I never suffered so much agony as for a few days previous to the 1st of April. I was afraid the letters would reach Mark when he was in affliction, in which case all of us would never have ceased flying to make it up to him. When I visited Mark we used to open our budgets of letters together at breakfast. We used to sing out whenever we struck an autograph- hunter. I think the idea came from that. The first person I spoke to about it was Robert Underwood Johnson, of the Century. My most enthusiastic ally was the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. We never thought it would get into the papers. I never played a practical joke before. I never will again, certainly.
Mark Twain in those days did not encourage the regular autograph-collectors, and seldom paid any attention to their requests for his signature. He changed all this in later years, and kept a supply always on hand to satisfy every request; but in those earlier days he had no patience with collecting fads, and it required a particularly pleasing application to obtain his signature.
MARK TWAIN IN BUSINESS
Samuel Clemens by this time was definitely engaged in the publishing business. Webster had a complete office with assistants at 658 Broadway, and had acquired a pretty thorough and practical knowledge of subscription publishing. He was a busy, industrious young man, tirelessly energetic, and with a good deal of confidence, by no means unnecessary to commercial success. He placed this mental and physical capital against Mark Twain’s inspiration and financial backing, and the combination of Charles L. Webster & Co. seemed likely to be a strong one.
Already, in the spring of 1884., Webster had the new Mark Twain book, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, well in hand, and was on the watch for promising subscription books by other authors. Clemens, with his usual business vision and eye for results, with a generous disregard of detail, was supervising the larger preliminaries, and fulminating at the petty distractions and difficulties as they came along. Certain plays he was trying to place were enough to keep him pretty thoroughly upset during this period, and proof-reading never added to his happiness. To Howells he wrote:
My days are given up to cursings, both loud and deep, for I am reading the ‘Huck Finn’ proofs. They don’t make a very great many mistakes, but those that do occur are of a nature that make a man swear his teeth loose.
Whereupon Howells promptly wrote him that he would help him out with the Huck Finn proofs for the pleasure of reading the story. Clemens, among other things, was trying to place a patent grape-scissors, invented by Howells’s father, so that there was, in some degree, an equivalent for the heavy obligation. That it was a heavy one we gather from his fervent acknowledgment: