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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CXCVII. Finishing the Book of Travel
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|One reading the Equator book to-day, and knowing the circumstances under
which it was written, might be puzzled to reconcile the secluded
household and its atmosphere of sorrow with certain gaieties of the
subject matter. The author himself wondered at it, and to Howells wrote:
I don't mean that I am miserable; no-worse than that--indifferent.
Indifferent to nearly everything but work. I like that; I enjoy it,
& stick to it. I do it without purpose & without ambition; merely
for the love of it. Indeed, I am a mud-image; & it puzzles me to
know what it is in me that writes & has comedy fancies & finds
pleasure in phrasing them. It is the law of our nature, of course,
or it wouldn't happen; the thing in me forgets the presence of the
mud-image, goes its own way wholly unconscious of it & apparently of
no kinship with it.
He saw little company. Now and, then a good friend, J.Y.W. MacAlister,
came in for a smoke with him. Once Clemens sent this line:
You speak a language which I understand. I would like to see you.
Could you come and smoke some manilas; I would, of course, say dine,
but my family are hermits & cannot see any one, but I would have a
fire in my study, & if you came at any time after your dinner that
might be most convenient for you you would find me & a welcome.
Clemens occasionally went out to dinner, but very privately. He dined
with Bram Stoker, who invited Anthony Hope and one or two others, and
with the Chattos and Mr. Percy Spalding; also with Andrew Lang, who
wrote, "Your old friend, Lord Lome, wants to see you again"; with the
Henry M. Stanleys and Poultney Bigelow, and with Francis H. Skrine, a
government official he had met in India. But in all such affairs he was
protected from strangers and his address was kept a secret from the
public. Finally, the new-found cousin, Dr. Jim Clemens, fell ill, and
the newspapers had it presently that Mark Twain was lying at the point of
death. A reporter ferreted him out and appeared at Tedworth Square with
cabled instructions from his paper. He was a young man, and innocently
enough exhibited his credentials. His orders read:
"If Mark Twain very ill, five hundred words. If dead, send one
Clemens smiled grimly as he handed back the cable.
"You don't need as much as that," he said. "Just say the report of my
death has been grossly exaggerated."
The young man went away quite seriously, and it was not until he was
nearly to his office that he saw the joke. Then, of course, it was
flashed all over the world.
Clemens kept grinding steadily at the book, for it was to be a very large
volume--larger than he had ever written before. To MacAlister, April 6,
1897, he wrote, replying to some invitation:
Ah, but I mustn't stir from my desk before night now when the
publisher is hurrying me & I am almost through. I am up at work
now--4 o'clock in the morning-and a few more spurts will pull me
through. You come down here & smoke; that is better than tempting a
working-man to strike & go to tea.
And it would move me too deeply to see Miss Corelli. When I saw her
last it was on the street in Homburg, & Susy was walking with me.
On April 13th he makes a note-book entry: "I finished my book to-day,"
and on the 15th he wrote MacAlister, inclosing some bits of manuscript:
I finished my book yesterday, and the madam edited this stuff out of
it--on the ground that the first part is not delicate & the last
part is indelicate. Now, there's a nice distinction for you--&
correctly stated, too, & perfectly true.
It may interest the reader to consider briefly the manner in which Mark
Twain's "editor" dealt with his manuscript, and a few pages of this
particular book remain as examples. That he was not always entirely
tractable, or at least submissive, but that he did yield, and graciously,
is clearly shown.
In one of her comments Mrs. Clemens wrote:
Page 597. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that you go too
minutely into particulars in describing the feats of the
aboriginals. I felt it in the boomerang-throwing.
And Clemens just below has written:
Boomerang has been furnished with a special train--that is, I've
turned it into "Appendix." Will that answer?
Page 1002. I don't like the "shady-principled cat that has a family
in every port."
Then I'll modify him just a little.
Page 1020. 9th line from the top. I think some other word would be
better than "stench." You have used that pretty often.
But can't I get it in anywhere? You've knocked it out every time.
Out it goes again. And yet "stench" is a noble, good word.
Page 1038. I hate to have your father pictured as lashing a slave
It's out, and my father is whitewashed.
Page 1050. 2d line from the bottom. Change breech-clout. It's a
word that you love and I abominate. I would take that and "offal"
out of the language.
You are steadily weakening the English tongue, Livy.
Page 1095. Perhaps you don't care, but whoever told you that the
Prince's green stones were rubies told an untruth. They were superb
emeralds. Those strings of pearls and emeralds were famous all over
All right, I'll make them emeralds, but it loses force. Green
rubies is a fresh thing. And besides it was one of the Prince's own
staff liars that told me.
That the book was not quite done, even after the triumphant entry of
April 13th, is shown by another note which followed something more than a
May 18, 1897. Finished the book again--addition of 30,000 words.
And to MacAlister he wrote:
I have finished the book at last--and finished it for good this
time. Now I am ready for dissipation with a good conscience. What
night will you come down & smoke?
His book finished, Clemens went out rather more freely, and one evening
allowed MacAlister to take him around to the Savage Club. There happened
to be a majority of the club committee present, and on motion Mark Twain
was elected an honorary life member. There were but three others on whom
this distinction had been conferred--Stanley, Nansen, and the Prince of
Wales. When they told Mark Twain this he said:
"Well, it must make the Prince feel mighty fine."--[In a volume of Savage
Club anecdotes the date of Mark Twain's election to honorary membership
is given as 1899. Clemens's notebook gives it in 1897.]
He did not intend to rest; in another entry we find:
May 23, 1897. Wrote first chapter of above story to-day.
The "above story" is a synopsis of a tale which he tried then and later
in various forms--a tale based on a scientific idea that one may dream an
episode covering a period of years in minute detail in what, by our
reckoning, may be no more than a few brief seconds. In this particular
form of the story a man sits down to write some memories and falls into a
doze. The smell of his cigarette smoke causes him to dream of the
burning of his home, the destruction of his family, and of a long period
of years following. Awakening a few seconds later, and confronted by his
wife and children, he refuses to believe in their reality, maintaining
that this condition, and not the other, is the dream. Clemens tried the
psychological literary experiment in as many as three different ways
during the next two or three years, and each at considerable length; but
he developed none of them to his satisfaction, or at least he brought
none of them to conclusion. Perhaps the most weird of these attempts,
and the most intensely interesting, so long as the verisimilitude is
maintained, is a dream adventure in a drop of water which, through an
incredible human reduction to microbic, even atomic, proportions, has
become a vast tempestuous sea. Mark Twain had the imagination for these
undertakings and the literary workmanship, lacking only a definite plan
for development of his tale--a lack which had brought so many of his
literary ventures to the rocks.