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Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 online

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foremost humorist of the age."

Howells, traveling through Europe, found Lindau's final sentiment echoed
elsewhere, and he found something more: in Europe Mark Twain was already
highly regarded as a serious writer. Thomas Hardy said to Howells one
night at dinner:

"Why don't people understand that Mark Twain is not merely a great
humorist? He is a very remarkable fellow in a very different way."

The Rev. Dr. Parker, returning from England just then, declared that,
wherever he went among literary people, the talk was about Mark Twain;
also that on two occasions, when he had ventured diffidently to say that
he knew that author personally, he was at once so evidently regarded as
lying for effect that he felt guilty, and looked it, and did not venture
to say it any more; thus, in a manner, practising untruth to save his
reputation for veracity.

That the Mississippi book throughout did much to solidify this foreign
opinion of Mark Twain's literary importance cannot be doubted, and it is
one of his books that will live longest in the memory of men.



For purposes of copyright another trip to Canada was necessary, and when
the newspapers announced (May, 1883) that Mark Twain was about to cross
the border there came one morning the following telegram:

Meeting of Literary and Scientific Society at Ottawa from 22d to
26th. It would give me much pleasure if you could come and be my
guest during that time.


The Marquis of Lorne, then Governor-General of Canada, was the husband of
Queen Victoria's daughter, the Princess Louise. The invitation was
therefore in the nature of a command. Clemens obeyed it graciously
enough, and with a feeling of exaltation no doubt. He had been honored
by the noble and the great in many lands, but this was royalty - English
royalty - paying a tribute to an American writer whom neither the Marquis
nor the Princess, his wife, had ever seen. They had invited him because
they had cared enough for his books to make them wish to see him, to have
him as a guest in Rideau Hall, their home. Mark Twain was democratic. A
king to him was no more than any other man; rather less if he were not a
good king. But there was something national in this tribute; and,
besides, Lord Lorne and the Princess Louise were the kind of sovereigns
that honored their rank, instead of being honored by it.

It is a good deal like a fairy tale when you think of it; the barefooted
boy of Hannibal, who had become a printer, a pilot, a rough-handed miner,
being summoned, not so many years later, by royalty as one of America's
foremost men of letters. The honor was no greater than many others he
had received, certainly not greater than the calls of Canon Kingsley and
Robert Browning and Turgenieff at his London hotel lodgings, but it was
of a less usual kind.

Clemens enjoyed his visit. Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne kept
him with them almost continually, and were loath to let him go. Once
they took him tobogganing - an exciting experience.

It happened that during his stay with them the opening of the Canadian
Parliament took place. Lord Lorne and the principal dignitaries of state
entered one carriage, and in a carriage behind them followed Princess
Louise with Mark Twain. As they approached the Parliament House the
customary salute was fired. Clemens pretended to the Princess
considerable gratification. The temptation was too strong to resist:

"Your Highness," he said, "I have had other compliments paid to me,
but none equal to this one. I have never before had a salute fired
in my honor."

Returning to Hartford, he sent copies of his books to Lord Lorne, and to
the Princess a special copy of that absurd manual, The New Guide of the
Conversation in Portuguese and English, for which he had written an
introduction. - [A serious work, in Portugal, though issued by Osgood
('83) as a joke. Clemens in the introduction says: "Its delicious,
unconscious ridiculousness and its enchanting naivety are as supreme and
unapproachable in their way as Shakespeare's sublimities." An extract,
the closing paragraph from the book's preface, will illustrate his

"We expect then, who the little book (for the care that we wrote him, and
for her typographical correction), that maybe worth the acceptation of
the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, at which we dedicate
him particularly."]



Arriving at the farm in June, Clemens had a fresh crop of ideas for
stories of many lengths and varieties. His note-book of that time is
full of motifs and plots, most of them of that improbable and extravagant
kind which tended to defeat any literary purpose, whether humorous or
otherwise. It seems worth while setting down one or more of these here,
for they are characteristic of the myriad conceptions that came and went,
and beyond these written memoranda left no trace behind. Here is a fair
example of many:

Two men starving on a raft. The pauper has a Boston cracker,
resolves to keep it till the multimillionaire is beginning to
starve, then make him pay $50,000 for it. Millionaire agrees.
Pauper's cupidity rises, resolves to wait and get more; twenty-four
hours later asks him a million for the cracker. Millionaire agrees.
Pauper has a wild dream of becoming enormously rich off his cracker;
backs down; lies all night building castles in the air; next day
raises his price higher and higher, till millionaire has offered
$100,000,000, every cent he has in the world. Pauper accepts.
Millionaire: "Now give it to me."

Pauper: "No; it isn't a trade until you sign documental history of
the transaction and make an oath to pay."

While pauper is finishing the document millionaire sees a ship.
When pauper says, "Sign and take the cracker," millionaire smiles a
smile, declines, and points to the ship.

Yet this is hardly more extravagant than another idea that is mentioned
repeatedly among the notes - that of an otherwise penniless man wandering
about London with a single million-pound bank-note in his possession, a
motif which developed into a very good story indeed.


In modern times the halls of heaven are warmed by registers
connected with hell; and this is greatly applauded by Jonathan
Edwards, Calvin, Baxter and Company, because it adds a new pang to
the sinner's sufferings to know that the very fire which tortures
him is the means of making the righteous comfortable.

Then there was to be another story, in which the various characters were
to have a weird, pestilential nomenclature; such as "Lockjaw Harris,"
"Influenza Smith," "Sinapism Davis," and a dozen or two more, a perfect
outbreak of disorders.

Another - probably the inspiration of some very hot afternoon - was to
present life in the interior of an iceberg, where a colony would live for
a generation or two, drifting about in a vast circular current year after
year, subsisting on polar bears and other Arctic game.

An idea which he followed out and completed was the 1002d Arabian Night,
in which Scheherazade continues her stories, until she finally talks the
Sultan to death. That was a humorous idea, certainly; but when Howells
came home and read it in the usual way he declared that, while the
opening was killingly funny, when he got into the story itself it seemed
to him that he was "made a fellow-sufferer with the Sultan from
Scheherazade's prolixity."

"On the whole," he said, "it is not your best, nor your second best; but
all the way it skirts a certain kind of fun which you can't afford to
indulge in."

And that was the truth. So the tale, neatly typewritten, retired to
seclusion, and there remains to this day.

Clemens had one inspiration that summer which was not directly literary,
but historical, due to his familiarity with English dates. He wrote

Day before yesterday, feeling not in condition for writing, I left
the study, but I couldn't hold in - had to do something; so I spent
eight hours in the sun with a yardstick, measuring off the reigns of
the English kings on the roads in these grounds, from William the
Conqueror to 1883, calculating to invent an open-air game which
shall fill the children's heads with dates without study. I give
each king's reign one foot of space to the year and drive one stake
in the ground to mark the beginning of each reign, and I make the
children call the stake by the king's name. You can stand in the
door and take a bird's-eye view of English monarchy, from the
Conqueror to Edward IV.; then you can turn and follow the road up
the hill to the study and beyond with an opera-glass, and bird's-eye
view the rest of it to 1883.

You can mark the sharp difference in the length of reigns by the
varying distances of the stakes apart. You can see Richard II., two
feet; Oliver Cromwell, two feet; James II., three feet, and so on
- and then big skips; pegs standing forty-five, forty-six, fifty,
fifty-six, and sixty feet apart (Elizabeth, Victoria, Edward III.,
Henry III., and George III.). By the way, third's a lucky number
for length of days, isn't it? Yes, sir; by my scheme you get a
realizing notion of the time occupied by reigns.

The reason it took me eight hours was because, with little Jean's
interrupting assistance, I had to measure from the Conquest to the
end of Henry VI. three times over, and besides I had to whittle out
all those pegs.

I did a full day's work and a third over, yesterday, but was full of
my game after I went to bed trying to fit it for indoors. So I
didn't get to sleep till pretty late; but when I did go off I had
contrived a new way to play my history game with cards and a board.

We may be sure the idea of the game would possess him, once it got a fair
start like that. He decided to save the human race that year with a
history game. When he had got the children fairly going and interested
in playing it, he adapted it to a cribbage-board, and spent his days and
nights working it out and perfecting it to a degree where the world at
large might learn all the facts of all the histories, not only without
effort, but with an actual hunger for chronology. He would have a game
not only of the English kings, but of the kings of every other nation;
likewise of great statesmen, vice-chancellors, churchmen, of celebrities
in every line. He would prepare a book to accompany these games. Each
game would contain one thousand facts, while the book would contain eight
thousand; it would be a veritable encyclopedia. He would organize clubs
throughout the United States for playing the game; prizes were to be
given. Experts would take it up. He foresaw a department in every
newspaper devoted to the game and its problems, instead of to chess and
whist and other useless diversions. He wrote to Orion, and set him to
work gathering facts and dates by the bushel. He wrote to Webster, sent
him a plan, and ordered him to apply for the patent without delay.
Patents must also be applied for abroad. With all nations playing this
great game, very likely it would produce millions in royalties; and so,
in the true Sellers fashion, the iridescent bubble was blown larger and
larger, until finally it blew up. The game on paper had become so large,
so elaborate, so intricate, that no one could play it. Yet the first
idea was a good one: the king stakes driven along the driveway and up the
hillside of Quarry Farm. The children enjoyed it, and played it through
many sweet summer afternoons. Once, in the days when he had grown old,
he wrote, remembering:

Among the principal merits of the games which we played by help of
the pegs were these: that they had to be played in the open air, and
that they compelled brisk exercise. The peg of William the
Conqueror stood in front of the house; one could stand near the
Conqueror and have all English history skeletonized and landmarked
and mile-posted under his eye . . . . The eye has a good memory.
Many years have gone by and the pegs have disappeared, but I still
see them and each in its place; and no king's name falls upon my ear
without my seeing his pegs at once, and noticing just how many feet
of space he takes up along the road.

It turned out an important literary year after all. In the Mississippi
book he had used a chapter from the story he had been working at from
time to time for a number of years, 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'.
Reading over the manuscript now he found his interest in it sharp and
fresh, his inspiration renewed. The trip down the river had revived it.
The interest in the game became quiescent, and he set to work to finish
the story at a dead heat.

To Howells, August 22 (1883), he wrote:

I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a
brief space of time that I mustn't name the number of days; I
shouldn't believe it myself, and of course couldn't expect you to.
I used to restrict myself to four and five hours a day and five days
in the week, but this time I have wrought from breakfast till 5.15
P.M. six days in the week, and once or twice I smouched a Sunday
when the boss wasn't looking. Nothing is half so good as literature
hooked on Sunday, on the sly.

He refers to the game, though rather indifferently.

When I wrote you I thought I had it; whereas I was merely entering
upon the initiatory difficulties of it. I might have known it
wouldn't be an easy job or somebody would have invented a decent
historical game long ago - a thing which nobody has done.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was working at Huck with enthusiasm, he
seems to have been in no hurry to revise it for publication, either as a
serial or as a book. But the fact that he persevered until Huck Finn at
last found complete utterance was of itself a sufficient matter for



Before Howells went abroad Clemens had written:

Now I think that the play for you to write would be one entitled,
"Colonel Mulberry Sellers in Age" (75), with Lafayette Hawkins (at
50) still sticking to him and believing in him and calling him "My
lord." He [Sellers] is a specialist and a scientist in various
ways. Your refined people and purity of speech would make the best
possible background, and when you are done, I could take your
manuscript and rewrite the Colonel's speeches, and make him properly
extravagant, and I would let the play go to Raymond, and bind him up
with a contract that would give him the bellyache every time he read
it. Shall we think this over, or drop it as being nonsense?

Howells, returned and settled in Boston once more, had revived an
interest in the play idea. He corresponded with Clemens concerning it
and agreed that the American Claimant, Leathers, should furnish the
initial impulse of the drama.

They decided to revive Colonel Sellers and make him the heir; Colonel
Sellers in old age, more wildly extravagant than ever, with new schemes,
new patents, new methods of ameliorating the ills of mankind.

Howells came down to Hartford from Boston full of enthusiasm. He found
Clemens with some ideas of the plan jotted down: certain effects and
situations which seemed to him amusing, but there was no general scheme
of action. Howells, telling of it, says:

I felt authorized to make him observe that his scheme was as nearly
nothing as chaos could be. He agreed hilariously with me, and was
willing to let it stand in proof of his entire dramatic inability.

Howells, in turn, proposed a plan which Clemens approved, and they set to
work. Howells could imitate Clemens's literary manner, and they had a
riotously jubilant fortnight working out their humors. Howells has told
about it in his book, and he once related it to the writer of this
memoir. He said:

"Clemens took one scene and I another. We had loads and loads of fun
about it. We cracked our sides laughing over it as it went along. We
thought it mighty good, and I think to this day that it was mighty good.
We called the play 'Colonel Sellers.' We revived him. Clemens had a
notion of Sellers as a spiritual medium-there was a good deal of
excitement about spiritualism then; he also had a notion of Sellers
leading a women's temperance crusade. We conceived the idea of Sellers
wanting to try, in the presence of the audience, how a man felt who had
fallen, through drink. Sellers was to end with a sort of corkscrew
performance on the stage. He always wore a marvelous fire extinguisher,
one of his inventions, strapped on his back, so in any sudden emergency,
he could give proof of its effectiveness."

In connection with the extinguisher, Howells provided Sellers with a pair
of wings, which Sellers declared would enable him to float around in any
altitude where the flames might break out. The extinguisher, was not to
be charged with water or any sort of liquid, but with Greek fire, on the
principle that like cures like; in other words, the building was to be
inoculated with Greek fire against the ordinary conflagration. Of course
the whole thing was as absurd as possible, and, reading the old
manuscript to-day, one is impressed with the roaring humor of some of the
scenes, and with the wild extravagance of the farce motive, not wholly
warranted by the previous character of Sellers, unless, indeed, he had
gone stark mad. It is, in fact, Sellers caricatured. The gentle, tender
side of Sellers - the best side - the side which Clemens and Howells
themselves cared for most, is not there. Chapter III of Mark Twain's
novel, The American Claimant, contains a scene between Colonel Sellers
and Washington Hawkins which presents the extravagance of the Colonel's
materialization scheme. It is a modified version of one of the scenes in
the play, and is as amusing and unoffending as any.

The authors' rollicking joy in their work convinced them that they had
produced a masterpiece for which the public in general, and the actors in
particular, were waiting. Howells went back to Boston tired out, but
elate in the prospect of imminent fortune.



Meantime, while Howells had been in Hartford working at the play with
Clemens, Matthew Arnold had arrived in Boston. On inquiring for Howells,
at his home, the visitor was told that he had gone to see Mark Twain.
Arnold was perhaps the only literary Englishman left who had not accepted
Mark Twain at his larger value. He seemed surprised and said:

"Oh, but he doesn't like that sort of thing, does he?"

To which Mrs. Howells replied:

"He likes Mr. Clemens very much, and he thinks him one of the greatest
men he ever knew."

Arnold proceeded to Hartford to lecture, and one night Howells and
Clemens went to meet him at a reception. Says Howells:

While his hand laxly held mine in greeting I saw his eyes fixed
intensely on the other side of the room. "Who - who in the world is
that?" I looked and said, "Oh, that is Mark Twain." I do not
remember just how their instant encounter was contrived by Arnold's
wish; but I have the impression that they were not parted for long
during the evening, and the next night Arnold, as if still under the
glamour of that potent presence, was at Clemens's house.

He came there to dine with the Twichells and the Rev. Dr. Edwin P.
Parker. Dr. Parker and Arnold left together, and, walking quietly
homeward, discussed the remarkable creature whose presence they had just
left. Clemens had been at his best that night - at his humorous best. He
had kept a perpetual gale of laughter going, with a string of comment and
anecdote of a kind which Twichell once declared the world had never
before seen and would never see again. Arnold seemed dazed by it, unable
to come out from under its influence. He repeated some of the things
Mark Twain had said; thoughtfully, as if trying to analyze their magic.
Then he asked solemnly:

"And is he never serious?"

And Dr. Parker as solemnly answered:

"Mr. Arnold, he is the most serious man in the world." Dr. Parker,
recalling this incident, remembered also that Protap Chunder Mazoomdar, a
Hindoo Christian prelate of high rank, visited Hartford in 1883, and that
his one desire was to meet Mark Twain. In some memoranda of this visit
Dr. Parker has written:

I said that Mark Twain was a friend of mine, and we would
immediately go to his house. He was all eagerness, and I perceived
that I had risen greatly in this most refined and cultivated
gentleman's estimation. Arriving at Mr. Clemens's residence, I
promptly sought a brief private interview with my friend for his
enlightenment concerning the distinguished visitor, after which they
were introduced and spent a long while together. In due time
Mazoomdar came forth with Mark's likeness and autograph, and as we
walked away his whole air and manner seemed to say, with Simeon of
old, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!"



Howells is of the impression that the "Claimant" play had been offered to
other actors before Raymond was made aware of it; but there are letters
(to Webster) which indicate that Raymond was to see the play first,
though Clemens declares, in a letter of instruction, that he hopes
Raymond will not take it. Then he says:

Why do I offer him the play at all? For these reasons: he plays
that character well; there are not thirty actors in the country who
can do it better; and, too, he has a sort of sentimental right to be
offered the piece, though no moral, or legal, or other kind of

Therefore we do offer it to him; but only once, not twice. Let us
have no hemming and hawing; make short, sharp work of the business.
I decline to have any correspondence with R. myself in any way.

This was at the end of November, 1883, while the play was still being
revised. Negotiations with Raymond had already begun, though he does not
appear to have actually seen the play during that theatrical season, and
many and various were the attempts made to place it elsewhere; always
with one result - that each actor or manager, in the end, declared it to
be strictly a Raymond play. The thing was hanging fire for nearly a
year, altogether, while they were waiting on Raymond, who had a
profitable play, and was in no hurry for the recrudescence of Sellers.
Howells tells how he eventually took the manuscript to Raymond, whom he
found "in a mood of sweet reasonableness" at one of Osgood's luncheons.
Raymond said he could not do the play then, but was sure he would like it
for the coming season, and in any case would be glad to read it.

In due time Raymond reported favorably on the play, at least so far as
the first act was concerned, but he objected to the materialization
feature and to Sellers as claimant for the English earldom. He asked
that these features be eliminated, or at least much ameliorated; but as
these constituted the backbone and purpose of the whole play, Clemens and
Howells decided that what was left would be hardly worth while. Raymond
finally agreed to try the play as it was in one of the larger towns
- Howells thinks in Buffalo. A week later the manuscript came back to
Webster, who had general charge of the business negotiations, as indeed
he had of all Mark Twain's affairs at this time, and with it a brief

DEAR SIR, - I have just finished rereading the play, and am convinced
that in its present form it would not prove successful. I return
the manuscript by express to your address.

Thanking you for your courtesy, I am,

Yours truly, JOHN T. RAYMOND.

P.S. - If the play is altered and made longer I will be pleased to
read it again.

In his former letter Raymond had declared that "Sellers, while a very
sanguine man, was not a lunatic, and no one but a lunatic could for a
moment imagine that he had done such a work" (meaning the
materialization). Clearly Raymond wanted a more serious presentation,
something akin to his earlier success, and on the whole we can hardly
blame him. But the authors had faith in their performance as it stood,
and agreed they would make no change.

Finally a well-known elocutionist, named Burbank, conceived the notion of

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 14 of 20)