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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCLV. Further Personalities
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Like every person living, Mark Twain had some peculiar and petty
economies. Such things in great men are noticeable. He lived
extravagantly. His household expenses at the time amounted to more than
fifty dollars a day. In the matter of food, the choicest, and most
expensive the market could furnish was always served in lavish abundance.
He had the best and highest-priced servants, ample as to number. His
clothes he bought generously; he gave without stint to his children; his
gratuities were always liberal. He never questioned pecuniary outgoes--
seldom worried as to the state of his bank-account so long as there was
plenty. He smoked cheap cigars because he preferred their flavor. Yet
he had his economies. I have seen him, before leaving a room, go around
and carefully lower the gas-jets, to provide against that waste. I have
known him to examine into the cost of a cab, and object to an apparent
overcharge of a few cents.
It seemed that his idea of economy might be expressed in these words: He
abhorred extortion and visible waste.
Furthermore, he had exact ideas as to ownership. One evening, while we
were playing billiards, I noticed a five-cent piece on the floor. I
picked it up, saying:
"Here is five cents; I don't know whose it is."
He regarded the coin rather seriously, I thought, and said:
"I don't know, either."
I laid it on the top of the book-shelves which ran around the room. The
play went on, and I forgot the circumstance. When the game ended that
night I went into his room with him, as usual, for a good-night word. As
he took his change and keys from the pocket of his trousers, he looked
the assortment over and said:
"That five-cent piece you found was mine."
I brought it to him at once, and he took it solemnly, laid it with the
rest of his change, and neither of us referred to it again. It may have
been one of his jokes, but I think it more likely that he remembered
having had a five-cent piece, probably reserved for car fare, and that it
More than once, in Washington, he had said:
"Draw plenty of money for incidental expenses. Don't bother to keep
account of them."
So it was not miserliness; it was just a peculiarity, a curious attention
to a trifling detail.
He had a fondness for riding on the then newly completed Subway, which he
called the Underground. Sometimes he would say:
"I'll pay your fare on the Underground if you want to take a ride with
me." And he always insisted on paying the fare, and once when I rode far
up-town with him to a place where he was going to luncheon, and had taken
him to the door, he turned and said, gravely:
"Here is five cents to pay your way home." And I took it in the same
spirit in which it had been offered. It was probably this trait which
caused some one occasionally to claim that Mark Twain was close in money
matters. Perhaps there may have been times in his life when he was
parsimonious; but, if so, I must believe that it was when he was sorely
pressed and exercising the natural instinct of self-preservation. He
wished to receive the full value (who does not?) of his labors and
properties. He took a childish delight in piling up money; but it became
greed only when he believed some one with whom he had dealings was trying
to get an unfair division of profits. Then it became something besides
greed. It became an indignation that amounted to malevolence. I was
concerned in a number of dealings with Mark Twain, and at a period in his
life when human traits are supposed to become exaggerated, which is to
say old age, and if he had any natural tendency to be unfair, or small,
or greedy in his money dealings I think I should have seen it.
Personally, I found him liberal to excess, and I never observed in him
anything less than generosity to those who were fair with him.
Once that winter, when a letter came from Steve Gillis saying that he was
an invalid now, and would have plenty of tune to read Sam's books if he
owned them, Clemens ordered an expensive set from his publishers, and did
what meant to him even more than the cost in money--he autographed each
of those twenty-five volumes. Then he sent them, charges paid, to that
far Californian retreat. It was hardly the act of a stingy man.
He had the human fondness for a compliment when it was genuine and from
an authoritative source, and I remember how pleased he was that winter
with Prof. William Lyon Phelps's widely published opinion, which ranked
Mark Twain as the greatest American novelist, and declared that his fame
would outlive any American of his time. Phelps had placed him above
Holmes, Howells, James, and even Hawthorne. He had declared him to be
more American than any of these--more American even than Whitman.
Professor Phelps's position in Yale College gave this opinion a certain
official weight; but I think the fact of Phelps himself being a writer of
great force, with an American freshness of style, gave it a still greater
Among the pleasant things that winter was a meeting with Eugene F. Ware,
of Kansas, with whose penname--"Ironquill"--Clemens had long been
Ware was a breezy Western genius of the finest type. If he had abandoned
law for poetry, there is no telling how far his fame might have reached.
There was in his work that same spirit of Americanism and humor and
humanity that is found in Mark Twain's writings, and he had the added
faculty of rhyme and rhythm, which would have set him in a place apart.
I had known Ware personally during a period of Western residence, and
later, when he was Commissioner of Pensions under Roosevelt. I usually
saw him when he came to New York, and it was a great pleasure now to
bring together the two men whose work I so admired. They met at a small
private luncheon at The Players, and Peter Dunne was there, and Robert
Collier, and it was such an afternoon as Howells has told of when he and
Aldrich and Bret Harte and those others talked until the day faded into
twilight, and twilight deepened into evening. Clemens had put in most of
the day before reading Ware's book of poems, 'The Rhymes of Ironquill',
and had declared his work to rank with the very greatest of American
poetry--I think he called it the most truly American in flavor. I
remember that at the luncheon he noted Ware's big, splendid physique and
his Western liberties of syntax with a curious intentness. I believe he
regarded him as being nearer his own type in mind and expression than any
one he had met before.
Among Ware's poems he had been especially impressed with the "Fables,"
and with some verses entitled "Whist," which, though rather more
optimistic, conformed to his own philosophy. They have a distinctly
Hour after hour the cards were fairly shuffled,
And fairly dealt, and still I got no hand;
The morning came; but I, with mind unruffled,
Did simply say, "I do not understand."
Life is a game of whist. From unseen sources
The cards are shuffled, and the hands are dealt.
Blind are our efforts to control the forces
That, though unseen, are no less strongly felt.
I do not like the way the cards are shuffled,
But still I like the game and want to play;
And through the long, long night will I, unruffled,
Play what I get, until the break of day.