The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

VIII. Orion’s Paper

A Hannibal paper, the “Journal,” was for sale under a mortgage of five hundred dollars, and Orion Clemens, returning from St. Louis, borrowed the money and bought it. Sam’s two years’ apprenticeship with Ament had been completed, and Orion felt that together they could carry on the paper and win success. Henry Clemens, now eleven, was also taken out of school to learn type-setting.

Orion was a better printer than proprietor. Like so many of his family, he was a visionary, gentle and credulous, ready to follow any new idea. Much advice was offered him, and he tried to follow it all.

He began with great hopes and energy. He worked like a slave and did not spare the others. The paper was their hope of success. Sam, especially, was driven. There were no more free afternoons. In some chapters written by Orion Clemens in later life, he said:

“I was tyrannical and unjust to Sam. He was swift and clean as a good journeyman. I gave him ’takes,’ and, if he got through well, I begrudged him the time and made him work more.”

Orion did not mean to be unjust. The struggle against opposition and debt was bitter. He could not be considerate.

The paper for a time seemed on the road to success, but Orion worked too hard and tried too many schemes. His enthusiasm waned and most of his schemes turned out poorly. By the end of the year the “Journal” was on the down grade.

In time when the need of money became great, Orion made a trip to Tennessee to try to raise something on the land which they still held there. He left Sam in charge of the paper, and, though its proprietor returned empty-handed, his journey was worth while, for it was during his absence that Samuel Clemens began the career that would one day make him Mark Twain.

Sam had concluded to edit the paper in a way that would liven up the circulation. He had never written anything for print, but he believed he knew what the subscribers wanted. The editor of a rival paper had been crossed in love, and was said to have tried to drown himself. Sam wrote an article telling all the history of the affair, giving names and details. Then on the back of two big wooden letters, used for bill- printing, he engraved illustrations of the victim wading out into the river, testing the depth of the water with a stick.

The paper came out, and the demand for it kept the Washington hand-press busy. The injured editor sent word that he was coming over to thrash the whole Journal staff, but he left town, instead, for the laugh was too general.

Sam also wrote a poem which startled orthodox readers. Then Orion returned and reduced him to the ranks. In later years Orion saw his mistake.

“I could have distanced all competitors, even then,” he wrote, “if I had recognized Sam’s ability and let him go ahead, merely keeping him from offending worthy persons.”

Sam was not discouraged. He liked the taste of print. He sent two anecdotes to the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post. Both were accepted –without payment, of course, in those days–and when they appeared he walked on air. This was in 1851. Nearly sixty years later he said:

“Seeing them in print was a joy which rather exceeded anything in that line I have ever experienced since.”

However, he wrote nothing further for the “Post.” Orion printed two of his sketches in the “Journal,” which was the extent of his efforts at this time. None of this early work has been preserved. Files of the “Post” exist, but the sketches were unsigned and could hardly be identified.

The Hannibal paper dragged along from year to year. Orion could pay nothing on the mortgage–financial matters becoming always worse. He could barely supply the plainest food and clothing for the family. Sam and Henry got no wages, of course. Then real disaster came. A cow got into the office one night, upset a type-case, and ate up two composition rollers. Somewhat later a fire broke out and did considerable damage. There was partial insurance, with which Orion replaced a few necessary articles; then, to save rent, he moved the office into the front room of the home on Hill Street, where they were living again at this time.

Samuel Clemens, however, now in his eighteenth year, felt that he was no longer needed in Hannibal. He was a capable workman, with little to do and no reward. Orion, made irritable by his misfortunes, was not always kind. Pamela, who, meantime, had married well, was settled in St. Louis. Sam told his mother that he would visit Pamela and look about the city. There would be work in St. Louis at good wages.

He was going farther than St. Louis, but he dared not tell her. Jane Clemens, consenting, sighed as she put together his scanty belongings. Sam was going away. He had been a good boy of late years, but her faith in his resisting powers was not strong. Presently she held up a little Testament.

“I want you to take hold of the other end of this, Sam,” she said, “and make me a promise.”

The slim, wiry woman of forty-nine, gray-eyed, tender, and resolute, faced the fair-cheeked youth of seventeen, his eyes as piercing and unwavering as her own. How much alike they were!

“I want you,” Jane Clemens said, “to repeat after me, Sam, these words: I do solemnly swear that I will not throw a card or drink a drop of liquor while I am gone.”

He repeated the vow after her, and she kissed him.

“Remember that, Sam, and write to us,” she said.

“And so,” writes Orion, “he went wandering in search of that comfort and advancement, and those rewards of industry, which he had failed to find where I was–gloomy, taciturn, and selfish. I not only missed his labor; we all missed his abounding activity and merriment.”


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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