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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Clemens had been ill in Elmira with a distressing carbuncle, and was
still in no condition to undertake steady travel and entertainment in
that fierce summer heat. He was fearful of failure. "I sha'n't be able
to stand on a platform," he wrote Mr. Rogers; but they pushed along
steadily with few delays. They began in Cleveland, thence by the Great
Lakes, traveling by steamer from one point to another, going constantly,
with readings at every important point--Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul,
Winnipeg, Butte, and through the great Northwest, arriving at Vancouver
at last on August 16th, but one day behind schedule time.
It had been a hot, blistering journey, but of immense interest, for none
of them had traveled through the Northwest, and the wonder and grandeur
of it all, its scenery, its bigness, its mighty agriculture, impressed
them. Clemens in his notes refers more than once to the "seas" and
"ocean" of wheat.
There is the peace of the ocean about it and a deep contentment, a
heaven-wide sense of ampleness, spaciousness, where pettiness and
all small thoughts and tempers must be out of place, not suited to
it, and so not intruding. The scattering, far-off homesteads, with
trees about them, were so homelike and remote from the warring
world, so reposeful and enticing. The most distant and faintest
under the horizon suggested fading ships at sea.
The Lake travel impressed him; the beauties and cleanliness of the Lake
steamers, which he compares with those of Europe, to the disadvantage of
the latter. Entering Port Huron he wrote:
The long approach through narrow ways with flat grass and wooded
land on both sides, and on the left a continuous row of summer
cottages, with small-boat accommodations for visiting across the
little canals from family to family, the groups of summer-dressed
young people all along waving flags and handkerchiefs and firing
cannon, our boat replying with toots of the hoarse whistle and now
and then a cannon, and meeting steamers in the narrow way, and once
the stately sister-ship of the line crowded with summer-dressed
people waving-the rich browns and greens of the rush-grown, far-
reaching flat-lands, with little glimpses of water away on their
farther edges, the sinking sun throwing a crinkled broad carpet of
gold on the water-well, it is the perfection of voyaging.
It had seemed a doubtful experiment to start with Mrs. Clemens on that
journey in the summer heat; but, strange to say, her health improved, and
she reached Vancouver by no means unfit for the long voyage ahead. No
doubt the change and continuous interest and their splendid welcome
everywhere and their prosperity were accountable. Everywhere they were
entertained; flowers filled their rooms; carriages and committees were
always waiting. It was known that Mark Twain had set out for the purpose
of paying his debts, and no cause would make a deeper appeal to his
countrymen than that, or, for that matter, to the world at large.
From Winnipeg he wrote to Mr. Rogers:
At the end of an hour and a half I offered to let the audience go,
but they said "go on," and I did.
He had five thousand dollars to forward to Rogers to place against his
debt account by the time he reached the Coast, a fine return for a
month's travel in that deadly season. At no more than two places were
the houses less than crowded. One of these was Anaconda, then a small
place, which they visited only because the manager of the entertainment
hall there had known Clemens somewhere back in the sixties and was eager
to have him. He failed to secure the amount of the guarantee required by
Pond, and when Pond reported to Clemens that he had taken "all he had"
"And you took the last cent that poor fellow had. Send him one hundred
dollars, and if you can't afford to stand your share charge it all to me.
I'm not going around robbing my friends who are disappointed in my
commercial value. I don't want to get money that way."
"I sent the money," said Pond afterward, "and was glad of the privilege
of standing my share."
Clemens himself had not been in the best of health during the trip. He
had contracted a heavy cold and did not seem to gain strength. But in a
presentation copy of 'Roughing It', given to Pond as a souvenir, he
"Here ends one of the smoothest and pleasantest trips across the
continent that any group of five has ever made."
There were heavy forest fires in the Northwest that year, and smoke
everywhere. The steamer Waryimoo, which was to have sailed on the 16th,
went aground in the smoke, and was delayed a week. While they were
waiting, Clemens lectured in Victoria, with the Governor-General and Lady
Aberdeen and their little son in the audience. His note-book says:
They came in at 8.45, 15 minutes late; wish they would always be
present, for it isn't permissible to begin until they come; by that
time the late-comers are all in.
Clemens wrote a number of final letters from Vancouver. In one of them
to Mr. J. Henry Harper, of Harper & Brothers, he expressed the wish that
his name might now be printed as the author of "Joan," which had begun
serially in the April Magazine. He thought it might, help his lecturing
tour and keep his name alive. But a few days later, with Mrs. Clemens's
help, he had reconsidered, and wrote:
My wife is a little troubled by my wanting my nom de plume put to
the "Joan of Arc" so soon. She thinks it might go counter to your
plans, and that you ought to be left free and unhampered in the
All right-so be it. I wasn't strenuous about it, and wasn't meaning
to insist; I only thought my reasons were good, and I really think
so yet, though I do confess the weight and fairness of hers.
As a matter of fact the authorship of "Joan" had been pretty generally
guessed by the second or third issue. Certain of its phrasing and humor
could hardly have come from another pen than Mark Twain's. The
authorship was not openly acknowledged, however, until the publication of
the book, the following May.
Among the letters from Vancouver was this one to Rudyard Kipling
DEAR KIPLING,--It is reported that you are about to visit India.
This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may
unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago you
came from India to Elmira to visit me, as you said at the time. It
has always been my purpose to return that visit & that great
compliment some day. I shall arrive next January & you must be
ready. I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with
silver bells & ribbons & escorted by a troop of native howdahs
richly clad & mounted upon a herd of wild bungalows; & you must be
on hand with a few bottles of ghee, for I shall be thirsty.
To the press he gave this parting statement:
It has been reported that I sacrificed for the benefit of the
creditors the property of the publishing firm whose financial backer
I was and that I am now lecturing for my own benefit. This is an
error. I intend the lectures as well as the property for the
creditors. The law recognizes no mortgage on a man's brain, and a
merchant who has given up all he has may take advantage of the laws
of insolvency and start free again for himself. But I am not a
business man, and honor is a harder master than the law. It cannot
compromise for less than 100 cents on the dollar and its debts never
outlaw. From my reception thus far on my lecturing tour I am
confident that if I live I can pay off the last debt within four
years, after which, at the age of sixty-four, I can make a fresh and
unincumbered start in life. I am going to Australia, India, and
South Africa, and next year I hope to make a tour of the great
cities of the United States. I meant, when I began, to give my
creditors all the benefit of this, but I am beginning to feel that I
am gaining something from it, too, and that my dividends, if not
available for banking purposes, may be even more satisfactory than
There was one creditor, whose name need, not be "handed down to infamy,"
who had refused to consent to any settlement except immediate payment in
full, and had pursued with threatened attachment of earnings and
belongings, until Clemens, exasperated, had been disposed to turn over to
his creditors all remaining properties and let that suffice, once and for
all. But this was momentary. He had presently instructed Mr. Rogers to
"pay Shylock in full," and to assure any others that he would pay them,
too, in the end. But none of the others annoyed him.
It was on the afternoon of August 23, 1895, that they were off at last.
Major Pond and his wife lunched with them on board and waved them good-by
as long as they could see the vessel. The far voyage which was to carry
them for the better part of the year to the under side of the world had