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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LVII. Old Friends and New Plans
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It had been more than thirteen years since his first arrival in New York.
Then he had been a youth, green, untraveled, eager to get away from home.
Now a veteran, he was as eager to return.
He stopped only long enough in New York to see Charles Henry Webb, late
of California, who had put together a number of the Mark Twain sketches,
including "The Jumping Frog," for book publication. Clemens himself
decided to take the book to Carleton, thinking that, having missed the
fame of the "Frog" once, he might welcome a chance to stand sponsor for
it now. But Carleton was wary; the "Frog" had won favor, and even fame,
in its fugitive, vagrant way, but a book was another matter. Books were
undertaken very seriously and with plenty of consideration in those days.
Twenty-one years later, in Switzerland, Carleton said to Mark Twain:
"My chief claim to immortality is the distinction of having declined your
Clemens was ready enough to give up the book when Carleton declined it,
but Webb said he would publish it himself, and he set about it forthwith.
The author waited no longer now, but started for St. Louis, and was soon
with his mother and sister, whom he had not seen since that eventful
first year of the war. They thought he looked old, which was true
enough, but they found him unchanged in his manner: buoyant, full of
banter and gravely quaint remarks--he was always the same. Jane Clemens
had grown older, too. She was nearly sixty-four, but as keen and
vigorous as ever-proud (even if somewhat critical) of this handsome,
brilliant man of new name and fame who had been her mischievous, wayward
boy. She petted him, joked with him, scolded him, and inquired
searchingly into his morals and habits. In turn he petted, comforted,
and teased her. She decided that he was the same Sam, and always would
be--a true prophecy.
He went up to Hannibal to see old friends. Many were married; some had
moved away; some were dead--the old story. He delivered his lecture
there, and was the center of interest and admiration--his welcome might
have satisfied even Tom Sawyer. From Hannibal he journeyed to Keokuk,
where he lectured again to a crowd of old friends and new, then returned
to St. Louis for a more extended visit.
It was while he was in St. Louis that he first saw the announcement of
the Quaker City Holy Land Excursion, and was promptly fascinated by what
was then a brand-new idea in ocean travel--a splendid picnic--a choice
and refined party that would sail away for a long summer's journeying to
the most romantic of all lands and seas, the shores of the Mediterranean.
No such argosy had ever set out before in pursuit of the golden fleece of
His projected trip around the world lost its charm in the light of this
idyllic dream. Henry Ward Beecher was advertised as one of the party;
General Sherman as another; also ministers, high-class journalists--the
best minds of the nation. Anson Burlingame had told him to associate
with persons of refinement and intellect. He lost no time in writing to
the Alta, proposing that they send him in this select company.
Noah Brooks, who was then on the Alta, states--[In an article published
in the Century Magazine.]--that the management was staggered by the
proposition, but that Col. John McComb insisted that the investment in
Mark Twain would be sound. A letter was accordingly sent, stating that a
check for his passage would be forwarded in due season, and that meantime
he could contribute letters from New York City. The rate for all letters
was to be twenty dollars each. The arrangement was a godsend, in the
fullest sense of the word, to Mark Twain.
It was now April, and he was eager to get back to New York to arrange his
passage. The Quaker City would not sail for two months yet (two eventful
months), but the advertisement said that passages must be secured by the
5th, and he was there on that day. Almost the first man he met was the
chief of the New York Alta bureau with a check for twelve hundred and
fifty dollars (the amount of his ticket) and a telegram saying, "Ship
Mark Twain in the Holy Land Excursion and pay his passage."
--[The following letter, which bears no date, was probably handed to
him later in the New York Alta office as a sort of credential:
ALTA CALIFORNIA OFFICE, 42 JOHN STREET, NEW YORK.
Sam'l Clemens, Esq., New York.
DEAR SIR,--I have the honor to inform you that Fred'k. MacCrellish
& Co., Proprietors of Alta California, San Francisco, Cal., desire
to engage your services as Special Correspondent on the pleasure
excursion now about to proceed from this City to the Holy Land. In
obedience to their instructions I have secured a passage for you on
the vessel about to convey the excursion party referred to, and made
such arrangements as I hope will secure your comfort and
convenience. Your only instructions are that you will continue to
write at such times and from such places as you deem proper, and in
the same style that heretofore secured you the favor of the readers
of the Alta California. I have the honor to remain, with high
respect and esteem,
Your ob'dt. Servant,
JOHN J. MURPHY.]
The Alta, it appears, had already applied for his berth; but, not having
been vouched for by Mr. Beecher or some other eminent divine, Clemens was
fearful he might not be accepted. Quite casually he was enlightened on
this point. While waiting for attention in the shipping-office, with the
Alta agent, he heard a newspaper man inquire what notables were going.
A clerk, with evident pride, rattled off the names:
"Lieutenant-General Sherman, Henry Ward Beecher, and Mark Twain; also
probably General Banks."
So he was billed as an attraction. It was his first surreptitious taste
of fame on the Atlantic coast, and not without its delight. The story
often told of his being introduced by Ned House, of the Tribune, as a
minister, though often repeated by Mark Twain himself, was in the nature
of a joke, and mainly apocryphal. Clemens was a good deal in House's
company at the time, for he had made an arrangement to contribute
occasional letters to the Tribune, and House no doubt introduced him
jokingly as one of the Quaker City ministers.