American Consequences - December 2017

In April 1895, Twain headed west to start his lecture tour throughout the U.S. and Canada. From there, he set off for Australia and New Zealand and four months of packed houses... Then to India for three months where he kept countless British ex-pats entertained with his wit and humor... Then for two more months of lecturing around the rapidly colonized African continent, before finally heading back to England to wrap up the first year of his debt-retirement binge. After a year of the grind, Twain lamented that his lecture tour “seems as if it has already lasted 1,000 years.” But after just one year on the road... Mark Twain had paid back $35,000 of Samuel Clemens’ debts . Twain would spend the rest of the decade in Europe publishing, lecturing, and relentlessly chipping away at his debts. By fall of 1900 – a little more than five years after hitting the road – he repaid the last of his debts. Twain returned to the U.S. a star, and the world had nothing but respect for the man who publicly endured a decade of trials to pay them. As Andrew Carnegie said, “Our friend entered the fiery furnace a man, and emerged a hero.” Thomas Edison said, “The average American loves his family. If he has any other love left over for some other person, he generally selects Mark Twain.” Sadly... Twain’s story is more than 100 years old. In the intervening century, the world’s governments have crafted a different, disgraceful model for debtors to follow... AMERICA’S MOST HEROIC DEBTOR

As you can probably guess, things turned sour. The steam investments went up in smoke. The telegram and engraving businesses also failed. None of the memoirs came close to replicating the success of Grant’s. And the Paige Compositor required monthly infusions of $3,000-$5,000 just to stay afloat. In the end, Clemens dumped $300,000 (more than $7 million today) into the Paige Compositor. By Christmas 1890, the best-known author on Earth had lost almost all of his wife’s inheritance, taken out loans against the assets of his publishing company, and could not find anyone to loan him money. By 1893, Clemens was bouncing between hotel rooms and the guest rooms of friends. Two years later, Clemens declared bankruptcy. There was no alternative. The debts had mounted to more than $200,000. But pride was also at stake here... and the family name. Clemens publicly guaranteed he would pay all of his creditors in full, even though he was not required to do so under bankruptcy law. Rather than sulking, the disgraced Samuel Clemens dusted off the Mark Twain brand and got back to work. He had failed as a businessman, but Clemens would use the two professions from which he retired – lecturing and writing – to regain his financial footing. Mark Twain was back. There was one problem... Twain hated the lecture circuit. In the days of smoky locomotives and large oceangoing steam liners, a five-continent lecture tour would be a grueling siege on the senses. It was, as Twain put it, a “heart-torturing idea.” But he did it anyway.

Twain returned to

the U.S. a star, and the world had nothing but respect for the man who publicly endured a decade of trials to pay them.

22 | December 2017

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