MARK TWAIN'S HOMECOMING.
Payment of His Debts, Though Not Legally Liable for Them All - A Five Years' Absence - No Plans Yet to Do Him Honor.
Ere this the Minnehaha may have poked her nose into her New York dock, and the doyen of American letters, Mark Twain, been landed, together with his baggage, with which, according to a letter he recently wrote to Secretary Gage, the steamer "would be loaded."
It is a little over five years since Samuel L. Clemens left his native land, inspired by a lofty motive, to which the history of literature, cannot show a parallel. Six years ago the publishing firm of Charles L. Webster & Co., of which Mr. Clemens was the financial backer, failed, owing a little over $200,000. At the time it was known that the author was heavily involved, and that he would practically have to "begin life over again," as the saying goes, but what was not even then suspected was that Mr. Clemens has assumed responsibility for all the firm's debts. This was made known later in a statement issued to the American public just before he sailed westward from Vancouver, in August, 1895:
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 rules 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 a hundred cents on the dollar, and its debts never outlaw. I had a two-thirds interest in the publishing firm, whose capital I furnished. If the firm had prospered, I should have expected to collect two-thirds of the profit. As it is, I expect to pay all the debts. My partner has no resources, and I do not look for assistance from him. By far the largest single creditor of this firm is my wife, whose contributions in cash, from her private means, have nearly equaled the claims of all the others combined. She has taken nothing. On the contrary, she has helped and intends to help me to satisfy the obligations due to the rest. It is my intention to ask them to accept that as a legal discharge, and trust to my honor to pay the other 50 per cent. as fast as I can earn it. 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 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 begin 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.
And now the bravest author in all literature has returned, not only with debts paid, not only with the sublime consciousness that he has requited a self-imposed moral obligation but with the contentment, and it may be the pride, that such are the present unincumbered royalties from his books that if he were never to put pen to paper again, or never again stand upon the lecture platform, he could pass the rest of his life far removed from the strain of affairs and the martyrdom of financial distress. In commenting upon this fine example of the very chivalry of probity, The London News has dwelt lovingly upon the closing words of what may go down to history as "Mark Twain's Vancouver Manifesto," and said:
The last touch is very fine, both as literature and as feeling. He has gained something, and that is the esteem of all men of honor throughout the world. This act is the best of all critical commentaries on the high moral teaching of his books. He needs all the encouragement of sympathy. He has paid his debts, but he has still to make another fortune, and he is sixty-three!
Mark Twain did not return to lecture in the United States, as he had expected. His itinerary in the Far East, however, was practically carried out as he had at first planned, a permanent record of which may be considered to exist in "Following the Equator." But Old Europe was loath to part with one whom, from afar, it had regarded purely as a humorist, but who on near approach proved to be a finished man of letters, one in whom humor had gradually become a means, and not an end. About three years ago Mr. Clemens took up the abode in London, and thence would run over to the Continent whenever his interests, or, let us say, those of his creditors, demanded his presence there. In this way he spent nearly a year in Italy, and a Winter divided between Paris, Berlin, and Vienna. Everywhere a most cordial welcome was extended to him, not only by men of his profession, journalists and men of letters, but by royalties as well. Some day he may write out for us his impressions of the German Kaiser, or his conversations with the late King Humbert and with the Emperor Francis Joseph. In Vienna he lingered long. There no literary or artistic function was complete without him. On one occasion, on being entertained by the Vienna Press Club, to the surprise of its members he spoke in German, discoursing with sparkling philosophy upon the terrors of German syntax. This speech, so rich in humor, yet withal so logical and analytical as to receive serious consideration from German savants, was reprinted in the original or in translation throughout the world.
It was the same in London, where he appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Copyright, and in one humorous discourse, interspersed with queries and answers, accomplished more practical results for British letters than had been achieved by the lengthy and learned arguments presented by his English brethren of the pen. Besides the lectures that occupied a considerable part of his European sojourn, articles and sketches have from time to time appeared in American and English magazines, showing that his pen has not been idle. Some of these have just appeared in book form under the title of "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg." So great has been the demand for him over there, and so indispensable has been his presence, that a record of his London sojourn alone would prove a most fascinating volume. Possibly the last words that he addressed to a British public before sailing were those uttered on the occasion of opening a reading room at Kensal Rise, London. The ceremony took place on the Saturday proceeding his departure for America. Here is an account of the event, reproduced from the report in the London papers:
Mark Twain formally declared the room open, and said he thought it a superbly good idea that the Legislature should not compel a community to provide itself with intellectual food, but give it the privilege of providing it for itself, if is so desired. If it was willing to have it, it would put its hand in its pocket and bring out - the penny rate. He thought it a proof of the moral, financial, and mental condition of the community if it would tax itself for its mental food. A reading room was the proper introduction to a library, reading up through the newspapers and magazines to other literature. He did not know what they would do without the newspapers, and instanced his experience in obtaining news in the Sandwich Islands and San Francisco. He referred to the rapid manner in which the news of the Galveston disaster was made known to the world, which reminded him of an episode that occurred fifteen years ago when at church at Hartford. The clergyman decided to make a collection for the survivors, if any, of a similar disaster, but did not include him in the leading citizens who took plates round. He complained to the Governor of the want of financial trust in him, and he replied, "I would trust you myself - if you had a bell punch," one of those articles used to protect bus and tram companies against the conductors. In reply to a vote of thanks, he said he liked to listen to compliments. He indorsed all Cr. Crone, the mover, said about the union of England and America. Mr. Irwin Cox, the seconder, had alluded to his nom de plume, which he was rather fond of. A little girl wrote him from New Zealand the previous day, stating that her father said his proper name was not "Mark Twain," but Clemens. She knew better, because Clemens was the man who sold the patent medicine. She like the name of Mark - why Mark Antony was in the Bible. He replied to her that he was glad to get that expression from her, and as Mark Antony had got into the Bible, "I am not without hopes myself."
Mark Twain returns to America bearing with him the evidence of many distinctions and honors. Most of the leading associations and societies of merit on the Continent have taken him unto themselves. But how lightly he wears these decorations was once betrayed by him to a friend who had congratulated him on receiving the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. "Few escape it," he remarked simply.
It is doubtful if any of his Continental friends and admirers knew anything about the great task he was working out among them. To have told them would have been like revealing a domestic secret to a public that had no business to know it. It was, therefore, simply because of his mental attributes that they found pleasure in honoring him. There is more for Americans to honor in him than this, for he took us into his confidence at the very beginning. He told us about the task he had undertaken to perform. There was not an American heart which did not bid him godspeed when he set out upon his mission five years ago.
Now that he has overcome all obstacles and has triumphantly accomplished the work he believed he ought to do, some peculiar recognition of this fact should come to him from Americans - something that should appeal to Samuel L. Clemens, the man, rather than to Mark Twain, the literateur. Just what form this recognition should take is doubtful, for the case, as we have said, has no exact precedent. No attempt should be made to rival even in significance the decorations that have been bestowed upon him by the Old World. They are things apart. A dinner, with a memorial of welcome, would perhaps, be the most satisfactory and appropriate form of recognition.
An extended inquiry among writers and publishers of this city has failed to reveal the presence of any plans for this purpose. Everybody, however, recognizes the appropriateness of such a demonstration, and expresses the hope that one might be made. So much good will and friendliness should not be allowed to spend itself in isolated expression. It should be molded into some common and distinctive form. The question is, Who will do the molding? The material is ready. No time should be wasted. Why not the Authors Club?
Mark Twain's Autobiography
To The New York Times Saturday Review:
An old bookshop on Broadway had occasion to move a few blocks up town, and in cleaning out the cellar found a number of copies of Mark Twain's "Autobiography," published by the Sheldon Company, at 677 Broadway, in 1871. One of these copies has been appearing during the past few weeks at each of the sales of Bangs & Co., and bringing several dollars when it could be bought on Broadway near Fourteenth Street for 25 cents.
Sparkhill, N. Y., Oct. 8, 1900
Return to The New York Times
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search