All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
13 January, 2012
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886|
CLVI. The Close of a Great Career
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The Clemens household did not go to Elmira that year until the 27th of
June. Meantime General Grant had been taken to Mount McGregor, near the
Adirondacks. The day after Clemens reached Elmira there came a summons
saying that the General had asked to see him. He went immediately, and
remained several days. The resolute old commander was very feeble by
this time. It was three months since he had been believed to be dying,
yet he was still alive, still at work, though he could no longer speak.
He was adding, here and there, a finishing touch to his manuscript,
writing with effort on small slips of paper containing but a few words
each. His conversation was carried on in the same way. Mark Twain
brought back a little package of those precious slips, and some of them
are still preserved. The writing is perfectly legible, and shows no
indication of a trembling hand.
On one of these slips is written:
There is much more that I could do if I was a well man. I do not
write quite as clearly as I could if well. If I could read it over
myself many little matters of anecdote and incident would suggest
themselves to me.
Have you seen any portion of the second volume? It is up to the
end, or nearly so. As much more work as I have done to-day will
finish it. I have worked faster than if I had been well. I have
used my three boys and a stenographer.
And on still another:
If I could have two weeks of strength I could improve it very much.
As I am, however, it will have to go about as it is, with
verifications by the boys and by suggestions which will enable me to
make a point clear here and there.
Certainly no campaign was ever conducted with a braver heart. As long as
his fingers could hold a pencil he continued at his task. Once he asked
if any estimate could now be made of what portion would accrue to his
family from the publication. Clemens's prompt reply, that more than one
hundred thousand sets had been sold, and that already the amount of his
share, secured by safe bonds, exceeded one hundred and fifty thousand
dollars, seemed to give him deep comfort. Clemens told him that the
country was as yet not one-third canvassed, and that without doubt there
turns would be twice as much more by the end of the year. Grant made no
further inquiry, and probably never again mentioned the subject to any
When Clemens left, General Grant was sitting, fully dressed, with a shawl
about his shoulders, pencil and paper beside him. It was a picture that
would never fade from the memory. In a later memorandum he says:
I then believed he would live several months. He was still adding
little perfecting details to his book, and preface, among other
things. He was entirely through a few days later. Since then the
lack of any strong interest to employ his mind has enabled the
tedious weariness to kill him. I think his book kept him alive
several months. He was a very great man and superlatively good.
This note was made July 23, 1885, at 10 A.M., on receipt of the news that
General Grant was dead. To Henry Ward Beecher, Clemens wrote:
One day he put his pencil aside and said there was nothing more to
do. If I had been there I could have foretold the shock that struck
the world three days later.
It can be truly said that all the nation mourned. General Grant had no
enemies, political or sectional, in those last days. The old soldier
battling with a deadly disease, yet bravely completing his task, was a
figure at once so pathetic and so noble that no breath of animosity
remained to utter a single word that was not kind.
Memorial services were held from one end of the country to the other.
Those who had followed him in peace or war, those who had fought beside
him or against him, alike paid tribute to his memory. Twichell, from the
mountains of Vermont, wrote:
I suppose I have said to Harmony forty times since I got up here,
"How I wish I could see Mark!" My notion is that between us we could
get ourselves expressed. I have never known any one who could help
me read my own thoughts in such a case as you can and have done many
a time, dear old fellow.
I'd give more to sit on a log with you in the woods this afternoon, while we twined a wreath together for Launcelot's grave, than
to hear any conceivable eulogy of him pronounced by mortal lips.
The death of Grant so largely and so suddenly augmented the orders for
his Memoirs that it seemed impossible to get the first volume printed in
time for the delivery, which had been promised for December 1st. J. J.
Little had the contract of manufacture, and every available press and
bindery was running double time to complete the vast contract.
In the end more than three hundred thousand sets of two volumes each were
sold, and between four hundred and twenty and four hundred and fifty
thousand dollars was paid to Mrs. Grant. The first check of two hundred
thousand dollars, drawn February 27, 1886, remains the largest single
royalty check in history. Mark Twain's prophecy had been almost exactly