark Twain could have written them.
Clemens began some new stories when his travel book was out of the way,
but presently with the family was on the way to Switzerland for the
summer. They lived at Weggis, on Lake Lucerne, in the Villa Buhlegg—a
very modest five-franc-a-day pension, for they were economizing and
putting away money for the debts. Mark Twain was not in a mood for work,
and, besides, proofs of the new book "Following the Equator," as it is
now called—were coming steadily. But on the anniversary of Susy's death
(August 18th) he wrote a poem, "In Memoriam," in which he touched a
literary height never before attained. It was published in "Harper's
Magazine," and now appears in his collected works.
Across from Villa Buhlegg on the lake-front there was a small shaded
inclosure where he loved to sit and look out on the blue water and lofty
mountains, one of which, Rigi, he and Twichell had climbed nineteen years
before. The little retreat is still there, and to-day one of the trees
bears a tablet (in German), "Mark Twain's Rest."
Autumn found the family in Vienna, located for the winter at the Hotel
Metropole. Mrs. Clemens realized that her daughters must no longer be
deprived of social and artistic advantages. For herself, she longed only
Vienna is always a gay city, a center of art and culture and splendid
social functions. From the moment of his arrival, Mark Twain and his
family were in the midst of affairs. Their room at the Metropole became
an assembling-place for distinguished members of the several circles that
go to make up the dazzling Viennese life. Mrs. Clemens, to her sister in
America, once wrote:
"Such funny combinations are here sometimes: one duke, several
counts, several writers, several barons, two princes, newspaper
Mark Twain found himself the literary lion of the Austrian capital.
Every club entertained him and roared with delight at his German
speeches. Wherever he appeared on the streets he was recognized.
"Let him pass! Don't you see it is Herr Mark Twain!" commanded an
officer to a guard who, in the midst of a great assemblage, had presumed
to bar the way.
MARK TWAIN PAYS HIS DEBTS
Mark Twain wrote much and well during this period, in spite of his social
life. His article "Concerning the Jews" was written that first winter in
Vienna—a fine piece of special pleading; also the greatest of his short
stories—one of the greatest of all short stories—"The Man that
But there were good reasons why he should write better now; his mind was
free of a mighty load—he had paid his debts!
Soon after his arrival in Vienna he had written to Mr. Rogers:
"Let us begin on those debts. I cannot bear the weight any longer.
It totally unfits me for work."
He had accumulated a large sum for the purpose, and the royalties from
the new book were beginning to roll in. Payment of the debts was begun.
At the end of December he wrote again:
"Land, we are glad to see those debts diminishing. For the first
time in my life I am getting more pleasure from paying money out
than from pulling it in."
A few days later he wrote to Howells that he had "turned the corner"; and
"We've lived close to the bone and saved every cent we could, and
there's no undisputed claim now that we can't cash . . . . I
hope you will never get the like of the load saddled on to you that
was saddled on to me, three years ago. And yet there is such a
solid pleasure in paying the things that I reckon it is worth while
to get into that kind of a hobble, after all. Mrs. Clemens gets
millions of delight out of it, and the children have never uttered
one complaint about the scrimping from the beginning."
By the end of January, 1898, Clemens had accumulated enough money to make
the final payments to his creditors. At the time of his failure he had
given himself five years to achieve this result. But he had needed less
than four. A report from Mr. Rogers showed that a balance of thirteen
thousand dollars would remain to his credit after the last accounts were
Clemens had tried to keep his money affairs out of the newspapers, but
the payment of the final claims could not be concealed, and the press
made the most of it. Head-lines shouted it. Editorials heralded Mark
Twain as a second Walter Scott, because Scott, too, had labored to lift a
great burden of debt. Never had Mark Twain been so beloved by his
One might suppose now that he had had enough of invention and commercial
enterprises of every sort—that is, one who did not know Mark Twain might
suppose this—but it would not be true. Within a month after his debts
were paid he was negotiating with the Austrian inventor Szczepanik for
the American rights in a wonderful carpet-pattern machine, and,
Sellers-like, was planning to organize a company with a capital of fifteen
hundred million dollars to control the carpet-weaving industries of the
world. He wrote to Mr. Rogers about the great scheme, inviting the
Standard Oil to "come in"; but the plan failed to bear the test of Mr.
Rogers's investigation and was heard of no more.
Samuel Clemens's obligation to Henry Rogers was very great, but it was
not quite the obligation that many supposed it to be. It was often
asserted that the financier lent, even gave, the humorist large sums, and
pointed out opportunities for speculation. No part of this statement is
true. Mr. Rogers neither lent nor gave Mark Twain money, and never
allowed him to speculate when he could prevent it. He sometimes invested
Mark Twain's own funds for him, but he never bought for him a share of
stock without money in hand to pay for it in full—money belonging to,
and earned by, Clemens himself.
What Henry Rogers did give to Mark Twain was his priceless counsel and
time—gifts more precious than any mere sum of money—favors that Mark
Twain could accept without humiliation. He did accept them, and never
ceased to be grateful. He rarely wrote without expressing his gratitude,
and we get the size of Mark Twain's obligation when in one letter we
"I have abundant peace of mind again—no sense of burden. Work is
become a pleasure—it is not labor any longer."
He wrote much and well, mainly magazine articles, including some of those
chapters later gathered it his book on "Christian Science." He reveled
like a boy in his new freedom and fortunes, in the lavish honors paid
him, in the rich circumstance of Viennese life. But always just beneath
the surface were unforgetable sorrows. His face in repose was always
sad. Once, after writing to Howells of his successes, he added:
"All those things might move and interest one. But how desperately
more I have been moved to-night by the thought of a little old copy
in the nursery of 'At the Back of the North Wind.' Oh, what happy
days they were when that book was read, and how Susy loved it!"
RETURN AFTER EXILE
News came to Vienna of the death of Orion Clemens, at the age of
seventy-two. Orion had died as he had lived—a gentle dreamer, always
with a new plan. He had not been sick at all. One morning early he had
seated himself at a table, with pencil and paper, and was putting down
the details of his latest project, when death came—kindly, in the moment
of new hope. He was a generous, upright man, beloved by all who
The Clemenses remained two winters in Vienna, spending the second at the
Hotel Krantz, where their rooms were larger and finer than at the
Metropole, and even more crowded with notabilities. Their salon acquired
the name of the "Second Embassy," and Mark Twain was, in fact, the most
representative American in the Austrian capital. It became the fashion
to consult him on every question of public interest, his comments,
whether serious or otherwise, being always worth printing. When European
disarmament was proposed, Editor William T. Stead, of the "Review of
Reviews," wrote for his opinion. He replied:
"DEAR MR. STEAD,—The Tsar is ready to disarm. I am
ready to disarm. Collect the others; it should not be
much of a task now. MARK TWAIN."
He refused offers of many sorts. He declined ten thousand dollars for a
tobacco endorsement, though he liked the tobacco well enough. He
declined ten thousand dollars a year for five years to lend his name as
editor of a humorous periodical. He declined another ten thousand for
ten lectures, and another offer for fifty lectures at the same rates
—that is, one thousand dollars per night. He could get along without
these sums, he said, and still preserve some remnants of his
It was May, 1899, when Clemens and his family left Vienna. They spent a
summer in Sweden on account of the health of Jean Clemens, and located
in London apartments—30 Wellington Court—for the winter. Then followed
a summer at beautiful Dollis Hill, an old house where Gladstone had often
visited, on a shady hilltop just outside of London. The city had not
quite enclosed the place then, and there were spreading oaks, a pond with
lily-pads, and wide spaces of grassy lawn. The place to-day is converted
into a public garden called Gladstone Park. Writing to Twichell in
mid-summer, Clemens said:
"I am the only person who is ever in the house in the daytime, but I
am working, and deep in the luxury of it. But there is one
tremendous defect. Levy is all so enchanted with the place and so
in love with it that she doesn't know how she is going to tear
herself away from it."
However, there was one still greater attraction than Dollis Hill, and
that was America—home. Mark Twain at sixty-five and a free man once
more had decided to return to his native land. They closed Dollis Hill
at the end of September, and October 6, 1900, sailed on the Minnehaha for
New York, bidding good-by, as Mark Twain believed, and hoped, to foreign
travel. Nine days later, to a reporter who greeted him on the ship, he
"If I ever get ashore I am going to break both of my legs so I can't
get away again."
A PROPHET AT HOME
New York tried to outdo Vienna and London in honoring Mark Twain. Every
newspaper was filled with the story of his great fight against debt, and
his triumph. "He had behaved like Walter Scott," writes Howells, "as
millions rejoiced to know who had not known how Walter Scott behaved till
they knew it was like Clemens." Clubs and societies vied with one
another in offering him grand entertainments. Literary and lecture
proposals poured in. He was offered at the rate of a dollar a word for
his writing—he could name his own terms for lectures.
These sensational offers did not tempt him. He was sick of the platform.
He made a dinner speech here and there—always an event—but he gave no
lectures or readings for profit. His literary work he confined to a few
magazines, and presently concluded an arrangement with "Harper &
Brothers" for whatever he might write, the payment to be twenty (later
thirty) cents per word. He arranged with the same firm for the
publication of all his books, by this time collected in uniform edition.
He wished his affairs to be settled as nearly as might be. His desire
was freedom from care. Also he would have liked a period of quiet and
rest, but that was impossible. He realized that the multitude of honors
tendered him was in a sense a vast compliment which he could not entirely
refuse. Howells writes that Mark Twain's countrymen "kept it up past all
precedent," and in return Mark Twain tried to do his part. "His friends
saw that he was wearing himself out," adds Howells, and certain it is
that he grew thin and pale and had a hacking cough. Once to Richard
Watson Gilder he wrote:
"In bed with a chest cold and other company.
"DEAR GILDER,—I can't. If I were a well man I could explain
with this pencil, but in the cir—ces I will leave it all to
"Was it Grady that killed himself trying to do all the dining
and speeching? No, old man, no, no!
"Ever yours, MARK."
In the various dinner speeches and other utterances made by Mark Twain at
this time, his hearers recognized a new and great seriousness of purpose.
It was not really new, only, perhaps, more emphasized. He still made
them laugh, but he insisted on making them think, too. He preached a new
gospel of patriotism—not the patriotism that means a boisterous cheering
of the Stars and Stripes wherever unfurled, but the patriotism that
proposes to keep the Stars and Stripes clean and worth shouting for. In
one place he said:
"We teach the boys to atrophy their independence. We teach them to
take their patriotism at second hand; to shout with the largest
crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter
—exactly as boys under monarchies are taught, and have always been
He protested against the blind allegiance of monarchies. He was seldom
"with the largest crowd" himself. Writing much of our foreign affairs,
then in a good deal of a muddle, he assailed so fearlessly and fiercely
measures which he held to be unjust that he was caricatured as an armed
knight on a charger and as Huck Finn with a gun.
But he was not always warlike. One of the speeches he made that winter
was with Col. Henry Watterson, a former Confederate soldier, at a Lincoln
birthday memorial at Carnegie Hall. "Think of it!" he wrote Twichell,
"two old rebels functioning there; I as president and Watterson as orator
of the day. Things have changed somewhat in these forty years, thank
The Clemens household did not go back to Hartford. During their early
years abroad it had been Mrs. Clemens's dream to return and open the
beautiful home, with everything the same as before. The death of Susy
had changed all this. The mother had grown more and more to feel that
she could not bear the sorrow of Susy's absence in the familiar rooms.
After a trip which Clemens himself made to Hartford, he wrote, "I realize
that if we ever enter the house again to live, our hearts will break."
So they did not go back. Mrs. Clemens had seen it for the last time on
that day when the carriage waited while she went back to take a last look
into the vacant rooms. They had taken a house at 14 West Tenth Street
for the winter, and when summer came they went to a log cabin on
Saranac Lake, which they called "The Lair." Here Mark Twain wrote
"A Double-barreled Detective Story," a not very successful burlesque of
Sherlock Holmes. But most of the time that summer he loafed and rested,
as was his right. Once during the summer he went on a cruise with H. H.
Rogers, Speaker "Tom" Reed, and others on Mr. Rogers's yacht.
HONORED BY MISSOURI
The family did not return to New York. They took a beautiful house at
Riverdale on the Hudson—the old Appleton homestead. Here they
established themselves and settled down for American residence. They
would have bought the Appleton place, but the price was beyond their
It was in the autumn of 1901 that Mark Twain settled in Riverdale. In
June of the following year he was summoned West to receive the degree of
LL.D. from the university of his native state. He made the journey a
sort of last general visit to old associations and friends. In St. Louis
he saw Horace Bixby, fresh, wiry, and capable as he had been forty-five
years before. Clemens said:
"I have become an old man. You are still thirty-five."
They went over to the rooms of the pilots' association, where the
river-men gathered in force to celebrate his return. Then he took train
He spent several days in Hannibal and saw Laura Hawkins—Mrs. Frazer, and
a widow now—and John Briggs, an old man, and John RoBards, who had worn
the golden curls and the medal for good conduct. They drove him to the
old house on Hill Street, where once he had lived and set type;
photographers were there and photographed him standing at the front door.
"It all seems so small to me," he said, as he looked through the house.
"A boy's home is a big place to him. I suppose if I should come back
again ten years from now it would be the size of a bird-house." He did
not see "Huck"—Torn Blankenship had not lived in Hannibal for many
years. But he was driven to all the familiar haunts—to Lover's Leap,
the cave, and the rest; and Sunday afternoon, with John Briggs, he walked
over Holliday's Hill—the "Cardiff Hill" of "Tom Sawyer." It was just
such a day, as the one when they had damaged a cooper shop and so nearly
finished the old negro driver. A good deal more than fifty years had
passed since then, and now here they were once more—Tom Sawyer and Joe
Harper—two old men, the hills still fresh and green, the river rippling
in the sun. Looking across to the Illinois shore and the green islands
where they had played, and to Lover's Leap on the south, the man who had
been Sam Clemens said:
"John, that is one of the loveliest sights I ever saw. Down there is the
place we used to swim, and yonder is where a man was drowned, and there's
where the steamboat sank. Down there on Lover's Leap is where the
Millerites put on their robes one night to go to heaven. None of them
went that night, but I suppose most of them have gone now."
John Briggs said, "Sam, do you remember the day we stole peaches from old
man Price, and one of his bow-legged niggers came after us with dogs, and
how we made up our minds we'd catch that nigger and drown him?"
And so they talked on of this thing and that, and by and by drove along
the river, and Sam Clemens pointed out the place where he swam it and was
taken with a cramp on the return.
"Once near the shore I thought I would let down," he said, "but was
afraid to, knowing that if the water was deep I was a goner, but finally
my knee struck the sand and I crawled out. That was the closest call I
They drove by a place where a haunted house had stood. They drank from a
well they had always known—from the bucket, as they had always drunk
—talking, always talking, touching with lingering fondness that most
beautiful and safest of all our possessions—the past.
"Sam," said John, when they parted, "this is probably the last time we
shall meet on earth. God bless you. Perhaps somewhere we shall renew
"John," was the answer, "this day has been worth a thousand dollars to
me. We were like brothers once, and I feel that we are the same now.
Good-by, John. I'll try to meet you somewhere."
Clemens left next day for Columbia, where the university is located. At
each station a crowd had gathered to cheer and wave as the train pulled
in and to offer him flowers. Sometimes he tried to say a few words, but
his voice would not come. This was more than even Tom Sawyer had
Certainly there is something deeply touching in the recognition of one's
native State; the return of the boy who has set out unknown to battle
with life and who is called back to be crowned is unlike any other
home-coming—more dramatic, more moving. Next day at the university Mark
Twain, summoned before the crowded assembly-hall to receive his degree,
stepped out to the center of the stage and paused. He seemed in doubt as
to whether he should make a speech or only express his thanks for the
honor received. Suddenly and without signal the great audience rose and
stood in silence at his feet. He bowed but he could not speak. Then the
vast assembly began a peculiar chant, spelling out slowly the word
M-i-s-s-o-u-r-i, with a pause between each letter. It was tremendously
Mark Twain was not left in doubt as to what was required of him when the
chant ended. The audience demanded a speech—a speech, and he made them
one—such a speech as no one there would forget to his dying day.
Back in St. Louis, he attended the rechristening of the St. Louis harbor
boat; it had been previously called the "St. Louis," but it was now to be
called the "Mark Twain."
THE CLOSE OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
Life which had begun very cheerfully at Riverdale ended sadly enough. In
August, at York Harbor, Maine, Mrs. Clemens's health failed and she was
brought home an invalid, confined almost entirely to her room. She had
been always the life, the center, the mainspring of the household. Now
she must not even be consulted—hardly visited. On her bad days—and
they were many—Clemens, sad and anxious, spent most of his time
lingering about her door, waiting for news, or until he was permitted to
see her for a brief moment. In his memorandum-book of that period he
"Our dear prisoner is where she is through overwork—day and night
devotion to the children and me. We did not know how to value it.
We know now."
And on the margin of a letter praising him for what he had done for the
world's enjoyment, and for his triumph over debt, he wrote:
"Livy never gets her share of those applauses, but it is because the
people do not know. Yet she is entitled to the lion's share."
She improved during the winter, but very slowly. Her husband wrote in
"Feb. 2, 1903—Thirty-third wedding anniversary. I was allowed to
see Livy five minutes this morning, in honor of the day."
Mrs. Clemens had always remembered affectionately their winter in
Florence of ten years before, and she now expressed the feeling that if
she were in Florence again she would be better. The doctors approved,
and it was decided that she should be taken there as soon as she was
strong enough to travel. She had so far improved by June that they
journeyed to Elmira, where in the quiet rest of Quarry Farm her strength
returned somewhat and the hope of her recovery was strong.
Mark Twain wrote a story that summer in Elmira, in the little octagonal
study, shut in now by trees and overgrown with vines. "A Dog's Tale," a
pathetic plea against vivisection, was the last story written in the
little retreat that had seen the beginning of "Tom Sawyer" twenty-nine
There was a feeling that the stay in Europe was this time to be
permanent. On one of the first days of October Clemens wrote in his
"To-day I place flowers on Susy's grave—for the last time, probably
—and read the words, 'Good night, dear heart, good night,
They sailed on the 24th, by way of Naples and Genoa, and were presently
installed in the Villa Reale di Quarto, a fine old Italian palace, in an
ancient garden looking out over Florence toward Vallombrosa and the
Chianti hills. It was a beautiful spot, though its aging walls and
cypresses and matted vines gave it a rather mournful look. Mrs.
Clemens's health improved there for a time, in spite of dull, rainy,
depressing weather; so much so that in May, when the warmth and sun came
back, Clemens was driving about the country, seeking a villa that he
might buy for a home.
On one of these days—it was a Sunday in early June, the 5th—when he had
been out with Jean, and had found a villa which he believed would fill
all their requirements, he came home full of enthusiasm and hope, eager
to tell the patient about the discovery. Certainly she seemed better. A
day or two before she had been wheeled out on the terrace to enjoy the
wonder of early Italian summer.
He found her bright and cheerful, anxious to hear all their plans for the
new home. He stayed with her alone through the dinner hour, and their
talk was as in the old days. Summoned to go at last, he chided himself
for staying so long; but she said there was no harm and kissed him,
saying, "you will come back?" and he answered "Yes, to say good night,"
meaning at half-past nine, as was the permitted custom. He stood a
moment at the door, throwing kisses to her, and she returned them, her
face bright with smiles.
He was so full of hope—they were going to be happy again. Long ago he
had been in the habit of singing jubilee songs to the children. He went
upstairs now to the piano and played the chorus and sang "Swing Low,
Sweet Chariot," and "My Lord He Calls Me." He stopped then, but Jean,
who had come in, asked him to go on. Mrs. Clemens, from her room, heard
the music and said to Katy Leary:
"He is singing a good-night carol to me."
The music ceased presently. A moment later she asked to be lifted up.
Almost in that instant life slipped away without a sound.
Clemens, just then coming to say good-night, saw a little group gathered
about her bed, and heard Clara ask:
"Katy, is it true? Oh, Katy, is it true?"
In his note-book that night he wrote:
"At a quarter-past nine this evening she that was the life of my life
passed to the relief and the peace of death, after twenty-two months
of unjust and unearned suffering. I first saw her thirty-seven
years ago, and now I have looked upon her face for the last time….
I was full of remorse for things done and said in these thirty-
four years of married life that have hurt Livy's heart."
And to Howells a few days later:
"To-day, treasured in her worn, old testament, I found a dear and
gentle letter from you dated Far Rockaway, September 12, 1896, about
our poor Susy's death. I am tired and old; I wish I were with Livy."
They brought her to America; and from the house, and the rooms, where she
had been made a bride bore her to a grave beside Susy and little Langdon.
MARK TWAIN AT SEVENTY
In a small cottage belonging to Richard Watson Gilder, at Tyringham,
Massachusetts, Samuel Clemens and his daughters tried to plan for the
future. Mrs. Clemens had always been the directing force—they were lost
without her. They finally took a house in New York City, No. 21 Fifth
Avenue, at the corner of Ninth Street, installed the familiar
furnishings, and tried once more to establish a home. The house was
handsome within and without—a proper residence for a venerable author
and sage—a suitable setting for Mark Twain. But it was lonely for him.
It lacked soul—comfort that would reach the heart. He added presently a
great Aeolian orchestrelle, with a variety of music for his different
moods. Sometimes he played it himself, though oftener his secretary
played to him. He went out little that winter—seeing only a few old and
intimate friends. His writing, such as it was, was of a serious nature,
protests against oppression and injustice in a variety of forms. Once he
wrote a "War Prayer," supposed to have been made by a mysterious,
white-robed stranger who enters a church during those ceremonies that
precede the marching of the nation's armies to battle. The minister had
prayed for victory, a prayer which the stranger interprets as a petition
that the enemy's country be laid waste, its soldiers be torn by shells,
its people turned out roofless, to wander through their desolated land
in rags and hunger. It was a scathing arraignment of war, a prophecy,
indeed, which to-day has been literally fulfilled. He did not print it,
because then it would have been regarded as sacrilege.
When summer came again, in a beautiful house at Dublin, New Hampshire, on
the Monadnock slope, he seemed to get back into the old swing of work,
and wrote that pathetic story, "A Horse's Tale." Also "Eve's Diary,"
which, under its humor, is filled with tenderness, and he began a wildly
fantastic tale entitled "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes," a
satire in which Gulliver is outdone. He never finished it. He never
could finish it, for it ran off into amazing by-paths that led nowhere,
and the tale was lost. Yet he always meant to get at it again some day
and make order out of chaos.
Old friends were dying, and Mark Twain grew more and more lonely. "My
section of the procession has but a little way to go," he wrote when the
great English actor Henry Irving died. Charles Henry Webb, his first
publisher, John Hay, Bret Harte, Thomas B. Reed, and, indeed, most of his
earlier associates were gone. When an invitation came from San Francisco
to attend a California reunion he replied that his wandering days were
over and that it was his purpose to sit by the fire for the rest of his
life. And in another letter:
"I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old
residents. Since I left there, it has increased in population fully
300,000. I could have done more—I could have gone earlier—it was
A choice example, by the way, of Mark Twain's best humor, with its
perfectly timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would have
been content to end with the statement, "I could have gone earlier."
Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch—"it was
Mark Twain was nearing seventy. With the 30th of November (1905) he
would complete the scriptural limitation, and the president of his
publishing-house, Col. George Harvey, of Harper's, proposed a great
dinner for him in celebration of his grand maturity. Clemens would have
preferred a small assembly in some snug place, with only his oldest and
closest friends. Colonel Harvey had a different view. He had given a
small, choice dinner to Mark Twain on his sixty-seventh birthday; now it
must be something really worth while—something to outrank any former
literary gathering. In order not to conflict with Thanksgiving holidays,
the 5th of December was selected as the date. On that evening, two
hundred American and English men and women of letters assembled in
Delmonico's great banquet-hall to do honor to their chief. What an
occasion it was! The tables of gay diners and among them Mark Twain, his
snow-white hair a gleaming beacon for every eye. Then, by and by,
presented by William Dean Howells, he rose to speak. Instantly the
brilliant throng was on its feet, a shouting billow of life, the white
handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest. It was a supreme moment!
The greatest one of them all hailed by their applause as he scaled the
Never did Mark Twain deliver a more perfect address than he gave that
night. He began with the beginning, the meagerness of that little hamlet
that had seen his birth, and sketched it all so quaintly and delightfully
that his hearers laughed and shouted, though there was tenderness under
it, and often the tears were just beneath the surface. He told of his
habits of life, how he had reached seventy by following a plan of living
that would probably kill anybody else; how, in fact, he believed he had
no valuable habits at all. Then, at last, came that unforgetable close:
"Threescore years and ten!
"It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no
active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time-
expired man, to use Kipling's military phrase: you have served your
term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become
an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions
are not for you, nor any bugle-call but 'lights out.' You pay the
time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline, if you prefer—and
without prejudice—for they are not legally collectable.
"The previous-engagement plea, which in forty years has cost you so
many twinges, you can lay aside forever; on this side of the grave
you will never need it again. If you shrink at thought of night,
and winter, and the late homecomings from the banquet and the lights
and laughter, through the deserted streets—a desolation which would
not remind you now, as for a generation it did, that your friends
are sleeping and you must creep in a-tiptoe and not disturb them,
but would only remind you that you need not tiptoe, you can never
disturb them more—if you shrink at the thought of these things you
need only reply, 'Your invitation honors me and pleases me because
you still keep me in your remembrance, but I am seventy; seventy,
and would nestle in the chimney-corner, and smoke my pipe, and read
my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and
that when you, in your turn, shall arrive at Pier 70 you may step
aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your
course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart.'"
The tears that had been lying in wait were no longer kept back. If there
were any present who did not let them flow without shame, who did not
shout their applause from throats choked with sobs, they failed to
mention the fact later.
Many of his old friends, one after another, rose to tell their love for
him—Cable, Carnegie, Gilder, and the rest. Mr. Rogers did not speak,
nor the Reverend Twichell, but they sat at his special table. Aldrich
could not be there, but wrote a letter. A group of English authors,
including Alfred Austin, Barrie, Chesterton, Dobson, Doyle, Hardy,
Kipling, Lang, and others, joined in a cable. Helen Keller wrote:
"And you are seventy years old? Or is the report exaggerated, like
that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house
of dear Mr. Hutton, in Princeton, you said:
"'If a man is a pessimist before he is forty-eight, he knows too
much. If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight, he knows too
"Now we know you are an optimist, and nobody would dare to accuse one
on the 'seven-terraced summit' of knowing little. So probably you
are not seventy, after all, but only forty-seven!"
Helen Keller was right. Mark Twain was never a pessimist in his heart.
MARK TWAIN ARRANGES FOR HIS BIOGRAPHY
It was at the beginning of 1906—a little more than a month after the
seventieth-birthday dinner—that the writer of these chapters became
personally associated with Mark Twain. I had met him before, and from
time to time he had returned a kindly word about some book I had written
and inconsiderately sent him, for he had been my literary hero from
childhood. Once, indeed, he had allowed me to use some of his letters in
a biography I was writing of Thomas Nast; he had been always an admirer
of the great cartoonist, and the permission was kindness itself. Before
the seating at the birthday dinner I happened to find myself for a moment
alone with Mark Twain and remembered to thank him in person for the use
of the letters; a day or two later I sent him a copy of the book. I did
not expect to hear from it again.
It was a little while after this that I was asked to join in a small
private dinner to be given to Mark Twain at the Players, in celebration
of his being made an honorary member of that club—there being at the
time only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving. I was in the
Players a day or two before the event, and David Munro, of "The North
American Review," a man whose gentle and kindly nature made him "David"
to all who knew him, greeted me joyfully, his face full of something he
knew I would wish to hear.
He had been chosen, he said, to propose the Players' dinner to Mark
Twain, and had found him propped up in bed, and beside him a copy of the
Nast book. I suspect now that David's generous heart prompted Mark Twain
to speak of the book, and that his comment had lost nothing in David's
eager retelling. But I was too proud and happy to question any feature
of the precious compliment, and Munro—always most happy in making others
happy—found opportunity to repeat it, and even to improve upon it
—usually in the presence of others—several times during the evening.
The Players' dinner to Mark Twain was given on the evening of January 3,
19066, and the picture of it still remains clear to me. The guests,
assembled around a single table in the private dining-room, did not
exceed twenty-five in number. Brander Matthews presided, and the
knightly Frank Millet, who would one day go down on the "Titanic," was
there, and Gilder and Munro and David Bispham and Robert Reid, and others
of their kind. It so happened that my seat was nearly facing the guest
of the evening, who by a custom of the Players is placed at the side and
not at the distant end of the long table. Regarding him at leisure, I
saw that he seemed to be in full health. He had an alert, rested look;
his complexion had the tints of a miniature painting. Lit by the soft
glow of the shaded candles, outlined against the richness of the shadowed
walls, he made a figure of striking beauty. I could not take my eyes
from it, for it stirred in me the farthest memories. I saw the interior
of a farm-house sitting-room in the Middle West where I had first heard
the name of Mark Twain, and where night after night a group had gathered
around the evening lamp to hear read aloud the story of the Innocents on
their Holy Land pilgrimage, which to a boy of eight had seemed only a
wonderful poem and fairy-tale. To Charles Harvey Genung, who sat next to
me, I whispered something of this, and how during the thirty-six years
since then no one had meant to me quite what Mark Twain had meant—in
literature and, indeed, in life. Now here he was just across the table.
It was a fairy-tale come true.
Genung said: "You should write his life."
It seemed to me no more than a pleasant remark, but he came back to it
again and again, trying to encourage me with the word that Munro had
brought back concerning the biography of Nast. However, nothing of what
he said had kindled any spark of hope. I put him off by saying that
certainly some one of longer and closer friendship and larger experience
had been selected for the work. Then the speaking began, and the matter
went out of my mind. Later in the evening, when we had left our seats
and were drifting about the table, I found a chance to say a word to our
guest concerning his "Joan of Arc," which I had recently re-read. To my
happiness, he told me that long-ago incident—the stray leaf from Joan's
life, blown to him by the wind—which had led to his interest in all
literature. Then presently I was with Genung again and he was still
insisting that I write the life of Mark Twain. It may have been his
faithful urging, it may have been the quick sympathy kindled by the name
of "Joan of Arc"; whatever it was, in the instant of bidding good-by to
our guest I was prompted to add:
"May I call to see you, Mr. Clemens, some day?" And something—to this
day I do not know what—prompted him to answer:
"Yes, come soon."
Two days later, by appointment with his secretary, I arrived at 21 Fifth
Avenue, and waited in the library to be summoned to his room. A few
moments later I was ascending the long stairs, wondering why I had come
on so useless an errand, trying to think up an excuse for having come at
He was propped up in bed—a regal bed, from a dismantled Italian palace
—delving through a copy of "Huckleberry Finn," in search of a paragraph
concerning which some unknown correspondent had inquired. He pushed the
cigars toward me, commenting amusingly on this correspondent and on
letter-writing in general. By and by, when there came a lull, I told him
what so many thousands had told him before—what his work had meant to
me, so long ago, and recalled my childish impressions of that large
black-and-gilt book with its wonderful pictures and adventures "The
Innocents Abroad." Very likely he was willing enough to let me change
the subject presently and thank him for the kindly word which David Munro
had brought. I do not remember what was his comment, but I suddenly
found myself saying that out of his encouragement had grown a hope
(though certainly it was less), that I might some day undertake a book
about himself. I expected my errand to end at this point, and his
silence seemed long and ominous.
He said at last that from time to time he had himself written chapters of
his life, but that he had always tired of the work and put it aside. He
added that he hoped his daughters would one day collect his letters, but
that a biography—a detailed story of a man's life and effort—was
another matter. I think he added one or two other remarks, then all at
once, turning upon me those piercing agate-blue eyes, he said:
"When would you like to begin?"
There was a dresser, with a large mirror, at the end of the room. I
happened to catch my reflection in it, and I vividly recollect saying to
it, mentally "This is not true; it is only one of many similar dreams."
But even in a dream one must answer, and I said:
"Whenever you like. I can begin now."
He was always eager in any new undertaking.
"Very good," he said, "the sooner, then, the better. Let's begin while
we are in the humor. The longer you postpone a thing of this kind, the
less likely you are ever to get at it."
This was on Saturday; I asked if Tuesday, January 9, would be too soon
to start. He agreed that Tuesday would do, and inquired as to my plan
of work. I suggested bringing a stenographer to make notes of his
life-story as he could recall it, this record to be supplemented by
other material—letters, journals, and what not. He said:
"I think I should enjoy dictating to a stenographer with some one to
prompt me and act as audience. The room adjoining this was fitted up for
my study. My manuscript and notes and private books and many of my
letters are there, and there are a trunkful or two of such things in the
attic. I seldom use the room myself. I do my writing and reading in
bed. I will turn that room over to you for this work. Whatever you need
will be brought to you. We can have the dictations here in the morning,
and you can put in the rest of the day to suit yourself. You can have a
key and come and go as you please."
That was always his way. He did nothing by halves. He got up and showed
me the warm luxury of the study, with its mass of material—disordered,
I have no distinct recollections of how I came away, but presently, back
at the Players, I was confiding the matter to Charles Harvey Genung, who
said he was not surprised; but I think he was.
WORKING WITH MARK TWAIN
It was true, after all; and on Tuesday morning, January 9, 1906, I was on
hand with a capable stenographer, ready to begin. Clemens, meantime, had
developed a new idea: he would like to add, he said, the new dictations
to his former beginnings, completing an autobiography which was to be
laid away and remain unpublished for a hundred years. He would pay the
stenographer himself, and own the notes, allowing me, of course, free use
of them as material for my book. He did not believe that he could follow
the story of his life in its order of dates, but would find it necessary
to wander around, picking up the thread as memory or fancy prompted. I
could suggest subjects and ask questions. I assented to everything, and
we set to work immediately.
As on my former visit, he was in bed when we arrived, though clad now in
a rich Persian dressing gown, and propped against great, snowy pillows.
A small table beside him held his pipes, cigars, papers, also a
reading-lamp, the soft light of which brought out his brilliant coloring
and the gleam of his snowy hair. There was daylight, too, but it was dull
winter daylight, from the north, while the walls of the room were a deep,
He began that morning with some memories of the Comstock mine; then he
dropped back to his childhood, closing at last with some comment on
matters quite recent. How delightful it was—his quaint, unhurried
fashion of speech, the unconscious habits of his delicate hands, the play
of his features as his fancies and phrases passed through his mind and
were accepted or put aside. We were watching one of the great literary
creators of his time in the very process of his architecture. Time did
not count. When he finished, at last, we were all amazed to find that
more than two hours had slipped away.
"And how much I have enjoyed it," he said. "It is the ideal plan for
this kind of work. Narrative writing is always disappointing. The
moment you pick up a pen you begin to lose the spontaneity of the
personal relation, which contains the very essence of interest. With
short-hand dictation one can talk as if he were at his own dinner-table
always an inspiring place. I expect to dictate all the rest of my life,
if you good people are willing to come and listen to it."
The dictations thus begun continued steadily from week to week, with
increasing charm. We never knew what he was going to talk about, and it
was seldom that he knew until the moment of beginning. But it was always
fascinating, and I felt myself the most fortunate biographer in the
world, as indeed I was.
It was not all smooth sailing, however. In the course of time I began to
realize that these marvelous dictated chapters were not altogether
history, but were often partly, or even entirely, imaginary. The creator
of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had been embroidering old incidents or
inventing new ones too long to stick to history now, to be able to
separate the romance in his mind from the reality of the past. Also, his
memory of personal events had become inaccurate. He realized this, and
once said, in his whimsical, gentle way:
"When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened
or not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the
Yet it was his constant purpose to stick to fact, and especially did he
make no effort to put himself in a good light. Indeed, if you wanted to
know the worst of Mark Twain you had only to ask him for it. He would
give it to the last syllable, and he would improve upon it and pile up
his sins, and sometimes the sins of others, without stint. Certainly the
dictations were precious, for they revealed character as nothing else
could; but as material for history they often failed to stand the test of
the documents in the next room—the letters, notebooks, agreements, and
the like—from which I was gradually rebuilding the structure of the
In the talks that we usually had when the dictations were ended and the
stenographer had gone I got much that was of great value. It was then
that I usually made those inquiries which we had planned in the
beginning, and his answers, coming quickly and without reflection, gave
imagination less play. Sometimes he would touch some point of special
interest and walk up and down, philosophizing, or commenting upon things
in general, in a manner not always complimentary to humanity and its
I seldom asked him a question during the dictation—or interrupted in any
way, though he had asked me to stop him when I found him repeating or
contradicting himself, or misstating some fact known to me. At first I
lacked the courage to point out a mistake at the moment, and cautiously
mentioned the matter when he had finished. Then he would be likely to
"Why didn't you stop me? Why did you let me go on making a donkey
of myself when you could have saved me?"
So then I used to take the risk of getting struck by lightning, and
nearly always stopped him in time. But if it happened that I upset his
thought, the thunderbolt was apt to fly. He would say:
"Now you've knocked everything out of my head."
Then, of course, I was sorry and apologized, and in a moment the sky was
clear again. There was generally a humorous complexion to the
dictations, whatever the subject. Humor was his natural breath of life,
and rarely absent.
Perhaps I should have said sooner that he smoked continuously during the
dictations. His cigars were of that delicious fragrance which belongs to
domestic tobacco. They were strong and inexpensive, and it was only his
early training that made him prefer them. Admiring friends used to send
him costly, imported cigars, but he rarely touched them, and they were
smoked by visitors. He often smoked a pipe, and preferred it to be old
and violent. Once when he had bought a new, expensive briar-root, he
handed it to me, saying:
"I'd like to have you smoke that a year or two, and when it gets so you
can't stand it, maybe it will suit me."
DICTATIONS AT DUBLIN, N. H.
Following his birthday dinner, Mark Twain had become once more the "Belle
of New York," and in a larger way than ever before. An editorial in the
"Evening Mail" referred to him as a kind of joint Aristides, Solon, and
Themistocles of the American metropolis, and added:
"Things have reached a point where, if Mark Twain is not at a public
meeting or banquet, he is expected to console it with one of his
inimitable letters of advice and encouragement."
He loved the excitement of it, and it no longer seemed to wear upon him.
Scarcely an evening passed that he did not go out to some dinner or
gathering where he had promised to speak. In April, for the benefit of
the Robert Fulton Society, he delivered his farewell lecture—the last
lecture, he said, where any one would have to pay to hear him. It was at
Carnegie Hall, and the great place was jammed. As he stood before that
vast, shouting audience, I wondered if he was remembering that night,
forty years before in San Francisco, when his lecture career had begun.
We hoped he might speak of it, but he did not do so.
In May the dictations were transferred to Dublin, New Hampshire, to the
long veranda of the Upton House, on the Monadnock slope. He wished to
continue our work, he said; so the stenographer and myself were presently
located in the village, and drove out each morning, to sit facing one of
the rarest views in all New England, while he talked of everything and
anything that memory or fancy suggested. We had begun in his bedroom,
but the glorious outside was too compelling.
The long veranda was ideal. He was generally ready when we arrived, a
luminous figure in white flannels, pacing up and down before a background
of sky and forest, blue lake, and distant hills. When it stormed we
would go inside to a bright fire. The dictation ended, he would ask his
secretary to play the orchestrelle, which at great expense had been
freighted up from New York. In that high situation, the fire and the
music and the stormbeat seemed to lift us very far indeed from reality.
Certain symphonies by Beethoven, an impromptu by Schubert, and a nocturne
by Chopin were the selections he cared for most, though in certain
moods he asked, for the Scotch melodies.
There was a good deal of social life in Dublin, but, the dictations were
seldom interrupted. He became lonely, now and then, and paid a brief
visit to New York, or to Mr. Rogers in Fairhaven, but he always returned
gladly, for he liked the rest and quiet, and the dictations gave him
employment. A part of his entertainment was a trio of kittens which he
had rented for the summer—rented because then they would not lose
ownership and would find home and protection in the fall. He named the
kittens Sackcloth and Ashes—Sackcloth being a black-and-white kit, and
Ashes a joint name owned by the two others, who were gray and exactly
alike. All summer long these merry little creatures played up and down
the wide veranda, or chased butterflies and grasshoppers down the clover
slope, offering Mark Twain never-ending amusement. He loved to see them
spring into the air after some insect, miss it, tumble back, and quickly
jump up again with a surprised and disappointed expression.
In spite of his resolve not to print any of his autobiography until he
had been dead a hundred years, he was persuaded during the summer to
allow certain chapters of it to be published in "The North American
Review." With the price received, thirty thousand dollars, he announced
he was going to build himself a country home at Redding, Connecticut, on
land already purchased there, near a small country place of my own. He
wished to have a fixed place to go each summer, he said, and his thought
was to call it "Autobiography House."
 His special favorites were Schubert's Op. 142, part 2, and Chopin's
Op. 37, part 2.
A NEW ERA OF BILLIARDS
With the return to New York I began a period of closer association with
Mark Twain. Up to that time our relations had been chiefly of a literary
nature. They now became personal as well.
It happened in this way: Mark Twain had never outgrown his love for the
game of billiards, though he had not owned a table since the closing of
the Hartford house, fifteen years before. Mrs. Henry Rogers had proposed
to present him with a table for Christmas, but when he heard of the plan,
boylike, he could not wait, and hinted that if he had the table "right
now" he could begin to use it sooner. So the table came—a handsome
combination affair, suitable to all games—and was set in place. That
morning when the dictation ended he said:
"Have you any special place to lunch, to-day?"
I replied that I had not.
"Lunch here," he said, "and we'll try the new billiard-table."
I acknowledged that I had never played more than a few games of pool, and
those very long ago.
"No matter," he said "the poorer you play the better I shall like it."
So I remained for luncheon, and when it was over we began the first game
ever played on the "Christmas" table. He taught me a game in which
caroms and pockets both counted, and he gave me heavy odds. He beat me,
but it was a riotous, rollicking game, the beginning of a closer relation
between us. We played most of the afternoon, and he suggested that I
"come back in the evening and play some more." I did so, and the game
lasted till after midnight. I had beginner's luck—"nigger luck," as he
called it—and it kept him working feverishly to win. Once when I had
made a great fluke—a carom followed by most of the balls falling into
the pockets, he said:
"When you pick up that cue this table drips at every pore."
The morning dictations became a secondary interest. Like a boy, he was
looking forward to the afternoon of play, and it seemed never to come
quickly enough to suit him. I remained regularly for luncheon, and he
was inclined to cut the courses short that we might the sooner get
up-stairs for billiards. He did not eat the midday meal himself, but he
would come down and walk about the dining-room, talking steadily that
marvelous, marvelous talk which little by little I trained myself to
remember, though never with complete success. He was only killing time,
and I remember once, when he had been earnestly discussing some deep
question, he suddenly noticed that the luncheon was ending.
"Now," he said, "we will proceed to more serious matters—it's your
My game improved with practice, and he reduced my odds. He was willing
to be beaten, but not too often. We kept a record of the games, and he
went to bed happier if the tally-sheet showed a balance in his favor.
He was not an even-tempered player. When the game went steadily against
him he was likely to become critical, even fault-finding, in his remarks.
Then presently he would be seized with remorse and become over-gentle and
attentive, placing the balls as I knocked them into the pockets, hurrying
to render this service. I wished he would not do it. It distressed me
that he should humble himself. I was willing that he should lose his
temper, that he should be even harsh if he felt so inclined—his age, his
position, his genius gave him special privileges. Yet I am glad, as I
remember it now, that the other side revealed itself, for it completes
the sum of his humanity. Once in a burst of exasperation he made such an
onslaught on the balls that he landed a couple of them on the floor. I
gathered them up and we went on playing as if nothing had happened, only
he was very gentle and sweet, like a summer meadow when the storm has
passed by. Presently he said:
"This is a most amusing game. When you play badly it amuses me, and
when I play badly and lose my temper it certainly must amuse you."
It was but natural that friendship should grow under such conditions.
The disparity of our ages and gifts no longer mattered. The pleasant
land of play is a democracy where such things do not count.
We celebrated his seventy-first birthday by playing billiards all day.
He invented a new game for the occasion, and added a new rule for it with
almost every shot. It happened that no other member of the family was at
home—ill-health had banished every one, even the secretary. Flowers,
telegrams, and congratulations came, and a string of callers. He saw no
one but a few intimate friends.
We were entirely alone for dinner, and I felt the great honor of being
his only guest on such an occasion. On that night, a year before, the
flower of his profession had assembled to do him honor. Once between the
courses, when he rose, as was his habit, to walk about, he wandered into
the drawing-room, and, seating himself at the orchestrelle, began to play
the beautiful "Flower Song" from Faust. It was a thing I had not seen
him do before, and I never saw him do it again.
He was in his loveliest humor all that day and evening, and at night when
we stopped playing he said:
"I have never had a pleasanter day at this game."
I answered: "I hope ten years from to-night we shall be playing it."
"Yes," he said, "still playing the best game on earth."
LIVING WITH MARK TWAIN
I accompanied him on a trip he made to Washington in the interest of
copyright. Speaker "Uncle Joe" Cannon lent us his private room in the
Capitol, and there all one afternoon Mark Twain received Congressmen, and
in an atmosphere blue with cigar-smoke preached the gospel of copyright.
It was a historic trip, and for me an eventful one, for it was on the way
back to New York that Mark Twain suggested that I take up residence in
his home. There was a room going to waste, he said, and I would be
handier for the early and late billiard sessions. I accepted, of course.
Looking back, now, I see pretty vividly three quite distinct pictures.
One of them, the rich, red interior of the billiard-room, with the
brilliant green square in the center on which the gay balls are rolling,
and bent over it his luminous white figure in the instant of play. Then
there is the long lighted drawing-room, with the same figure stretched on
a couch in the corner, drowsily smoking while the rich organ tones summon
for him scenes and faces which the others do not see. Sometimes he rose,
pacing the length of the parlors, but oftener he lay among the cushions,
the light flooding his white hair and dress, heightening his brilliant
coloring. He had taken up the fashion of wearing white altogether at
this time. Black, he said, reminded him of his funerals.
The third picture is that of the dinner-table—always beautifully laid,
and always a shrine of wisdom when he was there. He did not always talk,
but he often did, and I see him clearest, his face alive with interest,
presenting some new angle of thought in his vivid, inimitable speech.
These are pictures that will not fade from my memory. How I wish the
marvelous things he said were like them! I preserved as much of them as
I could, and in time trained myself to recall portions of his exact
phrasing. But even so they seemed never quite as he had said them. They
lacked the breath of his personality. His dinner-table talk was likely
to be political, scientific, philosophic. He often discussed aspects of
astronomy, which was a passion with him. I could succeed better with the
billiard-room talk—that was likely to be reminiscent, full of anecdotes.
I kept a pad on the window-sill, and made notes while he was playing. At
one time he told me of his dreams.
"There is never a month passes," he said, "that I do not dream of being
in reduced circumstances and obliged to go back to the river to earn a
living. Usually in my dream I am just about to start into a black shadow
without being able to tell whether it is Selma Bluff, or Hat Island, or
only a black wall of night. Another dream I have is being compelled to
go back to the lecture platform. In it I am always getting up before an
audience, with nothing to say, trying to be funny, trying to make the
audience laugh, realizing I am only making silly jokes. Then the
audience realizes it, and pretty soon they commence to get up and leave.
That dream always ends by my standing there in the semi-darkness talking
to an empty house."
He did not return to Dublin the next summer, but took a house at Tuxedo,
nearer New York. I did not go there with him, for in the spring it was
agreed that I should make a pilgrimage to the Mississippi and the Pacific
coast to see those few still remaining who had known Mark Twain in his
youth. John Briggs was alive, also Horace Bixby, "Joe" Goodman, Steve
and Jim Gillis, and there were a few others.
It was a trip taken none too soon. John Briggs, a gentle-hearted old man
who sat by his fire and through one afternoon told me of the happy days
along the river-front from the cave to Holliday's Hill, did not reach the
end of the year. Horace Bixby, at eighty-one, was still young, and
piloting a government snag-boat. Neither was Joseph Goodman old, by any
means, but Jim Gillis was near his end, and Steve Gillis was an invalid,
"Tell Sam I'm going to die pretty soon, but that I love him; that I've
loved him all my life, and I'll love him till I die."
A DEGREE FROM OXFORD
On my return I found Mark Twain elated: he had been invited to England to
receive the degree of Literary Doctor from the Oxford University. It is
the highest scholastic honorary degree; and to come back, as I had, from
following the early wanderings of the barefoot truant of Hannibal, only
to find him about to be officially knighted by the world's most venerable
institution of learning, seemed rather the most surprising chapter even
of his marvelous fairy-tale. If Tom Sawyer had owned the magic wand, he
hardly could have produced anything as startling as that.
He sailed on the 8th of June, 1907, exactly forty years from the day he
had sailed on the "Quaker City" to win his greater fame. I did not
accompany him. He took with him a secretary to make notes, and my
affairs held me in America. He was absent six weeks, and no attentions
that England had ever paid him before could compare with her lavish
welcome during this visit. His reception was really national. He was
banqueted by the greatest clubs of London, he was received with special
favor at the King's garden party, he traveled by a royal train, crowds
gathering everywhere to see him pass. At Oxford when he appeared on the
street the name Mark Twain ran up and down like a cry of fire, and the
people came running. When he appeared on the stage at the Sheldonian
Theater to receive his degree, clad in his doctor's robe of scarlet and
gray, there arose a great tumult—the shouting of the undergraduates for
the boy who had been Tom Sawyer and had played with Huckleberry Finn.
The papers next day spoke of his reception as a "cyclone," surpassing any
other welcome, though Rudyard Kipling was one of those who received
degrees on that occasion, and General Booth and Whitelaw Reid, and other
Perhaps the most distinguished social honor paid to Mark Twain at this
time was the dinner given him by the staff of London "Punch," in the
historic "Punch" editorial rooms on Bouverie Street. No other foreigner
had ever been invited to that sacred board, where Thackeray had sat, and
Douglas Jerrold and others of the great departed. "Punch" had already
saluted him with a front-page cartoon, and at this dinner the original
drawing was presented to him by the editor's little daughter, Joy Agnew.
The Oxford degree, and the splendid homage paid him by England at large,
became, as it were, the crowning episode of Mark Twain's career. I think
he realized this, although he did not speak of it—indeed, he had very
little to say of the whole matter. I telephoned a greeting when I knew
that he had arrived in New York, and was summoned to "come down and play
billiards." I confess I went with a good deal of awe, prepared to sit in
silence and listen to the tale of the returning hero. But when I arrived
he was already in the billiard-room, knocking the balls about—his coat
off, for it was a hot night. As I entered, he said:
"Get your cue—I've been inventing a new game."
That was all. The pageant was over, the curtain was rung down. Business
was resumed at the old stand.
THE REMOVAL TO REDDING
There followed another winter during which I was much with Mark Twain,
though a part of it he spent with Mr. Rogers in Bermuda, that pretty
island resort which both men loved. Then came spring again, and June,
and with it Mark Twain's removal to his newly built home, "Stormfield,"
at Redding, Connecticut.
The house had been under construction for a year. He had never seen it
—never even seen the land I had bought for him. He even preferred not to
look at any plans or ideas for decoration.
"When the house is finished and furnished, and the cat is purring on the
hearth, it will be time enough for me to see it," he had said more than
He had only specified that the rooms should be large and that the
billiard-room should be red. His billiard-rooms thus far had been of
that color, and their memory was associated in his mind with enjoyment
and comfort. He detested details of preparation, and then, too, he
looked forward to the dramatic surprise of walking into a home that had
been conjured into existence as with a word.
It was the 18th of June, 1908, that he finally took possession. The
Fifth Avenue house was not dismantled, for it was the plan then to use
Stormfield only as a summer place. The servants, however, with one
exception, had been transferred to Redding, and Mark Twain and I remained
alone, though not lonely, in the city house; playing billiards most of
the time, and being as hilarious as we pleased, for there was nobody to
disturb. I think he hardly mentioned the new home during that time. He
had never seen even a photograph of the place, and I confess I had
moments of anxiety, for I had selected the site and had been more or less
concerned otherwise, though John Howells was wholly responsible for the
building. I did not really worry, for I knew how beautiful and peaceful
it all was.
The morning of the 18th was bright and sunny and cool. Mark Twain was up
and shaved by six o'clock in order to be in time. The train did not
leave until four in the afternoon, but our last billiards in town must
begin early and suffer no interruption. We were still playing when,
about three, word was brought up that the cab was waiting. Arrived at
the station, a group collected, reporters and others, to speed him to his
new home. Some of the reporters came along.
The scenery was at its best that day, and he spoke of it approvingly.
The hour and a half required to cover the sixty miles' distance seemed
short. The train porters came to carry out the bags. He drew from his
pocket a great handful of silver.
"Give them something," he said; "give everybody liberally that does any
There was a sort of open-air reception in waiting—a varied assemblage of
vehicles festooned with flowers had gathered to offer gallant country
welcome. It was a perfect June evening, still and dream-like; there
seemed a spell of silence on everything. The people did not cheer—they
smiled and waved to the white figure, and he smiled and waved reply, but
there was no noise. It was like a scene in a cinema.
His carriage led the way on the three-mile drive to the house on the
hilltop, and the floral procession fell in behind. Hillsides were green,
fields were white with daisies, dogwood and laurel shone among the trees.
He was very quiet as we drove along. Once, with gentle humor, looking
out over a white daisy-field, he said:
"That is buckwheat. I always recognize buckwheat when I see it. I
wish I knew as much about other things as I know about buckwheat."
The clear-running brooks, a swift-flowing river, a tumbling cascade where
we climbed a hill, all came in for his approval—then we were at the lane
that led to his new home, and the procession behind dropped away. The
carriage ascended still higher, and a view opened across the Saugatuck
Valley, with its nestling village and church-spire and farmhouses, and
beyond them the distant hills. Then came the house—simple in design,
but beautiful—an Italian villa, such as he had known in Florence,
adapted here to American climate and needs.
At the entrance his domestic staff waited to greet him, and presently he
stepped across the threshold and stood in his own home for the first time
in seventeen years. Nothing was lacking—it was as finished, as
completely furnished, as if he had occupied it a lifetime. No one spoke
immediately, but when his eyes had taken in the harmony of the place,
with its restful, home-like comfort, and followed through the open French
windows to the distant vista of treetops and farmsides and blue hills,
he said, very gently:
"How beautiful it all is! I did not think it could be as beautiful
as this." And later, when he had seen all of the apartments: "It is
a perfect house—perfect, so far as I can see, in every detail. It
might have been here always."
There were guests that first evening—a small home dinner-party—and a
little later at the foot of the garden some fireworks were set off by
neighbors inspired by Dan Beard, who had recently located in Redding.
Mark Twain, watching the rockets that announced his arrival, said,
"I wonder why they go to so much trouble for me. I never go to any
trouble for anybody."
The evening closed with billiards, hilarious games, and when at midnight
the cues were set in the rack no one could say that Mark Twain's first
day in his new home had not been a happy one.
LIFE AT STORMFIELD
Mark Twain loved Stormfield. Almost immediately he gave up the idea of
going back to New York for the winter, and I think he never entered the
Fifth Avenue house again. The quiet and undisturbed comfort of
Stormfield came to him at the right time of life. His day of being the
"Belle of New York" was over. Now and then he attended some great
dinner, but always under protest. Finally he refused to go at all. He
had much company during that first summer—old friends, and now and again
young people, of whom he was always fond. The billiard-room he called
"the aquarium," and a frieze of Bermuda fishes, in gay prints, ran around
the walls. Each young lady visitor was allowed to select one of these as
her patron fish and attach her name to it. Thus, as a member of the
"aquarium club," she was represented in absence. Of course there were
several cats at Stormfield, and these really owned the premises. The
kittens scampered about the billiard-table after the balls, even when the
game was in progress, giving all sorts of new angles to the shots. This
delighted him, and he would not for anything have discommoded or removed
one of those furry hazards.
My own house was a little more than half a mile away, our lands joining,
and daily I went up to visit him—to play billiards or to take a walk
across the fields. There was a stenographer in the neighborhood, and he
continued his dictations, but not regularly. He wrote, too, now and
then, and finished the little book called "Is Shakespeare Dead?"
Winter came. The walks were fewer, and there was even more company; the
house was gay and the billiard games protracted. In February I made a
trip to Europe and the Mediterranean, to go over some of his ground
there. Returning in April, I found him somewhat changed. It was not
that he had grown older, or less full of life, but only less active, less
eager for gay company, and he no longer dictated, or very rarely. His
daughter Jean, who had been in a health resort, was coming home to act as
his secretary, and this made him very happy. We resumed our games, our
talks, and our long walks across the fields. There were few guests, and
we were together most of the day and evening. How beautiful the memory
of it all is now! To me, of course, nothing can ever be like it again in
Mark Twain walked slowly these days. Early in the summer there appeared
indications of the heart trouble that less than a year later would bring
the end. His doctor advised diminished smoking, and forbade the old
habit of lightly skipping up and down stairs. The trouble was with the
heart muscles, and at times there came severe deadly pains in his breast,
but for the most part he did not suffer. He was allowed the walk,
however, and once I showed him a part of his estate he had not seen
before—a remote cedar hillside. On the way I pointed out a little
corner of land which earlier he had given me to straighten our division
line. I told him I was going to build a study on it and call it
"Markland." I think the name pleased him. Later he said:
"If you had a place for that extra billiard-table of mine" (the Rogers
table, which had been left in storage in New York), "I would turn it over
I replied that I could adapt the size of my proposed study to fit the
table, and he said:
"Now that will be very good. Then when I want exercise I can walk down
and play billiards with you, and when you want exercise you can walk up
and play billiards with me. You must build that study."
So it was planned, and the work was presently under way.
How many things we talked of! Life, death, the future—all the things of
which we know so little and love so much to talk about. Astronomy, as I
have said, was one of his favorite subjects. Neither of us had any real
knowledge of the matter, which made its great facts all the more awesome.
The thought that the nearest fixed star was twenty-five trillions of
miles away—two hundred and fifty thousand times the distance to our own
remote sun—gave him a sort of splendid thrill. He would figure out
those appalling measurements of space, covering sheets of paper with his
sums, but he was not a good mathematician, and the answers were generally
wrong. Comets in particular interested him, and one day he said:
"I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next
year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest
disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's comet."
He looked so strong, and full of color and vitality. One could not
believe that his words held a prophecy. Yet the pains recurred with
increasing frequency and severity; his malady, angina pectoris, was
making progress. And how bravely he bore it all! He never complained,
never bewailed. I have seen the fierce attack crumple him when we were
at billiards, but he would insist on playing in his turn, bowed, his face
white, his hand digging at his breast.
THE DEATH OF JEAN
Clara Clemens was married that autumn to Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the Russian
pianist, and presently sailed for Europe, where they would make their
home. Jean Clemens was now head of the house, and what with her various
duties and poor health, her burden was too heavy. She had a passion for
animal life of every kind, and in some farm-buildings at one corner of
the estate had set up quite an establishment of chickens and domestic
animals. She was fond of giving these her personal attention, and this,
with her house direction and secretarial work, gave her little time for
rest. I tried to relieve her of a share of the secretarial work, but she
was ambitious and faithful. Still, her condition did not seem critical.
I stayed at Stormfield, now, most of the time—nights as well as days
—for the dull weather had come and Mark Twain found the house rather
lonely. In November he had an impulse to go to Bermuda, and we spent a
month in the warm light of that summer island, returning a week before
the Christmas holidays. And just then came Mark Twain's last great
tragedy—the death of his daughter Jean.
The holidays had added heavily to Jean's labors. Out of her generous
heart she had planned gifts for everybody—had hurried to and from the
city for her purchases, and in the loggia set up a beautiful Christmas
tree. Meantime she had contracted a heavy cold. Her trouble was
epilepsy, and all this was bad for her. On the morning of December 24,
she died, suddenly, from the shock of a cold bath.
Below, in the loggia, drenched with tinsel, stood the tree, and heaped
about it the packages of gifts which that day she had meant to open and
put in place. Nobody had been overlooked.
Jean was taken to Elmira for burial. Her father, unable to make the
winter journey, remained behind. Her cousin, Jervis Langdon, came for
It was six in the evening when she went away. A soft, heavy snow was
falling, and the gloom of the short day was closing in. There was not
the least noise, the whole world was muffled. The lanterns shone out the
open door, and at an upper window, the light gleaming on his white hair,
her father watched her going away from him for the last time. Later he
"From my window I saw the hearse and the carriages wind along the
road and gradually grow vague and spectral in the falling snow, and
presently disappear. Jean was gone out of my life, and would not
come back any more. The cousin she had played with when they were
babies together—he and her beloved old Katy—were conducting her to
her distant childhood home, where she will lie by her mother's side
once more, in the company of Susy and Langdon."
DAYS IN BERMUDA
Ten days later Mark Twain returned to Bermuda, accompanied only by a
valet. He had asked me if we would be willing to close our home for the
winter and come to Stormfield, so that the place might be ready any time
for his return. We came, of course, for there was no thought other than
for his comfort. He did not go to a hotel in Bermuda, but to the home of
Vice-Consul Allen, where he had visited before. The Allens were devoted
to him and gave him such care as no hotel could offer.
Bermuda agreed with Mark Twain, and for a time there he gained in
strength and spirits and recovered much of his old manner. He wrote me
almost daily, generally with good reports of his health and doings, and
with playful counsel and suggestions. Then, by and by, he did not write
with his own hand, but through his newly appointed "secretary," Mr.
Allen's young daughter, Helen, of whom he was very fond. The letters,
however, were still gay. Once he said:
"While the matter is in my mind I will remark that if you ever send
me another letter which is not paged at the top I will write you
with my own hand, so that I may use in utter freedom and without
embarrassment the kind of words which alone can describe such a
He had made no mention so far of the pains in his breast, but near the
end of March he wrote that he was coming home, if the breast pains did
not "mend their ways pretty considerable. I do not want to die here," he
said. "I am growing more and more particular about the place." A week
later brought another alarming letter, also one from Mr. Allen, who
frankly stated that matters had become very serious indeed. I went to
New York and sailed the next morning, cabling the Gabrilowitsches to come
I sent no word to Bermuda that I was coming, and when I arrived he was
not expecting me.
"Why," he said, holding out his hand, "you did not tell us you were
"No," I said, "it is rather sudden. I didn't quite like the sound of
your last letters."
"But those were not serious. You shouldn't have come on my account."
I said then that I had come on my own account, that I had felt the need
of recreation, and had decided to run down and come home with him.
"That's—very—good," he said, in his slow, gentle fashion. "Wow I'm
glad to see you."
His breakfast came in and he ate with appetite. I had thought him thin
and pale, at first sight, but his color had come back now, and his eyes
were bright. He told me of the fierce attacks of the pain, and how he
had been given hypodermic injections which he amusingly termed "hypnotic
injunctions" and "the sub-cutaneous." From Mr. and Mrs. Allen I learned
how slender had been his chances, and how uncertain were the days ahead.
Mr. Allen had already engaged passage home for April 12th.
He seemed so little like a man whose days were numbered. On the
afternoon of my arrival we drove out, as we had done on our former visit,
and he discussed some of the old subjects in quite the old way. I had
sold for him, for six thousand dollars, the farm where Jean had kept her
animals, and he wished to use the money in erecting for her some sort of
memorial. He agreed that a building to hold the library which he had
already donated to the town of Redding would be appropriate and useful.
He asked me to write at once to his lawyer and have the matter arranged.
We did not drive out again. The pains held off for several days, and he
was gay and went out on the lawn, but most of the time he sat propped up
in bed, reading and smoking. When I looked at him there, so full of
vigor and the joy of life, I could not persuade myself that he would not
outlive us all.
He had written very little in Bermuda—his last work being a chapter of
amusing "Advice"—for me, as he confessed—what I was to do upon reaching
the gate of which St. Peter is said to keep the key. As it is the last
writing he ever did, and because it is characteristic, one or two
paragraphs may be admitted here:
"Upon arrival do not speak to St. Peter until spoken to. It is not
your place to begin.
"Do not begin any remark with 'Say.'"
"When applying for a ticket avoid trying to make conversation. If
you must talk, let the weather alone. . .
"You can ask him for his autograph—there is no harm in that—but be
careful and don't remark that it is one of the penalties of
greatness. He has heard that before."
There were several pages of this counsel.
THE RETURN TO REDDING
I spent most of each day with him, merely sitting by the bed and reading.
I noticed when he slept that his breathing was difficult, and I could see
that he did not improve, but often he was gay and liked the entire family
to gather about and be merry. It was only a few days before we sailed
that the severe attacks returned. Then followed bad nights; but respite
came, and we sailed on the 12th, as arranged. The Allen home stands on
the water, and Mr. Allen had chartered a tug to take us to the ship. We
were obliged to start early, and the fresh morning breeze was
stimulating. Mark Twain seemed in good spirits when we reached the
"Oceana," which was to take him home.
As long as I remember anything I shall remember the forty-eight hours of
that homeward voyage. He was comfortable at first, and then we ran into
the humid, oppressive air of the Gulf Stream, and he could not breathe.
It seemed to me that the end might come at any moment, and this thought
was in his own mind, but he had no dread, and his sense of humor did not
fail. Once when the ship rolled and his hat fell from the hook and made
the circuit of the cabin floor, he said:
"The ship is passing the hat."
I had been instructed in the use of the hypodermic needle, and from time
to time gave him the "hypnotic injunction," as he still called it. But
it did not afford him entire relief. He could remain in no position for
any length of time. Yet he never complained and thought only of the
trouble he might be making. Once he said:
"I am sorry for you, Paine, but I can't help it—I can't hurry this
And a little later:
"Oh, it is such a mystery, and it takes so long!"
Relatives, physicians, and news-gatherers were at the dock to welcome
him. Revived by the cool, fresh air of the North, he had slept for
several hours and was seemingly much better. A special compartment on
the same train that had taken us first to Redding took us there now, his
physicians in attendance. He did not seem to mind the trip or the drive
As we turned into the lane that led to Stormfield he said:
"Can we see where you have built your billiard-room?"
The gable of the new study showed among the trees, and I pointed it out
"It looks quite imposing," he said.
Arriving at Stormfield, he stepped, unassisted, from the carriage to
greet the members of the household, and with all his old courtliness
offered each his hand. Then in a canvas chair we had brought we carried
him up-stairs to his room—the big, beautiful room that looked out to the
sunset hills. This was Thursday evening, April 14, 1910.
THE CLOSE OF A GREAT LIFE
Mark Twain lived just a week from that day and hour. For a time he
seemed full of life, talking freely, and suffering little. Clara and
Ossip Gabrilowitsch arrived on Saturday and found him cheerful, quite
like himself. At intervals he read. "Suetonius" and "Carlyle" lay on
the bed beside him, and he would pick them up and read a page or a
paragraph. Sometimes when I saw him thus—the high color still in his
face, the clear light in his eyes'—I said: "It is not reality. He is
not going to die."
But by Wednesday of the following week it was evident that the end was
near. We did not know it then, but the mysterious messenger of his birth
year, Halley's comet, became visible that night in the sky.
On Thursday morning, the 21st, his mind was still fairly clear, and he
read a little from one of the volumes on his bed. By Clara he sent word
that he wished to see me, and when I came in he spoke of two unfinished
manuscripts which he wished me to "throw away," as he briefly expressed
it, for his words were few, now, and uncertain. I assured him that I
would attend to the matter and he pressed my hand. It was his last word
to me. During the afternoon, while Clara stood by him, he sank into a
doze, and from it passed into a deeper slumber and did not heed us any
Through that peaceful spring afternoon the life-wave ebbed lower and
lower. It was about half-past six, and the sun lay just on the horizon,
when Dr. Quintard noticed that the breathing, which had gradually become
more subdued, broke a little. There was no suggestion of any struggle.
The noble head turned a little to one side, there was a fluttering sigh,
and the breath that had been unceasing for seventy-four tumultuous years
had stopped forever.
In the Brick Church, New York, Mark Twain—dressed in the white he loved
so well—lay, with the nobility of death upon him, while a multitude of
those who loved him passed by and looked at his face for the last time.
Flowers in profusion were banked about him, but on the casket lay a
single wreath which Dan Beard and his wife had woven from the laurel
which grows on Stormfield hill. He was never more beautiful than as he
lay there, and it was an impressive scene to see those thousands file by,
regard him for a moment, gravely, thoughtfully, and pass on. All sorts
were there, rich and poor; some crossed themselves, some saluted, some
paused a little to take a closer look.
That night we went with him to Elmira, and next day he lay in those
stately parlors that had seen his wedding-day, and where little Langdon
and Susy had lain, and Mrs. Clemens, and then Jean, only a little while
The worn-out body had reached its journey's end; but his spirit had never
grown old, and to-day, still young, it continues to cheer and comfort a