Mark Twain, A Biography, 1907-1910
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 1 out of 6
This etext was produced by David Widger
MARK TWAIN, A BIOGRAPHY
By Albert Bigelow Paine
VOLUME III, Part 2: 1907-1910
HONORS FROM OXFORD
Clemens made a brief trip to Bermuda during the winter, taking Twichell
along; their first return to the island since the trip when they had
promised to come back so soon-nearly thirty years before. They had been
comparatively young men then. They were old now, but they found the
green island as fresh and full of bloom as ever. They did not find their
old landlady; they could not even remember her name at first, and then
Twichell recalled that it was the same as an author of certain
schoolbooks in his youth, and Clemens promptly said, "Kirkham's Grammar."
Kirkham was truly the name, and they went to find her; but she was dead,
and the daughter, who had been a young girl in that earlier time, reigned
in her stead and entertained the successors of her mother's guests. They
walked and drove about the island, and it was like taking up again a
long-discontinued book and reading another chapter of the same tale. It
gave Mark Twain a fresh interest in Bermuda, one which he did not allow
to fade again.
Later in the year (March, 1907) I also made a journey; it having been
agreed that I should take a trip to the Mississippi and to the Pacific
coast to see those old friends of Mark Twain's who were so rapidly
passing away. John Briggs was still alive, and other Hannibal
schoolmates; also Joe Goodman and Steve Gillis, and a few more of the
early pioneers--all eminently worth seeing in the matter of such work as
I had in hand. The billiard games would be interrupted; but whatever
reluctance to the plan there may have been on that account was put aside
in view of prospective benefits. Clemens, in fact, seemed to derive joy
from the thought that he was commissioning a kind of personal emissary to
his old comrades, and provided me with a letter of credentials.
It was a long, successful trip that I made, and it was undertaken none
too soon. John Briggs, a gentle-hearted man, was already entering the
valley of the shadow as he talked to me by his fire one memorable
afternoon, and reviewed the pranks of those days along the river and in
the cave and on Holliday's Hill. I think it was six weeks later that he
died; and there were others of that scattering procession who did not
reach the end of the year. Joe Goodman, still full of vigor (in 1912),
journeyed with me to the green and dreamy solitudes of Jackass Hill to
see Steve and Jim Gillis, and that was an unforgetable Sunday when Steve
Gillis, an invalid, but with the fire still in his eyes and speech, sat
up on his couch in his little cabin in that Arcadian stillness and told
old tales and adventures. When I left he said:
"Tell Sam I'm going to die pretty soon, but that I love him; that I've
loved him all my life, and I'll love him till I die. This is the last
word I'll ever send to him." Jim Gillis, down in Sonora, was already
lying at the point of death, and so for him the visit was too late,
though he was able to receive a message from his ancient mining partner,
and to send back a parting word.
I returned by way of New Orleans and the Mississippi River, for I wished
to follow that abandoned water highway, and to visit its presiding
genius, Horace Bixby,--[He died August 2, 1912, at the age of 86]--still
alive and in service as pilot of the government snagboat, his
headquarters at St. Louis.
Coming up the river on one of the old passenger steam boats that still
exist, I noticed in a paper which came aboard that Mark Twain was to
receive from Oxford University the literary doctor's degree. There had
been no hint of this when I came away, and it seemed rather too sudden
and too good to be true. That the little barefoot lad that had played
along the river-banks at Hannibal, and received such meager advantages in
the way of schooling--whose highest ambition had been to pilot such a
craft as this one--was about to be crowned by the world's greatest
institution of learning, to receive the highest recognition for
achievement in the world of letters, was a thing which would not be
likely to happen outside of a fairy tale.
Returning to New York, I ran out to Tuxedo, where he had taken a home for
the summer (for it was already May), and walking along the shaded paths
of that beautiful suburban park, he told me what he knew of the Oxford
Moberly Bell, of the London Times, had been over in April, and soon after
his return to England there had come word of the proposed honor. Clemens
privately and openly (to Bell) attributed it largely to his influence.
He wrote to him:
DEAR MR. BELL,--Your hand is in it & you have my best thanks.
Although I wouldn't cross an ocean again for the price of the ship
that carried me I am glad to do it for an Oxford degree. I shall
plan to sail for England a shade before the middle of June, so that
I can have a few days in London before the 26th.
A day or two later, when the time for sailing had been arranged, he
overtook his letter with a cable:
I perceive your hand in it. You have my best thanks. Sail on
Minneapolis June 8th. Due in Southampton ten days later.
Clemens said that his first word of the matter had been a newspaper
cablegram, and that he had been doubtful concerning it until a cablegram
to himself had confirmed it.
"I never expected to cross the water again," he said; "but I would be
willing to journey to Mars for that Oxford degree."
He put the matter aside then, and fell to talking of Jim Gillis and the
others I had visited, dwelling especially on Gillis's astonishing faculty
for improvising romances, recalling how he had stood with his back to the
fire weaving his endless, grotesque yarns, with no other guide than his
fancy. It was a long, happy walk we had, though rather a sad one in its
memories; and he seemed that day, in a sense, to close the gate of those
early scenes behind him, for he seldom referred to them afterward.
He was back at 21 Fifth Avenue presently, arranging for his voyage.
Meantime, cable invitations of every sort were pouring in, from this and
that society and dignitary; invitations to dinners and ceremonials, and
what not, and it was clear enough that his English sojourn was to be a
busy one. He had hoped to avoid this, and began by declining all but two
invitations--a dinner-party given by Ambassador Whitelaw Reid and a
luncheon proposed by the "Pilgrims." But it became clear that this
would not do. England was not going to confer its greatest collegiate
honor without being permitted to pay its wider and more popular tribute.
Clemens engaged a special secretary for the trip--Mr. Ralph W. Ashcroft,
a young Englishman familiar with London life. They sailed on the 8th of
June, by a curious coincidence exactly forty years from the day he had
sailed on the Quaker City to win his great fame. I went with him to the
ship. His first elation had passed by this time, and he seemed a little
sad, remembering, I think, the wife who would have enjoyed this honor
with him but could not share it now.
A TRUE ENGLISH WELCOME
Mark Twain's trip across the Atlantic would seem to have been a pleasant
one. The Minneapolis is a fine, big ship, and there was plenty of
company. Prof. Archibald Henderson, Bernard Shaw's biographer, was
aboard;--[Professor .Henderson has since then published a volume on Mark
Twain-an interesting commentary on his writings-mainly from the
sociological point of view.]--also President Patton, of the Princeton
Theological Seminary; a well-known cartoonist, Richards, and some very
attractive young people--school-girls in particular, such as all through
his life had appealed to Mark Twain. Indeed, in his later life they made
a stronger appeal than ever. The years had robbed him of his own little
flock, and always he was trying to replace them. Once he said:
"During those years after my wife's death I was washing about on a
forlorn sea of banquets and speech-making in high and holy causes, and
these things furnished me intellectual cheer, and entertainment; but they
got at my heart for an evening only, then left it dry and dusty. I had
reached the grandfather stage of life without grandchildren, so I began
to adopt some."
He adopted several on that journey to England and on the return voyage,
and he kept on adopting others during the rest of his life. These
companionships became one of the happiest aspects of his final days, as
we shall see by and by.
There were entertainments on the ship, one of them given for the benefit
of the Seamen's Orphanage. One of his adopted granddaughters--"Charley"
he called her--played a violin solo and Clemens made a speech. Later his
autographs were sold at auction. Dr. Patton was auctioneer, and one
autographed postal card brought twenty-five dollars, which is perhaps the
record price for a single Mark Twain signature. He wore his white suit
on this occasion, and in the course of his speech referred to it. He
told first of the many defects in his behavior, and how members of his
household had always tried to keep him straight. The children, he said,
had fallen into the habit of calling it "dusting papa off." Then he went
When my daughter came to see me off last Saturday at the boat she
slipped a note in my hand and said, "Read it when you get aboard the
ship." I didn't think of it again until day before yesterday, and
it was a "dusting off." And if I carry out all the instructions
that I got there I shall be more celebrated in England for my
behavior than for anything else. I got instructions how to act on
every occasion. She underscored "Now, don't you wear white clothes
on ship or on shore until you get back," and I intended to obey. I
have been used to obeying my family all my life, but I wore the
white clothes to-night because the trunk that has the dark clothes
in it is in the cellar. I am not apologizing for the white clothes;
I am only apologizing to my daughter for not obeying her.
He received a great welcome when the ship arrived at Tilbury. A throng
of rapid-fire reporters and photographers immediately surrounded him, and
when he left the ship the stevedores gave him a round of cheers. It was
the beginning of that almost unheard-of demonstration of affection and
honor which never for a moment ceased, but augmented from day to day
during the four weeks of his English sojourn.
In a dictation following his return, Mark Twain said:
Who began it? The very people of all people in the world whom I
would have chosen: a hundred men of my own class--grimy sons of
labor, the real builders of empires and civilizations, the
stevedores! They stood in a body on the dock and charged their
masculine lungs, and gave me a welcome which went to the marrow of
J. Y. W. MacAlister was at the St. Pancras railway station to meet him,
and among others on the platform was Bernard Shaw, who had come down to
meet Professor Henderson. Clemens and Shaw were presented, and met
eagerly, for each greatly admired the other. A throng gathered. Mark
Twain was extricated at last, and hurried away to his apartments at
Brown's Hotel, "a placid, subdued, homelike, old-fashioned English inn,"
he called it, "well known to me years ago, a blessed retreat of a sort
now rare in England, and becoming rarer every year."
But Brown's was not placid and subdued during his stay. The London
newspapers declared that Mark Twain's arrival had turned Brown's not only
into a royal court, but a post-office--that the procession of visitors
and the bundles of mail fully warranted this statement. It was, in fact,
an experience which surpassed in general magnitude and magnificence
anything he had hitherto known. His former London visits, beginning with
that of 1872, had been distinguished by high attentions, but all of them
combined could not equal this. When England decides to get up an
ovation, her people are not to be outdone even by the lavish Americans.
An assistant secretary had to be engaged immediately, and it sometimes
required from sixteen to twenty hours a day for two skilled and busy men
to receive callers and reduce the pile of correspondence.
A pile of invitations had already accumulated, and others flowed in.
Lady Stanley, widow of Henry M. Stanley, wrote:
You know I want to see you and join right hand to right hand. I
must see your dear face again . . . . You will have no peace,
rest, or leisure during your stay in London, and you will end by
hating human beings. Let me come before you feel that way.
Mary Cholmondeley, the author of Red Pottage, niece of that lovable
Reginald Cholmondeley, and herself an old friend, sent greetings and
urgent invitations. Archdeacon Wilberforce wrote:
I have just been preaching about your indictment of that scoundrel
king of the Belgians and telling my people to buy the book. I am
only a humble item among the very many who offer you a cordial
welcome in England, but we long to see you again, and I should like
to change hats with you again. Do you remember?
The Athenaeum, the Garrick, and a dozen other London clubs had
anticipated his arrival with cards of honorary membership for the period
of his stay. Every leading photographer had put in a claim for sittings.
It was such a reception as Charles Dickens had received in America in
1842, and again in 1867. A London paper likened it to Voltaire's return
to Paris in 1778, when France went mad over him. There is simply no
limit to English affection and, hospitality once aroused. Clemens wrote:
Surely such weeks as this must be very rare in this world: I had
seen nothing like them before; I shall see nothing approaching them
Sir Thomas Lipton and Bram Stoker, old friends, were among the first to
present themselves, and there was no break in the line of callers.
Clemens's resolutions for secluding himself were swept away. On the very
next morning following his arrival he breakfasted with J. Henniker
Heaton, father of International Penny Postage, at the Bath Club, just
across Dover Street from Brown's. He lunched at the Ritz with Marjorie
Bowen and Miss Bisland. In the afternoon he sat for photographs at
Barnett's, and made one or two calls. He could no more resist these
things than a debutante in her first season.
He was breakfasting again with Heaton next morning; lunching with "Toby,
M.P.," and Mrs. Lucy; and having tea with Lady Stanley in the afternoon,
and being elaborately dined next day at Dorchester House by Ambassador
and Mrs. Reid. These were all old and tried friends. He was not a
stranger among them, he said; he was at home. Alfred Austin, Conan
Doyle, Anthony Hope, Alma Tadema, E. A. Abbey, Edmund Goss, George
Smalley, Sir Norman Lockyer, Henry W. Lucy, Sidney Brooks, and Bram
Stoker were among those at Dorchester House--all old comrades, as were
many of the other guests.
"I knew fully half of those present," he said afterward.
Mark Twain's bursting upon London society naturally was made the most of
by the London papers, and all his movements were tabulated and
elaborated, and when there was any opportunity for humor in the situation
it was not left unimproved. The celebrated Ascot racing-cup was stolen
just at the time of his arrival, and the papers suggestively mingled
their head-lines, "Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup Stolen," and kept the
joke going in one form or another. Certain state jewels and other
regalia also disappeared during his stay, and the news of these
burglaries was reported in suspicious juxtaposition with the news of Mark
English reporters adopted American habits for the occasion, and invented
or embellished when the demand for a new sensation was urgent. Once,
when following the custom of the place, he descended the hotel elevator
in a perfectly proper and heavy brown bath robe, and stepped across
narrow Dover Street to the Bath Club, the papers flamed next day with the
story that Mark Twain had wandered about the lobby of Brown's and
promenaded Dover Street in a sky-blue bath robe attracting wide
Clara Clemens, across the ocean, was naturally a trifle disturbed by such
reports, and cabled this delicate "dusting off":
"Much worried. Remember proprieties."
To which he answered:
"They all pattern after me," a reply to the last degree characteristic.
It was on the fourth day after his arrival, June 22d, that he attended
the King's garden-party at Windsor Castle. There were eighty-five
hundred guests at the King's party, and if we may judge from the London
newspapers, Mark Twain was quite as much a figure in that great throng as
any member of the royal family. His presentation to the King and the
Queen is set down as an especially notable incident, and their
conversation is quite fully given. Clemens himself reported:
His Majesty was very courteous. In the course of the conversation
I reminded him of an episode of fifteen years ago, when I had the
honor to walk a mile with him when he was taking the waters at
Homburg, in Germany. I said that I had often told about that
episode, and that whenever I was the historian I made good history
of it and it was worth listening to, but that it had found its way
into print once or twice in unauthentic ways and was badly damaged
thereby. I said I should like to go on repeating this history, but
that I should be quite fair and reasonably honest, and while I
should probably never tell it twice in the same way I should at
least never allow it to deteriorate in my hands. His Majesty
intimated his willingness that I should continue to disseminate that
piece of history; and he added a compliment, saying that he knew
good and sound history would not suffer at my hands, and that if
this good and sound history needed any improvement beyond the facts
he would trust me to furnish that improvement.
I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the Queen looked as
young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago when I saw her
first. I did not say this to her, because I learned long ago never
to say the obvious thing, but leave the obvious thing to commonplace
and inexperienced people to say. That she still looked to me as
young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago is good
evidence that ten thousand people have already noticed this and have
mentioned it to her. I could have said it and spoken the truth, but
I was too wise for that. I kept the remark unuttered and saved her
Majesty the vexation of hearing it the ten-thousand-and-oneth time.
All that report about my proposal to buy Windsor Castle and its
grounds was a false rumor. I started it myself.
One newspaper said I patted his Majesty on the shoulder--an
impertinence of which I was not guilty; I was reared in the most
exclusive circles of Missouri and I know how to behave. The King
rested his hand upon my arm a moment or two while we were chatting,
but he did it of his own accord. The newspaper which said I talked
with her Majesty with my hat on spoke the truth, but my reasons for
doing it were good and sufficient--in fact unassailable. Rain was
threatening, the temperature had cooled, and the Queen said, "Please
put your hat on, Mr. Clemens." I begged her pardon and excused
myself from doing it. After a moment or two she said, "Mr. Clemens,
put your hat on"--with a slight emphasis on the word "on" "I can't
allow you to catch cold here." When a beautiful queen commands it
is a pleasure to obey, and this time I obeyed--but I had already
disobeyed once, which is more than a subject would have felt
justified in doing; and so it is true, as charged; I did talk with
the Queen of England with my hat on, but it wasn't fair in the
newspaper man to charge it upon me as an impoliteness, since there
were reasons for it which he could not know of.
Nearly all the members of the British royal family were there, and there
were foreign visitors which included the King of Siam and a party of
India princes in their gorgeous court costumes, which Clemens admired
openly and said he would like to wear himself.
The English papers spoke of it as one of the largest and most
distinguished parties ever given at Windsor. Clemens attended it in
company with Mr. and Mrs. J. Henniker Heaton, and when it was over Sir
Thomas Lipton joined them and motored with them back to Brown's.
He was at Archdeacon Wilberforce's next day, where a curious circumstance
developed. When he arrived Wilberforce said to him, in an undertone:
"Come into my library. I have something to show you."
In the library Clemens was presented to a Mr. Pole, a plain-looking man,
suggesting in dress and appearance the English tradesman. Wilberforce
"Mr. Pole, show to Mr. Clemens what you have brought here."
Mr. Pole unrolled a long strip of white linen and brought to view at last
a curious, saucer-looking vessel of silver, very ancient in appearance,
and cunningly overlaid with green glass. The archdeacon took it and
handed it to Clemens as some precious jewel. Clemens said:
"What is it?"
Wilberforce impressively answered:
"It is the Holy Grail."
Clemens naturally started with surprise.
"You may well start," said Wilberforce; "but it's the truth. That is the
Then he gave this explanation: Mr. Pole, a grain merchant of Bristol, had
developed some sort of clairvoyant power, or at all events he had dreamed
several times with great vividness the location of the true Grail.
Another dreamer, a Dr. Goodchild, of Bath, was mixed up in the matter,
and between them this peculiar vessel, which was not a cup, or a goblet,
or any of the traditional things, had been discovered. Mr. Pole seemed a
man of integrity, and it was clear that the churchman believed the
discovery to be genuine and authentic. Of course there could be no
positive proof. It was a thing that must be taken on trust. That the
vessel itself was wholly different from anything that the generations had
conceived, and was apparently of very ancient make, was opposed to the
natural suggestion of fraud.
Clemens, to whom the whole idea of the Holy Grail was simply a poetic
legend and myth, had the feeling that he had suddenly been transmigrated,
like his own Connecticut Yankee, back into the Arthurian days; but he
made no question, suggested no doubt. Whatever it was, it was to them
the materialization of a symbol of faith which ranked only second to the
cross itself, and he handled it reverently and felt the honor of having
been one of the first permitted to see the relic. In a subsequent
dictation he said:
I am glad I have lived to see that half-hour--that astonishing half-
hour. In its way it stands alone in my life's experience. In the
belief of two persons present this was the very vessel which was
brought by night and secretly delivered to Nicodemus, nearly
nineteen centuries ago, after the Creator of the universe had
delivered up His life on the cross for the redemption of the human
race; the very cup which the stainless Sir Galahad had sought with
knightly devotion in far fields of peril and adventure in Arthur's
time, fourteen hundred years ago; the same cup which princely
knights of other bygone ages had laid down their lives in long and
patient efforts to find, and had passed from life disappointed--and
here it was at last, dug up by a grain-broker at no cost of blood or
travel, and apparently no purity required of him above the average
purity of the twentieth-century dealer in cereal futures; not even a
stately name required--no Sir Galahad, no Sir Bors de Ganis, no Sir
Lancelot of the Lake--nothing but a mere Mr. Pole.--[From the New
York Sun somewhat later: "Mr. Pole communicated the discovery to a
dignitary of the Church of England, who summoned a number of eminent
persons, including psychologists, to see and discuss it. Forty
attended, including some peers with ecclesiastical interests,
Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, Professor Crookas, and ministers of
various religious bodies, including the Rev. R. J. Campbell. They
heard Mr. Pole's story with deep attention, but he could not prove
the genuineness of the relic."]
Clemens saw Mr. and Mrs. Rogers at Claridge's Hotel that evening; lunched
with his old friends Sir Norman and Lady Lockyer next day; took tea with
T. P. O'Connor at the House of Commons, and on the day following, which
was June a 5th, he was the guest of honor at one of the most elaborate
occasions of his visit--a luncheon given by the Pilgrims at the Savoy
Hotel. It would be impossible to set down here a report of the doings,
or even a list of the guests, of that gathering. The Pilgrims is a club
with branches on both sides of the ocean, and Mark Twain, on either side,
was a favorite associate. At this luncheon the picture on the bill of
fare represented him as a robed pilgrim, with a great pen for his staff,
turning his back on the Mississippi River and being led along his
literary way by a huge jumping frog, to which he is attached by a string.
On a guest-card was printed:
Pilot of many Pilgrims since the shout
"Mark Twain!"--that serves you for a deathless sign--
On Mississippi's waterway rang out
Over the plummet's line--
Still where the countless ripples laugh above
The blue of halcyon seas long may you keep
Your course unbroken, buoyed upon a love
Ten thousand fathoms deep!
--O. S. [OWEN SEAMAN].
Augustine Birrell made the speech of introduction, closing with this
Mark Twain is a man whom Englishmen and Americans do well to honor.
He is a true consolidator of nations. His delightful humor is of
the kind which dissipates and destroys national prejudices. His
truth and his honor--his love of truth and his love of honor--
overflow all boundaries. He has made the world better by his
presence, and we rejoice to see him here. Long may he live to reap
a plentiful harvest of hearty honest human affection.
The toast was drunk standing. Then Clemens rose and made a speech which
delighted all England. In his introduction Mr. Birrell had happened to
say, "How I came here I will not ask!" Clemens remembered this, and
looking down into Mr. Birrell's wine-glass, which was apparently unused,
"Mr. Birrell doesn't know how he got here. But he will be able to get
away all right--he has not drunk anything since he came."
He told stories about Howells and Twichell, and how Darwin had gone to
sleep reading his books, and then he came down to personal things and
company, and told them how, on the day of his arrival, he had been
shocked to read on a great placard, "Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup
No doubt many a person was misled by those sentences joined together
in that unkind way. I have no doubt my character has suffered from
it. I suppose I ought to defend my character, but how can I defend
it? I can say here and now that anybody can see by my face that I
am sincere--that I speak the truth, and that I have never seen that
Cup. I have not got the Cup, I did not have a chance to get it. I
have always had a good character in that way. I have hardly ever
stolen anything, and if I did steal anything I had discretion enough
to know about the value of it first. I do not steal things that are
likely to get myself into trouble. I do not think any of us do
that. I know we all take things--that is to be expected; but really
I have never taken anything, certainly in England, that amounts to
any great thing. I do confess that when I was here seven years ago
I stole a hat--but that did not amount to anything. It was not a
good hat it was only a clergyman's hat, anyway. I was at a
luncheon-party and Archdeacon Wilberforce was there also. I dare say
he is archdeacon now--he was a canon then--and he was serving in the
Westminster Battery, if that is the proper term. I do not know, as
you mix military and ecclesiastical things together so much.
He recounted the incident of the exchanged hats; then he spoke of graver
things. He closed:
I cannot always be cheerful, and I cannot always be chaffing. I
must sometimes lay the cap and bells aside and recognize that I am
of the human race. I have my cares and griefs, and I therefore
noticed what Mr. Birrell said--I was so glad to hear him say it--
something that was in the nature of these verses here at the top of
He lit our life with shafts of sun
And vanquished pain.
Thus two great nations stand as one
In honoring Twain.
I am very glad to have those verses. I am very glad and very grateful
for what Mr. Birrell said in that connection. I have received since I
have been here, in this one week, hundreds of letters from all conditions
of people in England, men, women, and children, and there is compliment,
praise, and, above all, and better than all, there is in them a note of
Praise is well, compliment is well, but affection--that is the last and
final and most precious reward that any man can win, whether by character
or achievement, and I am very grateful to have that reward. All these
letters make me feel that here in England, as in America, when I stand
under the English or the American flag I am not a, stranger, I am not an
alien, but at home.
DOCTOR OF LITERATURE, OXFORD
He left, immediately following the Pilgrim luncheon, with Hon. Robert P.
Porter, of the London Times, for Oxford, to remain his guest there during
the various ceremonies. The encenia--the ceremony of conferring the
degrees--occurred at the Sheldonian Theater the following morning, June
It was a memorable affair. Among those who were to receive degrees that
morning besides Samuel Clemens were: Prince Arthur of Connaught; Prime
Minister Campbell-Bannerman; Whitelaw Reid; Rudyard Kipling; Sidney Lee;
Sidney Colvin; Lord Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland; Sir Norman
Lockyer; Auguste Rodin, the sculptor; Saint-Saens, and Gen. William
Booth, of the Salvation Army-something more than thirty, in all, of the
world's distinguished citizens.
The candidates assembled at Magdalen College, and led by Lord Curzon, the
Chancellor, and clad in their academic plumage, filed in radiant
procession to the Sheldonian Theater, a group of men such as the world
seldom sees collected together. The London Standard said of it:
So brilliant and so interesting was the list of those who had been
selected by Oxford University on Convocation to receive degrees,
'honoris causa', in this first year of Lord Curzon's chancellorship,
that it is small wonder that the Sheldonian Theater was besieged
today at an early hour.
Shortly after 11 o'clock the organ started playing the strains of
"God Save the King," and at once a great volume of sound arose as
the anthem was taken up by the undergraduates and the rest of the
assemblage. Every one stood up as, headed by the mace of office,
the procession slowly filed into the theater, under the leadership
of Lord Curzon, in all the glory of his robes of office, the long
black gown heavily embroidered with gold, the gold-tasseled mortar-
board, and the medals on his breast forming an admirable setting,
thoroughly in keeping with the dignity and bearing of the late
Viceroy of India. Following him came the members of Convocation, a
goodly number consisting of doctors of divinity, whose robes of
scarlet and black enhanced the brilliance of the scene. Robes of
salmon and scarlet-which proclaim the wearer to be a doctor of civil
law--were also seen in numbers, while here and there was a gown of
gray and scarlet, emblematic of the doctorate of science or of
The encenia is an impressive occasion; but it is not a silent one. There
is a splendid dignity about it; but there goes with it all a sort of
Greek chorus of hilarity, the time-honored prerogative of the Oxford
undergraduate, who insists on having his joke and his merriment at the
expense of those honored guests. The degrees of doctor of law were
conferred first. Prince Arthur was treated with proper dignity by the
gallery; but when Whitelaw Reid stepped forth a voice shouted, "Where's
your Star-spangled Banner?" and when England's Prime Minister-Campbell-
Bannerman--came forward some one shouted, "What about the House of
Lords?" and so they kept it up, cheering and chaffing, until General
Booth was introduced as the "Passionate advocate of the dregs of the
people, leader of the submerged tenth," and general of the Salvation
Army," when the place broke into a perfect storm of applause, a storm
that a few minutes later became, according to the Daily News, "a
veritable cyclone," for Mark Twain, clad in his robe of scarlet and gray,
had been summoned forward to receive the highest academic honors which
the world has to give. The undergraduates went wild then. There was
such a mingling of yells and calls and questions, such as, "Have you
brought the jumping Frog with you?" "Where is the Ascot Cup?" "Where are
the rest of the Innocents?" that it seemed as if it would not be possible
to present him at all; but, finally, Chancellor Curzon addressed him (in
Latin), "Most amiable and charming sir, you shake the sides of the whole
world with your merriment," and the great degree was conferred.
If only Tom Sawyer could have seen him then! If only Olivia Clemens
could have sat among those who gave him welcome! But life is not like
that. There is always an incompleteness somewhere, and the shadow across
Rudyard Kipling followed--another supreme favorite, who was hailed with
the chorus, "For he's a jolly good fellow," and then came Saint-Satins.
The prize poems and essays followed, and then the procession of newly
created doctors left the theater with Lord Curzon at their head. So it
was all over-that for which, as he said, he would have made the journey
to Mars. The world had nothing more to give him now except that which he
had already long possessed-its honor and its love.
The newly made doctors were to be the guests of Lord Curzon at All Souls
College for luncheon. As they left the theater (according to Sidney
The people in the streets singled out Mark Twain, formed a vast and
cheering body-guard around him and escorted him to the college
gates. But before and after the lunch it was Mark Twain again whom
everybody seemed most of all to want to meet. The Maharajah of
Bikanir, for instance, finding himself seated at lunch next to Mrs.
Riggs (Kate Douglas Wiggin), and hearing that she knew Mark Twain,
asked her to present him a ceremony duly performed later on the
quadrangle. At the garden-party given the same afternoon in the
beautiful grounds of St. John's, where the indefatigable Mark put
in an appearance, it was just the same--every one pressed forward
for an exchange of greetings and a hand-shake. On the following
day, when the Oxford pageant took place, it was even more so. "Mark
Twain's Pageant," it was called by one of the papers.--[There was a
dinner that evening at one of the colleges where, through mistaken
information, Clemens wore black evening dress when he should have
worn his scarlet gown. "When I arrived," he said, "the place was
just a conflagration--a kind of human prairie-fire. I looked as out
of place as a Presbyterian in hell."]
Clemens remained the guest of Robert Porter, whose house was besieged
with those desiring a glimpse of their new doctor of letters. If he went
on the streets he was instantly recognized by some newsboy or cabman or
butcher-boy, and the word ran along like a cry of fire, while the crowds
At a luncheon which the Porters gave him the proprietor of the catering
establishment garbed himself as a waiter in order to have the distinction
of serving Mark Twain, and declared it to have been the greatest moment
of his life. This gentleman--for he was no less than that--was a man
well-read, and his tribute was not inspired by mere snobbery. Clemens,
learning of the situation, later withdrew from the drawing-room for a
talk with him.
"I found," he said, "that he knew about ten or fifteen times as much
about my books as I knew about them myself."
Mark Twain viewed the Oxford pageant from a box with Rudyard Kipling and
Lord Curzon, and as they sat there some one passed up a folded slip of
paper, on the outside of which was written, "Not true." Opening it, they
East is East and West is West,
And never the Twain shall meet,
--a quotation from Kipling.
They saw the panorama of history file by, a wonderful spectacle which
made Oxford a veritable dream of the Middle Ages. The lanes and streets
and meadows were thronged with such costumes as Oxford had seen in its
long history. History was realized in a manner which no one could
appreciate more fully than Mark Twain.
"I was particularly anxious to see this pageant," he said, "so that I
could get ideas for my funeral procession, which I am planning on a large
He was not disappointed; it was a realization to him of all the gorgeous
spectacles that his soul had dreamed from youth up.
He easily recognized the great characters of history as they passed by,
and he was recognized by them in turn; for they waved to him and bowed
and sometimes called his name, and when he went down out of his box, by
and by, Henry VIII. shook hands with him, a monarch he had always
detested, though he was full of friendship for him now; and Charles I.
took off his broad, velvet-plumed hat when they met, and Henry II. and
Rosamond and Queen Elizabeth all saluted him--ghosts of the dead
LONDON SOCIAL HONORS
We may not detail all the story of that English visit; even the path of
glory leads to monotony at last. We may only mention a few more of the
great honors paid to our unofficial ambassador to the world: among them a
dinner given to members of the Savage Club by the Lord Mayor of London at
the Mansion House, also a dinner given by the American Society at the
Hotel Cecil in honor of the Fourth of July. Clemens was the guest of
honor, and responded to the toast given by Ambassador Reid, "The Day we
Celebrate." He made an amusing and not altogether unserious reference to
the American habit of exploding enthusiasm in dangerous fireworks.
To English colonists he gave credit for having established American
independence, and closed:
We have, however, one Fourth of July which is absolutely our own,
and that is the memorable proclamation issued forty years ago by
that great American to whom Sir Mortimer Durand paid that just and
beautiful tribute--Abraham Lincoln: a proclamation which not only
set the black slave free, but set his white owner free also. The
owner was set free from that burden and offense, that sad condition
of things where he was in so many instances a master and owner of
slaves when he did not want to be. That proclamation set them all
free. But even in this matter England led the way, for she had set
her slaves free thirty years before, and we but followed her
example. We always follow her example, whether it is good or bad.
And it was an English judge, a century ago, that issued that other
great proclamation, and established that great principle, that when
a slave, let him belong to whom he may, and let him come whence he
may, sets his foot upon English soil his fetters, by that act, fall
away and he is a free man before the world!
It is true, then, that all our Fourths of July, and we have five of
them, England gave to us, except that one that I have mentioned--the
Emancipation Proclamation; and let us not forget that we owe this
debt to her. Let us be able to say to old England, this great-
hearted, venerable old mother of the race, you gave us our Fourths
of July, that we love and that we honor and revere; you gave us the
Declaration of Independence, which is the charter of our rights;
you, the venerable Mother of Liberties, the Champion and Protector
of Anglo-Saxon Freedom--you gave us these things, and we do most
honestly thank you for them.
It was at this dinner that he characteristically confessed, at last, to
having stolen the Ascot Cup.
He lunched one day with Bernard Shaw, and the two discussed the
philosophies in which they were mutually interested. Shaw regarded
Clemens as a sociologist before all else, and gave it out with great
frankness that America had produced just two great geniuses--Edgar Allan
Poe and Mark Twain. Later Shaw wrote him a note, in which he said:
I am persuaded that the future historian of America will find your works
as indispensable to him as a French historian finds the political tracts
of Voltaire. I tell you so because I am the author of a play in which a
priest says, "Telling the truth's the funniest joke in the world," a
piece of wisdom which you helped to teach me.
Clemens saw a great deal of Moberly Bell. The two lunched and dined
privately together when there was opportunity, and often met at the
The bare memorandum of the week following July Fourth will convey
something of Mark Twain's London activities:
Friday, July 5. Dined with Lord and Lady Portsmouth.
Saturday, July 6. Breakfasted at Lord Avebury's. Lord Kelvin, Sir
Charles Lyell, and Sir Archibald Geikie were there. Sat 22 times
for photos, 16 at Histed's. Savage Club dinner in the evening.
White suit. Ascot Cup.
Sunday, July 7. Called on Lady Langattock and others. Lunched with
Sir Norman Lockyer.
Monday, July 8. Lunched with Plasmon directors at Bath Club. Dined
privately at C. F. Moberly Bell's.
Tuesday, July 9. Lunched at the House with Sir Benjamin Stone.
Balfour and Komura were the other guests of honor. Punch dinner in
the evening. Joy Agnew and the cartoon.
Wednesday, July 10. Went to Liverpool with Tay Pay. Attended
banquet in the Town Hall in the evening.
Thursday, July 11. Returned to London with Tay Pay. Calls in the
The Savage Club would inevitably want to entertain him on its own
account, and their dinner of July 6th was a handsome, affair. He felt at
home with the Savages, and put on white for the only time publicly in
England. He made them one of his reminiscent speeches, recalling his
association with them on his first visit to London, thirty-seven years
before. Then he said:
That is a long time ago, and as I had come into a very strange land,
and was with friends, as I could see, that has always remained in my
mind as a peculiarly blessed evening, since it brought me into
contact with men of my own kind and my own feelings. I am glad to
be here, and to see you all, because it is very likely that I shall
not see you again. I have been received, as you know, in the most
delightfully generous way in England ever since I came here. It
keeps me choked up all the time. Everybody is so generous, and they
do seem to give you such a hearty welcome. Nobody in the world can
appreciate it higher than I do.
The club gave him a surprise in the course of the evening. A note was
sent to him accompanied by a parcel, which, when opened, proved to
contain a gilded plaster replica of the Ascot Gold Cup. The note said:
Dere Mark, i return the Cup. You couldn't keep your mouth shut
about it. 'Tis 2 pretty 2 melt, as you want me 2; nest time I work
a pinch ile have a pard who don't make after-dinner speeches.
There was a postcript which said: "I changed the acorn atop for another
nut with my knife." The acorn was, in fact, replaced by a well-modeled
head of Mark Twain.
So, after all, the Ascot Cup would be one of the trophies which he would
bear home with him across the Atlantic.
Probably the most valued of his London honors was the dinner given to him
by the staff of Punch. Punch had already saluted him with a front-page
cartoon by Bernard Partridge, a picture in which the presiding genius of
that paper, Mr. Punch himself, presents him with a glass of the
patronymic beverage with the words, "Sir, I honor myself by drinking your
health. Long life to you--and happiness--and perpetual youth!"
Mr. Agnew, chief editor; Linley Sambourne, Francis Burnand, Henry Lucy,
and others of the staff welcomed him at the Punch offices at 10 Bouverie
Street, in the historic Punch dining-room where Thackeray had sat, and
Douglas Jerrold, and so many of the great departed. Mark Twain was the
first foreign visitor to be so honored--in fifty years the first stranger
to sit at the sacred board--a mighty distinction. In the course of the
dinner they gave him a pretty surprise, when little joy Agnew presented
him with the original drawing of Partridge's cartoon.
Nothing could have appealed to him more, and the Punch dinner, with its
associations and that dainty presentation, remained apart in his memory
from all other feastings.
Clemens had intended to return early in July, but so much was happening
that he postponed his sailing until the 13th. Before leaving America, he
had declined a dinner offered by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
Repeatedly urged to let Liverpool share in his visit, he had reconsidered
now, and on the day following the Punch dinner, on July loth, they
carried him, with T. P. O'Connor (Tay Pay) in the Prince of Wales's
special coach to Liverpool, to be guest of honor at the reception and
banquet which Lord Mayor Japp tendered him at the Town Hall. Clemens was
too tired to be present while the courses were being served, but arrived
rested and fresh to respond to his toast. Perhaps because it was his
farewell speech in England, he made that night the most effective address
of his four weeks' visit--one of the most effective of his whole career:
He began by some light reference to the Ascot Cup and the Dublin Jewels
and the State Regalia, and other disappearances that had been laid to his
charge, to amuse his hearers, and spoke at greater length than usual, and
with even greater variety. Then laying all levity aside, he told them,
like the Queen of Sheba, all that was in his heart.
. . . Home is dear to us all, and now I am departing to my own
home beyond the ocean. Oxford has conferred upon me the highest
honor that has ever fallen to my share of this life's prizes. It is
the very one I would have chosen, as outranking all and any others,
the one more precious to me than any and all others within the gift
of man or state. During my four weeks' sojourn in England I have
had another lofty honor, a continuous honor, an honor which has
flowed serenely along, without halt or obstruction, through all
these twenty-six days, a most moving and pulse-stirring honor--the
heartfelt grip of the hand, and the welcome that does not descend
from the pale-gray matter of the brain, but rushes up with the red
blood from the heart. It makes me proud and sometimes it makes me
humble, too. Many and many a year ago I gathered an incident from
Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. It was like this: There was a
presumptuous little self-important skipper in a coasting sloop
engaged in the dried-apple and kitchen-furniture trade, and he was
always hailing every ship that came in sight. He did it just to
hear himself talk and to air his small grandeur. One day a majestic
Indiaman came plowing by with course on course of canvas towering
into the sky, her decks and yards swarming with sailors, her hull
burdened to the Plimsoll line with a rich freightage of precious
spices, lading the breezes with gracious and mysterious odors of the
Orient. It was a noble spectacle, a sublime spectacle! Of course
the little skipper popped into the shrouds and squeaked out a hail,
"Ship ahoy! What ship is that? And whence and whither?" In a deep
and thunderous bass the answer came back through the speaking-
trumpet, "The Begum, of Bengal--142 days out from Canton--homeward
bound! What ship is that?" Well, it just crushed that poor little
creature's vanity flat, and he squeaked back most humbly, "Only the
Mary Ann, fourteen hours out from Boston, bound for Kittery Point--
with nothing to speak of!" Oh, what an eloquent word that "only,"
to express the depths of his humbleness! That is just my case.
During just one hour in the twenty-four--not more--I pause and
reflect in the stillness of the night with the echoes of your
English welcome still lingering in my ears, and then I am humble.
Then I am properly meek, and for that little while I am only the
Mary Ann, fourteen hours out, cargoed with vegetables and tinware;
but during all the other twenty-three hours my vain self-complacency
rides high on the white crests of your approval, and then I am a
stately Indiaman, plowing the great seas under a cloud of canvas and
laden with the kindest words that have ever been vouchsafed to any
wandering alien in this world, I think; then my twenty-six fortunate
days on this old mother soil seem to be multiplied by six, and I am
the Begum, of Bengal, 142 days out from Canton--homeward bound!
He returned to London, and with one of his young acquaintances, an
American--he called her Francesca--paid many calls. It took the
dreariness out of that social function to perform it in that way. With a
list of the calls they were to make they drove forth each day to cancel
the social debt. They paid calls in every walk of life. His young
companion was privileged to see the inside of London homes of almost
every class, for he showed no partiality; he went to the homes of the
poor and the rich alike. One day they visited the home of an old
bookkeeper whom he had known in 1872 as a clerk in a large establishment,
earning a salary of perhaps a pound a week, who now had risen mightily,
for he had become head bookkeeper in that establishment on a salary of
six pounds a week, and thought it great prosperity and fortune for his
He sailed on July 13th for home, besought to the last moment by a crowd
of autograph-seekers and reporters and photographers, and a multitude who
only wished to see him and to shout and wave good-by. He was sailing
away from them for the last time. They hoped he would make a speech, but
that would not have been possible. To the reporters he gave a farewell
message: "It has been the most enjoyable holiday I have ever had, and I
am sorry the end of it has come. I have met a hundred, old friends, and
I have made a hundred new ones. It is a good kind of riches to have;
there is none better, I think." And the London Tribune declared that
"the ship that bore him away had difficulty in getting clear, so thickly
was the water strewn with the bay-leaves of his triumph. For Mark Twain
has triumphed, and in his all-too-brief stay of a month has done more for
the cause of the world's peace than will be accomplished by the Hague
Conference. He has made the world laugh again."
His ship was the Minnetonka, and there were some little folks aboard to
be adopted as grandchildren. On July 5th, in a fog, the Minnetonka
collided with the bark Sterling, and narrowly escaped sinking her. On
the whole, however, the homeward way was clear, and the vessel reached
New York nearly a day in advance of their schedule. Some ceremonies of
welcome had been prepared for him; but they were upset by the early
arrival, so that when he descended the gang-plank to his native soil only
a few who had received special information were there to greet him. But
perhaps he did not notice it. He seldom took account of the absence of
such things. By early afternoon, however, the papers rang with the
announcement that Mark Twain was home again.
It is a sorrow to me that I was not at the dock to welcome him. I had
been visiting in Elmira, and timed my return for the evening of the a 2d,
to be on hand the following morning, when the ship was due. When I saw
the announcement that he had already arrived I called a greeting over the
telephone, and was told to come down and play billiards. I confess I
went with a certain degree of awe, for one could not but be overwhelmed
with the echoes of the great splendor he had so recently achieved, and I
prepared to sit a good way off in silence, and hear something of the tale
of this returning conqueror; but when I arrived he was already in the
billiard-room knocking the balls about--his coat off, for it was a hot
night. As I entered he said:
"Get your cue. I have been inventing a new game." And I think there
were scarcely ten words exchanged before we were at it. The pageant was
over; the curtain was rung down. Business was resumed at the old stand.
MATTERS PSYCHIC AND OTHERWISE
He returned to Tuxedo and took up his dictations, and mingled freely with
the social life; but the contrast between his recent London experience
and his semi-retirement must have been very great. When I visited him
now and then, he seemed to me lonely--not especially for companionship,
but rather for the life that lay behind him--the great career which in a
sense now had been completed since he had touched its highest point.
There was no billiard-table at Tuxedo, and he spoke expectantly of
getting back to town and the games there, also of the new home which was
then building in Redding, and which would have a billiard-room where we
could assemble daily--my own habitation being not far away. Various
diversions were planned for Redding; among them was discussed a possible
school of philosophy, such as Hawthorne and Emerson and Alcott had
established at Concord.
He spoke quite freely of his English experiences, but usually of the more
amusing phases. He almost never referred to the honors that had been
paid to him, yet he must have thought of them sometimes, and cherished
them, for it had been the greatest national tribute ever paid to a
private citizen; he must have known that in his heart. He spoke
amusingly of his visit to Marie Corelli, in Stratford, and of the Holy
Grail incident, ending the latter by questioning--in words at least--all
psychic manifestations. I said to him:
"But remember your own dream, Mr. Clemens, which presaged the death of
He answered: "I ask nobody to believe that it ever happened. To me it is
true; but it has no logical right to be true, and I do not expect belief
in it." Which I thought a peculiar point of view, but on the whole
He was invited to be a special guest at the Jamestown Exposition on
Fulton Day, in September, and Mr. Rogers lent him his yacht in which to
make the trip. It was a break in the summer's monotonies, and the
Jamestown honors must have reminded him of those in London. When he
entered the auditorium where the services were to be held there was a
demonstration which lasted more than five minutes. Every person in the
hall rose and cheered, waving handkerchiefs and umbrellas. He made them
a brief, amusing talk on Fulton and other matters, then introduced
Admiral Harrington, who delivered a masterly address and was followed by
Martin W. Littleton, the real orator of the day. Littleton acquitted
himself so notably that Mark Twain conceived for him a deep admiration,
and the two men quickly became friends. They saw each other often during
the remainder of the Jamestown stay, and Clemens, learning that Littleton
lived just across Ninth Street from him in New York, invited him to come
over when he had an evening to spare and join the billiard games.
So it happened, somewhat later, when every one was back in town, Mr. and
Mrs. Littleton frequently came over for billiards, and the games became
three-handed with an audience--very pleasant games played in that way.
Clemens sometimes set himself up as umpire, and became critic and gave
advice, while Littleton and I played. He had a favorite shot that he
frequently used himself and was always wanting us to try, which was to
drive the ball to the cushion at the beginning of the shot.
He played it with a good deal of success, and achieved unexpected results
with it. He was even inspired to write a poem on the subject.
When all your days are dark with doubt,
And dying hope is at its worst;
When all life's balls are scattered wide,
With not a shot in sight, to left or right,
Don't give it up;
Advance your cue and shut your eyes,
And take the cushion first.
The Harry Thaw trial was in progress just then, and Littleton was Thaw's
chief attorney. It was most interesting to hear from him direct the
day's proceedings and his views of the situation and of Thaw.
Littleton and billiards recall a curious thing which happened one
afternoon. I had been absent the evening before, and Littleton had been
over. It was after luncheon now, and Clemens and I began preparing for
the customary games. We were playing then a game with four balls, two
white and two red. I began by placing the red balls on the table, and
then went around looking in the pockets for the two white cue-balls.
When I had made the round of the table I had found but one white ball. I
thought I must have overlooked the other, and made the round again. Then
"There is one white ball missing."
Clemens, to satisfy himself, also made the round of the pockets, and
"It was here last night." He felt in the pockets of the little white-
silk coat which he usually wore, thinking that he might unconsciously
have placed it there at the end of the last game, but his coat pockets
He said: "I'll bet Littleton carried that ball home with him."
Then I suggested that near the end of the game it might have jumped off
the table, and I looked carefully under the furniture and in the various
corners, but without success. There was another set of balls, and out of
it I selected a white one for our play, and the game began. It went
along in the usual way, the balls constantly falling into the pockets,
and as constantly being replaced on the table. This had continued for
perhaps half an hour, there being no pocket that had not been frequently
occupied and emptied during that time; but then it happened that Clemens
reached into the middle pocket, and taking out a white ball laid it in
place, whereupon we made the discovery that three white balls lay upon
the table. The one just taken from the pocket was the missing ball. We
looked at each other, both at first too astonished to say anything at
all. No one had been in the room since we began to play, and at no time
during the play had there been more than two white balls in evidence,
though the pockets had been emptied at the end of each shot. The pocket
from which the missing ball had been taken had been filled and emptied
again and again. Then Clemens said:
"We must be dreaming."
We stopped the game for a while to discuss it, but we could devise no
material explanation. I suggested the kobold--that mischievous invisible
which is supposed to play pranks by carrying off such things as pencils,
letters, and the like, and suddenly restoring them almost before one's
eyes. Clemens, who, in spite of his material logic, was always a mystic
at heart, said:
"But that, so far as I know, has never happened to more than one person
at a time, and has been explained by a sort of temporary mental
blindness. This thing has happened to two of us, and there can be no
question as to the positive absence of the object."
"How about dematerialization?"
"Yes, if one of us were a medium that might be considered an
He went on to recall that Sir Alfred Russel Wallace had written of such
things, and cited instances which Wallace had recorded. In the end he
"Well, it happened, that's all we can say, and nobody can ever convince
me that it didn't."
We went on playing, and the ball remained solid and substantial ever
after, so far as I know.
I am reminded of two more or less related incidents of this period.
Clemens was, one morning, dictating something about his Christian Union
article concerning Mrs. Clemens's government of children, published in
1885. I had discovered no copy of it among the materials, and he was
wishing very much that he could see one. Somewhat later, as he was
walking down Fifth Avenue, the thought of this article and his desire for
it suddenly entered his mind. Reaching the corner of Forty-second
Street, he stopped a moment to let a jam of vehicles pass. As he did so
a stranger crossed the street, noticed him, and came dodging his way
through the blockade and thrust some clippings into his hand.
"Mr. Clemens," he said, "you don't know me, but here is something you may
wish to have. I have been saving them for more than twenty years, and
this morning it occurred to me to send them to you. I was going to mail
them from my office, but now I will give them to you," and with a word or
two he disappeared. The clippings were from the Christian Union of 1885,
and were the much-desired article. Clemens regarded it as a remarkable
case of mental telegraphy.
"Or, if it wasn't that," he said, "it was a most remarkable coincidence."
The other circumstance has been thought amusing. I had gone to Redding
for a few days, and while there, one afternoon about five o'clock, fell
over a coal-scuttle and scarified myself a good deal between the ankle
and the knee. I mention the hour because it seems important. Next
morning I received a note, prompted by Mr. Clemens, in which he said:
Tell Paine I am sorry he fell and skinned his shin at five o'clock
I was naturally astonished, and immediately wrote:
I did fall and skin my shin at five o'clock yesterday afternoon, but how
did you find it out?
I followed the letter in person next day, and learned that at the same
hour on the same afternoon Clemens himself had fallen up the front steps
and, as he said, peeled off from his "starboard shin a ribbon of skin
three inches long." The disaster was still uppermost in his mind at the
time of writing, and the suggestion of my own mishap had flashed out for
no particular reason.
Clemens was always having his fortune told, in one way or another, being
superstitious, as he readily confessed, though at times professing little
faith in these prognostics. Once when a clairvoyant, of whom he had
never even heard, and whom he had reason to believe was ignorant of his
family history, told him more about it than he knew himself, besides
reading a list of names from a piece of paper which Clemens had concealed
in his vest pocket he came home deeply impressed. The clairvoyant added
that he would probably live to a great age and die in a, foreign land--a
prophecy which did not comfort him.
MINOR EVENTS AND DIVERSIONS
Mark Twain was deeply interested during the autumn of 1907 in the
Children's Theater of the Jewish Educational Alliance, on the lower East
Side--a most worthy institution which ought to have survived. A Miss
Alice M. Herts, who developed and directed it, gave her strength and
health to build up an institution through which the interest of the
children could be diverted from less fortunate amusements. She had
interested a great body of Jewish children in the plays of Shakespeare,
and of more modern dramatists, and these they had performed from time to
time with great success. The admission fee to the performance was ten
cents, and the theater was always crowded with other children--certainly
a better diversion for them than the amusements of the street, though of
course, as a business enterprise, the theater could not pay. It required
patrons. Miss Herts obtained permission to play "The Prince and the
Pauper," and Mark Twain agreed to become a sort of chief patron in using
his influence to bring together an audience who might be willing to
assist financially in this worthy work.
"The Prince and the Pauper" evening turned out a distinguished affair.
On the night of November 19, 1907, the hall of the Educational Alliance
was crowded with such an audience as perhaps never before assembled on
the East Side; the finance and the fashion of New York were there. It
was a gala night for the little East Side performers. Behind the curtain
they whispered to each other that they were to play before queens. The
performance they gave was an astonishing one. So fully did they enter
into the spirit of Tom Canty's rise to royalty that they seemed
absolutely to forget that they were lowly-born children of the Ghetto.
They had become little princesses and lords and maids-in-waiting, and
they moved through their pretty tinsel parts as if all their ornaments
were gems and their raiment cloth of gold. There was no hesitation, no
awkwardness of speech or gesture, and they rose really to sublime heights
in the barn scene where the little Prince is in the hands of the mob.
Never in the history of the stage has there been assembled a mob more
wonderful than that. These children knew mobs! A mob to them was a
daily sight, and their reproduction of it was a thing to startle you with
its realism. Never was it absurd; never was there a single note of
artificiality in it. It was Hogarthian in its bigness.
Both Mark Twain and Miss Herts made brief addresses, and the audience
shouted approval of their words. It seems a pity that such a project as
that must fail, and I do not know why it happened. Wealthy men and women
manifested an interest; but there was some hitch somewhere, and the
Children's Theater exists to-day only as history.--[In a letter to a Mrs.
Amelia Dunne Hookway, who had conducted some children's plays at the
Howland School, Chicago, Mark Twain once wrote: "If I were going to
begin life over again I would have a children's theater and watch it, and
work for it, and see it grow and blossom and bear its rich moral and
intellectual fruitage; and I should get more pleasure and a saner and
healthier profit out of my vocation than I should ever be able to get out
of any other, constituted as I am. Yes, you are easily the most
fortunate of women, I think."]
It was at a dinner at The Players--a small, private dinner given by Mr.
George C. Riggs-that I saw Edward L. Burlingame and Mark Twain for the
only time together. They had often met during the forty-two years that
had passed since their long-ago Sandwich Island friendship; but only
incidentally, for Mr. Burlingame cared not much for great public
occasions, and as editor of Scribner's Magazine he had been somewhat out
of the line of Mark Twain's literary doings.
Howells was there, and Gen. Stewart L. Woodford, and David Bispham, John
Finley, Evan Shipman, Nicholas Biddle, and David Munro. Clemens told
that night, for the first time, the story of General Miles and the three-
dollar dog, inventing it, I believe, as he went along, though for the
moment it certainly did sound like history. He told it often after that,
and it has been included in his book of speeches.
Later, in the cab, he said:
"That was a mighty good dinner. Riggs knows how to do that sort of
thing. I enjoyed it ever so much. Now we'll go home and play
We began about eleven o'clock, and played until after midnight. I
happened to be too strong for him, and he swore amazingly. He vowed that
it was not a gentleman's game at all, that Riggs's wine had demoralized
the play. But at the end, when we were putting up the cues, he said:
"Well, those were good games. There is nothing like billiards after
We did not play billiards on his birthday that year. He went to the
theater in the afternoon; and it happened that, with Jesse Lynch
Williams, I attended the same performance--the "Toy-Maker of Nuremberg"--
written by Austin Strong. It proved to be a charming play, and I could
see that Clemens was enjoying it. He sat in a box next to the stage, and
the actors clearly were doing their very prettiest for his benefit.
When later I mentioned having seen him at the play, he spoke freely of
his pleasure in it.
"It is a fine, delicate piece of work," he said. "I wish I could do such
things as that."
"I believe you are too literary for play-writing."
"Yes, no doubt. There was never any question with the managers about my
plays. They always said they wouldn't act. Howells has come pretty near
to something once or twice. I judge the trouble is that the literary man
is thinking of the style and quality of the thing, while the playwright
thinks only of how it will play. One is thinking of how it will sound,
the other of how it will look."
"I suppose," I said, "the literary man should have a collaborator with a
genius for stage mechanism. John Luther Long's exquisite plays would
hardly have been successful without David Belasco to stage them. Belasco
cannot write a play himself, but in the matter of acting construction his
genius is supreme."
"Yes, so it is; it was Belasco who made it possible to play "The Prince
and the Pauper"--a collection of literary garbage before he got hold of
Clemens attended few public functions now. He was beset with
invitations, but he declined most of them. He told the dog story one
night to the Pleiades Club, assembled at the Brevoort; but that was only
a step away, and we went in after the dining was ended and came away
before the exercises were concluded.
He also spoke at a banquet given to Andrew Carnegie--Saint Andrew, as he
called him--by the Engineers Club, and had his usual fun at the chief
I have been chief guest at a good many banquets myself, and I know
what brother Andrew is feeling like now. He has been receiving
compliments and nothing but compliments, but he knows that there is
another side to him that needs censure.
I am going to vary the complimentary monotony. While we have all
been listening to the complimentary talk Mr. Carnegie's face has
scintillated with fictitious innocence. You'd think he never
committed a crime in his life. But he has.
Look at his pestiferous simplified spelling. Imagine the calamity
on two sides of the ocean when he foisted his simplified spelling on
the whole human race. We've got it all now so that nobody could
spell . . . .
If Mr. Carnegie had left spelling alone we wouldn't have had any
spots on the sun, or any San Francisco quake, or any business
There, I trust he feels better now and that he has enjoyed my abuse
more than he did his compliments. And now that I think I have him
smoothed down and feeling comfortable I just want to say one thing
more--that his simplified spelling is all right enough, but, like
chastity, you can carry it too far.
As he was about to go, Carnegie called his attention to the beautiful
souvenir bronze and gold-plated goblets that stood at each guest's plate.
"The club had those especially made at Tiffany's for this occasion. They
cost ten dollars apiece."
Clemens sand: "Is that so? Well, I only meant to take my own; but if
that's the case I'll load my cab with them."
We made an attempt to reform on the matter of billiards. The continued
strain of late hours was doing neither of us any particular good. More
than once I journeyed into the country on one errand and another, mainly
for rest; but a card saying that he was lonely and upset, for lack of his
evening games, quickly brought me back again. It was my wish only to
serve him; it was a privilege and an honor to give him happiness.
Billiards, however, was not his only recreation just then. He walked out
a good deal, and especially of a pleasant Sunday morning he liked the
stroll up Fifth Avenue. Sometimes we went as high as Carnegie's, on
Ninety-second Street, and rode home on top of the electric stage--always
one of Mark Twain's favorite diversions.
From that high seat he liked to look down on the panorama of the streets,
and in that free, open air he could smoke without interference. Oftener,
however, we turned at Fifty-ninth Street, walking both ways.
When it was pleasant we sometimes sat on a bench in Central Park; and
once he must have left a handkerchief there, for a few days later one of
his handkerchiefs came to him accompanied by a note. Its finder, a Mr.
Lockwood, received a reward, for Mark Twain wrote him:
There is more rejoicing in this house over that one handkerchief
that was lost and is found again than over the ninety and nine that
never went to the wash at all. Heaven will reward you, I know it
On Sunday mornings the return walk would be timed for about the hour that
the churches would be dismissed. On the first Sunday morning we had
started a little early, and I thoughtlessly suggested, when we reached
Fifty-ninth Street, that if we returned at once we would avoid the
throng. He said, quietly:
"I like the throng."
So we rested in the Plaza Hotel until the appointed hour. Men and women
noticed him, and came over to shake his hand. The gigantic man in
uniform; in charge of the carriages at the door, came in for a word. He
had opened carriages for Mr. Clemens at the Twenty-third Street station,
and now wanted to claim that honor. I think he received the most cordial
welcome of any one who came. I am sure he did. It was Mark Twain's way
to warm to the man of the lower social rank. He was never too busy,
never too preoccupied, to grasp the hand of such a man; to listen to his
story, and to say just the words that would make that man happy
We left the Plaza Hotel and presently were amid the throng of outpouring
congregations. Of course he was the object on which every passing eye
turned; the presence to which every hat was lifted. I realized that this
open and eagerly paid homage of the multitude was still dear to him, not
in any small and petty way, but as the tribute of a nation, the
expression of that affection which in his London and Liverpool speeches
he had declared to be the last and final and most precious reward that
any man can win, whether by character or achievement. It was his final
harvest, and he had the courage to claim it--the aftermath of all his
years of honorable labor and noble living.
FROM MARK TWAIN's MAIL
If the reader has any curiosity as to some of the less usual letters
which a man of wide public note may inspire, perhaps he will find a
certain interest in a few selected from the thousands which yearly came
to Mark Twain.
For one thing, he was constantly receiving prescriptions and remedies
whenever the papers reported one of his bronchial or rheumatic attacks.
It is hardly necessary to quote examples of these, but only a form of his
occasional reply, which was likely to be in this wise:
DEAR SIR [or MADAM],--I try every remedy sent to me. I am now on
No. 87. Yours is 2,653. I am looking forward to its beneficial
Of course a large number of the nostrums and palliatives offered were
preparations made by the wildest and longest-haired medical cranks. One
of these sent an advertisement of a certain Elixir of Life, which was
guaranteed to cure everything--to "wash and cleanse the human molecules,
and so restore youth and preserve life everlasting."
Anonymous letters are not usually popular or to be encouraged, but Mark
Twain had an especial weakness for compliments that came in that way.
They were not mercenary compliments. The writer had nothing to gain.
Two such letters follow--both written in England just at the time of his
DEAR SIR,--Please accept a poor widow's good-by and kindest wishes.
I have had some of your books sent to me; have enjoyed them very
much--only wish I could afford to buy some.
I should very much like to have seen you. I have many photos of you
which I have cut from several papers which I read. I have one where
you are writing in bed, which I cut from the Daily News. Like
myself, you believe in lots of sleep and rest. I am 70 and I find I
need plenty. Please forgive the liberty I have taken in writing to
you. If I can't come to your funeral may we meet beyond the river.
May God guard you, is the wish of a lonely old widow.
The other letter also tells its own story:
DEAR, KIND MARK TWAIN,--For years I have wanted to write and thank
you for the comfort you were to me once, only I never quite knew
where you were, and besides I did not want to bother you; but to-day
I was told by some one who saw you going into the lift at the Savoy
that you looked sad and I thought it might cheer you a little tiny
bit to hear how you kept a poor lonely girl from ruining her eyes
with crying every night for long months.
Ten years ago I had to leave home and earn my living as a governess
and Fate sent me to spend a winter with a very dull old country
family in the depths of Staffordshire. According to the genial
English custom, after my five charges had gone to bed, I took my
evening meal alone in the school-room, where "Henry Tudor had supped
the night before Bosworth," and there I had to stay without a soul
to speak to till I went to bed. At first I used to cry every night,
but a friend sent me a copy of your Huckleberry Finn and I never
cried any more. I kept him handy under the copy-books and maps, and
when Henry Tudor commenced to stretch out his chilly hands toward me
I grabbed my dear Huck and he never once failed me; I opened him at
random and in two minutes I was in another world. That's why I am
so grateful to you and so fond of you, and I thought you might like
to know; for it is yourself that has the kind heart, as is easily
seen from the way you wrote about the poor old nigger. I am a
stenographer now and live at home, but I shall never forget how you
helped me. God bless you and spare you long to those you are dear
A letter which came to him soon after his return from England contained a
clipping which reported the good work done by Christian missionaries in
the Congo, especially among natives afflicted by the terrible sleeping
sickness. The letter itself consisted merely of a line, which said:
Won't you give your friends, the missionaries, a good mark for this?
The writer's name was signed, and Mark Twain answered:
In China the missionaries are not wanted, & so they ought to be
decent & go away. But I have not heard that in the Congo the
missionary servants of God are unwelcome to the native.
Evidently those missionaries axe pitying, compassionate, kind. How
it would improve God to take a lesson from them! He invented &
distributed the germ of that awful disease among those helpless,
poor savages, & now He sits with His elbows on the balusters & looks
down & enjoys this wanton crime. Confidently, & between you & me-
well, never mind, I might get struck by lightning if I said it.
Those are good and kindly men, those missionaries, but they are a
measureless satire upon their Master.
To which the writer answered:
O wicked Mr. Clemens! I have to ask Saint Joan of Arc to pray for
you; then one of these days, when we all stand before the Golden
Gates and we no longer "see through a glass darkly and know only in
part," there will be a struggle at the heavenly portals between Joan
of Arc and St. Peter, but your blessed Joan will conquer and she'll
lead Mr. Clemens through the gates of pearl and apologize and plead
Of the letters that irritated him, perhaps the following is as fair a
sample as any, and it has additional interest in its sequel.
DEAR SIR,--I have written a book--naturally--which fact, however,
since I am not your enemy, need give you no occasion to rejoice.
Nor need you grieve, though I am sending you a copy. If I knew of
any way of compelling you to read it I would do so, but unless the
first few pages have that effect I can do nothing. Try the first
few pages. I have done a great deal more than that with your books,
so perhaps you owe me some thing--say ten pages. If after that
attempt you put it aside I shall be sorry--for you.
I am afraid that the above looks flippant--but think of the
twitterings of the soul of him who brings in his hand an unbidden
book, written by himself. To such a one much is due in the way of
indulgence. Will you remember that? Have you forgotten early
twitterings of your own?
In a memorandum made on this letter Mark Twain wrote:
Another one of those peculiarly depressing letters--a letter cast in
artificially humorous form, whilst no art could make the subject
Commenting further, he said:
As I have remarked before about one thousand times the coat of arms
of the human race ought to consist of a man with an ax on his
shoulder proceeding toward a grindstone, or it ought to represent
the several members of the human race holding out the hat to one
another; for we are all beggars, each in his own way. One beggar is
too proud to beg for pennies, but will beg for an introduction into
society; another does not care for society, but he wants a
postmastership; another will inveigle a lawyer into conversation and
then sponge on him for free advice. The man who wouldn't do any of
these things will beg for the Presidency. Each admires his own
dignity and greatly guards it, but in his opinion the others haven't
Mendicancy is a matter of taste and temperament, no doubt, but no
human being is without some form of it. I know my own form, you
know yours. Let us conceal them from view and abuse the others.
There is no man so poor but what at intervals some man comes to him
with an ax to grind. By and by the ax's aspect becomes familiar to
the proprietor of the grindstone. He perceives that it is the same
old ax. If you are a governor you know that the stranger wants an
office. The first time he arrives you are deceived; he pours out
such noble praises of you and your political record that you are
moved to tears; there's a lump in your throat and you are thankful
that you have lived for this happiness. Then the stranger discloses
his ax, and you are ashamed of yourself and your race. Six
repetitions will cure you. After that you interrupt the compliments
and say, "Yes, yes, that's all right; never mind about that. What
is it you want?"
But you and I are in the business ourselves. Every now and then we
carry our ax to somebody and ask a whet. I don't carry mine to
strangers--I draw the line there; perhaps that is your way. This is
bound to set us up on a high and holy pinnacle and make us look down
in cold rebuke on persons who carry their axes to strangers.
I do not know how to answer that stranger's letter. I wish he had
spared me. Never mind about him--I am thinking about myself. I
wish he had spared me. The book has not arrived yet; but no matter,
I am prejudiced against it.
It was a few days later that he added:
I wrote to that man. I fell back upon the old Overworked, polite
lie, and thanked him for his book and said I was promising myself
the pleasure of reading it. Of course that set me free; I was not
obliged to read it now at all, and, being free, my prejudice was
gone, and as soon as the book came I opened it to see what it was
like. I was not able to put it down until I had finished. It was
an embarrassing thing to have to write to that man and confess that
fact, but I had to do it. That first letter was merely a lie. Do
you think I wrote the second one to give that man pleasure? Well, I
did, but it was second-hand pleasure. I wrote it first to give
myself comfort, to make myself forget the original lie.
Mark Twain's interest was once aroused by the following:
DEAR SIR,--I have had more or less of your works on my shelves for
years, and believe I have practically a complete set now. This is
nothing unusual, of course, but I presume it will seem to you
unusual for any one to keep books constantly in sight which the
owner regrets ever having read.
Every time my glance rests on the books I do regret having read
them, and do not hesitate to tell you so to your face, and care not
who may know my feelings. You, who must be kept busy attending to
your correspondence, will probably pay little or no attention to
this small fraction of it, yet my reasons, I believe, are sound and
are probably shared by more people than you are aware of.
Probably you will not read far enough through this to see who has
signed it, but if you do, and care to know why I wish I had left
your work unread, I will tell you as briefly as possible if you will
GEORGE B. LAUDER.
Clemens did not answer the letter, but put it in his pocket, perhaps
intending to do so, and a few days later, in Boston, when a reporter
called, he happened to remember it. The reporter asked permission to
print the queer document, and it appeared in his Mark Twain interview
next morning. A few days later the writer of it sent a second letter,
this time explaining:
MY DEAR SIR,--I saw in to-day's paper a copy of the letter which I
wrote you October 26th.
I have read and re-read your works until I can almost recall some of
them word for word. My familiarity with them is a constant source
of pleasure which I would not have missed, and therefore the regret
which I have expressed is more than offset by thankfulness.
Believe me, the regret which I feel for having read your works is
entirely due to the unalterable fact that I can never again have the
pleasure of reading them for the first time.
Your sincere admirer,
GEORGE B. LADDER.
Mark Twain promptly replied this time:
DEAR SIR, You fooled me completely; I didn't divine what the letter
was concealing, neither did the newspaper men, so you are a very
S. L. CLEMENS.
It was about the end of 1907 that the new St. Louis Harbor boat, was
completed. The editor of the St. Louis Republic reported that it has
been christened "Mark Twain," and asked for a word of comment. Clemens
sent this line:
May my namesake follow in my righteous footsteps, then neither of us
will need any fire insurance.
SOME LITERARY LUNCHEONS
Howells, in his book, refers to the Human Race Luncheon Club, which
Clemens once organized for the particular purpose of damning the species
in concert. It was to consist, beside Clemens himself, of Howells,
Colonel Harvey, and Peter Dunne; but it somehow never happened that even
this small membership could be assembled while the idea was still fresh,
and therefore potent.
Out of it, however, grew a number of those private social gatherings
which Clemens so dearly loved--small luncheons and dinners given at his
own table. The first of these came along toward the end of 1907, when
Howells was planning to spend the winter in Italy.
"Howells is going away," he said, "and I should like to give him a stag-
party. We'll enlarge the Human Race Club for the occasion."
So Howells, Colonel Harvey, Martin Littleton, Augustus Thomas, Robert
Porter, and Paderewski were invited. Paderewski was unable to come, and
seven in all assembled.
Howells was first to arrive.
"Here comes Howells," Clemens said. "Old Howells a thousand years old."
But Howells didn't look it. His face was full of good-nature and
apparent health, and he was by no means venerable, either in speech or
action. Thomas, Porter, Littleton, and Harvey drifted in. Cocktails
were served and luncheon was announced.
Claude, the butler, had prepared the table with fine artistry--its center
a mass of roses. There was to be no woman in the neighborhood--Clemens
announced this fact as a sort of warrant for general freedom of
Thomas's play, "The Witching Hour," was then at the height of its great
acceptance, and the talk naturally began there. Thomas told something of
the difficulty which he found in being able to convince a manager that it
would succeed, and declared it to be his own favorite work. I believe
there was no dissenting opinion as to its artistic value, or concerning
its purpose and psychology, though these had been the stumbling-blocks
from a managerial point of view.
When the subject was concluded, and there had come a lull, Colonel
Harvey, who was seated at Clemens's left, said:
"Uncle Mark"--he often called him that--"Major Leigh handed me a report
of the year's sales just as I was leaving. It shows your royalty returns
this year to be very close to fifty thousand dollars. I don't believe
there is another such return from old books on record."
This was said in an undertone, to Clemens only, but was overheard by one
or two of those who sat nearest. Clemens was not unwilling to repeat it
for the benefit of all, and did so. Howells said:
"A statement like that arouses my basest passions. The books are no
good; it's just the advertising they get."
Clemens said: "Yes, my contract compels the publisher to advertise. It
costs them two hundred dollars every time they leave the advertisement
out of the magazines."
"And three hundred every time we put it in," said Harvey. "We often
debate whether it is more profitable to put in the advertisement or to
leave it out."
The talk switched back to plays and acting. Thomas recalled an incident
of Beerbohm Tree's performance of "Hamlet." W. S. Gilbert, of light-
opera celebrity, was present at a performance, and when the play ended
Mrs. Tree hurried over to him and said:
"Oh, Mr. Gilbert, what did you think of Mr. Tree's rendition of Hamlet?"
"Remarkable," said Gilbert. "Funny without being vulgar."
It was with such idle tales and talk-play that the afternoon passed. Not
much of it all is left to me, but I remember Howells saying, "Did it ever
occur to you that the newspapers abolished hell? Well, they did--it was
never done by the church. There was a consensus of newspaper opinion
that the old hell with its lake of fire and brimstone was an antiquated
institution; in fact a dead letter." And again, "I was coming down
Broadway last night, and I stopped to look at one of the street-venders
selling those little toy fighting roosters. It was a bleak, desolate
evening; nobody was buying anything, and as he pulled the string and kept
those little roosters dancing and fighting his remarks grew more and more
cheerless and sardonic.
"'Japanese game chickens,' he said; 'pretty toys, amuse the children with
their antics. Child of three can operate it. Take them home for
Christmas. Chicken-fight at your own fireside.' I tried to catch his eye
to show him that I understood his desolation and sorrow, but it was no
use. He went on dancing his toy chickens, and saying, over and over,
'Chicken-fight at your own fireside.'"
The luncheon over, we wandered back into the drawing-room, and presently
all left but Colonel Harvey. Clemens and the Colonel went up to the
billiard-room and engaged in a game of cushion caroms, at twenty-five
cents a game. I was umpire and stakeholder, and it was a most
interesting occupation, for the series was close and a very cheerful one.
It ended the day much to Mark Twain's satisfaction, for he was oftenest
winner. That evening he said:
"We will repeat that luncheon; we ought to repeat it once a month.
Howells will be gone, but we must have the others. We cannot have a
thing like that too often."
There was, in fact, a second stag-luncheon very soon after, at which
George Riggs was present and that rare Irish musician, Denis O'Sullivan.
It was another choice afternoon, with a mystical quality which came of
the music made by O'Sullivan on some Hindu reeds-pipes of Pan. But we
shall have more of O'Sullivan presently--all too little, for his days
were few and fleeting.
Howells could not get away just yet. Colonel Harvey, who, like James
Osgood, would not fail to find excuse for entertainment, chartered two
drawing-room cars, and with Mrs. Harvey took a party of fifty-five or
sixty congenial men and women to Lakewood for a good-by luncheon to
Howells. It was a day borrowed from June, warm and beautiful.
The trip down was a sort of reception. Most of the guests were
acquainted, but many of them did not often meet. There was constant
visiting back and forth the full length of the two coaches. Denis
O'Sullivan was among the guests. He looked in the bloom of health, and
he had his pipes and played his mystic airs; then he brought out the tin-
whistle of Ireland, and blew such rollicking melodies as capering fairies
invented a long time ago. This was on the train going down.
There was a brief program following the light-hearted feasting--an
informal program fitting to that sunny day. It opened with some
recitations by Miss Kitty Cheatham; then Colonel Harvey introduced
Howells, with mention of his coming journey. As a rule, Howells does not
enjoy speaking. He is willing to read an address on occasion, but he has
owned that the prospect of talking without his notes terrifies him. This
time, however, there was no reluctance, though he had prepared no speech.
He was among friends. He looked even happy when he got on his feet, and
he spoke like a happy man. He talked about Mark Twain. It was all
delicate, delicious chaffing which showed Howells at his very best--all
too short for his listeners.
Clemens, replying, returned the chaff, and rambled amusingly among his
fancies, closing with a few beautiful words of "Godspeed and safe return"
to his old comrade and friend.
Then once more came Denis and his pipes. No one will ever forget his
part of the program. The little samples we had heard on the train were
expanded and multiplied and elaborated in a way that fairly swept his
listeners out of themselves into that land where perhaps Denis himself
wanders playing now; for a month later, strong and lusty and beautiful as
he seemed that day, he suddenly vanished from among us and his reeds were
silent. It never occurred to us then that Denis could die; and as he
finished each melody and song there was a shout for a repetition, and I
think we could have sat there and let the days and years slip away
unheeded, for time is banished by music like that, and one wonders if it
might not even divert death.
It was dark when we crossed the river homeward; the myriad lights from
heaven-climbing windows made an enchanted city in the sky. The evening,
like the day, was warm, and some of the party. left the ferry-cabin to
lean over and watch the magic spectacle, the like of which is not to be
found elsewhere on the earth.
"CAPTAIN STORMFIELD" IN PRINT
During the forty years or so that had elapsed since the publication of
the "Gates Ajar" and the perpetration of Mark Twain's intended burlesque,
built on Captain Ned Wakeman's dream, the Christian religion in its more
orthodox aspects had undergone some large modifications. It was no
longer regarded as dangerous to speak lightly of hell, or even to suggest
that the golden streets and jeweled architecture of the sky might be
regarded as symbols of hope rather than exhibits of actual bullion and
lapidary construction. Clemens re-read his extravaganza, Captain
Stoymfields Visit to Heaven, gave it a modernizing touch here and there,
and handed it to his publishers, who must have agreed that it was no
longer dangerous, for it was promptly accepted and appeared in the
December and January numbers (1907-8) of Harper's Magazine, and was also
issued as a small book. If there were any readers who still found it
blasphemous, or even irreverent, they did not say so; the letters that
came--and they were a good many--expressed enjoyment and approval, also
(some of them) a good deal of satisfaction that Mark Twain "had returned
to his earlier form."
The publication of this story recalled to Clemens's mind another heresy
somewhat similar which he had written during the winter of 1891 and 1892
in Berlin. This was a dream of his own, in which he had set out on a
train with the evangelist Sam Jones and the Archbishop of Canterbury for
the other world. He had noticed that his ticket was to a different
destination than the Archbishop's, and so, when the prelate nodded and
finally went to sleep, he changed the tickets in their hats with
disturbing results. Clemens thought a good deal of this fancy when he
wrote it, and when Mrs. Clemens had refused to allow it to be printed he
had laboriously translated it into German, with some idea of publishing
it surreptitiously; but his conscience had been too much for him. He had
confessed, and even the German version had been suppressed.
Clemens often allowed his fancy to play with the idea of the orthodox
heaven, its curiosities of architecture, and its employments of
continuous prayer, psalm-singing, and harpistry.
"What a childish notion it was," he said, "and how curious that only a
little while ago human beings were so willing to accept such fragile
evidences about a place of so much importance. If we should find
somewhere to-day an ancient book containing an account of a beautiful and
blooming tropical Paradise secreted in the center of eternal icebergs--an
account written by men who did not even claim to have seen it themselves
--no geographical society on earth would take any stock in that book, yet
that account would be quite as authentic as any we have of heaven. If
God has such a place prepared for us, and really wanted us to know it, He
could have found some better way than a book so liable to alterations and
misinterpretation. God has had no trouble to prove to man the laws of
the constellations and the construction of the world, and such things as
that, none of which agree with His so-called book. As to a hereafter, we
have not the slightest evidence that there is any--no evidence that
appeals to logic and reason. I have never seen what to me seemed an atom
of proof that there is a future life."
Then, after a long pause, he added:
"And yet--I am strongly inclined to expect one."
LOTOS CLUB HONORS
It was on January 11, 1908, that Mark Twain was given his last great
banquet by the Lotos Club. The club was about to move again, into
splendid new quarters, and it wished to entertain him once more in its
He wore white, and amid the throng of black-clad men was like a white
moth among a horde of beetles. The room fairly swarmed with them, and
they seemed likely to overwhelm him.
President Lawrence was toast-master of the evening, and he ended his
customary address by introducing Robert Porter, who had been Mark Twain's
host at Oxford. Porter told something of the great Oxford week, and
ended by introducing Mark Twain. It had been expected that Clemens would
tell of his London experiences. Instead of doing this, he said he had
started a new kind of collection, a collection of compliments. He had
picked up a number of valuable ones abroad and some at home. He read
selections from them, and kept the company going with cheers and
merriment until just before the close of his speech. Then he repeated,
in his most impressive manner, that stately conclusion of his Liverpool
speech, and the room became still and the eyes of his hearers grew dim.
It may have been even more moving than when originally given, for now the
closing words, "homeward bound," had only the deeper meaning.
Dr. John MacArthur followed with a speech that was as good a sermon as
any he ever delivered, and closed it by saying:
"I do not want men to prepare for heaven, but to prepare to remain on
earth, and it is such men as Mark Twain who make other men not fit to
die, but fit to live."
Andrew Carnegie also spoke, and Colonel Harvey, and as the speaking ended
Robert Porter stepped up behind Clemens and threw over his shoulders the
scarlet Oxford robe which had been surreptitiously brought, and placed
the mortar-board cap upon his head, while the diners vociferated their
approval. Clemens was quite calm.
"I like this," he said, when the noise had subsided. "I like its
splendid color. I would dress that way all the time, if I dared."
In the cab going home I mentioned the success of his speech, how well it
had been received.
"Yes," he said; "but then I have the advantage of knowing now that I am
likely to be favorably received, whatever I say. I know that my
audiences are warm and responseful. It is an immense advantage to feel
that. There are cold places in almost every speech, and if your audience
notices them and becomes cool, you get a chill yourself in those zones,
and it is hard to warm up again. Perhaps there haven't been so many
lately; but I have been acquainted with them more than once." And then I
could not help remembering that deadly Whittier birthday speech of more
than thirty years before--that bleak, arctic experience from beginning to
"We have just time for four games," he said, as we reached the billiard-
room; but there was no sign of stopping when the four games were over.
We were winning alternately, and neither noted the time. I was leaving
by an early train, and was willing to play all night. The milk-wagons
were rattling outside when he said:
"Well, perhaps we'd better quit now. It seems pretty early, though." I
looked at my watch. It was quarter to four, and we said good night.
A WINTER IN BERMUDA
Edmund Clarence Stedman died suddenly at his desk, January 18, 1908, and
Clemens, in response to telegrams, sent this message:
I do not wish to talk about it. He was a valued friend from days that
date back thirty-five years. His loss stuns me and unfits me to speak.
He recalled the New England dinners which he used to attend, and where he
had often met Stedman.
"Those were great affairs," he said. "They began early, and they ended
early. I used to go down from Hartford with the feeling that it wasn't
an all-night supper, and that it was going to be an enjoyable time.
Choate and Depew and Stedman were in their prime then--we were all young
men together. Their speeches were always worth listening to. Stedman
was a prominent figure there. There don't seem to be any such men now--
or any such occasions."
Stedman was one of the last of the old literary group. Aldrich had died
the year before. Howells and Clemens were the lingering "last leaves."
Clemens gave some further luncheon entertainments to his friends, and
added the feature of "doe" luncheons--pretty affairs where, with Clara
Clemens as hostess, were entertained a group of brilliant women, such as
Mrs. Kate Douglas Riggs, Geraldine Farrax, Mrs. Robert Collier, Mrs.
Frank Doubleday, and others. I cannot report those luncheons, for I was
not present, and the drift of the proceedings came to me later in too
fragmentary a form to be used as history; but I gathered from Clemens
himself that he had done all of the talking, and I think they must have
been very pleasant afternoons. Among the acknowledgments that followed
one of these affairs is this characteristic word-play from Mrs. Riggs:
N. B.--A lady who is invited to and attends a doe luncheon is, of
course, a doe. The question is, if she attends two doe luncheons in
succession is she a doe-doe? If so is she extinct and can never
attend a third?
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