Twain & Grant & Babies & Books

I didn’t set a schedule for this enterprise, but feel like I’ve fallen behind it anyway. The whole point is to take my time, but slowly moving ventures are often abandoned. Anyway, this one isn’t. I’ve been reading a bit every day or so, but other duties (and even other books) have gotten in the way.

Anyway, the next set of snippets in Twain’s autobiography are another false start, and in case I haven’t explained it yet, there really is no proper Twain autobiography, just a bunch of stuff he scattered about that have been collected by the editors, much of which have not been available before, but these anecdotes have. This also begins the practice of working with a stenographer, and most of the autobiography will follow in the same vein. In this batch Twain mainly talks about Ulysses Grant, by then an ex-president. Twain refers to him as “General Grant,” perhaps because Grant was a much better military strategist than a steward of the U.S. Economy. (In fact, Grant’s reign saw what they called “The Great Depression,” until a bigger one came along, and if you just substitute “railroads” for “real estate,” you can grasp the basic shape of it by comparing it to the recent recession.)

In any case, Twain obviously admires Grant, is proud of their friendship, and possibly started in with his autobiography at this point to boast about his well-connectedness. Grant’s dinners feature all kinds of important people, statesmen and celebrities, and their dinnertime entertainment was a series of toasts, lively speeches with these orators hopping up on the table. It’s kind of amazing to imagine that happening at the Bushes or Clinton’s houses, at a ceremonial dinner hosted by an ex-president. I was entertained by the picture, and  by Twain’s toast which is not included (only summarized) in the book but is found easily online.

We have a baby and future leader now, who spends considerable time with his feet in his mouth, so the imagery struck home. It’s also interesting that when Twain refers to the distant future of fifty years from now, he means 1929 — the very year that an economic downturn so severe that his friend Grant will be relieved of his reputation of presiding over “the great depression,” and have the honor passed on to Herbert Hoover. Hoover was actually five at the time, a tyke and not an infant, but Twain wasn’t far off the mark.

Twain also advises Grant on publishing his own memoirs, which Grant is loath to do. Since I have a sideline career in publishing, I was intrigued by the business side of things. The numbers of books sold then to comprise a good run would still be considered a big success now, and the price of a book was maybe a third of what a book sells for now, making it a much bigger chunk of change to consumers. Books were more expensive to make, one reckons. In any case, the conclusion is that publishing was pretty profitable then. And, amazingly, a public figure was reluctant to indulge because he feared for the quality of the product.

There are also a few snippets of Twain observing and dabbling in Grant’s diplomatic and business affairs and a trip to China, but I didn’t find much grist here for the mental mill. 

Reposted from Two Fathoms

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