Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Centuryby Philip McFarland
Mark Twain and the Colonel tells the story of America between 1890 and 1910 through the fully engaged involvement of the era’s two most vital participants: Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. At this pivotal moment in our history, the previously frontier-driven expansion of America was being replaced by an America that had begun to legitimately think of itself as a world power, and a dominant presence and leader on the international stage. No longer merely a successful experiment in democracy and republicanism, America saw tensions arise between those focused on which areas of American life necessitated radical progress, and which required devout preservation. Tensions like these manifested nowhere more tellingly than between our greatest humorist and our youngest President, whose warring visions of what America could and ought to be were radically different, but nevertheless laid the bedrock for modern America – its arguments, achievements, and aspirations – as we came to see it through the twentieth century, and to the present day.
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Mark Twain and the ColonelSamuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century
By Philip McFarland
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReturn to America
Open to page 3 of the New York Times for October 16, 1900. Along the right-hand margin are advertisements for carpets, eyeglasses, whiskey, silvercraft, and Steinway pianos. The column at the far left, beginning at the top, furnishes a lengthy account of Governor Roosevelt's activities yesterday in Covington, Kentucky. Equally prominent on the page, four columns in, is a report on the arrival, at the downtown piers during that same lively long-vanished yesterday, of a newsworthy passenger aboard the Atlantic Transport Line's S.S. Minnehaha. "MARK TWAIN HOME AGAIN," the headline blares. "Writer Reaches America After His Prolonged Stay Abroad. GREETED BY MANY FRIENDS. Talks Freely of His Travels, His Experiences, and His Triumphs—In the Best of Health."
Yesterday, at ten in the evening and after nearly a decade away, America's favorite humorist had been kept busy at the Manhattan docks in the course of a jubilant homecoming: wife and daughters accompanying him; all those welcoming friends to greet; trunks and hampers to lay claim to. "Mr. Clemens"—the private name of a world-famous public pseudonym, the census-taker's name that signed Mark Twain's checks and booked his hotel rooms—"Mr. Clemens never looked better," readers of the article were assured, "was in a splendid humor, and greeted his friends with the most affectionate cordiality." Yet the Times makes clear it was not Samuel Langhorne Clemens whom the throng had gathered to welcome, but rather "the writer and lecturer, Mark Twain, who attracted to the pier so many friends and associates of former days."
He was sixty-four years old on that autumnal Tuesday, just weeks short of turning sixty-five. The bulk of his last nine years Samuel Clemens—Mark Twain—had spent in self-imposed exile, for the most part in Europe. Now here he was, home to stay, finally, joyfully, exchanging salutations with friends and well-wishers while some dozen newspapermen hovered nearby. As soon as the traveler turned their way, the reporters pressed him to tell them what he had been up to over so extended an absence from his native land.
"Now, that's a long story," the notable answered obligingly in his characteristic Missouri drawl, "but I suppose I must give you something, even if it is in a condensed form."
Of course he would give them something. Clemens had been a newspaperman himself, had started out as a journeyman printer, years before had written for newspapers in various parts of the country and even—briefly—co-owned a newspaper, in Buffalo. To this day, besides contributing to magazines, he often as Mark Twain sent to the papers opinions that were widely quoted. Moreover, in a long, varied, and colorful career, he had granted hundreds of interviews like this one, always taking care to promote a distinctive, much-loved public image of the Mark Twain that Samuel L. Clemens had created thirty-seven years before.
He was promoting Mark Twain now, in 1900. The homecomer had left America, he reminded the pier-side reporters, in June of 1891 and gone to Aix-les-Bains, France. The reason—although he didn't tell them this—had been in large part because of health, so that he and Mrs. Clemens might benefit from France's therapeutic baths. The family had meant to remain overseas only a few months, while Mark Twain wrote six extended travel letters to pay for the excursion; but circumstances prolonged their stay. Soon they realized how much cheaper it was to live well in Europe than in America, and the Clemenses had need of economizing. Thus, nine years passed before their permanent return home, by which time this interviewee on the New York piers had accumulated a lengthy catalogue to recount to the clustering journalists, of places where the family had stayed during the long interval. After a fall and winter in Aix-les-Bains, for instance—their first stop abroad—they had moved to Berlin, so that Mark Twain could lecture and give readings, then on to the Riviera over three months, then to baths near Frankfurt, then—through most of 1892—in Florence, renting a villa while the author wrote his Joan of Arc and the novel Pudd'nhead Wilson. "For the next two years I was in France," he continued more or less accurately, taking care to reassure his listeners that "I can't speak French yet." Clemens could read the language, though, with ease, as he read Italian and read and spoke German, although his alter-ego, Mark Twain—thoroughly American; a folksy, down-home provincial, long on common sense if short on schooling—neglected to reveal those cosmopolitan skills to the reporters gathered round. He did tell them that in the spring of 1895 (something the whole world knew already) he had started on a lecture tour from England that circled the globe, first across the northern United States, then to Australia and New Zealand, on to Ceylon and India, to South Africa, and finally back to England, where he lingered through another year abroad.
"At this time my family was with me...." But the summary left much out. In London, "I was lecturing, reading, or working hard in other ways, writing magazine stories and doing other literary work." And after London came Vienna, "to which city we went in September 1898."
Actually, it had been in 1897, the family having spent a couple of summer months just before then in Switzerland. But let Vienna serve as a specimen of the traveler's life overseas. Clemens remained in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for nearly two years, arriving after those weeks in the village of Weggis, overlooking Lake Lucerne, and not leaving until twenty months later. Then—to conclude the itinerary—he and his wife and daughters spent additional time in England and in Sweden, again for reasons of health, before returning to England and at last, as of yesterday, in mid-October 1900, disembarking from the S.S. Minnehaha here in New York City.
But about the author's reception in Vienna. From Switzerland he had written ahead to the American Embassy there, an inquiry regarding available accommodations that let word of his intentions get out. Viennese newspapers, of which there were many—forty-five of them—seized on the news; and for a couple of weeks before the Clemenses arrived, the press of that city was writing in high excitement about unser berühmter Gast—our famous guest—coming to live among them. Why he was coming, he would tell reporters when he got there, was to observe and gather material for additional articles and stories—a motive flattering to his hosts, even if it fell wide of the real reason for his choice. Clemens was moving to Vienna so that his daughter Clara, approaching her mid-twenties, might pursue her study of music with the celebrated piano teacher Theodor Leschetitzky, tutor of Paderewski, in hopes of becoming a professional pianist herself.
Thus, soon after arriving, father and daughter called at the maestro's home—heryoungheartpounding—atKarlLudwigStrasse42,andtoClara's amazement were greeted by "an utterly unimpressive, harmless-looking man of small stature," under whose gaze she was soon "stumbling" (her word) through a piece on the piano, while gray-haired eminences—famous pianist and famous author—hovered and listened. The audition disclosed a need for more technical preparation before such a teacher as this could take the young woman on. A disappointed father wondered whether they should even remain in the city, but Herr Leschetitzky assured his visitors that doing so would prove amply worth their while.
Already the Clemenses had found a place to live. Or it found them: the Metropole, an imposing hotel in the center of Vienna, on Franz-Josefs-Kai overlooking the busy Danube canal—fashionable enough that the sister of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II was lodging there. So eager had the proprietor of the Metropole been to include Mark Twain among his patrons that for the famous American he reduced his regular rate by 40 percent; and on such attractive terms the Clemens family moved into Suite 62, on the third floor: seven spacious, high-ceilinged rooms and a balcony, with attendants, heat, and meals for five persons as part of the bargain price—meals prepared by the premier chef in the city. All that allowed for pampering enough to keep this visiting celebrity at the Metropole eight months (until he removed to an even grander hotel, its rates also discounted); and at the Metropole very soon, as daughter Clara later remembered, it "came to be a daily habit in the family to receive callers from five o'clock on, and our list of acquaintances augmented so rapidly, representing all circles, that our drawing-room was often called the second U. S. Embassy."
Living so long overseas and being so welcomed, Mark Twain had come to see himself as sort of a spokesman for his country: "During 8 years, now, I have filled the post—with some credit, I trust—of self-appointed Ambassador at Large of the U. S. of America—without salary." The author of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," of The Innocents Abroad, of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, of The Prince and the Pauper—to name the favorites among his works in Europe—the wonderfully amusing author whose writings had been translated into all the major European languages and many less major ones was by this time immensely popular around the globe, a household name on the Continent wherever he settled down. In Berlin, for instance—that other German-speaking metropolis—where the Clemenses had lived earlier in the decade, a "great fuss was made over Father," Clara bore witness, "and Susy and I felt proud to be his daughters. In fact, with satisfied vanity we enjoyed watching people point out our family when we entered a dining-room." At the moment the young women might feign indifference to the attention, but it did lead them to reflect on how odd it must feel to be part of a family in which nobody was famous. As for Mark Twain, he appeared, Clara tells us, "unconscious of the sensation he always created when entering a dining-room or restaurant." Germans actually rose and stood close by to watch the luminary eat, any among them who knew English hoping no doubt to overhear his table talk. "Look at those people, Father! They are getting a fine view of your appetite." The leonine head—well-known shock of untamable gray hair, bushy gray eyebrows, bright eyes, gray drooping mustache—would chuckle then, though apparently unembarrassed at being so closely scrutinized. "And I often wondered," wrote Clara, recollecting, "how the news of his identity could possibly spread around so rapidly. It was also surprising that his popularity should be international. With the exception of France, he seemed equally famous in all countries."
As for France, Clemens cared less for Frenchmen than they for him—his one admitted prejudice: their lax morals; what they did to Joan of Arc; what they were doing to Zola and Captain Dreyfus. Here in Vienna meanwhile, as another example of the goodwill the American humorist inspired just about everywhere, he and his daughters on one occasion couldn't return to their hotel even though guests were awaiting them up there. Around an intervening public square spectators had gathered thick to view the passing of the emperor's cortège. Police were everywhere. The three Americans on foot did manage to press their way through the good-natured crowd; but at its inside edge, just before starting across, they were halted officiously. An armed guard commanded that they stay where they were—Halten Sie! Stehenbleiben!—while at the same moment a policeman on horseback came galloping forward, although "not with the purpose of driving us back, but of reproving the guard: 'For God's sake, let him pass! Don't you see it's Herr Mark Twain?'"
The humorist relished such prerogatives as this that his worldwide fame entitled him to. "My! But that makes me feel d—d good!" he confessed to his daughters as they crossed the emptied square together. Meanwhile his guests at the hotel would likely have been people who mattered in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Many such called on the Clemenses, in addition to an unending stream of reporters, editors, and curious fans of Mark Twain. In fact, the family came to know just about everybody of consequence in the city, fourth largest in Europe and home to individuals whose names retain meaning more than a century later: Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, Ernst Mach, Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, Johann Strauss the Waltz King. Clemens as Mark Twain was enjoying friendships among such company, as well as among others comparably celebrated then, before the passing decades dimmed their luster. The American family entertained many new acquaintances; and Mark Twain faithfully attended the all but perpetual round of soirées, balls, receptions, smokers, and dinners to which he was invited. "Dinner at the Embassy"—a single example, from February 1898—"Present, the German Ambassador; Marquis Hoyos; Nigra, Italian Minister; Paraty, Portuguese Minister; Löwenhaupt, Swedish Minister; Ghika, Roumanian Minister, Secretaries &c from the various Embassies—& ladies. 30 guests." No less a personage than the emperor himself, Franz-Josef I, a half century on the Austro-Hungarian throne and desirous of his acquaintance, received the droll visitor from abroad at an imperial audience—Mark Twain bedecked in striped trousers, swallow-tailed coat, silk hat, and white gloves—as the American democrat had earlier been invited to dine with Kaiser Wilhelm and spent a congenial hour with the Prince of Wales.
Moreover, his months in this colorful city—a city famously rife with the pleasures of parks and music and architecture—were proving productive. Here the author wrote "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," much of the Socratic dialogue What Is Man? and The Mysterious Stranger, as well as some of the more movingly vivid reminiscences of his early days that appear in his autobiography and a good bit besides at a level of excellence rarely reached elsewhere in the course of his family's trying, sometimes horrendous years during these same 1890s. In fact, the time in Vienna constituted a last great outpouring in Mark Twain's long career as an author. Through the first decade of a new century that lay ahead he would continue to write, often prolifically, but only a little of it would achieve the quality of what he set down during his months in the Austrian capital.
At the end of the family's stay there, when it came time to leave, the Clemens daughters were reduced to tears. By then, Clara had abandoned her ambition to be a pianist and would turn instead toward a career as a concert singer. Nevertheless, she had learned in twenty months to love Vienna and the Viennese, so that her heart was grieving on the midmorning in late May 1899 when a van arrived to take away trunks that were being sent directly to London. At two that same afternoon cabs bore the Clemenses, their traveling luggage, and their maid of nineteen years, Katy Leary, to Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof. "Was life," Clara wondered, "to be one long series of farewells?" At the train station a multitude had gathered: the many friends of the daughters, friends of the family, the many grateful friends and admirers of Mark Twain. Well-wishers had already filled the Clemenses' compartment with flowers. To the assembled group the humorist spoke briefly, seriously. In fluent if Missouri-accented German, he addressed the crowd that pressed adoringly close: "Man kann nicht ein paar Jahre in Wien leben," he told them, "ohne durch und durch dem Zauber der Stadt und der Leute zu verfallen. Mann gewöhnt sich bald ein in Wien, ist hier zufrieden und geht nie mehr ganz weg." You can't live a couple of years in Vienna without thoroughly succumbing to the magic of the city and its people. One quickly grows comfortable in Vienna, feels contented here, and never entirely leaves it.
The train wheels began to turn. Handkerchiefs were waving from slow-moving windows as the cars gathered speed. The crowd on the platform receded, "our beloved friends," whose faces, at the commencement of yet another of so many journeys, the Clemenses blowing back kisses knew they were looking on for a last time.
They went to England, to Sweden, again to England, and, a year and a half after leaving Vienna, arrived finally in New York City. Thus ended Mark Twain's long absence from home. And "everybody's glad you're back," reporters greeting the Minnehaha on that mid-October evening in 1900 assured the traveler, "which you know of course," they added—for only the rare American newspaper had failed to take note of so signal and exultant a homecoming.
Excerpted from Mark Twain and the Colonel by Philip McFarland Copyright © 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Philip McFarland is the author of five earlier works of nonfiction: Sojourners, Sea Dangers: The Affair of the Somers, The Brave Bostonians: Hutchinson, Quincy, Franklin, and the Coming of the American Revolution, Hawthorne in Concord, and Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe. He has also published two works of fiction.
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