Like most people, I knew something about Twain’s life–his boyhood in Hannibal Missouri, his riverboat days which changed him from Samuel Clemens into Mark Twain, his adventures in the California/Nevada gold and silver country, his disastrous investment in a typesetting machine that cost him two years of international lecturing to pay the debt. I’ve been to his house in Hartford, CT, checked out the burglar alarm and pool table and telephone. But I knew nothing of him as a family man, devoted to wife and daughters. A wife whose health was frail from early childhood (The ailment that kept her in bed for two years is still a matter of speculation.), and which sent them around the world looking and hoping for cures until she finally succumbed to something (heart failure on the death certificate) in 1904 at the age of 58. Two other daughters died young–Susie at 24 of meningitis, Jean at 29 of a heart attack thought to be connected somehow with her epilepsy. A lengthy section of the autobiography is devoted the biography of her father Susie began at age sixteen biography–her text and his commentary–and is quite poignant. Twain/Clemens had far more to him than curmudgeonry.
Other than his venture into the typesetting scheme, I knew nothing of the author as businessman. But he was one, and active in various capitalistic ventures his whole life. Most of them had in one way or another to do with publishing. He was always in negotiations with his publishers over his own work, and often convinced he was being cheated, and was often right. But he also had his own (in a partnership) company for many years. It’s main score was the publication of the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which turned a huge profit. However, there were a number of other successes before the company finally went belly up through misappropriation of funds by the partners.
I also didn’t know how much time he lived abroad–a good fifteen-twenty years all over Europe–and in New York and Connecticut. And finally, you’d expect him to know most of the literati, but he was also friends with rich, famous, and political figures of all stripes–Grant, of course, Grover Cleveland and his pretty wife, John D. Rockefeller, and so on. Thus, when he turned seventy in 1905, he’d not only had a long and productive literary career, but had become and international rock star of sorts, whose celebrity far outstripped the mere putting of pen to paper. We close with a few words from the remarks he made at the dinner honoring his achievement of reaching three-score-and-ten, a place Susanne and I both aspire to reach at different times this year.
I have had a great many birthdays in my time. I remember the first one very well..I hadn’t any hair, any teeth, I hadn’t any clothes on, and I had to go to my first banquet just like that.
I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way; by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.
I have made it a rule to go to bed when there wasn’t anybody left to sit up with; and I have made it a rule to get up when I had to.
It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake. As for drinking, I have no rule about that. When the others drink, I like to help; otherwiseI remain dry, by habit and preference. This dryness does not hurt me, but it could easily hurt you…let it alone.
I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any…it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; and I was always tired. ..
I’ve devoted more space to this work than any other in Writer Working, and barely touched on the learning, wisdom and laughs therein. The effort is not inconsiderable, but the rewards? Stupendous.