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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886|
CXXXV. A Trip With Sherman and an Interview With Grant
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The Army of the Potomac gave a dinner in Hartford on the 8th of June,
1881. But little memory remains of it now beyond Mark Twain's speech and
a bill of fare containing original comments, ascribed to various revered
authors, such as Johnson, Milton, and Carlyle. A pleasant incident
followed, however, which Clemens himself used to relate. General Sherman
attended the banquet, and Secretary of War, Robert Lincoln. Next morning
Clemens and Twichell were leaving for West Point, where they were to
address the military students, guests on the same special train on which
Lincoln and Sherman had their private car. This car was at the end of
the train, and when the two passengers reached the station, Sherman and
Lincoln were out on the rear platform addressing the multitude. Clemens
and Twichell went in and, taking seats, waited for them.
As the speakers finished the train started, but they still remained
outside, bowing and waving to the assembled citizens, so that it was
under good headway before they came in. Sherman came up to Clemens, who
sat smoking unconcernedly.
"Well," he said, "who told you you could go in this car?"
"Nobody," said Clemens.
"Do you expect to pay extra fare?" asked Sherman.
"No," said Clemens. "I don't expect to pay any fare."
"Oh, you don't. Then you'll work your way."
Sherman took off his coat and military hat and made Clemens put them on.
"Now," said he, "whenever the train stops you go out on the platform and
represent me and make a speech."
It was not long before the train stopped, and Clemens, according to
orders, stepped out on the rear platform and bowed to the crowd. There
was a cheer at the sight of his military uniform. Then the cheer waned,
became a murmur of uncertainty, followed by an undertone of discussion.
Presently somebody said:
"Say, that ain't Sherman, that's Mark Twain," which brought another
Then Sherman had to come out too, and the result was that both spoke.
They kept this up at the different stations, and sometimes Lincoln came
out with them. When there was time all three spoke, much to the
satisfaction of their audiences.
President Garfield was shot that summer--July 2, 1881. --[On the day that
President Garfield was shot Mrs. Clemens received from their friend
Reginald Cholmondeley a letter of condolence on the death of her husband
in Australia; startling enough, though in reality rather comforting than
otherwise, for the reason that the "Mark Twain" who had died in Australia
was a very persistent impostor. Clemens wrote Cholmondeley: "Being dead
I might be excused from writing letters, but I am not that kind of a
corpse. May I never be so dead as to neglect the hail of a friend from a
far land." Out of this incident grew a feature of an anecdote related in
Following the Equator the joke played by the man from Bendigo.]-- He died
September 19th, and Arthur came into power. There was a great feeling of
uncertainty as to what he would do. He was regarded as "an excellent
gentleman with a weakness for his friends." Incumbents holding
appointive offices were in a state of dread.
Howells's father was consul at Toronto, and, believing his place to be in
danger, he appealed to his son. In his book Howells tells how, in turn,
he appealed to Clemens, remembering his friendship with Grant and Grant's
friendship with Arthur. He asked Clemens to write to Grant, but Clemens
would hear of nothing less than a call on the General, during which the
matter would be presented to him in person. Howells relates how the
three of them lunched together, in a little room just out of the office,
on baked beans and coffee, brought in from some near-by restaurant:
The baked beans and coffee were of about the railroad-refreshment
quality; but eating them with Grant was like sitting down to baked
beans and coffee with Julius Caesar, or Alexander, or some other
great Plutarchan captain.
Clemens, also recalling the interview, once added some interesting
"I asked Grant if he wouldn't write a word on a card which Howells could
carry to Washington and hand to the President. But, as usual, General
Grant was his natural self--that is to say, ready and determined to do a
great deal more for you than you could possibly ask him to do. He said
he was going to Washington in a couple of days to dine with the
President, and he would speak to him himself on the subject and make it a
personal matter. Grant was in the humor to talk--he was always in a
humor to talk when no strangers were present--he forced us to stay and
take luncheon in a private room, and continued to talk all the time. It
was baked beans, but how 'he sits and towers,' Howells said, quoting
Dame. Grant remembered 'Squibob' Derby (John Phoenix) at West Point very
well. He said that Derby was always drawing caricatures of the
professors and playing jokes on every body. He told a thing which I had
heard before but had never seen in print. A professor questioning a
class concerning certain particulars of a possible siege said, 'Suppose a
thousand men are besieging a fortress whose equipment of provisions is
so-and-so; it is a military axiom that at the end of forty-five days the
fort will surrender. Now, young men, if any of you were in command of
such a fortress, how would you proceed?'
"Derby held up his hand in token that he had an answer for that question.
He said, 'I would march out, let the enemy in, and at the end of forty-
five days I would change places with him.'
"I tried hard, during that interview, to get General Grant to agree to
write his personal memoirs for publication, but he wouldn't listen to the
suggestion. His inborn diffidence made him shrink from voluntarily
coming before the public and placing himself under criticism as an
author. He had no confidence in his ability to write well; whereas we
all know now that he possessed an admirable literary gift and style. He
was also sure that the book would have no sale, and of course that would
be a humility too. I argued that the book would have an enormous sale,
and that out of my experience I could save him from making unwise
contracts with publishers, and would have the contract arranged in such a
way that they could not swindle him, but he said he had no necessity for
any addition to his income. Of course he could not foresee that he was
camping on a volcano; that as Ward's partner he was a ruined man even
then, and of course I had no suspicion that in four years from that time
I would become his publisher. He would not agree to write his memoirs.
He only said that some day he would make very full notes and leave them
behind him, and then if his children chose to make them into a book they
could do so. We came away then. He fulfilled his promise entirely
concerning Howells's father, who held his office until he resigned of his