I am a reluctant Mid-westerner. I had no control over being born and raised there, but I have now lived there off and on for the past seventeen years. Much more off than on now. But many of the Americans I most admire were from the Midwest. Lincoln. Truman. Grant. Twain.
I just finished reading GRANT AND TWAIN by Mark Perry which is subtitled ‘The Story of a Friendship that Changed America.’ The book is mostly about the last year of Grant’s life, 1884-85.
I have read biographies of both men, much of Mark Twain’s fiction and Grant’s MEMOIRS, so I knew the story, but not in such detail.
In the summer of 1884 Grant complained of a sore throat, but didn’t go to a doctor until the fall when he learned that he had incurable throat cancer, probably caused by his omnipresent cigars. He died agonizingly less than a year later at age 63.
A few months before Grant’s first symptoms, an investment firm founded by Grant’s son and Ferdinand Ward went bankrupt when it was revealed that Ward was engaging in what now would be called a Ponzi scheme. Grant had invested in the firm and was himself suddenly in deep debt. There was then no pension for ex-Presidents. When he learned he was dying he determined to write his memoirs in the hope that the book would provide for his wife.
Samuel Clemens and Grant had known one another for several years. Now Clemens/Twain came to Grant’s aid by agreeing to publish his memoirs on terms of great generosity to Grant.
Grant wrote while suffering immensely. The doctors could do nothing for him but attempt to reduce his pain with cocaine injections, not always with success. At times he could not breathe. At times he could not swallow. At times he hemorrhaged. One of the doctors expected that ultimately he would die by drowning in his own blood. In fact, unable to eat toward the end, the cause of his death was malnutrition. He starved to death.
He finished the two volume MEMOIRS and died five days later.
Samuel Clemens had the books sold door to door. They were a huge critical and commercial success. Ultimately Julia Grant received $450,000 in royalties, the equivalent of more than $13,000,000 today.
The subtitle of Perry’s book is his contention that the greatest works of America fiction and non-fiction were published almost simultaneously, those being HUCKLEBERRY FINN and Grant’s MEMOIRS. I consider HUCKLEBERRY FINN to be three quarters a great novel. When Huck and Jim are on the river it is sublime. The last quarter of the book when Tom Sawyer makes his appearance is ridiculous.
Grant’s MEMOIRS are certainly the best book ever written by a President of the United States. I admired them greatly when I read them and intend doing so again.
Mark Perry’s rendition of the conditions under which they were written is compelling.
Today is my last day on the job and you didn’t even know I had one. Actually I don’t, it has just felt that way this week when a crew of four young men have been here to film what is presumably going to be an eight to ten minute video about me. I have been on locations ranging from GANNET’s interior, to the back yard of the house in which they are staying, to the beach, to riding my bicycle to the marina. This afternoon I return to be filmed again on GANNET and back in the condo having a sunset drink. Why I wonder do they think my having a drink is significant?
They are very nice young men. Young to me being thirtiesh. They are punctual, widely experienced, and professional. It has been interesting to see them work. They shoot extensively and find interesting angles and creative images.
They and Carol both fly away tomorrow and I return to my customary solitude and silence.
I am curious to see how they reduce six circumnavigations, seven books, hundreds of articles, twenty or thirty poems, and a number of women to ten minutes, but then they are professionals.
Another crew filmed me a month ago, also intending a short video.
I think the world may soon have more of Webb Chiles than it needs or wants.
When something actually appears—assuming something eventually will—I will let you know.
Retired geriatric model