Part 21 out of 29
We are in the extreme south end of the house, if there is any such
thing as a south end to a house, whose orientation cannot be
determined by me, because I am incompetent in all cases where an
object does not point directly north & south. This one slants
across between, & is therefore a confusion. This little private
parlor is in one of the two corners of what I call the south end of
the house. The sun rises in such a way that all the morning it is
pouring its light through the 33 glass doors or windows which pierce
the side of the house which looks upon the terrace & garden; the
rest of the day the light floods this south end of the house, as I
call it; at noon the sun is directly above Florence yonder in the
distance in the plain, directly across those architectural features
which have been so familiar to the world in pictures for some
centuries, the Duomo, the Campanile, the Tomb of the Medici, & the
beautiful tower of the Palazzo Vecchio; in this position it begins
to reveal the secrets of the delicious blue mountains that circle
around into the west, for its light discovers, uncovers, & exposes a
white snowstorm of villas & cities that you cannot train yourself to
have confidence in, they appear & disappear so mysteriously, as if
they might not be villas & cities at all, but the ghosts of perished
ones of the remote & dim Etruscan times; & late in the afternoon the
sun sets down behind those mountains somewhere, at no particular
time & at no particular place, so far as I can see.
Again at the end of March he wrote:
Now that we have lived in this house four and a half months my
prejudices have fallen away one by one & the place has become very
homelike to me. Under certain conditions I should like to go on
living in it indefinitely. I should wish the Countess to move out
of Italy, out of Europe, out of the planet. I should want her
bonded to retire to her place in the next world & inform me which of
the two it was, so that I could arrange for my own hereafter.
Complications with their landlady had begun early, and in time, next to
Mrs. Clemens's health, to which it bore such an intimate and vital
relation, the indifference of the Countess Massiglia to their needs
became the supreme and absorbing concern of life at the villa, and led to
continued and almost continuous house-hunting.
Days when the weather permitted, Clemens drove over the hills looking for
a villa which he could lease or buy--one with conveniences and just the
right elevation and surroundings. There were plenty of villas; but some
of them were badly situated as to altitude or view; some were falling to
decay, and the search was rather a discouraging one. Still it was not
abandoned, and the reports of these excursions furnished new interest and
new hope always to the invalid at home.
"Even if we find it," he wrote Howells, "I am afraid it will be months
before we can move Mrs. Clemens. Of course it will. But it comforts us
to let on that we think otherwise, and these pretensions help to keep
hope alive in her."
She had her bad days and her good days, days when it was believed she had
passed the turning-point and was traveling the way to recovery; but the
good days were always a little less hopeful, the bad days a little more
discouraging. On February 22d Clemens wrote in his note-book:
At midnight Livy's pulse went to 192 & there was a collapse. Great
alarm. Subcutaneous injection of brandy saved her.
And to MacAlister toward the end of March:
We are having quite perfect weather now & are hoping that it will bring
effects for Mrs. Clemens.
But a few days later he added that he was watching the driving rain
through the windows, and that it was bad weather for the invalid. "But
it will not last," he said.
The invalid improved then, and there was a concert in Florence at which
Clara Clemens sang. Clemens in his note-book says:
April 8. Clara's concert was a triumph. Livy woke up & sent for
her to tell her all about it, near midnight.
But a day or two later she was worse again--then better. The hearts in
that household were as pendulums, swinging always between hope and
One familiar with the Clemens history might well have been filled with
forebodings. Already in January a member of the family, Mollie Clemens,
Orion's wife, died, news which was kept from Mrs. Clemens, as was the
death of Aldrich's son, and that of Sir Henry M. Stanley, both of which
occurred that spring.
Indeed, death harvested freely that year among the Clemens friendships.
Clemens wrote Twichell:
Yours has just this moment arrived-just as I was finishing a note to
poor Lady Stanley. I believe the last country-house visit we paid
in England was to Stanley's. Lord! how my friends & acquaintances
fall about me now in my gray-headed days! Vereshchagin, Mommsen,
Dvorak, Lenbach, & Jokai, all so recently, & now Stanley. I have
known Stanley 37 years. Goodness, who is there I haven't known?
THE CLOSE OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
In one of his notes near the end of April Clemens writes that once more,
as at Riverdale, he has been excluded from Mrs. Clemens's room except for
the briefest moment at a time. But on May 12th, to R. W. Gilder, he
For two days now we have not been anxious about Mrs. Clemens
(unberufen). After 20 months of bedridden solitude & bodily misery
she all of a sudden ceases to be a pallid, shrunken shadow, & looks
bright & young & pretty. She remains what she always was, the most
wonderful creature of fortitude, patience, endurance, and
recuperative power that ever was. But ah, dear! it won't last;
this fiendish malady will play new treacheries upon her, and I shall
go back to my prayers again--unutterable from any pulpit!
May 13, A.M. I have just paid one of my pair of permitted 2-minute
visits per day to the sick-room. And found what I have learned to
There was a day when she was brought out on the terrace in a wheel-chair
to see the wonder of the early Italian summer. She had been a prisoner
so long that she was almost overcome with the delight of it all--the more
so, perhaps, in the feeling that she might so soon be leaving it.
It was on Sunday, the 5th of June, that the end came. Clemens and Jean
had driven out to make some calls, and had stopped at a villa, which
promised to fulfil most of the requirements. They came home full of
enthusiasm concerning it, and Clemens, in his mind, had decided on the
purchase. In the corridor Clara said:
"She is better to-day than she has been for three months."
Then quickly, under her breath, "Unberufen," which the others, too, added
Mrs. Clemens was, in fact, bright and cheerful, and anxious to hear all
about the new property which was to become their home. She urged him to
sit by her during the dinner-hour and tell her the details; but once,
when the sense of her frailties came upon her, she said they must not
mind if she could not go very soon, but be content where they were. He
remained from half past seven until eight--a forbidden privilege, but
permitted because she was so animated, feeling so well. Their talk was
as it had been in the old days, and once during it he reproached himself,
as he had so often done, and asked forgiveness for the tears he had
brought into her life. When he was summoned to go at last he chided
himself for remaining so long; but she said there was no harm, and kissed
him, saying: "You will come back," and he answered, "Yes, to say good
night," meaning at half past nine, as was the permitted custom. He stood
a moment at the door throwing kisses to her, and she returning them, her
face bright with smiles.
He was so hopeful and happy that it amounted to exaltation. He went to
his room at first, then he was moved to do a thing which he had seldom
done since Susy died. He went to the piano up-stairs and sang the old
jubilee songs that Susy had liked to hear him sing. Jean came in
presently, listening. She had not done this before, that he could
remember. He sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "My Lord He Calls Me."
He noticed Jean then and stopped, but she asked him to go on.
Mrs. Clemens, in her room, heard the distant music, and said to her
"He is singing a good-night carol to me."
The music ceased presently, and then a moment later she asked to be
lifted up. Almost in that instant life slipped away without a sound.
Clemens, coming to say good night, saw a little group about her bed,
Clara and Jean standing as if dazed. He went and bent over and looked
into her face, surprised that she did not greet him. He did not suspect
what had happened until he heard one of the daughters ask:
"Katie, is it true? Oh, Katie, is it true?"
He realized then that she was gone.
In his note-book that night he wrote:
At a quarter past 9 this evening she that was the life of my life
passed to the relief & the peace of death after as months of unjust
& unearned suffering. I first saw her near 37 years ago, & now I
have looked upon her face for the last time. Oh, so unexpected!...
I was full of remorse for things done & said in these 34 years of
married life that hurt Livy's heart.
He envied her lying there, so free from it all, with the great peace upon
her face. He wrote to Howells and to Twichell, and to Mrs. Crane, those
nearest and dearest ones. To Twichell he said:
How sweet she was in death, how young, how beautiful, how like her
dear girlish self of thirty years ago, not a gray hair showing!
This rejuvenescence was noticeable within two hours after her death;
& when I went down again (2.3o) it was complete. In all that night
& all that day she never noticed my caressing hand--it seemed
To Howells he recalled the closing scene:
I bent over her & looked in her face & I think I spoke--I was
surprised & troubled that she did not notice me. Then we understood
& our hearts broke. How poor we are to-day!
But how thankful I am that her persecutions are ended! I would not
call her back if I could.
To-day, treasured in her worn, old Testament, I found a dear &
gentle letter from you dated Far Rockaway, September 13, 1896, about
our poor Susy's death. I am tired & old; I wish I were with Livy.
And in a few days:
It would break Livy's heart to see Clara. We excuse ourself from all the
friends that call--though, of course, only intimates come. Intimates--
but they are not the old, old friends, the friends of the old, old times
when we laughed. Shall we ever laugh again? If I could only see a dog
that I knew in the old times & could put my arms around his neck and tell
him all, everything, & ease my heart!
THE SAD JOURNEY HOME
A tidal wave of sympathy poured in. Noble and commoner, friend and
stranger--humanity of every station--sent their messages of condolence to
the friend of mankind. The cablegrams came first--bundles of them from
every corner of the world--then the letters, a steady inflow. Howells,
Twichell, Aldrich--those oldest friends who had themselves learned the
meaning of grief--spoke such few and futile words as the language can
supply to allay a heart's mourning, each recalling the rarity and beauty
of the life that had slipped away. Twichell and his wife wrote:
DEAR, DEAR MARK,--There is nothing we can say. What is there to say?
But here we are--with you all every hour and every minute--filled with
unutterable thoughts; unutterable affection for the dead and for the
HARMONY AND JOE.
Howells in his letter said:
She hallowed what she touched far beyond priests . . . . What are you
going to do, you poor soul?
A hundred letters crowd in for expression here, but must be denied--not,
however, the beam of hope out of Helen Keller's illumined night:
Do try to reach through grief and feel the pressure of her hand, as
I reach through darkness and feel the smile on my friends' lips and
the light in their eyes though mine are closed.
They were adrift again without plans for the future. They would return
to America to lay Mrs. Clemens to rest by Susy and little Langdon, but
beyond that they could not see. Then they remembered a quiet spot in
Massachusetts, Tyringham, near Lee, where the Gilders lived, and so, on
June 7th, he wrote:
DEAR GILDER FAMILY,--I have been worrying and worrying to know what
to do; at last I went to the girls with an idea--to ask the Gilders
to get us shelter near their summer home. It was the first time
they have not shaken their heads. So to-morrow I will cable to you
and shall hope to be in time.
An hour ago the best heart that ever beat for me and mine was
carried silent out of this house, and I am as one who wanders and
has lost his way. She who is gone was our head, she was our hands.
We are now trying to make plans--we: we who have never made a plan
before, nor ever needed to. If she could speak to us she would make
it all simple and easy with a word, & our perplexities would vanish
away. If she had known she was near to death she would have told us
where to go and what to do, but she was not suspecting, neither were
we. She was all our riches and she is gone; she was our breath, she
was our life, and now we are nothing.
We send you our love-and with it the love of you that was in her
heart when she died.
S. L. CLEMENS.
They arranged to sail on the Prince Oscar on the 29th of June. There was
an earlier steamer, but it was the Princess Irene, which had brought
them, and they felt they would not make the return voyage on that vessel.
During the period of waiting a curious thing happened. Clemens one day
got up in a chair in his room on the second floor to pull down the high
window-sash. It did not move easily and his hand slipped. It was only
by the merest chance that he saved himself from falling to the ground far
below. He mentions this in his note-book, and once, speaking of it to
Frederick Duneka, he said:
"Had I fallen it would probably have killed me, and in my bereaved
circumstances the world would have been convinced that it was suicide.
It was one of those curious coincidences which are always happening and
The homeward voyage and its sorrowful conclusion are pathetically
conveyed in his notes:
June 29, 1904. Sailed last night at 10. The bugle-call to
breakfast. I recognized the notes and was distressed. When I heard
them last Livy heard them with me; now they fall upon her ear
In my life there have been 68 Junes--but how vague & colorless 67 of
them are contrasted with the deep blackness of this one!
July 1, 1904. I cannot reproduce Livy's face in my mind's eye--I
was never in my life able to reproduce a face. It is a curious
infirmity--& now at last I realize it is a calamity.
July 2, 1904. In these 34 years we have made many voyages together,
Livy dear--& now we are making our last; you down below & lonely; I
above with the crowd & lonely.
July 3, 1904. Ship-time, 8 A.M. In 13 hours & a quarter it will be
4 weeks since Livy died.
Thirty-one years ago we made our first voyage together--& this is
our last one in company. Susy was a year old then. She died at 24
& had been in her grave 8 years.
July 10, 1904. To-night it will be 5 weeks. But to me it remains
yesterday--as it has from the first. But this funeral march--how
sad & long it is!
Two days more will end the second stage of it.
July 14, 1904 (ELMIRA). Funeral private in the house of Livy's
young maidenhood. Where she stood as a bride 34 years ago there her
coffin rested; & over it the same voice that had made her a wife
then committed her departed spirit to God now.
It was Joseph Twichell who rendered that last service. Mr. Beecher was
long since dead. It was a simple, touching utterance, closing with this
tender word of farewell:
Robert Browning, when he was nearing the end of his earthly days,
said that death was the thing that we did not believe in. Nor do we
believe in it. We who journeyed through the bygone years in
companionship with the bright spirit now withdrawn are growing old.
The way behind is long; the way before is short. The end cannot be
far off. But what of that? Can we not say, each one:
"So long that power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on;
O'er moor and fen; o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn, their angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!"
And so good-by. Good-by, dear heart! Strong, tender, and true.
Good-by until for us the morning break and these shadows fly away.
Dr. Eastman, who had succeeded Mr. Beecher, closed the service with a
prayer, and so the last office we can render in this life for those we
love was finished.
Clemens ordered that a simple marker should be placed at the grave,
bearing, besides the name, the record of birth and death, followed by the
'Gott sei dir gnadig, O meine Wonne'!
BEGINNING ANOTHER HOME
There was an extra cottage on the Gilder place at Tyringham, and this
they occupied for the rest of that sad summer. Clemens, in his note-
book, has preserved some of its aspects and incidents.
July 24, 1904. Rain--rain--rain. Cold. We built a fire in my room.
Then clawed the logs out & threw water, remembering there was a brood of
swallows in the chimney. The tragedy was averted.
July 31. LEE, MASSACHUSETTS (BERKSHIRE HILLS). Last night the young
people out on a moonlight ride. Trolley frightened Jean's horse--
collision--horse killed. Rodman Gilder picked Jean up, unconscious; she
was taken to the doctor, per the car. Face, nose, side, back contused;
tendon of left ankle broken.
August 10. NEW YORK. Clam here sick--never well since June 5. Jean is
at the summer home in the Berkshire Hills crippled.
The next entry records the third death in the Clemens family within a
period of eight months--that of Mrs. Moffett, who had been Pamela
Clemens. Clemens writes:
September 1. Died at Greenwich, Connecticut, my sister, Pamela
Moffett, aged about 73.
Death dates this year January 14, June 5, September 1.
That fall they took a house in New York City, on the corner of Ninth
Street and Fifth Avenue, No. 21, remaining for a time at the Grosvenor
while the new home was being set in order. The home furniture was
brought from Hartford, unwrapped, and established in the light of strange
environment. Clemens wrote:
We have not seen it for thirteen years. Katie Leary, our old
housekeeper, who has been in our service more than twenty-four years,
cried when she told me about it to-day. She said, "I had forgotten it
was so beautiful, and it brought Mrs. Clemens right back to me--in that
old time when she was so young and lovely."
Clara Clemens had not recovered from the strain of her mother's long
illness and the shock of her death, and she was ordered into retirement
with the care of a trained nurse. The life at 21 Fifth Avenue,
therefore, began with only two remaining members of the broken family--
Clemens and Jean.
Clemens had undertaken to divert himself with work at Tyringham, though
without much success. He was not well; he was restless and disturbed;
his heart bleak with a great loneliness. He prepared an article on
Copyright for the 'North American Review',--[Published Jan., 7905. A
dialogue presentation of copyright conditions, addressed to Thorwald
Stolberg, Register of Copyrights, Washington, D. C. One of the best of
Mark Twain's papers on the subject.]--and he began, or at least
contemplated, that beautiful fancy, 'Eve's Diary', which in the widest
and most reverential sense, from the first word to the last, conveys his
love, his worship, and his tenderness for the one he had laid away.
Adam's single comment at the end, "Wheresoever she was, there was Eden,"
was his own comment, and is perhaps the most tenderly beautiful line he
ever wrote. These two books, Adam's Diary and Eve's--amusing and
sometimes absurd as they are, and so far removed from the literal--are as
autobiographic as anything he has done, and one of them as lovely in its
truth. Like the first Maker of men, Mark Twain created Adam in his own
image; and his rare Eve is no less the companion with whom, half a
lifetime before, he had begun the marriage journey. Only here the
likeness ceases. No Serpent ever entered their Eden. And they never
left it; it traveled with them so long as they remained together.
In the Christmas Harper for 1904 was published "Saint Joan of Arc"--the
same being the Joan introduction prepared in London five years before.
Joan's proposed beatification had stirred a new interest in the martyred
girl, and this most beautiful article became a sort of key-note of the
public heart. Those who read it were likely to go back and read the
Recollections, and a new appreciation grew for that masterpiece. In his
later and wider acceptance by his own land, and by the world at large,
the book came to be regarded with a fresh understanding. Letters came
from scores of readers, as if it were a newly issued volume. A
distinguished educator wrote:
I would rather have written your history of Joan of Arc than any
other piece of literature in any language.
And this sentiment grew. The demand for the book increased, and has
continued to increase, steadily and rapidly. In the long and last
analysis the good must prevail. A day will come when there will be as
many readers of Joan as of any other of Mark Twain's works.
[The growing appreciation of Joan is shown by the report of sales for the
three years following 1904. The sales for that year in America were
1,726; for 1905, 2,445 for 1906, 5,381; for 1907, 6,574. At this point
it passed Pudd'nhead Wilson, the Yankee, The Gilded Age, Life on the
Mississippi, overtook the Tramp Abroad, and more than doubled The
American Claimant. Only The Innocents Abroad, Huckleberry Finn, Tom
Sawyer, and Roughing It still ranged ahead of it, in the order named.]
LIFE AT 21 FIFTH AVENUE
The house at 21 Fifth Avenue, built by the architect who had designed
Grace Church, had a distinctly ecclesiastical suggestion about its
windows, and was of fine and stately proportions within. It was a proper
residence for a venerable author and a sage, and with the handsome
Hartford furnishings distributed through it, made a distinctly suitable
setting for Mark Twain. But it was lonely for him. It lacked soul. He
added, presently, a great AEolian Orchestrelle, with a variety of music
for his different moods. He believed that he would play it himself when
he needed the comfort of harmony, and that Jean, who had not received
musical training, or his secretary could also play to him. He had a
passion for music, or at least for melody and stately rhythmic measures,
though his ear was not attuned to what are termed the more classical
compositions. For Wagner, for instance, he cared little, though in a
letter to Mrs. Crane he said:
Certainly nothing in the world is so solemn and impressive and so
divinely beautiful as "Tannhauser." It ought to be used as a religious
Beethoven's sonatas and symphonies also moved him deeply. Once, writing
to Jean, he asked:
What is your favorite piece of music, dear? Mine is Beethoven's Fifth
Symphony. I have found that out within a day or two.
It was the majestic movement and melodies of the second part that he
found most satisfying; but he oftener inclined to the still tenderer
themes of Chopin's nocturnes and one of Schubert's impromptus, while the
"Lorelei" and the "Erlking" and the Scottish airs never wearied him.
Music thus became a chief consolation during these lonely days--rich
organ harmonies that filled the emptiness of his heart and beguiled from
dull, material surroundings back into worlds and dreams that he had known
and laid away.
He went out very little that winter--usually to the homes of old and
intimate friends. Once he attended a small dinner given him by George
Smalley at the Metropolitan Club; but it was a private affair, with only
good friends present. Still, it formed the beginning of his return to
social life, and it was not in his nature to retire from the brightness
of human society, or to submerge himself in mourning. As the months wore
on he appeared here and there, and took on something of his old-time
habit. Then his annual bronchitis appeared, and he was confined a good
deal to his home, where he wrote or planned new reforms and enterprises.
The improvement of railway service, through which fewer persons should be
maimed and destroyed each year, interested him. He estimated that the
railroads and electric lines killed and wounded more than all of the wars
combined, and he accumulated statistics and prepared articles on the
subject, though he appears to have offered little of such matter for
publication. Once, however, when his sympathy was awakened by the victim
of a frightful trolley and train collision in Newark, New Jersey, he
wrote a letter which promptly found its way into print.
DEAR MISS MADELINE, Your good & admiring & affectionate brother has
told me of your sorrowful share in the trolley disaster which
brought unaccustomed tears to millions of eyes & fierce resentment
against those whose criminal indifference to their responsibilities
caused it, & the reminder has brought back to me a pang out of that
bygone time. I wish I could take you sound & whole out of your bed
& break the legs of those officials & put them in it--to stay there.
For in my spirit I am merciful, and would not break their necks &
backs also, as some would who have no feeling.
It is your brother who permits me to write this line--& so it is not
an intrusion, you see.
May you get well-& soon!
S. L. CLEMENS.
A very little later he was writing another letter on a similar subject to
St. Clair McKelway, who had narrowly escaped injury in a railway
DEAR McKELWAY, Your innumerable friends are grateful, most grateful.
As I understand the telegrams, the engineers of your train had never
seen a locomotive before . . . . The government's official
report, showing that our railways killed twelve hundred persons last
year & injured sixty thousand, convinces me that under present
conditions one Providence is not enough properly & efficiently to
take care of our railroad business. But it is characteristically
American--always trying to get along short-handed & save wages.
A massacre of Jews in Moscow renewed his animosity for semi-barbaric
Russia. Asked for a Christmas sentiment, he wrote:
It is my warm & world-embracing Christmas hope that all of us that
deserve it may finally be gathered together in a heaven of rest &
peace, & the others permitted to retire into the clutches of Satan,
or the Emperor of Russia, according to preference--if they have a
An article, "The Tsar's Soliloquy," written at this time, was published
in the North American Review for March (1905). He wrote much more, but
most of the other matter he put aside. On a subject like that he always
discarded three times as much as he published, and it was usually about
three times as terrific as that which found its way into type. "The
Soliloquy," however, is severe enough. It represents the Tsar as
contemplating himself without his clothes, and reflecting on what a poor
human specimen he presents:
Is it this that 140,000,000 Russians kiss the dust before and
worship?--manifestly not! No one could worship this spectacle which
is Me. Then who is it, what is it, that they worship? Privately,
none knows better than I: it is my clothes! Without my clothes I
should be as destitute of authority as any other naked person. No
one could tell me from a parson and barber tutor. Then who is the
real Emperor of Russia! My clothes! There is no other.
The emperor continues this fancy, and reflects on the fierce cruelties
that are done in his name. It was a withering satire on Russian
imperialism, and it stirred a wide response. This encouraged Clemens to
something even more pretentious and effective in the same line. He wrote
"King Leopold's Soliloquy," the reflections of the fiendish sovereign who
had maimed and slaughtered fifteen millions of African subjects in his
greed--gentle, harmless blacks-men, women, and little children whom he
had butchered and mutilated in his Congo rubber-fields. Seldom in the
history of the world have there been such atrocious practices as those of
King Leopold in the Congo, and Clemens spared nothing in his picture of
them. The article was regarded as not quite suitable for magazine
publication, and it was given to the Congo Reform Association and issued
as a booklet for distribution, with no return to the author, who would
gladly have written a hundred times as much if he could have saved that
unhappy race and have sent Leopold to the electric chair.--[The book was
price-marked twenty-five cents, but the returns from such as were sold
went to the cause. Thousands of them were distributed free. The Congo,
a domain four times as large as the German empire, had been made the ward
of Belgium at a convention in Berlin by the agreement of fourteen
nations, America and thirteen European states. Leopold promptly seized
the country for his personal advantage and the nations apparently found
themselves powerless to depose him. No more terrible blunder was ever
committed by an assemblage of civilized people.]
Various plans and movements were undertaken for Congo reform, and Clemens
worked and wrote letters and gave his voice and his influence and
exhausted his rage, at last, as one after another of the half-organized
and altogether futile undertakings showed no results. His interest did
not die, but it became inactive. Eventually he declared: "I have said
all I can say on that terrible subject. I am heart and soul in any
movement that will rescue the Congo and hang Leopold, but I cannot write
His fires were likely to burn themselves out, they raged so fiercely.
His final paragraph on the subject was a proposed epitaph for Leopold
when time should have claimed him. It ran:
Here under this gilded tomb lies rotting the body of one the smell
of whose name will still offend the nostrils of men ages upon ages
after all the Caesars and Washingtons & Napoleons shall have ceased
to be praised or blamed & been forgotten--Leopold of Belgium.
Clemens had not yet lost interest in the American policy in the
Philippines, and in his letters to Twichell he did not hesitate to
criticize tile President's attitude in this and related matters. Once,
in a moment of irritation, he wrote:
DEAR JOE,--I knew I had in me somewhere a definite feeling about the
President. If I could only find the words to define it with! Here
they are, to a hair--from Leonard Jerome:
"For twenty years I have loved Roosevelt the man, and hated
Roosevelt the statesman and politician."
It's mighty good. Every time in twenty-five years that I have met
Roosevelt the man a wave of welcome has streaked through me with the
hand-grip; but whenever (as a rule) I meet Roosevelt the statesman &
politician I find him destitute of morals & not respect-worthy. It
is plain that where his political self & party self are concerned he
has nothing resembling a conscience; that under those inspirations
he is naively indifferent to the restraints of duty & even unaware
of them; ready to kick the Constitution into the back yard whenever
it gets in his way....
But Roosevelt is excusable--I recognize it & (ought to) concede it.
We are all insane, each in his own way, & with insanity goes
irresponsibility. Theodore the man is sane; in fairness we ought to
keep in mind that Theodore, as statesman & politician, is insane &
He wrote a great deal more from time to time on this subject; but that is
the gist of his conclusions, and whether justified by time, or otherwise,
it expresses today the deduction of a very large number of people. It is
set down here, because it is a part of Mark Twain's history, and also
because a little while after his death there happened to creep into print
an incomplete and misleading note (since often reprinted), which he once
made in a moment of anger, when he was in a less judicial frame of mind.
It seems proper that a man's honest sentiments should be recorded
concerning the nation's servants.
Clemens wrote an article at this period which he called the "War Prayer."
It pictured the young recruits about to march away for war--the
excitement and the celebration--the drum-beat and the heart-beat of
patriotism--the final assembly in the church where the minister utters
that tremendous invocation:
God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder, Thy clarion, and lightning, Thy sword!
and the "long prayer" for victory to the nation's armies. As the prayer
closes a white-robed stranger enters, moves up the aisle, and takes the
preacher's place; then, after some moments of impressive silence, he
"I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!.....
He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant
it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have
explained to you its import--that is to say its full import. For it
is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more
than he who utters it is aware of--except he pause & think.
"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken
thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two--one uttered, the other
not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all
supplications, the spoken & the unspoken . . . .
"You have heard your servant's prayer--the uttered part of it. I am
commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it--that
part which the pastor--and also you in your hearts--fervently
prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it
was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our
God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is
completed into those pregnant words.
"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken
part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go
forth to battle--be Thou near them! With them--in spirit--we
also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to
smite the foe.
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody
shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields
with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the
thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us
to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help
us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with
unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their
little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their
desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-
flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit,
worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave &
denied it--for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their
hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage,
make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain
the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of
one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge
& friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble
& contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord; & Thine shall be
the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."
(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it,
speak!--the messenger of the Most High waits."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because
there was no sense in what he said.
To Dan Beard, who dropped in to see him, Clemens read the "War Prayer,"
stating that he had read it to his daughter Jean, and others, who had
told him he must not print it, for it would be regarded as sacrilege.
"Still you--are going to publish it, are you not?"
Clemens, pacing up and down the room in his dressing-gown and slippers,
shook his head.
"No," he said, "I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men
can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead."
He did not care to invite the public verdict that he was a lunatic, or
even a fanatic with a mission to destroy the illusions and traditions and
conclusions of mankind. To Twichell he wrote, playfully but sincerely:
Am I honest? I give you my word of honor (privately) I am not. For
seven years I have suppressed a book which my conscience tells me I ought
to publish. I hold it a duty to publish it. There are other difficult
duties which I am equal to, but I am not equal to that one. Yes, even I
am dishonest. Not in many ways, but in some. Forty-one, I think it is.
We are certainly all honest in one or several ways--every man in the
world--though I have a reason to think I am the only one whose blacklist
runs so light. Sometimes I feel lonely enough in this lofty solitude.
It was his Gospel he referred to as his unpublished book, his doctrine of
Selfishness, and of Man the irresponsible Machine. To Twichell he
pretended to favor war, which he declared, to his mind, was one of the
very best methods known of diminishing the human race.
What a life it is!--this one! Everything we try to do, somebody intrudes
& obstructs it. After years of thought & labor I have arrived within one
little bit of a step of perfecting my invention for exhausting the oxygen
in the globe's air during a stretch of two minutes, & of course along
comes an obstructor who is inventing something to protect human life.
Damn such a world anyway.
He generally wrote Twichell when he had things to say that were outside
of the pale of print. He was sure of an attentive audience of one, and
the audience, whether it agreed with him or not, would at least
understand him and be honored by his confidence. In one letter of that
year he said:
I have written you to-day, not to do you a service, but to do myself one.
There was bile in me. I had to empty it or lose my day to-morrow. If I
tried to empty it into the North American Review--oh, well, I couldn't
afford the risk. No, the certainty! The certainty that I wouldn't be
satisfied with the result; so I would burn it, & try again to-morrow;
burn that and try again the next day. It happens so nearly every time.
I have a family to support, & I can't afford this kind of dissipation.
Last winter when I was sick I wrote a magazine article three times before
I got it to suit me. I Put $500 worth of work on it every day for ten
days, & at last when I got it to suit me it contained but 3,000 words-
$900. I burned it & said I would reform.
And I have reformed. I have to work my bile off whenever it gets to
where I can't stand it, but I can work it off on you economically,
because I don't have to make it suit me. It may not suit you, but that
isn't any matter; I'm not writing it for that. I have used you as an
equilibrium--restorer more than once in my time, & shall continue, I
guess. I would like to use Mr. Rogers, & he is plenty good-natured
enough, but it wouldn't be fair to keep him rescuing me from my leather-
headed business snarls & make him read interminable bile-irruptions
besides; I can't use Howells, he is busy & old & lazy, & won't stand it;
I dasn't use Clara, there's things I have to say which she wouldn't put
up with--a very dear little ashcat, but has claws. And so--you're It.
[See the preface to the "Autobiography of Mark Twain": 'I am writing
from the grave. On these terms only can a man be approximately
frank. He cannot be straitly and unqualifiedly frank either in the
grave or out of it.' D.W.]
A SUMMER IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
He took for the summer a house at Dublin, New Hampshire, the home of
Henry Copley Greene, Lone Tree Hill, on the Monadnock slope. It was in a
lovely locality, and for neighbors there were artists, literary people,
and those of kindred pursuits, among them a number of old friends.
Colonel Higginson had a place near by, and Abbott H. Thayer, the painter,
and George de Forest Brush, and the Raphael Pumpelly family, and many
Colonel Higginson wrote Clemens a letter of welcome as soon as the news
got out that he was going to Dublin; and Clemens, answering, said:
I early learned that you would be my neighbor in the summer & I
rejoiced, recognizing in you & your family a large asset. I hope
for frequent intercourse between the two households. I shall have
my youngest daughter with me. The other one will go from the rest-
cure in this city to the rest-cure in Norfolk, Connecticut; & we
shall not see her before autumn. We have not seen her since the
middle of October.
Jean, the younger daughter, went to Dublin & saw the house & came
back charmed with it. I know the Thayers of old--manifestly there
is no lack of attractions up there. Mrs. Thayer and I were
shipmates in a wild excursion perilously near 40 years ago.
Aldrich was here half an hour ago, like a breeze from over the
fields, with the fragrance still upon his spirit. I am tired
wanting for that man to get old.
They went to Dublin in May, and became at once a part of the summer
colony which congregated there. There was much going to and fro among
the different houses, pleasant afternoons in the woods, mountain-climbing
for Jean, and everywhere a spirit of fine, unpretentious comradeship.
The Copley Greene house was romantically situated, with a charming
outlook. Clemens wrote to Twichell:
We like it here in the mountains, in the shadows of Monadnock. It
is a woody solitude. We have no near neighbors. We have neighbors
and I can see their houses scattered in the forest distances, for we
live on a hill. I am astonished to find that I have known 8 of
these 14 neighbors a long time; 10 years is the shortest; then seven
beginning with 25 years & running up to 37 years' friendship. It is
the most remarkable thing I ever heard of.
This letter was written in July, and he states in it that he has turned
out one hundred thousand words of a large manuscript. . It was a
fantastic tale entitled "3,000 Years among the Microbes," a sort of
scientific revel--or revelry--the autobiography of a microbe that had
been once a man, and through a failure in a biological experiment
transformed into a cholera germ when the experimenter was trying to turn
him into a bird. His habitat was the person of a disreputable tramp
named Blitzowski, a human continent of vast areas, with seething microbic
nations and fantastic life problems. It was a satire, of course--
Gulliver's Lilliput outdone--a sort of scientific, socialistic,
He tired of it before it reached completion, though not before it had
attained the proportions of a book of size. As a whole it would hardly
have added to his reputation, though it is not without fine and humorous
passages, and certainly not without interest. Its chief mission was to
divert him mentally that summer during, those days and nights when he
would otherwise have been alone and brooding upon his loneliness.--[For
extracts from "3,000 Years among the Microbes" see Appendix V, at the end
of this work.]
MARK TWAIN'S SUGGESTED TITLE-PAGE FOR HIS MICROBE BOOK:
AMONG THE MICROBES
By a Microbe
added by the same Hand
7000 years later
Translated from the Original
His inability to reproduce faces in his mind's eye he mourned as an
increasing calamity. Photographs were lifeless things, and when he tried
to conjure up the faces of his dead they seemed to drift farther out of
reach; but now and then kindly sleep brought to him something out of that
treasure-house where all our realities are kept for us fresh and fair,
perhaps for a day when we may claim them again. Once he wrote to Mrs.
SUSY DEAR,--I have had a lovely dream. Livy, dressed in black, was
sitting up in my bed (here) at my right & looking as young & sweet
as she used to when she was in health. She said, "What is the name
of your sweet sister?" I said," Pamela." "Oh yes, that is it, I
thought it was--(naming a name which has escaped me) won't you write
it down for me?" I reached eagerly for a pen & pad, laid my hands
upon both, then said to myself, "It is only a dream," and turned
back sorrowfully & there she was still. The conviction flamed
through me that our lamented disaster was a dream, & this a reality.
I said, "How blessed it is, how blessed it is, it was all a dream,
only a dream!" She only smiled and did not ask what dream I meant,
which surprised me. She leaned her head against mine & kept saying,
"I was perfectly sure it was a dream; I never would have believed it
wasn't." I think she said several things, but if so they are gone
from my memory. I woke & did not know I had been dreaming. She was
gone. I wondered how she could go without my knowing it, but I did
not spend any thought upon that. I was too busy thinking of how
vivid & real was the dream that we had lost her, & how unspeakably
blessed it was to find that it was not true & that she was still
ours & with us.
He had the orchestrelle moved to Dublin, although it was no small
undertaking, for he needed the solace of its harmonies; and so the days
passed along, and he grew stronger in body and courage as his grief
drifted farther behind him. Sometimes, in the afternoon or in the
evening; when the neighbors had come in for a little while, he would walk
up and down and talk in his old, marvelous way of all the things on land
and sea, of the past and of the future, "Of Providence, foreknowledge,
will, and fate," of the friends he had known and of the things he had
done, of the sorrow and absurdities of the world.
It was the same old scintillating, incomparable talk of which Howells
"We shall never know its like again. When he dies it will die with him."
It was during the summer at Dublin that Clemens and Rogers together made
up a philanthropic ruse on Twichell. Twichell, through his own prodigal
charities, had fallen into debt, a fact which Rogers knew. Rogers was a
man who concealed his philanthropies when he could, and he performed many
of them of which the world will never know: In this case he said:
"Clemens, I want to help Twichell out of his financial difficulty. I
will supply the money and you will do the giving. Twichell must think it
comes from you."
Clemens agreed to this on the condition that he be permitted to leave a
record of the matter for his children, so that he would not appear in a
false light to them, and that Twichell should learn the truth of the
gift, sooner or later. So the deed was done, and Twichell and his wife
lavished their thanks upon Clemens, who, with his wife, had more than
once been their benefactors, making the deception easy enough now.
Clemens writhed under these letters of gratitude, and forwarded them to
Clara in Norfolk, and later to Rogers himself. He pretended to take
great pleasure in this part of the conspiracy, but it was not an unmixed
delight. To Rogers he wrote:
I wanted her [Clara] to see what a generous father she's got. I
didn't tell her it was you, but by and by I want to tell her, when I
have your consent; then I shall want her to remember the letters. I
want a record there, for my Life when I am dead, & must be able to
furnish the facts about the Relief-of-Lucknow-Twichell in case I
fall suddenly, before I get those facts with your consent, before
the Twichells themselves.
I read those letters with immense pride! I recognized that I had
scored one good deed for sure on my halo account. I haven't had
anything that tasted so good since the stolen watermelon.
P. S.-I am hurrying them off to you because I dasn't read them
again! I should blush to my heels to fill up with this unearned
gratitude again, pouring out of the thankful hearts of those poor
swindled people who do not suspect you, but honestly believe I gave
Mr. Rogers hastily replied:
MY DEAR CLEMENS,--The letters are lovely. Don't breathe. They are
so happy! It would be a crime to let them think that you have in
any way deceived them. I can keep still. You must. I am sending
you all traces of the crime, so that you may look innocent and tell
the truth, as you usually do when you think you can escape
detection. Don't get rattled.
Seriously. You have done a kindness. You are proud of it, I know.
You have made your friends happy, and you ought to be so glad as to
cheerfully accept reproof from your conscience. Joe Wadsworth and I
once stole a goose and gave it to a poor widow as a Christmas
present. No crime in that. I always put my counterfeit money on
the plate. "The passer of the sasser" always smiles at me and I get
credit for doing generous things. But seriously again, if you do
feel a little uncomfortable wait until I see you before you tell
anybody. Avoid cultivating misery. I am trying to loaf ten solid
days. We do hope to see you soon.
The secret was kept, and the matter presently (and characteristically)
passed out of Clemens's mind altogether. He never remembered to tell
Twichell, and it is revealed here, according to his wish.
The Russian-Japanese war was in progress that summer, and its settlement
occurred in August. The terms of it did not please Mark Twain. When a
newspaper correspondent asked him for an expression of opinion on the
subject he wrote:
Russia was on the highroad to emancipation from an insane and
intolerable slavery. I was hoping there would be no peace until
Russian liberty was safe. I think that this was a holy war, in the
best and noblest sense of that abused term, and that no war was ever
charged with a higher mission.
I think there can be no doubt that that mission is now defeated and
Russia's chain riveted; this time to stay. I think the Tsar will
now withdraw the small humanities that have been forced from him,
and resume his medieval barbarisms with a relieved spirit and an
immeasurable joy. I think Russian liberty has had its last chance
and has lost it.
I think nothing has been gained by the peace that is remotely
comparable to what has been sacrificed by it. One more battle would
have abolished the waiting chains of billions upon billions of
unborn Russians, and I wish it could have been fought. I hope I am
mistaken, yet in all sincerity I believe that this peace is entitled
to rank as the most conspicuous disaster in political history.
It was the wisest public utterance on the subject--the deep, resonant
note of truth sounding amid a clamor of foolish joy-bells. It was the
message of a seer--the prophecy of a sage who sees with the clairvoyance
of knowledge and human understanding. Clemens, a few days later, was
invited by Colonel Harvey to dine with Baron Rosen and M. Sergius Witte;
but an attack of his old malady--rheumatism--prevented his acceptance.
His telegram of declination apparently pleased the Russian officials, for
Witte asked permission to publish it, and declared that he was going to
take it home to show to the Tsar. It was as follows:
To COLONEL HARVEY,--I am still a cripple, otherwise I should be more than
glad of this opportunity to meet the illustrious magicians who came here
equipped with nothing but a pen, & with it have divided the honors of the
war with the sword. It is fair to presume that in thirty centuries
history will not get done in admiring these men who attempted what the
world regarded as the impossible & achieved it.
But this was a modified form. His original draft would perhaps have been
less gratifying to that Russian embassy. It read:
To COLONEL HARVEY,--I am still a cripple, otherwise I should be more
than glad of this opportunity to meet those illustrious magicians
who with the pen have annulled, obliterated, & abolished every high
achievement of the Japanese sword and turned the tragedy of a
tremendous war into a gay & blithesome comedy. If I may, let me in
all respect and honor salute them as my fellow-humorists, I taking
third place, as becomes one who was not born to modesty, but by
diligence & hard work is acquiring it.
There was still another form, brief and expressive:
DEAR COLONEL,--No, this is a love-feast; when you call a lodge of sorrow
send for me. MARK.
Clemens's war sentiment was given the widest newspaper circulation, and
brought him many letters, most of them applauding his words. Charles
Francis Adams wrote him:
It attracted my attention because it so exactly expresses the views
I have myself all along entertained.
And this was the gist of most of the expressed sentiments which came to
Clemens wrote a number of things that summer, among them a little essay
entitled, "The Privilege of the Grave"--that is to say, free speech.
He was looking forward, he said, to the time when he should inherit that
privilege, when some of the things he had said, written and laid away,
could be published without damage to his friends or family. An article
entitled, "Interpreting the Deity," he counted as among the things to be
uttered when he had entered into that last great privilege. It is an
article on the reading of signs and auguries in all ages to discover the
intentions of the Almighty, with historical examples of God's judgments
and vindications. Here is a fair specimen. It refers to the chronicle
of Henry Huntington:
All through this book Henry exhibits his familiarity with the
intentions of God and with the reasons for the intentions.
Sometimes very often, in fact--the act follows the intention after
such a wide interval of time that one wonders how Henry could fit
one act out of a hundred to one intention, and get the thing right
every time, when there was such abundant choice among acts and
intentions. Sometimes a man offends the Deity with a crime, and is
punished for it thirty years later; meantime he has committed a
million other crimes: no matter, Henry can pick out the one that
brought the worms. Worms were generally used in those days for the
slaying of particularly wicked people. This has gone out now, but
in the old times it was a favorite. It always indicated a case of
"wrath." For instance:
"The just God avenging Robert Fitzhildebrand's perfidity, a worm
grew in his vitals which, gradually gnawing its way through his
intestines, fattened on the abandoned man till, tortured with
excruciating sufferings and venting himself in bitter moans, he was
by a fitting punishment brought to his end" (p. 400).
It was probably an alligator, but we cannot tell; we only know it
was a particular breed, and only used to convey wrath. Some
authorities think it was an ichthyosaurus, but there is much doubt.
The entire article is in this amusing, satirical strain, and might well
enough be printed to-day. It is not altogether clear why it was
withheld, even then.
He finished his Eve's Diary that summer, and wrote a story which was
originally planned to oblige Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske, to aid her in a
crusade against bullfighting in Spain. Mrs. Fiske wrote him that she had
read his dog story, written against the cruelties of vivisection, and
urged him to do something to save the horses that, after faithful
service, were sacrificed in the bull-ring. Her letter closed:
I have lain awake nights very often wondering if I dare ask you to
write a story of an old horse that is finally given over to the
bull-ring. The story you would write would do more good than all
the laws we are trying to have made and enforced for the prevention
of cruelty to animals in Spain. We would translate and circulate
the story in that country. I have wondered if you would ever write
With most devoted homage,
MINNIE MADDERN FISKE.
Clemens promptly replied:
DEAR MRS. FISKE, I shall certainly write the story. But I may not get it
to suit me, in which case it will go in the fire. Later I will try it
again--& yet again--& again. I am used to this. It has taken me twelve
years to write a short story--the shortest one I ever wrote, I think.--
[Probably "The Death Disk:"]--So do not be discouraged; I will stick to
this one in the same way.
S. L. CLEMENS.
It was an inspiring subject, and he began work on it immediately. Within
a month from the time he received Mrs. Fiske's letter he had written that
pathetic, heartbreaking little story, "A Horse's Tale," and sent it to
Harper's Magazine for illustration. In a letter written to Mr. Duneka at
the time, he tells of his interest in the narrative, and adds:
This strong interest is natural, for the heroine is my small
daughter Susy, whom we lost. It was not intentional--it was a good
while before I found it out, so I am sending you her picture to use
--& to reproduce with photographic exactness the unsurpassable
expression & all. May you find an artist who has lost an idol.
He explains how he had put in a good deal of work, with his secretary, on
the orchestrelle to get the bugle-calls.
We are to do these theatricals this evening with a couple of
neighbors for audience, and then pass the hat.
It is not one of Mark Twain's greatest stories, but its pathos brings the
tears, and no one can read it without indignation toward the custom which
it was intended to oppose. When it was published, a year later, Mrs.
Fiske sent him her grateful acknowledgments, and asked permission to have
it printed for pamphlet circulation m Spain.
A number of more or less notable things happened in this, Mark Twain's
seventieth year. There was some kind of a reunion going on in
California, and he was variously invited to attend. Robert Fulton, of
Nevada, was appointed a committee of one to invite him to Reno for a
great celebration which was to be held there. Clemens replied that he
remembered, as if it were but yesterday, when he had disembarked from the
Overland stage in front of the Ormsby Hotel, in Carson City, and told how
he would like to accept the invitation.
If I were a few years younger I would accept it, and promptly, and I
would go. I would let somebody else do the oration, but as for me I
would talk--just talk. I would renew my youth; and talk--and talk--and
talk--and have the time of my life! I would march the unforgotten and
unforgetable antiques by, and name their names, and give them reverent
hail and farewell as they passed--Goodman, McCarthy, Gillis, Curry,
Baldwin, Winters, Howard, Nye, Stewart, Neely Johnson, Hal Clayton,
North, Root--and my brother, upon whom be peace!--and then the
desperadoes, who made life a joy, and the "slaughter-house," a precious
possession: Sam Brown, Farmer Pete, Bill Mayfield, Six-fingered Jake,
Jack Williams, and the rest of the crimson discipleship, and so on, and
so on. Believe me, I would start a resurrection it would do you more
good to look at than the next one will, if you go on the way you are
Those were the days!--those old ones. They will come no more; youth will
come no more. They were so full to the brim with the wine of life; there
have been no others like them. It chokes me up to think of them. Would
you like me to come out there and cry? It would not beseem my white
Good-by. I drink to you all. Have a good time-and take an old man's
In reply to another invitation from H. H. Bancroft, of San Francisco, he
wrote that his wandering days were over, and that it was his purpose to
sit by the fire for the rest of his "remnant of life."
A man who, like me, is going to strike 70 on the 30th of next
November has no business to be flitting around the way Howells does
--that shameless old fictitious butterfly. (But if he comes don't
tell him I said it, for it would hurt him & I wouldn't brush a flake
of powder from his wing for anything. I only say it in envy of his
indestructible youth anyway. Howells will be 88 in October.)
And it was either then or on a similar occasion that he replied after
I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old
residents. Since I left there it has increased in population fully
300,000. I could have done more--I could have gone earlier--it was
Which, by the way, is a perfect example of Mark Twain's humorous manner,
the delicately timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would
have been contented to end with the statement, "I could have gone
earlier." Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch--
"it was suggested."
AT PIER 70
Mark Twain was nearing seventy, the scriptural limitation of life, and
the returns were coming in. Some one of the old group was dying all the
time. The roll-call returned only a scattering answer. Of his oldest
friends, Charles Henry Webb, John Hay, and Sir Henry Irving, all died
that year. When Hay died Clemens gave this message to the press:
I am deeply grieved, & I mourn with the nation this loss which is
irreparable. My friendship with Mr. Hay & my admiration of him
endured 38 years without impairment.
It was only a little earlier that he had written Hay an anonymous letter,
a copy of which he preserved. It here follows:
DEAR & HONORED SIR,--I never hear any one speak of you & of your
long roll of illustrious services in other than terms of pride &
praise--& out of the heart. I think I am right in believing you to
be the only man in the civil service of the country the cleanness of
whose motives is never questioned by any citizen, & whose acts
proceed always upon a broad & high plane, never by accident or
pressure of circumstance upon a narrow or low one. There are
majorities that are proud of more than one of the nation's great
servants, but I believe, & I think I know, that you are the only one
of whom the entire nation is proud. Proud & thankful.
Name & address are lacking here, & for a purpose: to leave you no
chance to make my words a burden to you and a reproach to me, who
would lighten your burdens if I could, not add to them.
Irving died in October, and Clemens ordered a wreath for his funeral. To
MacAlister he wrote:
I profoundly grieve over Irving's death. It is another reminder.
My section of the procession has but a little way to go. I could
not be very sorry if I tried.
Mark Twain, nearing seventy, felt that there was not much left for him to
celebrate; and when Colonel Harvey proposed a birthday gathering in his
honor, Clemens suggested a bohemian assembly over beer and sandwiches in
some snug place, with Howells, Henry Rogers, Twichell, Dr. Rice, Dr.
Edward Quintard, Augustus Thomas, and such other kindred souls as were
still left to answer the call. But Harvey had something different in
view: something more splendid even than the sixty-seventh birthday feast,
more pretentious, indeed, than any former literary gathering. He felt
that the attainment of seventy years by America's most distinguished man
of letters and private citizen was a circumstance which could not be
moderately or even modestly observed. The date was set five days later
than the actual birthday--that is to say, on December 5th, in order that
it might not conflict with the various Thanksgiving holidays and
occasions. Delmonico's great room was chosen for the celebration of it,
and invitations were sent out to practically every writer of any
distinction in America, and to many abroad. Of these nearly two hundred
accepted, while such as could not come sent pathetic regrets.
What an occasion it was! The flower of American literature gathered to
do honor to its chief. The whole atmosphere of the place seemed
permeated with his presence, and when Colonel Harvey presented William
Dean Howells, and when Howells had read another double-barreled sonnet,
and introduced the guest of the evening with the words, "I will not say,
'O King, live forever,' but, 'O King, live as long as you like!'" and
Mark Twain rose, his snow-white hair gleaming above that brilliant
assembly, it seemed that a world was speaking out in a voice of applause
and welcome. With a great tumult the throng rose, a billow of life, the
white handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest. Those who had
gathered there realized that it was a mighty moment, not only in his life
but in theirs. They were there to see this supreme embodiment of the
American spirit as he scaled the mountain-top. He, too, realized the
drama of that moment--the marvel of it--and he must have flashed a swift
panoramic view backward over the long way he had come, to stand, as he
had himself once expressed it, "for a single, splendid moment on the Alps
of fame outlined against the sun." He must have remembered; for when he
came to speak he went back to the very beginning, to his very first
banquet, as he called it, when, as he said, "I hadn't any hair; I hadn't
any teeth; I hadn't any clothes." He sketched the meagerness of that
little hamlet which had seen his birth, sketched it playfully,
delightfully, so that his hearers laughed and shouted; but there was
always a tenderness under it all, and often the tears were not far
beneath the surface. He told of his habits of life, how he had attained
seventy years by simply sticking to a scheme of living which would kill
anybody else; how he smoked constantly, loathed exercise, and had no
other regularity of habits. Then, at last, he reached that wonderful,
Threescore years and ten!
It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no
active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time-
expired man, to use Kipling's military phrase: You have served your
term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become
an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions
are not for you, nor any bugle-call but "lights out." You pay the
time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline if you prefer--and
without prejudice--for they are not legally collectable.
The previous-engagement plea, which in forty years has cost you so
many twinges, you can lay aside forever; on this side of the grave
you will never need it again. If you shrink at thought of night,
and winter, and the late homecomings from the banquet and the lights
and laughter through the deserted streets--a desolation which would
not remind you now, as for a generation it did, that your friends
are sleeping and you must creep in a-tiptoe and not disturb them,
but would only remind you that you need not tiptoe, you can never
disturb them more--if you shrink at the thought of these things you
need only reply, "Your invitation honors me and pleases me because
you still keep me in your remembrance, but I am seventy; seventy,
and would nestle in the chinmey-corner, and smoke my pipe, and read
my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and
that when you in your turn shall arrive at Pier 70 you may step
aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your
course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart."
The tears that had been lying in wait were not restrained now. If there
were any present who did not let them flow without shame, who did not
shout their applause from throats choked with sobs, the writer of these
lines failed to see them or to hear of them. There was not one who was
ashamed to pay the great tribute of tears.
Many of his old friends, one after another, rose to tell their love for
him--Brander Matthews, Cable, Kate Douglas Riggs, Gilder, Carnegie,
Bangs, Bacheller--they kept it up far into the next morning. No other
arrival at Pier 70 ever awoke a grander welcome.
The announcement of the seventieth birthday dinner had precipitated a
perfect avalanche of letters, which continued to flow in until the news
accounts of it precipitated another avalanche. The carriers' bags were
stuffed with greetings that came from every part of the world, from every
class of humanity. They were all full of love and tender wishes. A card
signed only with initials said: "God bless your old sweet soul for having
Aldrich, who could not attend the dinner, declared that all through the
evening he had been listening in his mind to a murmur of voices in the
hall at Delmonico's. A group of English authors in London combined in a
cable of congratulations. Anstey, Alfred Austin, Balfour, Barrie, Bryce,
Chesterton, Dobson, Doyle, Gosse, Hardy, Hope, Jacobs, Kipling, Lang,
Parker, Tenniel, Watson, and Zangwill were among the signatures.
Helen Keller wrote:
And you are seventy years old? Or is the report exaggerated, like
that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house
of dear Mr. Hutton, in Princeton, you said:
"If a man is a pessimist before he is forty-eight he knows too much.
If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight he knows too little."
Now we know you are an optimist, and nobody would dare to accuse one
on the "seven-terraced summit" of knowing little. So probably you
are not seventy after all, but only forty-seven!
Helen Keller was right. Mark Twain was not a pessimist in his heart, but
only by premeditation. It was his observation and his logic that led him
to write those things that, even in their bitterness, somehow conveyed
that spirit of human sympathy which is so closely linked to hope. To
Miss Keller he wrote:
"Oh, thank you for your lovely words!"
He was given another birthday celebration that month--this time by the
Society of Illustrators. Dan Beard, president, was also toast-master;
and as he presented Mark Twain there was a trumpet-note, and a lovely
girl, costumed as Joan of Arc, entered and, approaching him, presented
him with a laurel wreath. It was planned and carried out as a surprise
to him, and he hardly knew for the moment whether it was a vision or a
reality. He was deeply affected, so much so that for several moments he
could not find his voice to make any acknowledgments.
Clemens was more than ever sought now, and he responded when the cause
was a worthy one. He spoke for the benefit of the Russian sufferers at
the Casino on December 18th. Madame Sarah Bernhardt was also there, and
spoke in French. He followed her, declaring that it seemed a sort of
cruelty to inflict upon an audience our rude English after hearing that
divine speech flowing in that lucid Gallic tongue.
It has always been a marvel to me--that French language; it has
always been a puzzle to me. How beautiful that language is! How
expressive it seems to be! How full of grace it is!
And when it comes from lips like those, how eloquent and how limpid
it is! And, oh, I am always deceived--I always think I am going to
It is such a delight to me, such a delight to me, to meet Madame
Bernhardt, and laugh hand to hand and heart to heart with her. I
have seen her play, as we all have, and, oh, that is divine; but I
have always wanted to know Madame Bernhardt herself--her fiery self.
I have wanted to know that beautiful character.
Why, she is the youngest person I ever saw, except myself--for I
always feel young when I come in the presence of young people.
And truly, at seventy, Mark Twain was young, his manner, his movement,
his point of view-these were all, and always, young.
A number of palmists about that time examined impressions of his hand
without knowledge as to the owner, and they all agreed that it was the
hand of a man with the characteristics of youth, with inspiration, and
enthusiasm, and sympathy--a lover of justice and of the sublime. They
all agreed, too, that he was a deep philosopher, though, alas! they
likewise agreed that he lacked the sense of humor, which is not as
surprising as it sounds, for with Mark Twain humor was never mere fun-
making nor the love of it; rather it was the flower of his philosophy--
its bloom arid fragrance.
When the fanfare and drum-beat of his birthday honors had passed by, and
a moment of calm had followed, Mark Twain set down some reflections on
the new estate he had achieved. The little paper, which forms a perfect
pendant to the "Seventieth Birthday Speech," here follows:
I think it likely that people who have not been here will be
interested to know what it is like. I arrived on the thirtieth of
November, fresh from carefree & frivolous 69, & was disappointed.
There is nothing novel about it, nothing striking, nothing to thrill
you & make your eye glitter & your tongue cry out, "Oh, it is
wonderful, perfectly wonderful!" Yes, it is disappointing. You
say, "Is this it?--this? after all this talk and fuss of a thousand
generations of travelers who have crossed this frontier & looked
about them & told what they saw & felt? Why, it looks just like
And that is true. Also it is natural, for you have not come by the
fast express; you have been lagging & dragging across the world's
continents behind oxen; when that is your pace one country melts
into the next one so gradually that you are not able to notice the
change; 70 looks like 69; 69 looked like 68; 68 looked like 67--& so
on back & back to the beginning. If you climb to a summit & look
back--ah, then you see!
Down that far-reaching perspective you can make out each country &
climate that you crossed, all the way up from the hot equator to the
ice-summit where you are perched. You can make out where Infancy
verged into Boyhood; Boyhood into down-lipped Youth; Youth into
bearded, indefinite Young-Manhood; indefinite Young-Manhood into
definite Manhood; definite Manhood, with large, aggressive
ambitions, into sobered & heedful Husbandhood & Fatherhood; these
into troubled & foreboding Age, with graying hair; this into Old
Age, white-headed, the temple empty, the idols broken, the
worshipers in their graves, nothing left but You, a remnant, a
tradition, belated fag-end of a foolish dream, a dream that was so
ingeniously dreamed that it seemed real all the time; nothing left
but You, center of a snowy desolation, perched on the ice-summit,
gazing out over the stages of that long trek & asking Yourself,
"Would you do it again if you had the chance?"
THE WRITER MEETS MARK TWAIN
We have reached a point in this history where the narrative becomes
mainly personal, and where, at the risk of inviting the charge of
egotism, the form of the telling must change.
It was at the end of 1901 that I first met Mark Twain--at The Players
Club on the night when he made the Founder's Address mentioned in an
I was not able to arrive in time for the address, but as I reached the
head of the stairs I saw him sitting on the couch at the dining-room
entrance, talking earnestly to some one, who, as I remember it, did not
enter into my consciousness at all. I saw only that crown of white hair,
that familiar profile, and heard the slow modulations of his measured
speech. I was surprised to see how frail and old he looked. From his
pictures I had conceived him different. I did not realize that it was a
temporary condition due to a period of poor health and a succession of
social demands. I have no idea how long I stood there watching him. He
had been my literary idol from childhood, as he had been of so many
others; more than that, for the personality in his work had made him
nothing less than a hero to his readers.
He rose presently to go, and came directly toward me. A year before I
had done what new writers were always doing--I had sent him a book I had
written, and he had done what he was always doing--acknowledged it with a
kindly letter. I made my thanks now an excuse for addressing him. It
warmed me to hear him say that he remembered the book, though at the time
I confess I thought it doubtful. Then he was gone; but the mind and ear
had photographed those vivid first impressions that remain always clear.
It was the following spring that I saw him again--at an afternoon
gathering, and the memory of that occasion is chiefly important because I
met Mrs. Clemens there for the only time, and like all who met her,
however briefly, felt the gentleness and beauty of her spirit. I think I
spoke with her at two or three different moments during the afternoon,
and on each occasion was impressed with that feeling of acquaintanceship
which we immediately experience with those rare beings whose souls are
wells of human sympathy and free from guile. Bret Harte had just died,
and during the afternoon Mr. Clemens asked me to obtain for him some item
concerning the obsequies.
It was more than three years before I saw him again. Meantime, a sort of
acquaintance had progressed. I had been engaged in writing the life of
Thomas Nast, the cartoonist, and I had found among the material a number
of letters to Nast from Mark Twain. I was naturally anxious to use those
fine characteristic letters, and I wrote him for his consent. He wished
to see the letters, and the permission that followed was kindness itself.
His admiration of Nast was very great.
It was proper, under the circumstances, to send him a copy of the book
when it appeared; but that was 1904, his year of sorrow and absence, and
the matter was postponed. Then came the great night of his seventieth
birthday dinner, with an opportunity to thank him in person for the use
of the letters. There was only a brief exchange of words, and it was the
next day, I think, that I sent him a copy of the book. It did not occur
to me that I should hear of it again.
We step back a moment here. Something more than a year earlier, through
a misunderstanding, Mark Twain's long association with The Players had
been severed. It was a sorrow to him, and a still greater sorrow to the
club. There was a movement among what is generally known' as the "Round
Table Group"--because its members have long had a habit of lunching at a
large, round table in a certain window--to bring him back again. David
Munro, associate editor of the North American Review-" David," a man well
loved of men--and Robert Reid, the painter, prepared this simple
Will ye no come back again?
Will ye no come back again?
Better lo'ed ye canna be,
Will ye no come back again?
It was signed by Munro and by Reid and about thirty others, and it
touched Mark Twain deeply. The lines had always moved him. He wrote:
TO ROBT. REID & THE OTHERS--
WELL-BELOVED,--Surely those lovely verses went to Prince Charlie's
heart, if he had one, & certainly they have gone to mine. I shall
be glad & proud to come back again after such a moving & beautiful
compliment as this from comrades whom I have loved so long. I hope
you can poll the necessary vote; I know you will try, at any rate.
It will be many months before I can foregather with you, for this
black border is not perfunctory, not a convention; it symbolizes the
loss of one whose memory is the only thing I worship.
It is not necessary for me to thank you--& words could not deliver
what I feel, anyway. I will put the contents of your envelope in
the small casket where I keep the things which have become sacred to
S. L. C.
So the matter was temporarily held in abeyance until he should return.
to social life. At the completion of his seventieth year the club had
taken action, and Mark Twain had been brought back, not in the regular
order of things, but as an honorary life member without dues or duties.
There was only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving.
The Players, as a club, does not give dinners. Whatever is done in that
way is done by one or more of the members in the private dining-room,
where there is a single large table that holds twenty-five, even thirty
when expanded to its limit. That room and that table have mingled with
much distinguished entertainment, also with history. Henry James made
his first after-dinner speech there, for one thing--at least he claimed
it was his first, though this is by the way.
A letter came to me which said that those who had signed the plea for the
Prince's return were going to welcome him in the private dining-room on
the 5th of January. It was not an invitation, but a gracious privilege.
I was in New York a day or two in advance of the date, and I think David
Munro was the first person I met at The Players. As he greeted me his
eyes were eager with something he knew I would wish to hear. He had been
delegated to propose the dinner to Mark Twain, and had found him propped
up in bed, and noticed on the table near him a copy of the Nast book. I
suspect that Munro had led him to speak of it, and that the result had
lost nothing filtered through that radiant benevolence of his.
The night of January 5, 1906, remains a memory apart from other dinners.
Brander Matthews presided, and Gilder was there, and Frank Millet and
Willard Metcalf and Robert Reid, and a score of others; some of them are
dead now, David Munro among them. It so happened that my seat was nearly
facing the guest of the evening, who, by custom of The Players, is placed
at the side and not at the end of the long table. He was no longer frail
and thin, as when I had first met him. He had a robust, rested look; his
complexion had the tints of a miniature painting. Lit by the glow of the
shaded candles, relieved against the dusk richness of the walls, he made
a picture of striking beauty. One could not take his eyes from it, and
to one guest at least it stirred the farthest memories. I suddenly saw
the interior of a farm-house sitting-room in the Middle West, where I had
first heard uttered the name of Mark Twain, and where night after night a
group gathered around the evening lamp to hear the tale of the first
pilgrimage, which, to a boy of eight, had seemed only a wonderful poem
and fairy tale. To Charles Harvey Genung, who sat next to me, I
whispered something of this, and how, during the thirty-six years since
then, no other human being to me had meant quite what Mark Twain had
meant--in literature, in life, in the ineffable thing which means more
than either, and which we call "inspiration," for lack of a truer word.
Now here he was, just across the table. It was the fairy tale come true.
"You should write his life."
His remark seemed a pleasant courtesy, and was put aside as such. When
he persisted I attributed it to the general bloom of the occasion, and a
little to the wine, maybe, for the dinner was in its sweetest stage just
then--that happy, early stage when the first glass of champagne, or the
second, has proved its quality. He urged, in support of his idea, the
word that Munro had brought concerning the Nast book, but nothing of what
he said kindled any spark of hope. I could not but believe that some one
with a larger equipment of experience, personal friendship, and abilities
had already been selected for the task. By and by the speaking began--
delightful, intimate speaking in that restricted circle--and the matter
went out of my mind.
When the dinner had ended, and we were drifting about the table in
general talk, I found an opportunity to say a word to the guest of the
evening about his Joan of Arc, which I had recently re-read. To my
happiness, he detained me while he told me the long-ago incident which
had led to his interest, not only in the martyred girl, but in all
literature. I think we broke up soon after, and descended to the lower
rooms. At any rate, I presently found the faithful Charles Genung
privately reasserting to me the proposition that I should undertake the
biography of Mark Twain. Perhaps it was the brief sympathy established
by the name of Joan of Arc, perhaps it was only Genung's insistent
purpose--his faith, if I may be permitted the word. Whatever it was,
there came an impulse, in the instant of bidding good-by to our guest of
honor, which prompted me to say:
"May I call to see you, Mr. Clemens, some day?"
And something--dating from the primal atom, I suppose--prompted him to
"Yes, come soon."
This was on Wednesday night, or rather on Thursday morning, for it was
past midnight, and a day later I made an appointment with his secretary
to call on Saturday.
I can say truly that I set out with no more than the barest hope of
success, and wondering if I should have the courage, when I saw him, even
to suggest the thought in my mind. I know I did not have the courage to
confide in Genung that I had made the appointment--I was so sure it would
fail. I arrived at 21 Fifth Avenue and was shown into that long library
and drawing-room combined, and found a curious and deep interest in the
books and ornaments along the shelves as I waited. Then I was summoned,
and I remember ascending the stairs, wondering why I had come on so
futile an errand, and trying to think of an excuse to offer for having
come at all.
He was propped up in bed--in that stately bed-sitting, as was his habit,
with his pillows placed at the foot, so that he might have always before
him the rich, carved beauty of its headboard. He was delving through a
copy of Huckleberry Finn, in search of a paragraph concerning which some
random correspondent had asked explanation. He was commenting
unfavorably on this correspondent and on miscellaneous letter-writing in
general. He pushed the cigars toward me, and the talk of these matters
ran along and blended into others more or less personal. By and by I
told him what so many thousands had told him before: what he had meant to
me, recalling the childhood impressions of that large, black-and-gilt-
covered book with its wonderful pictures and adventures--the
Mediterranean pilgrimage. Very likely it bored him--he had heard it so
often--and he was willing enough, I dare say, to let me change the
subject and thank him for the kindly word which David Munro had brought.
I do not remember what he said then, but I suddenly found myself
suggesting that out of his encouragement had grown a hope--though
certainly it was something less--that I might some day undertake a book
about himself. I expected the chapter to end at this point, and his
silence which followed seemed long and ominous.
He said, at last, that at various times through his life he had been
preparing some autobiographical matter, but that he had tired of the
undertaking, and had put it aside. He added that he had hoped his
daughters would one day collect his letters; but that a biography--
a detailed story of personality and performance, of success and failure--
was of course another matter, and that for such a work no arrangement had
been made. He may have added one or two other general remarks; then,
turning those piercing agate-blue eyes directly upon me, he said:
"When would you like to begin?"
There was a dresser with a large mirror behind him. I happened to catch
my reflection in it, and I vividly recollect saying to it mentally: "This
is not true; it is only one of many similar dreams." But even in a dream
one must answer, and I said:
"Whenever you like. I can begin now."
He was always eager in any new undertaking.
"Very good," he said. "The sooner, then, the better. Let's begin while
we are in the humor. The longer you postpone a thing of this kind the
less likely you are ever to get at it."
This was on Saturday, as I have stated. I mentioned that my family was
still in the country, and that it would require a day or two to get
established in the city. I asked if Tuesday, January 9th, would be too
soon to begin. He agreed that Tuesday would do, and inquired something
about my plan of work. Of course I had formed nothing definite, but I
said that in similar undertakings a part of the work had been done with a
stenographer, who had made the notes while I prompted the subject to
recall a procession of incidents and episodes, to be supplemented with
every variety of material obtainable--letters and other documentary
accumulations. Then he said:
"I think I should enjoy dictating to a stenographer, with some one to
prompt me and to act as audience. The room adjoining this was fitted up
for my study. My manuscripts and notes and private books and many of my
letters are there, and there are a trunkful or two of such things in the
attic. I seldom use the room myself. I do my writing and reading in
bed. I will turn that room over to you for this work. Whatever you need
will be brought to you. We can have the dictation here in the morning,
and you can put in the rest of the day to suit yourself. You can have a
key and come and go as you please."
That was always his way. He did nothing by halves; nothing without
unquestioning confidence and prodigality. He got up and showed me the
lovely luxury of the study, with its treasures of material. I did not
believe it true yet. It had all the atmosphere of a dream, and I have no
distinct recollection of how I came away. When I returned to The Players
and found Charles Harvey Genung there, and told him about it, it is quite
certain that he perjured himself when he professed to believe it true and
pretended that he was not surprised.
WORKING WITH MARK TWAIN
On Tuesday, January 9, 1906, I was on hand with a capable stenographer--
Miss Josephine Hobby, who had successively, and successfully, held
secretarial positions with Charles Dudley Warner and Mrs. Mary Mapes
Dodge, and was therefore peculiarly qualified for the work in hand.
Clemens, meantime, had been revolving our plans and adding some features
of his own. He proposed to double the value and interest of our
employment by letting his dictations continue the form of those earlier
autobiographical chapters, begun with Redpath in 1885, and continued
later in Vienna and at the Villa Quarto. He said he did not think he
could follow a definite chronological program; that he would like to
wander about, picking up this point and that, as memory or fancy
prompted, without any particular biographical order. It was his purpose,
he declared, that his dictations should not be published until he had
been dead a hundred years or more--a prospect which seemed to give him an
especial gratification.--[As early as October, 1900, he had proposed to
Harper & Brothers a contract for publishing his personal memoirs at the
expiration of one hundred years from date; and letters covering the
details were exchanged with Mr. Rogers. The document, however, was not
He wished to pay the stenographer, and to own these memoranda, he said,
allowing me free access to them for any material I might find valuable.
I could also suggest subjects for dictation, and ask particulars of any
special episode or period. I believe this covered the whole arrangement,
which did not require more than five minutes, and we set to work without
I ought to state that he was in bed when we arrived, and that he remained
there during almost all of these earlier dictations, clad in a handsome
silk dressing-gown of rich Persian pattern, propped against great snowy
pillows. He loved this loose luxury and ease, and found it conducive to
thought. On the little table beside him, where lay his cigars, papers,
pipes, and various knickknacks, shone a reading-lamp, making more
brilliant the rich coloring of his complexion and the gleam of his
shining hair. There was daylight, too, but it was north light, and the
winter days were dull. Also the walls of the room were a deep,
unreflecting red, and his eyes were getting old. The outlines of that
vast bed blending into the luxuriant background, the whole focusing to
the striking central figure, remain in my mind to-day--a picture of
He dictated that morning some matters connected with the history of the
Comstock mine; then he drifted back to his childhood, returning again to
the more modern period, and closed, I think, with some comments on
current affairs. It was absorbingly interesting; his quaint, unhurried
fashion of speech, the unconscious movement of his hands, the play of his
features as his fancies and phrases passed in mental review and were
accepted or waved aside. We were watching one of the great literary
creators of his time in the very process of his architecture. We
constituted about the most select audience in the world enjoying what
was, likely enough, its most remarkable entertainment. When he turned at
last and inquired the time we were all amazed that two hours and more had
"And how much I have enjoyed it!" he said. "It is the ideal plan for
this kind of work. Narrative writing is always disappointing. The
moment you pick up a pen you begin to lose the spontaneity of the
personal relation, which contains the very essence of interest. With
shorthand dictation one can talk as if he were at his own dinner-table--
always a most inspiring place. I expect to dictate all the rest of my
life, if you good people are willing to come and listen to it."
The dictations thus begun continued steadily from week to week, and
always with increasing charm. We never knew what he was going to talk
about, and it was seldom that he knew until the moment of beginning; then
he went drifting among episodes, incidents, and periods in his
irresponsible fashion; the fashion of table-conversation, as he said, the
methodless method of the human mind. It was always delightful, and
always amusing, tragic, or instructive, and it was likely to be one of
these at one instant, and another the next. I felt myself the most
fortunate biographer in the world, as undoubtedly I was, though not just
in the way that I first imagined.
It was not for several weeks that I began to realize that these marvelous
reminiscences bore only an atmospheric relation to history; that they
were aspects of biography rather than its veritable narrative, and built
largely--sometimes wholly--from an imagination that, with age, had
dominated memory, creating details, even reversing them, yet with a
perfect sincerity of purpose on the part of the narrator to set down the
literal and unvarnished truth. It was his constant effort to be frank
and faithful to fact, to record, to confess, and to condemn without
stint. If you wanted to know the worst of Mark Twain you had only to ask
him for it. He would give it, to the last syllable--worse than the
worst, for his imagination would magnify it and adorn it with new
iniquities, and if he gave it again, or a dozen times, he would improve
upon it each time, until the thread of history was almost impossible to
trace through the marvel of that fabric; and he would do the same for
another person just as willingly. Those vividly real personalities that
he marched and countermarched before us were the most convincing
creatures in the world; the most entertaining, the most excruciatingly
humorous, or wicked, or tragic; but, alas, they were not always safe to
include in a record that must bear a certain semblance to history. They
often disagreed in their performance, and even in their characters, with
the documents in the next room, as I learned by and by when those
records, disentangled, began to rebuild the structure of the years.
His gift of dramatization had been exercised too long to be discarded
now. The things he told of Mrs. Clemens and of Susy were true--
marvelously and beautifully true, in spirit and in aspect--and the actual
detail of these mattered little in such a record. The rest was history
only as 'Roughing It' is history, or the 'Tramp Abroad'; that is to say,
it was fictional history, with fact as a starting-point. In a prefatory
note to these volumes we have quoted Mark Twain's own lovely and
whimsical admission, made once when he realized his deviations:
"When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or
not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter."
At another time he paraphrased one of Josh Billings's sayings in the
remark: "It isn't so astonishing, the number of things that I can
remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so."
I do not wish to say, by any means, that his so-called autobiography is a
mere fairy tale. It is far from that. It is amazingly truthful in the
character-picture it represents of the man himself. It is only not
reliable--and it is sometimes even unjust--as detailed history. Yet,
curiously enough, there were occasional chapters that were
photographically exact, and fitted precisely with the more positive, if
less picturesque, materials. It is also true that such chapters were
likely to be episodes intrinsically so perfect as to not require the
touch of art.
In the talks which we usually had, when the dictations were ended and
Miss Hobby had gone, I gathered much that was of still greater value.
Imagination was temporarily dispossessed, as it were, and, whether
expounding some theory or summarizing some event, he cared little for
literary effect, and only for the idea and the moment immediately
It was at such times that he allowed me to make those inquiries we had
planned in the beginning, and which apparently had little place in the
dictations themselves. Sometimes I led him to speak of the genesis of
his various books, how he had come to write them, and I think there was
not a single case where later I did not find his memory of these matters
almost exactly in accord with the letters of the moment, written to
Howells or Twichell, or to some member of his family. Such reminiscence
was usually followed by some vigorous burst of human philosophy, often
too vigorous for print, too human, but as dazzling as a search-light in
It was during this earlier association that he propounded, one day, his
theory of circumstance, already set down, that inevitable sequence of
cause and effect, beginning with the first act of the primal atom. He
had been dictating that morning his story of the clairvoyant dream which
preceded his brother's death, and the talk of foreknowledge had
continued. I said one might logically conclude from such a circumstance
that the future was a fixed quantity.
"As absolutely fixed as the past," he said; and added the remark already
quoted.--[Chap. lxxv] A little later he continued:
"Even the Almighty Himself cannot check or change that sequence of events
once it is started. It is a fixed quantity, and a part of the scheme is
a mental condition during certain moments usually of sleep--when the mind
may reach out and grasp some of the acts which are still to come."
It was a new angle to me--a line of logic so simple and so utterly
convincing that I have remained unshaken in it to this day. I have never
been able to find any answer to it, nor any one who could even attempt to
show that the first act of the first created atom did not strike the key-
note of eternity.
At another time, speaking of the idea that God works through man, he
"Yes, of course, just about as much as a man works through his microbes!"
He had a startling way of putting things like that, and it left not much
I was at this period interested a good deal in mental healing, and had
been treated for neurasthenia with gratifying results. Like most of the
world, I had assumed, from his published articles, that he condemned
Christian Science and its related practices out of hand. When I
confessed, rather reluctantly, one day, the benefit I had received, he
surprised me by answering:
"Of course you have been benefited. Christian Science is humanity's
boon. Mother Eddy deserves a place in the Trinity as much as any member
of it. She has organized and made available a healing principle that for
two thousand years has never been employed, except as the merest kind of
guesswork. She is the benefactor of the age."
It seemed strange, at the time, to hear him speak in this way concerning
a practice of which he was generally regarded as the chief public
antagonist. It was another angle of his many-sided character.
THE DEFINITION OF A GENTLEMAN
That was a busy winter for him socially. He was constantly demanded for
this thing and that--for public gatherings, dinners--everywhere he was a
central figure. Once he presided at a Valentine dinner given by some
Players to David Munro. He had never presided at a dinner before, he
said, and he did it in his own way, which certainly was a taking one,
suitable to that carefree company and occasion--a real Scotch occasion,
with the Munro tartan everywhere, the table banked with heather, and a
wild piper marching up and down in the anteroom, blowing savage airs in
honor of Scotland's gentlest son.
An important meeting of that winter was at Carnegie Hall--a great
gathering which had assembled for the purpose of aiding Booker T.
Washington in his work for the welfare of his race. The stage and the
auditorium were thronged with notables. Joseph H. Choate and Mark Twain
presided, and both spoke; also Robert C. Ogden and Booker T. Washington
himself. It was all fine and interesting. Choate's address was ably
given, and Mark Twain was at his best. He talked of politics and of
morals--public and private--how the average American citizen was true to
his Christian principles three hundred and sixty-three days in the year,
and how on the other two days of the year he left those principles at
home and went to the tax-office and the voting-booths, and did his best
to damage and undo his whole year's faithful and righteous work.
I used to be an honest man, but I am crumbling--no, I have crumbled.
When they assessed me at $75,000 a fortnight ago I went out and