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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886|
CLII. Platforming with Cable
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The drain of many investments and the establishment of a publishing house
had told heavily on Clemens's finances. It became desirable to earn a
large sum of money with as much expedition as possible. Authors'
readings had become popular, and Clemens had read in Philadelphia and
Boston with satisfactory results. He now conceived the idea of a grand
tour of authors as a commercial enterprise. He proposed to Aldrich,
Howells, and Cable that he charter a private car for the purpose, and
that with their own housekeeping arrangements, cooking, etc., they could
go swinging around the circuit, reaping, a golden harvest. He offered to
be general manager of the expedition, the impresario as it were, and
agreed to guarantee the others not less than seventy-five dollars a day
apiece as their net return from the "circus," as he called it.
Howells and Aldrich liked well enough to consider it as an amusing
prospect, but only Cable was willing to realize it. He had been scouring
the country on his own account, and he was willing enough to join forces
with Mark Twain.
Clemens detested platforming, but the idea of reading from his books or
manuscript for some reason seemed less objectionable, and, as already
stated, the need of much money had become important.
He arranged with J. B. Pond for the business side of the expedition,
though in reality he was its proprietor. The private-car idea was given
up, but he employed Cable at a salary of four hundred and fifty dollars a
week and expenses, and he paid Pond a commission. Perhaps, without going
any further, we may say that the tour was a financial success, and
yielded a large return of the needed funds.
Clemens and Cable had a pleasant enough time, and had it not been for the
absence from home and the disagreeableness of railway travel, there would
have been little to regret. They were a curiously associated pair.
Cable was orthodox in his religion, devoted to Sunday-school, Bible
reading, and church affairs in general. Clemens--well, Clemens was
different. On the first evening of their tour, when the latter was
comfortably settled in bed with an entertaining book, Cable appeared with
his Bible, and proceeded to read a chapter aloud. Clemens made no
comment, and this went on for an evening or two more. Then he said:
"See here, Cable, we'll have to cut this part of the program out. You
can read the Bible as much as you please so long as you don't read it to
Cable retired courteously. He had a keen sense of humor, and most things
that Mark Twain did, whether he approved or not, amused him. Cable did
not smoke, but he seemed always to prefer the smoking compartment when
they traveled, to the more respectable portions of the car. One day
Clemens sand to him:
"Cable, why do you sit in here? You don't smoke, and you know I always
smoke, and sometimes swear."
Cable said, "I know, Mark, I don't do these things, but I can't help
admiring the way you do them."
When Sunday came it was Mark Twain's great happiness to stay in bed all
day, resting after his week of labor; but Cable would rise, bright and
chipper, dress himself in neat and suitable attire, and visit the various
churches and Sunday-schools in town, usually making a brief address at
each, being always invited to do so.
It seems worth while to include one of the Clemens-Cable programs here--
a most satisfactory one. They varied it on occasion, and when they were
two nights in a place changed it completely, but the program here given
was the one they were likely to use after they had proved its worth:
Richling's visit to Kate Riley
GEO. W. CABLE
(a) Kate Riley and Ristofolo
(b) Narcisse in mourning for "Lady Byron"
(c) Mary's Night Ride
GEO. W. CABLE
(a) Tragic Tale of the Fishwife
(b) A Trying Situation
(c) A Ghost Story
At a Mark Twain memorial meeting (November 30, 1910), where the few who
were left of his old companions told over quaint and tender memories,
George Cable recalled their reading days together and told of Mark
Twain's conscientious effort to do his best, to be worthy of himself,
regardless of all other concerns. He told how when they had been
traveling for a while Clemens seemed to realize that he was only giving
the audience nonsense; making them laugh at trivialities which they would
forget before they had left the entertainment hall. Cable said that up
to that time he had supposed Clemens's chief thought was the
entertainment of the moment, and that if the audience laughed he was
satisfied. He told how he had sat in the wings, waiting his turn, and
heard the tides of laughter gather and roll forward and break against the
footlights, time and time again, and how he had believed his colleague to
be glorying in that triumph. What was his surprise, then, on the way to
the hotel in the carriage, when Clemens groaned and seemed writhing in
spirit and said:
"Oh, Cable, I am demeaning myself. I am allowing myself to be a mere
buffoon. It's ghastly. I can't endure it any longer."
Cable added that all that night and the next day Mark Twain devoted
himself to the study and rehearsal of selections which were justified not
only as humor, but as literature and art.
A good many interesting and amusing things would happen on such a tour.
Many of these are entirely forgotten, of course, but of others certain
memoranda have been preserved. Grover Cleveland had been elected when
they set out on their travels, but was still holding his position in
Albany as Governor of New York. When they reached Albany Cable and
Clemens decided to call on him. They drove to the Capitol and were shown
into the Governor's private office. Cleveland made them welcome, and,
after greetings, said to Clemens:
"Mr. Clemens, I was a fellow-citizen of yours in Buffalo a good many
months some years ago, but you never called on me then. How do you
Clemens said: "Oh, that is very simple to answer, your Excellency. In
Buffalo you were a sheriff. I kept away from the sheriff as much as
possible, but you're Governor now, and on the way to the Presidency.
It's worth while coming to see you."
Clemens meantime had been resting, half sitting, on the corner of the
Executive desk. He leaned back a little, and suddenly about a dozen
young men opened various doors, filed in and stood at attention, as if
waiting for orders.
No one spoke for a moment; then the Governor said to this collection of
"You are dismissed, young gentlemen. Your services are not required.
Mr. Clemens is sitting on the bells."
In Buffalo, when Clemens appeared on the stage, he leisurely considered
the audience for a moment; then he said:
"I miss a good many faces. They have gone--gone to the tomb, to the
gallows, or to the White House. All of us are entitled to at least one
of these distinctions, and it behooves us to be wise and prepare for
On Thanksgiving Eve the readers were in Morristown, New Jersey, where
they were entertained by Thomas Nast. The cartoonist prepared a quiet
supper for them and they remained overnight in the Nast home. They were
to leave next morning by an early train, and Mrs. Nast had agreed to see
that they were up in due season. When she woke next morning there seemed
a strange silence in the house and she grew suspicious. Going to the
servants' room, she found them sleeping soundly. The alarm-clock in the
back hall had stopped at about the hour the guests retired. The studio
clock was also found stopped; in fact, every timepiece on the premises
had retired from business. Clemens had found that the clocks interfered
with his getting to sleep, and he had quieted them regardless of early
trains and reading engagements. On being accused of duplicity he said:
"Well, those clocks were all overworked, anyway. They will feel much
better for a night's rest."
A few days later Nast sent him a caricature drawing--a picture which
showed Mark Twain getting rid of the offending clocks.
At Christmas-time they took a fortnight's holiday and Clemens went home
to Hartford. A surprise was awaiting him there. Mrs. Clemens had made
an adaptation of 'The Prince and the Pauper' play, and the children of
the neighborhood had prepared a presentation of it for his special
delectation. He knew, on his arrival home, that something mysterious was
in progress, for certain rooms were forbidden him; but he had no inkling
of their plan until just before the performance--when he was led across
the grounds to George Warner's home, into the large room there where it
was to be given, and placed in a seat directly in front of the stage.
Gerhardt had painted the drop-curtain, and assisted in the general
construction of scenery and effects. The result was really imposing; but
presently, when the curtain rose and the guest of honor realized what it
was all about, and what they had undertaken for his pleasure, he was
deeply moved and supremely gratified.
There was but one hitch in the performance. There is a place where the
Prince says, "Fathers be alike, mayhap; mine hath not a doll's temper."
This was Susy's part, and as she said it the audience did not fail to
remember its literal appropriateness. There was a moment's silence, then
a titter, followed by a roar of laughter, in which everybody but the
little actors joined. They did not see the humor and were disturbed and
grieved. Curiously enough, Mrs Clemens herself, in arranging and casting
the play, had not considered the possibility of this effect. The parts
were all daintily played. The children wore their assumed personalities
as if native to them. Daisy Warner played the part of Tom Canty, Clara
Clemens was Lady Jane Grey.
It was only the beginning of The Prince and the Pauper productions. The
play was repeated, Clemens assisting, adding to the parts, and himself
playing the role of Miles Hendon. In her childish biography Susy says:
Papa had only three days to learn the part in, but still we were all
sure that he could do it. The scene that he acted in was the scene
between Miles Hendon and the Prince, the "Prithee, pour the water"
scene. I was the Prince and papa and I rehearsed together two or
three times a day for the three days before the appointed evening.
Papa acted his part beautifully, and he added to the scene, making
it a good deal longer. He was inexpressibly funny, with his great
slouch hat and gait----oh such a gait! Papa made the Miles Hendon
scene a splendid success and every one was delighted with the scene,
and papa too. We had great fun with our "Prince and Pauper," and I
think we none of us shall forget how immensely funny papa was in it.
He certainly could have been an actor as well as an author.
The holidays over, Cable and Clemens were off on the circuit again. At
Rochester an incident happened which led to the writing of one of Mark
Twain's important books, 'A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court'.
Clemens and Cable had wandered into a book-store for the purpose of
finding something to read. Pulling over some volumes on one of the
tables, Clemens happened to pick up a little green, cloth-bound book, and
after looking at the title turned the pages rather curiously and with
"Cable," he said, "do you know anything about this book, the Arthurian
legends of Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Arthure?"
Cable answered: "Mark, that is one of the most beautiful books in the
world. Let me buy it for you. You will love it more than any book you
So Clemens came to know the old chronicler's version of the rare Round
Table legends, and from that first acquaintance with them to the last
days of his life seldom let the book go far from him. He read and reread
those quaint, stately tales and reverenced their beauty, while fairly
reveling in the absurdities of that ancient day. Sir Ector's lament he
regarded as one of the most simply beautiful pieces of writing in the
English tongue, and some of the combats and quests as the most ridiculous
absurdities in romance. Presently he conceived the idea of linking that
day, with its customs, costumes, and abuses, with the progress of the
present, or carrying back into that age of magicians and armor and
superstition and cruelties a brisk American of progressive ideas who
would institute reforms. His note-book began to be filled with memoranda
of situations and possibilities for the tale he had in mind. These were
vague, unformed fancies as yet, and it would be a long time before the
story would become a fact. This was the first entry:
Dream of being a knight-errant in armor in the Middle Ages. Have
the notions and habits, though, of the present day mixed with the
necessities of that. No pockets in the armor. No way to manage
certain requirements of nature. Can't scratch. Cold in the head
and can't blow. Can't get a handkerchief; can't use iron sleeve;
iron gets red-hot in the sun; leaks in the rain; gets white with
frost and freezes me solid in winter; makes disagreeable clatter
when I enter church. Can't dress or undress myself. Always getting
struck by lightning. Fall down and can't get up.
Twenty-one years later, discussing the genesis of the story, he said:
"As I read those quaint and curious old legends I suppose I naturally
contrasted those days with ours, and it made me curious to fancy what
might be the picturesque result if we could dump the nineteenth century
down into the sixth century and observe the consequences."
The reading tour continued during the first two months of the new year
and carried them as far west as Chicago. They read in Hannibal and
Keokuk, and Clemens spent a day in the latter place with his mother, now
living with Orion, brisk and active for her years and with her old-time
force of character. Mark Twain, arranging for her Keokuk residence, had
Ma wants to board with you, and pay her board. She will pay you $20
a month (she wouldn't pay a cent more in heaven; she is obstinate on
this point), and as long as she remains with you and is content I
will add $25 a month to the sum Perkins already sends you.
Jane Clemens attended the Keokuk reading, and later, at home, when her
children asked her if she could still dance, she rose, and at eighty-one
tripped as lightly as a girl. It was the last time that Mark Twain ever
saw his mother in the health and vigor which had been always so much a
part of her personality.
Clemens saw another relative on that trip; in St. Louis, James Lampton,
the original of Colonel Sellers, called.
He was become old and white-headed, but he entered to me in the same old
breezy way of his earlier life, and he was all there, yet--not a detail
wanting: the happy light in his eye, the abounding hope in his heart, the
persuasive tongue, the miracle-breeding imagination--they were all there;
and before I could turn around he was polishing up his Aladdin's lamp and
flashing the secret riches of the world before me. I said to myself:
"I did not overdraw him by a shade, I set him down as he was; and he is
the same man to-day. Cable will recognize him."
Clemens opened the door into Cable's room and allowed the golden dream-
talk to float in. It was of a "small venture" which the caller had
undertaken through his son.
"Only a little thing--a, mere trifle--a bagatelle. I suppose there's a
couple of millions in it, possibly three, but not more, I think; still,
for a boy, you know----"
It was the same old Cousin Jim. Later, when he had royally accepted some
tickets for the reading and bowed his exit, Cable put his head in at the
"That was Colonel Sellers," he said.