"I HAVE HAD MY COFFEE & BREAD, & SHAN'T GET OUT OF BED TILL IT IS TIME TO DRESS FOR MRS. LAFFAN'S XMAS DINNER THIS EVENING—WHERE I SHALL MEET BRAM STOKER & MUST MAKE SURE ABOUT THAT PHOTO WITH IRVING'S AUTOGRAPH": EXTRAORDINARY 26-PAGE SIGNED AUTOGRAPH LETTER FROM MARK TWAIN TO HIS WIFE, CONCERNING A CHRISTMAS PARTY WITH BRAM STOKER, NEGOTIATIONS IN CHICAGO OVER PAIGE'S AUTOMATIC TYPESETTING MACHINE, AND HIS TRIP BACK HOME FROM CHICAGO ON A LUXURY TRAIN CAR
TWAIN, Mark. Autograph letter signed. The Players, New York, 1893. Thirteen sheets of unlined stationery, each measuring 5-1/2 by 8-1/4 inches; pp. 26, with original hand-addressed mailing envelope. Housed in a custom chemise and full morocco slipcase. $29,500.
Splendid 26-page signed autograph letter, written entirely in Mark Twain's hand, from Twain to his wife, Livy, regarding Twain's plans for Christmas including meeting Bram Stoker; his meetings in Chicago over Paige's automatic typesetting machine (which would eventually bankrupt him); and his train trip back to Chicago in a luxury train car, with original hand-addressed envelope to "Mrs. S.L. Clemens."
This 26-page, four-part letter was written to Twain's wife, Livy, as consolation for Twain's failure to write for three days and as consolation for the many letters he received from her. Twain and his wife had an unusual marriage for the 19th century; it was a true love match. Over the course of their 17-month courtship, Twain wrote Livy 180 letters. Better-educated and more religious than her husband, Livy was a moderating force—both at home and as his primary editor—on the oft-wild Twain, who she nicknamed "Youth." This letter is a poignant example of their correspondence, reflecting Twain's love of Livy and their children, as well as his reliance on Livy's counsel.
The letter, written entirely in Twain's hand (and informally divided into four parts by him), reads in full: "LETTER No. 1 The Players, Xmas, 1893. Merry Xmas, my darling, & all my darlings! I arrived from Chicago close upon midnight last night, & wrote & sent down my Xmas cablegram before undressing: 'Merry Xmas! Promising progress made in Chicago.' It would go to the telegraph office toward 8 this morning & reach you at luncheon.
"I was vaguely hoping, all this past week that my Xmas cablegram would be definite, & make you all jump with jubilation, but the thought always intruded itself, 'You are not going out there to negociate [sic] with a man, but with a louse. That makes results uncertain.'
"I was asleep as Christmas struck upon the clocks at midnight & didn't wake again till two hours ago. It is now half-past 10 Xmas morning; I have had my coffee & bread, & shan't get out of bed till it is time to dress for Mrs. Laffan's Xmas dinner this evening—where I shall meet Bram Stoker & must make sure about that photo with Irving's autograph. I will get the picture & he will attend to the rest. In order to remember, & not forget—well, I will go there with my dress coat wrong-side out; it will cause remark & then I shall remember.
"And Jean's writing-pad—I will wear my shirt wrong-side out—no, I will make a memorandum right now, & tell Mr. Hall to buy & ship those pads too first thing in the morning—& also sent to Elmira & have Mamma's witch-hazel jelly & so-forth purchased & mailed at once.
"That's attended to—& memorandums added concerning one or two other things which Mamma suggests.
"And I will say while I think of it that the letters come in twos & threes, just as you say—generally in threes. I have been gone from here 3 days last night I found riches awaiting me when I went to bed—4 letters from you, Dec. 9, 10, 11, 12—& a letter from Jean & one from Clara—& a pang & a vacancy, for poor old dear Susy is sick. I want & must have some letter news from there!
"LETTER No. 2. I tell you it was interesting! The Chicago campaign, I mean. On the way out Mr. Rogers would plan-out the campaign while I walked the floor & smoked and assented. Then he would close it up with a snap & drop it & we would totally change the subject & take up the scenery, etc. Then a couple of hours before entering Chicago, he said: 'Now we will review & see if we exactly understand what we will do & will not do—that is to say, we will clarify out minds, & make them up finally. Because in important negociations [sic] a body had got to change his mind: & how can he do that if he hasn't got it made up, & doesn't know what it is.'
"A good idea, & sound. Result—two or three details were selected & labeled (as one might say, 'These are not to be yielded or modified under any stress if argument, barter, or persuasion.' There were a lot of other requirements—all perfectly fair ones, but not absolute requisites. 'These we will reluctantly abandon & trade off, one by one, concession by concession, in the interest of for the preservation of those others—those essentials.' That was clear & nice & easy to me—remember. One could dally with minor matters in safety—one would always know where to draw the line.
"We telegraphed Stone, (counsel for Webster), to be at the Auditorium in the evening, & at 8 he arrived with Charley Davis & Mr. Dewey (Vice President of one of the banks, & Webster's right-hand man.) They said Paige's lawyer, Mr. Walker, would receive us at his dwelling at any hour before midnight. Mr. Rogers told them our plan, & they were visibly dismayed. They said Mr. Walker was the ablest lawyer in the West, a fine & upright gentleman; thoroughly despised his client but would protect him sternly against one or two of the proposed chief requirements. Mr. Rogers was not disturbed. he said we would wait & see.
"Next question: Had Clemens better go along? This was discussed. Stone & Dewey finally said Yes, but with this proviso: That Walker must not reveal to Paige at next morning's conference (where Paige himself would be present) that Clemens was here in Chicago meddling. Stone & Dewey said Walker had a fine library, was a man of wide literary affections, & a visit from me could hardly fail to have a good effect.
"Last question of all: Who is to do the talking at Walker's? Oh, Mr. Rogers, by all means, by all means—no interior voice must meddle except when actually called upon.
"As to next mornings confederence, Clemens must not be there, of course.
"So we drove to Walker's—a sumptuously equipped dwelling in Michigan Avenue. Mr. Walker was a most oppressively grave man, conspicuously wortkarg [German: "taciturn"] & deliberate, & full of long expectancy—baffling pauses. We all sat grimly down & endured the unavoidable perfunctory light skirmishing about the weather & what sort of a trip we had had & the extraordinary collapse of local business since the Fair closed—oh, so empty & tedious, but got to be done; you've got to strip the limb before the surgeon can begin his work. Then there was a dreary pause, & everybody knew that the thing that would break it would be the opening gun.
"And so it was. Mr. Rogers began in a low voice & very deferentially, & gradually unfolded & laid bare our list of requirements. Toward the last it was visibly difficult for Mr. Walker to hold still. When at least it was his turn he said in his measured & passionless way, but with impatience visibly oozing out of the seams of his cloth—
"'I may as well be frank with you, gentlemen: Mr. Paige will never concede one of these things. Here is a proposed Company of $5,000,000. Mr. Paige has consented to be reduced to a fifth interest. That seems to me to be concession enough,—I cannot & must not advise him to consent to those restrictions.
"[One of them was, that the patents should not go back to Paige the moment he could sometime or other prove a momentary & technical insolvency against us—one of Paige's usual traps.]
"Mr. Rogers was not disturbed by this very decisive remark, but I was, & so were the others. We all kept still & Mr. Rogers went easily & comfortably & logically along with his talk, drawing Mr. Walker into the stream with him, & the two floated along most satisfactorily together, Mr. Walker softening his rigors steadily & coming a little nearer & a little nearer to Mr. Rogers's way of thinking, & at last & without invitation, I have in my first interruption said: 'Mr. Walker, Mr. Paige is to have a million dollars, which is a fifth of the stock, & in return the company get the patents (& may keep them, under certain conditions.) It is a trade. A million dollars for value received—is that it?'
"'Suppose Paige sells $100,000 of that stock & then we fall insolvent: Does the whole patent revert to Paige, or only nine-tenths of it?'
"'W-well—er—the fact is the point you make is unassailable. The sold tenth covers a tenth of the patent, is an asset of the company & salable as such.'
"Mr. Rogers clinched the thing instantly by remarking, just audibly, but audibly: 'We withdraw requirement No. 2.'
"[He said privately, before the evening was over: 'That was a splendid shot of yours and knocked away no end of troublesome rubbish; how did you happen to think of it?']
"Mr. Rogers gradually broke down Mr. Walker's objections, one after another till there was nothing left but his idea that in fairness Paige was not getting enough. Then Mr. Rogers, who had twice rejected private hints from Stone concerning royalties by saying: 'Let us take things in their proper turn—that is the final card in the game' said: 'Mr. Walker, do you know how many mortgages, in the form of royalties, rest n this machine?'
"'No—I have but a vague idea.'
"Mr. Rogers named them all, in cold detail—& said: 'It is his own fault that he has but a million dollars—left. if you make but a hundred machines a year the royalties would pay the interest on $2,000,000. Mr. Paige, therefore, has exercised his indisputable right to do with his own as he pleases, with this result: that he has parted with two-thirds of his ownership—without doubt for value received—& he cannot expect to have his cake & eat it, any more than other people.'
"Mr. Walker had never dreamed that there was such a stack of royalties. he had to confess that $1,000,000 was easily all that Paige was entitled to. By this time things were pretty smooth & comfortable, & the conference over in effect—in fact, except that these had been no spoken verdict. Then Mr. Walker turned toward me & said: 'Mr. Clemens, I've read every line you were wrote, & I want more. I make you this offer: I will advise & urge Paige to concede every requirement that has been asked here to-night, provided you'll write another book.'
"That was his badinageous way of conveying to the conference what he had really made up his mind to do. I promised the book. We all got back to the hotel at midnight well content with the evening's work—for unquestionably the outpost had been gained. It was extremely unlikely that the citadel—Paige could be carried next day, but work on it could be begun, anyway.
"LETTER No. 3. The Conference was for 9:30 a.m. We ordered ourselves called at 7:45, which gave us chance for leisurely bath & leisurely breakfast—that is, I had the leisurely bath, but it was so leisurely that Mr. Rogers didn't get any, which caused him to observe that the kingdom of heaven is for those who 'look out for the details of life,' & he judged I would get there. He left for the Conference at 9:30 & Charley Davis & I left for the White City at the same time. I was to be back at 2 to deliver final orders as to our car when the colored waiter should arrive at that hour to get them. If there was no message for me from Mr. Rogers, I was to tell the waiter to have our car attached to the Limited, leaving at 5 p.m.—otherwise, attach it to the night express, leaving at 10 p.m. Davis & I examined the White City in detail, on foot, & got back at 2, dog-tired. No message from Mr. Rogers, so I told the waiter we would leave at 5.
"The absence of a message meant what was to be expected—Paige was holding out & wouldn't sign.
"R. soon arrived & he & I took luncheon, preparatory to having a final meeting with Stone and Dewey at 3. Mr. R said that when they arrived in one of Mr. Walker's offices there was a stormy interview going on in an inner one between Mr. W. & Paige, they could not help hearing Walker say, ' No, I do not consider you a good businessman—far from it. A good businessman would grant all these concessions, for they are absolutely & unqualifiedly fair & reasonable, & would not throw away this golden opportunity—the best one by long odds you have ever had, & possibly the last one you will ever have, for you are bankrupt, deep in debt, without credit, without a friend of a well-wisher in the world as far as I know.'
"Plain language & to the point. Then all met & the conference began. mr. Rogers had asked me what line of deportment he would best follow toward Paige. And I had said: the one you observe with everybody—courteous, kindly, passionless. It's useless to discuss the matter further.
"Mr. Walker said—'Your creditors will gladly wait, no doubt, if they know you are about to receive a million dollars of valuable stock, & will be glad to take their pay in stock. The matter of stipend, be it big or be it little, is not worth standing out for. Situated as you are, what course is left you? What can you do?'
"Then Paige did what Mr. Rogers was prepared for—by the happy accident that I had thought to prepare him. he had asked me to leave nothing unmentioned that I thought Paige might chance to do or say. And I had said, 'Whenever I have found a capitalist, he has immediately gone to work underhand to persuade that capitalist to withdraw until he (Paige) could get me & others out of the way, then he would give said capitalist better terms & the two would have the whole of the swag.'
"So now, when asked what he could do, Paige piped up & said: 'What can I do? I can do this—& will immediately. I will bring suit against the Connecticut Company & annul that contract. Then I will be free and ready to treat with other parties. Give yourself no trouble—I know quite well what to do.'
"Mr. Rogers said nothing, but he was the only man present who knew the hidden meaning of the remark.
"At 3 we went to meet Stone and Dewey at the latter's bank. They had learned what had occurred between Paige & Walker after the Conference. Paige had ordered Walker to bring suit against the Connecticut Co. immediately. Walker had declined. Paige had insisted. Walker had said that according to his recollection of the contract the Conn. Co. had not violated it—or, if they had, it was in only small technical & hardly avoidable ways—ways which did not warrant a suit. P.—Where are the papers? W.—In the Safety Deposit. P.—Send for them—we will see. W.—Can't, now. P.—Then at the earliest moment.
"We discussed, Mr. Rogers explained the meaning of Paige's move, & proposed to go over & explain also to Walker. All said that would be splendid. So Mr. Rogers went over & explained the remark—which made Walker still more ashamed of his client. Then Rogers said: 'I wanted to save Mr. Paige useless labor. All these other parties and I are now joined together. I can never have any dealings with Paige which leave them out. I would like him to understand that I will not have an interview with him at which these gentlemen are not present.'
"That ended the Chicago campaign. There was nothing overlooked or left undone that could have been done, except the raising of Paige's stipend to his fancy figure of $3,000 a month—& we were all opposed to that. The waiting game has been my pet notion from the beginning. I want it played till it breaks Paige's heart. As I reason: You can afford to wait 3 months; Western Mrf Co can afford to wait 6 months; C.C. have got to wait, whether they can afford it or not—their bread & life depend upon it; Mr. Rogers can wait indefinitely. As far as I can see, Paige is the only one who can't wait; to him, time is shod with lead; every day, now, adds to his gray hairs, & spoils his sleep. I am full of pity & compassion for him, & it is sincere. If he were drowning, I would throw him an anvil.
"LETTER No. 4. We had nice trips, going & coming. Mr. Rogers had telegraphed the Pennsylvania Railroad for a couple of sections for us in the fast train leaving at 2 p.m. the 22nd. The Vice President telegraphed back that every berth was engaged (which was not true—it goes without saying) but that he was sending his own car for us. It was mighty nice & comfortable. In its parlor it had two sofas, which could become beds at night. It had four comfortably-cushioned cane arm-chairs. It had a very nice bedroom with a wide bed in it; which I said I would take because I believed I was a little wider than Mr. Rogers—which turned out to be true; so I took it. It had a darling back porch—railed, roofed, & roomy; & there we sat most of the time & viewed the scenery & talked, for the weather was May weather, & soft dream-pictures of hill & river & mountain & sky were clear & away beyond anything I have ever seen for exquisiteness & daintiness.
"The colored waiter knew his business & the colored cook was a finished artist. Breakfasts: Coffee with real cream, beefsteaks, sausage, bacon, chops, eggs in various ways, potatoes in various—yes, a quite wonderful baked potatoes, & hot as fire. Dinners—all manner of things, including canvas-back duck, apollinaris, claret, champagne, etc.
"We sat up chatting till midnight, going & coming, seldom read a line, day or night. Though we were well fixed with magazines, etc.; then I finished off with a hot Scotch & we went to bed & slept till 9.30 a.m. I honestly tried to pay my share of hotel bills, fees, etc., but I was not allowed—& I knew the reason why, & respected the motive. I will explain when I see you, & then you will understand.
"We were 25 hours going to Chicago; we were there 24 hours; we were 30 hours returning. Brisk work, but all of it enjoyable. We insisted on leaving the car at Philadelphia so our waiter & cook (to whom Mr. R gave $10 a piece), could have their Christmas-eve at home. Mr. Rogers's carriage was waiting for us in Jersey City & deposited me at The Players. There—that's all. This letter it o make up for the 3 letterless days. I love, dear-heart, I love you all. [signed] Samuel."
This letter was sent in December 1893, a difficult time for the Twain family. Although a successful writer, Twain's business pursuits—namely, the Paige typesetting machine and his publishing company, Charles L. Webster—had destroyed the family's finances. To maintain a reasonably standard of living, they sold their house in Hartford and moved to Europe. Twain, Livy, and their eldest daughter, Susy, were all sick that year and they believed that Europe's baths might have a salutary effect. (Of Twain's three living children, Susy, Clara, and Jean, Susy would die of meningitis just three years later in 1896, followed by her youngest sister, Jean, who died of epilepsy in 1909.) Twain was enlisted by his close friend, William M. Laffan of The New York Sun and the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, to produce six European letters. However, Twain maintained American business responsibilities as well. At the time he wrote this letter, he was on one of four trips to America, staying at a so-called "cheap room" (around $40 in today's money) at New York's Player's Club, a social club heavily frequented by cultural figures.
Twain relates plans to attend a Christmas dinner at Mrs. Laffan's. Twain was a frequent guest of the Laffans and maintained a regular correspondence with them. At this particular dinner, Twain shares his intentions to approach Bram Stoker about a signed photograph of actor Henry Irving, the man who inspired 1897's Dracula. A letter from Twain to Stoker, dated just two days after this one, thanks Stoker for the picture, calling it "a wonderful picture. I have never seen one of Irving before that could at all compare with it." It appears to have been part of a collection of items Livy instructed him to bring home (he refers to writing tablets for his daughter and witch-hazel jelly for his wife, who he calls "Mamma," an occasional nickname he used for her).
The second and third parts of the letter pertain to Twain's business investment in Paige's typesetting machine. At the time of this letter, Twain had already sunk nearly $200,000 into the failing enterprise. He headed to Chicago with Henry Huttleston Rogers of Standard Oil Trust fame, a new friend and financial backer, in an attempt to work out a new contract with Paige. Twain narrates the events of the meetings leading to the contract, making sure to note his own contributions to the negotiation and repeatedly criticizing Paige's character and behavior. Twain left reasonably satisfied at the turn of events, but things went downhill soon after. At the end of 1894, Paige's machine engaged in a long test run with various other typesetting machines. It was an utter failure. The winner was the Linotype, which was so successful and efficient that it essentially eliminated any need for Paige's machine. The bad investment drove Twain to bankruptcy.
Twain also refers to a brief visit to the White City, the grounds of the recently closed Columbian Exposition. The buildings in the area were covered with bright white plaster of Paris, leading to the monicker.
The final part of the letter concerns Twain's luxury rail trip from Chicago back to The Player's Club in New York. Twain—whose own autobiography contains a good deal of the same—believed that domestic details were interesting, especially to women. Here, he details the furniture in his railcar, the views from it, and the various services provided by the waiter and cook, both of whom were African American. He ends the letter by noting the generosity of his new friend, Henry Rogers, who not only covered the various costs on the trip but also gave the waiter and cook $10 at each to let them have Christmas Eve at home. Livy, who was a committed Christian, would have appreciated this thoughtfulness. Expected postal markings and rough opening to envelope with stamp and possibly return address excised. Autograph address correction to envelope in an unidentified hand. Later pencil notations on envelope. A few pencil markings to letter in an unknown hand.