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Grant and Twain
The Story of a Friendship That Changed America
By Mark Perry
Published by Random House Publishing Group
This reviewer has visited the homes of U.S. Grant in Galena,Illinois and
Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut. Each residence reflects the character and
temperament of these two seminal 19th Century figures. Grant's home is two
stories high, has a modest footprint, and is sturdy. The house was a gift from
the grateful citizenry of the town of Galena to the man who, in the eyes and hearts
of many Americans, had saved the Nation. Mark Twain, on the other hand, built
an ostentatious structure of several stories on a hill which was then of the outskirts
of Hartford, Connecticut, a city which, in addition to being the Capital City of the
Nutmeg State, was also a center of publishing in the 19th Century.
Author and historian Mark Perry chronicles and analyzes the literary,
business, and personal relationships among these two men, whose life paths were
quite different but whose mutual respect and affection enabled one to author
and the other to publish what is acknowledged to be one of the finest historical
memoirs ever published, i.e., Grant's Memoirs.
The book begins with U.S. Grant in May of 1884 in New York City. Grant
had resided in the metropolis after a two year ( 1877-1879) world tour, during
which he was feted in Europe,North Africa, and Asia. He was one of the most
revered figures in the world. Grant arrives at the office of the firm GRANT &
WARD, an investment firm in which he had partnered with one Fernando Ward,
at the height of the Gilded Age. Grant finds that the firm is bankrupt and his
partner, Ward, has pulled a disappearing act. Grant finds that he himself is in
debt and that he owes tens of thousands, well over a hundred thousand, dollars to
investors. And, he has no means of support due to his having resigned his rights
to a military pension when he relinquished his military commission when he
became President in 1869. In short, Grant was dead broke.
Perry begins the saga from this point. He relates the story of Grant's life
from his birth in the Ohio River Valley in 1822. The author traces the future
general and President as being, for his times, quite educated, having been tutored
and schooled during his childhood and then having graduated from West Point
Military Academy in 1843, 21st in a class of 39 cadets. Grant then serves in
several assignments, including the time in the late 1840's in the Mexican-American
War, and concludes his antebellum army career in Northern California at Fort
Humbolt, a very, very isolated outpost of the U.S. Army in 1854. In the late
1840s, Grant had married Julia Dent, the sister of an army friend. She becomes
his soul mate for the rest of his life.
Mark Twain ( the pen name of Samuel L. Clemens and the name which this
reviewer will use through the body of this review), was born in 1835 in Florida,
Missouri. In 1839, his family relocated to the town of Hannibal, north of St.
Louis on the Mississippi River. At the age of 12, with little formal education,
Twain strikes out on his own as a printer's assistant. He works in various jobs
and in 1859, Twain is licensed as a pilot on steamboats on the Mississippi River.
In 1862, after a forgettable stint in a Confederate guerrilla band, Twains heads
west, going to Nevada to work as a miner and a reporter for a Virginia City
periodical. In 1867, after migrating to California, Twain gains fame for his story "
The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", which gains him quite a bit of notoriety.
After marrying Olivia Langdon of Elmira, New York, Twain, due to the wealth
he accrues from his flourishing literary ventures, moves to Hartford, Connecticut,
a location where his publishers had their headquarters. He continues his literary
career to great acclaim into the 1880's. It is at this juncture that the paths of Grant
and Twain intersect.
In the summer of 1884, after the bankruptcy of his investment firm, Grant
is considering offers to publish his memoirs so he can provide for his wife, Julia,
and himself. One of the publishing houses making an offer to him is the Century
Publishing Company, which has published articles of Civil War Officers in
magazine form. Grant is then, in the fall of 1884, diagnosed with cancer and
desperate to provide for Julia. Twain, who has finished " Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn, " gets wind of Grant's situation and pursues Grant with a
substantially better offer with Charles L. Webster & Company.
Grant accepts Twain's offer. And, then Grant, who had started to author his
memoirs, embarks on his final campaign, i.e., a race with mortality to complete
the two volume opus. He works feverishly in his New York City residence on
East 66th Street while a death vigil by the press and the public takes place on
the streets and avenues around his house. In June, Grant and his family relocate
to Mt. McGregor, near Saratoga in upstate New York, so as to complete the
memoirs to his own satisfaction. He finishes the works just weeks before dying on
July 23, 1885. The Memoirs of U.S. Grant are a huge financial success for Twain
and his publishing partners and provided Julia Grant with several hundreds of
thousands of dollars, which allowed her to live in comfort until her own passing in
1904, when she was buried with her husband in the Tomb atop the east bank of
the Hudson River in New York City.
Mark Perry's book is an interesting and informative read. Grant's Memoirs
are considered to be among the finest, if not the finest, works of American History
ever written. Likewise, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" is considered to be
one of the masterpieces of American fiction. The literary relationship and the
deep friendship which that relationship endowed Grant and Twain is one of the
most poignant sagas in American literary history. I found this book well worth the
time and effort.
Mike McAdoo, Past President, SFCWRT
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