Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCIV

The Second Winter in Vienna

The Clemens family did not return to the Metropole for the winter, but went to the new Krantz, already mentioned, where they had a handsome and commodious suite looking down on the Neuer Markt and on the beautiful facade of the Capuchin church, with the great cathedral only a step away. There they passed another brilliant and busy winter. Never in Europe had they been more comfortably situated; attention had been never more lavishly paid to them. Their drawing-room was a salon which acquired the name of the “Second Embassy.” Clemens in his note-book wrote:

During 8 years now I have filled the position — with some credit, I trust, of self-appointed ambassador-at-large of the United States of America — without salary.

Which was a joke; but there was a large grain of truth in it, for Mark Twain, more than any other American in Europe, was regarded as typically representing his nation and received more lavish honors.

It had become the fashion to consult him on every question of public interest, for he was certain to say something worth printing, whether seriously or otherwise. When the Tsar of Russia proposed the disarmament of the nations William T. Stead, editor of the Review of Reviews, wrote for Mark Twain’s opinion. He replied:

DEAR MR. STEADY — The Tsar is ready to disarm. I am ready to disarm. Collect the others; it should not be much of a task now.

MARK TWAIN.

He was on a tide of prosperity once more, one that was to continue now until the end. He no longer had any serious financial qualms. He could afford to be independent. He refused ten thousand dollars for a tobacco indorsement, though he liked the tobacco well enough; and he was aware that even royalty was willing to put a value on its opinions. He declined ten thousand dollars a year for five years to lend his name as editor of a humorous periodical, though there was no reason to suppose that the paper would be otherwise than creditably conducted. He declined lecture propositions from Pond at the rate of about one a month. He could get along without these things, he said, and still preserve some remnants of self-respect. In a letter to Rogers he said:

Pond offers me $10,000 for 10 nights, but I do not feel strongly tempted. Mrs. Clemens ditto.

Early in 1899 he wrote to Howells that Mrs. Clemens had proved to him that they owned a house and furniture in Hartford, that his English and American copyrights paid an income on the equivalent of two hundred thousand dollars, and that they had one hundred and seven thousand dollars’ accumulation in the bank.

“I have been out and bought a box of 6c. cigars,” he says; “I was smoking 4 1/2c. before.”

The things that men are most likely to desire had come to Mark Twain, and no man was better qualified to rejoice in them. That supreme, elusive thing which we call happiness might have been his now but for the tragedy of human bereavement and the torture of human ills. That he did rejoice — reveled indeed like a boy in his new fortunes, the honors paid him, and in all that gay Viennese life-there is no doubt. He could wave aside care and grief and remorse, forget their very existence, it seemed; but in the end he had only driven them ahead a little way and they waited by his path. Once, after reciting his occupations and successes, he wrote:

All these things might move and interest one. But how, desperately more I have been moved to-night by the thought of a little old copy in the nursery of ‘At the Back of the North Wind’. Oh, what happy days they were when that book was read, and how Susy loved it! . . . Death is so kind, benignant, to whom he loves, but he goes by us others & will not look our way.

And to Twichell a few days later:

A Hartford with no Susy in it —& no Ned Bunce! — It is not the city of Hartford, it is the city of Heartbreak. . . . It seems only a few weeks since I saw Susy last — yet that was 1895 & this is 1899. . . .

My work does not go well to-day. It failed yesterday —& the day before & the day before that. And so I have concluded to put the MS. in the waste-basket & meddle with some other subject. I was trying to write an article advocating the quadrupling of the salaries of our ministers & ambassadors, & the devising of an official dress for them to wear. It seems an easy theme, yet I couldn’t do the thing to my satisfaction. All I got out of it was an article on Monaco & Monte Carlo — matters not connected with the subject at all. Still, that was something — it’s better than a total loss.

He finished the article —“Diplomatic Pay and Clothes”— in which he shows how absurd it is for America to expect proper representation on the trifling salaries paid to her foreign ministers, as compared with those allowed by other nations.

He prepared also a reminiscent article — the old tale of the shipwrecked Hornet and the magazine article intended as his literary debut a generation ago. Now and again he worked on some one of the several unfinished longer tales, but brought none of them to completion. The German drama interested him. Once he wrote to Mr. Rogers that he had translated “In Purgatory” and sent it to Charles Frohman, who pronounced it “all jabber and no play.”

Curious, too, for it tears these Austrians to pieces with laughter. When I read it, now, it seems entirely silly; but when I see it on the stage it is exceedingly funny.

He undertook a play for the Burg Theater, a collaboration with a Vienna journalist, Siegmund Schlesinger. Schlesinger had been successful with several dramas, and agreed with Clemens to do some plays dealing with American themes. One of them was to be called “Die Goldgraeberin,” that is, “The Woman Gold-Miner.” Another, “The Rival Candidates,” was to present the humors of female suffrage. Schlesinger spoke very little English, and Clemens always had difficulty in comprehending rapid-fire German. So the work did not progress very well. By the time they had completed a few scenes of mining-drama the interest died, and they good-naturedly agreed that it would be necessary to wait until they understood each other’s language more perfectly before they could go on with the project. Frau Kati Schratt, later morganatic wife of Emperor Franz Josef, but then leading comedienne of the Burg Theater, is said to have been cast for the leading part in the mining-play; and Director-General Herr Schlenther, head of the Burg Theater management, was deeply disappointed. He had never doubted that a play built by Schlesinger and Mark Twain, with Frau Schratt in the leading role, would have been a great success.

Clemens continued the subject of Christian Science that winter. He wrote a number of articles, mainly criticizing Mrs. Eddy and her financial methods, and for the first time conceived the notion of a book on the subject. The new hierarchy not only amused but impressed him. He realized that it was no ephemeral propaganda, that its appeal to human need was strong, and that its system of organization was masterful and complete. To Twichell he wrote:

Somehow I continue to feel sure of that cult’s colossal future. . . . I am selling my Lourdes stock already & buying Christian Science trust. I regard it as the Standard Oil of the future.

He laid the article away for the time and, as was his custom, put the play quite out of his mind and invented a postal-check which would be far more simple than post-office orders, because one could buy them in any quantity and denomination and keep them on hand for immediate use, making them individually payable merely by writing in the name of the payee. It seems a fine, simple scheme, one that might have been adopted by the government long ago; but the idea has been advanced in one form or another several times since then, and still remains at this writing unadopted. He wrote John Hay about it, remarking at the close that the government officials would probably not care to buy it as soon as they found they couldn’t kill Christians with it.

He prepared a lengthy article on the subject, in dialogue form, making it all very clear and convincing, but for some reason none of the magazines would take it. Perhaps it seemed too easy, too simple, too obvious. Great ideas, once developed, are often like that.

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