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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCXVIII. New Interests and Investments
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The spirit which a year earlier had prompted Mark Twain to prepare his
"Salutation from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Century" inspired him
now to conceive the "Stupendous International Procession," a gruesome
pageant described in a document (unpublished) of twenty-two typewritten
pages which begin:
THE STUPENDOUS PROCESSION
At the appointed hour it moved across the world in following order:
The Twentieth Century
A fair young creature, drunk and disorderly, borne in the arms of
Satan. Banner with motto, "Get What You Can, Keep What You Get."
Guard of Honor--Monarchs, Presidents, Tammany Bosses, Burglars, Land
Thieves, Convicts, etc., appropriately clothed and bearing the
symbols of their several trades.
A majestic matron in flowing robes drenched with blood. On her head
a golden crown of thorns; impaled on its spines the bleeding heads
of patriots who died for their countries Boers, Boxers, Filipinos;
in one hand a slung-shot, in the other a Bible, open at the text "Do
unto others," etc. Protruding from pocket bottle labeled "We bring
you the blessings of civilization." Necklace-handcuffs and a
Supporters--At one elbow Slaughter, at the other Hypocrisy.
Banner with motto--"Love Your Neighbor's Goods as Yourself."
Ensign--The Black Flag.
Guard of Honor--Missionaries and German, French, Russian, and
British soldiers laden with loot.
And so on, with a section for each nation of the earth, headed each by
the black flag, each bearing horrid emblems, instruments of torture,
mutilated prisoners, broken hearts, floats piled with bloody corpses. At
the end of all, banners inscribed:
"All White Men are Born Free and Equal."
"Christ died to make men holy,
Christ died to make men free."
with the American flag furled and draped in crepe, and the shade of
Lincoln towering vast and dim toward the sky, brooding with sorrowful
aspect over the far-reaching pageant. With much more of the same sort.
It is a fearful document, too fearful, we may believe, for Mrs. Clemens
ever to consent to its publication.
Advancing years did little toward destroying Mark Twain's interest in
human affairs. At no time in his life was he more variously concerned
and employed than in his sixty-seventh year--matters social, literary,
political, religious, financial, scientific. He was always alive, young,
actively cultivating or devising interests--valuable and otherwise,
though never less than important to him.
He had plenty of money again, for one thing, and he liked to find
dazzlingly new ways for investing it. As in the old days, he was always
putting "twenty-five or forty thousand dollars," as he said, into
something that promised multiplied returns. Howells tells how he found
him looking wonderfully well, and when he asked the name of his elixir he
learned that it was plasmon.
I did not immediately understand that plasmon was one of the
investments which he had made from "the substance of things hoped
for," and in the destiny of a disastrous disappointment. But after
paying off the creditors of his late publishing firm he had to do
something with his money, and it was not his fault if he did not
make a fortune out of plasmon.
It was just at this period (the beginning of 1902) that he was promoting
with his capital and enthusiasm the plasmon interests in America,
investing in it one of the "usual amounts," promising to make Howells
over again body and soul with the life-giving albuminate. Once he wrote
him explicit instructions:
Yes--take it as a medicine--there is nothing better, nothing surer
of desired results. If you wish to be elaborate--which isn't
necessary--put a couple of heaping teaspoonfuls of the powder in an
inch of milk & stir until it is a paste; put in some more milk and
stir the paste to a thin gruel; then fill up the glass and drink.
Or, stir it into your soup.
Or, into your oatmeal.
Or, use any method you like, so's you get it down--that is the only
He put another "usual sum" about this time in a patent cash register
which was acknowledged to be "a promise rather than a performance," and
remains so until this day.
He capitalized a patent spiral hat-pin, warranted to hold the hat on in
any weather, and he had a number of the pins handsomely made to present
to visitors of the sex naturally requiring that sort of adornment and
protection. It was a pretty and ingenious device and apparently
effective enough, though it failed to secure his invested thousands.
He invested a lesser sum in shares of the Booklover's Library, which was
going to revolutionize the reading world, and which at least paid a few
dividends. Even the old Tennessee land will-o'-the-wisp-long since
repudiated and forgotten--when it appeared again in the form of a
possible equity in some overlooked fragment, kindled a gentle interest,
and was added to his list of ventures.
He made one substantial investment at this period. They became more and
more in love with the Hudson environment, its beauty and its easy access
to New York. Their house was what they liked it to be--a gathering--
place for friends and the world's notables, who could reach it easily and
quickly from New York. They had a steady procession of company when Mrs.
Clemens's health would permit, and during a single week in the early part
of this year entertained guests at no less than seventeen out of their
twenty-one meals, and for three out of the seven nights--not an unusual
week. Their plan for buying a home on the Hudson ended with the purchase
of what was known as Hillcrest, or the Casey place, at Tarrytown,
overlooking that beautiful stretch of river, the Tappan Zee, close to the
Washington Irving home. The beauty of its outlook and surroundings
appealed to them all. The house was handsome and finely placed, and they
planned to make certain changes that would adapt it to their needs. The
price, which was less than fifty thousand dollars, made it an attractive
purchase; and without doubt it would have made them a suitable and happy
home had it been written in the future that they should so inherit it.
Clemens was writing pretty steadily these days. The human race was
furnishing him with ever so many inspiring subjects, and he found time to
touch more or less on most of them. He wreaked his indignation upon the
things which exasperated him often--even usually--without the expectation
of print; and he delivered himself even more inclusively at such times as
he walked the floor between the luncheon or dinner courses, amplifying on
the poverty of an invention that had produced mankind as a supreme
handiwork. In a letter to Howells he wrote:
Your comments on that idiot's "Ideals" letter reminds me that I preached
a good sermon to my family yesterday on his particular layer of the human
race, that grotesquest of all the inventions of the Creator. It was a
good sermon, but coldly received, & it seemed best not to try to take up
He once told Howells, with the wild joy of his boyish heart, how Mrs.
Clemens found some compensation, when kept to her room by illness, in the
reflection that now she would not hear so much about the "damned human
Yet he was always the first man to champion that race, and the more
unpromising the specimen the surer it was of his protection, and he never
invited, never expected gratitude.
One wonders how he found time to do all the things that he did. Besides
his legitimate literary labors and his preachments, he was always writing
letters to this one and that, long letters on a variety of subjects,
carefully and picturesquely phrased, and to people of every sort. He
even formed a curious society, whose members were young girls--one in
each country of the earth. They were supposed to write to him at
intervals on some subject likely to be of mutual interest, to which
letters he agreed to reply. He furnished each member with a typewritten
copy of the constitution and by-laws of the juggernaut Club, as he called
it, and he apprised each of her election, usually after this fashion:
I have a club--a private club, which is all my own. I appoint the
members myself, & they can't help themselves, because I don't allow
them to vote on their own appointment & I don't allow them to
resign! They are all friends whom I have never seen (save one), but
who have written friendly letters to me. By the laws of my club
there can be only one member in each country, & there can be no male
member but myself. Some day I may admit males, but I don't know-
they are capricious & inharmonious, & their ways provoke me a good
deal. It is a matter, which the club shall decide. I have made
four appointments in the past three or four months: You as a member
for Scotland--oh, this good while!; a young citizeness of Joan of
Arc's home region as a member for France; a Mohammedan girl as
member for Bengal; & a dear & bright young niece of mine as member
for the United States--for I do not represent a country myself, but
am merely member-at-large for the human race. You must not try to
resign, for the laws of the club do not allow that. You must
console yourself by remembering that you are in the best company;
that nobody knows of your membership except yourself; that no member
knows another's name, but only her country; that no taxes are levied
and no meetings held (but how dearly I should like to attend one!).
One of my members is a princess of a royal house, another is the
daughter of a village bookseller on the continent of Europe, for the
only qualification for membership is intellect & the spirit of good-
will; other distinctions, hereditary or acquired, do not count. May
I send you the constitution & laws of the club? I shall be so glad
if I may.
It was just one of his many fancies, and most of the active memberships
would not long be maintained; though some continued faithful in their
reports, as he did in his replies, to the end.
One of the more fantastic of his conceptions was a plan to advertise for
ante-mortem obituaries of himself--in order, as he said, that he might
look them over and enjoy them and make certain corrections in the matter
of detail. Some of them he thought might be appropriate to read from the
I will correct them--not the facts, but the verdicts--striking out
such clauses as could have a deleterious influence on the other
side, and replacing them with clauses of a more judicious character.
He was much taken with the new idea, and his request for such obituaries,
with an offer of a prize for the best--a portrait of himself drawn by his
own hand--really appeared in Harper's Weekly later in the year.
Naturally he got a shower of responses--serious, playful, burlesque.
Some of them were quite worth while.
The obvious "Death loves a shining Mark" was of course numerously
duplicated, and some varied it "Death loves an Easy Mark," and there was
"Mark, the perfect man."
The two that follow gave him especial pleasure.
OBITUARY FOR "MARK TWAIN"
Worthy of his portrait, a place on his monument, as well as a place
among his "perennial-consolation heirlooms":
"Got up; washed; went to bed."
The subject's own words (see Innocents Abroad). Can't go back on
your own words, Mark Twain. There's nothing "to strike out";
nothing "to replace." What more could be said of any one?
"Got up!"--Think of the fullness of meaning! The possibilities of
life, its achievements--physical, intellectual, spiritual. Got up
to the top!--the climax of human aspiration on earth!
"Washed"--Every whit clean; purified--body, soul, thoughts,
"Went to bed"--Work all done--to rest, to sleep. The culmination of
the day well spent!
God looks after the awakening.
Mrs. S. A. OREN-HAYNES.
Mark Twain was the only man who ever lived, so far as we know, whose
lies were so innocent, and withal so helpful, as to make them worth
more than a whole lot of fossilized priests' eternal truths.
D. H. KENNER.