summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light!
—Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.
With Clara and Jean, Mrs. Clemens returned to England, and in a modest house on Tedworth Square, a secluded corner of London, the stricken family hid themselves away for the winter. Few, even of their closest friends, knew of their whereabouts. In time the report was circulated that Mask Twain, old, sick, and deserted by his family, was living in poverty, toiling to pay his debts. Through the London publishers a distant cousin, Dr. James Clemens, of St. Louis, located the house on Tedworth Square, and wrote, offering assistance. He was invited to call, and found a quiet place—the life there simple—but not poverty. By and by there was another report—this time that Mark Twain was dead. A reporter found his way to Tedworth Square, and, being received by Mark Twain himself, asked what he should say.
Clemens regarded him gravely, then, in his slow, nasal drawl, “Say—that the report of my death—has been grossly—exaggerated, “a remark that a day later was amusing both hemispheres. He could not help his humor; it was his natural form of utterance—the medium for conveying fact, fiction, satire, philosophy. Whatever his depth of despair, the quaint surprise of speech would come, and it would be so until his last day.
By November he was at work on his book of travel, which he first thought of calling “Around the World.” He went out not at all that winter, and the work progressed steadily, and was complete by the following May (1897).
Meantime, during his trip around the world, Mark Twain’s publishers had issued two volumes of his work—the “Joan of Arc” book, and another “Tom Sawyer” book, the latter volume combining two rather short stories, “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” published serially in St. Nicholas, and “Tom Sawyer, Detective.” The “Joan of Arc” book, the tenderest and most exquisite of all Mark Twain’s work—a tale told with the deepest sympathy and the rarest delicacy—was dedicated by the author to his wife, as being the only piece of his writing which he considered worthy of this honor. He regarded it as his best book, and this was an opinion that did not change. Twelve years later—it was on his seventy-third birthday—he wrote as his final verdict, November 30, 1908:
“I like the Joan of Arc best
of all my books; and it is the best; I
know it perfectly well, and, besides, it furnished me seven times
the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of
preparation and two years of writing. The others needed no
preparation and got none.
The public at first did not agree with the author’s estimate, and the demand for the book was not large. But the public amended its opinion. The demand for “Joan” increased with each year until its sales ranked with the most popular of Mark Twain’s books.