BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Mark Perry, why a book about Grant and Twain?
MARK PERRY, AUTHOR, "GRANT AND TWAIN: THE STORY OF A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA": It`s a good question. It`s two friendships, but there have been other friendships in the 19th century, but this is a particularly interesting one, a war hero and a man who abhorred war, a man of an older generation, a great generation that had saved America, reunited it. It makes for a fascinating story, the interplay between, basically, America`s first celebrity, Mark Twain, and at the time, a person many people thought was the greatest American whoever lived.
LAMB: Where`d you get the idea?
PERRY: Twenty years ago, I was editing a newspaper here in Washington called "City Paper," and it was the 100th anniversary of the writing of "Huckleberry Finn," and I happened to be reading Grant`s memoirs at the same time, and it just -- both of them just stuck with me. I thought, There`s real similarities here. And so I began to investigate the friendship, and through 20 years of work, and finally, at the end, my agent said, Oh, just do the book. So I did it.
LAMB: Where did you get your interest in either "Huckleberry Finn" or in reading Grant`s memoir?
PERRY: Well, I`ve always been interested in 19th century American history. It seems to me to be the formative period in our history, especially focusing on the issues of race and slavery. And I did a lot of scholarship on it and studied the Civil War. Of course, in the 1970s and 1980s, this was the era when Shelby Foote was writing his masterpiece, his three-volume masterpiece, and so I became caught up in it. This is now my third book on the era. It`s always been a -- I guess a life-long passion.
LAMB: Page 235, you write, "Americans love nonfiction. We are a nation consumed by politics and history. If Twain, as Hemingway supposes, wrote the quintessential American novel, then Grant, his friend, wrote the single most important work of fiction (sic) in our literature."
PERRY: Yes. It`s really from Edmund Wilson. I owe Edmund Wilson a lot, I think our greatest literary critic and commentator on American nonfiction, who said -- it was Edmund Wilson who really gave me the idea that -- nonfiction as an American genre. He wrote a book on Civil War literature called "Patriotic Gore." It`s been very influential in all of my works. And he pointed to the Grant memoir as a great piece of nonfiction and quoted Twain saying that it was like unto Caesar`s commentaries. And for our greatest -- arguably -- I think it is debatable. For our greatest work of nonfiction, Grant`s memoirs, to be written in the same year as "Huckleberry Finn", which is probably our greatest work of fiction, is quite extraordinary. There are other things written at the same time, "The Bostonians," and William Dean Howells was alive and writing. These were really extraordinary books in an extraordinary literary period. It`s not really focused on, I don`t think, enough in our history.
LAMB: When did Mark Twain first meet, as you say, Sam Grant?
PERRY: Yes. It was prior to Grant`s becoming president but after the Civil War, and it was at a reception. And they were standing together. They were introduced. Of course, Twain was not then as famous as he was to become, but he was getting there. He was a celebrity. And they were introduced to each other, very uncomfortably stood there in silence, and Twain turned to Grant and said, I`m very uncomfortable, aren`t you? And Grant laughed. And I think it was Twain`s bluntness and Grant`s self-effacement that really fit well together.
Their paths crossed then later on, after the Grant presidency, when Grant was being introduced at the Palmer House in Chicago. This was typical 19th century late night, whiskey and cigars, men sitting around for hours and hours of speeches. It was their late-night television. And Grant gave a 2:00 AM in the morning introducing -- or Twain gave a 2:00 AM in the morning speech introducing Grant and really ripped up the audience, was quite funny, making fun of Grant and quite worried that Grant would take it wrong. He didn`t. And their friendship developed from there. They became very fast friends in the period that I talk about, 1884, 1885, and I think they had a special relationship.
LAMB: What year did Grant die?
PERRY: He died July, 1885, just after finishing his memoirs, just two weeks after finishing his memoirs, in northern New York state. And the country knew that he was going to die. There were always reports that somehow he would recover, live on. Grant -- Twain thought that he would live for several more months, but it was clear that after he finished his memoirs, he threw in the towel. He was all finished.
LAMB: July, 1885, when did -- that was Grant. When did Twain die?
PERRY: Early 1900s, in fact, the night of Haley`s comet in America, a generation -- two generations later. But the important thing, I think, about the rest of Twain`s life, the thing that seems to be true about Twain`s later life, is that after "Huckleberry Finn" and after the death of Grant, he really -- he wrote several other very good books, but he never had the same kind of literary power as he did when Grant was alive. And he kept returning to his friendship with Grant in his journals over and over and over again. This is a man who wrote tens of thousands of words on Grant, trying to figure him out and trying to understand the relationship.
LAMB: What is in the Grant memoir, if you read it?
PERRY: It`s a story -- it`s a story of -- the first chapter is the story of his family and his growing up in Ohio and his education. There are one or two chapters on the Mexican war and his time as a young soldier in the Mexican war, but the real -- the balance of the book and the power of the book is in his recounting of his Civil War commands, from the first battles to the surrender at Appomattox. And then he was very intent to write an epilogue on what he thought it meant, what he thought the war meant and what his hopes for the country were. He did not -- historians think, unfortunately -- he did not focus on his presidency at all. This is a memoir of his war-time experience.
LAMB: What is in "Huckleberry Finn"? What`s the story?
PERRY: "Huckleberry Finn," I think as most Americans know, is a story of a young boy, Huck, and a runaway slave, Jim, and their journey to freedom. But there`s an oddity in "Huckleberry Finn." At the end of chapter 16, Huck and Jim are at the confluence of the Ohio River and the Mississippi River. If they take a left, if they go east up the Ohio, they go to freedom and Jim is free. If they go south, they go further into slave territory and Jim would still be a slave, if captured. Twain wanted to take these two characters down the Mississippi. But why would he do that? Why would you go further into slave territory? This is the end of chapter 16 of "Huckleberry Finn." And so in 1876, after writing very quickly the first 16 chapters of the book, he puts the manuscript down, and it`s clear that he`s reached an impasse. He doesn`t know how to continue the book. And that`s what I focus on the book is his solution to that problem, whether to take Huck and Jim south or whether to take them up the Ohio River.
LAMB: You have a picture in here of Mark Twain with John T. Lewis.
LAMB: When was it taken? Who is it?
LAMB: This is -- John T. Lewis is a helper servant in Elmira, New York, and a very close friend of Twain`s, and the pattern for Jim, the model for Jim. Twain enjoyed Lewis`s talk of the old country, of what his life had been like. This was a very intelligent man who was very close to Twain and remained so through his whole life, and you can see by the picture, a very dignified man. It`s very clear that Twain patterned a lot of Jim on what this gentleman had to tell him.
LAMB: At some point in your book, you say, Make no bones about it, the publishing world is all about one thing, money.
LAMB: And also, you point out in your book throughout that Grant was broke at one point and Mark Twain ended up bankrupt.
PERRY: Yes. They`re similar in that respect. Here are two men of two different generations, and it seems odd to us now, in their time, the Gilded Age, the era right after the Civil War, both are very concerned about money. The great captains of industry of their time are the most revered Americans, Vanderbilt and people of the great corporate families. And they both looked up to these gentleman. They both wanted to accumulate money. It was the standard of excellence for their time.
And Grant was president of the United States and Mark Twain was one of America`s great writers, and here they both were, really fascinated by money. Twain never earned enough publishing his books to become the rich man that he wanted to become, and he knew this. So he would always invest in very strange projects. The project that broke him, that bankrupted him at the end of his life, was the page typesetter. He spent years trying to develop it, and it didn`t work out. Grant, on the other hand, became part of a great Wall Street firm of Grant and Ward. He just simply leant his name to it. And it went bankrupt in 1884, just prior to his becoming sick. So both men reached out for money, and neither man really were able to get that dream.
It was very, in many ways, a very sad story. I think that they were -- I think that they were misled by this pursuit of money. Grant could have lived very comfortably after his presidency, if he had just let well enough alone. But his investments in this firm, and the fraud that was visited upon him by the firm`s leaders, was one of the great disappointments of his life. And Twain had the same problem.
LAMB: How many homes did U.S. Grant have given to him?
PERRY: Well, there was one on I Street in Washington. There was one in Philadelphia. There was one in Galena, Illinois. There are probably more, at least four homes that were given to him as subscriptions by his great and good and wealthy friends as a thanks from them to him for what he`d done for his country. And he stayed basically rent-free in a home in Long Branch, New Jersey, because of a friendship that he developed with a publisher in Philadelphia. He did not then, at the end of his presidency, have a pension, but it was very clear that his good friends were more than willing to take care of him and see to it that he prospered.
LAMB: How did he get the home at 66th Street in New York City?
PERRY: It was a subscription from a group of friends, they raised thousands and thousands of dollars. It was a beautiful home, three floors. He sat in the front room of this -- of this home. When he went bankrupt, he went through the home and took everything out of it -- his medallions, his swords, his -- even his uniforms. He had gone on a world tour and been given gifts from sultans and kings, and he gathered them all up and basically tried to pawn them off to his friend, Mr. Vanderbilt and -- who wouldn`t take them, didn`t want to take them, ended up taking them and lending him money so that he could see through day to day.
But all of those -- all of his other homes and all of his properties -- he had property in St. Louis -- was sold to meet his debts. And even then, his debts were not met. He vowed to repay every dollar. He was a good and honorable man, but in 1884, when Grant and Ward went bankrupt and the Marine Bank in Brooklyn closed as a result of it and couldn`t meet its debts, there were a lot of people in New York City, thousands of people who lost a great deal of money in Grant and Ward. And for him to repay all of it would have been nearly impossible. But he did his best. And at the same time, he had to take care of his wife, primarily, and his children, and retrieve his reputation. This was foremost in his mind.
LAMB: You say he was an honorable man. He had pride and all that. If he had so much pride, why did he take all of those homes from people?
PERRY: He was a -- he was a complex character. Grant is one of the great enigmas, I think, of American history. A lot of historians -- there have been more biographies of Grant recently than you can count. He was modest, self-effacing, soft-spoken, absolutely determined. He did take the homes. He had given up his pension in the Army. He didn`t necessarily think it was his due, but he was in circles where people would do things for him.
There is no imputation, that I can find in his presidency, that he returned such favors politically. But certainly he wasn`t the first American to sell his name. And the Grant name had great cachet then, and he used that. I don`t think it`s dishonest. The last thing that I think Ulysses S. Grant was, was dishonest. But he understood who he was. He understood that he was a public figure, and he knew that he could use that for his own advancement, and did.
LAMB: In the end, did he actually complete the memoir before he died? And then, who got the money? And how much money did the book generate?
PERRY: He finished his memoir two weeks before he died at Mount McGregor in New York, where he had been taken on advice of his doctors for his last days, to -- the air was cleaner, and it did seem to revive him.
LAMB: Where is Mount McGregor?
PERRY: It`s in northern New York. It`s north of -- just north of Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. Beautiful.
LAMB: And you`ve been there?
PERRY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Did you go to the house where he was?
LAMB: Who owned that house?
PERRY: This was the house of a businessman in New York who had put together a syndicate of owners who bought out the original farmstead of a McGregor, who wanted to set up a resort and never was able to make it go. And they thought that they would be able to do it, and they built a hotel there and advertised it. And they -- the Philadelphia businessman who led this syndicate of investors and purchased this land thought it would be great to have Grant there, that it eventually would bring more and more visitors and more and more tourists to Mount McGregor. So he leant them -- he leant the Grants this house. And the doctors said this would be perfect to clear up the congestion in Grant`s throat and the cancer and let him breathe easier and sleep better. And it did for a time.
And he went there -- left his home in New York at end of June, beginning of July of 1885, and went to Mount McGregor. And they had a cabin there for him. And he enjoyed it. He would eat at the nearby hotel, such as it was. He couldn`t eat easily because of his cancer. But he would be up at the Balmoral. And there was an honor guard there.
And he immediately went back to work on his memoirs. They should have been complete by now. He had finished all of the major work on his memoirs. But in the last two or three weeks of his life, he really plunged on into that epilogue that he wanted to write. And he wanted to, as he said, tidy up some different parts of the manuscript. So he did that. And then, as he was sitting on his porch one day -- and he was -- he would always wear a wool cap and a scarf. And he`d be sitting in his chair, and he`d have a blanket over him. He turned to Dawson, his stenographer, and said, I`m done. And it was approximately two weeks, a little bit less, after that that his health failed precipitously and he died.
LAMB: I originally asked you how much money he -- his wife lived 19 years after he died, Julia.
LAMB: How much money did the family have?
PERRY: Well, it`s not clear, but it`s over $400,000. The original check that Twain gave Julia was $250,000, and there was another $200,000 after that. And at that time, it was an enormous amount of money and...
LAMB: I double-checked. And I`m -- don`t hold me to this, but on today`s dollar, it`s about $8 million.
PERRY: Yes. An extraordinary amount of money.
LAMB: Did the world know that he made that much money back then? And how many books did he sell?
PERRY: The book came out in subscription. And it was two volumes. I`m not sure how many it sold, 60,000, 70,000 -- an incredible number for that time, a best-seller even in our time -- $450,000, $8 million -- I hadn`t realized it was that much money. That`s a -- that was a lot of money. And it kept Julia in the style to which she was accustomed for the rest of her life. And it made Twain a lot of money, too, which he then subsequently frittered away. But it was an extraordinary amount of money. As Wilson says, as Edmund Wilson says in "Patriotic Gore," every northern home would have the twin volumes, like pillars, of Grant`s memoirs in a prominent place in their living room as a sign of their patriotism, the union cause. This sold by subscription, door-to-door sales, was an extraordinarily popular book.
LAMB: Now, explain that because that is an issue all through the book, subscription versus book store sales.
LAMB: How did that work?
PERRY: As Twain would say, you never make any money selling in the trade -- that is, selling to a publisher and he puts it in a book store. And he had terrible, terrible time getting publishers to do what he wanted them to do and to distribute the way he wanted them to distribute and push the book and advertise the book. They never seemed to do it enough. That was true of "Life on the Mississippi." And he was just very embittered about it. He was always -- he always thought he could do it better. He thought that about almost every business enterprise that he was involved in.
And so he would hire canvassers. And he and his nephew, Charles Webster, Charlie, hired canvassers for "Huckleberry Finn" and for the memoirs and would give them promotional material and divide up the country into sections, where the book could be sold and send them out. And when there were enough copies sold of the book, then they would publish it. That is, when it had made enough money to cover its costs and a little profit and their time, then they would publish it.
The interesting thing about "Huckleberry Finn" is that it was -- its publication date is 1884, but it really didn`t get into the hands of its customers, its readers, until February, 1885, because Twain wouldn`t allow it. He said, We`re going to sell 50,000 of this before we publish it. And that was subscription sales. That`s now almost unheard of. This was at the early development of the real giants in publishing, Scribner`s and other publishers. And they hadn`t really taken hold to the degree that they are now. Subscription publishing was not universal, but it was common.
LAMB: As you know, your book sells for $25. And if you -- the way it works today, that the book store keeps half.
PERRY: Yes, that`s right.
LAMB: And -- but they don`t usually sell it at full price. And the publisher gets half. What would it have been on a subscription basis?
PERRY: Oh, the percentages were much better. You know, then it was -- it wasn`t cheap to publish and print a book, but it was -- compared to the cost it is now, it was relatively cheap. Or you could publish a book fairly cheaply and make money on it. The printing process was longer. The distribution process was much more difficult than it is now. It was -- you know, it was difficult then to sell a book in Peoria, Illinois, compared to now, or even Chicago. There weren`t -- there just wasn`t these huge book stores. You sold in New York, you sold in San Francisco, you sold in Washington and Philadelphia. And those were the huge proportion sales. To get out in the countryside, you really did need canvassers and subscriptions.
LAMB: And today, you can get both "Huck Finn" and Grant`s memoir free on the Internet.
PERRY: Yes. You can get it almost in any book store. I was in one of our chain book stores yesterday, and there were the memoirs. And there was "Huck Finn." They`ve been in print now for 120 years.
LAMB: So the Mississippi. What did the Mississippi -- what was it about the Mississippi? And what was Grant`s relationship to the Mississippi? And what was Twain`s relationship to the Mississippi River?
PERRY: Well, it`s -- we call it -- then, moreso than now, it was the great artery of American commerce and industry. It was the real backbone that -- the engineer of the frontier. It was that during -- when Twain was growing up and when he was a pilot on the Mississippi. And it was that for Grant, when he also, as a boy, went down the Mississippi. This was -- it was hugely important in terms of commerce. For Twain, it was also a touchstone throughout his whole life. He`d grown up on the river. It had meant everything to him. Everything in his early life as a boy was defined by the river.
LAMB: Where was he born?
PERRY: Well, he was born in -- he was born in Hannibal, Missouri. He was born in Florida, Missouri, and then moved to Hannibal, Missouri. His father was a judge. So he was -- it was right on the river the whole time.
LAMB: Born Samuel Clemens.
LAMB: When did he change his name?
PERRY: He changed his name when he became a pilot. He changed his name after he became a pilot -- when he became a writer and he had to write -- he thought it would be better for him to write under another name. This was especially true in Nevada, when he was doing some really tongue-in-cheek reporting. And he`d had a model, too. This was an era when the really admired writers in America were the satirists. And he wanted to be a satirist, and he wanted to -- also to model himself -- we would say now, I suppose, brand himself as a person of the frontier, a person of the Mississippi River. He called himself Mark Twain -- 1868, 1869, he made the changeover.
LAMB: Where`d he get the name?
PERRY: He got the name from the call of the watchman on the steamboat that would yell out the depth of where the steamboat was. And "mark twain" was -- I can`t remember now how many feet it was, but it was passable feet, where the water was open and free. And he`d call out, "mark twain," and it was something that stuck with him.
LAMB: The difference in age between Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant?
PERRY: A generation, 15 to 19 years, and 19 in age.
LAMB: Who was older?
PERRY: Oh, Grant was older, the older generation that commanded the war. Twain was of the generation that fought the war on the front lines.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier a home in Galena, Illinois, but also, something called Hardscrabble near St. Louis. What was that?
PERRY: Hardscrabble was -- Grant left the Army under really controversial circumstances. He was away from his wife, whom he just -- Julia, whom he adored. He was on the West Coast, and he resigned, came east. And his father-in-law gave him a piece of land to farm. And they called it Hardscrabble. He built a one-room cabin and broke the soil himself -- back-breaking work. He had two hands to help him, slaves.
And didn`t like farming, thought that he could make a go of it, couldn`t, ended up in a legendary incident, from a Civil War colleague, said that he saw him one day on the streets of St. Louis selling cordwood. He was flat, dead broke.
Finally, he swallowed his pride, went back up to Galena and worked in his father`s leather goods store. He couldn`t stand -- well, his father was a tanner. It`s a dirty, dirty business, curing the hides and throwing the hides. It makes you stronger, but it`s -- you`re covered with blood, animal blood. He hated it. And so he thought he could make a living in his father`s dry goods store as a clerk, didn`t like that, either, and wasn`t very good at it. And the Civil War came along, and he helped to organize Illinois volunteer regiments and went off and became a great soldier.
LAMB: How many places did you go in search of these two men?
PERRY: Everywhere. Hartford, where Twain lived...
LAMB: Still has the big house there?
PERRY: Still has the big house. Beautiful. You get a real sense of Twain when you walk in the door of his Hartford home. He built it the way he wanted to, with even a -- you know, an outer cupola that looks like a steamboat cabin, a billiard room.
LAMB: What`s the most number of servants he ever had?
PERRY: He had nurses for his children. He had tutors for his children. He had cooks for his wife. He had a manservant for himself. He spent an enormous amount of money on the house and on the servants and in living the way that he thought a great writer should live. And he would complain about it in his journals on occasion and tell Howells the house was sucking up every penny that he had. But he wanted to live there. And he lived in what was then the literary capital of the United States, Hartford.
LAMB: Who was Howells?
PERRY: William D. Howells was the editor of "The Atlantic Monthly" magazine and probably the leading arbiter of literary taste.
LAMB: Did he buy his fiction?
PERRY: He did. He bought his fiction. He bought his essays. He was a very good friend. Here was the one -- William Dean Howells was really an extraordinary writer in his own right, unfortunately, not remembered as well as he should be now. But he would commiserate with Twain and he would lend him advice. I think he was probably the only person outside of Twain`s wife, Livy, that would really listen, that he could really give advice. I mean, Twain admired Howells and admired his judgment. And Howells became the arbiter of literary taste. And Twain knew how valuable he was. They were very good friends.
LAMB: Who else lived around Hartford?
PERRY: Harriet Beecher Stowe and one of her sisters. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom`s Cabin," was an icon in American literature. "Uncle Tom`s Cabin" was -- exploded on literary America in the late 1850s, and it, for the North, defined the way that slavery was. She lived in Hartford, right next door. And ...
LAMB: Did they know each other?
PERRY: They did.
LAMB: Did they like each other?
PERRY: Harriet Beecher Stowe was then becoming elderly, and a little crotchety and strange in her old age. She would invade the Twains` backyard and rip out the flowers, and then appear at the front door of the Twains with the flowers in her hands, say, I`ve gotten your flowers -- well, they were pulled from the Twain garden. Twain said that she used to walk up behind people and scream, give a banshee scream that scared the living daylights out of them. She was obviously suffering from the effects of old age and was not on her best behavior. Twain admired, I think Twain really admired Harriet Beecher Stowe.
LAMB: Where else did you go besides Hartford?
PERRY: Oh, let`s see. Hartford, Elmira, New York, just for a day, and Hannibal, and Galena. The one place that I`ve always wanted to see, because I had featured it in some of my earlier books, it was a great resort at the time where all ex-presidents and literary figures congregated in the summers, Long Branch in New Jersey, was quite different than I thought it would be. It`s not the resort it was. And it`s not talked about in the New York papers as it was. But I just wanted to see it some of ...
LAMB: Where Garfield died?
PERRY: Where Garfield died. Where the Grimkés lived for quite sometime.
LAMB: Did you do a book on the Grimkés?
PERRY: I did. It was called "Lift up Thy Voice," came out several years ago.
LAMB: Who were they?
PERRY: Grimkés were two sisters -- the Grimkés were a South Carolina family, in which there were two sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who had seen slavery up close. And they left South Carolina and came north, and became I think the two most powerful intellectual influences in the anti-slavery movement. Extraordinary, extraordinary women. And then later adopted their brother`s offspring from a liaison with a slave woman. And these two young men, African-American men, became also leaders of the black community in late 19th century. A really incredible family, very torn by the issue of slavery and race.
LAMB: What`s the name of that book?
PERRY: "Lift up Thy Voice."
LAMB: What year?
PERRY: Four years ago. Three years ago.
LAMB: Back to the houses...
LAMB: Is there an I Street house of Grants still left in this town? And is there still a 66th Street house left in New York?
PERRY: 66th Street house is gone. The I Street house is not here, either. And both cities have changed substantially. There is a -- there is a monument, a memorial, oh and I went to his tomb in New York, on Riverside Drive. Really an extraordinary place, and not well-visited, but worth seeing. That was built for him. And I think at the time people believed that it would be a gathering place, a real monument that later generations would go to. It is not that. It`s beautiful, and it`s well kept up. But when I was there, there weren`t many visitors.
LAMB: How long did he actually work on his memoir?
PERRY: Actually, it was a relatively short period of time -- two years for the extraordinary amount of work that it was and the thousands of words in it. And it`s a long -- it is a long book, but it`s fascinating. It was a very short time.
He would write and he would take notes. He would also dictate, which meant that he had to speak clearly and in complete sentences. And then after the dictation was done, he would edit. So in all, it was 16 to 18 months from beginning to end. He was also writing at the same time a series of articles for "The Century" magazine, four articles on his campaigns during the Civil War. So we integrated those into the book. A brilliant -- but it`s a brilliant -- it is a brilliant piece of writing.
And he -- the reason that I think he was able to do it in such a short period of time -- I think it`s a short period of time. It took me a year and a half to write this book -- is that he, he worked ceaselessly. Sometimes 20 hours a day, couldn`t sleep because of his -- the pain from his cancer.
LAMB: Let me ask you about that. When did he first know something was wrong with his throat?
PERRY: Oh, it was the summer in Long Branch, in 1884, and he was eating a peach. And he was cutting it up at the table. And Julia was nearby -- his wife was nearby. And he swallowed it. And the pain just seared through him. He knew something was wrong with the back of his throat. But he didn`t go to anybody for it. He went later on in the summer to a doctor recommended by a friend from Philadelphia, the publisher.
Then in October, he went to New York City and saw his doctor, and the doctor immediately knew that it was -- I guess the word is epithemial in nature. The cancer -- the back of the throat, then the tongue, that it was spreading, and that it was probably fatal. And he was sent to another expert, Dr. Shrady, who took what we would call a biopsy now, who took a scraping from the back of the throat and studied it. He didn`t -- the original doctor didn`t tell Dr. Shrady who the patient was. And the doctor said, well, this is from the throat of General Grant. And Shrady said, well, then General Grant is a dead man.
It was untreatable at the time, and it spread quickly and made Grant -- made swallowing very difficult for Grant.
LAMB: And the doctor that he chose to treat him throughout the whole thing was ...
PERRY: Dr. John Douglas, a really interesting character, and a very compassionate and good man -- a person who stayed by his side. And Dr. Shrady was there also. There were three doctors there who often showed great compassion for him. I think it was Dr. Shrady at one incident in the book who actually held him, rocked him to sleep. And then asked Mrs. Grant, whether that would be embarrassing to the general. And she said, oh, no, not at all. So they were with him much of the time and treating him with cocaine, laudanum painkillers.
LAMB: Here`s an image that you give us in the book. Here is the general of the Civil War and the president of the United States for two terms, leaving his 66th Street home and getting on the subway or the trolley car, whatever it was, to go to the doctor`s office every day.
PERRY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Did he have any Secret Service protection?
PERRY: No. No, no. It was surprising to me, too. I remember an incident. I guess it was in Foote`s Civil War narrative of Grant walking from the White House to the telegraph office, people passing him on the street and saying, "Good morning, Mr. President." When there was no Secret Service, there was no sense that he could ever be in danger. He would go with a manservant or a friend and get on the trolley and sit and go to the doctor`s, or take a carriage. Finally, his family insisted the doctors come to see him, because he was getting a lot weaker.
LAMB: You got a picture in here of a minister. This fellow right here.
LAMB: Who is he, and what role did he play in this story?
PERRY: John Phillip Newman. The Reverend John Phillip Newman, a Methodist minister and very close to Julia, his wife. Julia was a very strong and devout, believing Christian woman. Grant was a little bit less so. But the Reverend Newman intruded himself on the family from time to time, would sit with Grant. And in one incident at the end of the day, when they were all eating dinner and Newman stayed and he gave grace before the meal, and he went on and on and on and on. Finally he finished saying grace, and Grant yelled out, "Amen! " He was -- he wanted to eat. And Newman interpreted this as a sign of Grant`s great devotion to religion.
Grant had never been baptized, wasn`t baptized until April of the year he died, at Julia`s insistence. He tolerated Newman. Newman believed that he had been sent to save Grant, that -- to cure the cancer. God would cure the cancer. And that Grant`s great faith in Christianity and in God would be a symbol to the American people that faith could cure anything. Grant was the great skeptic, just an incredible skeptic. He was tolerant of Newman and very patient with him. But he just wasn`t that kind of person. Grant`s doctors barely tolerated Newman.
LAMB: But the minister did this thing outside of the house, with the press -- how many people would in the press would stand across the street and watch the kind of like a death watch?
PERRY: Dozens. At first, there were dozens. And then they strung a wire from across the street and they would assign a couple of pressmen down the block to another house, where a whole bunch of press -- this was a death watch. Grant was the story in the country for many, many months.
And the doctors and the Grant family decided early on that they just weren`t going to talk to the press that much. That there really wasn`t that much to say. And that this was Grant`s private business, and he was writing a book, and -- so the press would come out from -- the press then was a lot different than now -- would come out with these updates, day to day. And Newman took full advantage of this, and came out when Grant had had a medical crisis -- and came out and told the press. "General Grant held my hand and said, thrice have I been to the valley of death and thrice have I conquered it."
And Twain wrote in his journal, no way, there`s no way that Grant would ever say that. And I say in the book, Grant would no more use the word thrice than Huck Finn would say the Lord`s prayer. It`s just not the kind of person he was. So here was a -- John Philip Newman was one of these hangers-on that was tolerated by Grant.
LAMB: But the story did come out from the minister that he was going to live and that he was going to get better.
PERRY: He was going to get better, he was going to live, he was going to conquer cancer, that his belief in God was going to conquer cancer. Newman was heart-broken and crestfallen when that`s not the way it turned out.
LAMB: In your book, you get the impression that "Century" magazine folks are going to publish the Grant memoir. When does Mark Twain pull the rug out from under them and why?
PERRY: Pulls the rug out from under them is right.
LAMB: And why? And what year?
PERRY: Well, this was at Long Branch in 1884. Official senior editors of the "Century" magazine had been trying for some time to get Grant to write articles for their magazine. And he`d finally agreed to do it. And it was an extraordinary stroke of luck, and wrote a very short piece. And it wasn`t exceptional. And the editor of the "Century" magazine came back to him and kind of showed him how to do it, what he wanted, and got him to talking about it.
And then they began talking about the memoirs. And Grant was very interested then in doing it, having been bankrupted. And they were almost to an agreement, almost to an agreement. I mean, it was when Grant came back from Long Branch in October. Twain was in New York and overheard a conversation among the group of "Century" editors as he was walking back from one of his lectures, saying we`ve got Grant -- we`ve got Grant signed up. And Twain went the very next day, and there was -- as legend would have it, and I think from -- fact would have it -- as his son has written about it, so he was poised to write the contract to the "Century" magazine. And Twain said, don`t do it. Let me just take a look at the contract. He looked at the contract, and he went, oh! They`re not giving you very much money. I can give you $25,000 right now. So, no, no, no make it $50,000.
And Grant said, I can`t do that. I think I promised the "Century." They came up with the idea and Twain said, you remember years ago, that I came to you with William Dean Howells, and we talked about your memoirs, so by rights it`s mine, I came up with the idea.
And Grant said, well, that`s true enough. And he said, all right, I`ll tell you what -- let me -- and then Grant did what he should have done when he was at Grant, Ward. He actually hired a lawyer to look over the contract. And Grant -- and Twain wrote him a new contract. It went back out on tour, but the book was clearly going to be Twain`s. Then in February, Grant signed the contract with Twain`s publishing firm. Twain did pull -- pulled the rug out from the "Century" company. They thought they had it. And he dissuaded Grant to go the other way.
LAMB: You say that Mark Twain did not offer criticism or a critique of any kind to U.S. Grant during this process.
PERRY: That`s right.
PERRY: Because the book was so good.
LAMB: Did he ever ask? Did Grant ever ask for help?
PERRY: Grant was always -- it`s very clear that Grant was worried about what Twain thought about the book, and Twain thought it was good, so he never said anything. He never went to Grant and said, oh, this is an extraordinary book, he never thought he had to. And finally, I think it was Fred Grant, who came to Twain and said, gee, it would have been nice if you said something to my father about the book. And Twain said, what do you mean? He said, well, do you like it, is it any good? And Twain in his journals recounts, I was as surprised as the cook would be if Columbus asked him how to navigate. He thought it was an extraordinary book, and he told Grant that, and Grant was -- he was very pleased with it.
LAMB: You say, compared it to Caesar`s "Commentaries."
PERRY: Compared it to Caesar`s "Commentaries," and I think rightly so.
LAMB: Did you run to look at Caesar`s "Commentaries" to see what he`s doing there?
PERRY: I have read Caesar`s "Commentaries." And the similarities -- well, Caesar`s "Commentaries" are in Latin, of course, and this is in English. But there`s -- there is real similarity. Caesar was very spare in his sentence structures. Just the facts, nothing but the facts. Who moved where, when. What they did when they got there. Who they fought, how they fought, and what the results were, what his plans were. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And if you read Grant`s memoirs, it`s the same kind of spare writing. This happened here, this happened there. And you would wonder how it would be so compelling.
But when you read both the "Commentaries" but even more so the memoirs, it overtakes you. It`s just, it moves at the same pace as the war. You know how it`s going to turn out. You study the Civil War, you know how every battle is going to turn out. But to be there, and Grant in his writing puts you there, it`s really an extraordinary reading experience.
LAMB: Now, is there anything in the memoir about his presidency?
PERRY: Very little. Very -- he mentions it. And -- but it`s mentioned in passing. This is really a book about Civil War battles.
LAMB: Back to the Grant & Ward financial firm. How much money did Grant put in in the first place? And why did it go bankrupt? And do you have any sense of how much money was lost?
PERRY: There were millions lost.
LAMB: Which should be hundreds of millions today?
PERRY: Hundreds of millions. There were millions lost. There were banks, there was a bank that was bankrupted, the head of the bank was in cahoots with Ferdinand Ward, who ran the firm and came up with the idea through Grant`s son. There was some minor investments. There was $50,000. But Grant`s son`s father-in-law also put in $50,000. So they lost all that, an extraordinary sum at the time.
LAMB: Let me go back to that Grant`s son, Fred...
LAMB: ... father-in-law?
PERRY: That`s right.
LAMB: Who was that?
PERRY: He was the senator from Nevada and had made a lot of money, and a good deal of money. He was -- he lost his money. But what was really lost were the paper profits. I think one of the figures is at the height of Grant & Ward`s success, Grant was worth $750,000. But it was all on paper. None of it was real. They had -- this was a pyramid scheme of stock options and certificates covering certificates. And there was no Securities and Exchange Commission then. This -- you know -- this was -- it was a casino. Wall Street was a casino. And none of it -- all of this was -- all of this paper was worthless.
LAMB: How much did the public know about the bankruptcy?
PERRY: Well, it came out in the press. And there were real criticisms of Grant and what he knew and how he knew it, and whether he was part of it. He wasn`t. There were indictments that were handed down, but not of him. Because it was clear that he wasn`t part of the fraud. He had just lent his name to it. But there`s no question that there was some bad feeling among many people, that he would do this, that he would be so gullible as to be taken in. But that was his sin, was his gullibility. It was the same sin as his presidency, he trusted people who he thought were his friends, and they turned out to be less than honest.
LAMB: Now, you mentioned in the very first part of this interview that you used to edit the "City Paper?"
PERRY: Yes. I used to be the editor of "City Paper."
LAMB: What is "The City Paper?"
PERRY: "City Paper" -- I`m sorry -- "City Paper" is a weekly here in Washington. I edited it 20 years ago now. But -- and just starting out as a writer and journalist. And wrote a piece about Huckleberry Finn and called Mark Twain scholars around the country and said, what do you think about this idea that maybe Grant -- and Grant had a much greater influence on the writing of Huckleberry Finn. And it had been talked about some. But the real relationship and how it affected each other`s writings had not been written about. I kept coming back to it over the years. And finally, three years ago, decided to write it up.
LAMB: And where are you from originally?
PERRY: I am from central Wisconsin, a very small town called Wisconsin Rapids in central Wisconsin.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
PERRY: I went to Boston University, and -- in the early `70s, and then to graduate school. I didn`t like graduate school. And my wife was a professor and dean -- associate dean here in Washington, D.C., wanted to come to get her Ph.D. at Georgetown, so I came here. And then I went to Georgetown in the history program to get a master`s in the early 1980s in American history to kind of hone what I thought were the necessary analytical skills to write American history.
LAMB: Other than the city, how long were you at "The City Paper?"
PERRY: About a year and a half, two years at the most.
LAMB: What have you done since then?
PERRY: I`ve been -- I was a freelance reporter for many years, wrote for "The Washington Post" and the "Daily News" in New York, "St. Louis Post-Dispatch." But basically in the late -- in the 1980s, began to write books --wrote three books on national security, wrote a book on the joint chiefs of staff, called "Four Stars," a book on the CIA, called "Eclipse." It`s a doorstop. I wrote a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then three 19th century histories. I just -- I didn`t feel comfortable writing journalism. I didn`t think that it was what I should do. I was really fascinated by 19th century America. So that`s what I`ve been doing.
LAMB: So this is how you make your living?
PERRY: I`m also a political consultant. And this is how I make my living part of the time. And it`s good, because to make a living as a writer is a really difficult life. It`s very -- I think it was David Halberstam who said you better have another job. Well, I do. I`m a political consultant.
LAMB: And consult for what? Who?
PERRY: For a firm in Washington, D.C. called Jefferson Waterman International, a great firm, and it`s a lot of fun, and it`s a real challenge. So, I come home at night and I dive back into my history. And it took me -- it takes two and a half years to do one of these, three years.
LAMB: And what kind of clients do you represent?
PERRY: We represent foreign countries and American corporations wanting to do business in foreign countries, or foreign corporations wanting to do business in the United States. We know the Middle East and Africa quite well, and I travel extensively in those regions.
LAMB: Well, back to the book, and we`ll go back to the end. Mount McGregor, you set up earlier, near Saratoga, 12 miles from Saratoga in New York. He`s sick, real sick and got cancer of the throat. And you describe it in the book, how -- you know -- it went to his jaw and all that.
What was the end like?
PERRY: Quiet. Grant would rally and fade, and rally and fade, and had for months. His doctors thought his writing of his memoirs was keeping him alive.
LAMB: You say he sat up, the entire -- he went to sleep sitting up.
PERRY: He went to sleep sitting up in his chair. He couldn`t lie down for some reason. And it just hurt. It hurt to talk. At the end, he could just barely whisper. He would often write out instructions or notes on a piece of paper. And his body was wasting away. And the day before his death, there`s a promontory in the Adirondacks. And he wanted to go up there. And he was lifted in what was then a bath chair, a wicker chair, a rocking chair. And he was lifted by his family and friends up in this promontory. And stood there for a moment. And got very tired and sat back down. And they brought him back down the mountain. And he got up out of his chair and he laid down on the bed, for the first time in about a year. He laid down in bed.
And he started to fade. Dr. Douglas was there. And I think it was 8:19 in the morning, of a hot July day in northern New York. He died. It was so -- even though people had expected it, it was a great, great shock for the nation.
LAMB: Where was Mark Twain?
PERRY: He was in Elmira, New York. And he wrote in his journals that he thought that Grant could probably -- he predicted that Grant could survive for another two or three months. And so he was surprised.
LAMB: You say he didn`t go to the funeral?
PERRY: He didn`t. He stood in the window of his offices, near Union Square, and watched the parade. Odd to me that he didn`t go to the funeral. I don`t think he was comfortable going to the funeral. His relationship with Grant was not military. All the great soldiers of America were there at the funeral. General Hancock led the parade and the group of mourners. Twain I don`t think felt comfortable. He was closer to Grant I think in many respects than any of these men who had followed him.
LAMB: How much money in the end did Mark Twain make off of Grant?
PERRY: Equivalent to what Julia made, it`s not very clear, it was $400,000 to $450,000. He wrote to William Dean Howells that he felt like Midas, that he could -- anything he touched turned to gold. Within years, however, of that, he was going downhill and spending money as he usually did, and investing in inventions that went nowhere.
LAMB: What was the end like for Twain?
PERRY: Bitter. He was absolutely enthralled with his daughter, Susie. She died. Enthralled with his wife, she died. He didn`t have as much money as he`d wanted. I don`t think he understood how important he was as an American writer. He didn`t look at himself as the great American writer. Which he is. And he was -- he would enjoy cigars and whiskey with his friends in New York, and traveled to Europe. Came back to New York. But he was very infirm at the end, and died quietly.
LAMB: What was the biggest difference between these two men? Personally? The way they interacted with one another. What were they not alike?
PERRY: Twain was outgoing, very critical of others. In many times of his life, and I say this with all due respect to him, he could be very nasty. He didn`t keep friends long. That wasn`t true of Grant. He met somebody, he liked them. And they liked him. He was -- you don`t ever see Grant being nasty. He wasn`t that way. He took each person one at a time, and gave them their due.
LAMB: If you could meet one or the other, which one would you rather know?
PERRY: Grant. Even though I admire Twain, I`d like -- I`d like to ask Grant whether the way that he fought the Civil War is the way that he intended to fight it. This man invented the American military, Ulysses S. Grant, and I was -- I would like to ask him if that was really his intention, and what he thought about his place in history.
LAMB: Here is the cover of the book, it`s "Grant and Twain," and our guest has been Mark Perry. And we thank you very much.
PERRY: My pleasure..
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal,
noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial,
political or other use may be made of this transcript without the
express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.