Albert Bigelow Paine.

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

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

communication to Mrs. Clemens before he sent it, for he knew pretty well
what its fate would be in that case. So he took chances and printed it
without her knowledge. The letter was published July 16, 1885. It is
too long to be included entire, but it is too illuminating to be
altogether omitted. After relating, in considerable detail, Mrs.
Clemens's method of dealing with an unruly child - the gentleness yet
firmness of her discipline - he concludes:

The mother of my children adores them - there is no milder term for
it - and they worship her; they even worship anything which the touch
of her hand has made sacred. They know her for the best and truest
friend they have ever had, or ever shall have; they know her for one
who never did them a wrong, and cannot do them a wrong; who never
told them a lie, nor the shadow of one; who never deceived them by
even an ambiguous gesture; who never gave them an unreasonable
command, nor ever contented herself with anything short of a perfect
obedience; who has always treated them as politely and considerately
as she would the best and oldest in the land, and has always
required of them gentle speech and courteous conduct toward all, of
whatsoever degree with whom they chanced to come in contact; they
know her for one whose promise, whether of reward or punishment, is
gold, and always worth its face, to the uttermost farthing. In a
word, they know her, and I know her, for the best and dearest mother
that lives - and by a long, long way the wisest....

In all my life I have never made a single reference to my wife in
print before, as far as I can remember, except once in the
dedication of a book; and so, after these fifteen years of silence,
perhaps I may unseal my lips this one time without impropriety or
indelicacy. I will institute one other novelty: I will send this
manuscript to the press without her knowledge and without asking her
to edit it. This will save it from getting edited into the stove.

Susy's biography refers to this incident at considerable length. She
states that her father had misgivings after he had sent it to the
Christian Union, and that he tried to recall the manuscript, but found it
too late. She sets down some comments of her own on her mother's
government, then tells us of the appearance of the article:

When the Christian Union reached the farm and papa's article in it, all
ready and waiting to be read to mama, papa hadn't the courage to show it
to her (for he knew she wouldn't like it at all) at first, and he didn't,
but he might have let it go and never let her see it; but finally he gave
his consent to her seeing it, and told Clara and I we could take it to
her, which we did with tardiness, and we all stood around mama while she
read it, all wondering what she would say and think about it.

She was too much surprised (and pleased privately too) to say much at
first; but, as we all expected, publicly (or rather when she remembered
that this article was to be read by every one that took the Christian
Union) she was rather shocked and a little displeased.

Susy goes on to tell that the article provoked a number of letters, most
of them pleasant ones, but some of them of quite another sort. One of
the latter fell into her mother's hands, after which there was general
regret that the article had been printed, and the subject was no longer
discussed at Quarry Farm.

Susy's biography is a unique record. It was a sort of combined memoir
and journal, charming in its innocent frankness and childish insight. She
used to keep it under her pillow, and after she was asleep the parents
would steal it out and find a tender amusement and pathos in its quaint
entries. It is a faithful record so far as it goes, and the period it
covers is an important one; for it presents a picture of Mark Twain in
the fullness of his manhood, in the golden hour of his fortune. Susy's
beginning has a special value here: - [Susy's' spelling and punctuation
are preserved.]

We are a very 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 grey 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 he is an extraordinarily fine looking man.
All his features are perfect, except that he hasn't extraordinary
teeth. His complexion is very fair, and he doesn't ware a beard:

He is a very good man, and a very funny one; he has got a temper but
we all of us have in this family. He is the loveliest man I ever
saw, or ever hope to see, and oh so absent-minded!

That this is a fair statement of the Clemens home, and the truest picture
of Mark Twain at fifty that has been preserved, cannot be doubted. His
hair was iron-gray, not entirely white at this time, the auburn tints
everywhere mingled with the shining white that later would mantle it like
a silver crown. He did not look young for his years, but he was still
young, always young - indestructibly young in spirit and bodily vigor.
Susy tells how that summer he blew soap-bubbles for the children, filling
the bubbles with tobacco smoke; how he would play with the cats, and come
clear down from his study on the hill to see how "Sour Mash," then a
kitten, was getting along; also how he wrote a poem for Jean's donkey,
Cadichon (which they made Kiditchin): She quotes the poem:


O du lieb' Kiditchin
Du bist ganz bewitchin,
Waw- - - -he!

In summer days Kiditchin
Thou'rt dear from nose to britchin
Waw - - he!

No dought thoult get a switchin
When for mischief thou'rt itchin'
Waw- - - -he!

But when you're good Kiditchin
You shall feast in James's kitchin
Waw- - - -he!

O now lift up thy song
Thy noble note prolong
Thou living Chinese gong!
Waw - -he! waw - -he waw
Sweetest donkey man ever saw.

Clemens undertook to ride Kiditchin one day, to show the children how it
should be done, but Kiditchin resented this interference and promptly
flung him over her head. He thought she might have been listening to the
poem he had written of her.

Susy's discovery that the secret of her biography was known is shown by
the next entry, and the touch of severity in it was probably not entirely

Papa said the other day, "I am a mugwump and a mugwump is pure from
the marrow out." (Papa knows that I am writing this biography of
him, and he said this for it.) He doesn't like to go to church at
all, why I never understood, until just now. He told us the other
day that he couldn't bear to hear anyone talk but himself, but that
he could listen to himself talk for hours without getting tired, of
course he said this in joke, but I've no doubt it was founded on

Susy's picture of life at Quarry Farm at this period is realistic and
valuable - too valuable to be spared from this biography:

There are eleven cats at the farm here now. Papa's favorite is a
little tortoise-shell kitten he has named "Sour Mash," and a little
spotted one "Fannie." It is very pretty to see what papa calls the
cat procession; it was formed in this way. Old Minniecat headed,
(the mother of all the cats) next to her came aunt Susie, then Clara
on the donkey, accompanied by a pile of cats, then papa and Jean
hand in hand and a pile of cats brought up in the rear, mama and I
made up the audience.

Our varius occupations are as follows. Papa rises about 1/2 past 7
in the morning, breakfasts at eight, writes, plays tennis with Clara
and me and tries to make the donkey go, in the morning; does varius
things in P.M., and in the evening plays tennis with Clara and me
and amuses Jean and the donkey.

Mama rises about 1/4 to eight, breakfasts at eight, teaches Jean
German reading from 9-10; reads German with me from 10-11. Then she
reads studdies or visits with aunt Susie for a while, and then she
reads to Clara and I till lunch time things connected with English
history (for we hope to go to England next summer) while we sew.
Then we have lunch. She studdies for about half an hour or visits
with aunt Susie, then reads to us an hour or more, then studdies
writes reads and rests till supper time. After supper she sits out
on the porch and works till eight o'clock, from eight o'clock to
bedtime she plays whist with papa and after she has retired she
reads and studdies German for a while.

Clara and I do most everything from practicing to donkey riding and
playing tag. While Jean's time is spent in asking mama what she can
have to eat.

It is impossible, at this distance, to convey all that the farm meant to
the children during the summers of their infancy and childhood and
girlhood which they spent there. It was the paradise, the dreamland they
looked forward to during all the rest of the year. Through the long,
happy months there they grew strong and brown, and drank deeply of the
joy of life. Their cousins Julia, Jervis, and Ida Langdon ranged about
their own ages and were almost their daily companions. Their games were
mainly of the out-of-doors; the woods and meadows and hillside pastures
were their playground. Susy was thirteen when she began her diary; a
gentle, thoughtful, romantic child. One afternoon she discovered a
wonderful tangle of vines and bushes between the study and the sunset - a
rare hiding-place. She ran breathlessly to her aunt:

"Can I have it? Can Clara and I have it all for our own?"

The petition was granted, of course, and the place was named Helen's
Bower, for they were reading Thaddeus of Warsaw and the name appealed to
Susy's poetic fancy. Then Mrs. Clemens conceived the idea of building a
house for the children just beyond the bower. It was a complete little
cottage when finished, with a porch and with furnishings contributed by
friends and members of the family. There was a stove - a tiny affair, but
practical - dishes, table, chairs, shelves, and a broom. The little house
was named Ellerslie, out of Grace Aguilar's Days of Robert Bruce, and
became one of the children's most beloved possessions. But alas for
Helen's Bower! A workman was sent to clear away the debris after the
builders, and being a practical man, he cut away Helen's Bower - destroyed
it utterly. Susy first discovered the vandalism, and came rushing to the
house in a torrent of sorrow. For her the joy of life seemed ended, and
it was long before she could be comforted. But Ellerslie in time
satisfied her hunger for retreat, became, in fact, the nucleus around
which the children's summer happiness centered.

To their elders the farm remained always the quiet haven. Once to
Orion's wife Clemens wrote:

This is a superb Sunday . . . .

The city in the valley is purple with shade, as seen from up here at
the study. The Cranes are reading and loafing in the canvas-
curtained summer-house, fifty yards away, on a higher (the highest)
point; the cats are loafing over at Ellerslie, which is the
children's estate and dwelling house in their own private grounds
(by deed from Susie Crane), a hundred yards from the study, among
the clover and young oaks and willows. Livy is down at the house,
but I shall now go and bring her up to the Cranes to help us occupy
the lounges and hammocks, whence a great panorama of distant hills
and valley and city is seeable. The children have gone on a lark
through the neighboring hills and woods, Susie and Clara horseback
and Jean, driving a buggy, with the coachman for comrade and
assistant at need. It is a perfect day indeed.

The ending of each year's summer brought only regret. Clemens would
never take away all his things. He had an old superstition that to leave
some article insured return. Mrs. Clemens also left something - her
heart's content. The children went around bidding various objects
good-by and kissed the gates of Ellerslie too.



Mark Twain's fiftieth birthday was one of the pleasantly observed events
of that year. There was no special celebration, but friends sent kindly
messages, and The Critic, then conducted by Jeannette and Joseph Gilder,
made a feature of it. Miss Gilder wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes and
invited some verses, which with his never-failing kindliness he sent,
though in his accompanying note he said:

"I had twenty-three letters spread out on my table for answering, all
marked immediate, when your note came."

Dr. Holmes's stanzas are full of his gentle spirit:


(On his fiftieth birthday)

Ah, Clemens, when I saw thee last,
We both of us were younger;
How fondly mumbling o'er the past
Is Memory's toothless hunger!

So fifty years have fled, they say,
Since first you took to drinking;
I mean in Nature's milky way
Of course no ill I'm thinking.

But while on life's uneven road
Your track you've been pursuing,
What fountains from your wit have flowed
What drinks you have been brewing!

I know whence all your magic came,
Your secret I've discovered,
The source that fed your inward flame,
The dreams that round you hovered.

Before you learned to bite or munch,
Still kicking in your cradle,
The Muses mixed a bowl of punch
And Hebe seized the ladle.

Dear babe, whose fiftieth year to-day
Your ripe half-century rounded,
Your books the precious draught betray
The laughing Nine compounded.

So mixed the sweet, the sharp, the strong,
Each finds its faults amended,
The virtues that to each belong
In happiest union blended.

And what the flavor can surpass
Of sugar, spirit, lemons?
So while one health fills every glass
Mark Twain for Baby Clemens!


Frank R. Stockton, Charles Dudley Warner, and Joel Chandler Harris sent
pleasing letters. Warner said:

You may think it an easy thing to be fifty years old, but you will
find it's not so easy to stay there, and your next fifty years will
slip away much faster than those just accomplished.

Many wrote letters privately, of course, and Andrew Lang, like Holmes,
sent a poem that has a special charm.


To brave Mark Twain, across the sea,
The years have brought his jubilee.
One hears it, half in pain,
That fifty years have passed and gone
Since danced the merry star that shone
Above the babe Mark Twain.

We turn his pages and we see
The Mississippi flowing free;
We turn again and grin
O'er all Tom Sawyer did and planned
With him of the ensanguined hand,
With Huckleberry Finn!

Spirit of Mirth, whose chime of bells
Shakes on his cap, and sweetly swells
Across the Atlantic main,
Grant that Mark's laughter never die,
That men through many a century
May chuckle o'er Mark Twain!

Assuredly Mark Twain was made happy by these attentions; to Dr. Holmes he

DEAR DR. HOLMES, - I shall never be able to tell you the half of how proud
you have made me. If I could you would say you were nearly paid for the
trouble you took. And then the family: If I could convey the electrical
surprise and gratitude and exaltation of the wife and the children last
night, when they happened upon that Critic where I had, with artful
artlessness, spread it open and retired out of view to see what would
happen - well, it was great and fine and beautiful to see, and made me
feel as the victor feels when the shouting hosts march by: and if you
also could have seen it you would have said the account was squared. For
I have brought them up in your company, as in the company of a warm and
friendly and beneficent but far-distant sun; and so, for you to do this
thing was for the sun to send down out of the skies the miracle of a
special ray and transfigure me before their faces. I knew what that poem
would be to them; I knew it would raise me up to remote and shining
heights in their eyes, to very fellowship with the chambered Nautilus
itself, and that from that fellowship they could never more dissociate me
while they should live; and so I made sure to be by when the surprise
should come.

Charles Dudley Warner is charmed with the poem for its own felicitous
sake; and so indeed am I, but more because it has drawn the sting of my
fiftieth year; taken away the pain of it, the grief of it, the somehow
shame of it, and made me glad and proud it happened.

With reverence and affection,
Sincerely yours,

So Samuel Clemens had reached the half-century mark; reached it in what
seemed the fullness of success from every viewpoint. If he was not yet
the foremost American man of letters, he was at least the most widely
known he sat upon the highest mountain-top. Furthermore, it seemed to
him that fortune was showering her gifts into his lap. His unfortunate
investments were now only as the necessary experiments that had led him
to larger successes. As a publisher, he was already the most conspicuous
in the world, and he contemplated still larger ventures: a type-setting
machine patent, in which he had invested, and now largely controlled, he
regarded as the chief invention of the age, absolutely certain to yield
incalculable wealth. His connection with the Grant family had associated
him with an enterprise looking to the building of a railway from
Constantinople to the Persian Gulf. Charles A. Dana, of the Sun, had
put him in the way of obtaining for publication the life of the Pope, Leo
XIII, officially authorized by the Pope himself, and this he regarded as
a certain fortune.

Now that the tide had turned he felt no hesitancy in reckoning a fortune
from almost any venture. The Grant book, even on the liberal terms
allowed to the author, would yield a net profit of one hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to its publishers. Huck Finn would yield fifty thousand
dollars more. The sales of his other books had considerably increased.
Certainly, at fifty, Mark Twain's fortunes were at flood-tide; buoyant
and jubilant, he was floating on the topmost wave. If there were
undercurrents and undertow they were down somewhere out of sight. If
there were breakers ahead, they were too far distant to be heard. So
sure was he of the triumphant consummation of every venture that to a
friend at his home one night he said:

"I am frightened at the proportions of my prosperity. It seems to me
that whatever I touch turns to gold."



As Mark Twain in the earlier days of his marriage had temporarily put
aside authorship to join in a newspaper venture, so now again literature
had dropped into the background, had become an avocation, while financial
interests prevailed. There were two chief ventures - the business of
Charles L. Webster & Co. and the promotion of the Paige type-setting
machine. They were closely identified in fortunes, so closely that in
time the very existence of each depended upon the success of the other;
yet they were quite distinct, and must be so treated in this story.

The success of the Grant Life had given the Webster business an immense
prestige. It was no longer necessary to seek desirable features for
publication. They came uninvited. Other war generals preparing their
memoirs naturally hoped to appear with their great commander. McClellan's
Own Story was arranged for without difficulty. A Genesis of the Civil
War, by Gen. Samuel Wylie Crawford, was offered and accepted. General
Sheridan's Memoirs were in preparation, and negotiations with Webster &
Co. for their appearance were not delayed. Probably neither Webster nor
Clemens believed that the sale of any of these books would approach those
of the Grant Life, but they expected them to be large, for the Grant book
had stimulated the public taste for war literature, and anything bearing
the stamp of personal battle experience was considered literary

Moreover, these features, and even the Grant book itself, seemed likely
to dwindle in importance by the side of The Life of Pope Leo XIII., who
in his old and enfeebled age had consented to the preparation of a
memoir, to be published with his sanction and blessing. - [By Bernard
O'Reilly, D.D., LL.D. "Written with the Encouragement, Approbation, and
Blessings of His Holiness the Pope."] - Clemens and Webster - every one, in
fact, who heard of the project - united in the belief that no book, with
the exception of the Holy Scripture itself or the Koran, would have a
wider acceptance than the biography of the Pope. It was agreed by good
judges - and they included Howells and Twichell and even the shrewd
general agents throughout the country - that every good Catholic would
regard such a book not only as desirable, but as absolutely necessary to
his salvation. Howells, recalling Clemens's emotions of this time,

He had no words in which to paint the magnificence of the project or
to forecast its colossal success. It would have a currency bounded
only by the number of Catholics in Christendom. It would be
translated into every language which was anywhere written or
printed; it would be circulated literally in every country of the

The formal contract for this great undertaking was signed in Rome in
April, 1886, and Webster immediately prepared to go over to consult with
his Holiness in person as to certain details, also, no doubt, for the
newspaper advertising which must result from such an interview.

It was decided to carry a handsome present to the Pope in the form of a
specially made edition of the Grant Memoirs in a rich-casket, and it was
Clemens's idea that the binding of the book should be solid gold - this to
be done by Tiffany at an estimated cost of about three thousand dollars.
In the end, however, the binding was not gold, but the handsomest that
could be designed of less precious and more appropriate materials.

Webster sailed toward the end of June, and was warmly received and highly
honored in Rome. The great figures of the Grant success had astonished
Europe even more than America, where spectacular achievements were more
common. That any single publication should pay a profit to author and
publisher of six hundred thousand dollars was a thing which belonged with
the wonders of Aladdin's garden. It was natural, therefore, that
Webster, who had rubbed the magic lamp with this result, who was Mark
Twain's partner, and who had now traveled across the seas to confer with
the Pope himself, should be received with royal honors. In letters
written at the time, Webster relates how he found it necessary to have an
imposing carriage and a footman to maintain the dignity of his mission,
and how, after various impressive formalities, he was granted a private
audience, a very special honor indeed. Webster's letter gives us a
picture of his Holiness which is worth preserving.

We - [Mrs. Webster, who, the reader will remember, was Annie Moffett,
a daughter of Pamela Clemens, was included in the invitation to the
Presence Chamber.] - found ourselves in a room perhaps twenty-five by
thirty-five feet; the furniture was gilt, upholstered in light-red
silk, and the side-walls were hung with the same material. Against

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 19 of 20)