The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography

It was at the beginning of 1906–a little more than a month after the seventieth-birthday dinner–that the writer of these chapters became personally associated with Mark Twain. I had met him before, and from time to time he had returned a kindly word about some book I had written and inconsiderately sent him, for he had been my literary hero from childhood. Once, indeed, he had allowed me to use some of his letters in a biography I was writing of Thomas Nast; he had been always an admirer of the great cartoonist, and the permission was kindness itself. Before the seating at the birthday dinner I happened to find myself for a moment alone with Mark Twain and remembered to thank him in person for the use of the letters; a day or two later I sent him a copy of the book. I did not expect to hear from it again.

It was a little while after this that I was asked to join in a small private dinner to be given to Mark Twain at the Players, in celebration of his being made an honorary member of that club–there being at the time only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving. I was in the Players a day or two before the event, and David Munro, of “The North American Review,” a man whose gentle and kindly nature made him “David" to all who knew him, greeted me joyfully, his face full of something he knew I would wish to hear.

He had been chosen, he said, to propose the Players’ dinner to Mark Twain, and had found him propped up in bed, and beside him a copy of the Nast book. I suspect now that David’s generous heart prompted Mark Twain to speak of the book, and that his comment had lost nothing in David’s eager retelling. But I was too proud and happy to question any feature of the precious compliment, and Munro–always most happy in making others happy–found opportunity to repeat it, and even to improve upon it– usually in the presence of others–several times during the evening.

The Players’ dinner to Mark Twain was given on the evening of January 3, 19066, and the picture of it still remains clear to me. The guests, assembled around a single table in the private dining-room, did not exceed twenty-five in number. Brander Matthews presided, and the knightly Frank Millet, who would one day go down on the “Titanic,” was there, and Gilder and Munro and David Bispham and Robert Reid, and others of their kind. It so happened that my seat was nearly facing the guest of the evening, who by a custom of the Players is placed at the side and not at the distant end of the long table. Regarding him at leisure, I saw that he seemed to be in full health. He had an alert, rested look; his complexion had the tints of a miniature painting. Lit by the soft glow of the shaded candles, outlined against the richness of the shadowed walls, he made a figure of striking beauty. I could not take my eyes from it, for it stirred in me the farthest memories. I saw the interior of a farm-house sitting-room in the Middle West where I had first heard the name of Mark Twain, and where night after night a group had gathered around the evening lamp to hear read aloud the story of the Innocents on their Holy Land pilgrimage, which to a boy of eight had seemed only a wonderful poem and fairy-tale. To Charles Harvey Genung, who sat next to me, I whispered something of this, and how during the thirty-six years since then no one had meant to me quite what Mark Twain had meant–in literature and, indeed, in life. Now here he was just across the table. It was a fairy-tale come true.

Genung said: “You should write his life.”

It seemed to me no more than a pleasant remark, but he came back to it again and again, trying to encourage me with the word that Munro had brought back concerning the biography of Nast. However, nothing of what he said had kindled any spark of hope. I put him off by saying that certainly some one of longer and closer friendship and larger experience had been selected for the work. Then the speaking began, and the matter went out of my mind. Later in the evening, when we had left our seats and were drifting about the table, I found a chance to say a word to our guest concerning his “Joan of Arc,” which I had recently re-read. To my happiness, he told me that long-ago incident–the stray leaf from Joan’s life, blown to him by the wind–which had led to his interest in all literature. Then presently I was with Genung again and he was still insisting that I write the life of Mark Twain. It may have been his faithful urging, it may have been the quick sympathy kindled by the name of “Joan of Arc"; whatever it was, in the instant of bidding good-by to our guest I was prompted to add:

“May I call to see you, Mr. Clemens, some day?” And something–to this day I do not know what–prompted him to answer:

“Yes, come soon.”

Two days later, by appointment with his secretary, I arrived at 21 Fifth Avenue, and waited in the library to be summoned to his room. A few moments later I was ascending the long stairs, wondering why I had come on so useless an errand, trying to think up an excuse for having come at all.

He was propped up in bed–a regal bed, from a dismantled Italian palace– delving through a copy of “Huckleberry Finn,” in search of a paragraph concerning which some unknown correspondent had inquired. He pushed the cigars toward me, commenting amusingly on this correspondent and on letter-writing in general. By and by, when there came a lull, I told him what so many thousands had told him before–what his work had meant to me, so long ago, and recalled my childish impressions of that large black-and-gilt book with its wonderful pictures and adventures “The Innocents Abroad.” Very likely he was willing enough to let me change the subject presently and thank him for the kindly word which David Munro had brought. I do not remember what was his comment, but I suddenly found myself saying that out of his encouragement had grown a hope (though certainly it was less), that I might some day undertake a book about himself. I expected my errand to end at this point, and his silence seemed long and ominous.

He said at last that from time to time he had himself written chapters of his life, but that he had always tired of the work and put it aside. He added that he hoped his daughters would one day collect his letters, but that a biography–a detailed story of a man’s life and effort–was another matter. I think he added one or two other remarks, then all at once, turning upon me those piercing agate-blue eyes, he said:

“When would you like to begin?”

There was a dresser, with a large mirror, at the end of the room. I happened to catch my reflection in it, and I vividly recollect saying to it, mentally “This is not true; it is only one of many similar dreams." But even in a dream one must answer, and I said:

“Whenever you like. I can begin now.”

He was always eager in any new undertaking.

“Very good,” he said, “the sooner, then, the better. Let’s begin while we are in the humor. The longer you postpone a thing of this kind, the less likely you are ever to get at it.”

This was on Saturday; I asked if Tuesday, January 9, would be too soon to start. He agreed that Tuesday would do, and inquired as to my plan of work. I suggested bringing a stenographer to make notes of his life- story as he could recall it, this record to be supplemented by other material–letters, journals, and what not. He said:

“I think I should enjoy dictating to a stenographer with some one to prompt me and act as audience. The room adjoining this was fitted up for my study. My manuscript and notes and private books and many of my letters are there, and there are a trunkful or two of such things in the attic. I seldom use the room myself. I do my writing and reading in bed. I will turn that room over to you for this work. Whatever you need will be brought to you. We can have the dictations here in the morning, and you can put in the rest of the day to suit yourself. You can have a key and come and go as you please.”

That was always his way. He did nothing by halves. He got up and showed me the warm luxury of the study, with its mass of material–disordered, but priceless.

I have no distinct recollections of how I came away, but presently, back at the Players, I was confiding the matter to Charles Harvey Genung, who said he was not surprised; but I think he was.


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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