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Mark Twain Biography
SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS, for nearly half a century known and celebrated
as "Mark Twain," was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835.
He was one of the foremost American philosophers of his day; he was the
world's most famous humorist of any day. During the later years of his
life he ranked not only as America's chief man of letters, but likewise
as her best known and best loved citizen.
The beginnings of that life were sufficiently unpromising. The family
was a good one, of old Virginia and Kentucky stock, but its circumstances
were reduced, its environment meager and disheartening. The father, John
Marshall Clemens--a lawyer by profession, a merchant by vocation--had
brought his household to Florida from Jamestown, Tennessee, somewhat
after the manner of judge Hawkins as pictured in The Gilded Age. Florida
was a small town then, a mere village of twenty-one houses located on
Salt River, but judge Clemens, as he was usually called, optimistic and
speculative in his temperament, believed in its future. Salt River would
be made navigable; Florida would become a metropolis. He established a
small business there, and located his family in the humble frame cottage
where, five months later, was born a baby boy to whom they gave the name
of Samuel--a family name--and added Langhorne, after an old Virginia
friend of his father.
The child was puny, and did not make a very sturdy fight for life.
Still he weathered along, season after season, and survived two stronger
children, Margaret and Benjamin. By 1839 Judge Clemens had lost faith in
Florida. He removed his family to Hannibal, and in this Mississippi
River town the little lad whom the world was to know as Mark Twain spent
his early life. In Tom Sawyer we have a picture of the Hannibal of those
days and the atmosphere of his boyhood there.
His schooling was brief and of a desultory kind. It ended one day in
1847, when his father died and it became necessary that each one should
help somewhat in the domestic crisis. His brother Orion, ten years his
senior, was already a printer by trade. Pamela, his sister; also
considerably older, had acquired music, and now took a few pupils.
The little boy Sam, at twelve, was apprenticed to a printer named Ament.
His wages consisted of his board and clothes--"more board than clothes,"
as he once remarked to the writer.
He remained with Ament until his brother Orion bought out a small paper
in Hannibal in 1850. The paper, in time, was moved into a part of the
Clemens home, and the two brothers ran it, the younger setting most of
the type. A still younger brother, Henry, entered the office as an
apprentice. The Hannibal journal was no great paper from the beginning,
and it did not improve with time. Still, it managed to survive--country
papers nearly always manage to survive--year after year, bringing in some
sort of return. It was on this paper that young Sam Clemens began his
writings--burlesque, as a rule, of local characters and conditions--
usually published in his brother's absence; generally resulting in
trouble on his return. Yet they made the paper sell, and if Orion had
but realized his brother's talent he might have turned it into capital
In 1853 (he was not yet eighteen) Sam Clemens grew tired of his
limitations and pined for the wider horizon of the world. He gave out to
his family that he was going to St. Louis, but he kept on to New York,
where a World's Fair was then going on. In New York he found employment
at his trade, and during the hot months of 1853 worked in a printing-
office in Cliff Street. By and by he went to Philadelphia, where he
worked a brief time; made a trip to Washington, and presently set out for
the West again, after an absence of more than a year.
Onion, meanwhile, had established himself at Muscatine, Iowa, but soon
after removed to Keokuk, where the brothers were once more together,
till following their trade. Young Sam Clemens remained in Keokuk until
the winter of 1856-57, when he caught a touch of the South-American fever
then prevalent; and decided to go to Brazil. He left Keokuk for
Cincinnati, worked that winter in a printing-office there, and in April
took the little steamer, Paul Jones, for New Orleans, where he expected
to find a South-American vessel. In Life on the Mississippi we have his
story of how he met Horace Bixby and decided to become a pilot instead of
a South American adventurer--jauntily setting himself the stupendous task
of learning the twelve hundred miles of the Mississippi River between St.
Louis and New Orleans--of knowing it as exactly and as unfailingly, even
in the dark, as one knows the way to his own features. It seems
incredible to those who knew Mark Twain in his later years--dreamy,
unpractical, and indifferent to details--that he could have acquired so
vast a store of minute facts as were required by that task. Yet within
eighteen months he had become not only a pilot, but one of the best and
most careful pilots on the river, intrusted with some of the largest and
most valuable steamers. He continued in that profession for two and a
half years longer, and during that time met with no disaster that cost
his owners a single dollar for damage.
Then the war broke out. South Carolina seceded in December, 1860 and
other States followed. Clemens was in New Orleans in January, 1861, when
Louisiana seceded, and his boat was put into the Confederate service and
sent up the Red River. His occupation gone, he took steamer for the
North--the last one before the blockade closed. A blank cartridge was
fired at them from Jefferson Barracks when they reached St. Louis, but
they did not understand the signal, and kept on. Presently a shell
carried away part of the pilot-house and considerably disturbed its
inmates. They realized, then, that war had really begun.
In those days Clemens's sympathies were with the South. He hurried up to
Hannibal and enlisted with a company of young fellows who were recruiting
with the avowed purpose of "throwing off the yoke of the invader." They
were ready for the field, presently, and set out in good order, a sort of
nondescript cavalry detachment, mounted on animals more picturesque than
beautiful. Still, it was a resolute band, and might have done very well,
only it rained a good deal, which made soldiering disagreeable and hard.
Lieutenant Clemens resigned at the end of two weeks, and decided to go to
Nevada with Orion, who was a Union abolitionist and had received an
appointment from Lincoln as Secretary of the new Territory.
In 'Roughing It' Mark Twain gives us the story of the overland journey
made by the two brothers, and a picture of experiences at the other end
--true in aspect, even if here and there elaborated in detail. He was
Orion's private secretary, but there was no private-secretary work to do,
and no salary attached to the position. The incumbent presently went to
mining, adding that to his other trades.
He became a professional miner, but not a rich one. He was at Aurora,
California, in the Esmeralda district, skimping along, with not much to
eat and less to wear, when he was summoned by Joe Goodman, owner and
editor of the Virginia City Enterprise, to come up and take the local
editorship of that paper. He had been contributing sketches to it now
and then, under the pen, name of "Josh," and Goodman, a man of fine
literary instincts, recognized a talent full of possibilities. This was
in the late summer of 1862. Clemens walked one hundred and thirty miles
over very bad roads to take the job, and arrived way-worn and travel-
stained. He began on a salary of twenty-five dollars a week, picking up
news items here and there, and contributing occasional sketches,
burlesques, hoaxes, and the like. When the Legislature convened at
Carson City he was sent down to report it, and then, for the first time,
began signing his articles "Mark Twain," a river term, used in making
soundings, recalled from his piloting days. The name presently became
known up and down the Pacific coast. His articles were, copied and
commented upon. He was recognized as one of the foremost among a little
coterie of overland writers, two of whom, Mark Twain and Bret Harte, were
soon to acquire a world-wide fame.
He left Carson City one day, after becoming involved in a duel, the
result of an editorial squib written in Goodman's absence, and went
across the Sierras to San Francisco. The duel turned out farcically
enough, but the Nevada law, which regarded even a challenge or its
acceptance as a felony, was an inducement to his departure. Furthermore,
he had already aspired to a wider field of literary effort. He attached
himself to the Morning Call, and wrote occasionally for one or two
literary papers--the Golden Era and the Californian---prospering well
enough during the better part of the year. Bret Harte and the rest of
the little Pacific-slope group were also on the staff of these papers,
and for a time, at least, the new school of American humor mustered in
The connection with the Call was not congenial. In due course it came to
a natural end, and Mark Twain arranged to do a daily San Francisco letter
for his old paper, the Enterprise. The Enterprise letters stirred up
trouble. They criticized the police of San Francisco so severely that
the officials found means of making the writer's life there difficult and
comfortless. With Jim Gillis, brother of a printer of whom he was fond,
and who had been the indirect cause of his troubles, he went up into
Calaveras County, to a cabin on jackass Hill. Jim Gillis, a lovable,
picturesque character (the Truthful James of Bret Harte), owned mining
claims. Mark Twain decided to spend his vacation in pocket-mining, and
soon added that science to his store of knowledge. It was a halcyon,
happy three months that he lingered there, but did not make his fortune;
he only laid the corner-stone.
They tried their fortune at Angel's Camp, a place well known to readers
of Bret Harte. But it rained pretty steadily, and they put in most of
their time huddled around the single stove of the dingy hotel of Angel's,
telling yarns. Among the stories was one told by a dreary narrator named
Ben Coon. It was about a frog that had been trained to jump, but failed
to win a wager because the owner of a rival frog had surreptitiously
loaded him with shot. The story had been circulated among the camps, but
Mark Twain had never heard it until then. The tale and the tiresome
fashion of its telling amused him. He made notes to remember it.
Their stay in Angel's Camp came presently to an end. One day, when the
mining partners were following the specks of gold that led to a pocket
somewhere up the hill, a chill, dreary rain set in. Jim, as usual was
washing, and Clemens was carrying water. The "color" became better and
better as they ascended, and Gillis, possessed with the mining passion,
would have gone on, regardless of the rain. Clemens, however, protested,
and declared that each pail of water was his last. Finally he said, in
his deliberate drawl:
"Jim, I won't carry any more water. This work is too disagreeable.
Let's go to the house and wait till it clears up."
Gillis had just taken out a pan of earth. "Bring one more pail, Sam," he
"I won't do it, Jim! Not a drop! Not if I knew there was a million
dollars in that pan!"
They left the pan standing there and went back to Angel's Camp. The rain
continued and they returned to jackass Hill without visiting their claim
again. Meantime the rain had washed away the top of the pan of earth
left standing on the slope above Angel's, and exposed a handful of
nuggets-pure gold. Two strangers came along and, observing it, had sat
down to wait until the thirty-day claim-notice posted by Jim Gillis
should expire. They did not mind the rain--not with that gold in sight--
and the minute the thirty days were up they followed the lead a few pans
further, and took out-some say ten, some say twenty, thousand dollars.
It was a good pocket. Mark Twain missed it by one pail of water. Still,
it is just as well, perhaps, when one remembers The Jumping Frog.
Matters having quieted down in San Francisco, he returned and took up his
work again. Artemus Ward, whom he had met in Virginia City, wrote him
for something to use in his (Ward's) new book. Clemens sent the frog
story, but he had been dilatory in preparing it, and when it reached New
York, Carleton, the publisher, had Ward's book about ready for the press.
It did not seem worth while to Carleton to include the frog story, and
handed it over to Henry Clapp, editor of the Saturday Press--a perishing
"Here, Clapp, here's something you can use."
The story appeared in the Saturday Press of November 18, 1865. According
to the accounts of that time it set all New York in a roar, which
annoyed, rather than gratified, its author. He had thought very little
of it, indeed, yet had been wondering why some of his more highly
regarded work had not found fuller recognition.
But The Jumping Frog did not die. Papers printed it and reprinted it,
and it was translated into foreign tongues. The name of "Mark Twain"
became known as the author of that sketch, and the two were permanently
associated from the day of its publication.
Such fame as it brought did not yield heavy financial return. Its author
continued to win a more or less precarious livelihood doing miscellaneous
work, until March, 1866, when he was employed by the Sacramento Union to
contribute a series of letters from the Sandwich Islands. They were
notable letters, widely read and freely copied, and the sojourn there was
a generally fortunate one. It was during his stay in the islands that
the survivors of the wrecked vessel, the Hornet, came in, after long
privation at sea. Clemens was sick at the time, but Anson Burlingame,
who was in Honolulu, on the way to China, had him carried in a cot to the
hospital, where he could interview the surviving sailors and take down
their story. It proved a great "beat" for the Union, and added
considerably to its author's prestige. On his return to San Francisco he
contributed an article on the Hornet disaster to Harper's Magazine, and
looked forward to its publication as a beginning of a real career. But,
alas! when it appeared the printer and the proof-reader had somehow
converted "Mark Twain" into "Mark Swain," and his dreams perished.
Undecided as to his plans, he was one day advised by a friend to deliver
a lecture. He was already known as an entertaining talker, and his
adviser judged his possibilities well. In Roughing It we find the story
of that first lecture and its success. He followed it with other
lectures up and down the Coast. He had added one more profession to his
intellectual stock in trade.
Mark Twain, now provided with money, decided to pay a visit to his
people. He set out for the East in December, 1866, via Panama, arriving
in New York in January. A few days later he was with his mother, then
living with his sister, in St. Louis. A little later he lectured in
Keokuk, and in Hannibal, his old home.
It was about this time that the first great Mediterranean steamship
excursion began to be exploited. No such ocean picnic had ever been
planned before, and it created a good deal of interest East and West.
Mark Twain heard of it and wanted to go. He wrote to friends on the
'Alta California,' of San Francisco, and the publishers of that paper had
sufficient faith to advance the money for his passage, on the
understanding that he was to contribute frequent letters, at twenty
dollars apiece. It was a liberal offer, as rates went in those days, and
a godsend in the fullest sense of the word to Mark Twain.
Clemens now hurried to New York in order to be there in good season for
the sailing date, which was in June. In New York he met Frank Fuller,
whom he had known as territorial Governor of Utah, an energetic and
enthusiastic admirer of the Western humorist. Fuller immediately
proposed that Clemens give a lecture in order to establish his reputation
on the Atlantic coast. Clemens demurred, but Fuller insisted, and
engaged Cooper Union for the occasion. Not many tickets were sold.
Fuller, however, always ready for an emergency, sent out a flood of
complimentaries to the school-teachers of New York and adjacent
territory, and the house was crammed. It turned out to be a notable
event. Mark Twain was at his best that night; the audience laughed
until, as some of them declared when the lecture was over, they were too
weak to leave their seats. His success as a lecturer was assured.
The Quaker City was the steamer selected for the great oriental tour.
It sailed as advertised, June 8, 1867, and was absent five months, during
which Mark Twain contributed regularly to the 'Alta-California', and
wrote several letters for the New York Tribune. They were read and
copied everywhere. They preached a new gospel in travel literature--
a gospel of seeing with an overflowing honesty; a gospel of sincerity in
according praise to whatever he considered genuine, and ridicule to the
things believed to be shams. It was a gospel that Mark Twain continued
to preach during his whole career. It became, in fact, his chief
literary message to the world, a world ready for that message.
He returned to find himself famous. Publishers were ready with plans for
collecting the letters in book form. The American Publishing Company,
of Hartford, proposed a volume, elaborately illustrated, to be sold by
subscription. He agreed with them as to terms, and went to Washington'
to prepare copy. But he could not work quietly there, and presently was
back in San Francisco, putting his book together, lecturing occasionally,
always to crowded houses. He returned in August, 1868, with the
manuscript of the Innocents Abroad, and that winter, while his book was
being manufactured, lectured throughout the East and Middle West, making
his headquarters in Hartford, and in Elmira, New York.
He had an especial reason for going to Elmira. On the Quaker City he had
met a young man by the name of Charles Langdon, and one day, in the Bay
of Smyrna, had seen a miniature of the boy's sister, Olivia Langdon, then
a girl of about twenty-two. He fell in love with that picture, and still
more deeply in love with the original when he met her in New York on his
return. The Langdon home was in Elmira, and it was for this reason that
as time passed he frequently sojourned there. When the proofs of the
Innocents Abroad were sent him he took them along, and he and sweet
"Livy" Langdon read them together. What he lacked in those days in
literary delicacy she detected, and together they pruned it away. She
became his editor that winter--a position which she held until her death.
The book was published in July, 1869, and its success was immediate and
abundant. On his wedding-day, February 2, 1870, Clemens received a check
from his publishers for more than four thousand dollars, royalty
accumulated during the three months preceding. The sales soon amounted
to more than fifty thousand copies, and had increased to very nearly one
hundred thousand at the end of the first three years. It was a book of
travel, its lowest price three dollars and fifty cents. Even with our
increased reading population no such sale is found for a book of that
description to-day. And the Innocents Abroad holds its place--still
outsells every other book in its particular field. [This in 1917. D.W.]
Mark Twain now decided to settle down. He had bought an interest in the
Express, of Buffalo, New York, and took up his residence in that city in
a house presented to the young couple by Mr. Langdon. It did not prove a
fortunate beginning. Sickness, death, and trouble of many kinds put a
blight on the happiness of their first married year and gave, them a
distaste for the home in which they had made such a promising start.
A baby boy, Langdon Clemens, came along in November, but he was never a
strong child. By the end of the following year the Clemenses had
arranged for a residence in Hartford, temporary at first, later made
permanent. It was in Hartford that little Langdon died, in 1872.
Clemens, meanwhile, had sold out his interest in the Express, severed his
connection with the Galaxy, a magazine for which he was doing a
department each month, and had written a second book for the American
Publishing Company, Roughing It, published in 1872. In August of the
same year he made a trip to London, to get material for a book on
England, but was too much sought after, too continuously feted, to do any
work. He went alone, but in November returned with the purpose of taking
Mrs. Clemens and the new baby, Susy, to England the following spring.
They sailed in April, 1873, and spent a good portion of the year in
England and Scotland. They returned to America in November, and Clemens
hurried back to London alone to deliver a notable series of lectures
under the management of George Dolby, formerly managing agent for Charles
Dickens. For two months Mark Twain lectured steadily to London
audiences--the big Hanover Square rooms always filled. He returned to
his family in January, 1874.
Meantime, a home was being built for them in Hartford, and in the autumn
of 1874 they took up residence in ita happy residence, continued through
seventeen years--well-nigh perfect years. Their summers they spent in
Elmira, on Quarry Farm--a beautiful hilltop, the home of Mrs. Clemens's
sister. It was in Elmira that much of Mark Twain's literary work was
done. He had a special study there, some distance from the house, where
he loved to work out his fancies and put them into visible form.
It was not so easy to work at Hartford; there was too much going on.
The Clemens home was a sort of general headquarters for literary folk,
near and far, and for distinguished foreign visitors of every sort.
Howells and Aldrich used it as their half-way station between Boston and
New York, and every foreign notable who visited America made a pilgrimage
to Hartford to see Mark Twain. Some even went as far as Elmira, among
them Rudyard Kipling, who recorded his visit in a chapter of his American
Notes. Kipling declared he had come all the way from India to see Mark
Hartford had its own literary group. Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived
near the Clemens home; also Charles Dudley Warner. The Clemens and
Warner families were constantly associated, and The Gilded Age, published
in 1873, resulted from the friendship of Warner and Mark Twain. The
character of Colonel Sellers in that book has become immortal, and it is
a character that only Mark Twain could create, for, though drawn from his
mother's cousin, James Lampton, it embodies--and in no very exaggerated
degree--characteristics that were his own. The tendency to make millions
was always imminent; temptation was always hard to resist. Money-making
schemes are continually being placed before men of means and prominence,
and Mark Twain, to the day of his death, found such schemes fatally
It was because of the Sellers characteristics in him that he invested in
a typesetting-machine which cost him nearly two hundred thousand dollars
and helped to wreck his fortunes by and by. It was because of this
characteristic that he invested in numberless schemes of lesser
importance, but no less disastrous in the end. His one successful
commercial venture was his association with Charles L. Webster in the
publication of the Grant Memoirs, of which enough copies were sold to pay
a royalty of more than four hundred thousand dollars to Grant's widow--
the largest royalty ever paid from any single publication. It saved the
Grant family from poverty. Yet even this triumph was a misfortune to
Mark Twain, for it led to scores of less profitable book ventures and
Meanwhile he had written and published a number of books. Tom Sawyer,
The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn, and
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court were among the volumes that
had entertained the world and inspired it with admiration and love for
their author. In 1878-79 he had taken his family to Europe, where they
spent their time in traveling over the Continent. It was during this
period that he was joined by his intimate friend, the Rev. Joseph H.
Twichell, of Hartford, and the two made a journey, the story of which is
told in A Tramp Abroad.
In 1891 the Hartford house was again closed, this time indefinitely,
and the family, now five in number, took up residence in Berlin. The
typesetting-machine and the unfortunate publishing venture were drawing
heavily on the family finances at this period, and the cost of the
Hartford establishment was too great to be maintained. During the next
three years he was distracted by the financial struggle which ended in
April, 1894, with the failure of Charles L. Webster & Co. Mark Twain now
found himself bankrupt, and nearly one hundred thousand dollars in debt.
It had been a losing fight, with this bitter ending always in view;
yet during this period of hard, hopeless effort he had written a large
portion of the book which of all his works will perhaps survive the
longest--his tender and beautiful story of Joan of Arc. All his life
Joan had been his favorite character in the world's history, and during
those trying months and years of the early nineties--in Berlin, in
Florence, in Paris--he was conceiving and putting his picture of that
gentle girl-warrior into perfect literary form. It was published in
Harper's Magazine--anonymously, because, as he said, it would not have
been received seriously had it appeared over his own name. The
authorship was presently recognized. Exquisitely, reverently, as the
story was told, it had in it the, touch of quaint and gentle humor which
could only have been given to it by Mark Twain.
It was only now and then that Mark Twain lectured during these years.
He had made a reading tour with George W. Cable during the winter of
1884-85, but he abominated the platform, and often vowed he would never
appear before an audience again. Yet, in 1895, when he was sixty years
old, he decided to rebuild his fortunes by making a reading tour around
the world. It was not required of him to pay his debts in full. The
creditors were willing to accept fifty per cent. of the liabilities, and
had agreed to a settlement on that basis. But this did not satisfy Mrs.
Clemens, and it did not satisfy him. They decided to pay dollar for
dollar. They sailed for America, and in July, 1895, set out from Elmira
on the long trail across land and sea. Mrs. Clemens, and Clara Clemens,
joined this pilgrimage, Susy and Jean Clemens remaining at Elmira with
their aunt. Looking out of the car windows, the travelers saw Susy
waving them an adieu. It was a picture they would long remember.
The reading tour was one of triumph. High prices and crowded houses
prevailed everywhere. The author-reader visited Australia, New Zealand,
India, Ceylon, South Africa, arriving in England, at last, with the money
and material which would pay off the heavy burden of debt and make him
once more free before the world. And in that hour of triumph came the
heavy blow. Susy Clemens, never very strong, had been struck down. The
first cable announced her illness. The mother and Clara sailed at once.
Before they were half-way across the ocean a second cable announced that
Susy was dead. The father had to meet and endure the heartbreak alone;
he could not reach America, in time for the burial. He remained in
England, and was joined there by the sorrowing family.
They passed that winter in London, where he worked at the story of his
travels, Following the Equator, the proofs of which he read the next
summer in Switzerland. The returns from it, and from his reading
venture, wiped away Mark Twain's indebtedness and made him free. He
could go back to America; as he said, able to look any man in the face
Yet he did not go immediately. He could live more economically abroad,
and economy was still necessary. The family spent two winters in Vienna,
and their apartments there constituted a veritable court where the
world's notables gathered. Another winter in England followed, and then,
in the latter part of 1900, they went home--that is, to America. Mrs.
Clemens never could bring herself to return to Hartford, and never saw
their home there again.
Mark Twain's return to America, was in the nature of a national event.
Wherever he appeared throngs turned out to bid him welcome. Mighty
banquets were planned in his honor.
In a house at 14 West Tenth Street, and in a beautiful place at
Riverdale, on the Hudson, most of the next three years were passed. Then
Mrs. Clemens's health failed, and in the autumn of 1903 the family went
to Florence for her benefit. There, on the 5th of June, 1904, she died.
They brought her back and laid her beside Susy, at Elmira. That winter
the family took up residence at 21 Fifth Avenue, New York, and remained
there until the completion of Stormfield, at Redding, Connecticut, in
In his later life Mark Twain was accorded high academic honors. Already,
in 1888, he had received from Yale College the degree of Master of Arts,
and the same college made him a Doctor of Literature in 1901. A year
later the university of his own State, at Columbia, Missouri, conferred
the same degree, and then, in 1907, came the crowning honor, when
venerable Oxford tendered him the doctor's robe.
"I don't know why they should give me a degree like that," he said,
quaintly. "I never doctored any literature--I wouldn't know how.
He had thought never to cross the ocean again, but he declared he would
travel to Mars and back, if necessary, to get that Oxford degree.
He appreciated its full meaning-recognition by the world's foremost
institution of learning of the achievements of one who had no learning of
the institutionary kind. He sailed in June, and his sojourn in England
was marked by a continuous ovation. His hotel was besieged by callers.
Two secretaries were busy nearly twenty hours a day attending to visitors
and mail. When he appeared on the street his name went echoing in every
direction and the multitudes gathered. On the day when he rose, in his
scarlet robe and black mortar-board, to receive his degree (he must have
made a splendid picture in that dress, with his crown of silver hair),
the vast assembly went wild. What a triumph, indeed, for the little
Missouri printer-boy! It was the climax of a great career.
Mark Twain's work was always of a kind to make people talk, always
important, even when it was mere humor. Yet it was seldom that; there
was always wisdom under it, and purpose, and these things gave it dynamic
force and enduring life. Some of his aphorisms--so quaint in form as to
invite laughter--are yet fairly startling in their purport. His
paraphrase, "When in doubt, tell the truth," is of this sort. "Frankness
is a jewel; only the young can afford it," he once said to the writer,
apropos of a little girl's remark. His daily speech was full of such
things. The secret of his great charm was his great humanity and the
gentle quaintness and sincerity of his utterance.
His work did not cease when the pressing need of money came to an end.
He was full of ideas, and likely to begin a new article or story at any
time. He wrote and published a number of notable sketches, articles,
stories, even books, during these later years, among them that marvelous
short story--"The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg." In that story, as in
most of his later work, he proved to the world that he was much more than
a humorist--that he was, in fact, a great teacher, moralist, philosopher-
-the greatest, perhaps, of his age.
His life at Stormfield--he had never seen the place until the day of his
arrival, June 18, 1908--was a peaceful and serene old age. Not that he
was really old; he never was that. His step, his manner, his point of
view, were all and always young. He was fond of children and frequently
had them about him. He delighted in games--especially in billiards--and
in building the house at Stormfield the billiard-room was first
considered. He had a genuine passion for the sport; without it his
afternoon was not complete. His mornings he was likely to pass in bed,
smoking--he was always smoking--and attending to his correspondence and
reading. History and the sciences interested him, and his bed was strewn
with biographies and stories of astronomical and geological research.
The vastness of distances and periods always impressed him. He had no
head for figures, but he would labor for hours over scientific
calculations, trying to compass them and to grasp their gigantic import.
I remember once finding him highly elated over the fact that he had
figured out for himself the length in hours and minutes of a "light
year." He showed me the pages covered with figures, and was more proud of
them than if they had been the pages of an immortal story. Then we
played billiards, but even his favorite game could not make him
altogether forget his splendid achievement.
It was on the day before Christmas, 1909, that heavy bereavement once
more came into the life of Mark Twain. His daughter Jean, long subject
to epileptic attacks, was seized with a convulsion while in her bath and
died before assistance reached her. He was dazed by the suddenness of
the blow. His philosophy sustained him. He was glad, deeply glad for
the beautiful girl that had been released.
"I never greatly envied anybody but the dead," he said, when he had
looked at her. "I always envy the dead."
The coveted estate of silence, time's only absolute gift, it was the one
benefaction he had ever considered worth while.
Yet the years were not unkindly to Mark Twain. They brought him sorrow,
but they brought him likewise the capacity and opportunity for large
enjoyment, and at the last they laid upon him a kind of benediction.
Naturally impatient, he grew always more gentle, more generous, more
tractable and considerate as the seasons passed. His final days may be
said to have been spent in the tranquil light of a summer afternoon.
His own end followed by a few months that of his daughter. There were
already indications that his heart was seriously affected, and soon after
Jean's death he sought the warm climate of Bermuda. But his malady made
rapid progress, and in April he returned to Stormfield. He died there
just a week later, April 21, 1910.
Any attempt to designate Mark Twain's place in the world's literary
history would be presumptuous now. Yet I cannot help thinking that he
will maintain his supremacy in the century that produced him. I think so
because, of all the writers of that hundred years, his work was the most
human his utterances went most surely to the mark. In the long analysis
of the ages it is the truth that counts, and he never approximated, never
compromised, but pronounced those absolute verities to which every human
being of whatever rank must instantly respond.
His understanding of subjective human nature--the vast, unwritten life
within--was simply amazing. Such knowledge he acquired at the
fountainhead--that is, from himself. He recognized in himself an extreme
example of the human being with all the attributes of power and of
weakness, and he made his exposition complete.
The world will long miss Mark Twain; his example and his teaching will be
neither ignored nor forgotten. Genius defies the laws of perspective and
looms larger as it recedes. The memory of Mark Twain remains to us a
living and intimate presence that today, even more than in life,
constitutes a stately moral bulwark reared against hypocrisy and
superstition--a mighty national menace to sham.