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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CLXXXIV. New Hope in the Machine
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|If all human events had not been ordered in the first act of the primal
atom, and so become inevitable, it would seem a pity now that he must
abandon his work half-way, and make another hard, distracting trip to
But it was necessary for him to go. Even Hall was no longer optimistic.
His letters provided only the barest shreds of hope. Times were hard and
there was every reason to believe they would be worse. The World's Fair
year promised to be what it speedily became--one of the hardest financial
periods this country has ever seen. Chicago could hardly have selected a
more profitless time for her great exposition. Clemens wrote urging Hall
to sell out all, or a portion, of the business--to do anything, indeed,
that would avoid the necessity of further liability and increased dread.
Every payment that could be spared from the sales of his manuscript was
left in Hall's hands, and such moneys as still came to Mrs. Clemens from
her Elmira interests were flung into the general fund. The latter were
no longer large, for Langdon & Co. were suffering heavily in the general
depression, barely hoping to weather the financial storm.
It is interesting to note that age and misfortune and illness had a
tempering influence on Mark Twain's nature. Instead of becoming harsh
and severe and bitter, he had become more gentle, more kindly. He wrote
often to Hall, always considerately, even tenderly. Once, when something
in Hall's letter suggested that he had perhaps been severe, he wrote:
Mrs. Clemens is deeply distressed, for she thinks I have been
blaming you or finding fault with you about something. But most
assuredly that cannot be. I tell her that although I am prone to
write hasty and regrettable things to other people I am not a bit
likely to write such things to you. I can't believe I have done
anything so ungrateful. If I have, pile coals of fire upon my head
for I deserve it. You have done magnificently with the business, &
we must raise the money somehow to enable you to reap a reward for
all that labor.
He was fond of Hall. He realized how honest and resolute and industrious
he had been. In another letter he wrote him that it was wonderful he had
been able to "keep the ship afloat in the storm that has seen fleets and
fleets go down"; and he added: "Mrs. Clemens says I must tell you not to
send us any money for a month or two, so that you may be afforded what
little relief is in our power."
The type-setter situation seemed to promise something. In fact, the
machine once more had become the principal hope of financial salvation.
The new company seemed really to begetting ahead in spite of the money
stringency, and was said to have fifty machines well under way: About the
middle of March Clemens packed up two of his shorter manuscripts which he
had written at odd times and forwarded them to Hall, in the hope that
they would be disposed of and the money waiting him on his arrival; and a
week later, March 22, 1893, he sailed from Genoa on the Kaiser Wilhelm
II, a fine, new boat. One of the manuscripts was 'The Californian's
Tale' and the other was 'Adam's Diary'.--[It seems curious that neither
of these tales should have found welcome with the magazines. "The
Californian's Tale" was published in the Liber Scriptorum, an Authors'
Club book, edited by Arthur Stedman. The 'Diary' was disposed of to the
Niagara Book, a souvenir of Niagara Falls, which contained sketches by
Howells, Clemens, and others. Harper's Magazine republished both these
stories in later years--the Diary especially with great success.]
Some joke was likely to be played on Mark Twain during these ocean
journeys, and for this particular voyage an original one was planned.
They knew how he would fume and swear if he should be discovered with
dutiable goods and held up in the Custom House, and they planned for this
effect. A few days before arriving in New York one passenger after
another came to him, each with a box of expensive cigars, and some
pleasant speech expressing friendship and appreciation and a hope that
they would be remembered in absence, etc., until he had perhaps ten or a
dozen very choice boxes of smoking material. He took them all with
gratitude and innocence. He had never declared any dutiable baggage,
entering New York alone, and it never occurred to him that he would need
to do so now. His trunk and bags were full; he had the cigars made into
a nice package, to be carried handily, and on his arrival at the North
German Lloyd docks stood waiting among his things for the formality of
Customs examination, his friends assembled for the explosion.
They had not calculated well; the Custom-House official came along
presently with the usual "Open your baggage, please," then suddenly
recognizing the owner of it he said:
"Oh, Mr. Clemens, excuse me. We have orders to extend to you the
courtesies of the port. No examination of your effects is necessary."
It was the evening of Monday, April 3d, when he landed in New York and
went to the Hotel Glenham. In his notes he tells of having a two-hour
talk with Howells on the following night. They had not seen each other
for two years, and their correspondence had been broken off. It was a
happy, even if somewhat sad, reunion, for they were no longer young, and
when they called the roll of friends there were many vacancies. They had
reached an age where some one they loved died every year. Writing to
Mrs. Crane, Clemens speaks of the ghosts of memory; then he says:
I dreamed I was born & grew up & was a pilot on the Mississippi & a
miner & a journalist in Nevada & a pilgrim in the Quaker City & had
a wife & children & went to live in a villa at Florence--& this
dream goes on & on & sometimes seems so real that I almost believe
it is real. I wonder if it is? But there is no way to tell, for if
one applies tests they would be part of the dream, too, & so would
simply aid the deceit. I wish I knew whether it is a dream or real.
He was made handsomely welcome in New York. His note-book says:
Wednesday. Dined with Mary Mapes Dodge, Howells, Rudyard Kipling &
wife, Clarke,--[ William Fayal Clarke, now editor of St. Nicholas
Magazine.]--Jamie Dodge & wife.
Thursday, 6th. Dined with Andrew Carnegie, Prof. Goldwin Smith,
John Cameron, Mr. Glenn. Creation of league for absorbing Canada
into our Union. Carnegie also wants to add Great Britain & Ireland.
It was on this occasion that Carnegie made his celebrated maxim about the
basket and the eggs. Clemens was suggesting that Carnegie take an
interest in the typesetter, and quoted the old adage that one should not
put all of his eggs into one basket. Carnegie regarded him through half-
closed lids, as was his custom, and answered:
"That's a mistake; put all your eggs into one basket--and watch that
He had not come to America merely for entertainment. He was at the New
York office of the type-setter company, acquiring there what seemed to be
good news, for he was assured that his interests were being taken care
of, and that within a year at most his royalty returns would place him
far beyond the fear of want. He forwarded this good news to Italy, where
it was sorely needed, for Mrs. Clemens found her courage not easy to
sustain in his absence. That he had made his letter glowing enough, we
may gather from her answer.
It does not seem credible that we are really again to have money to
spend. I think I will jump around and spend money just for fun, and
give a little away, if we really get some. What should we do and
how should we feel if we had no bright prospects before us, and yet
how many people are situated in that way?
He decided to make another trip to Chicago to verify, with his own eyes,
the manufacturing reports, and to see Paige, who would appear to have
become more elusive than ever as to contracts, written and implied. He
took Hall with him, and wrote Orion to meet him at the Great Northern
Hotel. This would give him a chance to see Orion and would give Orion a
chance to see the great Fair. He was in Chicago eleven days, and in bed
with a heavy cold almost the whole of that time. Paige came to see him
at his rooms, and, as always, was rich in prospects and promises; full of
protestations that, whatever came, when the tide of millions rolled in,
they would share and share alike. The note-book says:
Paige shed even more tears than usual. What a talker he is! He
could persuade a fish to come out and take a walk with him. When he
is present I always believe him; I can't help it.
Clemens returned to New York as soon as he was able to travel. Going
down in the elevator a man stepped in from one of the floors swearing
violently. Clemens, leaning over to Hall, with his hand to his mouth,
and in a whisper audible to every one, said:
"Bishop of Chicago."
The man, with a quick glance, recognized his fellow-passenger and
On May 13th Clemens took the Kaiser Wilhelm II. for Genoa. He had
accomplished little, but he was in better spirits as to the machine.
If only the strain of his publishing business had slackened even for a
moment! Night and day it was always with him. Hall presently wrote that
the condition of the money-market was "something beyond description. You
cannot get money on anything short of government bonds." The Mount
Morris Bank would no longer handle their paper. The Clemens household
resorted to economies hitherto undreamed of. Mrs. Clemens wrote to her
sister that she really did not see sometimes where their next money would
come from. She reported that her husband got up in the night and walked
the floor in his distress.
He wrote again to Hall, urging him to sell and get rid of the debts and
responsibilities at whatever sacrifice:
I am terribly tired of business. I am by nature and disposition
unfit for it, & I want to get out of it. I am standing on the Mount
Morris volcano with help from the machine a long, long way off--&
doubtless a long way further off than the Connecticut company
Get me out of business!
He knew something of the delays of completing a typesetting machine, and
he had little faith in any near relief from that source. He wrote again
go Hall, urging him to sell some of his type-setter royalties. They
should be worth something now since the manufacturing company was
actually in operation; but with the terrible state of the money-market
there was no sale for anything. Clemens attempted to work, but put in
most of his time footing up on the margin of his manuscript the amount of
his indebtedness, the expenses of his household, and the possibilities of
his income. It was weary, hard, nerve-racking employment. About the
muddle of June they closed Viviani. Susy Clemens went to Paris to
cultivate her voice, a rare soprano, with a view to preparing for the
operatic stage. Clemens took Mrs. Clemens, with little Jean, to Germany
for the baths. Clara, who had graduated from Mrs. Willard's school in
Berlin, joined them in Munich, and somewhat later Susy also joined them,
for Madame Marchesi, the great master of voice-culture, had told her that
she must acquire physique to carry that voice of hers before she would
undertake to teach her.
In spite of his disturbed state of mind Clemens must have completed some
literary work during this period, for we find first mention, in a letter
to Hall, of his immortal defense of Harriet Shelley, a piece of writing
all the more marvelous when we consider the conditions of its
performance. Characteristically, in the same letter, he suddenly
develops a plan for a new enterprise--this time for a magazine which
Arthur Stedman or his father will edit, and the Webster company will
publish as soon as their present burdens are unloaded. But we hear no
more of this project.
But by August he was half beside himself with anxiety. On the 6th he
Here we never see a newspaper, but even if we did I could not come
anywhere near appreciating or correctly estimating the tempest you
have been buffeting your way through--only the man who is in it can
do that--but I have tried not to burden you thoughtlessly or
wantonly. I have been overwrought & unsettled in mind by
apprehensions, & that is a thing that is not helpable when one is in
a strange land & sees his resources melt down to a two months'
supply & can't see any sure daylight beyond. The bloody machine
offers but a doubtful outlook--& will still offer nothing much
better for a long time to come; for when the "three weeks" are up,
there will be three months' tinkering to follow, I guess. That is
unquestionably the boss machine of the world, but is the toughest
one on prophets when it is in an incomplete state that has ever seen
And three days later:
Great Scott, but it's a long year--for you & me! I never knew the
almanac to drag so. At least not since I was finishing that other
I watch for your letters hungrily--just as I used to watch for the
telegram saying the machine's finished--but when "next week
certainly" suddenly swelled into "three weeks sure" I recognized the
old familiar tune I used to hear so much. W---- don't know what
sick-heartedness is--but he is in a way to find out.
And finally, on the 4th:
I am very glad indeed if you and Mr. Langdon are able to see any
daylight ahead. To me none is visible. I strongly advise that
every penny that comes in shall be applied to paying off debts. I
may be in error about this, but it seems to me that we have no other
course open. We can pay a part of the debts owing to outsiders--
none to Clemenses. In very prosperous times we might regard our
stock & copyrights as assets sufficient, with the money owing to us,
to square up & quit even, but I suppose we may not hope for such
luck in the present condition of things.
What I am mainly hoping for is to save my book royalties. If they
come into danger I hope you will cable me so that I can come over &
try to save them, for if they go I am a beggar.
I would sail to-day if I had anybody to take charge of my family &
help them through the difficult journeys commanded by the doctors.
A few days later he could stand it no longer, and on August 29 (1893)
sailed, the second time that year, for New York.