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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CXC. Starting on the Long Trail
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The tragedy of 'Pudd'nhead Wilson', with its splendid illustrations by
Louis Loeb, having finished its course in the Century Magazine, had been
issued by the American Publishing Company. It proved not one of Mark
Twain's great books, but only one of his good books. From first to last
it is interesting, and there are strong situations and chapters finely
written. The character of Roxy is thoroughly alive, and her weird
relationship with her half-breed son is startling enough. There are not
many situations in fiction stronger than that where half-breed Tom sells
his mother down the river into slavery. The negro character is well
drawn, of course-Mark Twain could not write it less than well, but its
realism is hardly to be compared with similar matter in his other books--
in Tom Sawyer, for instance, or Huck Finn. With the exceptions of Tom,
Roxy, and Pudd'nhead the characters are slight. The Twins are mere
bodiless names that might have been eliminated altogether. The character
of Pudd'nhead Wilson is lovable and fine, and his final triumph at the
murder trial is thrilling in the extreme. Identification by thumb-marks
was a new feature in fiction then--in law, too, for that matter. But it
is chiefly Pudd'nhead Wilson's maxims, run at the head of each chapter,
that will stick in the memory of men. Perhaps the book would live
without these, but with them it is certainly immortal.
Such aphorisms as: "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits";
"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good
example"; "When angry count four, and when very angry swear," cannot
perish; these, with the forty or so others in this volume and the added
collection of rare philosophies that head the chapters of Following the
Equator, have insured to Philosopher Pudd'nhead a respectful hearing for
all time.--[The story of Pudd'nhead Wilson was dramatized by Frank Mayo,
who played it successfully as long as he lived. It is by no means dead,
and still pays a royalty to the Mayo and Clemens estates.]
Clemens had meant to begin another book, but he decided first to make a
trip to America, to give some personal attention to publishing matters
there. They were a good deal confused. The Harpers had arranged for the
serial and book publication of Joan, and were negotiating for the Webster
contracts. Mr. Rogers was devoting priceless time in an effort to
establish amicable relations between the Harpers and the American Company
at Hartford so that they could work on some general basis that would be
satisfactory and profitable to all concerned. It was time that Clemens
was on the scene of action. He sailed on the New York on the end of
February, and a little more than a month later returned by the Paris--
that is, at the end of March. By this time he had altogether a new
thought. It was necessary to earn a large sum of money as promptly as
possible, and he adopted the plan which twice before in his life in 1872
and in 1884:--had supplied him with needed funds. Loathing the platform
as he did, he was going back to it. Major Pond had proposed. a lecture
tour soon after his failure.
"The loss of a fortune is tough," wrote Pond, "but there are other
resources for another fortune. You and I will make the tour together."
Now he had resolved to make a tour-one that even Pond himself had not
contemplated. He would go platforming around the world! He would take
Pond with him as far as the Pacific coast, arranging with some one
equally familiar with the lecture circuit on the other side of the
Pacific. He had heard of R. S. Smythe, who had personally conducted
Henry M. Stanley and other great lecturers through Australia and the
East, and he wrote immediately, asking information and advice concerning
such a tour. Clemens himself has told us in one of his chapters how his
mental message found its way to Smythe long before his written one, and
how Smythe's letter, proposing just such a trip, crossed his own.
He sailed for America, with the family on the 11th of May, and a little
more than a week later, after four years of exile, they found themselves
once more at beautiful Quarry Farm. We may imagine how happy they were
to reach that peaceful haven. Mrs. Clemens had written:
"It is, in a way, hard to go home and feel that we are not able to open
our house. But it is an immense delight to me to think of seeing our
Little at the farm was changed. There were more vines on the home--the
study was overgrown--that was all. Even Ellerslie remained as the
children had left it, with all the small comforts and utensils in place.
Most of the old friends were there; only Mrs. Langdon and Theodore Crane
were missing. The Beechers drove up to see them, as formerly, and the
old discussions on life and immortality were taken up in the old places.
Mrs. Beecher once came with some curious thin layers of leaves of stone
which she had found, knowing Mark Twain's interest in geology. Later,
when they had been discussing the usual problems, he said he would write
an agreement on those imperishable leaves, to be laid away until the ages
should solve their problems. He wrote it in verse:
If you prove right and I prove wrong,
A million years from now,
In language plain and frank and strong
My error I'll avow
To your dear waking face.
If I prove right, by God His grace,
Full sorry I shall be,
For in that solitude no trace
There'll be of you and me.
A million years, O patient stone,
You've waited for this message.
Deliver it a million hence;
(Survivor pays expressage.)
Contract with Mrs. T. K. Beecher, July 2, 1895.
Pond came to Elmira and the route westward was arranged. Clemens decided
to give selections from his books, as he had done with Cable, and to
start without much delay. He dreaded the prospect of setting out on that
long journey alone, nor could Mrs. Clemens find it in her heart to
consent to such a plan. It was bitterly hard to know what to do, but it
was decided at last that she and one of the elder daughters should
accompany him, the others remaining with their aunt at Quarry Farm.
Susy, who had the choice, dreaded ocean travel, and felt that she would
be happier and healthier to rest in the quiet of that peaceful hilltop.
She elected to remain with her aunt and Jean; and it fell to Clara to go.
Major Pond and his wife would accompany them as far as Vancouver. They
left Elmira on the night of the 14th of July. When the train pulled away
their last glimpse was of Susy, standing with the others under the
electric light of the railway platform, waving them good-by.