The “Prince and the Pauper,” delayed for one reason and another, did not make its public appearance until the end of 1881. It was issued by Osgood, of Boston, and was a different book in every way from any that Mark Twain had published before. Mrs. Clemens, who loved the story, had insisted that no expense should be spared in its making, and it was, indeed, a handsome volume. It was filled with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings, and the binding was rich. The dedication to its two earliest critics read:
those good-mannered and agreeable
children, Susy and Clara Clemens.”
The story itself was unlike anything in Mark Twain’s former work. It was pure romance, a beautiful, idyllic tale, though not without his touch of humor and humanity on every page. And how breathlessly interesting it is! We may imagine that first little audience—the “two good-mannered and agreeable children,” drawing up in their little chairs by the fireside, hanging on every paragraph of the adventures of the wandering prince and Tom Canty, the pauper king, eager always for more.
The story, at first, was not entirely understood by the reviewers. They did not believe it could be serious. They expected a joke in it somewhere. Some even thought they had found it. But it was not a joke, it was just a simple tale—a beautiful picture of a long-vanished time. One critic, wiser than the rest, said:
“The characters of those two
boys, twin in spirit, will rank with the
purest and loveliest creations of child-life in the realm of
Mark Twain was now approaching the fullness of his fame and prosperity. The income from his writing was large; Mrs. Clemens possessed a considerable fortune of her own; they had no debts. Their home was as perfectly appointed as a home could well be, their family life was ideal. They lived in the large, hospitable way which Mrs. Clemens had known in her youth, and which her husband, with his Southern temperament, loved. Their friends were of the world’s chosen, and they were legion in number. There were always guests in the Clemens home—so many, indeed, were constantly coming and going that Mark Twain said he was going to set up a private ’bus to save carriage hire. Yet he loved it all dearly, and for the most part realized his happiness.
Unfortunately, there were moments when he forgot that his lot was satisfactory, and tried to improve it. His Colonel Sellers imagination, inherited from both sides of his family, led him into financial adventures which were generally unprofitable. There were no silver-mines in the East into which to empty money and effort, as in the old Nevada days, but there were plenty of other things—inventions, stock companies, and the like.
When a man came along with a patent steam-generator which would save ninety per cent. of the usual coal-supply, Mark Twain invested whatever bank surplus he had at the moment, and saw that money no more forever.