Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine


New Interests and Investments

The spirit which a year earlier had prompted Mark Twain to prepare his “Salutation from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Century” inspired him now to conceive the “Stupendous International Procession,” a gruesome pageant described in a document (unpublished) of twenty-two typewritten pages which begin:


At the appointed hour it moved across the world in following order:

The Twentieth Century

A fair young creature, drunk and disorderly, borne in the arms of Satan. Banner with motto, “Get What You Can, Keep What You Get.”

Guard of Honor — Monarchs, Presidents, Tammany Bosses, Burglars, Land Thieves, Convicts, etc., appropriately clothed and bearing the symbols of their several trades.


A majestic matron in flowing robes drenched with blood. On her head a golden crown of thorns; impaled on its spines the bleeding heads of patriots who died for their countries Boers, Boxers, Filipinos; in one hand a slung-shot, in the other a Bible, open at the text “Do unto others,” etc. Protruding from pocket bottle labeled “We bring you the blessings of civilization.” Necklace-handcuffs and a burglar’s jimmy. Supporters — At one elbow Slaughter, at the other Hypocrisy. Banner with motto —“Love Your Neighbor’s Goods as Yourself.” Ensign — The Black Flag. Guard of Honor — Missionaries and German, French, Russian, and British soldiers laden with loot.

And so on, with a section for each nation of the earth, headed each by the black flag, each bearing horrid emblems, instruments of torture, mutilated prisoners, broken hearts, floats piled with bloody corpses. At the end of all, banners inscribed:

“All White Men are Born Free and Equal.”

“Christ died to make men holy, Christ died to make men free.”

with the American flag furled and draped in crepe, and the shade of Lincoln towering vast and dim toward the sky, brooding with sorrowful aspect over the far-reaching pageant. With much more of the same sort. It is a fearful document, too fearful, we may believe, for Mrs. Clemens ever to consent to its publication.

Advancing years did little toward destroying Mark Twain’s interest in human affairs. At no time in his life was he more variously concerned and employed than in his sixty-seventh year — matters social, literary, political, religious, financial, scientific. He was always alive, young, actively cultivating or devising interests — valuable and otherwise, though never less than important to him.

He had plenty of money again, for one thing, and he liked to find dazzlingly new ways for investing it. As in the old days, he was always putting “twenty-five or forty thousand dollars,” as he said, into something that promised multiplied returns. Howells tells how he found him looking wonderfully well, and when he asked the name of his elixir he learned that it was plasmon.

I did not immediately understand that plasmon was one of the investments which he had made from “the substance of things hoped for,” and in the destiny of a disastrous disappointment. But after paying off the creditors of his late publishing firm he had to do something with his money, and it was not his fault if he did not make a fortune out of plasmon.

It was just at this period (the beginning of 1902) that he was promoting with his capital and enthusiasm the plasmon interests in America, investing in it one of the “usual amounts,” promising to make Howells over again body and soul with the life-giving albuminate. Once he wrote him explicit instructions:

Yes — take it as a medicine — there is nothing better, nothing surer of desired results. If you wish to be elaborate — which isn’t necessary — put a couple of heaping teaspoonfuls of the powder in an inch of milk & stir until it is a paste; put in some more milk and stir the paste to a thin gruel; then fill up the glass and drink.

Or, stir it into your soup.

Or, into your oatmeal.

Or, use any method you like, so’s you get it down — that is the only essential.

He put another “usual sum” about this time in a patent cash register which was acknowledged to be “a promise rather than a performance,” and remains so until this day.

He capitalized a patent spiral hat-pin, warranted to hold the hat on in any weather, and he had a number of the pins handsomely made to present to visitors of the sex naturally requiring that sort of adornment and protection. It was a pretty and ingenious device and apparently effective enough, though it failed to secure his invested thousands.

He invested a lesser sum in shares of the Booklover’s Library, which was going to revolutionize the reading world, and which at least paid a few dividends. Even the old Tennessee land will-o’-the-wisp-long since repudiated and forgotten — when it appeared again in the form of a possible equity in some overlooked fragment, kindled a gentle interest, and was added to his list of ventures.

He made one substantial investment at this period. They became more and more in love with the Hudson environment, its beauty and its easy access to New York. Their house was what they liked it to be — a gathering — place for friends and the world’s notables, who could reach it easily and quickly from New York. They had a steady procession of company when Mrs. Clemens’s health would permit, and during a single week in the early part of this year entertained guests at no less than seventeen out of their twenty-one meals, and for three out of the seven nights — not an unusual week. Their plan for buying a home on the Hudson ended with the purchase of what was known as Hillcrest, or the Casey place, at Tarrytown, overlooking that beautiful stretch of river, the Tappan Zee, close to the Washington Irving home. The beauty of its outlook and surroundings appealed to them all. The house was handsome and finely placed, and they planned to make certain changes that would adapt it to their needs. The price, which was less than fifty thousand dollars, made it an attractive purchase; and without doubt it would have made them a suitable and happy home had it been written in the future that they should so inherit it.

Clemens was writing pretty steadily these days. The human race was furnishing him with ever so many inspiring subjects, and he found time to touch more or less on most of them. He wreaked his indignation upon the things which exasperated him often — even usually — without the expectation of print; and he delivered himself even more inclusively at such times as he walked the floor between the luncheon or dinner courses, amplifying on the poverty of an invention that had produced mankind as a supreme handiwork. In a letter to Howells he wrote:

Your comments on that idiot’s “Ideals” letter reminds me that I preached a good sermon to my family yesterday on his particular layer of the human race, that grotesquest of all the inventions of the Creator. It was a good sermon, but coldly received, & it seemed best not to try to take up a collection.

He once told Howells, with the wild joy of his boyish heart, how Mrs. Clemens found some compensation, when kept to her room by illness, in the reflection that now she would not hear so much about the “damned human race.”

Yet he was always the first man to champion that race, and the more unpromising the specimen the surer it was of his protection, and he never invited, never expected gratitude.

One wonders how he found time to do all the things that he did. Besides his legitimate literary labors and his preachments, he was always writing letters to this one and that, long letters on a variety of subjects, carefully and picturesquely phrased, and to people of every sort. He even formed a curious society, whose members were young girls — one in each country of the earth. They were supposed to write to him at intervals on some subject likely to be of mutual interest, to which letters he agreed to reply. He furnished each member with a typewritten copy of the constitution and by-laws of the juggernaut Club, as he called it, and he apprised each of her election, usually after this fashion:

I have a club — a private club, which is all my own. I appoint the members myself, & they can’t help themselves, because I don’t allow them to vote on their own appointment & I don’t allow them to resign! They are all friends whom I have never seen (save one), but who have written friendly letters to me. By the laws of my club there can be only one member in each country, & there can be no male member but myself. Some day I may admit males, but I don’t know — they are capricious & inharmonious, & their ways provoke me a good deal. It is a matter, which the club shall decide. I have made four appointments in the past three or four months: You as a member for Scotland — oh, this good while!; a young citizeness of Joan of Arc’s home region as a member for France; a Mohammedan girl as member for Bengal; & a dear & bright young niece of mine as member for the United States — for I do not represent a country myself, but am merely member-at-large for the human race. You must not try to resign, for the laws of the club do not allow that. You must console yourself by remembering that you are in the best company; that nobody knows of your membership except yourself; that no member knows another’s name, but only her country; that no taxes are levied and no meetings held (but how dearly I should like to attend one!). One of my members is a princess of a royal house, another is the daughter of a village bookseller on the continent of Europe, for the only qualification for membership is intellect & the spirit of good-will; other distinctions, hereditary or acquired, do not count. May I send you the constitution & laws of the club? I shall be so glad if I may.

It was just one of his many fancies, and most of the active memberships would not long be maintained; though some continued faithful in their reports, as he did in his replies, to the end.

One of the more fantastic of his conceptions was a plan to advertise for ante-mortem obituaries of himself — in order, as he said, that he might look them over and enjoy them and make certain corrections in the matter of detail. Some of them he thought might be appropriate to read from the platform.

I will correct them — not the facts, but the verdicts — striking out such clauses as could have a deleterious influence on the other side, and replacing them with clauses of a more judicious character.

He was much taken with the new idea, and his request for such obituaries, with an offer of a prize for the best — a portrait of himself drawn by his own hand — really appeared in Harper’s Weekly later in the year. Naturally he got a shower of responses — serious, playful, burlesque. Some of them were quite worth while.

The obvious “Death loves a shining Mark” was of course numerously duplicated, and some varied it “Death loves an Easy Mark,” and there was “Mark, the perfect man.”

The two that follow gave him especial pleasure.


Worthy of his portrait, a place on his monument, as well as a place among his “perennial-consolation heirlooms”:

“Got up; washed; went to bed.”

The subject’s own words (see Innocents Abroad). Can’t go back on your own words, Mark Twain. There’s nothing “to strike out”; nothing “to replace.” What more could be said of any one?

“Got up!”— Think of the fullness of meaning! The possibilities of life, its achievements — physical, intellectual, spiritual. Got up to the top! — the climax of human aspiration on earth!

“Washed”— Every whit clean; purified — body, soul, thoughts, purposes.

“Went to bed”— Work all done — to rest, to sleep. The culmination of the day well spent!

God looks after the awakening.


Mark Twain was the only man who ever lived, so far as we know, whose lies were so innocent, and withal so helpful, as to make them worth more than a whole lot of fossilized priests’ eternal truths.


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