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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCXXXIX. The Last Summer at Elmira
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The Clemenses were preparing to take up residence in Florence, Italy.
The Hartford house had been sold in May, ending forever the association
with the city that had so long been a part of their lives. The Tarrytown
place, which they had never occupied, they also agreed to sell, for it
was the belief now that Mrs. Clemens's health would never greatly prosper
there. Howells says, or at least implies, that they expected their
removal to Florence to be final. He tells us, too, of one sunny
afternoon when he and Clemens sat on the grass before the mansion at
Riverdale, after Mrs. Clemens had somewhat improved, and how they "looked
up toward a balcony where by and by that lovely presence made itself
visible, as if it had stooped there from a cloud. A hand frailly waved a
handkerchief; Clemens ran over the lawn toward it, calling tenderly." It
was a greeting to Howells the last he would ever receive from her.
Mrs. Clemens was able to make a trip to Elmira by the end of June, and on
the 1st of July Mr. Rogers brought Clemens and his wife down the river on
his yacht to the Lackawanna pier, and they reached Quarry Farm that
evening. She improved in the quietude and restfulness of that beloved
place. Three weeks later Clemens wrote to Twichell:
Livy is coming along: eats well, sleeps some, is mostly very gay, not
very often depressed; spends all day on the porch, sleeps there a part of
the night; makes excursions in carriage & in wheel-chair; &, in the
matter of superintending everything & everybody, has resumed business at
the old stand.
During three peaceful months she spent most of her days reclining on the
wide veranda, surrounded by those dearest to her, and looking out on the
dreamlike landscape--the long, grassy slope, the drowsy city, and the
distant hills--getting strength for the far journey by sea. Clemens did
some writing, occupying the old octagonal study--shut in now and
overgrown with vines--where during the thirty years since it was built so
many of his stories had been written. 'A Dog's Tale'--that pathetic
anti-vivisection story--appears to have been the last manuscript ever
completed in the spot consecrated by Huck and Tom, and by Tom Canty the
Pauper and the little wandering Prince.
It was October 5th when they left Elmira. Two days earlier Clemens had
written in his note-book:
Today I placed flowers on Susy's grave--for the last time probably--
& read words:
"Good-night, dear heart, good-night."
They did not return to Riverdale, but went to the Hotel Grosvenor for the
intervening weeks. They had engaged passage for Italy on the Princess
Irene, which would sail on the 24th. It was during the period of their
waiting that Clemens concluded his final Harper contract. On that day,
in his note-book, he wrote:
In 1895 Cheiro the palmist examined my hand & said that in my 68th year
(1903) I would become suddenly rich. I was a bankrupt & $94,000 in debt
at the time through the failure of Charles L. Webster & Co. Two years
later--in London--Cheiro repeated this long-distance prediction, & added
that the riches would come from a quite unexpected source. I am
superstitious. I kept the prediction in mind & often thought of it.
When at last it came true, October 22, 1903, there was but a month & 9
days to spare.
The contract signed that day concentrates all my books in Harper's hands
& now at last they are valuable; in fact they are a fortune. They
guarantee me $25,000 a year for 5 years, and they will yield twice as
much as that.--[In earlier note-books and letters Clemens more than once
refers to this prophecy and wonders if it is to be realized. The Harper
contract, which brought all of his books into the hands of one publisher
(negotiated for him by Mr. Rogers), proved, in fact, a fortune. The
books yielded always more than the guarantee; sometimes twice that
amount, as he had foreseen.]
During the conclusion of this contract Clemens made frequent visits to
Fairhaven on the Kanawha. Joe Goodman came from the Pacific to pay him a
good-by visit during this period. Goodman had translated the Mayan
inscriptions, and his work had received official recognition and
publication by the British Museum. It was a fine achievement for a man
in later life and Clemens admired it immensely. Goodman and Clemens
enjoyed each other in the old way at quiet resorts where they could talk
over the old tales. Another visitor of that summer was the son of an old
friend, a Hannibal printer named Daulton. Young Daulton came with
manuscripts seeking a hearing of the magazine editors, so Clemens wrote a
letter which would insure that favor:
INTRODUCING MR. GEO. DAULTON:
TO GILDER, ALDEN, HARVEY, McCLURE, WALKER, PAGE, BOK, COLLIER, and such
other members of the sacred guild as privilege me to call them friends-
Although I have no personal knowledge of the bearer of this, I have what
is better: He comes recommended to me by his own father--a thing not
likely to happen in any of your families, I reckon. I ask you, as a
favor to me, to waive prejudice & superstition for this once & examine
his work with an eye to its literary merit, instead of to the chastity of
its spelling. I wish to God you cared less for that particular.
I set (or sat) type alongside of his father, in Hannibal, more than 50
years ago, when none but the pure in heart were in that business. A true
man he was; and if I can be of any service to his son--and to you at the
same time, let me hope--I am here heartily to try.
Yours by the sanctions of time & deserving,
S. L. CLEMENS.
Among the kindly words which came to Mark Twain before leaving America
was this one which Rudyard Kipling had written to his publisher, Frank
I love to think of the great and godlike Clemens. He is the biggest
man you have on your side of the water by a damn sight, and don't
you forget it. Cervantes was a relation of his.
It curiously happened that Clemens at the same moment was writing to
Doubleday about Kipling:
I have been reading "The Bell Buoy" and "The Old Man" over and over
again-my custom with Kipling's work--and saving up the rest for
other leisurely and luxurious meals. A bell-buoy is a deeply
impressive fellow-being. In these many recent trips up and down the
Sound in the Kanawha he has talked to me nightly sometimes in his
pathetic and melancholy way, sometimes with his strenuous and urgent
note, and I got his meaning--now I have his words! No one but
Kipling could do this strong and vivid thing. Some day I hope to
hear the poem chanted or sung-with the bell-buoy breaking in out of
P. S.--Your letter has arrived. It makes me proud and glad--what
Kipling says. I hope Fate will fetch him to Florence while we are
there. I would rather see him than any other man.