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Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Mark Twain: Personal Tragedy

In 1894, the publishing company that Twain had founded with his nephew Charles L. Webster finally went belly-up after ten difficult years of constant financial strain. Twain was nearly bankrupt. "The calamity that comes is never the one we had prepared ourselves for,"22 he wrote to his wife. A close friend, the businessman Henry Huttleston Rogers, stepped in and took over his finances. Under the plan that Rogers created, Twain was not legally obligated to pay back his creditors. He decided to do so anyway, and took up a two-year lecture tour to pay off his debt.

In 1896, while the author was still away on tour, Twain's 24-year-old daughter Susy Clemens died of meningitis. Twain had been especially close to Susy, an outspoken girl who often critiqued his lectures and work. He was utterly devastated by her death, which marked the end of his most successful period as a writer. Though he continued to lecture, write, and travel for most of his life, he never again had the kind of success he enjoyed with his travelogues and Huckleberry Finn. Then in 1904, things got even worse when Twain's beloved wife Livy died after a two-year illness. "I cannot reproduce Livy's face in my mind's eye," he wrote in his diary on 1 July 1904, just a few weeks after her death. "I was never in my life able to reproduce a face. It is a curious infirmity—& now at last I realize it is a calamity."23

He had two children left now, Clara and Jean; the latter suffered from severe epilepsy. Following his wife's death, Twain moved to New York City and began working on his memoirs. In 1905 he celebrated his 70th birthday with a huge party thrown for him in the city, attended by friends and dignitaries. He also visited the White House that year as a guest of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was one of the most famous men in America, and his public appearances still attracted a great deal of interest. Those who knew him best, however, knew that he was terribly lonely. Twain missed his wife and daughters, and mourned the fact that he had no grandchildren.

Then on Christmas Eve 1909, his 19-year-old daughter Jean drowned after suffering a seizure in her bathtub. Twain grieved again, but not as intensely this time. Jean had long been sick and he felt that her death relieved her suffering. In this, as in all his hard times, he looked ahead to the future. "Shall I ever be cheerful again, happy again? Yes. And soon," he wrote in his diary on 27 December 1909. "For I know my temperament. And I know that the temperament is master of the man, and that he is its fettered and helpless slave and must in all things do as it commands. A man's temperament is born in him, and no circumstances can ever change it."24

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