University of California Press, Berkeley, 2015.
Read this volume not for the spectacularly funny, poignant passages found in volumes one and two. Instead, the author knows this manuscript will be the last major work. There are outrageously funny, humorous passages in this volume, but there’s a lot of day-to-day stuff.
The text presents some cleaning up, making words and life straight, suggesting half-cocked philosophies, responding to misimpressions and asserting what this author perceives of life. Throughout those efforts the reader can gleem the foibles and imperfections in the profession which should be an artist’s life.
There are personal touches. Fans send him small checks, $1.50 so he will endorse them and he will give out his autograph. His house was burgled so Clemens wrote a note for the next burglars saying there wasn’t much of value in the house, but directing attention to items of interest. One of the burglars, not convicted, wrote a letter. Clemens read it – familiar words and sentences. He finally realized he wrote the first draft himself in Life on the Mississippi. Twain set out the whole thing not accepting the flattery, but the whole episode is impertinent and rude!
Twain was a celebrated banquet speaker, but as years passed he could no longer start at the beginning: cocktails, dinner (multiple courses), speeches. For the last six years of life, he arrived after dinner for his slot to speak. Twain gave an example of the errors of scheduling, a banquet for Carnegie, 9:00 p.m. speeches began. Twain arrived at 9:15 p.m. Dinner did not finish until 10:45. Twain did not speak until 11:15. At least ten speakers followed him.
Summer 1907 Twain traveled to Britain to accept a Doctor of Letters award from Oxford University. The entries are repetitive and lengthy. He mentions the persons, the halls and houses, the grand food; speeches by himself and others. It is six weeks of tiresomely meeting Lord That, Lady This, Professor So-and-So, Rector etc. The British are exceeding polite and receptive, yet Twain is caged and on review. The moral of the story seems, if a writer accepts awards, placards or that-a-boys, have an escape route.
A sense of sadness and mortality comes into the Autobiography. Not much of life intrigues him. He writes of President Theodore Roosevelt, not a fan. Note though that his fast friend, benefactor and financial savior is Henry Rogers, second in command at Standard Oil, a Roosevelt target. Criticisms of Roosevelt don’t last; without the notes of this critical edition, no one would know what the issues were. Most of the diary was dictated. In earlier volumes, Twain edited the typewritten drafts, more vigorously it seems. The sentences in this volume are longer, exceedingly long. The text seems less cared for.
The end of the Autobiography ends in tragedy. Clemens’ third daughter, Jean, is a epileptic; she drowns in her bath on Christmas Eve. She had planned a whole wonderful Christmas – presents, visitors, festivities. Twain saw all the preparation, and now he is alone. He handwrites, not dictating. He admits, I am writing to keep my heart from breaking. Twain simply puts powerful sentiments, one about a man looking back on friends and family, who have predeceased him. He wants to see them again. It won’t happen. Like the woman in the coffin, downstairs, his daughter, there no more life. There is a sense that Mark Twain died that day. In four months Samuel Clemens was dead.
This volume also presents about 50,000 words about two assistants in the Clemens’ household. The woman (Lyons) was Twain’s private secretary and became the housekeeper. She was foremost a drinker. “She had hysterics, not just occasionally but frequently, not merely frequently, but very frequently. Hysterics – that was Ashcroft’s name for it. But the truth is, she was drunk. Drunk daily…”(337-338) The man (Ashcroft) was Clemens’ business manager and employee in the Mark Twain Company. Ashcroft and Lyon stole money, booze and tried getting everything else from Twain. Everyone in the Clemens’ household and outsiders (visitors) knew this pair was no good. This manuscript tells of Clemens’ realizations and actions, learning what had happened, firing, lawsuits, settlement.
Lyons and Ashcroft got married. Twain was invited. It was before their thievery was discovered by him. The writing is afterward revelation: “The church was cold and & clammy, which was quite proper. Miss Lyon’s mother was there, some Ashcrofts were there, the two Freemans were there, I was there. Also Mrs. Martin W. Littleton, and God. If God, He, was there, Reverend Percy Grant intimated that He was, even said He was. Nine in all.” (p.354)