Part 5 out of 5
nonproperty in ideas which had formed the basis of all copyright
legislation, made you forget even his spectacularity."]
There came a universal rush of men and women to get near enough for a
word and to shake his hand. But he was anxious to get away. We drove to
the Willard and talked and smoked, and got ready for dinner. He was
elated, and said the occasion required full-dress. We started down at
last, fronted and frocked like penguins.
I did not realize then the fullness of his love for theatrical effect.
I supposed he would want to go down with as little ostentation as
possible, so took him by the elevator which enters the dining-room
without passing through the long corridor known as "Peacock Alley,"
because of its being a favorite place for handsomely dressed fashionables
of the national capital. When we reached the entrance of the dining-room
"Isn't there another entrance to this place?"
I said there was, but that it was very conspicuous. We should have to go
down the long corridor.
"Oh, well," he said, "I don't mind that. Let's go back and try it
So we went back up the elevator, walked to the other end of the hotel,
and came down to the F Street entrance. There is a fine, stately flight
of steps--a really royal stair--leading from this entrance down into
"Peacock Alley." To slowly descend that flight is an impressive thing to
do. It is like descending the steps of a throne-room, or to some royal
landing-place where Cleopatra's barge might lie. I confess that I was
somewhat nervous at the awfulness of the occasion, but I reflected that I
was powerfully protected; so side by side, both in full-dress, white
ties, white-silk waistcoats, and all, we came down that regal flight.
Of course he was seized upon at once by a lot of feminine admirers, and
the passage along the corridor was a perpetual gantlet. I realize now
that this gave the dramatic finish to his day, and furnished him with
proper appetite for his dinner. I did not again make the mistake of
taking him around to the more secluded elevator. I aided and abetted him
every evening in making that spectacular descent of the royal stairway,
and in running that fair and frivolous gantlet the length of "Peacock
Alley." The dinner was a continuous reception. No sooner was he seated
than this Congressman and that Senator came over to shake hands with Mark
Twain. Governor Francis of Missouri also came. Eventually Howells
drifted in, and Clemens reviewed the day, its humors and successes. Back
in the rooms at last he summed up the progress thus far--smoked, laughed
over "Uncle Joe's" surrender to the "copyright bandits," and turned in
for the night.
We were at the Capitol headquarters in Speaker Cannon's private room
about eleven o'clock next morning. Clemens was not in the best humor
because I had allowed him to oversleep. He was inclined to be
discouraged at the prospect, and did not believe many of the members
would come down to see him. He expressed a wish for some person of
influence and wide acquaintance, and walked up and down, smoking
gloomily. I slipped out and found the Speaker's colored body-guard,
Neal, and suggested that Mr. Clemens was ready now to receive the
That was enough. They began to arrive immediately. John Sharp Williams
came first, then Boutell, from Illinois, Littlefield, of Maine, and after
them a perfect procession, including all the leading lights--Dalzell,
Champ Clark, McCall--one hundred and eighty or so in all during the next
three or four hours.
Neal announced each name at the door, and in turn I announced it to
Clemens when the press was not too great. He had provided boxes of
cigars, and the room was presently blue with smoke, Clemens in his white
suit in the midst of it, surrounded by those darker figures--shaking
hands, dealing out copyright gospel and anecdotes--happy and wonderfully
excited. There were chairs, but usually there was only standing room.
He was on his feet for several hours and talked continually; but when at
last it was over, and Champ Clark, who I believe remained longest and was
most enthusiastic in the movement, had bade him good-by, he declared that
he was not a particle tired, and added:
"I believe if our bill could be presented now it would pass."
He was highly elated, and pronounced everything a perfect success. Neal,
who was largely responsible for the triumph, received a ten-dollar bill.
We drove to the hotel and dined that night with the Dodges, who had been
neighbors at Riverdale. Later, the usual crowd of admirers gathered
around him, among them I remember the minister from Costa Rica, the
Italian minister, and others of the diplomatic service, most of whom he
had known during his European residence. Some one told of traveling in
India and China, and how a certain Hindu "god" who had exchanged
autographs with Mark Twain during his sojourn there was familiar with
only two other American names--George Washington and Chicago; while the
King of Siam had read but three English books--the Bible, Bryce's
American Commonwealth, and The Innocents Abroad.
We were at Thomas Nelson Page's for dinner next evening--a wonderfully
beautiful home, full of art treasures. A number of guests had been
invited. Clemens naturally led the dinner-talk, which eventually drifted
to reading. He told of Mrs. Clemens's embarrassment when Stepniak had
visited them and talked books, and asked her what her husband thought of
Balzac, Thackeray, and the others. She had been obliged to say that he
had not read them.
"'How interesting!' said Stepniak. But it wasn't interesting to Mrs.
Clemens. It was torture."
He was light-spirited and gay; but recalling Mrs. Clemens saddened him,
perhaps, for he was silent as we drove to the hotel, and after he was in
bed he said, with a weary despair which even the words do not convey:
"If I had been there a minute earlier, it is possible--it is possible
that she might have died in my arms. Sometimes I think that perhaps
there was an instant--a single instant--when she realized that she was
dying and that I was not there."
In New York I had once brought him a print of the superb "Adams
Memorial," by Saint-Gaudens--the bronze woman who sits in the still court
in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington.
On the morning following the Page dinner at breakfast, he said:
"Engage a carriage and we will drive out and see the Saint-Gaudens
It was a bleak, dull December day, and as we walked down through the
avenues of the dead there was a presence of realized sorrow that seemed
exactly suited to such a visit. We entered the little inclosure of
cedars where sits the dark figure which is art's supreme expression of
the great human mystery of life and death. Instinctively we removed our
hats, and neither spoke until after we had come away. Then:
"What does he call it?" he asked.
I did not know, though I had heard applied to it that great line of
Shakespeare's--"the rest is silence."
"But that figure is not silent," he said.
And later, as we were driving home:
"It is in deep meditation on sorrowful things."
When we returned to New York he had the little print framed, and kept it
always on his mantelpiece.
THEOLOGY AND EVOLUTION
From the Washington trip dates a period of still closer association with
Mark Twain. On the way to New York he suggested that I take up residence
in his house--a privilege which I had no wish to refuse. There was room
going to waste, he said, and it would be handier for the early and late
billiard sessions. So, after that, most of the days and nights I was
Looking back on that time now, I see pretty vividly three quite distinct
pictures. One of them, the rich, red interior of the billiard-room with
the brilliant, green square in the center, on which the gay balls are
rolling, and bending over it that luminous white figure in the instant of
play. Then there is the long, lighted drawing-room with the same figure
stretched on a couch in the corner, drowsily smoking, while the rich
organ tones fill the place summoning for him scenes and faces which
others do not see. This was the hour between dinner and billiards--the
hour which he found most restful of the day. Sometimes he rose, walking
the length of the parlors, his step timed to the music and his thought.
Of medium height, he gave the impression of being tall-his head thrown
up, and like a lion's, rather large for his body. But oftener he lay
among the cushions, the light flooding his white hair and dress and
heightening his brilliant coloring.
The third picture is that of the dinner-table--always beautifully laid,
and always a shrine of wisdom when he was there. He did not always talk;
but it was his habit to do so, and memory holds the clearer vision of him
when, with eyes and face alive with interest, he presented some new angle
of thought in fresh picturesqueness of speech. These are the pictures
that have remained to me out of the days spent under his roof, and they
will not fade while memory lasts.
Of Mark Twain's table philosophies it seems proper to make rather
extended record. They were usually unpremeditated, and they presented
the man as he was, and thought. I preserved as much of them as I could,
and have verified phrase and idea, when possible, from his own notes and
other unprinted writings.
This dinner-table talk naturally varied in character from that of the
billiard-room. The latter was likely to be anecdotal and personal; the
former was more often philosophical and commentative, ranging through a
great variety of subjects scientific, political, sociological, and
religious. His talk was often of infinity--the forces of creation--and
it was likely to be satire of the orthodox conceptions, intermingled with
heresies of his own devising.
Once, after a period of general silence, he said:
"No one who thinks can imagine the universe made by chance. It is too
nicely assembled and regulated. There is, of course, a great Master
Mind, but it cares nothing for our happiness or our unhappiness."
It was objected, by one of those present, that as the Infinite Mind
suggested perfect harmony, sorrow and suffering were defects which that
Mind must feel and eventually regulate.
"Yes," he said, "not a sparrow falls but He is noticing, if that is what
you mean; but the human conception of it is that God is sitting up nights
worrying over the individuals of this infinitesimal race."
Then he recalled a fancy which I have since found among his memoranda.
In this note he had written:
The suns & planets that form the constellations of a billion billion
solar systems & go pouring, a tossing flood of shining globes,
through the viewless arteries of space are the blood-corpuscles in
the veins of God; & the nations are the microbes that swarm and
wiggle & brag in each, & think God can tell them apart at that
distance & has nothing better to do than try. This--the
entertainment of an eternity. Who so poor in his ambitions as to
consent to be God on those terms? Blasphemy? No, it is not
blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, He is above blasphemy; if He
is as little as that, He is beneath it.
"The Bible," he said, "reveals the character of its God with minute
exactness. It is a portrait of a man, if one can imagine a man with evil
impulses far beyond the human limit. In the Old Testament He is pictured
as unjust, ungenerous, pitiless, and revengeful, punishing innocent
children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending people
for the sins of their rulers, even descending to bloody vengeance upon
harmless calves and sheep as punishment for puny trespasses committed by
their proprietors. It is the most damnatory biography that ever found
its way into print. Its beginning is merely childish. Adam is forbidden
to eat the fruit of a certain tree, and gravely informed that if he
disobeys he shall die. How could that impress Adam? He could have no
idea of what death meant. He had never seen a dead thing. He had never
heard of one. If he had been told that if he ate the apples he would be
turned into a meridian of longitude that threat would have meant just as
much as the other one. The watery intellect that invented that notion
could be depended on to go on and decree that all of Adam's descendants
down to the latest day should be punished for that nursery trespass in
"There is a curious poverty of invention in Bibles. Most of the great
races each have one, and they all show this striking defect. Each
pretends to originality, without possessing any. Each of them borrows
from the other, confiscates old stage properties, puts them forth as
fresh and new inspirations from on high. We borrowed the Golden Rule
from Confucius, after it had seen service for centuries, and copyrighted
it without a blush. We went back to Babylon for the Deluge, and are as
proud of it and as satisfied with it as if it had been worth the trouble;
whereas we know now that Noah's flood never happened, and couldn't have
happened--not in that way. The flood is a favorite with Bible-makers.
Another favorite with the founders of religions is the Immaculate
Conception. It had been worn threadbare; but we adopted it as a new
idea. It was old in Egypt several thousand years before Christ was born.
The Hindus prized it ages ago. The Egyptians adopted it even for some of
their kings. The Romans borrowed the idea from Greece. We got it
straight from heaven by way of Rome. We are still charmed with it."
He would continue in this strain, rising occasionally and walking about
the room. Once, considering the character of God--the Bible God-he said:
"We haven't been satisfied with God's character as it is given in the Old
Testament; we have amended it. We have called Him a God of mercy and
love and morals. He didn't have a single one of those qualities in the
beginning. He didn't hesitate to send the plagues on Egypt, the most
fiendish punishments that could be devised--not for the king, but for his
innocent subjects, the women and the little children, and then only to
exhibit His power just to show off--and He kept hardening Pharaoh's heart
so that He could send some further ingenuity of torture, new rivers of
blood, and swarms of vermin and new pestilences, merely to exhibit
samples of His workmanship. Now and then, during the forty years'
wandering, Moses persuaded Him to be a little more lenient with the
Israelites, which would show that Moses was the better character of the
two. That Old Testament God never had an inspiration of His own."
He referred to the larger conception of God, that Infinite Mind which had
projected the universe. He said:
"In some details that Old Bible God is probably a more correct picture
than our conception of that Incomparable One that created the universe
and flung upon its horizonless ocean of space those giant suns, whose
signal-lights are so remote that we only catch their flash when it has
been a myriad of years on its way. For that Supreme One is not a God of
pity or mercy--not as we recognize these qualities. Think of a God of
mercy who would create the typhus germ, or the house-fly, or the
centipede, or the rattlesnake, yet these are all His handiwork. They are
a part of the Infinite plan. The minister is careful to explain that all
these tribulations are sent for a good purpose; but he hires a doctor to
destroy the fever germ, and he kills the rattlesnake when he doesn't run
from it, and he sets paper with molasses on it for the house-fly.
"Two things are quite certain: one is that God, the limitless God,
manufactured those things, for no man could have done it. The man has
never lived who could create even the humblest of God's creatures. The
other conclusion is that God has no special consideration for man's
welfare or comfort, or He wouldn't have created those things to disturb
and destroy him. The human conception of pity and morality must be
entirely unknown to that Infinite God, as much unknown as the conceptions
of a microbe to man, or at least as little regarded.
"If God ever contemplates those qualities in man He probably admires
them, as we always admire the thing which we do not possess ourselves;
probably a little grain of pity in a man or a little atom of mercy would
look as big to Him as a constellation. He could create a constellation
with a thought; but He has been all the measureless ages, and He has
never acquired those qualities that we have named--pity and mercy and
morality. He goes on destroying a whole island of people with an
earthquake, or a whole cityful with a plague, when we punish a man in the
electric chair for merely killing the poorest of our race. The human
being needs to revise his ideas again about God. Most of the scientists
have done it already; but most of them don't dare to say so."
He pointed out that the moral idea was undergoing constant change; that
what was considered justifiable in an earlier day was regarded as highly
immoral now. He pointed out that even the Decalogue made no reference to
lying, except in the matter of bearing false witness against a neighbor.
Also, that there was a commandment against covetousness, though
covetousness to-day was the basis of all commerce: The general conclusion
being that the morals of the Lord had been the morals of the beginning;
the morals of the first-created man, the morals of the troglodyte, the
morals of necessity; and that the morals of mankind had kept pace with
necessity, whereas those of the Lord had remained unchanged. It is
hardly necessary to say that no one ever undertook to contradict any
statements of this sort from him. In the first place, there was no
desire to do so; and in the second place, any one attempting it would
have cut a puny figure with his less substantial arguments and his less
vigorous phrase. It was the part of wisdom and immeasurably the part of
happiness to be silent and listen.
On another evening he began:
"The mental evolution of the species proceeds apparently by regular
progress side by side with the physical development until it comes to
man, then there is a long, unexplained gulf. Somewhere man acquired an
asset which sets him immeasurably apart from the other animals--his
imagination. Out of it he created for himself a conscience, and clothes,
and immodesty, and a hereafter, and a soul. I wonder where he got that
asset. It almost makes one agree with Alfred Russel Wallace that the
world and the universe were created just for his benefit, that he is the
chief love and delight of God. Wallace says that the whole universe was
made to take care of and to keep steady this little floating mote in the
center of it, which we call the world. It looks like a good deal of
trouble for such a small result; but it's dangerous to dispute with a
learned astronomer like Wallace. Still, I don't think we ought to decide
too soon about it--not until the returns are all in. There is the
geological evidence, for instance. Even after the universe was created,
it took a long time to prepare the world for man. Some of the
scientists, ciphering out the evidence furnished by geology, have arrived
at the conviction that the world is prodigiously old. Lord Kelvin
doesn't agree with them. He says that it isn't more than a hundred
million years old, and he thinks the human race has inhabited it about
thirty thousand years of that time. Even so, it was 99,970,000 years
getting ready, impatient as the Creator doubtless was to see man and
admire him. That was because God first had to make the oyster. You
can't make an oyster out of nothing, nor you can't do it in a day.
You've got to start with a vast variety of invertebrates, belemnites,
trilobites, jebusites, amalekites, and that sort of fry, and put them
into soak in a primary sea and observe and wait what will happen. Some
of them will turn out a disappointment; the belemnites and the amalekites
and such will be failures, and they will die out and become extinct in
the course of the nineteen million years covered by the experiment; but
all is not lost, for the amalekites will develop gradually into
encrinites and stalactites and blatherskites, and one thing and another,
as the mighty ages creep on and the periods pile their lofty crags in the
primordial seas, and at last the first grand stage in the preparation of
the world for man stands completed; the oyster is done. Now an oyster
has hardly any more reasoning power than a man has, so it is probable
this one jumped to the conclusion that the nineteen million years was a
preparation for him. That would be just like an oyster, and, anyway,
this one could not know at that early date that he was only an incident
in a scheme, and that there was some more to the scheme yet.
"The oyster being finished, the next step in the preparation of the world
for man was fish. So the old Silurian seas were opened up to breed the
fish in. It took twenty million years to make the fish and to fossilize
him so we'd have the evidence later.
"Then, the Paleozoic limit having been reached, it was necessary to start
a new age to make the reptiles. Man would have to have some reptiles--
not to eat, but to develop himself from. Thirty million years were
required for the reptiles, and out of such material as was left were made
those stupendous saurians that used to prowl about the steamy world in
remote ages, with their snaky heads forty feet in the air and their sixty
feet of body and tail racing and thrashing after them. They are all gone
now, every one of them; just a few fossil remnants of them left on this
far-flung fringe of time.
"It took all those years to get one of those creatures properly
constructed to proceed to the next step. Then came the pterodactyl, who
thought all that preparation all those millions of years had been
intended to produce him, for there wasn't anything too foolish for a,
pterodactyl to imagine. I suppose he did attract a good deal of
attention, for even the least observant could see that there was the
making of a bird in him, also the making of a mammal, in the course of
time. You can't say too much for the picturesqueness of the pterodactyl
--he was the triumph of his period. He wore wings and had teeth, and was
a starchy-looking creature. But the progression went right along.
"During the next thirty million years the bird arrived, and the kangaroo,
and by and by the mastodon, and the giant sloth, and the Irish elk, and
the old Silurian ass, and some people thought that man was about due.
But that was a mistake, for the next thing they knew there came a great
ice-sheet, and those creatures all escaped across the Bering Strait and
wandered around in Asia and died, all except a few to carry on the
preparation with. There were six of those glacial periods, with two
million years or so between each. They chased those poor orphans up and
down the earth, from weather to weather, from tropic temperature to fifty
degrees below. They never knew what kind of weather was going to turn up
next, and if they settled any place the whole continent suddenly sank
from under them, and they had to make a scramble for dry land. Sometimes
a volcano would turn itself loose just as they got located. They led
that uncertain, strenuous existence for about twenty-five million years,
always wondering what was going to happen next, never suspecting that it
was just a preparation for man, who had to be done just so or there
wouldn't be any proper or harmonious place for him when he arrived, and
then at last the monkey came, and everybody could see at a glance that
man wasn't far off now, and that was true enough. The monkey went on
developing for close upon five million years, and then he turned into a
man--to all appearances.
"It does look like a lot of fuss and trouble to go through to build
anything, especially a human being, and nowhere along the way is there
any evidence of where he picked up that final asset--his imagination. It
makes him different from the others--not any better, but certainly
different. Those earlier animals didn't have it, and the monkey hasn't
it or he wouldn't be so cheerful."
[Paine records Twain's thoughts in that magnificent essay: "Was the
World Made for Man" published long after his death in the group of
essays under the title "Letters from the Earth. There are minor
additions in the published version: 'coal' to fry the fish in; and
the remnants of life being chased from pole to pole "without a dry
rag on them,"; and the coat of paint on the top of the bulb on top
of the Eiffel Tower representing man's portion of this world's
He often held forth on the shortcomings of the human race--always a
favorite subject--the incompetencies and imperfections of this final
creation, in spite of, or because of, his great attribute--the
imagination. Once (this was in the billiard-room) I started him by
saying that whatever the conditions in other planets, there seemed no
reason why life should not develop in each, adapted as perfectly to
prevailing conditions as man is suited to conditions here. He said:
"Is it your idea, then, that man is perfectly adapted to the conditions
of this planet?"
I began to qualify, rather weakly; but what I said did not matter. He
was off on his favorite theme.
"Man adapted to the earth?" he said. "Why, he can't sleep out-of-doors
without freezing to death or getting the rheumatism or the malaria; he
can't keep his nose under water over a minute without being drowned; he
can't climb a tree without falling out and breaking his neck. Why, he's
the poorest, clumsiest excuse of all the creatures that inhabit this
earth. He has got to be coddled and housed and swathed and bandaged and
up holstered to be able to live at all. He is a rickety sort of a thing,
anyway you take him, a regular British Museum of infirmities and
inferiorities. He is always under going repairs. A machine that is as
unreliable as he is would have no market. The higher animals get their
teeth without pain or inconvenience. The original cave man, the
troglodyte, may have got his that way. But now they come through months
and months of cruel torture, and at a time of life when he is least able
to bear it. As soon as he gets them they must all be pulled out again,
for they were of no value in the first place, not worth the loss of a
night's rest. The second set will answer for a while; but he will never
get a set that can be depended on until the dentist makes one. The
animals are not much troubled that way. In a wild state, a natural
state, they have few diseases; their main one is old age. But man starts
in as a child and lives on diseases to the end as a regular diet. He has
mumps, measles, whooping-cough, croup, tonsilitis, diphtheria, scarlet-
fever, as a matter of course. Afterward, as he goes along, his life
continues to be threatened at every turn by colds, coughs, asthma,
bronchitis, quinsy, consumption, yellow-fever, blindness, influenza,
carbuncles, pneumonia, softening of the brain, diseases of the heart and
bones, and a thousand other maladies of one sort and another. He's just
a basketful of festering, pestilent corruption, provided for the support
and entertainment of microbes. Look at the workmanship of him in some of
its particulars. What are his tonsils for? They perform no useful
function; they have no value. They are but a trap for tonsilitis and
quinsy. And what is the appendix for? It has no value. Its sole
interest is to lie and wait for stray grape-seeds and breed trouble.
What is his beard for? It is just a nuisance. All nations persecute it
with the razor. Nature, however, always keeps him supplied with it,
instead of putting it on his head, where it ought to be. You seldom see
a man bald-headed on his chin, but on his head. A man wants to keep his
hair. It is a graceful ornament, a comfort, the best of all protections
against weather, and he prizes it above emeralds and rubies, and Nature
half the time puts it on so it won't stay.
"Man's sight and smell and hearing are all inferior. If he were suited
to the conditions he could smell an enemy; he could hear him; he could
see him, just as the animals can detect their enemies. The robin hears
the earthworm burrowing his course under the ground; the bloodhound
follows a scent that is two days old. Man isn't even handsome, as
compared with the birds; and as for style, look at the Bengal tiger--that
ideal of grace, physical perfection, and majesty. Think of the lion and
the tiger and the leopard, and then think of man--that poor thing!--the
animal of the wig, the ear-trumpet, the glass eye, the porcelain teeth,
the wooden leg, the trepanned skull, the silver wind-pipe--a creature
that is mended and patched all over from top to bottom. If he can't get
renewals of his bric-a-brac in the next world what will he look like? He
has just that one stupendous superiority--his imagination, his intellect.
It makes him supreme--the higher animals can't match him there. It's
A letter which he wrote to J. Howard Moore concerning his book The
Universal Kinship was of this period, and seems to belong here.
DEAR MR. MOORE, The book has furnished me several days of deep
pleasure & satisfaction; it has compelled my gratitude at the same
time, since it saves me the labor of stating my own long-cherished
opinions & reflections & resentments by doing it lucidly & fervently
& irascibly for me.
There is one thing that always puzzles me: as inheritors of the
mentality of our reptile ancestors we have improved the inheritance
by a thousand grades; but in the matter of the morals which they
left us we have gone backward as many grades. That evolution is
strange & to me unaccountable & unnatural. Necessarily we started
equipped with their perfect and blemishless morals; now we are
wholly destitute; we have no real morals, but only artificial ones--
morals created and preserved by the forced suppression of natural &
healthy instincts. Yes, we are a sufficiently comical invention, we
S. L. CLEMENS.
AN EVENING WITH HELEN KELLER
I recall two pleasant social events of that winter: one a little party
given at the Clemenses' home on New-Year's Eve, with charades and story-
telling and music. It was the music feature of this party that was
distinctive; it was supplied by wire through an invention known as the
telharmonium which, it was believed, would revolutionize musical
entertainment in such places as hotels, and to some extent in private
houses. The music came over the regular telephone wire, and was
delivered through a series of horns or megaphones--similar to those used
for phonographs--the playing being done, meanwhile, by skilled performers
at the central station. Just why the telharmonium has not made good its
promises of popularity I do not know. Clemens was filled with enthusiasm
over the idea. He made a speech a little before midnight, in which he
told how he had generally been enthusiastic about inventions which had
turned out more or less well in about equal proportions. He did not
dwell on the failures, but he told how he had been the first to use a
typewriter for manuscript work; how he had been one of the earliest users
of the fountain-pen; how he had installed the first telephone ever used
in a private house, and how the audience now would have a demonstration
of the first telharmonium music so employed. It was just about the
stroke of midnight when he finished, and a moment later the horns began
to play chimes and "Auld Lang Syne" and "America."
The other pleasant evening referred to was a little company given in
honor of Helen Keller. It was fascinating to watch her, and to realize
with what a store of knowledge she had lighted the black silence of her
physical life. To see Mark Twain and Helen Keller together was something
not easily to be forgotten. When Mrs. Macy (who, as Miss Sullivan, had
led her so marvelously out of the shadows) communicated his words to her
with what seemed a lightning touch of the fingers her face radiated every
shade of his meaning-humorous, serious, pathetic. Helen visited the
various objects in the room, and seemed to enjoy them more than the usual
observer of these things, and certainly in greater detail. Her sensitive
fingers spread over articles of bric-a-brac, and the exclamations she
uttered were always fitting, showing that she somehow visualized each
thing in all its particulars. There was a bronze cat of handsome
workmanship and happy expression, and when she had run those all--seeing
fingers of hers over it she said: "It is smiling."
The billiard games went along pretty steadily that winter. My play
improved, and Clemens found it necessary to eliminate my odds altogether,
and to change the game frequently in order to keep me in subjection.
Frequently there were long and apparently violent arguments over the
legitimacy of some particular shot or play--arguments to us quite as
enjoyable as the rest of the game. Sometimes he would count a shot which
was clearly out of the legal limits, and then it was always a delight to
him to have a mock-serious discussion over the matter of conscience, and
whether or not his conscience was in its usual state of repair. It would
always end by him saying: "I don't wish even to seem to do anything which
can invite suspicion. I refuse to count that shot," or something of like
nature. Sometimes when I had let a questionable play pass without
comment, he would watch anxiously until I had made a similar one and then
insist on my scoring it to square accounts. His conscience was always
He had experimented, a great many years before, with what was in the
nature of a trick on some unsuspecting player. It consisted in turning
out twelve pool-balls on the table with one cue ball, and asking his
guest how many caroms he thought he could make with all those twelve
balls to play on. He had learned that the average player would seldom
make more than thirty-one counts, and usually, before this number was
reached, he would miss through some careless play or get himself into a
position where he couldn't play at all. The thing looked absurdly easy.
It looked as if one could go on playing all day long, and the victim was
usually eager to bet that he could make fifty or perhaps a hundred; but
for more than an hour I tried it patiently, and seldom succeeded in
scoring more than fifteen or twenty without missing. Long after the play
itself ceased to be amusing to me, he insisted on my going on and trying
it some more, and he would throw himself back and roar with laughter, the
tears streaming down his cheeks, to see me work and fume and fail.
It was very soon after that that Peter Dunne ("Mr. Dooley") came down for
luncheon, and after several games of the usual sort, Clemens quietly--as
if the idea had just occurred to him--rolled out the twelve balls and
asked Dunne how, many caroms he thought he could make without a miss.
Dunne said he thought he could make a thousand. Clemens quite
indifferently said that he didn't believe he could make fifty. Dunne
offered to bet five dollars that he could, and the wager was made. Dunne
scored about twenty-five the first time and missed; then he insisted on
betting five dollars again, and his defeats continued until Clemens had
twenty-five dollars of Dunne's money, and Dunne was sweating and
swearing, and Mark Twain rocking with delight. Dunne went away still
unsatisfied, promising that he would come back and try it again. Perhaps
he practised in his absence, for when he returned he had learned
something. He won his twenty-five dollars back, and I think something
more added. Mark Twain was still ahead, for Dunne furnished him with a
good five hundred dollars' worth of amusement.
Clemens never cared to talk and never wished to be talked to when the
game was actually in progress. If there was anything to be said on
either side, he would stop and rest his cue on the floor, or sit down on
the couch, until the matter was concluded. Such interruptions happened
pretty frequently, and many of the bits of personal comment and incident
scattered along through this work are the result of those brief rests.
Some shot, or situation, or word would strike back through the past and
awaken a note long silent, and I generally kept a pad and pencil on the
window-sill with the score-sheet, and later, during his play, I would
scrawl some reminder that would be precious by and by.
On one of these I find a memorandum of what he called his three recurrent
dreams. All of us have such things, but his seem worth remembering.
"There is never a month passes," he said, "that I do not dream of being
in reduced circumstances, and obliged to go back to the river to earn a
living. It is never a pleasant dream, either. I love to think about
those days; but there's always something sickening about the thought that
I have been obliged to go back to them; and usually in my dream I am just
about to start into a black shadow without being able to tell whether it
is Selma bluff, or Hat Island, or only a black wall of night.
"Another dream that I have of that kind is being compelled to go back to
the lecture platform. I hate that dream worse than the other. In it I
am always getting up before an audience with nothing to say, trying to be
funny; trying to make the audience laugh, realizing that I am only making
silly jokes. Then the audience realizes it, and pretty soon they
commence to get up and leave. That dream always ends by my standing
there in the semidarkness talking to an empty house.
"My other dream is of being at a brilliant gathering in my night-
garments. People don't seem to notice me there at first, and then pretty
soon somebody points me out, and they all begin to look at me
suspiciously, and I can see that they are wondering who I am and why I am
there in that costume. Then it occurs to me that I can fix it by making
myself known. I take hold of some man and whisper to him, 'I am Mark
Twain'; but that does not improve it, for immediately I can hear him
whispering to the others, 'He says he is Mark Twain,' and they all look
at me a good deal more suspiciously than before, and I can see that they
don't believe it, and that it was a mistake to make that confession.
Sometimes, in that dream, I am dressed like a tramp instead of being in
my night-clothes; but it all ends about the same--they go away and leave
me standing there, ashamed. I generally enjoy my dreams, but not those
three, and they are the ones I have oftenest."
Quite often some curious episode of the world's history would flash upon
him--something amusing, or coarse, or tragic, and he would bring the game
to a standstill and recount it with wonderful accuracy as to date and
circumstance. He had a natural passion for historic events and a gift
for mentally fixing them, but his memory in other ways was seldom
reliable. He was likely to forget the names even of those he knew best
and saw oftenest, and the small details of life seldom registered at all.
He had his breakfast served in his room, and once, on a slip of paper, he
wrote, for his own reminder:
The accuracy of your forgetfulness is absolute--it seems never to fail.
I prepare to pour my coffee so it can cool while I shave--and I always
forget to pour it.
Yet, very curiously, he would sometimes single out a minute detail,
something every one else had overlooked, and days or even weeks afterward
would recall it vividly, and not always at an opportune moment. Perhaps
this also was a part of his old pilot-training. Once Clara Clemens
"It always amazes me the things that father does and does not remember.
Some little trifle that nobody else would notice, and you are hoping that
he didn't, will suddenly come back to him just when you least expect it
or care for it."
My note-book contains the entry:
February 11, 1907. He said to-day:
"A blindfolded chess-player can remember every play and discuss the
game afterward, while we can't remember from one shot to the next."
I mentioned his old pilot-memory as an example of what he could do
if he wished.
"Yes," he answered, "those are special memories; a pilot will tell
you the number of feet in every crossing at any time, but he can't
remember what he had for breakfast."
"How long did you keep your pilot-memory?" I asked.
"Not long; it faded out right away, but the training served me, for
when I went to report on a paper a year or two later I never had to
make any notes."
"I suppose you still remember some of the river?"
"Not much. Hat Island, Helena and here and there a place; but that
is about all."
Like every person living, Mark Twain had some peculiar and petty
economies. Such things in great men are noticeable. He lived
extravagantly. His household expenses at the time amounted to more than
fifty dollars a day. In the matter of food, the choicest, and most
expensive the market could furnish was always served in lavish abundance.
He had the best and highest-priced servants, ample as to number. His
clothes he bought generously; he gave without stint to his children; his
gratuities were always liberal. He never questioned pecuniary outgoes--
seldom worried as to the state of his bank-account so long as there was
plenty. He smoked cheap cigars because he preferred their flavor. Yet
he had his economies. I have seen him, before leaving a room, go around
and carefully lower the gas-jets, to provide against that waste. I have
known him to examine into the cost of a cab, and object to an apparent
overcharge of a few cents.
It seemed that his idea of economy might be expressed in these words: He
abhorred extortion and visible waste.
Furthermore, he had exact ideas as to ownership. One evening, while we
were playing billiards, I noticed a five-cent piece on the floor. I
picked it up, saying:
"Here is five cents; I don't know whose it is."
He regarded the coin rather seriously, I thought, and said:
"I don't know, either."
I laid it on the top of the book-shelves which ran around the room. The
play went on, and I forgot the circumstance. When the game ended that
night I went into his room with him, as usual, for a good-night word. As
he took his change and keys from the pocket of his trousers, he looked
the assortment over and said:
"That five-cent piece you found was mine."
I brought it to him at once, and he took it solemnly, laid it with the
rest of his change, and neither of us referred to it again. It may have
been one of his jokes, but I think it more likely that he remembered
having had a five-cent piece, probably reserved for car fare, and that it
More than once, in Washington, he had said:
"Draw plenty of money for incidental expenses. Don't bother to keep
account of them."
So it was not miserliness; it was just a peculiarity, a curious attention
to a trifling detail.
He had a fondness for riding on the then newly completed Subway, which he
called the Underground. Sometimes he would say:
"I'll pay your fare on the Underground if you want to take a ride with
me." And he always insisted on paying the fare, and once when I rode far
up-town with him to a place where he was going to luncheon, and had taken
him to the door, he turned and said, gravely:
"Here is five cents to pay your way home." And I took it in the same
spirit in which it had been offered. It was probably this trait which
caused some one occasionally to claim that Mark Twain was close in money
matters. Perhaps there may have been times in his life when he was
parsimonious; but, if so, I must believe that it was when he was sorely
pressed and exercising the natural instinct of self-preservation. He
wished to receive the full value (who does not?) of his labors and
properties. He took a childish delight in piling up money; but it became
greed only when he believed some one with whom he had dealings was trying
to get an unfair division of profits. Then it became something besides
greed. It became an indignation that amounted to malevolence. I was
concerned in a number of dealings with Mark Twain, and at a period in his
life when human traits are supposed to become exaggerated, which is to
say old age, and if he had any natural tendency to be unfair, or small,
or greedy in his money dealings I think I should have seen it.
Personally, I found him liberal to excess, and I never observed in him
anything less than generosity to those who were fair with him.
Once that winter, when a letter came from Steve Gillis saying that he was
an invalid now, and would have plenty of tune to read Sam's books if he
owned them, Clemens ordered an expensive set from his publishers, and did
what meant to him even more than the cost in money--he autographed each
of those twenty-five volumes. Then he sent them, charges paid, to that
far Californian retreat. It was hardly the act of a stingy man.
He had the human fondness for a compliment when it was genuine and from
an authoritative source, and I remember how pleased he was that winter
with Prof. William Lyon Phelps's widely published opinion, which ranked
Mark Twain as the greatest American novelist, and declared that his fame
would outlive any American of his time. Phelps had placed him above
Holmes, Howells, James, and even Hawthorne. He had declared him to be
more American than any of these--more American even than Whitman.
Professor Phelps's position in Yale College gave this opinion a certain
official weight; but I think the fact of Phelps himself being a writer of
great force, with an American freshness of style, gave it a still greater
Among the pleasant things that winter was a meeting with Eugene F. Ware,
of Kansas, with whose penname--"Ironquill"--Clemens had long been
Ware was a breezy Western genius of the finest type. If he had abandoned
law for poetry, there is no telling how far his fame might have reached.
There was in his work that same spirit of Americanism and humor and
humanity that is found in Mark Twain's writings, and he had the added
faculty of rhyme and rhythm, which would have set him in a place apart.
I had known Ware personally during a period of Western residence, and
later, when he was Commissioner of Pensions under Roosevelt. I usually
saw him when he came to New York, and it was a great pleasure now to
bring together the two men whose work I so admired. They met at a small
private luncheon at The Players, and Peter Dunne was there, and Robert
Collier, and it was such an afternoon as Howells has told of when he and
Aldrich and Bret Harte and those others talked until the day faded into
twilight, and twilight deepened into evening. Clemens had put in most of
the day before reading Ware's book of poems, 'The Rhymes of Ironquill',
and had declared his work to rank with the very greatest of American
poetry--I think he called it the most truly American in flavor. I
remember that at the luncheon he noted Ware's big, splendid physique and
his Western liberties of syntax with a curious intentness. I believe he
regarded him as being nearer his own type in mind and expression than any
one he had met before.
Among Ware's poems he had been especially impressed with the "Fables,"
and with some verses entitled "Whist," which, though rather more
optimistic, conformed to his own philosophy. They have a distinctly
Hour after hour the cards were fairly shuffled,
And fairly dealt, and still I got no hand;
The morning came; but I, with mind unruffled,
Did simply say, "I do not understand."
Life is a game of whist. From unseen sources
The cards are shuffled, and the hands are dealt.
Blind are our efforts to control the forces
That, though unseen, are no less strongly felt.
I do not like the way the cards are shuffled,
But still I like the game and want to play;
And through the long, long night will I, unruffled,
Play what I get, until the break of day.