Mark Twain, Business Man: Letters and Memoirs


WHEN Sam Clemens began his training as a river pilot, he made his home with his sister, Pamela Clemens Moffett, in St. Louis. Pamela’s daughter Annie, five years old at the time, fell in love with her dashing, chestnut-haired uncle Sam. When Annie grew up, she married Charles L. Webster, who for many years was to be Mark Twain’s publisher, man of business, and close friend. Annie’s recollections, the hundreds of Mark Twain letters to her husband, and the earlier Clemens letters which she inherited have been skillfully edited for the Atlantic by her son, Samuel Charles Webster. None of this correspondence has been published before. This is the second of several installments. — THE EDITOR


MY MOTHER, Annie Moffett Webster, is the only person alive who was at Mark Twain’s wedding in Elmira, New York, on February 2, 1870. The ceremony was scarcely over before the bride learned some of the troubles involved in being the wife of a celebrity. A certain woman in town had not been invited to the wedding because there was no particular reason why she should be invited. The Langdons had ignored hints on the subject from her relatives, a man and his wife, who had been invited. When the wedding hour came the invited man arrived minus his wife, who was ill, and with his relative in tow.

After the bride and groom had received congratulations and were still standing together, the uninvited guest barged up and asked Uncle Sam to promenade around the room with her. Uncle Sam was rather stumped, but in his dazed condition he complied. Later on he came to, and had a lot to say on the subject in private. My mother remembers the bride, Aunt Livy, standing alone. Even her sweet nature was in danger of disintegration.

My mother, who was eighteen at the time, cannot remember what the bride wore, but she does remember they served boned turkey. Her story of the trip to Buffalo the next day is full of details: —

“A small company of guests accompanied the bride and groom to Buffalo, where Uncle Sam was to join the staff of the Buffalo Express, in which he had bought an interest. A private car was furnished by Mr. Jervis Langdon, the father-in-law. Uncle Sam was singing a great deal of the time: —

There was an old woman in our town,
In our town did dwell.
She loved her husband dearily
But another man twicet as well,
Another man twicet as well

which does not seem particularly appropriate for a wedding trip.

“The minister who married them was Mr. Thomas K. Beecher, the half-brother of Henry Ward Beecher. Uncle Sam had already paid him a liberal fee. However, on the train, Uncle Sam went around the car and borrowed small change until he collected $1.00. This he took to Mr. Beecher and handed it to him as the wedding fee. Mr. Beecher accepted it. He said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Clemens. If you feel that that is all it is worth I am satisfied.’ Then Mr. Beecher went to Mrs. Beecher; he said: ‘Mrs. Beecher, until January 1 you received the salary and I had the wedding fees, but since January I you have had the fees and I have had the salary. Here, Mrs. Beecher, this is yours.’

“There was a great secret known to everyone on the train except Uncle Sam, my mother, and myself,” says my mother. “Mr. Langdon had bought a house on Delaware Avenue. It was completely furnished, Aunt Livy having selected everything. It had required great caution and watchfulness to keep this from Uncle Sam. They did not let us into the secret, for they felt that we might betray it.

“When we reached Buffalo Mr. and Mrs. Langdon, my mother, and I were hurried to a carriage and rushed, as we supposed, to the Tift House. Although there was no longer any point in keeping the secret, they forgot to tell us, and we were so much surprised to be taken to this beautiful house that it was a long time before we could understand it.

Copyright 1944, by the Mark Twain Company.

“In the meantime, to give us plenty of time, the rest of the party were placed in carriages and sent to the hotel. Uncle Sam could not restrain his indignation. He said he never knew anything so badly managed in his life. The idea of keeping the bride and groom to the very last! When the bride and groom arrived the four of us were in the hall ready to greet them. Uncle Sam was so overwhelmed that it seemed impossible for him to understand; he kept asking for ‘Mrs. Howells,’ a fictitious name given him as the keeper of the boardinghouse.

“The next morning the rest of the party came. They ran all over exclaiming at the beauty of the drawing room, all in a lovely shade of blue, the coziness of dining room and library, and so on. At last all gathered in the drawing room. Mrs. Beecher insisted we must all sing together: ‘I’m a pilgrim and I’m a stranger.’ She said they would never remember it, in that charming house, unless we sang this. Mr. Beecher lay down on the floor and rolled over and over. Mrs. Beecher exclaimed, ‘What are you doing, Mr. Beecher?’ He said, ‘I am trying to take the feather edge off.’”

Mark Twain was soon hard at work on the Buffalo Express. But he had other literary plans, as the next letter shows. The Galaxy was a New York magazine. His family had sent on from the Virginia City Enterprise a trunk of his newspaper material, which he was soon to use in writing Roughing It.

BUF, Mch 26 [1870]
The coffin of “Enterprise” files has come — expressage $9.50. Nothing unright about that, but I had had a sort of a general idea that it would come as slow freight along with Annie’s piano. However, it would not have been as safe.
Livy got Annie’s letter yesterday, & both of us were pleased with it — I, chiefly with the just remarks made about Livy’s comeliness & other attractions. I thought it showed a profound judgment & a mature appreciation, & thus was remarkable coming from one so young. (I will endeavor not to let Livy meddle with that sentence.)
I am going to edit a ten-page department in the “Galaxy” Magazine. The berth is exceedingly easy & the salary liberal. I am to rent the matter to them, not sell it — & so I can use it in book form afterward without sharing the proceeds with them. . . .
But I am in a hurry — so I will say good-bye and love to all —

In 1872 the Clemens family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Mark Twain’s publisher was located, and where both he and Livy had congenial friends in the large literary colony. At first they rented the Hooker house. Mrs. Hooker had been Isabella Beecher, half-sister of Henry Ward Beecher. Livy, who had known Thomas K. Beecher, another brother, from her childhood, said to Annie, “You’d know this house was built by a Beecher. It’s so queer.” Very soon Uncle Sam bought a lot in the neighborhood and started to build.

The little section of Hartford where Mark Twain settled was a Valhalla for intellectuals. Six or seven houses with no fences separating them were grouped together, and in them lived Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Warner (brother of Charles Dudley Warner), Mrs. Francis Gillette (Mrs. Warner’s mother), her son William, who was just starting his stage career in secret, Thomas Hooker, his wife Isabella, strong advocate of woman’s rights, and their two daughters, Mrs. Day and Mrs. Burton. There was a sociability about the life. People went in and out of each other’s houses without ringing the bells.

Not far away lived a little devil named William Lyon Phelps — not far enough for Uncle Sam’s peace of mind. Phelps himself told the story of killing some of Uncle Sam’s prize ducks. If Uncle Sam had told it, it would probably be his children that the boy killed. Uncle Sam found the tall young William Gillette a more useful neighbor. Mr. Gillette said that Uncle Sam once called over to his mother, “Is your stepladder around? I need him.”

When a dramatized version of The Gilded Age came to Hartford in 1875, Uncle Sam helped William Gillette to get his first real part in the theater. It had to be done surreptitiously because his mother didn’t know that her “stepladder” was going in for this very questionable profession. My mother was visiting Uncle Sam at the time and she remembers the opening night and how disturbed she was because Colonel Sellers looked so unlike his original, Cousin James. She remembers also the luncheon given next day for the principals, John T. Raymond and Kate Field. They had pheasants, and the maid forgot to pass the currant jelly.

Uncle Sam loved being a host to congenial people. My mother remembers a dinner given for Mr. and Mrs. Howells, the Twitchells, and Charles Dudley Warner, and she can see Uncle Sam following George, the butler, around, a napkin on his arm, pouring out the wine.

William Dean Howells often came when my mother was there, and he was taken as a matter of course, but for some reason Mrs. Howells was treated formally. My mother remembers all kinds of special preparations when Mrs. Howells was coming.

The Hartford house was of course well stocked with cats. The particular one that my mother remembers was never called anything but “Stray Kitty.” Uncle Sam was very fond of this cat. He would ring the bell, George would appear, Uncle Sam would say with dignity, “Bring in Stray Kitty.” Presently George would return with Stray Kitty under his arm and Uncle Sam would get down on the floor and play with him. He took after his mother in his love of cats.


BUT Uncle Sam was a good deal like Adam in the Garden. The Tree of Knowledge, hung with beautiful inventions, grew by his door, and he couldn’t keep his hands off it. For the next twenty years he was hopefully picking the fruit to find one that was sound. He wrecked himself financially in the process.

The Kaolatype mentioned in the following letter is the patent Uncle Sam bought from Dan Slote, his old friend who had been his roommate on the voyage to the Holy Land: —

HARTFORD, NOV, 27, 1880
. . . Private & Cont.
My contract for the “Little Prince” is made — & this time it is no fool of a contract, I assure you. I want nothing said about book or contract to anybody — keep it mum, for I have changed my publisher — a thing which I do not want the Am. Pub. Co. to suspect for some months yet.
Private (not to be mentioned)
I wrote you last March that I believed I had invented an idea that would increase the value of Kaolatype a hundred fold. It was to apply it to the moulding of bookbinders’ brass stamps, in place of engraving them. Ever since then I have been trying to find somebody who could invent a flux that would enable a body to mould hard brass with sharp-cut lines & perfect surfaces.
But every brass-expert laughed at the idea & said the thing was absolutely impossible. But at last I struck a young German who believed he could do it. I have had him under wages for 3 months, now, night & day, & at last he has worked the miracle. In the rough, it is true; but all new things are in the rough. His flux, & his method of using it, are marvelously original & ingenious, & are patentable by themselves. He & Slote came up yesterday, bringing six specimens of moulded brass stamps, & I contracted to pay him $5,000 when he is able to put his patents into my hands & assign me a one-third ownership in them for America & Europe, & pay him $150 a month to go on & perfect his methods, & also the attendant expenses. I never saw people so wild over anything (Dan is to own one-third) as those two fellows are over this invention — and they might well be if the thing were absolutely proven — I mean for fine work. Perhaps it is proven for wall-paper stamps, stamps for calico-printing, & stamps for embossed work on leather. If these are proven — but we shall see, by & by. I promise nothing.
Our moulded stamps arc sharp-edged & smoothsurfaced. That excited the wonder of the stampprinters, but they said “Of course this is an alloy — it won’t stand our presses — we shall mash it like dough.” Young Sneider said, “Don’t mash your press — that’s all; I will be responsible for the stamp.” So mighty a pressure was applied that the letters are raised on the back of the leather — but the stamp wasn’t affected.
Love to you both.

It’s a revealing letter. These are the same emotions Uncle Sam formerly had out West when he looked at a hole in the ground and began figuring up how much gold it contained.

The next letter is to his married sister, Pamela Moffett. She was living at the time in Fredonia, New York, with her daughter Annie, and had evidently proposed an investment in a local enterprise. Uncle Sam explains what he does with his money: —

HARTFORD, Mch, 16, '81
To-day we bought Mr. Chamberlain’s greenhouse & 100 feet of land adjoining our east line (to stop Mr. C. from building a dwelling house there); we have also set architect & builder to work to tear down our kitchen & build a bigger one; in June we shall tear out the reception room to make our front hall bigger; & at the same time the decorators will decorate the walls & ceilings of our whole lower floor.
Now also I am putting up a building in New York for my brass-casting works (Twain-Sneider patent). These things, taken together, require quite a generous pile of money — added to which, high-priced artists & engravers are already at work on my new book (which I am going to issue at my sole & heavy expense & take all the profit myself—if any). Wherefore, much as I like the watch-making scheme, I’ve got to stay out of it, for the reason that the enterprises above mentioned are going to call for the most of our ready money. . . .
All our tribe are well & happy & send love & greeting to you all.

He got into the watch-making scheme eventually, either by taking over his sister’s stock or through buying some himself. The stock was sold all around the town. At the same time that he was writing to Pamela he was giving Dan Slote an account of how he had spent his profits before he had them: —

[HARTFORD, ProbablyMarch 16, 1881]
Those handsome impressions came just in the nick of time. When I telegraphed you a week ago, to tell me Beck’s opinion of the Twain-Sneider plates, I had an object in view, to wit: If the utility of our invention was doubtful, I would allow my neighbor to go on digging his blamed cellar, & build a house right in our faces & shut off our eastward prospect — & in effect, block up the front of our house. If the utility of our invention was not doubtful, I could afford to say to him, “You can’t build there — discharge your workmen immediately; deed me the land; & send in your bill.” Well, his terms were twelve thousand dollars — rather too much, but he had me where the hair was short. I waited — keeping a good grip on my patience — & allowed the cellar-digging to go on, deeper & deeper — but you see I wanted to be pretty certain. Those impressions arrived an hour ago, while we were at breakfast. Well, the land is mine now & he has gone down town to draw up the deed!
Old Kaolatype is a bit expensive; but if it hadn’t been for K., we shouldn’t be in the bully brass business, you know.
Yrs ever

But optimism came down with a jolt. At the end of a letter to Slote, written from Hartford on March 31, 1881, Uncle Sam wrote: —

I hope that before April is over we shall see palpable & demonstrable (not theoretic & imaginative) reasons for going on; but my hopes are not high — they have had a heavy jolt. I feel pretty sore & humiliated when I think over the history of the past few months. The book I was at work on & intended to rush through in two months’ time, is standing still. One can’t write a book unless he can banish perplexities & put his whole mind on it. . . . However, that “goes without saying,” as they say the French say.
Yrs ever

[P.S.] . . . Will forward those contracts to you as soon as they are witnessed. We must get up our pluck, Dan — but let it be on a basis of demonstrable fact, this time.

The next communication, to the world at large, speaks for itself: —

HARTFORD,April 29, 1881
This is to confirm to you the complete authority over Kaolatype & its concerns already vested in you. You will take entire control of the property & employes of the Company; you will hire whom you please, discharge whom you please; all moneys received & disbursed must pass through your hands, & you will be held responsible. No money of the Company is to be paid out in any circumstances without your distinct authority.


WE NOW start on a long series of letters to “Dear Charley,” covering a period of seven years. From them you get an impression of Mark Twain’s boundless energy and mental activity that you cannot get in any other way.

Charley was Charles L. Webster, my father, who in 1875 had married Mark Twain’s niece Annie. He came of a Connecticut family, was connected with the usual New England families, and was descended from three governors — Winthrop, Bradford, and Endicott. Before Uncle Sam brought my father to New York to look after Kaolatype, he was a civil engineer in Fredonia, New York, and doing pretty well. He had done some public speaking, too, because Uncle Sam wrote from Paris in 1879, “I read Charley Webster’s lecture with a lively interest — it was a right down good talk.” I find in one of my father’s scrapbooks a lecture he gave on ancient and modern engineering, which is probably the one Uncle Sam refers to.

The first four letters concern the liquidation of Dan Slote’s management of Kaolatype: —

HARTFORD, May 1, ‘81
Suppose you get an interview with Nealey, & if you like his looks & his talk, ask him what he will give for a tenth or a fifth of the stock (part cash & the rest on time), & upon what terms he will take the foremanship under you (in case Raubs turns out to be unsatisfactory to you). He must not talk about this.
. . . Send me the Company’s interest-bearing note (3 months) for the six hundred I gave you.
Let Dan sign it as V. Prest. If he declines, sign it yourself as Superintendent of K. E. Co. & send it to Chas. E. Perkins, 14 State St. Hartford & ask him to endorse his approval upon it as Secretary.
S. L. C.

[P.S.] Run up here & report progress when opportunity offers.


May 1, '81
I have a large plan laid out. The first division of it is this:
I want you to manage to give Dan the impression (& it will be true), that I have often wondered why he confined himself to saying that the $5,000 borrowed of me in ‘78 just before failing, being a debt of honor, he should eventually see that it was paid in full, instead of 20 or 30 cents on the dollar like the rest of the firm’s debts. I have wondered at his merely saying this, & never offering me the firm’s note ante-dated to the early part of ‘78 (inasmuch as his saying it would not protect me if he died suddenly). It has half-way made me doubt him, sometimes. The moment you hear him say he is willing to furnish that note (as he will say, if you do your part neatly & with grace,) make him furnish it on the spot — don’t let him put it off till next day.
That is the first move. One at a time. I think I see my way clearly for some distance ahead of me.
S. L. C.

May 2 [1881]
Let Dan furnish money to pay bills with, just as long as he will; (am sorry I didn’t think of that sooner). Maybe it is not too late, yet.
S. L. C.

May 6 [1881]
All right — am mailing that letter to Slote. For our lawyer’s information, I will state that in it I propose to “arrest Sneider on a charge of obtaining money under false pretenses,”& ask Slote if he is willing to bear one half the expenses of the suit. — adding, that he ought really to bear a larger proportion than that, because if he had stood to his part of the agreement & run the business himself, instead of taking Sneider’s word for everything, the transparent swindle would have been detected long ago & the outlay stopped. I ask him if he will pledge himself to advance some money now & put up dollar for dollar with me till the suit is ended. I also say to him, “You need have no fears as to the result, the case is perfectly plain, & the penitentiary is perfectly sure.” I tell him to go to my lawyers (when they send for him,) & give them every assistance he can in preparing the case.
S. L. C.

I approve your action in the matter.

P.S. That contract of ours with Sneider wars based upon a lie & a fraud — viz., that Sneider had already invented the process. He brought the (apparent) proofs of this, & exhibited them. If the process could be protected by patent, there would be no question of its value. Therefore, the $5,000 & $150 a month were to be paid for simply the two things — the delivery to us of patents, & the development & perfecting of a process already shown to have been accomplished. But it was all a lie, for Sneider had invented nothing new; he was working by old methods — & at the same time not succeeding with them. He pretended that the specimens he brought were made by the process described in the patents afterward issued to him, but such was not the case. It was exactly as if he had contracted to furnish me a process of making silver out of sawdust for a specific sum, & then claimed the sum on specimens of silver produced in the regular old time-honored way.

S. L. C.

P.P.S. I enclose the letter which I am proposing to send to Slote—it is best that the lawyers see it & approve or disprove it. If the former, return it to me, & I will mail it. Or, if preferable, you can send it to Slote yourself.

Here’s that young genius Sneider already in trouble. Webster had been in charge one week and already Uncle Sam is starting a lawsuit. This is the first of a long series of suits and threats of suits. In Mr. DeVoto’s Mark Twain in Eruption, Mark Twain complains of Webster’s habit of running to lawyers. In the letters that follow, Mark Twain will answer that charge himself.


WEBSTER must have been on the jump. He is put in charge of a business that had been losing a thousand dollars a month for some time, based on a patent that was no good, and in the first ten days he is asked to make the trip from New York to Hartford twice: —

HARTFORD, May 7, ‘81
The fact that we are into Dan near $900, reconciles me to the other things. He must never have a cent of that while he lives.
Come up here Monday — we can get through our talk before 6 p.m. — I leave then, for South Manchester to be gone till midnight — or, come Tuesday, if you prefer.
While you are here you must buy my scrapbook patent of me. Do not forget this.
S. L. C.

Concerning this patent my father was to buy, Mark Twain says in Mark Twain in Eruption: “I invented a scrapbook — and if I do say it myself it was the only rational scrapbook the world has ever seen. I patented it and put it in the hands of that particular friend of mine [Slote] who had originally interested me in patents and he made a good deal of money out of it. But by and by, just when I was about to begin to receive a share of the money myself, his firm failed.” Uncle Sam’s scrapbook invention was a good idea, and the books were very popular. The mucilage was spread in columns down the pages and all you did was to moisten it. In a postscript to a letter written June 5, 1881, Uncle Sam wrote: “The scrapbook gravels me because while they have been paying me about $1800 or $2000 a year, I judge it ought to have been 3 times as much.” And later on he says that as many as 50,000 a year had been sold.

HARTFORD, May 16,’81
Yes, if we snatch Sneider up before the court he will weaken & be glad to sign the documents & get out. . . .
I wish you had taken a detailed account of stock when you went in there. I am curious to know what the $3000 worth of “plant” which I bought of Slote for 120 shares consisted of. . . .
I want you to be able to show a flattering contrast, at the end of 3 months, between your management & Slote’s, & I think you will.
I enclose $400 which I got for a magazine article. This, like stock speculations, is money got for nothing, so to speak. Send Perkins the Co.’s note for it.
Ys truly

Being a nephew-in-law and a friend complicated my father’s job. Sandwiched in with Kaolatype are other matters: —

BRANFORD [CONN.], June 21, ‘81
Please go to Tiffany’s (you or Annie) & have a silver chatelaine-watch sent here by express. I think the price is $16. I want your aunt Livy’s monogram, O.L.C., engraved on it. I have been trying a long time to remember to make this order — now don’t you delay.
Tell them to send the bill to me here.
Yr truly

The next letter refers to that land adjoining his Hartford house which Mark Twain bought with his nonexistent profits. The enlargement of his house naturally followed. The “ombra” referred to was the wide veranda, a feature of the house: —

ELMIRA, Aug. 12, ‘81
This is a perplexing & irritating business, & I hardly know where to begin.
You seem to find no important fault with Garvie’s details — but possibly you may when you come to scan them particularly. This remains to be seen. Use this rule, then: Wherever he makes an overcharge, make him reduce it; if he won’t, don’t pay him. I mean, on the work already done.
His estimate for future work seems too large, in 3 particulars — to wit:

Joiners $1,000
Masons 400
Paint & labor 350

First, audit his work already done, & if you find it fair, we will pay — where it is not fair, require him to reduce. Then —

If he will not knock $1000 off the estimate for remaining work, or show you to your entire satisfaction that he is not overestimating, let that remaining work out by contract — Alfred H. Thorp, 31 Union Square, can assist you in this, if necessary, with specifications. You might ask Mead (who is building Whitmore’s house — &, I think, Chamberlin’s) to compete.
If you do not call in competitors, but manage to agree with Garvie, pin Garvie down to a distinct sum in writing.
It doesn’t seem reasonable that there can be $1000 worth of joiner work left, or $400 of mason work, or $350 of paint & labor. As to the latter, —
1. We don’t want the stable painted.
2. We don’t want the ombra painted at all, now — that is, the floor of it — but we do want the rest of it painted now.
I would have put this whole thing under contract in the first place if I had supposed Garvie was so untalented in the matter of estimating.
Now go ahead & do the best you can with this bad business — act fearlessly & with decision.
Mem. If Ahern charges more for black walnut than Garvie does, why don’t you strike the overplus out of his bill? —
Now pin Ahern down to a distinct sum (in writing) for the rest of his work. (But with the understanding that it shan’t bar you from requiring him to make good any overcharges that may be discovered in the former bill.) The former bill must be reduced in three respects:
1. Overcharges in such things as walnut.
2. A mile of old pipe unaccounted for — for if he has put a mile of new pipe in, he must have taken a mile of old pipe out — & if he hasn’t taken out about as much as he put in, he has certainly charged too great a quantity against us.
3. He has charged for the patent closets — they were not to be paid for till after a year’s trial.
Get Dr. Hooker to go over Ahern’s bill carefully with you & give his opinion — tell him the sum paid & the sum proposed both seem extravagant to me. I was going to write him, but I reckon this will do.
Especially we want to know what that new bill for $290 is made out of — and why $80 for joiner work which has not been done.
Mem. Charley, don’t order soapstones or anything without consulting your aunt Livy — an order from me, unendorsed by her, ain’t sufficient.
We don’t find fault with the premiums Garvie charges on the wages of his men — that’s all right — also his own salary.
Yes, we want a new closet in the cellar.
Also, ask Dr. Hooker about the trap in the yard; & if it is necessary, put it in. All along we have considered that very important — but it ought not to cost a third what Ahern estimates it. Ask Dr. Hooker.
I don’t believe Garvie’s new estimate is more than a third or a fourth too large — I want to leave you a good deal of liberty in deciding upon that — but whatever decision is arrived at, have it in writing.
And rush up these right away, else he & the plumber will bankrupt us in the meantime.
I do hope we are nearing the end of this confounded business. We’ll be the laughing stock of Hartford yet, with our kitchen — but it would have been much worse if you hadn’t come in.
I enclose only $500 for Garvie — I want matters settled before I send more.
Hope you can arrange to your satisfaction with G. & A., mainly because we would prefer not to have new workmen in the house if it can be righteously avoided — but turn them out promptly if they are intractable.
Yr truly

P.S. Now keep this letter by you — for it’s my last will & testament — I couldn’t write another.

And when you have agreed upon terms close the agreement without referring the matter to me unless there is something that absolutely requires my sanction & endorsement.

And continue to watch those folks & hurry them up, all the time.

P.P.S. Your aunt Livy is so set against having new men in the house, that she says “Arrange with Garvie & Ahern if you possibly can — getting the easiest terms out of them you can.” Very well, I can be content with nearly anything, if only I can get the thing off my mind & get at my work.

P.S. Scan that mason’s bill sharply, for that mason is an infernal thief, I’m afraid. He is a prominent politician.

No work has been done, worth speaking of, except by masons; so how is it that that naked shell of a little kitchen has cost nearly $4000?


WE NOW return to Kaolatype.

ELMTRA,Aug. 15
There is no fault to find with the brassman’s charge, but there is very great fault to be found with K charges. The same man who engraved the P & P1 picture in the catalogue in one day can take an ice-pick & engrave this wretched piece of butcherwork in less time. If not, why not? It can be engraved on wood for less than K-charges. I said that the K-work on this thing was worth $3. Not so; it is not worth $1.50. That beautiful P & P picture cost just $1.50 — not $5. as you say. The K-work on this thing cost $15 or $16 too much.
The whole thing, brass & all, should not have cost over $8— & here we have paid $23 (formerly $28) for it. Once we did a hatfull of plates, for 2 or 3 colors—first in spelter, then in brass. I have the figures by me; & they shame this slab of coarse prentice-work in spelter, for cheapness. Eighteen dollars is wild — perfectly wild. Give me the details of this expense, & explain them to me.
Yr truly
S. L. C.

[P.S.] The postal [advertising Kaolatype] is beautiful. They should be sent out by the thousand.

A letter dated August 17 looks as if my father had advised closing up the Kaolatype business: —

. . . Yes, that is the sort of report I want — all written out, that way. Only, I want the two sorts of expenses separated (K kept separate from my outside matters.) Now that the business is growing & promising well, I feel an interest in it which I have not felt before—I mean an interest in detail. So when Marsh returns, he may make me one big comprehensive report which shall cover everything & get me started right; & after that he may send me a weekly abstract, containing pay-roll, work done, work & money received, &c, just as he would do for any other President of a Company.
You wish to know when I shall “close up?” When the business pays me $5,000 a year clear profit. Not before. . . .
When I consider that Dan Slote knew everybody in New York & most other cities, & made a pitiful failure of this thing, it seems to me that you, a stranger & unknown, have built this business up in a quite surprising way.
Yes, it will cost some money to make it pay — but it shall pay. I shall retain the privilege of complaining over the money-drain; a privilege which I seldom exercise, whereas any other man would abuse it.
Yr truly

By mid-November Uncle Sam had developed an enthusiasm for copper.

HARTFORD, NOV. 17, ‘81
A simple electrotype won’t do, because the hard part of it is no thicker than paper; the entire supporting material (type metal,) is soft, & would mash, under heavy pressure. But if you cast the whole thing in copper, it will answer; & besides, if your matrix was not injured you could cast two or three, at trifling cost, & these would outlast all the wear & tear likely to be inflicted on them.
I wonder if we couldn’t make copper pictures, for ordinary printing, as cheaply as one can make (& afterwards electrotype) a spelter cast?
What is the melting point of copper?
My idea about California is to repeat the New Orleans contract there (with a sum & time named for outright purchase), if you can agree upon one.
Or, I am willing to sell outright at once. And I should want the purchaser to do work for the Pacific coast in general, (paying us a royalty on that) until we sell the districts outside of California.
I judge California is one of the best territories we have got. It is far away; there can’t, be much competition, the region is very populous; business is well concentrated, with a great & growing city for a centre. Copper-cast patterns for foundries ought to be a good trade there. I should think California ought to bring as much as $5,000 if sold outright. Don’t you?
I can’t call Payton to remembrance.
Yr truly


THE worm started to turn, about this time, having received the following telegram: —

To Charles L. Webster
K Engraving Co.,
104 Fulton St. N. Y.
Perfect the english patent. my brass patience is running low. put a hundred men on it and telegraph me a result of some sort or other in twenty-four hours.

Webster composed and revised his answer on the back of a letter from Mark Twain dated November 17, which was probably lying on his desk: —

“So is mine. It’s just as hard to report results you can’t get as to get 100 skilled men in twentyfour hours.”

A letter seems to have gone with the telegram, for we have Mark Twain’s reply: —

Thanksgiving, HARTFORD,NOV. 24, ‘81
Nobody who knows you, would ever think of charging you with either slowness or absence of energy. But don’t you understand that it is not sufficient for a doctor to be wearing himself out & doing his level best over one’s sick child in a distant city: no, just as essential a thing is, that he shall tell the anxious parent, every single day, what he is doing, & what the effect is, upon the patient. Now what I have felt the want of, in you, the doctor, is, reports, REPORTS, man! I haven’t doubted your diligence or your capacity.
You were going to ask Dean Sage about Denver & Rio Grande. He doubtless told you that the combination exploded when the stock reached 86, & that a heavy fall was bound to follow. But you forgot to tell me, don’t you see? Consequently I only learned it this morning, when the stock is down to 78 — which means a loss of $1600, if I were forced to sell now — which I ain’t.
I was very anxious to know the daily prospects for brass, because if brass succeeded I wanted to keep up the English patent; otherwise I should lack confidence & be half inclined to let that patent go. But the time kept wasting away, until at last we couldn’t wait any longer; we had to pony up the £55 on an uncertainty. You say, “We have demonstrated, I think, that the steel plates will stand the heat, also that the clay will stand the heat.” That is plenty to risk £55 on. A telegram to that effect would have made my course plain & easy.
I don’t want to require long reports — a remark like the one just quoted is plenty for a day: it keeps the parent posted as to the condition of the sick child.
Don’t you see, it would have been a shame in me to betray impatience, if I had known you were pegging away there more than half of every night? Of course it would; & I should have said “Modify those hours — health is more than brass.” And I say that now — & repeat it.
You have wrought admirably from the beginning, in everything you have undertaken — nobody realizes that so well as I do, for nobody has had my chance to realize it, since nobody has had so much to do with Slote as I have had. And although I do lose my temper 30 times a day, on an average, you will observe that it is not my habit to let it out on you.
Now do as I wanted you to do the other day: throw brass aside for a while; & try copper. Let me call your close attention to one fact, viz., that the reason why electrotypes are not used for book stamps is merely because the spelter under them is too soft. The copper face is hard enough. A copper stamp is just about as good as a brass stamp; it will stand all the wear & pressure that is ordinarily going to be required of it. After you have tried copper, then we will try brass again.
But make me a copper stamp, now.
If we succeed with copper, brass stamps will never be used any more in the Christian world.
Copper costs less than brass, I think, & is just as good.
I have a project. (This is private.) It is for you & me to go to England & put Kaolatype (after buying controlling interest,) into good hands there — with copper or brass attachment. . . .
Make me a copper stamp, Charley.
Yr truly
S. L. C.

In 1881 Mark Twain had spent or invested — much the same thing, as it turned out — over a hundred thousand dollars. This included about thirty thousand which went into repairing the house and buying the extra lot. Forty-six thousand more represented “investments” — in such things as a patent steam generator, a steam pulley, a new method of marine telegraphy, an accident insurance company, and other bright ideas. A lavish household with plenty of guests took most of the rest.

This expenditure was a good deal more than his current income, but his natural optimism kept him from undue worry, though one feels the undercurrent of anxiety in his letters. Fortunately the idea of publishing his own books came to him at this time, and the year 1882 was a definite step forward, although the publishing was at first an indirect venture, with Osgood manufacturing the books and Uncle Sam furnishing the money.

  1. P & P means “Prince and the Pauper.”