Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CLXVII

Notes and Literary Matters

Clemens’ note-books of this time are full of the vexations of his business ventures, figures, suggestions, and a hundred imagined combinations for betterment — these things intermingled with the usual bits of philosophy and reflections, and amusing reminders.

Aldrich’s man who painted the fat toads red, and naturalist chasing and trying to catch them.

Man who lost his false teeth over Brooklyn Bridge when he was on his way to propose to a widow.

One believes St. Simon and Benvenuto and partly believes the Margravine of Bayreuth. There are things in the confession of Rousseau which one must believe.

What is biography? Unadorned romance. What is romance? Adorned biography. Adorn it less and it will be better than it is.

If God is what people say there can be none in the universe so unhappy as he; for he sees unceasingly myriads of his creatures suffering unspeakable miseries, and, besides this, foresees all they are going to suffer during the remainder of their lives. One might well say “as unhappy as God.”

In spite of the financial complexities and the drain of the enterprises already in hand he did not fail to conceive others. He was deeply interested in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress at the moment, and from photography and scenic effect he presaged a possibility to-day realized in the moving picture.

Dress up some good actors as Apollyon, Greatheart, etc., & the other Bunyan characters, take them to a wild gorge and photograph them — Valley of the Shadow of Death; to other effective places & photo them along with the scenery; to Paris, in their curious costumes, place them near the Arc de l’Etoile & photo them with the crowd-Vanity Fair; to Cairo, Venice, Jerusalem, & other places (twenty interesting cities) & always make them conspicuous in the curious foreign crowds by their costume. Take them to Zululand. It would take two or three years to do the photographing & cost $10,000; but this stereopticon panorama of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress could be exhibited in all countries at the same time & would clear a fortune in a year. By & by I will do this.

If in 1891 I find myself not rich enough to carry out my scheme of buying Christopher Columbus’s bones & burying them under the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World I will give the idea to somebody who is rich enough.

Incidentally he did an occasional piece of literary work. Early in the year, with Brander Matthews, he instructed and entertained the public with a copyright controversy in the Princeton Review. Matthews would appear to have criticized the English copyright protection, or rather the lack of it, comparing it unfavorably with American conditions. Clemens, who had been amply protected in Great Britain, replied that America was in no position to criticize England; that if American authors suffered in England they had themselves to blame for not taking the proper trouble and precautions required by the English law, that is to say, “previous publication” on English soil. He declared that his own books had been as safe in England as at home since he had undertaken to comply with English requirements, and that Professor Matthews was altogether mistaken, both as to premise and conclusion.

“You are the very wrong-headedest person in America,” he said; “and you are injudicious.” And of the article: “I read it to the cat — well, I never saw a cat carry on so before . . . . The American author can go to Canada, spend three days there and come home with an English and American copyright as strong as if it had been built out of railroad iron.”

Matthews replied that not every one could go to Canada, any more than to Corinth. He said:

“It is not easy for a poor author who may chance to live in Florida or Texas, those noted homes of literature, to go to Canada.”

Clemens did not reply again; that is to say, he did not publish his reply. It was a capable bomb which he prepared, well furnished with amusing instance, sarcasm, and ridicule, but he did not use it. Perhaps he was afraid it would destroy his opponent, which would not do. In his heart he loved Matthews. He laid the deadly thing away and maintained a dignified reserve.

Clemens often felt called upon to criticize American institutions, but he was first to come to their defense, especially when the critic was an alien. When Matthew Arnold offered some strictures on America. Clemens covered a good many quires of paper with caustic replies. He even defended American newspapers, which he had himself more than once violently assailed for misreporting him and for other journalistic shortcomings, and he bitterly denounced every shaky British institution, touched upon every weak spot in hereditary rule. He did not print — not then 123 he was writing mainly for relief — without success, however, for he only kindled the fires of his indignation. He was at Quarry Farm and he plunged into his neglected story — A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court — and made his astonishing hero the mouthpiece of his doctrines. He worked with an inspiration and energy born of his ferocity. To Whitmore, near the end of the summer, he wrote:

123 [An article on the American press, probably the best of those prepared at this time, was used, in part, in The American Claimant, as the paper read before the Mechanics’ Club, by “Parker,” assistant editor of the ‘Democrat’.]

I’ve got 16 working-days left yet, and in that time I will add another 120,000 words to my book if I have luck.

In his memoranda of this time he says:

There was never a throne which did not represent a crime. There is no throne to-day which does not represent a crime . . . .

Show me a lord and I will show you a man whom you couldn’t tell from a journeyman shoemaker if he were stripped, and who, in all that is worth being, is the shoemaker’s inferior; and in the shoemaker I will show you a dull animal, a poor-spirited insect; for there are enough of him to rise and chuck the lords and royalties into the sea where they belong, and he doesn’t do it.

But his violence waned, maybe, for he did not finish the Yankee in the sixteen days as planned. He brought the manuscript back to Hartford, but found it hard work there, owing to many interruptions. He went over to Twichell’s and asked for a room where he might work in seclusion. They gave him a big upper chamber, but some repairs were going on below. From a letter written to Theodore Crane we gather that it was not altogether quiet.

Friday, October 5, 1888.

DEAR THEO, I am here in Twichell’s house at work, with the noise of the children and an army of carpenters to help: Of course they don’t help, but neither do they hinder. It’s like a boiler factory for racket, and in nailing a wooden ceiling on to the room under me the hammering tickles my feet amazingly sometimes and jars my table a good deal, but I never am conscious of the racket at all, and I move my feet into positions of relief without knowing when I do it. I began here Monday morning, and have done eighty pages since. I was so tired last night that I thought I would lie abed and rest to-day; but I couldn’t resist. I mean to try to knock off tomorrow, but it’s doubtful if I do. I want to finish the day the machine finishes, and a week ago the closest calculations for that indicated Oct. 22 — but experience teaches me that the calculations will miss fire as usual.

The other day the children were projecting a purchase, Livy and I to furnish the money — a dollar and a half. Jean discouraged the idea. She said, “We haven’t got any money. Children, if you would think, you would remember the machine isn’t done.”

It’s billiards to-night. I wish you were here.

With love to you both, S. L. C.

P. S. I got it all wrong. It wasn’t the children, it was Marie. She wanted a box of blacking for the children’s shoes. Jean reproved her and said, “Why, Marie, you mustn’t ask for things now. The machine isn’t done.”

Neither the Yankee nor the machine was completed that fall, though returns from both were beginning to be badly needed. The financial pinch was not yet severe, but it was noticeable, and it did not relax.

A memorandum of this time tells of an anniversary given to Charles and Susan Warner in their own home. The guests assembled at the Clemens home, the Twichells among them, and slipped across to Warner’s, entering through a window. Dinner was then announced to the Warners, who were sitting by their library fire. They came across the hall and opened the dining-room door, to be confronted by a table fully spread and lighted and an array of guests already seated.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05