twainquotes logo

Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search



Charles Luther Webster was Mark Twain's nephew by marriage. He married Annie Moffett, the daughter of Mark Twain's sister, Pamela Clemens Moffett in 1875. He eventually became a business partner and managed Mark Twain's publishing company Charles L. Webster & Co. Early publishing successes of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and General Ulysess S. Grant's Memoirs launched Webster to the forefront of leading American publishers in the mid 1880s. Charles Webster portrait
Charles Luther Webster (1851-1891)

THE KANSAS CITY STAR, June 25, 1887 - Postscript [1]

He Tells How the General Was Induced to Write - Some New Books - Mark Twain's Cyclopedia of Wit and Humor.

Mr. Charles L. Webster, the principal of the celebrated firm of Charles L. Webster & Co., New York, of which "Mark Twain" is a member, is in the city to-day en route to Denver. He makes annual trips for the purpose of personally inspecting the work of his firm's principal agents, who are scattered throughout the country. Mr. Webster, who first became known to the world at large in connection with the publication of Mark Twain's works, is a man of middle height, with a face which at one betokens shrewdness and intellectuality. He sports a light Van Dyke beard, wears gray clothing and a tall hat. His latest grand venture, that of the publication of General Grant's memoirs, has undoubtedly made him independent, as regards this world's goods.

"The success of the Grant memoirs has been phenomenal," said the noted publisher this morning." Over 600,000 volumes have been issued and Mrs. Grant has received over $395,000 in cash. If our collections continue good we will undoubtedly pay her $50,000 this year, and the chances are in favor of her netting $500,000 from the work before the public demand for it is supplied. The volumes range in price from $3.50 to $12.50, and she received 70 per cent of the profits. Mrs. Grant is still living at No. 3 East Sixty-sixth street, New York, where the general was first stricken with the disease which caused his death. She was devoted to him, and his loss nearly drove her frantic, but she is a woman of great strength of character, and weathered the storm. I dined with her a few days ago, and she seemed quite cheerful. Her son, Col. Fred. Grant is now living with her."

It is not generally known that General Grant began work on his memoirs principally at the solicitation of Mr. Webster. At the request of THE STAR representative the publisher told the story. "About the time of the Grant & Ward failure," said he, "I went to the General and represented that it would be advantageous for him to write a history of his career. He replied that John Russell Young and Adam Badeau had both written him up, and that he did not think, in justice to those gentlemen, he should take up the pen in his own behalf. I continued my solicitations, and the Century company also strove to induce him to write his life. I finally succeeded, and the first volume of the memoirs was given to the public. Then came a hitch. The general did not feel equal to the task of completing the work. 'I'm afraid we will have to give it up, Webster,' he said to me one day. You know I am naturally lazy, and I feel like chopping each sentence in two. No, I don't think I can do it.' You may believe this did not please me. I cudgelled my brain and finally hit upon a plan which eventually proved successful. I recommended that he dictate to one of my stenographers an account of the surrender of Lee at Appomattox. He demurred at first, saying that he never had dictated a letter in his life. This I subsequently found to be a fact. I met this objection as well as I could, when he brought up the subject of the reporters, saying that if he began dictating they would get hold of the matter and publish it. I finally agreed to go to his house each day with a stenographer, remain while the general dictated for about two hours, go home with the stenographer and remain with him until he had delivered to me not only his notes but the complete text of the general's remarks. By following this plan General Grant was sure he could frustrate the reporters, and we did, but it was a sore trial for me. We continued this work until a very short time before the general died, when the second volume was completed. In all my experience I never heard a man dictate so well and clearly as General Grant. The book required no cutting down to speak of when he had completed his work."

Mr. Webster gave some interesting facts concerning certain books which will soon be published. Mark Twain's new encyclopedia of wit and humor, upon which he has been working five years, will most likely come out this fall. Mrs. Hancock is now writing her husband's memoirs, which will be completed in a month. She is said to possess a graceful style and great descriptive powers. Mrs. Custer is at work on a life of her husband, which is expected to surpass her former efforts. Mrs. McClellan has thus far received $15,000 from the sale of her husband's book, published last year. Mr. Webster concluded with an amusing account of the tribulations of a publisher. "Since Grant's work came out," said he, "we have had between 600 and 700 applications from persons who have been carried away by the published accounts of the profits on the memoirs, and imagine they have something equally good. Of course we have to freeze them out."

The Webster publishing company's success was short lived. In early 1888, Mark Twain removed him from the company for health reasons. Webster died a few years later prior to his fortieth birthday. His obituary was carried in newspapers around the country.

THE COLUMBUS (Georgia) ENQUIRER-SUN, April 29, 1891, [1]


JAMESTOWN, N.Y., April 28. - Charles L. Webster died at his home in Fredonia, Chautauqua county, at 4 o'clock this morning, aged thirty-nine years.

Charles L. Webster was born in Charlotte, Chautauqua county, but when quite young he removed to Fredonia, where he received his education, graduating from the normal school. He chose the profession of civil engineer, and met with marked success in that line, but in 1881 he removed to New York, where he formed a partnership with Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) in the publishing business. The company published Mr. Clemens' works, the memoirs of Generals Grant, McClellan and Sheridan, the works of Pope Leo and many other notable books.

While engaged in an engineering project in the West, he formed the acquaintance of General Grant, and they became firm friends. When, therefore, the General's memoirs were ready for publication he sent for Mr. Webster and, despite other large cash offers, entrusted the publication to him on a percentage. While on a trip to India with Fred Grant to secure the charter for a railroad he was knighted by Pope Leo, who conferred upon him the title of Pius.

Four years ago his health began to fail, and he was a great sufferer from neuralgia and a complication of diseases. One week ago he had an attack of grip, which led to peritonitis and hemorrhage and caused death. He possessed a large collection of bric-a-brac from all over the world, including the original manuscripts of "Grant's Memoirs," which he prized highly.

Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search