Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CXC

Starting on the Long Trail

The tragedy of ‘Pudd’nhead Wilson’, with its splendid illustrations by Louis Loeb, having finished its course in the Century Magazine, had been issued by the American Publishing Company. It proved not one of Mark Twain’s great books, but only one of his good books. From first to last it is interesting, and there are strong situations and chapters finely written. The character of Roxy is thoroughly alive, and her weird relationship with her half-breed son is startling enough. There are not many situations in fiction stronger than that where half-breed Tom sells his mother down the river into slavery. The negro character is well drawn, of course-Mark Twain could not write it less than well, but its realism is hardly to be compared with similar matter in his other books — in Tom Sawyer, for instance, or Huck Finn. With the exceptions of Tom, Roxy, and Pudd’nhead the characters are slight. The Twins are mere bodiless names that might have been eliminated altogether. The character of Pudd’nhead Wilson is lovable and fine, and his final triumph at the murder trial is thrilling in the extreme. Identification by thumb-marks was a new feature in fiction then — in law, too, for that matter. But it is chiefly Pudd’nhead Wilson’s maxims, run at the head of each chapter, that will stick in the memory of men. Perhaps the book would live without these, but with them it is certainly immortal.

Such aphorisms as: “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits”; “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example”; “When angry count four, and when very angry swear,” cannot perish; these, with the forty or so others in this volume and the added collection of rare philosophies that head the chapters of Following the Equator, have insured to Philosopher Pudd’nhead a respectful hearing for all time.137

137 [The story of Pudd’nhead Wilson was dramatized by Frank Mayo, who played it successfully as long as he lived. It is by no means dead, and still pays a royalty to the Mayo and Clemens estates.]

Clemens had meant to begin another book, but he decided first to make a trip to America, to give some personal attention to publishing matters there. They were a good deal confused. The Harpers had arranged for the serial and book publication of Joan, and were negotiating for the Webster contracts. Mr. Rogers was devoting priceless time in an effort to establish amicable relations between the Harpers and the American Company at Hartford so that they could work on some general basis that would be satisfactory and profitable to all concerned. It was time that Clemens was on the scene of action. He sailed on the New York on the end of February, and a little more than a month later returned by the Paris — that is, at the end of March. By this time he had altogether a new thought. It was necessary to earn a large sum of money as promptly as possible, and he adopted the plan which twice before in his life in 1872 and in 1884:— had supplied him with needed funds. Loathing the platform as he did, he was going back to it. Major Pond had proposed. a lecture tour soon after his failure.

“The loss of a fortune is tough,” wrote Pond, “but there are other resources for another fortune. You and I will make the tour together.”

Now he had resolved to make a tour-one that even Pond himself had not contemplated. He would go platforming around the world! He would take Pond with him as far as the Pacific coast, arranging with some one equally familiar with the lecture circuit on the other side of the Pacific. He had heard of R. S. Smythe, who had personally conducted Henry M. Stanley and other great lecturers through Australia and the East, and he wrote immediately, asking information and advice concerning such a tour. Clemens himself has told us in one of his chapters how his mental message found its way to Smythe long before his written one, and how Smythe’s letter, proposing just such a trip, crossed his own.

He sailed for America, with the family on the 11th of May, and a little more than a week later, after four years of exile, they found themselves once more at beautiful Quarry Farm. We may imagine how happy they were to reach that peaceful haven. Mrs. Clemens had written:

“It is, in a way, hard to go home and feel that we are not able to open our house. But it is an immense delight to me to think of seeing our friends.”

Little at the farm was changed. There were more vines on the home — the study was overgrown — that was all. Even Ellerslie remained as the children had left it, with all the small comforts and utensils in place. Most of the old friends were there; only Mrs. Langdon and Theodore Crane were missing. The Beechers drove up to see them, as formerly, and the old discussions on life and immortality were taken up in the old places.

Mrs. Beecher once came with some curious thin layers of leaves of stone which she had found, knowing Mark Twain’s interest in geology. Later, when they had been discussing the usual problems, he said he would write an agreement on those imperishable leaves, to be laid away until the ages should solve their problems. He wrote it in verse:

If you prove right and I prove wrong, A million years from now, In language plain and frank and strong My error I’ll avow To your dear waking face.

If I prove right, by God His grace, Full sorry I shall be, For in that solitude no trace There’ll be of you and me.

A million years, O patient stone, You’ve waited for this message. Deliver it a million hence; (Survivor pays expressage.) MARK TWAIN

Contract with Mrs. T. K. Beecher, July 2, 1895.

Pond came to Elmira and the route westward was arranged. Clemens decided to give selections from his books, as he had done with Cable, and to start without much delay. He dreaded the prospect of setting out on that long journey alone, nor could Mrs. Clemens find it in her heart to consent to such a plan. It was bitterly hard to know what to do, but it was decided at last that she and one of the elder daughters should accompany him, the others remaining with their aunt at Quarry Farm. Susy, who had the choice, dreaded ocean travel, and felt that she would be happier and healthier to rest in the quiet of that peaceful hilltop. She elected to remain with her aunt and jean; and it fell to Clara to go. Major Pond and his wife would accompany them as far as Vancouver. They left Elmira on the night of the 14th of July. When the train pulled away their last glimpse was of Susy, standing with the others under the electric light of the railway platform, waving them good-by.

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