Mark Twain, on the Heroic Writing, and Fantastic Success, of Ulysses S. Grant's Memoirs

February 3, 1887

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Mark Twain, on the Heroic Writing, and Fantastic Success, of Ulysses S. Grant's Memoirs
Autograph Letter Signed
6 pages | SMC 282

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      Background

       "The autobiography of General Grant,” Clemens proclaims, “is the most admirably simple, direct and unpretentious story that was ever put on paper by a supremely great man.” Clemens has come into New York to have his office put together some statistics about this “marvel of monumental modesty” for a speech to a group of publishers – but now that he has the facts and figures at hand, won’t use them. They “sound like an immense brag,” he says, and are “too loud a contrast to the book's modesty”:
       
      We have printed & sold 610,000 single volumes, at an average of $4 each; using 906 tons of papers; & in the binding, 35,261 sheep, goat, & calf skins, & 25 1/4 miles of cloth a yard wide.  There were 276 barrels (69,0000 pounds) of binder-paste used, and the gold-leaf on the backs of the books cost $21,639.50; 41 steam-presses were employed day & night, & together they turned out a complete book at every revolution.  The book was issued 14 months ago, & we have thus far paid Mrs. Grant two checks for royalties: one for $200,000, & the other for $150,000 - & more is still due her.  The historic Macaulay check which hangs framed at Longmans is for $100,000. [Better take it down].
       
      Clemens asks Smith to remember, when sitting down to read the book, that most of the second volume was dictated by Grant as he died “passing slowly away in the pitiless agonies of cancer in the mouth” and that he revised the work “with his pencil during the last three weeks of his life - after he had become entirely speechless.” The General, he concludes, made no braver fight in the field than he made on his deathbed.

      In a long addendum written the next day, Clemens continues that he is also sending Smith “a copy of the Scrapbook," that there isn’t a uniform set of his books, and he will be visiting England as soon as he finishes building “a love of a machine” – the fabulous and doomed Paige Compositor - without which he cannot come: “one doesn't go abroad & leave his soul and entrails behind.”


      Autograph Letter Signed, 6 pages, recto and verso, octavo, on the letterhead of Charles L. Webster & Co., Publishers, New York and Hartford, February 3rd and 4th, 1887. To William Smith.
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      S.L. CLEMENS.
      Charles L. Webster & Co., Publishers,
      3 East 14th St.
                                                                 
      New York, Feb. 3 1887.

      Private

      My Dear Sir:

      We are delighted with those books - my wife & I. Books that are both beautiful and interesting are a treasure in all cases, but these have a peculiar value & interest because we spent some very quiet & cosy days in the inn at York in '73, [text is crossed out] & so these books are full of the pleasantest reminders for us. I am not willing to stop with mere thanks; I want to send you one of my

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      publications - the autobiography of General Grant, which I think is the most admirably simple, direct, and unpretentious story that was ever put on paper by a supremely great man.  I think it is a marvel of monumental modesty.  Part of my business in New York for these few days has been to have this office [text is crossed out] compile some statistics concerning the publication of this work for use in a speech at a dinner of publishers a week hence; but now that I have collected them I shall not use them, but speak on some other topic, because the statistics would sound like an immense brag & be too loud a contrast to the book's modesty.  We have printed & sold 610,000 single 

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      volumes, at an average of $4 each; using 906 tons of paper; & in the binding, 35,261 sheep, goat, & calf skins, & 25 1/4 miles of cloth a yard wide.  There were 276 barrels (69,000 pounds) of binder-paste used, and the gold-leaf on the backs of the books cost $21,639.50; 41 steam-presses were employed day & night, & together they turned out a complete book at every revolution.  The book was issued 14 months ago, & we have thus far paid Mrs. Grant two checks for royalties: one for $200,000, & the other for $150,000 - & more is still due her.  The historic Macaulay check which hangs framed at Longmans is for $100,000. [Better take it down].

      No, I'll leave these details in my autobiography when I die,

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      but they won't answer for a speech.  There was another curious thing: I was to furnish all the capital, but I cannot remember that [text is crossed out] Webster ever called [text is crossed out] for more than about one-fourth of the money involved; all the rest of the great cost waited - & more on the book's credit than mine. [text is crossed out]

      Now then, if I have managed to interest you in the book, you will sit down & read it when it arrives. [Remember, the last 2/3 of the second volume was dictated by the General, dying - passing slowly away in the pitiless agonies of cancer

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      in the mouth; he revised his work with his pencil during the last three  weeks of his life - after he had become entirely speechless. He made no braver fight in the field than he made on his deathbed.]

      Hartford, Feb. 4.

      I [text is crossed out] forgot to say I ordered a copy of the Scrapbook to be sent to you along with the Grant.

      There isn't any uniform set of my books, either here or in England.

      I appeared on the platform for the last time, a long time ago; but that isn't going to keep me out of England; & when I come I shall take a run to Morley.  Mrs. Clemens has been projecting a journey to 

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      England for this family - to begin early in May; but she will have to put that off some months or a year, for I've been building a [text is crossed out] love of a machine during the past 11 months, & can't finish it before August or September; at least that is the present outlook. [text is crossed out] I can't go to England without my machine; one doesn't go abroad & leave his soul and entrails behind.

      But 'fore George if you are coming over here "in the near future," I am glad.  You must let me know when you sail, & you must come & see me sure. Hartford is only 3 hours from New York.

      Sincerely Yours,

      SL Clemens