Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CXCI


Clemens had been ill in Elmira with a distressing carbuncle, and was still in no condition to undertake steady travel and entertainment in that fierce summer heat. He was fearful of failure. “I sha’n’t be able to stand on a platform,” he wrote Mr. Rogers; but they pushed along steadily with few delays. They began in Cleveland, thence by the Great Lakes, traveling by steamer from one point to another, going constantly, with readings at every important point — Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Winnipeg, Butte, and through the great Northwest, arriving at Vancouver at last on August 16th, but one day behind schedule time.

It had been a hot, blistering journey, but of immense interest, for none of them had traveled through the Northwest, and the wonder and grandeur of it all, its scenery, its bigness, its mighty agriculture, impressed them. Clemens in his notes refers more than once to the “seas” and “ocean” of wheat.

There is the peace of the ocean about it and a deep contentment, a heaven-wide sense of ampleness, spaciousness, where pettiness and all small thoughts and tempers must be out of place, not suited to it, and so not intruding. The scattering, far-off homesteads, with trees about them, were so homelike and remote from the warring world, so reposeful and enticing. The most distant and faintest under the horizon suggested fading ships at sea.

The Lake travel impressed him; the beauties and cleanliness of the Lake steamers, which he compares with those of Europe, to the disadvantage of the latter. Entering Port Huron he wrote:

The long approach through narrow ways with flat grass and wooded land on both sides, and on the left a continuous row of summer cottages, with small-boat accommodations for visiting across the little canals from family to family, the groups of summer-dressed young people all along waving flags and handkerchiefs and firing cannon, our boat replying with toots of the hoarse whistle and now and then a cannon, and meeting steamers in the narrow way, and once the stately sister-ship of the line crowded with summer-dressed people waving-the rich browns and greens of the rush-grown, far-reaching flat-lands, with little glimpses of water away on their farther edges, the sinking sun throwing a crinkled broad carpet of gold on the water-well, it is the perfection of voyaging.

It had seemed a doubtful experiment to start with Mrs. Clemens on that journey in the summer heat; but, strange to say, her health improved, and she reached Vancouver by no means unfit for the long voyage ahead. No doubt the change and continuous interest and their splendid welcome everywhere and their prosperity were accountable. Everywhere they were entertained; flowers filled their rooms; carriages and committees were always waiting. It was known that Mark Twain had set out for the purpose of paying his debts, and no cause would make a deeper appeal to his countrymen than that, or, for that matter, to the world at large.

From Winnipeg he wrote to Mr. Rogers:

At the end of an hour and a half I offered to let the audience go, but they said “go on,” and I did.

He had five thousand dollars to forward to Rogers to place against his debt account by the time he reached the Coast, a fine return for a month’s travel in that deadly season. At no more than two places were the houses less than crowded. One of these was Anaconda, then a small place, which they visited only because the manager of the entertainment hall there had known Clemens somewhere back in the sixties and was eager to have him. He failed to secure the amount of the guarantee required by Pond, and when Pond reported to Clemens that he had taken “all he had” Clemens said:

“And you took the last cent that poor fellow had. Send him one hundred dollars, and if you can’t afford to stand your share charge it all to me. I’m not going around robbing my friends who are disappointed in my commercial value. I don’t want to get money that way.”

“I sent the money,” said Pond afterward, “and was glad of the privilege of standing my share.”

Clemens himself had not been in the best of health during the trip. He had contracted a heavy cold and did not seem to gain strength. But in a presentation copy of ‘Roughing It’, given to Pond as a souvenir, he wrote:

“Here ends one of the smoothest and pleasantest trips across the continent that any group of five has ever made.”

There were heavy forest fires in the Northwest that year, and smoke everywhere. The steamer Waryimoo, which was to have sailed on the 16th, went aground in the smoke, and was delayed a week. While they were waiting, Clemens lectured in Victoria, with the Governor-General and Lady Aberdeen and their little son in the audience. His note-book says:

They came in at 8.45, 15 minutes late; wish they would always be present, for it isn’t permissible to begin until they come; by that time the late-comers are all in.

Clemens wrote a number of final letters from Vancouver. In one of them to Mr. J. Henry Harper, of Harper & Brothers, he expressed the wish that his name might now be printed as the author of “Joan,” which had begun serially in the April Magazine. He thought it might, help his lecturing tour and keep his name alive. But a few days later, with Mrs. Clemens’s help, he had reconsidered, and wrote:

My wife is a little troubled by my wanting my nom de plume put to the “Joan of Arc” so soon. She thinks it might go counter to your plans, and that you ought to be left free and unhampered in the matter.

All right-so be it. I wasn’t strenuous about it, and wasn’t meaning to insist; I only thought my reasons were good, and I really think so yet, though I do confess the weight and fairness of hers.

As a matter of fact the authorship of “Joan” had been pretty generally guessed by the second or third issue. Certain of its phrasing and humor could hardly have come from another pen than Mark Twain’s. The authorship was not openly acknowledged, however, until the publication of the book, the following May.

Among the letters from Vancouver was this one to Rudyard Kipling

DEAR KIPLING — It is reported that you are about to visit India. This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago you came from India to Elmira to visit me, as you said at the time. It has always been my purpose to return that visit & that great compliment some day. I shall arrive next January & you must be ready. I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with silver bells & ribbons & escorted by a troop of native howdahs richly clad & mounted upon a herd of wild bungalows; & you must be on hand with a few bottles of ghee, for I shall be thirsty.

To the press he gave this parting statement:

It has been reported that I sacrificed for the benefit of the creditors the property of the publishing firm whose financial backer I was and that I am now lecturing for my own benefit. This is an error. I intend the lectures as well as the property for the creditors. The law recognizes no mortgage on a man’s brain, and a merchant who has given up all he has may take advantage of the laws of insolvency and start free again for himself. But I am not a business man, and honor is a harder master than the law. It cannot compromise for less than 100 cents on the dollar and its debts never outlaw. From my reception thus far on my lecturing tour I am confident that if I live I can pay off the last debt within four years, after which, at the age of sixty-four, I can make a fresh and unincumbered start in life. I am going to Australia, India, and South Africa, and next year I hope to make a tour of the great cities of the United States. I meant, when I began, to give my creditors all the benefit of this, but I am beginning to feel that I am gaining something from it, too, and that my dividends, if not available for banking purposes, may be even more satisfactory than theirs.

There was one creditor, whose name need, not be “handed down to infamy,” who had refused to consent to any settlement except immediate payment in full, and had pursued with threatened attachment of earnings and belongings, until Clemens, exasperated, had been disposed to turn over to his creditors all remaining properties and let that suffice, once and for all. But this was momentary. He had presently instructed Mr. Rogers to “pay Shylock in full,” and to assure any others that he would pay them, too, in the end. But none of the others annoyed him.

It was on the afternoon of August 23, 1895, that they were off at last. Major Pond and his wife lunched with them on board and waved them good-by as long as they could see the vessel. The far voyage which was to carry them for the better part of the year to the under side of the world had begun.

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