“The man who is a pessimist before he is forty-eight knows too much; the man who is an optimist after he is forty-eight knows too little.”
He was never more than a pessimist in theory at any time. In practice he would be a visionary; a builder of dreams and fortunes, a veritable Colonel Sellers to the end of his days.
“Life on the Mississippi”
The Mississippi book was completed at last and placed in Osgood’s hands for publication. Clemens was immensely fond of Osgood. Osgood would come down to Hartford and spend days discussing plans and playing billiards, which to Mark Twain’s mind was the proper way to conduct business. Besides, there was Webster, who by this time, or a very little later, had the word “publisher” printed in his letter-heads, and was truly that, so far as the new book was concerned. Osgood had become little more than its manufacturer, shipping-agent, and accountant. It should be added that he made the book well, though somewhat expensively. He was unaccustomed to getting out big subscription volumes. His taste ran to the artistic, expensive product.
“That book cost me fifty thousand dollars to make,” Clemens once declared. “Bliss could have built a whole library, for that sum. But Osgood was a lovely fellow.”
Life on the Mississippi was issued about the middle of May. It was a handsome book of its kind and a successful book, but not immediately a profitable one, because of the manner of its issue. It was experimental, and experiments are likely to be costly, even when successful in the final result.
Among other things, it pronounced the final doom of kaolatype. The artists who drew the pictures for it declined to draw them if they were to be reproduced by that process, or indeed unless some one of the lately discovered photographic processes was used. Furthermore, the latter were much cheaper, and it was to the advantage of Clemens himself to repudiate kaolatype, even for his own work.
Webster was ordered to wind up the last ends of the engraving business with as little sacrifice as possible, and attend entirely to more profitable affairs—viz., the distribution of books.
As literature, the Mississippi book will rank with Mark Twain’s best—so far, at least, as the first twenty chapters of it are concerned. Earlier in this history these have been sufficiently commented upon. They constitute a literary memorial seemingly as enduring as the river itself.
Concerning the remaining chapters of the book, they are also literature, but of a different class. The difference is about the same as that between ‘A Tramp Abroad’ and the ‘Innocents’. It is the difference between the labors of love and duty; between art and industry, literature and journalism.