MARK TWAIN WROTE TO FORGET TROUBLE
Letters Tell of Emotions When His Publishing House and Fortune Were Wiped Out.
STRUGGLED TO SAVE FIRM
Notes to Friends and Partner Are Revealed in A Collection Just Bought by a Dealer.
An intimate view of the emotions and struggles of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) when his fortune was being swept away by the publishing house he had bought, described informally by the author himself in his letters to his friends and his business partner, came to light yesterday in a group of old papers purchased from a New York man's estate by Aaron Mendoza, a dealer in old books of 15 Ann Street.
Most of the Mark Twain letter are of the late 80s and the early 90s, when the million dollars which his books had brought him were swept away in a period when, as he himself said, everything he touched turned to gold. The letters reveal him as harassed, but kindly, honest far beyond his legal obligations, and writing to keep his mind off his troubles.
Mr. Clemens bought out the publishing house of Charles L. Webster & Co., which has issued some of his most successful books, and became two-thirds owner of a business in which his partner was F. J. Hall. The company made a huge success of the "Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," and the canceled checks paid to General Grant and later to his widow for royalties are included in Mr. Mendoza's collection.
Lavish Edition Costly.
The company had only a small collection of titles, however, and its publication of the "Library of American Literature," a lavish eleven-volume publication which had to be sold on subscription brought it into perilous waters at a time when Clemens was pouring money into a typesetting machine which was not perfected until the Mergenthaler machine had already come into the market.
One of Mark Twain's letters was addressed to Hall in 1893 and approved Hall's proposal to try to sell the rights to the book to another publisher. Mr. Clemens referred to it as a "fatal book," and continued:
"I feel panicky.
"I think the sale might be made with better advantage, however, now than later."
Meanwhile Mr. Clemens was trying to borrow money to keep the publishing house from sinking, and there is one little note, written in Munich, introducing Hall to Andrew Carnegie, with a view to getting Mr. Carnegie to buy into the company. At one time in his correspondence the author evidently feared that he had written sharply to his partner, for he added at the end of a letter:
"Tear up yesterday's ill-tempered letter."
In that same difficult year he wrote to Hall:
"I mean to ship 'Pudd'nhead Wilson' to you--say tomorrow. It'll furnish me cash for a while. I reckon I am almost sorry it is finished. It was good entertainment to work at it and kept my mind away from other things."
Mrs. Clemens also was playing her part in the struggle, for she insisted that Hall stop making remittances to them and apply such payments to the business.
Insisted on Paying Debts.
On Aug. 14, 1893, Mark Twain wrote:
"I strongly advise that every penny that comes in shall be applied to paying off debts....We can pay a part of the debts owing to outsiders - none to the Clemenses. In very prosperous times we might regard our stock and copyrights as assets sufficient to square up and quit even, but I suppose we may not hope for such luck in the present condition of things."
One of the Clemens letters to Hall concludes:
"Merry Xmas to you!
"- & I wish to God I could have one myself before I die."
The publishing house finally went to the wall in 1894. Clemens continued to write in Europe and eventually paid off every cent of the company's indebtedness.
Besides the Mark Twain letters and the Grant checks, the Mendoza collection includes the prayerbook of Washington Irving. On its title page is inscribed Irving's name, the date, Nov., 1849, and the notation "Christ Church."
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