TWAIN HIRED MAN TO TRAVEL FOR HIM
His Longest Letter Was Written to Persuade Newspaper Man to Go to South Africa
PLANNED TO COLLABORATE
Author Hoped to Make Fortune From Book, but Traveler Died Soon After He Returned.
Mark Twain, who did most of his writing in bed, decided that he could make a great fortune out of travel books if he could get some one else to do the traveling. It was in 1870, "The Innocents Abroad" was tremendously popular and the Kimberly diamond fields in South Africa had recently been discovered. So he wrote a long letter, the longest by him that is on record, to persuade J. H. Riley, a Washington newspaper man to make the trip for him.
This letter of approximately 2,500 words is reprinted in Part 13 of "The Colophone, a Book Collectors' Quarterly," issued today. It is a part of Irving S. Underhill's "Mark Twain Collection." Mr. Underhill has written preliminary and concluding notes for the letter.
The writer's plan was to pay Riley's passage and $100 a month for expenses, "not more, because sometimes I want you to have to shin like everything for a square meal - for experiences are the kind of book material I want."
The envoy was to pick up diamonds whenever they were handy and he could keep the first $5,000 worth himself. Anything over that they were to divide. He was to stay in the fields for only three months; if he overstayed he was to pay Clemens $5,000 a month in advance. He was to keep full diaries, write no newspaper letters and make sure that none of his private letters was made public.
The trip over, Riley was to live at the Clemens house for any time up to a year. During this stay he would $50 a month, board and cigars, and would be expected to talk about his adventures for one to two hours daily.
Riley was to be credited as the story teller buy, "you don't get a cent out of the book."
The big profit for Riley, as Clemens frequently stressed, might lie in the diamond fields or he could make $50,000 by lecturing. He pointed out that Riley was "born for the platform" and guaranteed that, having been made well known by the book, he could make $10,000 a year for the rest of his life. Also, after one book they could always do more the same way.
Riley went to South Africa, filled diaries, gathered impressions, and started back. But on the ship he stabbed himself with a fork, blood poisoning developed, and he reached here barely in time to die.
"Presumably," - Mr. Underhill writes, "he had sent his notes as agreed; presumably, too, the duplicate set was among his own effects. But nothing ever happened. Without Riley's vivid interpolated comments, the notes were but a skeleton that not even the genius of Mark Twain could clothe with life. The book was never written.
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