The Project Gutenberg EBook of Mark Twain, A Biography, Vol. 3, Part 1, 1900-1907, by Albert Bigelow Paine
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Title: Mark Twain, A Biography, Vol. 3, Part 1, 1900-1907 The Personal And Literary Life Of Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Author: Albert Bigelow Paine
Release Date: August 21, 2006 [EBook #2986]
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Produced by David Widger
MARK TWAIN, A BIOGRAPHY
By Albert Bigelow Paine
VOLUME III, Part 1: 1900-1907
THE RETURN OF THE CONQUEROR
It would be hard to exaggerate the stir which the newspapers and the public generally made over the homecoming of Mark Twain. He had left America, staggering under heavy obligation and set out on a pilgrimage of redemption. At the moment when this Mecca, was in view a great sorrow had befallen him and, stirred a world-wide and soul-deep tide of human sympathy. Then there had followed such ovation as has seldom been conferred upon a private citizen, and now approaching old age, still in the fullness of his mental vigor, he had returned to his native soil with the prestige of these honors upon him and the vast added glory of having made his financial fight single-handed-and won.
He was heralded literally as a conquering hero. Every paper in the land had an editorial telling the story of his debts, his sorrow, and his triumphs.
"He had behaved like Walter Scott," says Howells, "as millions rejoiced to know who had not known how Walter Scott had behaved till they knew it was like Clemens."
Howells acknowledges that he had some doubts as to the permanency of the vast acclaim of the American public, remembering, or perhaps assuming, a national fickleness. Says Howells:
He had hitherto been more intelligently accepted or more largely imagined in Europe, and I suppose it was my sense of this that inspired the stupidity of my saying to him when we came to consider "the state of polite learning" among us, "You mustn't expect people to keep it up here as they do in England." But it appeared that his countrymen were only wanting the chance, and they kept it up in honor of him past all precedent.
Clemens went to the Earlington Hotel and began search for a furnished house in New York. They would not return to Hartford—at least not yet. The associations there were still too sad, and they immediately became more so. Five days after Mark Twain's return to America, his old friend and co-worker, Charles Dudley Warner, died. Clemens went to Hartford to act as a pall-bearer and while there looked into the old home. To Sylvester Baxter, of Boston, who had been present, he wrote a few days later:
It was a great pleasure to me to renew the other days with you, & there was a pathetic pleasure in seeing Hartford & the house again; but I realized that if we ever enter the house again to live our hearts will break. I am not sure that we shall ever be strong enough to endure that strain.
Even if the surroundings had been less sorrowful it is not likely that Clemens would have returned to Hartford at this time. He had become a world-character, a dweller in capitals. Everywhere he moved a world revolved about him. Such a figure in Germany would live naturally in Berlin; in England London; in France, Paris; in Austria, Vienna; in America his headquarters could only be New York.
Clemens empowered certain of his friends to find a home for him, and Mr. Frank N. Doubleday discovered an attractive and handsomely furnished residence at 14 West Tenth Street, which was promptly approved. Doubleday, who was going to Boston, left orders with the agent to draw the lease and take it up to the new tenant for signature. To Clemens he said:
"The house is as good as yours. All you've got to do is to sign the lease. You can consider it all settled."
When Doubleday returned from Boston a few days later the agent called on him and complained that he couldn't find Mark Twain anywhere. It was reported at his hotel that he had gone and left no address. Doubleday was mystified; then, reflecting, he had an inspiration. He walked over to 14 West Tenth Street and found what he had suspected—Mark Twain had moved in. He had convinced the caretaker that everything was all right and he was quite at home. Doubleday said:
"Why, you haven't executed the lease yet."
"No," said Clemens, "but you said the house was as good as mine," to which Doubleday agreed, but suggested that they go up to the real-estate office and give the agent notice that he was in possession of the premises.
Doubleday's troubles were not quite over, however. Clemens began to find defects in his new home and assumed to hold Doubleday responsible for them. He sent a daily postal card complaining of the windows, furnace, the range, the water-whatever he thought might lend interest to Doubleday's life. As a matter of fact, he was pleased with the place. To MacAlister he wrote:
We were very lucky to get this big house furnished. There was not another one in town procurable that would answer us, but this one is all right-space enough in it for several families, the rooms all old-fashioned, great size.
The house at 14 West Tenth Street became suddenly one of the most conspicuous residences in New York. The papers immediately made its appearance familiar. Many people passed down that usually quiet street, stopping to observe or point out where Mark Twain lived. There was a constant procession of callers of every kind. Many were friends, old and new, but there was a multitude of strangers. Hundreds came merely to express their appreciation of his work, hoping for a personal word or a hand-shake or an autograph; but there were other hundreds who came with this thing and that thing—axes to grind—and there were newspaper reporters to ask his opinion on politics, or polygamy, or woman's suffrage; on heaven and hell and happiness; on the latest novel; on the war in Africa, the troubles in China; on anything under the sun, important or unimportant, interesting or inane, concerning which one might possibly hold an opinion. He was unfailing "copy" if they could but get a word with him. Anything that he might choose to say upon any subject whatever was seized upon and magnified and printed with head-lines. Sometimes opinions were invented for him. If he let fall a few words they were multiplied into a column interview.
"That reporter worked a miracle equal to the loaves and fishes," he said of one such performance.
Many men would have become annoyed and irritable as these things continued; but Mark Twain was greater than that. Eventually he employed a secretary to stand between him and the wash of the tide, as a sort of breakwater; but he seldom lost his temper no matter what was the request which was laid before him, for he recognized underneath it the great tribute of a great nation.
Of course his literary valuation would be affected by the noise