Well, good-bye, my boy, and good luck to you. Mrs. Clemens asks me to send her warmest regards to you and Mrs. Aldrich--which I do, and add those of Yrs ever MARK.
While Mark Twain was a journalist in San Francisco, there was a middle-aged man named Soule, who had a desk near him on the Morning Call. Soule was in those days highly considered as a poet by his associates, most of whom were younger and less gracefully poetic. But Soule's gift had never been an important one. Now, in his old age, he found his fame still local, and he yearned for wider recognition. He wished to have a volume of poems issued by a publisher of recognized standing. Because Mark Twain had been one of Soule's admirers and a warm friend in the old days, it was natural that Soule should turn to him now, and equally natural that Clemens should turn to Howells.
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
Sunday, Oct. 2 '80. MY DEAR HOWELLS,--Here's a letter which I wrote you to San Francisco the second time you didn't go there.... I told Soule he needn't write you, but simply send the MS. to you. O dear, dear, it is dreadful to be an unrecognized poet. How wise it was in Charles Warren Stoddard to take in his sign and go for some other calling while still young.
I'm laying for that Encyclopedical Scotchman--and he'll need to lock the door behind him, when he comes in; otherwise when he hears my proposed tariff his skin will probably crawl away with him. He is accustomed to seeing the publisher impoverish the author--that spectacle must be getting stale to him--if he contracts with the undersigned he will experience a change in that programme that will make the enamel peel off his teeth for very surprise--and joy. No, that last is what Mrs. Clemens thinks--but it's not so. The proposed work is growing, mightily, in my estimation, day by day; and I'm not going to throw it away for any mere trifle. If I make a contract with the canny Scot, I will then tell him the plan which you and I have devised (that of taking in the humor of all countries)--otherwise I'll keep it to myself, I think. Why should we assist our fellowman for mere love of God? Yrs ever MARK.
One wishes that Howells might have found value enough in the verses of Frank Soule to recommend them to Osgood. To Clemens he wrote: "You have touched me in regard to him, and I will deal gently with his poetry. Poor old fellow! I can imagine him, and how he must have to struggle not to be hard or sour."
The verdict, however, was inevitable. Soule's graceful verses proved to be not poetry at all. No publisher of standing could afford to give them his imprint.
The "Encyclopedical Scotchman" mentioned in the preceding letter was the publisher Gebbie, who had a plan to engage Howells and Clemens to prepare some sort of anthology of the world's literature. The idea came to nothing, though the other plan mentioned--for a library of humor--in time grew into a book.
Mark Twain's contracts with Bliss for the publication of his books on the subscription plan had been made on a royalty basis, beginning with 5 per cent. on 'The Innocents Abroad' increasing to 7 « per cent. on 'Roughing It,' and to 10 per cent. on later books. Bliss had held that these later percentages fairly represented one half the profits. Clemens, however, had never been fully satisfied, and his brother Onion had more than once urged him to demand a specific contract on the half-profit basis. The agreement for the publication of 'A Tramp Abroad' was made on these terms. Bliss died before Clemens received his first statement of sales. Whatever may have been the facts under earlier conditions, the statement proved to Mark Twain's satisfaction; at least, that the half-profit arrangement was to his advantage.