The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

Presented by

Public Domain Books

LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow

In a room at the Players Club–"a cheap room,” he wrote home, “at $1.5o per day"–Mark Twain spent the winter, hoping against hope to weather the financial storm. His fortunes were at a lower ebb than ever before; lower even than during those bleak mining days among the Esmeralda hills. Then there had been no one but himself, and he was young. Now, at fifty- eight, he had precious lives dependent upon him, and he was weighed down by debt. The liabilities of his firm were fully two hundred thousand dollars–sixty thousand of which were owing to Mrs. Clemens for money advanced–but the large remaining sum was due to banks, printers, binders, and the manufacturers of paper. A panic was on the land and there was no business. What he was to do Clemens did not know. He spent most of his days in his room, trying to write, and succeeded in finishing several magazine articles. Outwardly cheerful, he hid the bitterness of his situation.

A few, however, knew the true state of his affairs. One of these one night introduced him to Henry H. Rogers, the Standard Oil millionaire.

“Mr. Clemens,” said Mr. Rogers, “I was one of your early admirers. I heard you lecture a long time ago, on the Sandwich Islands.”

They sat down at a table, and Mark Twain told amusing stories. Rogers was in a perpetual gale of laughter. They became friends from that evening, and in due time the author had confessed to the financier all his business worries.

“You had better let me look into things a little,” Rogers said, and he advised Clemens to “stop walking the floor.”

It was characteristic of Mark Twain to be willing to unload his affairs upon any one that he thought able to bear the burden. He became a new man overnight. With Henry Rogers in charge, life was once more worth while. He accepted invitations from the Rogers family and from many others, and was presently so gay, so widely sought, and seen in so many places that one of his acquaintances, “Jamie” Dodge, dubbed him the “Belle of New York.”

Henry Rogers, meanwhile, was “looking into things.” He had reasonable faith in the type-machine, and advanced a large sum on the chance of its proving a success. This, of course, lifted Mark Twain quite into the clouds. Daily he wrote and cabled all sorts of glowing hopes to his family, then in Paris. Once he wrote:

“The ship is in sight now .... When the anchor is down, then I shall say: Farewell–a long farewell–to business! I will never touch it again! I will live in literature, I will wallow in it, revel in it; I will swim in ink!”

Once he cabled, “Expect good news in ten days"; and a little later, “Look out for good news"; and in a few days, “Nearing success.”

Those Sellers-like messages could not but appeal, Mrs. Clemens’s sense of humor, even in those dark days. To her sister she wrote, “They make me laugh, for they are so like my beloved Colonel.”

The affairs of Webster & Co. Mr. Rogers found a bad way. When, at last, in April, 1894, the crisis came–a demand by the chief creditors for payment–he advised immediate assignment as the only course.

So the firm of Webster & Co. closed its doors. The business which less than ten years before had begun so prosperously had ended in failure. Mark Twain, nearing fifty-nine, was bankrupt. When all the firm’s effects had been sold and applied on the counts, he was still more than seventy thousand dollars in debt. Friends stepped in and offered to lend him money, but he declined these offers. Through Mr. Rogers a basis of settlement at fifty cents on the dollar was arranged, and Mark Twain said, “Give me time, and I will pay the other fifty.”

No one but his wife and Mr. Rogers, however, believed that at his age he would be able to make good the promise. Many advised him not to attempt it, but to settle once and for all on the legal basis as arranged. Sometimes, in moments of despondency, he almost surrendered. Once he said:

“I need not dream of paying it. I never could manage it.”

But these were only the hard moments. For the most part he kept up good heart and confidence. It is true that he now believed again in the future of the type-setter, and that returns from it would pay him out of bankruptcy. But later in the year this final hope was taken away. Mr. Rogers wrote to him that in the final test the machine had failed to prove itself practical and that the whole project had been finally and permanently abandoned. The shock of disappointment was heavy for the moment, but then it was over–completely over–for that old mechanical demon, that vampire of invention that had sapped his fortune so long, was laid at last. The worst had happened; there was nothing more to dread. Within a week Mark Twain (he was now back in Paris with the family) had settled down to work once more on the “Recollections of Joan,” and all mention and memory of the type-setter was forever put away. The machine stands to-day in the Sibley College of Engineering, where it is exhibited as the costliest piece of mechanism for its size ever constructed. Mark Twain once received a letter from an author who had written a book to assist inventors and patentees, asking for his indorsement. He replied:

“DEAR SIR,–I have, as you say, been interested in patents and patentees. If your book tells how to exterminate inventors, send me nine editions. Send them by express.

“Very truly yours,


Those were economical days. There was no income except from the old books, and at the time this was not large. The Clemens family, however, was cheerful, and Mark Twain was once more in splendid working form. The story of Joan hurried to its tragic conclusion. Each night he read to the family what he had written that day, and Susy, who was easily moved, would say, “Wait–wait till I get my handkerchief,” and one night when the last pages had been written and read, and the fearful scene at Rouen had been depicted, Susy wrote in her diary, “To-night Joan of Arc was burned at the stake!” Meaning that the book was finished.

Susy herself had fine literary taste, and might have written had not her greater purpose been to sing. There are fragments of her writing that show the true literary touch. Both Susy and her father cared more for Joan than for any of the former books. To Mr. Rogers Clemens wrote, “Possibly the book may not sell, but that is nothing–it was mitten for love.” It was placed serially with “Harper’s Magazine” and appeared anonymously, but the public soon identified the inimitable touch of Mark Twain.

It was now the spring of 1895, and Mark Twain had decided upon a new plan to restore his fortunes. Platform work had always paid him well, and though he disliked it now more than ever, he had resolved upon something unheard of in that line–nothing less, in fact, than a platform tour around the world. In May, with the family, he sailed for America, and after a month or two of rest at Quarry Farm he set out with Mrs. Clemens and Clara and with his American agent, J. B. Pond, for the Pacific coast. Susy and Jean remained behind with their aunt at the farm. The travelers left Elmira at night, and they always remembered the picture of Susy, standing under the electric light of the railway platform, waving them good-by.

Mark Twain’s tour of the world was a success from the beginning. Everywhere he was received with splendid honors–in America, in Australia, in New Zealand, in India, in Ceylon, in South Africa–wherever he went his welcome was a grand ovation, his theaters and halls were never large enough to hold his audiences. With the possible exception of General Grant’s long tour in 1878-9 there had hardly been a more gorgeous progress than Mark Twain’s trip around the world. Everywhere they were overwhelmed with attention and gifts. We cannot begin to tell the story of that journey here. In “Following the Equator” the author himself tells it in his own delightful fashion.

From time to time along the way Mark Twain forwarded his accumulated profits to Mr. Rogers to apply against his debts, and by the time they sailed from South Africa the sum was large enough to encourage him to believe that, with the royalties to be derived from the book he would write of his travels, he might be able to pay in full and so face the world once more a free man. Their long trip–it had lasted a full year– was nearing its end. They would spend the winter in London–Susy and Jean were notified to join them there. They would all be reunited again. The outlook seemed bright once more.

They reached England the last of July. Susy and Jean, with Katy Leary, were to arrive on the 12th of August. But the 12th did not bring them– it brought, instead, a letter. Susy was not well, the letter said; the sailing had been postponed. The letter added that it was nothing serious, but her parents cabled at once for later news. Receiving no satisfactory answer, Mrs. Clemens, full of forebodings, prepared to sail with Clara for America. Clemens would remain in London to arrange for the winter residence. A cable came, saying Susy’s recovery would be slow but certain. Mrs. Clemens and Clara sailed immediately. In some notes he once dictated, Mark Twain said:

“That was the 15th of August, 1896. Three days later, when my wife and Clara were about half-way across the ocean, I was standing in our dining-room, thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram was put into my hand. It said, ’Susy was peacefully released to- day.’”

Mark Twain’s life had contained other tragedies, but no other that equaled this one. The dead girl had been his heart’s pride; it was a year since they parted, and now he knew he would never see her again. The blow had found him alone and among strangers. In that day he could not even reach out to those upon the ocean, drawing daily nearer to the heartbreak.

Susy Clemens had died in the old Hartford home. She had been well far a time at the farm, but then her health had declined. She worked continuously at her singing lessons and over-tried her strength. Then she went on a visit to Mrs. Charles Dudley Warner, in Hartford; but she did not rest, working harder than ever at her singing. Finally she was told that she must consult a physician. The doctor came and prescribed soothing remedies, and advised that she have the rest and quiet of her own home. Mrs. Crane came from Elmira, also her uncle Charles Langdon. But Susy became worse, and a few days later her malady was pronounced meningitis. This was the 15th of August, the day that her mother and Clara sailed from England. She was delirious and burning with fever, but at last sank into unconsciousness. She died three days later, and on the night that Mrs. Clemens and Clara arrived was taken to Elmira for burial.

They laid her beside the little brother that had died so long before, and ordered a headstone with some lines which they had found in Australia, written by Robert Richardson:

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light!–
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.


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