here remains one more possible candidate for the model of Scoresby: Ulysses S. Grant. Though unsuccessful as president, Grant's military reputation was almost universally acknowledged (apparently Lord Wolseley was the only one to question his generalship). Twain regarded Grant as a "military genius," a man with "the gift of command, a natural eloquence, and an equally natural reserve" (Fishkin, 1996, xvii). Moreover, Twain admired Grant's moral character, his simplicity and personal incorruptibility, even though his administration had been riddled with scandal. After leaving the White House, Grant was reduced to a state of near poverty. Under these circumstances, Twain — as is well known — arranged to publish the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant on terms much more favorable to the General than had originally been proposed by rival publishers. It is also well known that Grant figures in another story included in Merry Tales, "The Private History of a Campaign that Failed."
Less familiar is the story of Grant's visit to Hartford during Garfield's presidential campaign. Twain later recalled the incident with some irony: " . . . in introducing the General I referred to the dignities and emoluments lavished upon the Duke of Wellington by England and contrasted that conduct with our far finer and higher method toward the savior of our country — to wit, the simple carrying him in our hearts without burdening him with anything to live on" (Autobiography I, 29). In the words of the introduction itself, Twain had addressed Grant as follows: "When Wellington won Waterloo, a battle about on a level with some dozen of your victories, sordid England tried to pay him for that service with wealth and grandeur; she made him a Duke and gave him $4,000,000. If you had done and suffered for any other country what you have done and suffered for your own, you would have been affronted in the same sordid way" (Notebooks and Journals II, 355).
So when Twain thought about the great military reputations of the 19th century, it was only natural that Wellington and Grant would have come to his mind as the two most outstanding figures.
In this context, it is intriguing to find in Twain's work descriptions of Grant that are suggestive of Scoresby. In 1879, Grant was feted in Chicago at a reunion of the Army of the Tennessee. For the occasion a broadside was published which described Grant as "the admitted and undisputed Military Genius of the whole world" (Kaplan, 224). Twain was among the invited dignitaries (asked to toast "the ladies," he instead toasted "the babies"), and he used the occasion of sharing the stage with Grant to observe him closely. At the high point of the ceremony, "[t]here wasn't a soldier on that stage who wasn't visibly affected, except the man who was being welcomed, Grant. No change of expression crossed his face" (Autobiography, 251). "Through all the patriotic rant, the bombardments of praise and adoration, the unfurling of a shredded battle flag and the roar of a thousand men singing 'Marching through Georgia,' Grant sat slouching in his chair . . . not moving a muscle, an iron man" (Kaplan, 224). In a letter to his wife Livy written just hours after the end of the ceremony, Twain referred to Grant's "iron serenity" (Kaplan, 227; for more on this, see Charles H. Gold, "Grant and Twain in Chicago: The 1879 Reunion of the Army of the Tennessee," Chicago History VII (1978): 151-161.).
In connection with the publication of Grant's Memoirs, Twain noted, "He was the most modest of men . . . " To encourage the General to continue writing, Twain compared this work to Caesar's Commentaries, saying that both were characterized by "clarity of statement, directness, simplicity, unpretentiousness, manifest truthfulness, fairness and justice toward friend and foe alike, soldierly candor and frankness and soldierly avoidance of flowery speech" (Autobiography, 252).
When Grant died in July 1885, the newspapers, naturally enough, were full of eulogies. "General Grant's work, military and civil, will form for many ages the most striking feature in the history of his country, and the persistent determination, the manly dignity, and the quiet simplicity of this silent soldier, will give an enduring charm to the story of his life. It is, indeed, this simplicity of character, added to his heroic bearing in the long struggle with disease, and his noble fortitude in death, which now calls forth such universal admiration and sympathy" (cited in Twain's Notebooks & Journals, III, 123-124). One eulogy was delivered by Joe Twichell, who quoted Carlyle on "an occasion like the present, when a hero lay dead among his people: ' . . . our benedictions and outflowing love and admiration from the universal heart were his meed.' " Twichell continued in his own words, "Indeed he was so modest, he sunned himself so little before us in the light of his great prosperity, that he kept us from it. He did not call himself great: he did not deem that he was great. But for circumstance which with him was but another name for Providence, he humbly saw not why many another might not have won and worn his laurels — not understanding that it was of his greatness that he felt so . . . . Never a fame like his was so little accounted of by him who gained it" (Twichell, 1-2, 18-19).
Twain visited Grant on a number of occasions in the months prior to his death. After one such visit, Twain noted, "One marked feature of General Grant's character is his exceeding gentleness, goodness, sweetness. Every time I have been . . . in his presence — lately & formerly — my mind was drawn to that feature. I wonder it has not been more spoken of" (Notebooks & Journals, III, 107). Writing to Henry Ward Beecher just after the Grant's death, Twain spoke of "his exceeding gentleness, kindness, forbearance, lovingness, charity; . . . . his genuineness, simplicity; modesty; diffidence, self-depreciation, poverty in the quality of vanity . . . a perennial surprise that he should be the object of so much fine attention — he was the most lovable great child in the world . . . " (Letters, 460).
Compare the vocabulary used to describe Scoresby: "the quietness, the reserve, the noble gravity of his countenance; the simple honesty that expressed itself all over him; the sweet unconsciousness of his greatness — unconsciousness of the hundreds of admiring eyes fastened upon him," unconsciousness of the love flowing toward him. The only thing missing in Scoresby is the quality of iron.
Grant, of course, received his military training at West Point, not Woolwich. While there, "he discovered that he had a facility for mathematics." According to his Memoirs, "The subject was so easy to me as to come almost by intuition" (quoted in Perry, 12). And in all other outward aspects as well, Scoresby has been given none of Grant's biography. Why, then, should Scoresby be endowed with so many of his personal characteristics? Justin Kaplan has pointed out that the relationship between Twain and Grant is more complex than usually assumed. Twain's feelings for the general were not unmixed admiration and affection, not just "Grant-intoxication." Indeed, Kaplan detects undercurrents of envy and rivalry in those writings of Twain that explicitly deal with Grant. Could it be that "Luck" belongs, at least tangentially, to this discourse? Though not published until 1891, the story was written only one year after Grant's death, when the papers had been filled with outpourings of the nation's grief and admiration. There was certainly no shortage of fervent hero-worship upon the death of U.S. Grant. And if Twain was always a bit suspicious of alleged heroes, he was more than skeptical when it came to the effusive adulation of them.
Scoresby — Wolseley — Wesley — Grant. In the end, it seems unlikely that Twain was thinking of any one individual when he created Scoresby. The chaplain who told the original story to Twichell undoubtedly had someone specific in mind, but Twain generalized this tale and took characteristics from a number of different military leaders. From Wellington he took the given name, his less-than-distinguished years in school, his improbable victory against overwhelming odds, his modesty, and rumors that his success was due to luck. From Wolseley he took the fact of his education at Woolwich, his presence in the Crimea, and rumors of luck. From Grant he took his simplicity, sweetness, unpretentiousness, and indifference to hero worship, which in Scoresby becomes unconsciousness of public adulation. From all of them he took their transcendent fame, at least in the years when "Luck" was composed and published. The list could be prolonged: From Gordon of Khartoum Twain could have taken his schooling at Woolwich and his presence in the Crimea. Furthermore, Gordon died the same year as Grant, 1885, and "his death was followed by a spate of biographies, monographs and articles, most of which were emotional in the extreme. For a considerable time he was regarded as a national hero . . . After his death a quite unprecedented cult of Gordon arose on every side . . . " (Smyth, 68-70). From the Crimean War Twain drew on a conflict replete with examples of foolish and incompetent generalship. The result was Scoresby, a composite figure.
Ultimately, though, Twain's intent was not just to prick the balloon of some general's military reputation. He concealed Scoresby's "real" identity because his target was not an individual, but the popular need for a hero, a need so great people will overlook evidence to the contrary. After all, Scoresby is not a sham — he is, like Forrest Gump, an innocent. It is we who had him focused wrong. Our desire for heroes trumps all. The real fools in "Luck" are those who let themselves be fooled, who think Scoresby's a genius.
Mark Twain on the Crimean War
- The Crimean War
- Lord Garnet Joseph Wolseley
- Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington
- Ulysses S. Grant
Last modified 16 August 2005