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Often they invented their own words, did their own costuming, and
conducted the entire performance independent of grown-up assistance or
interference. Now and then, even at this early period, they conceived
and produced little plays, and of course their father could not resist
joining in these. At other times, evenings, after dinner, he would sit
at the piano and recall the old darky songs-spirituals and jubilee
choruses-singing them with fine spirit, if not with perfect technic, the
children joining in these moving melodies.

He loved to read aloud to them. It was his habit to read his manuscript
to Mrs. Clemens, and, now that the children were older, he was likely to
include them in his critical audience.

It would seem to have been the winter after their return from Europe that
this custom was inaugurated, for 'The Prince and the Pauper' manuscript
was the first one so read, and it was just then he was resuming work on
this tale. Each afternoon or evening, when he had finished his chapter,
he assembled his little audience and read them the result. The children
were old enough to delight in that half real, half fairy tale of the
wandering prince and the royal pauper: and the charm and simplicity of
the story are measurably due to those two small listeners, to whom it was
adapted in that early day of its creation.

Clemens found the Prince a blessed relief from 'A Tramp Abroad', which
had become a veritable nightmare. He had thought it finished when he
left the farm, but discovered that he must add several hundred pages to
complete its bulk. It seemed to him that he had been given a
life-sentence. He wrote six hundred pages and tore up all but two
hundred and eighty-eight. He was about to destroy these and begin again,
when Mrs. Clemens's health became poor and he was advised to take her to
Elmira, though it was then midwinter. To Howells he wrote:

I said, "if there is one death that is painfuler than another, may I
get it if I don't do that thing."

So I took the 288 pages to Bliss and told him that was the very last
line I should ever write on this book (a book which required 600
pages of MS., and I have written nearly four thousand, first and

I am as soary (and flighty) as a rocket to-day, with the unutterable
joy of getting that Old Man of the Sea off my back, where he has
been roosting more than a year and a half.

They remained a month at Elmira, and on their return Clemens renewed work
on 'The Prince and the Pauper'. He reported to Howells that if he never
sold a copy his jubilant delight in writing it would suffer no
diminution. A week later his enthusiasm had still further increased:

I take so much pleasure in my story that I am loath to hurry, not
wanting to get it done. Did I ever tell you the plot of it? It
begins at 9 A.M., January 27, 1547.

He follows with a detailed synopsis of his plot, which in this instance
he had worked out with unusual completeness - a fact which largely
accounts for the unity of the tale. Then he adds:

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; all of which is to account for certain mildnesses
which distinguished Edward VI.'s reign from those that precede it
and follow it.

Imagine this fact: I have even fascinated Mrs. Clemens with this
yarn for youth. My stuff generally gets considerable damning with
faint praise out of her, but this time it is all the other way. She
is become the horse-leech's daughter, and my mill doesn't grind fast
enough to suit her. This is no mean triumph, my dear sir.

He forgot, perhaps, to mention his smaller auditors, but we may believe
they were no less eager in their demands for the tale's continuance.



'A Tramp Abroad' came from the presses on the 13th of March, 1880. It
had been widely heralded, and there was an advance sale of twenty-five
thousand copies. It was of the same general size and outward character
as the Innocents, numerously illustrated, and was regarded by its
publishers as a satisfactory book.

It bore no very striking resemblance to the Innocents on close
examination. Its pictures-drawn, for the most part, by a young art
student named Brown, whom Clemens had met in Paris - were extraordinarily
bad, while the crude engraving process by which they had been reproduced;
tended to bring them still further into disrepute. A few drawings by
True Williams were better, and those drawn by Clemens himself had a value
of their own. The book would have profited had there been more of what
the author calls his "works of art."

Mark Twain himself had dubious anticipations as to the book's reception.

But Howells wrote:

Well, you are a blessing. You ought to believe in God's goodness,
since he has bestowed upon the world such a delightful genius as
yours to lighten its troubles.

Clemens replied:

Your praises have been the greatest uplift I ever had. When a body
is not even remotely expecting such things, how the surprise takes
the breath away! We had been interpreting your stillness to
melancholy and depression, caused by that book. This is honest.
Why, everything looks brighter now. A check for untold cash could
not have made our hearts sing as your letter has done.

A letter from Tauchnitz, proposing to issue an illustrated edition in
Germany, besides putting it into his regular series, was an added
satisfaction. To be in a Tauchnitz series was of itself a recognition of
the book's merit.

To Twichell, Clemens presented a special copy of the Tramp with a
personal inscription, which must not be omitted here:

MY DEAR "HARRIS" - NO, I MEAN MY DEAR JOE, - Just imagine it for a
moment: I was collecting material in Europe during fourteen months
for a book, and now that the thing is printed I find that you, who
were with me only a month and a half of the fourteen, are in actual
presence (not imaginary) in 440 of the 531 pages the book contains!
Hang it, if you had stayed at home it would have taken me fourteen
years to get the material. You have saved me an intolerable whole
world of hated labor, and I'll not forget it, my boy.

You'll find reminders of things, all along, that happened to us, and
of others that didn't happen; but you'll remember the spot where
they were invented. You will see how the imaginary perilous trip up
the Riffelberg is preposterously expanded. That horse-student is on
page 192. The "Fremersberg" is neighboring. The Black Forest novel
is on page 211. I remember when and where we projected that: in the
leafy glades with the mountain sublimities dozing in the blue haze
beyond the gorge of Allerheiligen. There's the "new member," page
213; the dentist yarn, 223; the true Chamois, 242; at page 248 is a
pretty long yarn, spun from a mighty brief text meeting, for a
moment, that pretty girl who knew me and whom I had forgotten; at
281 is "Harris," and should have been so entitled, but Bliss has
made a mistake and turned you into some other character; 305 brings
back the whole Rigi tramp to me at a glance; at 185 and 186 are
specimens of my art; and the frontispiece is the combination which I
made by pasting one familiar picture over the lower half of an
equally familiar one. This fine work being worthy of Titian, I have
shed the credit of it upon him. Well, you'll find more reminders of
things scattered through here than are printed, or could have been
printed, in many books.

All the "legends of the Neckar," which I invented for that unstoried
region, are here; one is in the Appendix. The steel portrait of me
is just about perfect.

We had a mighty good time, Joe, and the six weeks I would dearly
like to repeat any time; but the rest of the fourteen months-never.
With love,
Yours, MARK.

Hartford, March 16, 1880.

Possibly Twichell had vague doubts concerning a book of which he was so
large a part, and its favorable reception by the critics and the public
generally was a great comfort. When the Howells letter was read to him
he is reported as having sat with his hands on his knees, his head bent
forward - a favorite attitude - repeating at intervals:

"Howells said that, did he? Old Howells said that!"

There have been many and varying opinions since then as to the literary
merits of 'A Tramp Abroad'. Human tastes differ, and a "mixed" book of
this kind invites as many opinions as it has chapters. The word "uneven"
pretty safely describes any book of size, but it has a special
application to this one. Written under great stress and uncertainty of
mind, it could hardly be uniform. It presents Mark Twain at his best,
and at his worst. Almost any American writer was better than Mark Twain
at his worst: Mark Twain at his best was unapproachable.

It is inevitable that 'A Tramp Abroad' and 'The Innocents Abroad' should
be compared, though with hardly the warrant of similarity. The books are
as different as was their author at the periods when they were written.
'A Tramp Abroad' is the work of a man who was traveling and observing for
the purpose of writing a book, and for no other reason. The Innocents
Abroad was written by a man who was reveling in every scene and
experience, every new phase and prospect; whose soul was alive to every
historic association, and to every humor that a gay party of young
sight-seers could find along the way. The note-books of that trip fairly
glow with the inspiration of it; those of the later wanderings are mainly
filled with brief, terse records, interspersed with satire and
denunciation. In the 'Innocents' the writer is the enthusiast with a
sense of humor. In the 'Tramp' he has still the sense of humor, but he
has become a cynic; restrained, but a cynic none the less. In the
'Innocents' he laughs at delusions and fallacies - and enjoys them. In
the 'Tramp' he laughs at human foibles and affectations - and wants to
smash them. Very often he does not laugh heartily and sincerely at all,
but finds his humor in extravagant burlesque. In later life his gentler
laughter, his old, untroubled enjoyment of human weakness, would return,
but just now he was in that middle period, when the "damned human race"
amused him indeed, though less tenderly. (It seems proper to explain
that in applying this term to mankind he did not mean that the race was
foredoomed, but rather that it ought to be.)

Reading the 'Innocents', the conviction grows that, with all its faults,
it is literature from beginning to end. Reading the 'Tramp', the
suspicion arises that, regardless of technical improvement, its
percentage of literature is not large. Yet, as noted in an earlier
volume, so eminent a critic as Brander Matthews has pronounced in its
favor, and he undoubtedly had a numerous following; Howells expressed.
his delight in the book at the time of its issue, though one wonders how
far the personal element entered into his enjoyment, and what would be
his final decision if he read the two books side by side to-day. He
reviewed 'A Tramp Abroad' adequately and finely in the Atlantic, and
justly; for on the whole it is a vastly entertaining book, and he did not
overpraise it.

'A Tramp Abroad' had an "Introduction" in the manuscript, a pleasant word
to the reader but not a necessary one, and eventually it was omitted.
Fortunately the appendix remained. Beyond question it contains some of
the very best things in the book. The descriptions of the German Portier
and the German newspaper are happy enough, and the essay on the awful
German language is one of Mark Twain's supreme bits of humor. It is Mark
Twain at his best; Mark Twain in a field where he had no rival, the field
of good-natured, sincere fun-making-ridicule of the manifest absurdities
of some national custom or institution which the nation itself could
enjoy, while the individual suffered no wound. The present Emperor of
Germany is said to find comfort in this essay on his national speech when
all other amusements fail. It is delicious beyond words to express; it
is unique.

In the body of the book there are also many delights. The description of
the ant might rank next to the German language almost in its humor, and
the meeting with the unrecognized girl at Lucerne has a lively charm.

Of the serious matter, some of the word-pictures are flawless in their
beauty; this, for instance, suggested by the view of the Jungfrau from

There was something subduing in the influence of that silent and
solemn and awful presence; one seemed to meet the immutable, the
indestructible, the eternal, face to face, and to feel the trivial
and fleeting nature of his own existence the more sharply by the
contrast. One had the sense of being under the brooding
contemplation of a spirit, not an inert mass of rocks and ice - a
spirit which had looked down, through the slow drift of ages, upon a
million vanished races of men and judged them; and would judge a
million more - and still be there, watching unchanged and
unchangeable, after all life should be gone and the earth have
become a vacant desolation

While I was feeling these things, I was groping, without knowing it,
toward an understanding of what the spell is which people find in
the Alps, and in no other mountains; that strange, deep, nameless
influence which, once felt, cannot be forgotten; once felt, leaves
always behind it a restless longing to feel it again - a longing
which is like homesickness; a grieving, haunting yearning, which
will plead, implore, and persecute till it has its will. I met
dozens of people, imaginative and unimaginative, cultivated and
uncultivated, who had come from far countries and roamed through the
Swiss Alps year after year - they could not explain why. They had
come first, they said, out of idle curiosity, because everybody
talked about it; they had come since because they could not help it,
and they should keep on coming, while they lived, for the same
reason; they had tried to break their chains and stay away, but it
was futile; now they had no desire to break them. Others came
nearer formulating what they felt; they said they could find perfect
rest and peace nowhere else when they were troubled: all frets and
worries and chafings sank to sleep in the presence of the benignant
serenity of the Alps; the Great Spirit of the mountain breathed his
own peace upon their hurt minds and sore hearts, and healed them;
they could not think base thoughts or do mean and sordid things
here, before the visible throne of God.

Indeed, all the serious matter in the book is good. The reader's chief
regret is likely to be that there is not more of it. The main difficulty
with the humor is that it seems overdone. It is likely to be carried too
far, and continued too long. The ascent of Riffelberg is an example.
Though spotted with delights it seems, to one reader at least, less
admirable than other of the book's important features, striking, as it
does, more emphatically the chief note of the book's humor - that is to
say, exaggeration.

Without doubt there must be many - very many - who agree in finding a
fuller enjoyment in 'A Tramp Abroad' than in the 'Innocents'; only, the
burden of the world's opinion lies the other way. The world has a
weakness for its illusions: the splendor that falls on castle walls, the
glory of the hills at evening, the pathos of the days that are no more.
It answers to tenderness, even on the page of humor, and to genuine
enthusiasm, sharply sensing the lack of these things; instinctively
resenting, even when most amused by it, extravagance and burlesque. The
Innocents Abroad is more soul-satisfying than its successor, more poetic;
more sentimental, if you will. The Tramp contains better English usage,
without doubt, but it is less full of happiness and bloom and the halo of
romance. The heart of the world has felt this, and has demanded the book
in fewer numbers. - [The sales of the Innocents during the earlier years
more than doubled those of the Tramp during a similar period. The later
ratio of popularity is more nearly three to one. It has been repeatedly
stated that in England the Tramp has the greater popularity, an assertion
not sustained by the publisher's accountings.]



The reader has not failed to remark the great number of letters which
Samuel Clemens wrote to his friend William Dean Howells; yet
comparatively few can even be mentioned. He was always writing to
Howells, on every subject under the sun; whatever came into his mind
- business, literature, personal affairs - he must write about it to
Howells. Once, when nothing better occurred, he sent him a series of
telegrams, each a stanza from an old hymn, possibly thinking they might
carry comfort. - ["Clemens had then and for many years the habit of
writing to me about what he was doing, and still more of what he was
experiencing. Nothing struck his imagination, in or out of the daily
routine, but he wished to write me of it, and he wrote with the greatest
fullness and a lavish dramatization, sometimes to the length of twenty or
forty pages:" (My Mark Twain, by W. D. Howells.)] Whatever of
picturesque happened in the household he immediately set it down for
Howells's entertainment. Some of these domestic incidents carry the
flavor of his best humor. Once he wrote:

Last night, when I went to bed, Mrs. Clemens said, "George didn't
take the cat down to the cellar; Rosa says he has left it shut up in
the conservatory." So I went down to attend to Abner (the cat).
About three in the morning Mrs. C. woke me and said, "I do believe
I hear that cat in the drawing-room. What did you do with him?" I
answered with the confidence of a man who has managed to do the
right thing for once, and said, "I opened the conservatory doors,
took the library off the alarm, and spread everything open, so that
there wasn't any obstruction between him and the cellar." Language
wasn't capable of conveying this woman's disgust. But the sense of
what she said was, "He couldn't have done any harm in the
conservatory; so you must go and make the entire house free to him
and the burglars, imagining that he will prefer the coal-bins to the
drawing-room. If you had had Mr. Howells to help you I should have
admired, but not have been astonished, because I should know that
together you would be equal to it; but how you managed to contrive
such a stately blunder all by yourself is what I cannot understand."

So, you see, even she knows how to appreciate our gifts....

I knocked off during these stirring hours, and don't intend to go to
work again till we go away for the summer, four or six weeks hence.
So I am writing to you, not because I have anything to say, but
because you don't have to answer and I need something to do this

The rightful earl has - -
Friday, 7th.

Well, never mind about the rightful earl; he merely wanted to-borrow
money. I never knew an American earl that didn't.

After a trip to Boston, during which Mrs. Clemens did some bric-a-brac
shopping, he wrote:

Mrs. Clemens has two imperishable topics now: the museum of andirons
which she collected and your dinner. It is hard to tell which she
admires the most. Sometimes she leans one way and sometimes the
other; but I lean pretty steadily toward the dinner because I can
appreciate that, whereas I am no prophet in andirons. There has
been a procession of Adams Express wagons filing before the door all
day delivering andirons.

In a more serious vein he refers to the aged violinist Ole Bull and his
wife, whom they had met during their visit, and their enjoyment of that
gentle-hearted pair.

Clemens did some shorter work that spring, most of which found its way
into the Atlantic. "Edward Mills and George Benton," one of the
contributions of this time, is a moral sermon in its presentation of a
pitiful human spectacle and misdirected human zeal.

It brought a pack of letters of approval, not only from laity, but the
church, and in some measure may have helped to destroy the silly
sentimentalism which manifested itself in making heroes of spectacular
criminals. That fashion has gone out, largely. Mark Twain wrote
frequently on the subject, though never more effectively than in this
particular instance. "Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning" was another
Atlantic story, a companion piece to "Mrs. McWilliams's Experience with
the Membranous Croup," and in the same delightful vein - a vein in which
Mark Twain was likely to be at his best - the transcription of a scene not
so far removed in character from that in the "cat" letter just quoted:
something which may or may not have happened, but might have happened,
approximately as set down. Rose Terry Cooke wrote:

Horrid man, how did you know the way I behave in a thunderstorm?
Have you been secreted in the closet or lurking on the shed roof?
I hope you got thoroughly rained on; and worst of all is that you
made me laugh at myself; my real terrors turned round and grimaced
at me: they were sublime, and you have made them ridiculous just
come out here another year and have four houses within a few rods of
you struck and then see if you write an article of such exasperating
levity. I really hate you, but you are funny.

In addition to his own work, he conceived a plan for Orion. Clemens
himself had been attempting, from time to time, an absolutely faithful
autobiography; a document in which his deeds and misdeeds, even his moods
and inmost thoughts, should be truly set down. He had found it an
impossible task. He confessed freely that he lacked the courage, even
the actual ability, to pen the words that would lay his soul bare, but he
believed Orion equal to the task. He knew how rigidly honest he was, how
ready to confess his shortcomings, how eager to be employed at some
literary occupation. It was Mark Twain's belief that if Orion would
record in detail his long, weary struggle, his succession of attempts and
failures, his past dreams and disappointments, along with his sins of
omission and commission, it would make one of those priceless human
documents such as have been left by Benvenuto Cellini, Cazenova, and

"Simply tell your story to yourself," he wrote, "laying all hideousness
utterly bare, reserving nothing. Banish the idea of the audience and all
hampering things."

Orion, out in Keokuk, had long since abandoned the chicken farm and a
variety of other enterprises. He had prospected insurance, mining,
journalism, his old trade of printing, and had taken down and hung up his
law shingle between each of these seizures. Aside from business, too, he
had been having a rather spectacular experience. He had changed his
politics three times (twice in one day), and his religion as many more.
Once when he was delivering a political harangue in the street, at night,
a parade of the opposition (he had but just abandoned them) marched by
carrying certain flaming transparencies, which he himself had made for
them the day before. Finally, after delivering a series of infidel
lectures; he had been excommunicated and condemned to eternal flames by
the Presbyterian Church. He was therefore ripe for any new diversion,
and the Autobiography appealed to him. He set about it with splendid
enthusiasm, wrote a hundred pages or so of his childhood with a startling
minutia of detail and frankness, and mailed them to his brother for

They were all that Mark Twain had expected; more than he had expected. He
forwarded them to Howells with great satisfaction, suggesting, with
certain excisions, they be offered anonymously to the Atlantic readers.

But Howells's taste for realism had its limitations. He found the story
interesting - indeed, torturingly, heart-wringingly so - and, advising
strongly against its publication, returned it.

Onion was steaming along at the rate of ten to twenty pages a day now,
forwarding them as fast as written, while his courage was good and the
fires warm. Clemens, receiving a package by every morning mail, soon

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 8 of 20)