The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

Presented by

Public Domain Books

L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun

It was hoped that the profits from the Yankee would provide for all needs until the great sums which were to come from the type-setter should come rolling in. The book did yield a large return, but, alas! the hope of the type-setter, deferred year after year and month after month, never reached fulfilment. Its inventor, James W. Paige, whom Mark Twain once called “a poet, a most great and genuine poet, whose sublime creations are written in steel,” during ten years of persistent experiment had created one of the most marvelous machines ever constructed. It would set and distribute type, adjust the spaces, detect flaws–would perform, in fact, anything that a human being could do, with more exactness and far more swiftness. Mark Twain, himself a practical printer, seeing it in its earlier stages of development, and realizing what a fortune must come from a perfect type-setting machine, was willing to furnish his last dollar to complete the invention. But there the trouble lay. It could never be complete. It was too intricate, too much like a human being, too easy to get out of order, too hard to set right. Paige, fully confident, always believed he was just on the verge of perfecting some appliance that would overcome all difficulties, and the machine finally consisted of twenty thousand minutely exact parts, each of which required expert workmanship and had to be fitted by hand. Mark Twain once wrote:

“All other wonderful inventions of the human brain sink pretty nearly into commonplaces contrasted with this awful, mechanical miracle.”

This was true, and it conveys the secret of its failure. It was too much of a miracle to be reliable. Sometimes it would run steadily for hours, but then some part of its delicate mechanism would fail, and days, even weeks, were required to repair it. It is all too long a story to be given here. It has been fully told elsewhere.[10] By the end of 1890 Mark Twain had put in all his available capital, and was heavily in debt. He had spent one hundred and ninety thousand dollars on the machine, no penny of which would ever be returned. Outside capital to carry on the enterprise was promised, but it failed him. Still believing that there were “millions in it,” he realized that for the present, at least, he could do no more.

Two things were clear: he must fall back on authorship for revenue, and he must retrench. In the present low stage of his fortunes he could no longer afford to live in the Hartford house. He decided to take the family abroad, where living was cheaper, and where he might be able to work with fewer distractions.

He began writing at a great rate articles and stories for the magazines. He hunted out the old play he had written with Howells long before, and made a book of it, “The American Claimant.” Then, in June, 1891, they closed the beautiful Hartford house, where for seventeen years they had found an ideal home; where the children had grown through their sweet, early life; where the world’s wisest had come and gone, pausing a little to laugh with the world’s greatest merrymaker. The furniture was shrouded, the curtains drawn, the light shut away.

While the carriage was waiting, Mrs. Clemens went back and took a last look into each of the rooms, as if bidding a kind of good-by to the past. Then she entered the carriage, and Patrick McAleer, who had been with Mark Twain and his wife since their wedding-day, drove them to the station for the last time.

Mark Twain had a contract for six newspaper letters at one thousand dollars each. He was troubled with rheumatism in his arm, and wrote his first letter from Aix-les-Bains, a watering-place–a “health-factory,” as he called it–and another from Marienbad. They were in Germany in August, and one day came to Heidelberg, where they occupied their old apartment of thirteen years before, room forty, in the Schloss Hotel, with its far prospect of wood and hill, the winding Neckar, and the blue, distant valley of the Rhine. Then, presently, they came to Switzerland, to Ouchy-Lausanne, by lovely Lake Geneva, and here Clemens left the family and, with a guide and a boatman, went drifting down the Rhone in a curious, flat-bottomed craft, thinking to find material for one or more articles, possibly for a book. But drifting down that fair river through still September days, past ancient, drowsy villages, among sloping vineyards, where grapes were ripening in the tranquil sunlight, was too restful and soothing for work. In a letter home, he wrote:

“It’s too delicious, floating with the swift current under the awning these superb, sunshiny days, in peace and quietness. Some of the curious old historical towns strangely persuade me, but it’s so lovely afloat that I don’t stop, but view them from the outside and sail on. . . I want to do all the rivers of Europe in an open boat in summer weather.”

One afternoon, about fifteen miles below the city of Valence, he made a discovery. Dreamily observing the eastward horizon, he noticed that a distant blue mountain presented a striking profile outline of Napoleon Bonaparte. It seemed really a great natural wonder, and he stopped that night at the village just below, Beauchastel, a hoary huddle of houses with the roofs all run together, and took a room at the little hotel, with a window looking to the eastward, from which, next morning, he saw the profile of the great stone face, wonderfully outlined against the sunrise. He was excited over his discovery, and made a descriptive note of it and an outline sketch. Then, drifting farther down the river, he characteristically forgot all about it and did not remember it again for ten years, by which time he had forgotten the point on the river where the Napoleon could be seen, forgotten even that he had made a note and sketch giving full details. He wished the Napoleon to be found again, believing, as he declared, that it would become one of the natural wonders of the world. To travelers going to France he attempted to describe it, and some of these tried to find it; but, as he located it too far down the Rhone, no one reported success, and in time he spoke of his discovery as the “Lost Napoleon.” It was not until after Mark Twain’s death that it was rediscovered, and then by the writer of this memoir, who, having Mark Twain’s note-book,[11] with its exact memoranda, on another September day, motoring up the Rhone, located the blue profile of the reclining Napoleon opposite the gray village of Beauchastel. It is a really remarkable effigy, and deserves to be visited.

Clemens finished his trip at Arles–a beautiful trip from beginning to end, but without literary result. When he undertook to write of it, he found that it lacked incident, and, what was worse, it lacked humor. To undertake to create both was too much. After a few chapters he put the manuscript aside, unfinished, and so it remains to this day.

The Clemens family spent the winter in Berlin, a gay winter, with Mark Twain as one of the distinguished figures of the German capital. He was received everywhere and made much of. Once a small, choice dinner was given him by Kaiser William II., and, later, a breakfast by the Empress. His books were great favorites in the German royal family. The Kaiser particularly enjoyed the “Mississippi” book, while the essay on “The Awful German Language,” in the “Tramp Abroad,” he pronounced one of the finest pieces of humor ever written. Mark Twain’s books were favorites, in fact, throughout Germany. The door-man in his hotel had them all in his little room, and, discovering one day that their guest, Samuel L. Clemens, and Mark Twain were one, he nearly exploded with excitement. Dragging the author to his small room, he pointed to the shelf:

“There,” he said, “you wrote them! I’ve found it out. Ach! I did not know it before, and I ask a million pardons.”

Affairs were not going well in America, and in June Clemens made a trip over to see what could be done. Probably he did very little, and he was back presently at Nauheim, a watering-place, where he was able to work rather quietly. He began two stories–one of them, “The Extraordinary Twins,” which was the first form of “Pudd’nhead Wilson;” the other, “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” for “St. Nicholas.” Twichell came to Nauheim during the summer, and one day he and Clemens ran over to Homburg, not far away. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII.) was there, and Clemens and Twichell, walking in the park, met the Prince with the British ambassador, and were presented. Twichell, in an account of the meeting, said:

“The meeting between the Prince and Mark was a most cordial one on both sides, and presently the Prince took Mark Twain’s arm and the two marched up and down, talking earnestly together, the Prince solid, erect, and soldier-like; Clemens weaving along in his curious, swinging gait, in full tide of talk, and brandishing a sun umbrella of the most scandalous description.”

At Villa Viviani, an old, old mansion outside of Florence, on the hill toward Settignano, Mark Twain finished “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” also “Pudd’nhead Wilson”, and wrote the first half of a book that really had its beginning on the day when, an apprentice-boy in Hannibal, he had found a stray leaf from the pathetic story of “Joan of Arc.” All his life she had been his idol, and he had meant some day to write of her. Now, in this weather-stained old palace, looking down on Florence, medieval and hazy, and across to the villa-dotted hills, he began one of the most beautiful stories ever written, “The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.” He wrote in the first person, assuming the character of Joan’s secretary, Sieur Louis de Conte, who in his old age is telling the great tale of the Maid of Orleans. It was Mark Twain’s purpose, this time, to publish anonymously. Walking the floor one day at Viviani, and smoking vigorously, he said to Mrs. Clemens and Susy:

“I shall never be accepted seriously over my own signature. People always want to laugh over what I write, and are disappointed if they don’t find a joke in it. This is to be a serious book. It means more to me than anything else I have ever undertaken. I shall write it anonymously.”

So it was that the gentle Sieur de Conte took up the pen, and the tale of Joan was begun in the ancient garden of Viviani, a setting appropriate to its lovely form.

He wrote rapidly when once his plan was perfected and his material arranged. The reading of his youth and manhood was now recalled, not merely as reading, but as remembered reality. It was as if he were truly the old Sieur de Conte, saturated with memories, pouring out the tender, tragic tale. In six weeks he had written one hundred thousand words– remarkable progress at any time, the more so when we consider that some of the authorities he consulted were in a foreign tongue. He had always more or less kept up his study of French, begun so long ago on the river, and it stood him now in good stead. Still, it was never easy for him, and the multitude of notes that still exist along the margin of his French authorities show the magnitude of his work. Others of the family went down into the city almost daily, but he stayed in the still garden with Joan. Florence and its suburbs were full of delightful people, some of them old friends. There were luncheons, dinners, teas, dances, and the like always in progress, but he resisted most of these things, preferring to remain the quaint old Sieur de Conte, following again the banner of the Maid of Orleans marshaling her twilight armies across his illumined page.

But the next spring, March, 1893, he was obliged to put aside the manuscript and hurry to America again, fruitlessly, of course, for a financial stress was on the land; the business of Webster & Co. was on the down-grade–nothing could save it. There was new hope in the old type-setting machine, but his faith in the resurrection was not strong. The strain of his affairs was telling on him. The business owed a great sum, with no prospect of relief. Back in Europe again, Mark Twain wrote F. D. Hall, his business manager in New York:

“I am terribly tired of business. I am by nature and disposition unfit for it, and I want to get out of it. I am standing on a volcano. Get me out of business.”

Tantalizing letters continued to come, holding out hope in the business– the machine–in any straw that promised a little support through the financial storm. Again he wrote Hall:

“Great Scott, but it’s a long year for you and me! I never knew the almanac to drag so. . . I watch for your letters hungrily–just as I used to watch for the telegram saying the machine was finished –but when “next week certainly” suddenly swelled into “three weeks sure,” I recognized the old familiar tune I used to hear so much. W. don’t know what sick-heartedness is, but he is in a fair way to find out.”

They closed Viviani in June and returned to Germany. By the end of August Clemens could stand no longer the strain of his American affairs, and, leaving the family at some German baths, he once more sailed for New York.

[11] At Mark Twain’s death his various literary effects passed into the hands of his biographer and literary executor, the present writer.


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

[Buy at Amazon]
The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
At Amazon