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Literature: The Great Gatsby

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Mark Twain is one of the greatest humorists and writers that the world has ever
seen. Mark Twain had a natural ability to portray the lives of real people and
also add a humorous twist to their lives. As most people know, Mark Twain’s
real name was Samuel Clemens. Samuel Clemens, despite his fame from his books
and short stories, did not have success with his financial dealings. Samuel
Clemens was a regular man who took financial risks and suffered from them
greatly. Samuel Clemens was born the son of a Missouri lawyer, married Olivia
Langdon, wrote various books, short stories, and other stories. He gave various
lectures and traveled to many parts of the world. His life was always moving,
always traveling from place to place. He was never happy with the success and
fame that writing had given him. He was skilled in taking financial risks that
probably wouldn’t turn out. He was always seeking another source of income or
a way to get rich. Hot-tempered, profane, wreathed in tobacco smoke, enthralled
by games and gadgets, extravagant, sentimental, superstitious, chivalrous to the
point of the ridiculous-he was all these things (Kunitz 160). One example of
Twain’s first deals involves a patent that a friend had talked him into
participating in. Twain lost a lot of money, but managed to continue with his
financial dealings. In 1906, Twain wrote about his first deal who suckered him
into a patent that would eventually cost him $42,000 in the long run. After
trying to work with patents over several occasions, Twain tried his luck with
machinery. Like the other investment, he had to put out a lot of money. Twain
discusses what occurred with the machinery: Meantime, another old friend arrived
with a wonderful invention. It was an engine or a furnace or something of the
kind which would get out 99 per cent of all the stream that was in a pound of
coal. I went to Mr. Richards of the Colt Arms Factory and told him about it. He
seemed to be doubtful about this machine and I asked him why. He said, because
the amount of stream concealed in a pound of coal was known to a fraction and
that my inventor was mistaken about his 99 per cent. He showed me that my
man’s machine couldn’t come within 90 per cent of doing what it proposed to
do. I went away a little discouraged. But I thought that maybe the book was
mistaken and so I hired the inventor to build the machine on a salary of
thirty-five dollars a week, I to pay all the expenses to build the machine.
Finally, when I had spent five thousand on this enterprise the machine was
finished, but it wouldn’t go. It did save one per cent of the steam that was
in a pound of coal but that was nothing (Neider 229-230). Twain also rejected
the stock of the invention that became a huge success. This invention was called
the telephone, and the agent of Graham Bell tried to get Twain to buy some of
the stock. He could have made a fortune with the telephone, but chose other
investments that would cost him a lot of money. He refused to buy a paltry
amount of the telephone company from Alexander Graham Bell at a real bargain-the
small amount would have brought in $190,000 later. Perhaps this is why Mark
Twain was so disgruntled (Howards 74). Twain relives the experience when the
telephone stock was introduced to him and after it became a success: He was with
Graham Bell and was agent for a new invention called the telephone. He believed
there was great fortune in store for it and wanted me to take some stock. I
declined. I said I didn’t want anything more to do with wildcat speculation.
Then he offered the stock to me at twenty-five. I said I didn’t want it at any
price. He became eager-insisted that I take five hundred dollars’ worth. He
said he would sell me as much as I wanted for five hundred dollars-offered to
let me gather it up in my hands and measure it in a plug hat-said I could have a
whole hatful for five hundred dollars. But I was the burnt child and I resisted
all these temptations. That young man couldn’t sell me any stock but he sold a
few hatfuls of it to an old dry-goods clerk in Hartford for five thousand
dollars. We later saw that clerk driving around in a sumptuous barouche with
liveried servants all over it-and his telephone stock was emptying greenbacks
into his premises at such a rate that he had to handle them with a shovel (Neider
232-233). These investments caused a strain on Twain’s financial standing.
After many tries with various inventions, Twain finally found achievement in a
type of scrapbook. The scrapbook, which was patented, was finally going to give
Twain some monetary relief. Twain did invent a self-pasting scrapbook, which was
made in several sizes and sold well and made a profit. The pages had dots and
pressed the picture in place. These books were particularly good for persons who
wanted to paste in clippings which covered the pages with no margin of glue
exposed between columns (Howards 73). Twain patented it and put it in the hands
of that old particular friend of mine who had originally interested me in
patents and he mad a good deal of money out of it. But, by and by, just when
Twain was about to begin to receive a share of the money myself, his firm
failed. Twain didn’t know his firm was going to fail-he didn’t say anything
about it (Neider 230). Twain gave money to various investments. Whenever a
friend needed money for an investment, Twain was always willing and eager to
lend some. He helped stocks prosper and friends obtain a lot of money. He rarely
received some of the money that his friends were taking in. Mark Twain lacked
the dare-devil risking-taking attitude of a man who builds a fortune on a
business acumen alone, but he was a sucker for anyone needing financial backing.
Consequently, he took greater risks than many gamblers do. Once he was convinced
something was a good thing, he stayed with it, hoping to market it and amass a
fortune (Howards 72). Twain was hoping that his friends would finally pay the
money that was rightfully his. Finally, he received the money that had been
promised he would receive. He drew his check for twenty-three thousand at once,
said it ought to have been paid long ago and that it would have been paid the
moment it was due if he had known the circumstances (Neider 232). Twain became
his own publisher to help with the numerous financial problems that he had
experienced. He believed his nephew could help with the publishing. Twain
comments on his dealing with his nephew: I had imported my nephew-in-law,
Webster, from the village of Dunkirk, New York, to conduct that original first
patent-right business for me, at a salary of fifteen hundred dollars. That
enterprise had lost forty-two thousand dollars for me, so I thought this is a
favorable time to close it up. I proposed to be my own publisher now and let
young Webster do the work. He thought he ought to have twenty-five hundred
dollars a year while he was learning the trade. I took a day or two to conduct
the matter and study it out searchingly. I erected Webster into a firm-a firm
entitled Webster and Company, Publishers-and installed him in a couple of
offices at a modest rental on the second floor of a building below Union Square,
I don’t remember where. I handed Webster a competent capital and along with it
I handed him the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn. Ten years has elapsed and
Webster was successful with Huckleberry Finn and a year later handed me the
firm’s check for fifty-four thousand five hundred dollars, which included the
fifteen thousand dollars capital which I had originally handed him (Neider
233-236). Twain was prosperous when he was publishing his own books. When he
went to publishing other people’s books, Twain had another downfall. He became
his own publisher by putting money into the firm of Charles L. Webster &
Company, which prospered for a time but which was to fail disastrously in the
end. It is no wonder that the teeth of life, gnawing at even so powerful a
figure, gradually began to wear it away (Johnson 196). Twain started publishing
others after an episode with General Grant. General Grant was trying to find
someone to buy his memoirs and publish them, but his publisher was trying to
sell them for an unrealistic price. Twain decided that he would help out the
general. His recollections are quoted in the following lines: Then I had an
idea. It suddenly occurred to me that I was a publisher myself. I had not
thought of it before. I said, “Sell me the memoirs, General. I am a publisher.
I will pay double price. I have a checkbook in my pocket; take my check for
fifty thousand dollars now and let’s draw the contract.” He laughed at that
and asked me what my profit out of that remnant would be. I said, a hundred
thousand dollars in six months. He was dealing with a literary person. He was
aware, by authority of all the traditions, that literary persons are flighty,
romantic, unpractical, and in business matters do not know enough to come in
when it rains or at any other time. He did not say that he attached no value to
these flights of my imagination, for he was too kindly to say hurtful things,
but he might better have said he looked it with tenfold emphasis and the look
covered the whole ground. We had a long discussion over the matter. So the
contract was drawn and signed and Webster took hold of his new job at once (Neider
242-246). Clemens was determined to a double act of piety and commerce by
publishing Grant. “I wanted the General’s book,” he said, “and I wanted
it very much.” He got it, too, after strenuous wooing, but he thereby became,
in eventual terms, a party to his own undoing (Kaplan 130). Twain then, after
Grant’s book was published, decided he had enough of the publishing business.
His partner, Webster, did not like any of the books that Twain thought should be
published. Webster refused all of the books that Twain and his friends tried to
give to him. Twain then gave Webster a twelve thousand dollar check and left him
for his own business. Twain was still involved with the company, but Webster was
no longer involved with it. As the business began to prosper again, things began
to turn for the worse. Webster and Company failed and owed Twain and Mrs.Clemens
thousands of dollars. Twain’s biggest and most infamous investment was the
Paige Typesetter. The Paige Typesetter was in competition with the Mergenthaler
Linotype machine, which later became the industry standard. The Paige worked
efficiently, but the Linotype had a better marketing campaign. “The machine
worked, and worked efficiently,” says Ken Ljunquist, a professor of American
literature at the Worcester college, and one of the advisers of the Paige
project. ‘The reasons for its failure were not mechanical. The Linotype just
took over the market” (Condon INTERNET). Twain, however, would not grasp that
the other typesetter would be more successful. He put a great deal of hard work
into this new project. He devoted about fifteen years and two hundred thousand
dollars to Paige machine, using in addition, his publishing house as a private
bank to finance it. His mistake was in backing the wrong horse in a race for the
right purse (Kaplan 141). The Paige Typesetter was the major source for
Twain’s near bankruptcy. He had previous financial losses, but none as severe
as the one from the typesetter. The typesetter caused Twain to lose the most
money. Twain wasted at least $200,000 on the typesetting machine, which is often
blamed for bringing him to the brink of bankruptcy in the mid 1890’s (Condon
INTERNET). He believed that the typesetter would bring him millions and he
wouldn’t have to write any more. Financial troubles hit the Clemenses in the
1880’s, particularly after Twain invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in
a mechanical typesetting device being developed by Jaimes Paige. The typesetter
was a failure, and Twain’s investment was lost (Johansen INTERNET). Mark
Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, was an excellent writer. He was also
very money hungry but didn’t have the knowledge or sense to help get the money
he desired. Twain never was to become a millionaire. His brain always hot with
schemes; he lost the fortune earned by books in backing an impractical
typesetting machine; then in 1884 he invested in the Charles L. Webster Company,
a publishing house which made enormous profits from its sales of Grant’s
Memoirs, but gradually failed and went completely bankrupt in 1894, leaving
Clemens penniless (Kunitz 159). Most people do not remember Twain for his
investment losses. They do remember him for the excellent stories and novels
that he had written. Some have heard about the Paige Typesetter and the loss
that he incurred from it. But, that is not the first thing that comes to mind
when someone mentions the name Mark Twain. Fortunately, everyone will continue
to remember his great stories and novels and not reflect on his near bankruptcy
and ill-fate with investments.
Condon, Garret. “Typesetter Misses Deadline for Success.” November 29,
1985. Online. Netscape Navigator. Available
Howards, Oliver. The Mark Twain Book. Marceline: Walsworth, 1985. Johansen, Jay.
“Maybe it all didn’t happend, but the stories are true.” Online. Netscape
Navigator. Available
Johnson, Allen. Dictionary of American Biography: Volume II. New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1929. Kaplan, Justin. Mark Twain and His World. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1974. Kunitz, Stanley J. American Authors: 1600-1900. New
York: H.W. Wilson, 1938. Neider, Charles. The Autobiography of Mark Twain. New
York: Harper & Row
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