Mark Twain, a Biography

Author: Albert Bigelow Paine

CXCVI Mr. Rogers and Helen Keller

It was during the winter of ’96, in London, that Clemens took an active interest in the education of Helen Keller and enlisted the most valuable adherent in that cause, that is to say, Henry H. Rogers. It was to Mrs. Rogers that he wrote, heading his letter:

For & in behalf
of Helen Keller,
Stone blind & deaf,
& formerly dumb.

DEAR MRS. ROGERS,— Experience has convinced me that when one
wished to set a hard-worked man at something which he mightn’t
prefer to be bothered with it is best to move upon him behind his
wife. If she can’t convince him it isn’t worth while for other
people to try.

Mr. Rogers will remember our visit with that astonishing girl at
Lawrence Hutton’s house when she was fourteen years old. Last July,
in Boston, when she was 16 she underwent the Harvard examination for
admission to Radcliffe College. She passed without a single
condition. She was allowed only the same amount of time that is
granted to other applicants, & this was shortened in her case by the
fact that the question-papers had to be read to her. Yet she scored
an average of 90, as against an average of 78 on the part of the
other applicants.

It won’t do for America to allow this marvelous child to retire from
her studies because of poverty. If she can go on with them she will
make a fame that will endure in history for centuries. Along her
special lines she is the most extraordinary product of all the ages.

There is danger that she must retire from the struggle for a college
degree for lack of support for herself & for Miss Sullivan (the
teacher who has been with her from the start—Mr. Rogers will
remember her). Mrs. Hutton writes to ask me to interest rich
Englishmen in her case, & I would gladly try, but my secluded life
will not permit it. I see nobody. Nobody knows my address.
Nothing but the strictest hiding can enable me to write my book in

So I thought of this scheme: Beg you to lay siege to your husband &
get him to interest himself and Messrs. John D. & William
Rockefeller & the other Standard Oil chiefs in Helen’s case; get
them to subscribe an annual aggregate of six or seven hundred or a
thousand dollars—& agree to continue this for three or four years,
until she has completed her college course. I’m not trying to limit
their generosity—indeed no; they may pile that Standard Oil Helen
Keller College Fund as high as they please; they have my consent.

Mrs. Hutton’s idea is to raise a permanent fund, the interest upon
which shall support Helen & her teacher & put them out of the fear
of want. I sha’n’t say a word against it, but she will find it a
difficult & disheartening job, & meanwhile what is to become of that
miraculous girl?

No, for immediate and sound effectiveness, the thing is for you to
plead with Mr. Rogers for this hampered wonder of your sex, & send
him clothed with plenary powers to plead with the other chiefs—they
have spent mountains of money upon the worthiest benevolences, & I
think that the same spirit which moved them to put their hands down
through their hearts into their pockets in those cases will answer.
"Here!" when its name is called in this one.

There—I don’t need to apologize to you or to H. H. for this appeal
that I am making; I know you too well for that:

Good-by, with love to all of you,

The result of this letter was that Mr. Rogers personally took charge of Helen Keller’s fortunes, and out of his own means made it possible for her to continue her education and to achieve for herself the enduring fame which Mark Twain had foreseen.

Mr. Rogers wrote that, by a curious coincidence, a letter had come to him from Mrs. Hutton on the same morning that Mrs. Rogers had received hers from Tedworth Square. Clemens sent grateful acknowledgments to Mrs. Rogers.

DEAR MRS. ROGERS,—It is superb! And I am beyond measure grateful
to you both. I knew you would be interested in that wonderful girl,
& that Mr. Rogers was already interested in her & touched by her; &
I was sure that if nobody else helped her you two would; but you
have gone far & away beyond the sum I expected—may your lines fall
in pleasant places here, & Hereafter for it!

The Huttons are as glad & grateful as they can be, & I am glad for
their sakes as well as for Helen’s.

I want to thank Mr. Rogers for crucifying himself on the same old
cross between Bliss & Harper; & goodness knows I hope he will come
to enjoy it above all other dissipations yet, seeing that it has
about it the elements of stability & permanency. However, at any
time that he says sign we’re going to do it.

Ever sincerely yours,


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Chicago: Albert Bigelow Paine, "CXCVI Mr. Rogers and Helen Keller," Mark Twain, a Biography, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in Mark Twain, a Biography (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894), Original Sources, accessed September 26, 2018,

MLA: Paine, Albert Bigelow. "CXCVI Mr. Rogers and Helen Keller." Mark Twain, a Biography, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in Mark Twain, a Biography, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894, Original Sources. 26 Sep. 2018.

Harvard: Paine, AB, 'CXCVI Mr. Rogers and Helen Keller' in Mark Twain, a Biography, ed. . cited in 1894, Mark Twain, a Biography, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 26 September 2018, from