Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CLXXXV

An Introduction to H. H. Rogers

Clemens took a room at The Players —“a cheap room,” he wrote, “at $1.50 per day.” It was now the end of September, the beginning of a long half-year, during which Mark Twain’s fortunes were at a lower ebb than ever before; lower, even, than during those mining days among the bleak Esmeralda hills. Then he had no one but him self and was young. Now, at fifty-eight, he had precious lives dependent upon him, and he was weighed down with a vast burden of debt. The liabilities of Charles L. Webster & Co. were fully two hundred thousand dollars. Something like sixty thousand dollars of this was money supplied by Mrs. Clemens, but the vast remaining sum was due to banks, to printers, to binders, and to dealers in various publishing materials. Somehow it must be paid. As for their assets, they looked ample enough on paper, but in reality, at a time like this, they were problematical. In fact, their value was very doubtful indeed. What he was to do Clemens did not know. He could not even send cheerful reports to Europe. There was no longer anything to promise concerning the type-setter. The fifty machines which the company had started to build had dwindled to ten machines; there was a prospect that the ten would dwindle to one, and that one a reconstruction of the original Hartford product, which had cost so much money and so many weary years. Clemens spent a good part of his days at The Players, reading or trying to write or seeking to divert his mind in the company of the congenial souls there, waiting for-he knew not what.

Yet at this very moment a factor was coming into his life, a human element, a man to whom in his old age Mark Twain owed more than to any other of his myriad of friends. One night, when he was with Dr. Clarence C. Rice at the Murray Hill Hotel, Rice said:

“Clemens, I want you to know my friend, Mr. H. H. Rogers. He is an admirer of your books.”

Clemens turned and was looking into the handsome, clean-cut features of the great financier, whose name was hardly so familiar then as it became at a later period, but whose power was already widely known and felt among his kind.

“Mr. Clemens,” said Mr. Rogers, “I was one of your early admirers. I heard you lecture a long time ago on the Sandwich Islands. I was interested in the subject in those days, and I heard that Mark Twain was a man who had been there. I didn’t suppose I’d have any difficulty getting a seat, but I did; the house was jammed. When I came away I realized that Mark Twain was a great man, and I have read everything of yours since that I could get hold of.”

They sat down at a table, and Clemens told some of his amusing stories. Rogers was in a perpetual gale of laughter. When at last he rose to go the author and the financier were as old friends. Mr. Rogers urged him to visit him at his home. He must introduce him to Mrs. Rogers, he said, who was also his warm admirer. It was only a little while after this that Dr. Rice said to the millionaire:

“Mr. Rogers, I wish you would look into Clemens’s finances a little: I am afraid they are a good deal confused.”

This would be near the end of September, 1893. On October 18 Clemens wrote home concerning a possible combination of Webster & Co. with John Brisben Walker, of the ‘Cosmopolitan’, and added:

I have got the best and wisest man of the whole Standard Oil group-a multi-millionaire — a good deal interested in looking into the type-setter. He has been searching into that thing for three weeks and yesterday he said to me:

“I find the machine to be all you represent it. I have here exhaustive reports from my own experts, and I know every detail of its capacity, its immense construction, its cost, its history, and all about its inventor’s character. I know that the New York company and the Chicago company are both stupid, and that they are unbusinesslike people, destitute of money and in a hopeless boggle.”

Then he told me the scheme he had planned and said:

“If I can arrange with these people on this basis — it will take several weeks to find out — I will see to it that they get the money they need. In the mean time you ‘stop walking the floor’.”

Of course, with this encouragement, Clemens was in the clouds again. Furthermore, Rogers had suggested to his son-in-law, William Evarts Benjamin, also a subscription publisher, that he buy from the Webster company The Library of American Literature for fifty thousand dollars, a sum which provided for the more insistent creditors. There was hope that the worst was over. Clemens did in reality give up walking the floor, and for the time, at least, found happier diversions. He must not return to Europe as yet, for the type-setter matter was still far from conclusion. On the 11th of November he was gorgeously entertained by the Lotos Club in its new building. Introducing him, President Frank Lawrence said:

“What name is there in literature that can be likened to his? Perhaps some of the distinguished gentlemen about this table can tell us, but I know of none. Himself his only parallel, it seems to me. He is all our own — a ripe and perfect product of the American soil.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00