|Mark Twain's literary work languished during this period. He had a world
of plans, as usual, and wrote plentifully, but without direction or
conclusion. "A Curious Experience," which relates a circumstance told to
him by an army officer, is about the most notable of the few completed
manuscripts of this period.
Of the books projected (there were several), a burlesque manual of
etiquette would seem to have been the most promising. Howells had faith
in it, and of the still remaining fragments a few seem worth quoting:
If your ball glides along in the intense and immediate vicinity of
the object-ball, and a count seems exquisitely imminent, lift one
leg; then one shoulder; then squirm your body around in sympathy
with the direction of the moving ball; and at the instant when the
ball seems on the point of colliding throw up both of your arms
violently. Your cue will probably break a chandelier, but no
matter; you have done what you could to help the count.
AT THE DOG-FIGHT
If it occur in your block, courteously give way to strangers
desiring a view, particularly ladies.
Avoid showing partiality toward the one dog, lest you hurt the
feelings of the other one.
Let your secret sympathies and your compassion be always with the
under dog in the fight--this is magnanimity; but bet on the other
one--this is business.
If you draw to a flush and fail to fill, do not continue the
If you hold a pair of trays, and your opponent is blind, and it
costs you fifty to see him, let him remain unperceived.
If you hold nothing but ace high, and by some means you know that
the other man holds the rest of the aces, and he calls, excuse
yourself; let him call again another time.
If you live in the country, buy at 80, sell at 40. Avoid all forms
IN THE RESTAURANT
When you wish to get the waiter's attention, do not sing out "Say!"
Simply say "Szt!"
His old abandoned notion of "Hamlet" with an added burlesque character
came back to him and stirred his enthusiasm anew, until even Howells
manifested deep interest in the matter. One reflects how young Howells
must have been in those days; how full of the joy of existence; also how
mournfully he would consider such a sacrilege now.
Clemens proposed almost as many things to Howells as his brother Orion
proposed to him. There was scarcely a letter that didn't contain some
new idea, with a request for advice or co-operation. Now it was some
book that he meant to write some day, and again it would be a something
that he wanted Howells to write.
Once he urged Howells to make a play, or at least a novel, out of Orion.
At another time he suggested as material the "Rightful Earl of Durham."
He is a perfectly stunning literary bonanza, and must be dug up and put
on the market. You must get his entire biography out of him and have it
ready for Osgood's magazine. Even if it isn't worth printing, you must
have it anyway, and use it one of these days in one of your stories or in
It was this notion about 'The American Claimant' which somewhat later
would lead to a collaboration with Howells on a drama, and eventually to
a story of that title.
But Clemens's chief interest at this time lay in publishing, rather than
in writing. His association with Osgood inspired him to devise new
ventures of profit. He planned a 'Library of American Humor', which
Howells (soon to leave the Atlantic) and "Charley" Clark--[Charles
Hopkins Clark, managing editor of the Hartford Courant.]--were to edit,
and which Osgood would publish, for subscription sale. Without realizing
it, Clemens was taking his first step toward becoming his own publisher.
His contract with Osgood for 'The Prince and the Pauper' made him
essentially that, for by the terms of it he agreed to supply all the
money for the making of the book, and to pay Osgood a royalty of seven
and one-half per cent. for selling it, reversing the usual conditions.
The contract for the Library of Humor was to be a similar one, though in
this case Osgood was to have a larger royalty return, and to share
proportionately in the expense and risk. Mark Twain was entering into a
field where he did not belong; where in the end he would harvest only
disaster and regret.
One curious project came to an end in 1881--the plan for a monument to
Adam. In a sketch written a great many years later Mark Twain tells of
the memorial which the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher and himself once proposed
to erect to our great common ancestor. The story is based on a real
incident. Clemens, in Elmira one day (it was October, 1879), heard of a
jesting proposal made by F. G. Hall to erect a monument in Elmira to
Adam. The idea promptly caught Mark Twain's fancy. He observed to
Beecher that the human race really showed a pretty poor regard for its
great progenitor, who was about to be deposed by Darwin's simian, not to
pay him the tribute of a single monument. Mankind, he said, would
probably accept the monkey ancestor, and in time the very name of Adam
would be forgotten. He declared Mr. Hall's suggestion to be a sound
Beecher agreed that there were many reasons why a monument should be
erected to Adam, and suggested that a subscription be started for the
purpose. Certain business men, seeing an opportunity for advertising the
city, took the matter semi-seriously, and offered to contribute large
sums in the interest of the enterprise. Then it was agreed that Congress
should be petitioned to sanction the idea exclusively to Elmira,
prohibiting the erection of any such memorial elsewhere. A document to
this effect was prepared, headed by F. G. Hall, and signed by other
leading citizens of Elmira, including Beecher himself. General Joe
Hawley came along just then on a political speech-making tour. Clemens
introduced him, and Hawley, in turn, agreed to father the petition in
Congress. What had begun merely as pleasantry began to have a formidable
But alas! in the end Hawley's courage had failed him. He began to hate
his undertaking. He was afraid of the national laugh it would arouse,
the jeers of the newspapers. It was certain to leak out that Mark Twain
was behind it, in spite of the fact that his name nowhere appeared; that
it was one of his colossal jokes. Now and then, in the privacy of his
own room at night, Hawley would hunt up the Adam petition and read it and
feel the cold sweat breaking out. He postponed the matter from one
session to another till the summer of 1881, when he was about to sail for
Europe. Then he gave the document to his wife, to turn over to Clemens,
and ignominiously fled.
[For text of the petition in full, etc., see Appendix P, at the end of
Mark Twain's introduction of Hawley at Elmira contained this pleasantry:
"General Hawley was president of the Centennial Commission. Was a
gallant soldier in the war. He has been Governor of Connecticut, member
of Congress, and was president of the convention that nominated Abraham
General Hawley: "That nominated Grant."
Twain: "He says it was Grant, but I know better. He is a member of my
church at Hartford, and the author of 'Beautiful Snow.' Maybe he will
deny that. But I am only here to give him a character from his last
place. As a pure citizen, I respect him; as a personal friend of years,
I have the warmest regard for him; as a neighbor whose vegetable garden
joins mine, why--why, I watch him. That's nothing; we all do that with
any neighbor. General Hawley keeps his promises, not only in private,
but in public. He is an editor who believes what he writes in his own
paper. As the author of 'Beautiful Snow' he added a new pang to winter.
He is broad-souled, generous, noble, liberal, alive to his moral and
religious responsibilities. Whenever the contribution-box was passed I
never knew him to take out a cent."]