“The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated”

Mark Twains last will and testament
November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910

The following is an excerpt from “Wills of the Rich & Famous: A Fascinating Glimpse at the Legacies of Celebrities”  by Herbert E. Nass, Esq.

Mark Twain
November 30, 1835
Florida, Missouri

April 21, 1910
Redding, Connecticut

Named Samuel Langhorne Clemens at his birth in Missouri, he took his nom de plume of “Mark Twain” from the expression used by Mississippi River boatmen to describe a certain depth of the water. With his pen name picked, Twain wrote about life on the Mississippi or on other bodies of water, as in his first famous book, Innocents Abroad, about his adventures on a steamship bound for the Holy Land.

It was on this trip to the Holy Land that Clemens met Judge Jervis J. Langdon of Elmira, New York, and his daughter Lizzie, who would subsequently become Clemens’s wife. Together Clemens and his wife had three daughters and one son. The son died in infancy and one daughter died in her teens. Clemens’s wife died during their marriage, and Clemens never remarried. In the year before he died, Clemens’s daughter Miss Jean Clemens drowned in the bathtub in her father’s house in Redding, Connecticut, on Christmas morning. Despondent over the loss of his daughter, Clemens’s own health deteriorated rapidly after her death.

Clemens signed his Will on August 17, 1909, before his daughter Jean died, and he never updated his Will to reflect her death. The Will provides that his daughters Jean and Clara were each to receive 5 percent “of any and all moneys which at the time of my death may be on deposit to my credit, and subject to withdrawal on demand in any bank or trust company, or in any banking institution.” The balance of his estate was to be held in trust for his two daughters and their descendants. Since daughter Jean died without any descendants, the entire estate was inherited by Clara, who was married to a man named Ossip Gabrilowitsch.

For his executors and trustees, Clemens named his nephew, Jervis Langdon, and two other “friends” from the city of New York. “Reposing confidence in their integrity,” Clemens directed that they should not be required to furnish any bond. Clemens was well aware of the value of his tremendous literary output and included the following provision in his Will related to that:

As I have expressed to my daughter, CLARA LANGDON CLEMENS, and to my associate, ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE, my ideas and desires regarding the administration of my literary productions, and as they are especially familiar with my wishes in that respect, I request that my executors and trustees above named confer and advise with my said daughter CLARA LANGDON CLEMENS, and the said ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE, as to all matters relating in any way to the control, management and disposition of my literary productions, published and unpublished, and all my literary articles and memoranda of every kind and description, and generally as to all matters which pertain to copyrights and such other literary property as I may leave at the time of my decease. The foregoing suggestion as to consultation is, however, made subject to my contract dated July 24th, 1909, with ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE for the preparation of my letters for publication, and in full recognition thereof, and subject also to the contract dated August 27th, 1906, made by and between the said ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE and HARPER & BROTHERS, as I have appointed the said ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE as my biographer, and have ratified and approved his said contract relating to the publication thereof.

Obviously, Paine was someone whom Clemens trusted and was also one of the witnesses to Clemens’s Will.

A prankster for much of his life, Clemens had once arranged for his obituary to be printed in New York news-papers. After the article had appeared Clemens cabled from London the following famous line: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” When he did finally succumb to death in his seventh-fifth year, Clemens is reported to have died quietly while in an unconscious state and the State of Connecticut. Earlier that afternoon Clemens had written a note to his nurses—”Give me my glasses”—because he had been too weak to speak. On the bed when he died was one book he had particularly admired and was rereading—Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution. At his bedside watching the great writer slip out of this world were his daughter, Clara, her husband Ossip, and Twain’s designated biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. The reports of Samuel Clemens’s/Mark Twain’s death in 1910 in newspapers all across America were detailed, but not exaggerated.

/s/ Samuel L. Clemens
Will dated August 17, 1909

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