The biographer may reconstruct an episode, present a picture, or reflect a mood by which the reader is enabled to feel something of the glow of personality and know, perhaps, a little of the substance of the past. In so far as the historian can accomplish this his work is a success. At best his labor will be pathetically incomplete, for whatever its detail and its resemblance to life, these will record mainly but an outward expression, behind which was the mighty sweep and tumult of unwritten thought, the overwhelming proportion of any life, which no other human soul can ever really know.
Mark Twain’s appearance on the stage of the world was a succession of dramatic moments. He was always exactly in the setting. Whatever he did, or whatever came to him, was timed for the instant of greatest effect. At the end he was more widely observed and loved and honored than ever before, and at the right moment and in the right manner he died.
How little one may tell of such a life as his! He traveled always such a broad and brilliant highway, with plumes flying and crowds following after. Such a whirling panorama of life, and death, and change! I have written so much, and yet I have put so much aside—and often the best things, it seemed afterward, perhaps because each in its way was best and the variety infinite. One may only strive to be faithful—and I would have made it better if I could.
LETTER FROM ORION CLEMENS TO MISS WOOD CONCERNING HENRY CLEMENS
(See Chapter xxvi)
Keokuk, Iowa, October 3, 1858.
Miss wood,—My mother having sent me your kind letter, with a request that myself and wife should write to you, I hasten to do so.
In my memory I can go away back to Henry’s infancy; I see his large, blue eyes intently regarding my father when he rebuked him for his credulity in giving full faith to the boyish idea of planting his marbles, expecting a crop therefrom; then comes back the recollection of the time when, standing we three alone by our father’s grave, I told them always to remember that brothers should be kind to each other; afterward I see Henry returning from school with his books for the last time. He must go into my printing-office. He learned rapidly. A word of encouragement or a word of discouragement told upon his organization electrically. I could see the effects in his day’s work. Sometimes I would say, “Henry!” He would stand full front with his eyes upon mine—all attention. If I commanded him to do something, without a word he was off instantly, probably in a run. If a cat was to be drowned or shot Sam (though unwilling yet firm) was selected for the work. If a stray kitten was to be fed and taken care of Henry was expected to attend to it, and he would faithfully