As it turned out, he never did settle down, exactly. Instead, he spent his last years planning on “speaking from the grave”—his phrase for the memoir that has now appeared upon the centenary of his death. With the excusable vanity of genius, he had high expectations for its reception. It will “live a couple of thousand years without any effort,” he told Howells, and will “then take a fresh start and live the rest of the time.” In one way or another, he worked at it for much of his life. “The truth is,” he told a friend, “my books are simply autobiographies” in the sense that they are stocked with fictional versions of people he had known, including himself. But starting around age forty, he made some tentative attempts at a memoir of a more conventional kind.
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