Thursday, July 31, 2008

The circumstance of Ulysses S. Grants' autobiography

Quoted from Nicholas A. Basbanes in his Every Book Its Reader, pages 144-145

. . . Ulysses S. Grant, whose Personal Memoirs (1885) are by common consent far and away the best, distinctive for their candor, honesty and incisive thought. "Although frequently urged by friends to write my memoirs," Grant wrote in his preface, "I had determined never to do so, nor to write anything for publication," and then explained why he changed his mind:

At the age of nearly sixty-two I received an injury from a fall, which confined me closely to the house while it did not apparently affect my general health. This made study a pleasant pastime. Shortly after, the rascality of a business partner developed itself by the announcement of failure. This was followed soon after by universal depression of all securities, which seemed to threaten the extinction of a good part of the income still retained, and for which I am indebted to the kindly acts of friends. At this juncture the editor of the Century Magazine asked me to write a few articles for him. I consented for the money it gave me; for at that moment I was living upon borrowed money. The work I found congenial and I determined to continue it. The event is an important one for me, good or evil; I hope for the former.

The editor and publisher of the memoirs was Mark Twain, whose selfless dedication to Grant and his welfare was extraordinary. Suffering grievously from throat cancer, Grant toiled on the book for eleven months, turning out in some instances ten thousand words in a single day, a level of production that amazed everyone who read his copy. On July 19, 1885, Grant dictated the final words, his voice barely a whisper. A few hours after declaring he had finished, Grant wrote a letter to John Hancock Douglas, the doctor who had been treating him through the ordeal, declaring his readiness to die. "I first wanted so many days to work on my book so the authorship would be clearly mine," he announced with obvious relief. Four days later, he died; published posthumously, Personal Memoirs sold 300,000 copies in less than two years.

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