Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/When a Publisher Dines and Wines You


Mark, unlike many authors, was always on excellent terms with his publishers. He always had a good word for the Harpers, particularly "the scholarly Henry J." (since dead), Chatto and Windus, George Harvey, Baron Tauchnitz and the rest, but James R. Osgood of Boston (later of London) he loved.

"You lucky dog," he said to me during my first visit to the "sausage room," at the Hotel Royal, Berlin. "To pal up with Osgood is a stroke of good luck that you hardly deserve. Why—" (speaking very slowly, as if hunting for words), "Osgood is that rara avis among publishers who will invite you to lunch or dinner or to a box at the Gaiety without tampering in the least with your royalty accounts.

"It isn't always thus in the 'profesh,' you know. Speaking of the profesh in particular, there was Jimmy Powers in New York, a rising comedian, indeed rising very rapidly. He had jumped from 200 a week to 500, when a new managerial aspirant came along, and offered him a tremendous raise, a sort of Chimborazo article, it was to be.

"Jimmy cottoned to the man's palaver like a donkey scenting a barrel full or nice, juicy thistles, a pincushion perfecto, each one, and promised to go eating with him, a great concession on his part, for Jimmy had lost his own appetite, found a boa constrictor's, and was ashamed of his big, lumbering appetite.

"Well, they rendezvoused at old Martin's on Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue, then the most recherché meal joint in town. It happened, by the way, at the period when the deadly table d'hote imposition was just beginning to sprout.

"Jimmy had never faced that sort of jaw music and knew no more about 'entrees,' 'poisson,' 'legumes,' etc., than the average Irish waiter's wife. Up to then his dinner had consisted invariably of steak, murphies and pie—the embarrassment of courses described in more or less pigeon-French on the Martin menu, therefore, bewildered and frightened him. When he heard the new manager say over the anchovies, cold slaw and pickled sardines: 'Well, Jimmy, how would a thousand a week suit you?' Powers had only strength to ejaculate: 'The Lord preserve us!'

"The fried 'English' sole de-Long-Branch with drawn butter and capers on the side was so delicious, Jimmy didn't perceive the slight discrepancy in figures when the manager repeated the question in this fashion: 'How would you like to draw a cool nine hundred a week, Jimmy?'

"'It's done," said Jimmy, attacking his third tumbler of red ink. 'I can keep a hoss on that, can't I?'

"'And marry Lillian Russell—what a team you two would make,' seconded the manager.

"Well, to cut a long story short, that rascally manager did the boy out of a hundred with every succeeding course, and when finally he pulled a fountain pen on him, Jimmy signed his laughter-provoking powers away for five hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. Subtract five-twenty-five from a thousand and you will find that Jimmy's one dollar meal netted the manager exactly $24,700 per annum. Neat piece of work, eh?"

Mark's admiration for the fair-dealing Osgood was reflected in his own treatment of General Grant. He not only paid Grant double the royalties a rival publisher had offered, but actually wrote out to Grant the largest check any author ever received from a publishing house up to that time.

Yet in the numerous discussions of royalties, authorship and the publishing business which he conducted in my hearing, he never mentioned the generosity he had displayed towards the old boy. Poetry was Mark's weakness, or rather his ambition to dabble in poetry was; he had no other small vices to shock his friends.