Mark Twain’s literary work languished during this period. He had a world of plans, as usual, and wrote plentifully, but without direction or conclusion. “A Curious Experience,” which relates a circumstance told to him by an army officer, is about the most notable of the few completed manuscripts of this period.
Of the books projected (there were several), a burlesque manual of etiquette would seem to have been the most promising. Howells had faith in it, and of the still remaining fragments a few seem worth quoting:
If your ball glides along in the intense and immediate vicinity of the object-ball, and a count seems exquisitely imminent, lift one leg; then one shoulder; then squirm your body around in sympathy with the direction of the moving ball; and at the instant when the ball seems on the point of colliding throw up both of your arms violently. Your cue will probably break a chandelier, but no matter; you have done what you could to help the count.
AT THE DOG-FIGHT
If it occur in your block, courteously give way to strangers desiring a view, particularly ladies.
Avoid showing partiality toward the one dog, lest you hurt the feelings of the other one.
Let your secret sympathies and your compassion be always with the under dog in the fight — this is magnanimity; but bet on the other one — this is business.
If you draw to a flush and fail to fill, do not continue the conflict.
If you hold a pair of trays, and your opponent is blind, and it costs you fifty to see him, let him remain unperceived.
If you hold nothing but ace high, and by some means you know that the other man holds the rest of the aces, and he calls, excuse yourself; let him call again another time.
If you live in the country, buy at 80, sell at 40. Avoid all forms of eccentricity.
IN THE RESTAURANT
When you wish to get the waiter’s attention, do not sing out “Say!” Simply say “Szt!”
His old abandoned notion of “Hamlet” with an added burlesque character came back to him and stirred his enthusiasm anew, until even Howells manifested deep interest in the matter. One reflects how young Howells must have been in those days; how full of the joy of existence; also how mournfully he would consider such a sacrilege now.
Clemens proposed almost as many things to Howells as his brother Orion proposed to him. There was scarcely a letter that didn’t contain some new idea, with a request for advice or co-operation. Now it was some book that he meant to write some day, and again it would be a something that he wanted Howells to write.
Once he urged Howells to make a play, or at least a novel, out of Orion. At another time he suggested as material the “Rightful Earl of Durham.”
He is a perfectly stunning literary bonanza, and must be dug up and put on the market. You must get his entire biography out of him and have it ready for Osgood’s magazine. Even if it isn’t worth printing, you must have it anyway, and use it one of these days in one of your stories or in a play.
It was this notion about ‘The American Claimant’ which somewhat later would lead to a collaboration with Howells on a drama, and eventually to a story of that title.
But Clemens’s chief interest at this time lay in publishing, rather than in writing. His association with Osgood inspired him to devise new ventures of profit. He planned a ‘Library of American Humor’, which Howells (soon to leave the Atlantic) and “Charley” Clark 108 were to edit, and which Osgood would publish, for subscription sale. Without realizing it, Clemens was taking his first step toward becoming his own publisher. His contract with Osgood for ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ made him essentially that, for by the terms of it he agreed to supply all the money for the making of the book, and to pay Osgood a royalty of seven and one-half per cent. for selling it, reversing the usual conditions. The contract for the Library of Humor was to be a similar one, though in this case Osgood was to have a larger royalty return, and to share proportionately in the expense and risk. Mark Twain was entering into a field where he did not belong; where in the end he would harvest only disaster and regret.
108 [Charles Hopkins Clark, managing editor of the Hartford Courant.]
One curious project came to an end in 1881 — the plan for a monument to Adam. In a sketch written a great many years later Mark Twain tells of the memorial which the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher and himself once proposed to erect to our great common ancestor. The story is based on a real incident. Clemens, in Elmira one day (it was October, 1879), heard of a jesting proposal made by F. G. Hall to erect a monument in Elmira to Adam. The idea promptly caught Mark Twain’s fancy. He observed to Beecher that the human race really showed a pretty poor regard for its great progenitor, who was about to be deposed by Darwin’s simian, not to pay him the tribute of a single monument. Mankind, he said, would probably accept the monkey ancestor, and in time the very name of Adam would be forgotten. He declared Mr. Hall’s suggestion to be a sound idea.
Beecher agreed that there were many reasons why a monument should be erected to Adam, and suggested that a subscription be started for the purpose. Certain business men, seeing an opportunity for advertising the city, took the matter semi-seriously, and offered to contribute large sums in the interest of the enterprise. Then it was agreed that Congress should be petitioned to sanction the idea exclusively to Elmira, prohibiting the erection of any such memorial elsewhere. A document to this effect was prepared, headed by F. G. Hall, and signed by other leading citizens of Elmira, including Beecher himself. General Joe Hawley came along just then on a political speech-making tour. Clemens introduced him, and Hawley, in turn, agreed to father the petition in Congress. What had begun merely as pleasantry began to have a formidable look.
But alas! in the end Hawley’s courage had failed him. He began to hate his undertaking. He was afraid of the national laugh it would arouse, the jeers of the newspapers. It was certain to leak out that Mark Twain was behind it, in spite of the fact that his name nowhere appeared; that it was one of his colossal jokes. Now and then, in the privacy of his own room at night, Hawley would hunt up the Adam petition and read it and feel the cold sweat breaking out. He postponed the matter from one session to another till the summer of 1881, when he was about to sail for Europe. Then he gave the document to his wife, to turn over to Clemens, and ignominiously fled.
[For text of the petition in full, etc., see Appendix P, at the end of last volume.]
Mark Twain’s introduction of Hawley at Elmira contained this pleasantry: “General Hawley was president of the Centennial Commission. Was a gallant soldier in the war. He has been Governor of Connecticut, member of Congress, and was president of the convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln.”
General Hawley: “That nominated Grant.”
Twain: “He says it was Grant, but I know better. He is a member of my church at Hartford, and the author of ‘Beautiful Snow.’ Maybe he will deny that. But I am only here to give him a character from his last place. As a pure citizen, I respect him; as a personal friend of years, I have the warmest regard for him; as a neighbor whose vegetable garden joins mine, why — why, I watch him. That’s nothing; we all do that with any neighbor. General Hawley keeps his promises, not only in private, but in public. He is an editor who believes what he writes in his own paper. As the author of ‘Beautiful Snow’ he added a new pang to winter. He is broad-souled, generous, noble, liberal, alive to his moral and religious responsibilities. Whenever the contribution-box was passed I never knew him to take out a cent.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00