Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCXXIX

The Last Summer at Elmira

The Clemenses were preparing to take up residence in Florence, Italy. The Hartford house had been sold in May, ending forever the association with the city that had so long been a part of their lives. The Tarrytown place, which they had never occupied, they also agreed to sell, for it was the belief now that Mrs. Clemens’s health would never greatly prosper there. Howells says, or at least implies, that they expected their removal to Florence to be final. He tells us, too, of one sunny afternoon when he and Clemens sat on the grass before the mansion at Riverdale, after Mrs. Clemens had somewhat improved, and how they “looked up toward a balcony where by and by that lovely presence made itself visible, as if it had stooped there from a cloud. A hand frailly waved a handkerchief; Clemens ran over the lawn toward it, calling tenderly.” It was a greeting to Howells the last he would ever receive from her.

Mrs. Clemens was able to make a trip to Elmira by the end of June, and on the 1st of July Mr. Rogers brought Clemens and his wife down the river on his yacht to the Lackawanna pier, and they reached Quarry Farm that evening. She improved in the quietude and restfulness of that beloved place. Three weeks later Clemens wrote to Twichell:

Livy is coming along: eats well, sleeps some, is mostly very gay, not very often depressed; spends all day on the porch, sleeps there a part of the night; makes excursions in carriage & in wheel-chair; &, in the matter of superintending everything & everybody, has resumed business at the old stand.

During three peaceful months she spent most of her days reclining on the wide veranda, surrounded by those dearest to her, and looking out on the dreamlike landscape — the long, grassy slope, the drowsy city, and the distant hills — getting strength for the far journey by sea. Clemens did some writing, occupying the old octagonal study — shut in now and overgrown with vines — where during the thirty years since it was built so many of his stories had been written. ‘A Dog’s Tale’— that pathetic anti-vivisection story — appears to have been the last manuscript ever completed in the spot consecrated by Huck and Tom, and by Tom Canty the Pauper and the little wandering Prince.

It was October 5th when they left Elmira. Two days earlier Clemens had written in his note-book:

Today I placed flowers on Susy’s grave — for the last time probably — & read words:

“Good-night, dear heart, good-night.”

They did not return to Riverdale, but went to the Hotel Grosvenor for the intervening weeks. They had engaged passage for Italy on the Princess Irene, which would sail on the 24th. It was during the period of their waiting that Clemens concluded his final Harper contract. On that day, in his note-book, he wrote:


In 1895 Cheiro the palmist examined my hand & said that in my 68th year (1903) I would become suddenly rich. I was a bankrupt & $94,000 in debt at the time through the failure of Charles L. Webster & Co. Two years later — in London — Cheiro repeated this long-distance prediction, & added that the riches would come from a quite unexpected source. I am superstitious. I kept the prediction in mind & often thought of it. When at last it came true, October 22, 1903, there was but a month & 9 days to spare.

The contract signed that day concentrates all my books in Harper’s hands & now at last they are valuable; in fact they are a fortune. They guarantee me $25,000 a year for 5 years, and they will yield twice as much as that.164

164 [In earlier note-books and letters Clemens more than once refers to this prophecy and wonders if it is to be realized. The Harper contract, which brought all of his books into the hands of one publisher (negotiated for him by Mr. Rogers), proved, in fact, a fortune. The books yielded always more than the guarantee; sometimes twice that amount, as he had foreseen.]

During the conclusion of this contract Clemens made frequent visits to Fairhaven on the Kanawha. Joe Goodman came from the Pacific to pay him a good-by visit during this period. Goodman had translated the Mayan inscriptions, and his work had received official recognition and publication by the British Museum. It was a fine achievement for a man in later life and Clemens admired it immensely. Goodman and Clemens enjoyed each other in the old way at quiet resorts where they could talk over the old tales. Another visitor of that summer was the son of an old friend, a Hannibal printer named Daulton. Young Daulton came with manuscripts seeking a hearing of the magazine editors, so Clemens wrote a letter which would insure that favor:


TO GILDER, ALDEN, HARVEY, McCLURE, WALKER, PAGE, BOK, COLLIER, and such other members of the sacred guild as privilege me to call them friends — these:

Although I have no personal knowledge of the bearer of this, I have what is better: He comes recommended to me by his own father — a thing not likely to happen in any of your families, I reckon. I ask you, as a favor to me, to waive prejudice & superstition for this once & examine his work with an eye to its literary merit, instead of to the chastity of its spelling. I wish to God you cared less for that particular.

I set (or sat) type alongside of his father, in Hannibal, more than 50 years ago, when none but the pure in heart were in that business. A true man he was; and if I can be of any service to his son — and to you at the same time, let me hope — I am here heartily to try.

Yours by the sanctions of time & deserving,

Sincerely, S. L. CLEMENS.

Among the kindly words which came to Mark Twain before leaving America was this one which Rudyard Kipling had written to his publisher, Frank Doubleday:

I love to think of the great and godlike Clemens. He is the biggest man you have on your side of the water by a damn sight, and don’t you forget it. Cervantes was a relation of his.

It curiously happened that Clemens at the same moment was writing to Doubleday about Kipling:

I have been reading “The Bell Buoy” and “The Old Man” over and over again-my custom with Kipling’s work — and saving up the rest for other leisurely and luxurious meals. A bell-buoy is a deeply impressive fellow-being. In these many recent trips up and down the Sound in the Kanawha he has talked to me nightly sometimes in his pathetic and melancholy way, sometimes with his strenuous and urgent note, and I got his meaning — now I have his words! No one but Kipling could do this strong and vivid thing. Some day I hope to hear the poem chanted or sung-with the bell-buoy breaking in out of the distance.

P. S. — Your letter has arrived. It makes me proud and glad — what Kipling says. I hope Fate will fetch him to Florence while we are there. I would rather see him than any other man.

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