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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCIV. The Second Winter in Vienna
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The Clemens family did not return to the Metropole for the winter, but
went to the new Krantz, already mentioned, where they had a handsome and
commodious suite looking down on the Neuer Markt and on the beautiful
facade of the Capuchin church, with the great cathedral only a step away.
There they passed another brilliant and busy winter. Never in Europe had
they been more comfortably situated; attention had been never more
lavishly paid to them. Their drawing-room was a salon which acquired the
name of the "Second Embassy." Clemens in his note-book wrote:
During 8 years now I have filled the position--with some credit, I trust,
of self-appointed ambassador-at-large of the United States of America--
Which was a joke; but there was a large grain of truth in it, for Mark
Twain, more than any other American in Europe, was regarded as typically
representing his nation and received more lavish honors.
It had become the fashion to consult him on every question of public
interest, for he was certain to say something worth printing, whether
seriously or otherwise. When the Tsar of Russia proposed the disarmament
of the nations William T. Stead, editor of the Review of Reviews, wrote
for Mark Twain's opinion. He replied:
DEAR MR. STEADY,--The Tsar is ready to disarm. I am ready to disarm.
Collect the others; it should not be much of a task now.
He was on a tide of prosperity once more, one that was to continue now
until the end. He no longer had any serious financial qualms. He could
afford to be independent. He refused ten thousand dollars for a tobacco
indorsement, though he liked the tobacco well enough; and he was aware
that even royalty was willing to put a value on its opinions. He
declined ten thousand dollars a year for five years to lend his name as
editor of a humorous periodical, though there was no reason to suppose
that the paper would be otherwise than creditably conducted. He declined
lecture propositions from Pond at the rate of about one a month. He
could get along without these things, he said, and still preserve some
remnants of self-respect. In a letter to Rogers he said:
Pond offers me $10,000 for 10 nights, but I do not feel strongly tempted.
Mrs. Clemens ditto.
Early in 1899 he wrote to Howells that Mrs. Clemens had proved to him
that they owned a house and furniture in Hartford, that his English and
American copyrights paid an income on the equivalent of two hundred
thousand dollars, and that they had one hundred and seven thousand
dollars' accumulation in the bank.
"I have been out and bought a box of 6c. cigars," he says; "I was smoking
4 1/2c. before."
The things that men are most likely to desire had come to Mark Twain, and
no man was better qualified to rejoice in them. That supreme, elusive
thing which we call happiness might have been his now but for the tragedy
of human bereavement and the torture of human ills. That he did rejoice
--reveled indeed like a boy in his new fortunes, the honors paid him, and
in all that gay Viennese life-there is no doubt. He could wave aside
care and grief and remorse, forget their very existence, it seemed; but
in the end he had only driven them ahead a little way and they waited by
his path. Once, after reciting his occupations and successes, he wrote:
All these things might move and interest one. But how, desperately
more I have been moved to-night by the thought of a little old copy
in the nursery of 'At the Back of the North Wind'. Oh, what happy
days they were when that book was read, and how Susy loved it!...
Death is so kind, benignant, to whom he loves, but he goes by us
others & will not look our way.
And to Twichell a few days later:
A Hartford with no Susy in it--& no Ned Bunce!--It is not the city
of Hartford, it is the city of Heartbreak.... It seems only a few
weeks since I saw Susy last--yet that was 1895 & this is 1899....
My work does not go well to-day. It failed yesterday--& the day
before & the day before that. And so I have concluded to put the
MS. in the waste-basket & meddle with some other subject. I was
trying to write an article advocating the quadrupling of the
salaries of our ministers & ambassadors, & the devising of an
official dress for them to wear. It seems an easy theme, yet I
couldn't do the thing to my satisfaction. All I got out of it was
an article on Monaco & Monte Carlo--matters not connected with the
subject at all. Still, that was something--it's better than a total
He finished the article--"Diplomatic Pay and Clothes"--in which he shows
how absurd it is for America to expect proper representation on the
trifling salaries paid to her foreign ministers, as compared with those
allowed by other nations.
He prepared also a reminiscent article--the old tale of the shipwrecked
Hornet and the magazine article intended as his literary debut a
generation ago. Now and again he worked on some one of the several
unfinished longer tales, but brought none of them to completion. The
German drama interested him. Once he wrote to Mr. Rogers that he had
translated "In Purgatory" and sent it to Charles Frohman, who pronounced
it "all jabber and no play."
Curious, too, for it tears these Austrians to pieces with laughter. When
I read it, now, it seems entirely silly; but when I see it on the stage
it is exceedingly funny.
He undertook a play for the Burg Theater, a collaboration with a Vienna
journalist, Siegmund Schlesinger. Schlesinger had been successful with
several dramas, and agreed with Clemens to do some plays dealing with
American themes. One of them was to be called "Die Goldgraeberin," that
is, "The Woman Gold-Miner." Another, "The Rival Candidates," was to
present the humors of female suffrage. Schlesinger spoke very little
English, and Clemens always had difficulty in comprehending rapid-fire
German. So the work did not progress very well. By the time they had
completed a few scenes of mining-drama the interest died, and they good-
naturedly agreed that it would be necessary to wait until they understood
each other's language more perfectly before they could go on with the
project. Frau Kati Schratt, later morganatic wife of Emperor Franz
Josef, but then leading comedienne of the Burg Theater, is said to have
been cast for the leading part in the mining-play; and Director-General
Herr Schlenther, head of the Burg Theater management, was deeply
disappointed. He had never doubted that a play built by Schlesinger and
Mark Twain, with Frau Schratt in the leading role, would have been a
Clemens continued the subject of Christian Science that winter. He wrote
a number of articles, mainly criticizing Mrs. Eddy and her financial
methods, and for the first time conceived the notion of a book on the
subject. The new hierarchy not only amused but impressed him. He
realized that it was no ephemeral propaganda, that its appeal to human
need was strong, and that its system of organization was masterful and
complete. To Twichell he wrote:
Somehow I continue to feel sure of that cult's colossal future.... I am
selling my Lourdes stock already & buying Christian Science trust. I
regard it as the Standard Oil of the future.
He laid the article away for the time and, as was his custom, put the
play quite out of his mind and invented a postal-check which would be far
more simple than post-office orders, because one could buy them in any
quantity and denomination and keep them on hand for immediate use, making
them individually payable merely by writing in the name of the payee. It
seems a fine, simple scheme, one that might have been adopted by the
government long ago; but the idea has been advanced in one form or
another several times since then, and still remains at this writing
unadopted. He wrote John Hay about it, remarking at the close that the
government officials would probably not care to buy it as soon as they
found they couldn't kill Christians with it.
He prepared a lengthy article on the subject, in dialogue form, making it
all very clear and convincing, but for some reason none of the magazines
would take it. Perhaps it seemed too easy, too simple, too obvious.
Great ideas, once developed, are often like that.