H COOUWLDTH NE ’TAMUATKHEOIRT OAFS A VENTURE ANGEL.
By Bruce Sterling
AS A TEEN, HE EARNED HIS LIVING AS A
printer in St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York,
and Cincinnati. He roamed the Mississippi
as a steamboat pilot. He was a soldier for a couple
of weeks, and a Nevada silver miner for a spell. He
was a roughin’ it, hands-on, jack-of-all-trades.
Then his literary genius began to tell on him.
Soon it was clear that he was much better at telling
stories than he would ever be at making things.
Still, Samuel Clemens never shook off his romance
with technology and invention. It’s in his books;
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a
time-travel yarn about a can-do techie who
destroys medieval England through his ability
to “make anything in the world.” Clemens himself
was an ardent inventor: he created a perpetual-calendar watch-fob, a self-adjusting elastic strap
to anchor his pants, and “Mark Twain’s Self-Pasting
The scrapbook made some money because any
book with Mark Twain’s name on it would sell. His
other hobbyhorses perished through public indifference. This hurt Clemens’ pride a bit, but at least he
could write about invention: he was ever the stout
public defender of the lone inventive genius.
Clemens realized early on that inventors were One obvious scheme was to start his own publish-mostly put-upon, solitary types, rarely properly ing house. He did this, and it was a quick success —
rewarded. He also knew full well that the profit from not through his own writings, but from the best-Yankee ingenuity went mostly to investors and capi- selling deathbed memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. This
talists. He was an idealist, but he’d been around. business success emboldened him, but Clemens
As one of the best-known celebrities of his era, soon found that the hassles of small publishing
Clemens had money to invest. He badly needed to were even more repulsive than the hassles of
do this. Like most best-selling writers, Clemens had big publishing.
an impressive income, but it was dangerously spo- So his attention returned to his first craft: printing.
radic. Furthermore, Clemens was very much living Clemens was fascinated by the technical under-the high life in New York in a grand mansion, built to pinnings of the printing industry. He was willing to
his specs with all modern conveniences: six servants,
private tutors for his daughters, and a needy host of
guests, builders, plumbers, doctors, Tiffany decorators, and similar colorful encumbrances.
Even when Clemens was in top creative form,
he was forced to hustle and make do, working the
treadmill as a lone artist at the mercy of Gilded Age
publishers. His lifelong dream was financial independence — a stable way to sit back, breathe easy,
and thrive off investments.
Clemens was an ardent
inventor: he created
watch-fob, a self-adjusting
elastic strap to anchor his
pants, and “Mark Twain’s
Self-Pasting Scrap Book.”
24 Make: Volume 09