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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LXXXII. The Writing of "Roughing It"
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The third book published by Mark Twain was not the Western book he was
preparing for Bliss. It was a small volume, issued by Sheldon & Co.,
entitled Mark Twain's Autobiography (Burlesque) and First Romance. The
Romance was the "Awful, Terrible Medieval Romance" which had appeared in
the Express at the beginning of 1870. The burlesque autobiography had
not previously appeared. The two made a thin little book, which, in
addition to its literary features, had running through it a series of
full-page, irrelevant pictures---cartoons of the Erie Railroad Ring,
presented as illustrations of a slightly modified version of "The House
That Jack Built." The "House" was the Erie headquarters, the purpose
being to illustrate the swindling methods of the Ring. The faces of Jay
Gould, James Fisk, Jr., John T. Hoffman, and others of the combination,
are chiefly conspicuous. The publication was not important, from any
standpoint. Literary burlesque is rarely important, and it was far from
Mark Twain's best form of expression. A year or two later he realized
the mistake of this book, bought in the plates and destroyed them.
Meantime the new Western book was at a standstill. To Orion, in March,
I am still nursing Livy night and day. I am nearly worn out. We
shall go to Elmira ten days hence (if Livy can travel on a mattress
then), and stay there until I finish the California book, say three
months. But I can't begin work right away when I get there; must
have a week's rest, for I have been through thirty days' terrific
He promised to forward some of the manuscript soon.
Hold on four or five days and I will see if I can get a few chapters
fixed to send to Bliss . . . .
I have offered this house and the Express for sale, and when we go
to Elmira we leave here for good. I shall not select a new home
till the book is finished, but we have little doubt that Hartford
will be the place.
He disposed of his interest in the Express in April, at a sacrifice of
$10,000 on the purchase price. Mrs. Clemens and the baby were able to
travel, and without further delay he took them to Elmira, to Quarry Farm.
Quarry Farm, the home of Mrs. Clemens's sister, Mrs. Theodore Crane, is a
beautiful hilltop, with a wide green slope, overlooking the hazy city and
the Chemung River, beyond which are the distant hills. It was bought
quite incidentally by Mr. and Mrs. Langdon, who, driving by one evening,
stopped to water the horses and decided that it would make a happy summer
retreat, where the families could combine their housekeeping arrangements
during vacation days. When the place had first been purchased, they had
debated on a name for it. They had tried several, among them "Go-as-you-
please Hall," "Crane's Nest," and had finally agreed upon "Rest and Be
Thankful." But this was only its official name. There was an abandoned
quarry up the hill, a little way from the house, and the title suggested
by Thomas K. Beecher came more naturally to the tongue. The place became
Quarry Farm, and so remains.
Clemens and his wife had fully made up their minds to live in Hartford.
They had both conceived an affection for the place, Clemens mainly
because of Twichell, while both of them yearned for the congenial
literary and social atmosphere, and the welcome which they felt awaited
them. Hartford was precisely what Buffalo in that day was not--a home
for the literary man. It held a distinguished group of writers, most of
whom the Clemenses already knew. Furthermore, with Bliss as publisher of
the Mark Twain books, it held their chief business interests.
Their plans for going were not very definite as to time. Clemens found
that his work went better at the farm, and that Mrs. Clemens and the
delicate baby daily improved. They decided to remain at Quarry Farm for
the summer, their first summer in that beautiful place which would mean
so much to them in the years to come.
It was really Joe Goodman, as much as anything, that stirred a fresh
enthusiasm in the new book. Goodman arrived just when the author's
spirits were at low ebb.
"Joe," he said, "I guess I'm done for. I don't appear to be able to get
along at all with my work, and what I do write does not seem valuable.
I'm afraid I'll never be able to reach the standard of 'The Innocents
Abroad' again. Here is what I have written, Joe. Read it, and see if
that is your opinion."
Goodman took the manuscript and seated himself in a chair, while Clemens
went over to a table and pretended to work. Goodman read page after
page, critically, and was presently absorbed in it. Clemens watched him
furtively, till he could stand it no longer. Then he threw down his pen,
"I knew it! I knew it! I am writing nothing but rot. You have sat
there all this time reading without a smile, and pitying the ass I am
making of myself. But I am not wholly to blame. I am not strong enough
to fight against fate. I have been trying to write a funny book, with
dead people and sickness a verywhere. Mr. Langdon died first, then a
young lady in our house, and now Mrs. Clemens and the baby have been at
the point of death all winter! Oh, Joe, I wish to God I could die
"Mark," said Joe, "I was reading critically, not for amusement, and so
far as I have read, and can judge, this is one of the best things you
have ever written. I have found it perfectly absorbing. You are doing a
Clemens knew that Goodman never spoke except from conviction, and the
verdict was to him like a message of life handed down by an archangel.
He was a changed man instantly. He was all enthusiasm, full of his
subject, eager to go on. He proposed to pay Goodman a salary to stay
there and keep him company and furnish him with inspiration--the Pacific
coast atmosphere and vernacular, which he feared had slipped away from
him. Goodman declined the salary, but extended his visit as long as his
plans would permit, and the two had a happy time together, recalling old
Comstock days. Every morning, for a month or more, they used to tramp
over the farm. They fell into the habit of visiting the old quarry and
pawing over the fragments in search of fossil specimens. Both of them
had a poetic interest in geology, its infinite remotenesses and its
testimonies. Without scientific knowledge, they took a deep pleasure in
accumulating a collection, which they arranged on boards torn from an old
fence, until they had enough specimens to fill a small museum. They
imagined they could distinguish certain geological relations and
families, and would talk about trilobites, the Old Red Sandstone period,
and the azoic age, or follow random speculation to far-lying conclusions,
developing vague humors of phrase and fancy, having altogether a joyful
Another interest that developed during Goodman's stay was in one Ruloff,
who was under death sentence for a particularly atrocious murder. The
papers were full of Ruloff's prodigious learning. It was said that he
had in preparation a work showing the unity of all languages. Goodman
and Clemens agreed that Ruloff's death would be a great loss to mankind,
even though he was clearly a villain and deserved his sentence. They
decided that justice would be served just as well if some stupid person
were hung in his place, and following out this fancy Clemens one morning
put aside his regular work and wrote an article to the Tribune, offering
to supply a substitute for Ruloff. He signed it simply "Samuel
Langhorne," and it was published as a serious communication, without
comment, so far as the Tribune was concerned. Other papers, however,
took it up and it was widely copied and commented upon. Apparently no
one ever identified, Mark Twain with the authorship of the letter, which,
by the way, does not appear to have prolonged Ruloff's earthly
usefulness.--[The reader will find the Ruloff letter in full under
Appendix K, at the end of last volume.]
Life at the farm may have furnished agricultural inspiration, for Clemens
wrote something about Horace Greeley's farming, also a skit concerning
Henry Ward Beecher's efforts in that direction. Of Mr. Beecher's farming
"His strawberries would be a comfortable success if robins would eat
The article amused Beecher, and perhaps Greeley was amused too, for he
MARK,--You are mistaken as to my criticisms on your farming. I
never publicly made any, while you have undertaken to tell the exact
cost per pint of my potatoes and cabbages, truly enough the
inspiration of genius. If you will really betake yourself to
farming, or even to telling what you know about it, rather than what
you don't know about mine, I will not only refrain from disparaging
criticism, but will give you my blessing.
Yours, HORACE GREELEY.
The letter is in Mr. Greeley's characteristic scrawl, and no doubt
furnished inspiration for the turnip story in 'Roughing It', also the
model for the pretended facsimile of Greeley's writing.
Altogether that was a busy, enterprising summer at Quarry Farm. By the
middle of May, Clemens wrote to Bliss that he had twelve hundred
manuscript pages of the new book already written, and that he was turning
out the remainder at the rate of from thirty to sixty-five per day. He
was in high spirits by this time. The family health had improved, and
prospects were bright.
I have enough manuscript on hand now to make (allowing for engravings)
about four hundred pages of the book, consequently am two-thirds done.
I intended to run up to Hartford about the middle of the week and take it
along, but I find myself so thoroughly interested in my work now (a thing
I have not experienced for months) that I can't bear to lose a single
moment of the inspiration. So I will stay here and peg away as long as
it lasts. My present idea is to write as much more as I have already
written, and then collect from the mass the very best chapters and
discard the rest. When I get it done I want to see the man who will
begin to read it and not finish it. Nothing grieves me now; nothing
troubles me, nothing bothers me or gets my attention. I don't think of
anything but the book, and don't have an hour's unhappiness about
anything, and don't care two cents whether school keeps or not. The book
will be done soon now. It will be a starchy book; the dedication will be
worth the price of the volume. Thus:
TO THE LATE CAIN
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
not on account of respect for his memory, for it merits little
respect; not on account of sympathy for him, for his bloody deed
places him without the pale of sympathy, strictly speaking, but
out of a mere humane commiseration for him, in that it was his
misfortune to live in a dark age that knew not the beneficent
Probably Mrs. Clemens diverted this picturesque dedication in favor of
the Higbie inscription, or perhaps the author never really intended the
literary tribute to Cain. The impulse that inspired it, however, was
In a postscript to this letter he adds:
My stock is looking up. I am getting the bulliest offers for books
and almanacs; am flooded with lecture invitations, and one
periodical offers me $6,000 cash for twelve articles of any length,
and on any subject, treated humorously or otherwise.
He set in to make hay while the sun was shining. In addition to the
California book, which was now fast nearing completion, he discussed a
scheme with Goodman for a six-hundred-page work which they were to do
jointly; he planned and wrote one or two scenes from a Western play, to
be built from episodes in the new book (one of them was the "Arkansas"
incident, related in Chapter XXXI); he perfected one of his several
inventions--an automatically adjusting vest-strap; he wrote a number of
sketches, made an occasional business trip to New York and Hartford;
prospected the latter place for a new home. The shadow which had hung
over the sojourn in Buffalo seemed to have lifted.
He had promised Bliss some contributions for his new paper, and in June
he sent three sketches. In an accompanying letter he says:
Here are three articles which you may have if you will pay $125 for
the lot. If you don't want them I'll sell them to the Galaxy, but
not for a cent less than three times the money.... If you take them
pay one-tenth of the $125 in weekly instalments to Orion till he has
received it all.
He reconsidered his resolution not to lecture again, and closed with
Redpath for the coming season. He found himself in a lecture-writing
fever. He wrote three of them in succession: one on Artemus Ward,
another on "Reminiscences of Some Pleasant Characters I Have Met," and a
third one based on chapters from the new book. Of the "Reminiscence"
lecture he wrote Redpath:
"It covers my whole acquaintance; kings, lunatics, idiots, and all."
Immediately afterward he wrote that he had prepared still another
lecture, "title to be announced later."
"During July I'll decide which one I like best," he said. He instructed
Redpath not to make engagements for him to lecture in churches. "I never
made a success of a lecture in a church yet. People are afraid to laugh
in a church."
Redpath was having difficulties in arranging a circuit to suit him.
Clemens had prejudices against certain towns and localities, prejudices
that were likely to change overnight. In August he wrote:
DEAR RED,--I am different from other women; my mind changes oftener.
People who have no mind can easily be stead fast and firm, but when
a man is loaded down to the guards with it, as I am, every heavy sea
of foreboding or inclination, maybe of indolence, shifts the cargo.
See? Therefore, if you will notice, one week I am likely to give
rigid instructions to confine me to New England; the next week send
me to Arizona; the next week withdraw my name; the next week give
you full, untrammeled swing; and the week following modify it. You
must try to keep the run of my mind, Redpath that is your business,
being the agent, and it always was too many for me.... Now about
the West this week, I am willing that you shall retain all the
Western engagements. But what I shall want next week is still with
He was in Hartford when this letter was written, arranging for residence
there and the removal of his belongings. He finally leased the fine
Hooker house on Ford Street, in that pleasant seclusion known as Nook
Farm--the literary part of Hartford, which included the residence of
Charles Dudley Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe. He arranged for
possession of the premises October 1st. So the new home was settled
upon; then learning that Nasby was to be in Boston, he ran over to that
city for a few days of recreation after his season's labors.
Preparations for removal to Hartford were not delayed. The Buffalo
property was disposed of, the furnishings were packed and shipped away.
The house which as bride and groom they had entered so happily was left
empty and deserted, never to be entered by them again. In the year and a
half of their occupancy it had seen well-nigh all the human round, all
that goes to make up the happiness and the sorrow of life.