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

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lost interest, then developed a hunted feeling, becoming finally
desperate. He wrote wildly to shut Orion off, urging him to let his
manuscript accumulate, and to send it in one large consignment at the
end. This Orion did, and it is fair to say that in this instance at
least he stuck to his work faithfully to the bitter, disheartening end.
And it would have been all that Mark Twain had dreamed it would be, had
Orion maintained the simple narrative spirit of its early pages. But he
drifted off into theological byways; into discussions of his
excommunication and infidelities, which were frank enough, but lacked
human interest.

In old age Mark Twain once referred to Orion's autobiography in print and
his own disappointment in it, which he attributed to Orion's having
departed from the idea of frank and unrestricted confession to exalt
himself as a hero-a statement altogether unwarranted, and due to one of
those curious confusions of memory and imagination that more than once
resulted in a complete reversal of the facts. A quantity of Orion's
manuscript has been lost and destroyed, but enough fragments of it remain
to show its fidelity to the original plan. It is just one long record of
fleeting hope, futile effort, and humiliation. It is the story of a life
of disappointment; of a man who has been defeated and beaten down and
crushed by the world until he has nothing but confession left to
surrender. - [Howells, in his letter concerning the opening chapters, said
that they would some day make good material. Fortunately the earliest of
these chapters were preserved, and, as the reader may remember, furnished
much of the childhood details for this biography.]

Whatever may have been Mark Twain's later impression of his brother's
manuscript, its story of failure and disappointment moved him to definite
action at the time.

Several years before, in Hartford, Orion had urged him to make his
publishing contracts on a basis of half profits, instead of on the
royalty plan. Clemens, remembering this, had insisted on such an
arrangement for the publication of 'A Tramp Abroad', and when his first
statement came in he realized that the new contract was very largely to
his advantage. He remembered Orion's anxiety in the matter, and made it
now a valid excuse for placing his brother on a firm financial footing.

Out of the suspicions which you bred in me years ago has grown this
result, to wit: that I shall within the twelve months get $40,000 out of
this Tramp, instead of $20,000. $20,000, after taxes and other expenses
are stripped away, is worth to the investor about $75 a month, so I shall
tell Mr. Perkins [his lawyer and financial agent] to make your check that
amount per month hereafter.... This ends the loan business, and
hereafter you can reflect that you are living not on borrowed money, but
on money which you have squarely earned, and which has no taint or savor
of charity about it, and you can also reflect that the money which you
have been receiving of me is charged against the heavy bill which the
next publisher will have to stand who gets a book of mine.

From that time forward Orion Clemens was worth substantially twenty
thousand dollars - till the day of his death, and, after him, his widow.
Far better was it for him that the endowment be conferred in the form of
an income, than had the capital amount been placed in his hands.



A number of amusing incidents have been more or less accurately reported
concerning Mark Twain's dim perception of certain physical surroundings,
and his vague resulting memories - his absent-mindedness, as we say.

It was not that he was inattentive - no man was ever less so if the
subject interested him - but only that the casual, incidental thing seemed
not to find a fixed place in his deeper consciousness.

By no means was Mark Twain's absent-mindedness a development of old age.
On the two occasions following he was in the very heyday of his mental
strength. Especially was it, when he was engaged upon some absorbing or
difficult piece of literature, that his mind seemed to fold up and shut
most of the world away. Soon after his return from Europe, when he was
still struggling with 'A Tramp Abroad', he wearily put the manuscript
aside, one day, and set out to invite F. G. Whitmore over for a game of
billiards. Whitmore lived only a little way down the street, and Clemens
had been there time and again. It was such a brief distance that he
started out in his slippers and with no hat. But when he reached the
corner where the house, a stone's-throw away, was in plain view he
stopped. He did not recognize it. It was unchanged, but its outlines
had left no impress upon his mind. He stood there uncertainly a little
while, then returned and got the coachman, Patrick McAleer, to show him
the way.

The second, and still more picturesque instance, belongs also to this
period. One day, when he was playing billiards with Whitmore, George,
the butler, came up with a card.

"Who is he, George?" Clemens asked, without looking at the card.

"I don't know, suh, but he's a gentleman, Mr. Clemens."

"Now, George, how many times have I told you I don't want to see
strangers when I'm playing billiards! This is just some book agent, or
insurance man, or somebody with something to sell. I don't want to see
him, and I'm not going to."

"Oh, but this is a gentleman, I'm sure, Mr. Clemens. Just look at his
card, suh."

"Yes, of course, I see - nice engraved card - but I don't know him, and if
it was St. Peter himself I wouldn't buy the key of salvation! You tell
him so - tell him - oh, well, I suppose I've got to go and get rid of him
myself. I'll be back in a minute, Whitmore."

He ran down the stairs, and as he got near the parlor door, which stood
open, he saw a man sitting on a couch with what seemed to be some framed
water-color pictures on the floor near his feet.

"Ah, ha!" he thought, "I see. A picture agent. I'll soon get rid of

He went in with his best, "Well, what can I do for you?" air, which he,
as well as any man living, knew how to assume; a friendly air enough, but
not encouraging. The gentleman rose and extended his hand.

"How are you, Mr. Clemens?" he said.

Of course this was the usual thing with men who had axes to grind or
goods to sell. Clemens did not extend a very cordial hand. He merely
raised a loose, indifferent hand - a discouraging hand.

"And how is Mrs. Clemens?" asked the uninvited guest.

So this was his game. He would show an interest in the family and
ingratiate himself in that way; he would be asking after the children

"Well - Mrs. Clemens is about as usual - I believe."

"And the children - Miss Susie and little Clara?"

This was a bit startling. He knew their names! Still, that was easy to
find out. He was a smart agent, wonderfully smart. He must be got rid

"The children are well, quite well," and (pointing down at the pictures)
- "We've got plenty like these. We don't want any more. No, we don't
care for any more," skilfully working his visitor toward the door as he

The man, looking non-plussed - a good deal puzzled - allowed himself to be
talked into the hall and toward the front door. Here he paused a moment:

"Mr. Clemens, will you tell me where Mr. Charles Dudley Warner lives?"

This was the chance! He would work him off on Charlie Warner. Perhaps
Warner needed pictures.

"Oh, certainly, certainly! Right across the yard. I'll show you.
There's a walk right through. You don't need to go around the front way
at all. You'll find him at home, too, I'm pretty sure"; all the time
working his caller out and down the step and in the right direction.

The visitor again extended his hand.

"Please remember me to Mrs. Clemens and the children."

"Oh, certainly, certainly, with pleasure. Good day. Yes, that's the
house Good-by."

On the way back to the billiard-room Mrs. Clemens called to him. She was
ill that day.


"Yes, Livy." He went in for a word.

"George brought me Mr. B - - 's card. I hope you were very nice to him;
the B - - s were so nice to us, once last year, when you were gone.",

"The B - - s - Why, Livy - - "

"Yes, of course, and I asked him to be sure to call when he came to

He gazed at her helplessly.

"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?"

"Which way did he go, Youth?"

"Why, I sent him to Charlie Warner's. I thought - - "

"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 and friendly converse. 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 last summer and they made things pleasant for us. I
wanted to come over here with him, but was a good deal occupied just
then. Livy isn't very well, but she seems 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 those that gentleman left?"

"Why, Mr. Clemens, those are our own pictures. I've been straightening
up the room a little, and Mrs. Clemens had me set them around to see how
they would look in new places. The gentleman was looking at them while
he was waiting for you to come down."



It was at Elmira, in July (1880), that the third little girl came - Jane
Lampton, for her grandmother, but always called Jean. She was a large,
lovely baby, robust and happy. When she had been with them a little more
than a month Clemens, writing to Twichell, said:

DEAR OLD JOE, - Concerning Jean Clemens, if anybody said he "didn't
see no pints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog," I
should think he was convicting himself of being a pretty poor sort
of observer. She is the comeliest and daintiest and perfectest
little creature the continents and archipelagos have seen since the
Bay and Susy were her size. I will not go into details; it is not
necessary; you will soon be in Hartford, where I have already hired
a hall; the admission fee will be but a trifle.

It is curious to note the change in the stock-quotations of the
Affection Board brought about by throwing this new security on the
market. Four weeks ago the children still put Mama at the head of
the list right along, where she had always been. But now:

Motley |cats
Fraulein |

That is the way it stands now. Mama is become No. 2; I have dropped
from No. 4, and am 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.

Been reading Daniel Webster's Private Correspondence. Have read a
hundred of his diffuse, conceited, "eloquent," bathotic (or
bathostic) letters, written in that dim (no, vanished) past, when he
was a student. And Lord! to think that this boy, who is so real to
me now, and so booming with fresh young blood and bountiful life,
and sappy cynicisms about girls, has since climbed the Alps of fame
and stood against the sun one brief, tremendous moment with the
world's eyes on him, and then - - fzt! where is he? Why, the only
long thing, the only real thing about the whole shadowy business, is
the sense of the lagging dull and hoary lapse of time that has
drifted by since then; a vast, empty level, it seems, with a
formless specter glimpsed fitfully through the smoke and mist that
lie along its remote verge.

Well, we are all getting along here first-rate. Livy gains strength
daily and sits up a deal; the baby is five weeks old and - - But no
more of this. Somebody may be reading this letter eighty years
hence. And so, my friend (you pitying snob, I mean, who are holding
this yellow paper in your hand in 1960), save yourself the trouble
of looking further. I know how pathetically trivial our small
concerns would seem to you, and I will not let your eye profane
them. No, I keep my news; you keep your compassion. Suffice it you
to know, scoffer and ribald, that the little child is old and blind
now, and once more tooth less; and the rest of us are shadows these
many, many years. Yes, and your time cometh!

It is the ageless story. He too had written his youthful letters, and
later had climbed the Alps of fame and was still outlined against the
sun. Happily, the little child was to evade that harsher penalty - the
unwarranted bitterness and affront of a lingering, palsied age.

Mrs. Clemens, in a letter somewhat later, set down a thought similar to

"We are all going so fast. Pretty soon we shall have been dead a hundred

Clemens varied his work that summer, writing alternately on 'The Prince
and the Pauper' and on the story about 'Huck Finn', which he had begun
four years earlier.

He read the latter over and found in it a new interest. It did not
fascinate him, as did the story of the wandering prince. He persevered
only as the spirit moved him, piling up pages on both the tales.

He always took a boy's pride in the number of pages he could complete at
a sitting, and if the day had gone well he would count them triumphantly,
and, lighting a fresh cigar, would come tripping down the long stair that
led to the level of the farm-house, and, gathering his audience, would
read to them the result of his industry; that is to say, he proceeded
with the story of the Prince. Apparently he had not yet acquired
confidence or pride enough in poor Huck to exhibit him, even to friends.

The reference (in the letter to Twichell) to the cats at the farm
introduces one of the most important features of that idyllic resort.
There were always cats at the farm. Mark Twain himself dearly loved
cats, and the children inherited this passion. Susy once said:

"The difference between papa and mama is, that mama loves morals and papa
loves cats."

The cats did not always remain the same, but some of the same ones
remained a good while, and were there from season to season, always
welcomed and adored. They were commendable cats, with such names as
Fraulein, Blatherskite, Sour Mash, Stray Kit, Sin, and Satan, and when,
as happened now and then, a vacancy occurred in the cat census there
followed deep sorrow and elaborate ceremonies.

Naturally, there would be stories about cats: impromptu bedtime stories,
which began anywhere and ended nowhere, and continued indefinitely
through a land inhabited only by cats and dreams. One of these stories,
as remembered and set down later, began:

Once upon a time there was a noble, big cat whose christian name was
Catasaqua, because she lived in that region; but she didn't have any
surname, because she was a short-tailed cat, being a manx, and
didn't need one. It is very just and becoming in a long-tailed cat
to have a surname, but it would be very ostentatious, and even
dishonorable, in a manx. Well, Catasaqua had a beautiful family of
cattings; and they were of different colors, to harmonize with their
characters. Cattaraugus, the eldest, was white, and he had high
impulses and a pure heart; Catiline, the youngest, was black, and he
had a self-seeking nature, his motives were nearly always base, he
was truculent and insincere. He was vain and foolish, and often
said that he would rather be what he was, and live like a bandit,
yet have none above him, than be a cat-o'-nine-tails and eat with
the king.

And so on without end, for the audience was asleep presently and the end
could wait.

There was less enthusiasm over dogs at Quarry Farm.

Mark Twain himself had no great love for the canine breed. To a woman
who wrote, asking for his opinion on dogs, he said, in part:

By what right has the dog come to be regarded as a "noble" animal?
The more brutal and cruel and unjust you are to him the more your
fawning and adoring slave he becomes; whereas, if you shamefully
misuse a cat once she will always maintain a dignified reserve
toward you afterward you can never get her full confidence again.

He was not harsh to dogs; occasionally he made friends with them. There
was once at the farm a gentle hound, named Bones, that for some reason
even won his way into his affections. Bones was always a welcome
companion, and when the end of 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
around him, and bade him an affectionate good-by. He always recalled
Bones tenderly, and mentioned him in letters to the farm.



The continued assault of Canadian pirates on his books kept Mark Twain's
interest sharply alive on the subject of copyright reform. He invented
one scheme after another, but the public-mind was hazy on the subject,
and legislators were concerned with purposes that interested a larger
number of voters. There were too few authors to be of much value at the
polls, and even of those few only a small percentage were vitally
concerned. For the others, foreign publishers rarely paid them the
compliment of piracy, while at home the copyright limit of forty-two
years was about forty-two times as long as they needed protection. Bliss
suggested a law making the selling of pirated books a penal offense, a
plan with a promising look, but which came to nothing.

Clemens wrote to his old friend Rollin M. Daggett, who by this time was a
Congressman. Daggett replied that he would be glad to introduce any bill
that the authors might agree upon, and Clemens made at least one trip to
Washington to discuss the matter, but it came to nothing in the end. It
was a Presidential year, and it would do just as well to keep the authors
quiet by promising to do something next year. Any legislative stir is
never a good thing for a campaign.

Clemens's idea for copyright betterment was not a fixed one. Somewhat
later, when an international treaty which would include protection for
authors was being discussed, his views had undergone a change. He wrote,
asking Howells:

Will the proposed treaty protect us (and effectually) against
Canadian piracy? Because, if it doesn't, there is not a single
argument in favor of international copyright which a rational
American Senate could entertain for a moment. My notions have
mightily changed lately. I can buy Macaulay's History, three vols.;
bound, for $1.25; Chambers's Cyclopaedia, ten vols., cloth, for
$7.25 (we paid $60), and other English copyrights in proportion; I
can buy a lot of the great copyright classics, in paper, at from
three cents to thirty cents apiece. These things must find their
way into the very kitchens and hovels of the country. A generation
of this sort of thing ought to make this the most intelligent and
the best-read nation in the world. International copyright must
becloud this sun and bring on the former darkness and dime novel

Morally this is all wrong; governmentally it is all right. For it
is the duty of governments and families to be selfish, and look out
simply for their own. International copyright would benefit a few
English authors and a lot of American publishers, and be a profound
detriment to twenty million Americans; it would benefit a dozen
American authors a few dollars a year, and there an end. The real
advantages all go to English authors and American publishers.

And even if the treaty will kill Canadian piracy, and thus save me
an average of $5,000 a year, I'm down on it anyway, and I'd like
cussed well to write an article opposing the treaty.

It is a characteristic expression. Mark Twain might be first to grab for
the life-preserver, but he would also be first to hand it to a humanity
in greater need. He could damn the human race competently, but in the
final reckoning it was the interest of that race that lay closest to his

Mention has been made in an earlier chapter of Clemens's enthusiasms or
"rages" for this thing and that which should benefit humankind. He was
seldom entirely without them. Whether it was copyright legislation, the
latest invention, or a new empiric practice, he rarely failed to have a
burning interest in some anodyne that would provide physical or mental
easement for his species. Howells tells how once he was going to save
the human race with accordion letter-files - the system of order which
would grow out of this useful device being of such nerve and labor saving
proportions as to insure long life and happiness to all. The
fountain-pen, in its first imperfect form, must have come along about the
same time, and Clemens was one of the very earliest authors to own one.
For a while it seemed that the world had known no greater boon since the
invention of printing; but when it clogged and balked, or suddenly
deluged his paper and spilled in his pocket, he flung it to the outer
darkness. After which, the stylo-graphic pen. He tried one, and wrote
severally to Dr. Brown, to Howells, and to Twichell, urging its adoption.
Even in a letter to Mrs. Howells he could not forget his new possession:

And speaking of Howells, he ought to use the stylographic pen, the
best fountain-pen yet invented; he ought to, but of course he won't
- a blamed old sodden-headed conservative - but you see yourself what
a nice, clean, uniform MS. it makes.

And at the same time to Twichell:

I am writing with a stylographic pen. It takes a royal amount of
cussing to make the thing go the first few days or a week, but by
that time the dullest ass gets the hang of the thing, and after that
no enrichments of expression are required, and said ass finds the
stylographic a genuine God's blessing. I carry one in each breeches
pocket, and both loaded. I'd give you one of them if I had you
where I could teach you how to use it - not otherwise. For the
average ass flings the thing out of the window in disgust the second
day, believing it hath no virtue, no merit of any sort; whereas the
lack lieth in himself, God of his mercy damn him.

It was not easy to withstand Mark Twain's enthusiasm. Howells, Twichell,
and Dr. Brown were all presently struggling and swearing (figuratively)
over their stylographic pens, trying to believe that salvation lay in
their conquest. But in the midst of one letter, at last, Howells broke
down, seized his old steel weapon, and wrote savagely: "No white man
ought to use a stylographic pen, anyhow!" Then, with the more ancient
implement, continued in a calmer spirit.

It was only a little later that Clemens himself wrote:

You see I am trying a new pen. I stood the stylograph as long as I
could, and then retired to the pencil. The thing I am trying now is
that fountain-pen which is advertised to employ and accommodate
itself to any kind of pen. So I selected an ordinary gold pen - a
limber one - and sent it to New York and had it cut and fitted to
this thing. It goes very well indeed - thus far; but doubtless the
devil will be in it by tomorrow.

Mark Twain's schemes were not all in the line of human advancement; some
of them were projected, primarily at least, for diversion. He was likely
at any moment to organize a club, a sort of private club, and at the time
of which we are writing he proposed what was called the "Modest" Club. He
wrote to Howells, about it:

At present I am the only member, and as the modesty required must be
of a quite aggravated type the enterprise did seem for a time doomed
to stop dead still with myself, for lack of further material; but on
reflection I have come to the conclusion that you are eligible.
Therefore, I have held a meeting and voted to offer you the
distinction of membership. I do not know that we can find any

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 9 of 20)