Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCLXXVIII

The Death of Henry Rogers

Clemens, a little before my return, had been on a trip to Norfolk, Virginia, to attend the opening ceremonies of the Virginia Railway. He had made a speech on that occasion, in which he had paid a public tribute to Henry Rogers, and told something of his personal obligation to the financier.

He began by telling what Mr. Rogers had done for Helen Keller, whom he called “the most marvelous person of her sex that has existed on this earth since Joan of Arc.” Then he said:

That is not all Mr. Rogers has done, but you never see that side of his character because it is never protruding; but he lends a helping hand daily out of that generous heart of his. You never hear of it. He is supposed to be a moon which has one side dark and the other bright. But the other side, though you don’t see it, is not dark; it is bright, and its rays penetrate, and others do see it who are not God. I would take this opportunity to tell something that I have never been allowed to tell by Mr. Rogers, either by my mouth or in print, and if I don’t look at him I can tell it now.

In 1894, when the publishing company of Charles L. Webster, of which I was financial agent, failed, it left me heavily in debt. If you will remember what commerce was at that time you will recall that you could not sell anything, and could not buy anything, and I was on my back; my books were not worth anything at all, and I could not give away my copyrights. Mr. Rogers had long-enough vision ahead to say, “Your books have supported you before, and after the panic is over they will support you again,” and that was a correct proposition. He saved my copyrights, and saved me from financial ruin. He it was who arranged with my creditors to allow me to roam the face of the earth and persecute the nations thereof with lectures, promising at the end of four years I would pay dollar for dollar. That arrangement was made, otherwise I would now be living out-of-doors under an umbrella, and a borrowed one at that.

You see his white mustache and his hair trying to get white (he is always trying to look like me — I don’t blame him for that). These are only emblematic of his character, and that is all. I say, without exception, hair and all, he is the whitest man I have ever known.

This had been early in April. Something more than a month later Clemens was making a business trip to New York to see Mr. Rogers. I was telephoned early to go up and look over some matters with him before he started. I do not remember why I was not to go along that day, for I usually made such trips with him. I think it was planned that Miss Clemens, who was in the city, was to meet him at the Grand Central Station. At all events, she did meet him there, with the news that during the night Mr. Rogers had suddenly died. This was May 20, 1909. The news had already come to the house, and I had lost no time in preparations to follow by the next train. I joined him at the Grosvenor Hotel, on Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street. He was upset and deeply troubled by the loss of his stanch adviser and friend. He had a helpless look, and he said his friends were dying away from him and leaving him adrift.

“And how I hate to do anything,” he added, “that requires the least modicum of intelligence!”

We remained at the Grosvenor for Mr. Rogers’s funeral. Clemens served as one of the pall-bearers, but he did not feel equal to the trip to Fairhaven. He wanted to be very quiet, he said. He could not undertake to travel that distance among those whom he knew so well, and with whom he must of necessity join in conversation; so we remained in the hotel apartment, reading and saying very little until bedtime. Once he asked me to write a letter to Jean: “Say, ‘Your father says every little while, “How glad I am that Jean is at home again!”’ for that is true and I think of it all the time.”

But by and by, after a long period of silence, he said:

“Mr. Rogers is under the ground now.”

And so passed out of earthly affairs the man who had contributed so largely to the comfort of Mark Twain’s old age. He was a man of fine sensibilities and generous impulses; withal a keen sense of humor.

One Christmas, when he presented Mark Twain with a watch and a match-case, he wrote:

MY DEAR CLEMENS — For many years your friends have been complaining of your use of tobacco, both as to quantity and quality. Complaints are now coming in of your use of time. Most of your friends think that you are using your supply somewhat lavishly, but the chief complaint is in regard to the quality.

I have been appealed to in the mean time, and have concluded that it is impossible to get the right kind of time from a blacking-box.

Therefore, I take the liberty of sending you herewith a machine that will furnish only the best. Please use it with the kind wishes of Yours truly, H. H. ROGERS.

P. S. — Complaint has also been made in regard to the furrows you make in your trousers in scratching matches. You will find a furrow on the bottom of the article inclosed. Please use it. Compliments of the season to the family.

He was a man too busy to write many letters, but when he did write (to Clemens at least) they were always playful and unhurried. One reading them would not find it easy to believe that the writer was a man on whose shoulders lay the burdens of stupendous finance-burdens so heavy that at last he was crushed beneath their weight.

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