Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885)

Author: Mark Twain

XXV the Great Year of 1885. Clemens and Cable. Publication of "Huck Finn." the Grant Memoirs. Mark Twain at Fifty

The year 1885 was in some respects the most important, certainly the
most pleasantly exciting, in Mark Twain’s life. It was the year in
which he entered fully into the publishing business and launched one
of the most spectacular of all publishing adventures, The Personal
Memoirs of General U. S. Grant. Clemens had not intended to do
general publishing when he arranged with Webster to become sales-
agent for the Mississippi book, and later general agent for Huck
Finn’s adventures; he had intended only to handle his own books,
because he was pretty thoroughly dissatisfied with other publishing
arrangements. Even the Library of Humor, which Howells, with Clark,
of the Courant, had put together for him, he left with Osgood until
that publisher failed, during the spring of 1885. Certainly he
never dreamed of undertaking anything of the proportions of the
Grant book.

He had always believed that Grant could make a book. More than
once, when they had met, he had urged the General to prepare his
memoirs for publication. Howells, in his ’My Mark Twain’, tells of
going with Clemens to see Grant, then a member of the ill-fated firm
of Grant and Ward, and how they lunched on beans, bacon and coffee
brought in from a near-by restaurant. It was while they were eating
this soldier fare that Clemens—very likely abetted by Howells—
especially urged the great commander to prepare his memoirs. But
Grant had become a financier, as he believed, and the prospect of
literary earnings, however large, did not appeal to him.
Furthermore, he was convinced that he was without literary ability
and that a book by him would prove a failure.

But then, by and by, came a failure more disastrous than anything he
had foreseen—the downfall of his firm through the Napoleonic
rascality of Ward. General Grant was utterly ruined; he was left
without income and apparently without the means of earning one. It
was the period when the great War Series was appeasing in the
Century Magazine. General Grant, hard-pressed, was induced by the
editors to prepare one or more articles, and, finding that he could
write them, became interested in the idea of a book. It is
unnecessary to repeat here the story of how the publication of this
important work passed into the hands of Mark Twain; that is to say,
the firm of Charles L. Webster & Co., the details having been fully
given elsewhere.—[See Mark Twain: A Biography, chap. cliv.]—

We will now return for the moment to other matters, as reported in
order by the letters. Clemens and Cable had continued their
reading-tour into Canada, and in February found themselves in
Montreal. Here they were invited by the Toque Bleue Snow-shoe Club
to join in one of their weekly excursions across Mt. Royal. They
could not go, and the reasons given by Mark Twain are not without
interest. The letter is to Mr. George Iles, author of Flame,
Electricity, and the Camera, and many other useful works.

To George Iles, far the Toque Blew Snow-shoe Club,

DETROIT, February 12, 1885.
Midnight, P.S. MY DEAR ILES,—I got your other telegram a while ago, and answered it, explaining that I get only a couple of hours in the middle of the day for social life. I know it doesn’t seem rational that a man should have to lie abed all day in order to be rested and equipped for talking an hour at night, and yet in my case and Cable’s it is so. Unless I get a great deal of rest, a ghastly dulness settles down upon me on the platform, and turns my performance into work, and hard work, whereas it ought always to be pastime, recreation, solid enjoyment. Usually it is just this latter, but that is because I take my rest faithfully, and prepare myself to do my duty by my audience.

I am the obliged and appreciative servant of my brethren of the Snow-shoe Club, and nothing in the world would delight me more than to come to their house without naming time or terms on my own part—but you see how it is. My cast iron duty is to my audience—it leaves me no liberty and no option.

With kindest regards to the Club, and to you,
I am Sincerely yours

In the next letter we reach the end of the Clemens-Cable venture and
get a characteristic summing up of Mark Twain’s general attitude
toward the companion of his travels. It must be read only in the
clear realization of Mark Twain’s attitude toward orthodoxy, and his
habit of humor. Cable was as rigidly orthodox as Mark Twain was
revolutionary. The two were never anything but the best of friends.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

PHILADA. Feb. 27, ’85. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—To-night in Baltimore, to-morrow afternoon and night in Washington, and my four-months platform campaign is ended at last. It has been a curious experience. It has taught me that Cable’s gifts of mind are greater and higher than I had suspected. But—

That "But" is pointing toward his religion. You will never, never know, never divine, guess, imagine, how loathsome a thing the Christian religion can be made until you come to know and study Cable daily and hourly. Mind you, I like him; he is pleasant company; I rage and swear at him sometimes, but we do not quarrel; we get along mighty happily together; but in him and his person I have learned to hate all religions. He has taught me to abhor and detest the Sabbath-day and hunt up new and troublesome ways to dishonor it.

Nat Goodwin was on the train yesterday. He plays in Washington all the coming week. He is very anxious to get our Sellers play and play it under changed names. I said the only thing I could do would be to write to you. Well, I’ve done it.
Ys Ever

Clemens and Webster were often at the house of General Grant during
these early days of 1885, and it must have been Webster who was
present with Clemens on the great occasion described in the
following telegram. It was on the last day and hour of President
Arthur’s administration that the bill was passed which placed
Ulysses S. Grant as full General with full pay on the retired list,
and it is said that the congressional clock was set back in order
that this enactment might become a law before the administration
changed. General Grant had by this time developed cancer and was
already in feeble health.

Telegram to Mrs. Clemens, in Hartford:

NEW YORK, Mar. 4, 1885. To MRS. S. L. CLEMENS, We were at General Grant’s at noon and a telegram arrived that the last act of the expiring congress late this morning retired him with full General’s rank and accompanying emoluments. The effect upon him was like raising the dead. We were present when the telegram was put in his hand.


Something has been mentioned before of Mark Twain’s investments and
the generally unprofitable habit of them. He had a trusting nature,
and was usually willing to invest money on any plausible
recommendation. He was one of thousands such, and being a person of
distinction he now and then received letters of inquiry, complaint,
or condolence. A minister wrote him that he had bought some stocks
recommended by a Hartford banker and advertised in a religious
paper. He added, "After I made that purchase they wrote me that you
had just bought a hundred shares and that you were a ’shrewd’ man."
The writer closed by asking for further information. He received
it, as follows:

To the Rev. J----, in Baltimore:

WASHINGTON, Mch. 2,’85. MY DEAR SIR,—I take my earliest opportunity to answer your favor of Feb.

B---- was premature in calling me a "shrewd man." I wasn’t one at that time, but am one now—that is, I am at least too shrewd to ever again invest in anything put on the market by B----. I know nothing whatever about the Bank Note Co., and never did know anything about it. B---- sold me about $4,000 or $5,000 worth of the stock at $110, and I own it yet. He sold me $10,000 worth of another rose-tinted stock about the same time. I have got that yet, also. I judge that a peculiarity of B----’s stocks is that they are of the staying kind. I think you should have asked somebody else whether I was a shrewd man or not for two reasons: the stock was advertised in a religious paper, a circumstance which was very suspicious; and the compliment came to you from a man who was interested to make a purchaser of you. I am afraid you deserve your loss. A financial scheme advertised in any religious paper is a thing which any living person ought to know enough to avoid; and when the factor is added that M. runs that religious paper, a dead person ought to know enough to avoid it.
Very Truly Yours

The story of Huck Finn was having a wide success. Webster handled
it skillfully, and the sales were large. In almost every quarter
its welcome was enthusiastic. Here and there, however, could be
found an exception; Huck’s morals were not always approved of by
library reading-committees. The first instance of this kind was
reported from Concord; and would seem not to have depressed the

To Chas. L. Webster, in New York:

Mch 18, ’85. DEAR CHARLEY,—The Committee of the Public Library of Concord, Mass, have given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the country. They have expelled Huck from their library as "trash and suitable only for the slums." That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure.

S. L. C.

Perhaps the Concord Free Trade Club had some idea of making amends
to Mark Twain for the slight put upon his book by their librarians,
for immediately after the Huck Finn incident they notified him of
his election to honorary membership.

Those were the days of "authors’ readings," and Clemens and Howells
not infrequently assisted at these functions, usually given as
benefits of one kind or another. From the next letter, written
following an entertainment given for the Longfellow memorial, we
gather that Mark Twain’s opinion of Howells’s reading was steadily

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, May 5, ’85. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—.....Who taught you to read? Observation and thought, I guess. And practice at the Tavern Club?—yes; and that was the best teaching of all:

Well, you sent even your daintiest and most delicate and fleeting points home to that audience—absolute proof of good reading. But you couldn’t read worth a damn a few years ago. I do not say this to flatter. It is true I looked around for you when I was leaving, but you had already gone.

Alas, Osgood has failed at last. It was easy to see that he was on the very verge of it a year ago, and it was also easy to see that he was still on the verge of it a month or two ago; but I continued to hope—but not expect that he would pull through. The Library of Humor is at his dwelling house, and he will hand it to you whenever you want it.

To save it from any possibility of getting mixed up in the failure, perhaps you had better send down and get it. I told him, the other day, that an order of any kind from you would be his sufficient warrant for its delivery to you.

In two days General Grant has dictated 50 pages of foolscap, and thus the Wilderness and Appomattox stand for all time in his own words. This makes the second volume of his book as valuable as the first.

He looks mighty well, these latter days.
Yrs Ever

"I am exceedingly glad," wrote Howells, "that you approve of my
reading, for it gives me some hope that I may do something on the
platform next winter..... but I would never read within a hundred
miles of you, if I could help it. You simply straddled down to the
footlights and took that house up in the hollow of your hand and
tickled it."

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

ELMIRA, July 21, 1885. MY DEAR HOWELLS,—You are really my only author; I am restricted to you, I wouldn’t give a damn for the rest.

I bored through Middlemarch during the past week, with its labored and tedious analyses of feelings and motives, its paltry and tiresome people, its unexciting and uninteresting story, and its frequent blinding flashes of single-sentence poetry, philosophy, wit, and what not, and nearly died from the overwork. I wouldn’t read another of those books for a farm. I did try to read one other—Daniel Deronda. I dragged through three chapters, losing flesh all the time, and then was honest enough to quit, and confess to myself that I haven’t any romance literature appetite, as far as I can see, except for your books.

But what I started to say, was, that I have just read Part II of Indian Summer, and to my mind there isn’t a waste line in it, or one that could be improved. I read it yesterday, ending with that opinion; and read it again to-day, ending with the same opinion emphasized. I haven’t read Part I yet, because that number must have reached Hartford after we left; but we are going to send down town for a copy, and when it comes I am to read both parts aloud to the family. It is a beautiful story, and makes a body laugh all the time, and cry inside, and feel so old and so forlorn; and gives him gracious glimpses of his lost youth that fill him with a measureless regret, and build up in him a cloudy sense of his having been a prince, once, in some enchanted far-off land, and of being an exile now, and desolate—and Lord, no chance ever to get back there again! That is the thing that hurts. Well, you have done it with marvelous facility and you make all the motives and feelings perfectly clear without analyzing the guts out of them, the way George Eliot does. I can’t stand George Eliot and Hawthorne and those people; I see what they are at a hundred years before they get to it and they just tire me to death. And as for "The Bostonians," I would rather be damned to John Bunyan’s heaven than read that.
Yrs Ever

It is as easy to understand Mark Twain’s enjoyment of Indian Summer
as his revolt against Daniel Deronda and The Bostonians. He cared
little for writing that did not convey its purpose in the simplest
and most direct terms. It is interesting to note that in thanking
Clemens for his compliment Howells wrote: "What people cannot see is
that I analyze as little as possible; they go on talking about the
analytical school, which I am supposed to belong to, and I want to
thank you for using your eyes..... Did you ever read De Foe’s
’Roxana’? If not, then read it, not merely for some of the deepest
insights into the lying, suffering, sinning, well-meaning human
soul, but for the best and most natural English that a book was ever
written in."

General Grant worked steadily on his book, dictating when he could,
making brief notes on slips of paper when he could no longer speak.
Clemens visited him at Mt. McGregor and brought the dying soldier
the comforting news that enough of his books were already sold to
provide generously for his family, and that the sales would
aggregate at least twice as much by the end of the year.

This was some time in July. On the 23d of that month General Grant
died. Immediately there was a newspaper discussion as to the most
suitable place for the great chieftain to lie. Mark Twain’s
contribution to this debate, though in the form of an open letter,
seems worthy of preservation here.

To the New York "Sun," on the proper place for Grant’s Tomb:

To THE EDITOR OP’ THE SUN:—SIR,—The newspaper atmosphere is charged with objections to New York as a place of sepulchre for General Grant, and the objectors are strenuous that Washington is the right place. They offer good reasons—good temporary reasons—for both of these positions.

But it seems to me that temporary reasons are not mete for the occasion. We need to consider posterity rather than our own generation. We should select a grave which will not merely be in the right place now, but will still be in the right place 500 years from now.

How does Washington promise as to that? You have only to hit it in one place to kill it. Some day the west will be numerically strong enough to move the seat of government; her past attempts are a fair warning that when the day comes she will do it. Then the city of Washington will lose its consequence and pass out of the public view and public talk. It is quite within the possibilities that, a century hence, people would wonder and say, "How did your predecessors come to bury their great dead in this deserted place?"

But as long as American civilisation lasts New York will last. I cannot but think she has been well and wisely chosen as the guardian of a grave which is destined to become almost the most conspicuous in the world’s history. Twenty centuries from now New York will still be New York, still a vast city, and the most notable object in it will still be the tomb and monument of General Grant.

I observe that the common and strongest objection to New York is that she is not "national ground." Let us give ourselves no uneasiness about that. Wherever General Grant’s body lies, that is national ground.


The letter that follows is very long, but it seems too important and
too interesting to be omitted in any part. General Grant’s early
indulgence in liquors had long been a matter of wide, though not
very definite, knowledge. Every one had heard how Lincoln, on being
told that Grant drank, remarked something to the effect that he
would like to know what kind of whisky Grant used so that he might
get some of it for his other generals. Henry Ward Beecher, selected
to deliver a eulogy on the dead soldier, and doubtless wishing
neither to ignore the matter nor to make too much of it, naturally
turned for information to the publisher of Grant’s own memoirs,
hoping from an advance copy to obtain light.

To Henry Ward Beecher,.Brooklyn:

ELMIRA, N. Y. Sept. 11, ’85. MY DEAR MR. BEECHER,—My nephew Webster is in Europe making contracts for the Memoirs. Before he sailed he came to me with a writing, directed to the printers and binders, to this effect:

"Honor no order for a sight or copy of the Memoirs while I am absent, even though it be signed by Mr. Clemens himself."

I gave my permission. There were weighty reasons why I should not only give my permission, but hold it a matter of honor to not dissolve the order or modify it at any time. So I did all of that—said the order should stand undisturbed to the end. If a principal could dissolve his promise as innocently as he can dissolve his written order unguarded by his promise, I would send you a copy of the Memoirs instantly. I did not foresee you, or I would have made an exception.


My idea gained from army men, is that the drunkenness (and sometimes pretty reckless spreeing, nights,) ceased before he came East to be Lt. General. (Refer especially to Gen. Wm. B. Franklin—[If you could see Franklin and talk with him—then he would unbosom,]) It was while Grant was still in the West that Mr. Lincoln said he wished he could find out what brand of whisky that fellow used, so he could furnish it to some of the other generals. Franklin saw Grant tumble from his horse drunk, while reviewing troops in New Orleans. The fall gave him a good deal of a hurt. He was then on the point of leaving for the Chattanooga region. I naturally put "that and that together" when I read Gen. O. O. Howards’s article in the Christian Union, three or four weeks ago—where he mentions that the new General arrived lame from a recent accident. (See that article.) And why not write Howard?

Franklin spoke positively of the frequent spreeing. In camp—in time of war.


Captain Grant was frequently threatened by the Commandant of his Oregon post with a report to the War Department of his conduct unless he modified his intemperance. The report would mean dismissal from the service. At last the report had to be made out; and then, so greatly was the captain beloved, that he was privately informed, and was thus enabled to rush his resignation to Washington ahead of the report. Did the report go, nevertheless? I don’t know. If it did, it is in the War Department now, possibly, and seeable. I got all this from a regular army man, but I can’t name him to save me.

The only time General Grant ever mentioned liquor to me was about last April or possibly May. He said:

"If I could only build up my strength! The doctors urge whisky and champagne; but I can’t take them; I can’t abide the taste of any kind of liquor."

Had he made a conquest so complete that even the taste of liquor was become an offense? Or was he so sore over what had been said about his habit that he wanted to persuade others and likewise himself that he hadn’t even ever had any taste for it? It sounded like the latter, but that’s no evidence.

He told me in the fall of ’84 that there was something the matter with his throat, and that at the suggestion of his physicians he had reduced his smoking to one cigar a day. Then he added, in a casual fashion, that he didn’t care for that one, and seldom smoked it.

I could understand that feeling. He had set out to conquer not the habit but the inclination—the desire. He had gone at the root, not the trunk. It’s the perfect way and the only true way (I speak from experience.) How I do hate those enemies of the human race who go around enslaving God’s free people with pledges—to quit drinking instead of to quit wanting to drink.

But Sherman and Van Vliet know everything concerning Grant; and if you tell them how you want to use the facts, both of them will testify. Regular army men have no concealments about each other; and yet they make their awful statements without shade or color or malice with a frankness and a child-like naivety, indeed, which is enchanting-and stupefying. West Point seems to teach them that, among other priceless things not to be got in any other college in this world. If we talked about our guildmates as I have heard Sherman, Grant, Van Vliet and others talk about theirs—mates with whom they were on the best possible terms—we could never expect them to speak to us again.


I am reminded, now, of another matter. The day of the funeral I sat an hour over a single drink and several cigars with Van Vliet and Sherman and Senator Sherman.; and among other things Gen. Sherman said, with impatient scorn:

"The idea of all this nonsense about Grant not being able to stand rude language and indelicate stories! Why Grant was full of humor, and full of the appreciation of it. I have sat with him by the hour listening to Jim Nye’s yarns, and I reckon you know the style of Jim Nye’s histories, Clemens. It makes me sick—that newspaper nonsense. Grant was no nambypamby fool, he was a man—all over—rounded and complete."

I wish I had thought of it! I would have said to General Grant: " Put the drunkenness in the Memoirs—and the repentance and reform. Trust the people."

But I will wager there is not a hint in the book. He was sore, there. As much of the book as I have read gives no hint, as far as I recollect.

The sick-room brought out the points of Gen. Grant’s character—some of them particularly, to wit:

His patience; his indestructible equability of temper; his exceeding gentleness, kindness, forbearance, lovingness, charity; his loyalty: to friends, to convictions, to promises, half-promises, infinitesimal fractions and shadows of promises; (There was a requirement of him which I considered an atrocity, an injustice, an outrage; I wanted to implore him to repudiate it; Fred Grant said, "Save your labor, I know him; he is in doubt as to whether he made that half-promise or not—and, he will give the thing the benefit of the doubt; he will fulfill that halfpromise or kill himself trying;" Fred Grant was right—he did fulfill it;) his aggravatingly trustful nature; his genuineness, simplicity, modesty, diffidence, self-depreciation, poverty in the quality of vanityand, in no contradiction of this last, his simple pleasure in the flowers and general ruck sent to him by Tom, Dick and Harry from everywhere—a pleasure that suggested a perennial surprise that he should be the object of so much fine attention—he was the most lovable great child in the world; (I mentioned his loyalty: you remember Harrison, the colored bodyservant? the whole family hated him, but that did not make any difference, the General always stood at his back, wouldn’t allow him to be scolded; always excused his failures and deficiencies with the one unvarying formula, "We are responsible for these things in his race—it is not fair to visit our fault upon them—let him alone;" so they did let him alone, under compulsion, until the great heart that was his shield was taken away; then—well they simply couldn’t stand him, and so they were excusable for determining to discharge him—a thing which they mortally hated to do, and by lucky accident were saved from the necessity of doing;) his toughness as a bargainer when doing business for other people or for his country (witness his "terms" at Donelson, Vicksburg, etc.; Fred Grant told me his father wound up an estate for the widow and orphans of a friend in St. Louis—it took several years; at the end every complication had been straightened out, and the property put upon a prosperous basis; great sums had passed through his hands, and when he handed over the papers there were vouchers to show what had been done with every penny) and his trusting, easy, unexacting fashion when doing business for himself (at that same time he was paying out money in driblets to a man who was running his farm for him—and in his first Presidency he paid every one of those driblets again (total, $3,000 F. said,) for he hadn’t a scrap of paper to show that he had ever paid them before; in his dealings with me he would not listen to terms which would place my money at risk and leave him protected—the thought plainly gave him pain, and he put it from him, waved it off with his hands, as one does accounts of crushings and mutilations—wouldn’t listen, changed the subject;) and his fortitude! He was under, sentence of death last spring; he sat thinking, musing, several days—nobody knows what about; then he pulled himself together and set to work to finish that book, a colossal task for a dying man. Presently his hand gave out; fate seemed to have got him checkmated. Dictation was suggested. No, he never could do that; had never tried it; too old to learn, now. By and by—if he could only do Appomattox-well. So he sent for a stenographer, and dictated 9,000 words at a single sitting!—never pausing, never hesitating for a word, never repeating—and in the written-out copy he made hardly a correction. He dictated again, every two or three days— the intervals were intervals of exhaustion and slow recuperation—and at last he was able to tell me that he had written more matter than could be got into the book. I then enlarged the book—had to. Then he lost his voice. He was not quite done yet, however:—there was no end of little plums and spices to be stuck in, here and there; and this work he patiently continued, a few lines a day, with pad and pencil, till far into July, at Mt. McGregor. One day he put his pencil aside, and said he was done—there was nothing more to do. If I had been there I could have foretold the shock that struck the world three days later.

Well, I’ve written all this, and it doesn’t seem to amount to anything. But I do want to help, if I only could. I will enclose some scraps from my Autobiography—scraps about General Grant—they may be of some trifle of use, and they may not—they at least verify known traits of his character. My Autobiography is pretty freely dictated, but my idea is to jack-plane it a little before I die, some day or other; I mean the rude construction and rotten grammar. It is the only dictating I ever did, and it was most troublesome and awkward work. You may return it to Hartford.
Sincerely Yours

The old long-deferred Library of Humor came up again for discussion,
when in the fall of 1885 Howells associated himself with Harper &
Brothers. Howells’s contract provided that his name was not to
appear on any book not published by the Harper firm. He wrote,
therefore, offering to sell out his interest in the enterprise for
two thousand dollars, in addition to the five hundred which he had
already received—an amount considered to be less than he was to
have received as joint author and compiler. Mark Twain’s answer
pretty fully covers the details of this undertaking.

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

HARTFORD, Oct. 18, 1885.Private.

MY DEAR HOWELLS,—I reckon it would ruin the book that is, make it necessary to pigeon-hole it and leave it unpublished. I couldn’t publish it without a very responsible name to support my own on the title page, because it has so much of my own matter in it. I bought Osgood’s rights for $3,000 cash, I have paid Clark $800 and owe him $700 more, which must of course be paid whether I publish or not. Yet I fully recognize that I have no sort of moral right to let that ancient and procrastinated contract hamper you in any way, and I most certainly won’t. So, it is my decision,—after thinking over and rejecting the idea of trying to buy permission of the Harpers for $2,500 to use your name, (a proposition which they would hate to refuse to a man in a perplexed position, and yet would naturally have to refuse it,) to pigeon-hole the "Library": not destroy it, but merely pigeon-hole it and wait a few years and see what new notion Providence will take concerning it. He will not desert us now, after putting in four licks to our one on this book all this time. It really seems in a sense discourteous not to call it "Providence’s Library of Humor."

Now that deal is all settled, the next question is, do you need and must you require that $2,000 now? Since last March, you know, I am carrying a mighty load, solitary and alone—General Grant’s book—and must carry it till the first volume is 30 days old (Jan. 1st) before the relief money will begin to flow in. From now till the first of January every dollar is as valuable to me as it could be to a famishing tramp. If you can wait till then—I mean without discomfort, without inconvenience—it will be a large accommodation to me; but I will not allow you to do this favor if it will discommode you. So, speak right out, frankly, and if you need the money I will go out on the highway and get it, using violence, if necessary.

Mind, I am not in financial difficulties, and am not going to be. I am merely a starving beggar standing outside the door of plenty—obstructed by a Yale time-lock which is set for Jan. 1st. I can stand it, and stand it perfectly well; but the days do seem to fool along considerable slower than they used to.

I am mighty glad you are with the Harpers. I have noticed that good men in their employ go there to stay.
Yours ever,

In the next letter we begin to get some idea of the size of Mark
Twain’s first publishing venture, and a brief summary of results may
not be out of place here.

The Grant Life was issued in two volumes. In the early months of
the year when the agents’ canvass was just beginning, Mark Twain,
with what seems now almost clairvoyant vision, prophesied a sale of
three hundred thousand sets. The actual sales ran somewhat more
than this number. On February 27, 1886, Charles L. Webster & Co.
paid to Mrs. Grant the largest single royalty check in the history
of book-publishing. The amount of it was two hundred thousand
dollars. Subsequent checks increased the aggregate return to
considerably more than double this figure. In a memorandum made by
Clemens in the midst of the canvass he wrote."

"During 100 consecutive days the sales (i. e., subscriptions) of
General Grant’s book averaged 3,000 sets (6,000 single volumes) per
day: Roughly stated, Mrs. Grant’s income during all that time was
$5,000 a day."

To W. D. Howells, in Boston:

NEW YORK, Dec. 2, ’85. MY DEAR HOWELLS,— I told Webster, this afternoon, to send you that $2,000; but he is in such a rush, these first days of publication, that he may possibly forget it; so I write lest I forget it too. Remind me, if he should forget. When I postponed you lately, I did it because I thought I should be cramped for money until January, but that has turned out to be an error, so I hasten to cut short the postponement.

I judge by the newspapers that you are in Auburndale, but I don’t know it officially.

I’ve got the first volume launched safely; consequently, half of the suspense is over, and I am that much nearer the goal. We’ve bound and shipped 200,000 books; and by the 10th shall finish and ship the remaining 125,000 of the first edition. I got nervous and came down to help hump-up the binderies; and I mean to stay here pretty much all the time till the first days of March, when the second volume will issue. Shan’t have so much trouble, this time, though, if we get to press pretty soon, because we can get more binderies then than are to be had in front of the holidays. One lives and learns. I find it takes 7 binderies four months to bind 325,000 books.

This is a good book to publish. I heard a canvasser say, yesterday, that while delivering eleven books he took 7 new subscriptions. But we shall be in a hell of a fix if that goes on—it will "ball up" the binderies again.
Yrs ever

November 30th that year was Mark Twain’s fiftieth birthday, an event
noticed by the newspapers generally, and especially observed by many
of his friends. Warner, Stockton and many others sent letters;
Andrew Lang contributed a fine poem; also Oliver Wendell. Holmes—
the latter by special request of Miss Gilder—for the Critic. These
attentions came as a sort of crowning happiness at the end of a
golden year. At no time in his life were Mark Twain’s fortunes and
prospects brighter; he had a beautiful family and a perfect home.
Also, he had great prosperity. The reading-tour with Cable had been
a fine success. His latest book, The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, had added largely to his fame and income. The publication of
the Grant Memoirs had been a dazzling triumph. Mark Twain had
become recognized, not only as America’s most distinguished author,
but as its most envied publisher. And now, with his fiftieth
birthday, had come this laurel from Holmes, last of the Brahmins, to
add a touch of glory to all the rest. We feel his exaltation in his
note of acknowledgment.

To Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in Boston:

DEAR MR. HOLMES,—I shall never be able to tell you the half of how proud you have made me. If I could you would say you were nearly paid for the trouble you took. And then the family: If I can convey the electrical surprise and gratitude and exaltation of the wife and the children last night, when they happened upon that Critic where I had, with artful artlessness, spread it open and retired out of view to see what would happen—well, it was great and fine and beautiful to see, and made me feel as the victor feels when the shouting hosts march by; and if you also could have seen it you would have said the account was squared. For I have brought them up in your company, as in the company of a warm and friendly and beneficent but far-distant sun; and so, for you to do this thing was for the sun to send down out of the skies the miracle of a special ray and transfigure me before their faces. I knew what that poem would be to them; I knew it would raise me up to remote and shining heights in their eyes, to very fellowship with the chambered Nautilus itself, and that from that fellowship they could never more dissociate me while they should live; and so I made sure to be by when the surprise should come.

Charles Dudley Warner is charmed with the poem for its own felicitous sake; and so indeed am I, but more because it has drawn the sting of my fiftieth year; taken away the pain of it, the grief of it, the somehow shame of it, and made me glad and proud it happened.

With reverence and affection,
Sincerely yours,

Holmes wrote with his own hand: "Did Miss Gilder tell you I had
twenty-three letters spread out for answer when her suggestion came
about your anniversary? I stopped my correspondence and made my
letters wait until the lines were done."


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Chicago: Mark Twain, "XXV the Great Year of 1885. Clemens and Cable. Publication of Huck Finn. the Grant Memoirs. Mark Twain at Fifty," Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885), ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 3 (1876-1885) (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed March 22, 2019,

MLA: Twain, Mark. "XXV the Great Year of 1885. Clemens and Cable. Publication of "Huck Finn." the Grant Memoirs. Mark Twain at Fifty." Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885), edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 3 (1876-1885), Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 22 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'XXV the Great Year of 1885. Clemens and Cable. Publication of "Huck Finn." the Grant Memoirs. Mark Twain at Fifty' in Mark Twain’s Letters— Volume 3 (1876-1885), ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Mark Twain’s Letters—Volume 3 (1876-1885), A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 March 2019, from