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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886
History: Mainly by Susy
by Paine, Albert Bigelow


Suzy, in her biography, which she continued through this period, writes:

Mama and I have both been very much troubled of late because papa, since he had been publishing General Grant's books, has seemed to forget his own books and works entirely; and the other evening, as papa and I were promonading up and down the library, he told me that he didn't expect to write but one more book, and then he was ready to give up work altogether, die, or, do anything; he said that he had written more than he had ever expected to, and the only book that he had been pertickularly anxious to write was one locked up in the safe downstairs, not yet published.

The book locked in the safe was Captain Stormfield, and the one he expected to write was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. He had already worked at it in a desultory way during the early months of 1886, and once wrote of it to Webster:

I have begun a book whose scene is laid far back in the twilight of tradition; I have saturated myself with the atmosphere of the day and the subject and got myself into the swing of the work. If I peg away for some weeks without a break I am safe.

But he could not peg away. He had too many irons in the fire for that. Matthew Arnold had criticized General Grant's English, and Clemens immediately put down other things to rush to his hero's defense. He pointed out that in Arnold's criticism there were no less than "two grammatical crimes and more than several examples of very crude and slovenly English," and said:

There is that about the sun which makes us forget his spots, and when we think of General Grant our pulses quicken and his grammar vanishes; we only remember that this is the simple soldier, who, all untaught of the silken phrase-makers, linked words together with an art surpassing the art of the schools, and put into them a something which will still bring to American ears, as long as America shall last, the roll of his vanished drums and the tread of his marching hosts. --[Address to Army and Navy Club. For full text see Appendix]

Clemens worked at the Yankee now and then, and Howells, when some of the chapters were read to him, gave it warm approval and urged its continuance.

Howells was often in Hartford at this time. Webster & Co. were planning to publish The Library of Humor, which Howells and "Charley" Clark had edited several years before, and occasional conferences were desirable. Howells tells us that, after he and Clark had been at great trouble to get the matter logically and chronologically arranged, Clemens pulled it all to pieces and threw it together helter-skelter, declaring that there ought to be no sequence in a book of that sort, any more than in the average reader's mind; and Howells admits that this was probably the truer method in a book made for the diversion rather than the instruction of the reader.

One of the literary diversions of this time was a commentary on a delicious little book by Caroline B. Le Row--English as She Is Taught-- being a compilation of genuine answers given to examination questions by pupils in our public schools. Mark Twain was amused by such definitions as: "Aborigines, system of mountains"; "Alias--a good man in the Bible"; "Ammonia--the food of the gods," and so on down the alphabet.

Susy, in her biography, mentions that her father at this is time read to them a little article which he had just written, entitled "Luck," and that they thought it very good. It was a story which Twichell had heard and told to Clemens, who set it down about as it came to him. It was supposed to be true, yet Clemens seemed to think it too improbable for literature and laid it away for a number of years. We shall hear of it again by and by.

From Susy's memoranda we gather that humanity at this time was to be healed of all evils and sorrows through "mind cure "

Papa has been very much interested of late in the "mind-cure" theory. And, in fact, so have we all. A young lady in town has worked wonders by using the "mind cure" upon people; she is constantly busy now curing peoples' diseases in this way--and curing her own, even, which to me seems the most remarkable of all.

A little while past papa was delighted with the knowledge of what he thought the best way of curing a cold, which was by starving it. This starving did work beautifully, and freed him from a great many severe colds. Now he says it wasn't the starving that helped his colds, but the trust in the starving, the "mind cure" connected with the starving.

I shouldn't wonder if we finally became firm believers in "mind cure." The next time papa has a cold I haven't a doubt he will send for Miss Holden, the young lady who is doctoring in the "mind-cure" theory, to cure him of it.


Again, a month later, she writes:

April 19, 1886. Yes, the "mind cure" does seem to be working wonderfully. Papa, who has been using glasses now for more than a year, has laid them off entirely. And my near-sightedness is really getting better. It seems marvelous. When Jean has stomack-ache Clara and I have tried to divert her by telling her to lie on her side and try "mind cure." The novelty of it has made her willing to try it, and then Clara and I would exclaim about how wonderful it was she was getting better. And she would think it realy was finally, and stop crying, to our delight.

The other day mama went into the library and found her lying on the sofa with her back toward the door. She said, "Why, Jean, what's the matter? Don't you feel well?" Jean said that she had a little stomack-ache, and so thought she would lie down. Mama said, "Why don't you try 'mind cure'?" "I am," Jean answered.


Howells and Twichell were invited to try the "mind cure," as were all other friends who happened along. To the end of his days Clemens would always have some panacea to offer to allay human distress. It was a good trait, when all is said, for it had its root in his humanity. The "mind cure" did not provide all the substance of things hoped for, though he always allowed for it a wide efficacy. Once, in later years, commenting on Susy's record, he said:

The mind cannot heal broken bones, and doubtless there are many other physical ills which it cannot heal, but it can greatly help to modify the severities of all of them without exception, and there are mental and nervous ailments which it can wholly heal without the help of physician or surgeon.

Susy records another burning interest of this time:

Clara sprained her ankle a little while ago by running into a tree when coasting, and while she was unable to walk with it she played solotaire with cards a great deal. While Clara was sick and papa saw her play solotaire so much he got very much interested in the game, and finally began to play it himself a little; then Jean took it up, and at last mama even played it occasionally; Jean's and papa's love for it rapidly increased, and now Jean brings the cards every night to the table and papa and mama help her play, and before dinner is at an end papa has gotten a separate pack of cards and is playing alone, with great interest. Mama and Clara next are made subject to the contagious solotaire, and there are four solotarireans at the table, while you hear nothing but "Fill up the place," etc. It is dreadful!

But a little further along Susy presents her chief subject more seriously. He is not altogether absorbed with "mind cure" and solitaire, or even with making humorous tales.

Papa has done a great deal in his life I think that is good and very remarkable, but I think if he had had the advantages with which he could have developed the gifts which he has made no use of in writing his books, or in any other way, for peoples' pleasure and benefit outside of his own family and intimate friends, he could have done more than he has, and a great deal more, even. He is known to the public as a humorist, but he has much more in him that is earnest than that is humorous. He has a keen sense of the ludicrous, notices funny stories and incidents, knows how to tell them, to improve upon them, and does not forget them.

And again:

When we are all alone at home nine times out of ten he talks about some very earnest subject (with an occasional joke thrown in), and he a good deal more often talks upon such subjects than upon the other kind.

He is as much of a philosopher as anything, I think. I think he could have done a great deal in this direction if he had studied while young, for he seems to enjoy reasoning out things, no matter what; in a great many such directions he has greater ability than in the gifts which have made him famous.


It was with the keen eyes and just mind of childhood that Susy estimated, and there is little to add to her valuation.

Susy's biography came to an end that summer after starting to record a visit which they all made to Keokuk to see Grandma Clemens. They went by way of the Lakes and down the Mississippi from St. Paul. A pleasant incident happened that first evening on the river. Soon after nightfall they entered a shoal crossing. Clemens, standing alone on the hurricane- deck, heard the big bell forward boom out the call for leads. Then came the leadsman's long-drawn chant, once so familiar, the monotonous repeating in river parlance of the depths of water. Presently the lead had found that depth of water signified by his nom de plume and the call of "Mark Twain, Mark Twain" floated up to him like a summons from the past. All at once a little figure came running down the deck, and Clara confronted him, reprovingly:

"Papa," she said, "I have hunted all over the boat for you. Don't you know they are calling for you?"

They remained in Keokuk a week, and Susy starts to tell something of their visit there. She begins:

"We have arrived in Keokuk after a very pleasant----"

The sentence remains unfinished. We cannot know what was the interruption or what new interest kept her from her task. We can only regret that the loving little hand did not continue its pleasant history. Years later, when Susy had passed from among the things we know, her father, commenting, said:

When I look at the arrested sentence that ends the little book it seems as if the hand that traced it cannot be far--it is gone for a moment only, and will come again and finish it. But that is a dream; a creature of the heart, not of the mind--a feeling, a longing, not a mental product; the same that lured Aaron Burr, old, gray, forlorn, forsaken, to the pier day after day, week after week, there to stand in the gloom and the chill of the dawn, gazing seaward through veiling mists and sleet and snow for the ship which he knew was gone down, the ship that bore all his treasure--his daughter.

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