The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer

In spite of the success of his Sandwich Island letters, Samuel Clemens felt, on his return to San Francisco, that his future was not bright. He was not a good, all-round newspaper man–he was special correspondent and sketch-writer, out of a job.

He had a number of plans, but they did not promise much. One idea was to make a book from his Hawaiian material. Another was to write magazine articles, beginning with one on the Hornet disaster. He did, in fact, write the Hornet article, and its prompt acceptance by “Harper’s Magazine” delighted him, for it seemed a start in the right direction. A third plan was to lecture on the islands.

This prospect frightened him. He had succeeded in his “Third House" address of two years before, but then he had lectured without charge and for a church benefit. This would be a different matter.

One of the proprietors of a San Francisco paper, Col. John McComb, of the “Alta California,” was strong in his approval of the lecture idea.

“Do it, by all means,” he said. “Take the largest house in the city, and charge a dollar a ticket.”

Without waiting until his fright came back, Mark Twain hurried to the manager of the Academy of Music, and engaged it for a lecture to be given October 2d (1866), and sat down and wrote his announcement. He began by stating what he would speak upon, and ended with a few absurdities, such as:

                         A SPLENDID ORCHESTRA
                    is in town, but has not been engaged.

                    A DEN OF FEROCIOUS WILD BEASTS
               will be on exhibition in the next block.
          may be expected; in fact, the public are privileged to
                    expect whatever they please.
     Doors open at 7 o’clock.  The trouble to begin at 8 o’clock.

Mark Twain was well known in San Francisco, and was pretty sure to have a good house. But he did not realize this, and, as the evening approached, his dread of failure increased. Arriving at the theater, he entered by the stage door, half expecting to find the place empty. Then, suddenly, he became more frightened than ever; peering from the wings, he saw that the house was jammed–packed from the footlights to the walls! Terrified, his knees shaking, his tongue dry, he managed to emerge, and was greeted with a roar, a crash of applause that nearly finished him. Only for an instant–reaction followed; these people were his friends, and he was talking to them. He forgot to be afraid, and, as the applause came in great billows that rose ever higher, he felt himself borne with it as on a tide of happiness and success. His evening, from beginning to end, was a complete triumph. Friends declared that for descriptive eloquence, humor, and real entertainment nothing like his address had ever been delivered. The morning papers were enthusiastic.

Mark Twain no longer hesitated as to what he should do now. He would lecture. The book idea no longer attracted him; the appearance of the “Hornet” article, signed, through a printer’s error, “Mark Swain,” cooled his desire to be a magazine contributor. No matter–lecturing was the thing. Dennis McCarthy, who had sold his interest in the “Enterprise," was in San Francisco. Clemens engaged this honest, happy-hearted Irishman as manager, and the two toured California and Nevada with continuous success.

Those who remember Mark Twain as a lecturer in that early day say that on entering he would lounge loosely across the platform, his manuscript– written on wrapping-paper and carried under his arm–looking like a ruffled hen. His delivery they recall as being even more quaint and drawling than in later life. Once, when his lecture was over, an old man came up to him and said:

“Be them your natural tones of eloquence?”

In those days it was thought proper that a lecturer should be introduced, and Clemens himself used to tell of being presented by an old miner, who said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I know only two things about this man: the first is that he’s never been in jail, and the second is, I don’t know why.”

When he reached Virginia, his old friend Goodman said, “Sam, you don’t need anybody to introduce you,” and he suggested a novel plan. That night, when the curtain rose, it showed Mark Twain seated at a piano, playing and singing, as if still cub pilot on the “John J. Roe:”

          “Had an old horse whose name was Methusalem,
            Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem,
                    A long time ago.”

Pretending to be surprised and startled at the burst of applause, he sprang up and began to talk. How the audience enjoyed it!

Mark Twain continued his lecture tour into December, and then, on the 15th of that month, sailed by way of the Isthmus of Panama for New York. He had made some money, and was going home to see his people. He had planned to make a trip around the world later, contributing a series of letters to the “Alta California,” lecturing where opportunity afforded. He had been on the Coast five and a half years, and to his professions of printing and piloting had added three others–mining, journalism, and lecturing. Also, he had acquired a measure of fame. He could come back to his people with a good account of his absence and a good heart for the future.

But it seems now only a chance that he arrived at all. Crossing the Isthmus, he embarked for New York on what proved to be a cholera ship. For a time there were one or more funerals daily. An entry in his diary says:

“Since the last two hours all laughter, all levity, has ceased on the ship–a settled gloom is upon the faces of the passengers.

“But the winter air of the North checked the contagion, and there were no new cases when New York City was reached.”

Clemens remained but a short time in New York, and was presently in St. Louis with his mother and sister. They thought he looked old, but he had not changed in manner, and the gay banter between mother and son was soon as lively as ever. He was thirty-one now, and she sixty-four, but the years had made little difference. She petted him, joked with him, and scolded him. In turn, he petted and comforted and teased her. She decided he was the same Sam and always would be–a true prophecy.

He visited Hannibal and lectured there, receiving an ovation that would have satisfied even Tom Sawyer. In Keokuk he lectured again, then returned to St. Louis to plan his trip around the world.

He was not to make a trip around the world, however–not then. In St. Louis he saw the notice of the great “Quaker City” Holy Land excursion– the first excursion of the kind ever planned–and was greatly taken with the idea. Impulsive as always, he wrote at once to the “Alta California,” proposing that they send him as their correspondent on this grand ocean picnic. The cost of passage was $1.200, and the “Alta" hesitated, but Colonel McComb, already mentioned, assured his associates that the investment would be sound. The “Alta” wrote, accepting Mark Twain’s proposal, and agreed to pay twenty dollars each for letters. Clemens hurried to New York to secure a berth, fearing the passenger-list might be full. Furthermore, with no one of distinction to vouch for him, according to advertised requirements, he was not sure of being accepted. Arriving in New York, he learned from an “Alta” representative that passage had already been reserved for him, but he still doubted his acceptance as one of the distinguished advertised company. His mind was presently relieved on this point. Waiting his turn at the booking-desk, he heard a newspaper man inquire:

“What notables are going?”

A clerk, with evident pride, rattled off the names:

“Lieutenant-General Sherman, Henry Ward Beecher, and Mark Twain; also, probably, General Banks.”

It was very pleasant to hear the clerk say that. Not only was he accepted, but billed as an attraction.

The “Quaker City” would not sail for two months yet, and during the period of waiting Mark Twain was far from idle. He wrote New York letters to the “Alta,” and he embarked in two rather important ventures– he published his first book and he delivered a lecture in New York City.

Both these undertakings were planned and carried out by friends from the Coast. Charles Henry Webb, who had given up his magazine to come East, had collected “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches,” and, after trying in vain to find a publisher for them, brought them out himself, on the 1st of May, 1867.[7] It seems curious now that any publisher should have declined the little volume, for the sketches, especially the frog story, had been successful, and there was little enough good American humor in print. However, publishing was a matter not lightly undertaken in those days.

Mark Twain seems to have been rather pleased with the appearance of his first book. To Bret Harte he wrote:

The book is out and is handsome. It is full of . . . errors....but be a friend and say nothing about those things. When my hurry is over, I will send you a copy to pizen the children with.

The little cloth-and-gold volume, so valued by book-collectors to-day, contained the frog story and twenty-six other sketches, some of which are still preserved in Mark Twain’s collected works. Most of them were not Mark Twain’s best literature, but they were fresh and readable and suited the taste of that period. The book sold very well, and, while it did not bring either great fame or fortune to its author, it was by no means a failure.

The “hurry” mentioned in Mark Twain’s letter to Bret Harte related to his second venture–that is to say, his New York lecture, an enterprise managed by an old Comstock friend, Frank Fuller, ex-Governor of Utah. Fuller, always a sanguine and energetic person, had proposed the lecture idea as soon as Mark Twain arrived in New York. Clemens shook his head.

“I have no reputation with the general public here,” he said. “We couldn’t get a baker’s dozen to hear me.”

But Fuller insisted, and eventually engaged the largest hall in New York, the Cooper Union. Full of enthusiasm and excitement, he plunged into the business of announcing and advertising his attraction, and inventing schemes for the sale of seats. Clemens caught Fuller’s enthusiasm by spells, but between times he was deeply depressed. Fuller had got up a lot of tiny hand-bills, and had arranged to hang bunches of these in the horse-cars. The little dangling clusters fascinated Clemens, and he rode about to see if anybody else noticed them. Finally, after a long time, a passenger pulled off one of the bills and glanced at it. A man with him asked:

“Who’s Mark Twain?”

“Goodness knows! I don’t.”

The lecturer could not ride any farther. He hunted up his patron.

“Fuller,” he groaned, “there isn’t a sign–a ripple of interest.”

Fuller assured him that things were “working underneath,” and would be all right. But Clemens wrote home: “Everything looks shady, at least, if not dark.” And he added that, after hiring the largest house in New York, he must play against Schuyler Colfax, Ristori, and a double troupe of Japanese jugglers, at other places of amusement.

When the evening of the lecture approached and only a few tickets had been sold, the lecturer was desperate.

“Fuller,” he said, “there’ll be nobody in Cooper Union that night but you and me. I am on the verge of suicide. I would commit suicide if I had the pluck and the outfit. You must paper the house, Fuller. You must send out a flood of complimentaries!”

“Very well,” said Fuller. “What we want this time is reputation, anyway– money is secondary. I’ll put you before the choicest and most intelligent audience that was ever gathered in New York City.”

Fuller immediately sent out complimentary tickets to the school-teachers of New York and Brooklyn–-a general invitation to come and hear Mark Twain’s great lecture on the Sandwich Islands. There was nothing to do after that but wait results.

Mark Twain had lost faith–he did not believe anybody in New York would come to hear him even on a free ticket. When the night arrived, he drove with Fuller to the Cooper Union half an hour before the lecture was to begin. Forty years later he said:

“I couldn’t keep away. I wanted to see that vast Mammoth Cave, and die. But when we got near the building, I saw all the streets were blocked with people and that traffic had stopped. I couldn’t believe that these people were trying to get to the Cooper Institute–but they were; and when I got to the stage, at last, the house was jammed full–packed; there wasn’t room enough left for a child.

“I was happy and I was excited beyond expression. I poured the Sandwich Islands out on those people, and they laughed and shouted to my entire content. For an hour and fifteen minutes I was in paradise.”

So in its way this venture was a success. It brought Mark Twain a good deal of a reputation in New York, even if no financial profit, though, in spite of the flood of complimentaries, there was a cash return of something like three hundred dollars. This went a good way toward paying the expenses, while Fuller, in his royal way, insisted on making up the deficit, declaring he had been paid for everything in the fun and joy of the game.

“Mark,” he said, “it’s all right. The fortune didn’t come, but it will. The fame has arrived; with this lecture and your book just out, you are going to be the most-talked-of man in the country. Your letters to the “Alta” and the “Tribune” will get the widest reception of any letters of travel ever written.”


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
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