The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

LX. Working With Mark Twain

It was true, after all; and on Tuesday morning, January 9, 1906, I was on hand with a capable stenographer, ready to begin. Clemens, meantime, had developed a new idea: he would like to add, he said, the new dictations to his former beginnings, completing an autobiography which was to be laid away and remain unpublished for a hundred years. He would pay the stenographer himself, and own the notes, allowing me, of course, free use of them as material for my book. He did not believe that he could follow the story of his life in its order of dates, but would find it necessary to wander around, picking up the thread as memory or fancy prompted. I could suggest subjects and ask questions. I assented to everything, and we set to work immediately.

As on my former visit, he was in bed when we arrived, though clad now in a rich Persian dressing gown, and propped against great, snowy pillows. A small table beside him held his pipes, cigars, papers, also a reading- lamp, the soft light of which brought out his brilliant coloring and the gleam of his snowy hair. There was daylight, too, but it was dull winter daylight, from the north, while the walls of the room were a deep, unreflecting red.

He began that morning with some memories of the Comstock mine; then he dropped back to his childhood, closing at last with some comment on matters quite recent. How delightful it was–his quaint, unhurried fashion of speech, the unconscious habits of his delicate hands, the play of his features as his fancies and phrases passed through his mind and were accepted or put aside. We were watching one of the great literary creators of his time in the very process of his architecture. Time did not count. When he finished, at last, we were all amazed to find that more than two hours had slipped away.

“And how much I have enjoyed it,” he said. “It is the ideal plan for this kind of work. Narrative writing is always disappointing. The moment you pick up a pen you begin to lose the spontaneity of the personal relation, which contains the very essence of interest. With short-hand dictation one can talk as if he were at his own dinner-table always an inspiring place. I expect to dictate all the rest of my life, if you good people are willing to come and listen to it.”

The dictations thus begun continued steadily from week to week, with increasing charm. We never knew what he was going to talk about, and it was seldom that he knew until the moment of beginning. But it was always fascinating, and I felt myself the most fortunate biographer in the world, as indeed I was.

It was not all smooth sailing, however. In the course of time I began to realize that these marvelous dictated chapters were not altogether history, but were often partly, or even entirely, imaginary. The creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had been embroidering old incidents or inventing new ones too long to stick to history now, to be able to separate the romance in his mind from the reality of the past. Also, his memory of personal events had become inaccurate. He realized this, and once said, in his whimsical, gentle way:

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter.”

Yet it was his constant purpose to stick to fact, and especially did he make no effort to put himself in a good light. Indeed, if you wanted to know the worst of Mark Twain you had only to ask him for it. He would give it to the last syllable, and he would improve upon it and pile up his sins, and sometimes the sins of others, without stint. Certainly the dictations were precious, for they revealed character as nothing else could; but as material for history they often failed to stand the test of the documents in the next room–the letters, notebooks, agreements, and the like–from which I was gradually rebuilding the structure of the years.

In the talks that we usually had when the dictations were ended and the stenographer had gone I got much that was of great value. It was then that I usually made those inquiries which we had planned in the beginning, and his answers, coming quickly and without reflection, gave imagination less play. Sometimes he would touch some point of special interest and walk up and down, philosophizing, or commenting upon things in general, in a manner not always complimentary to humanity and its progress.

I seldom asked him a question during the dictation–or interrupted in any way, though he had asked me to stop him when I found him repeating or contradicting himself, or misstating some fact known to me. At first I lacked the courage to point out a mistake at the moment, and cautiously mentioned the matter when he had finished. Then he would be likely to say:

“Why didn’t you stop me? Why did you let me go on making a donkey of myself when you could have saved me?”

So then I used to take the risk of getting struck by lightning, and nearly always stopped him in time. But if it happened that I upset his thought, the thunderbolt was apt to fly. He would say:

“Now you’ve knocked everything out of my head.”

Then, of course, I was sorry and apologized, and in a moment the sky was clear again. There was generally a humorous complexion to the dictations, whatever the subject. Humor was his natural breath of life, and rarely absent.

Perhaps I should have said sooner that he smoked continuously during the dictations. His cigars were of that delicious fragrance which belongs to domestic tobacco. They were strong and inexpensive, and it was only his early training that made him prefer them. Admiring friends used to send him costly, imported cigars, but he rarely touched them, and they were smoked by visitors. He often smoked a pipe, and preferred it to be old and violent. Once when he had bought a new, expensive briar-root, he handed it to me, saying:

“I’d like to have you smoke that a year or two, and when it gets so you can’t stand it, maybe it will suit me.”


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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