Part 23 out of 29
this man [a minister of the Gospel who was going to explain life to him]
is going to tell me why he isn't a pessimist. Oh, he'll do it, but he
won't tell the truth; he won't make it short enough."
Yet he was always patient with any one who came with spiritual messages,
theological arguments, and consolations. He might have said to them:
"Oh, dear friends, those things of which you speak are the toys that long
ago I played with and set aside." He could have said it and spoken the
truth; but I believe he did not even think it. He listened to any one
for whom he had respect, and was grateful for any effort in his behalf.
One morning he read aloud a lecture given in London by George Bernard
Shaw on religion, commenting as he read. He said:
"This letter is a frank breath of expression [and his comments were
equally frank]. There is no such thing as morality; it is not immoral
for the tiger to eat the wolf, or the wolf the cat, or the cat the bird,
and so on down; that is their business. There is always enough for each
one to live on. It is not immoral for one nation to seize another nation
by force of arms, or for one man to seize another man's property or life
if he is strong enough and wants to take it. It is not immoral to create
the human species--with or without ceremony; nature intended exactly
At one place in the lecture Shaw had said: "No one of good sense can
accept any creed to-day without reservation."
"Certainly not," commented Clemens; "the reservation is that he is a d--d
fool to accept it at all."
He was in one of his somber moods that morning. I had received a print
of a large picture of Thomas Nast--the last one taken. The face had a
pathetic expression which told the tragedy of his last years. Clemens
looked at the picture several moments without speaking. Then he broke
"Why can't a man die when he's had his tragedy? I ought to have died
long ago." And somewhat later: "Once Twichell heard me cussing the human
race, and he said, 'Why, Mark, you are the last person in the world to do
that--one selected and set apart as you are.' I said 'Joe, you don't
know what you are talking about. I am not cussing altogether about my
own little troubles. Any one can stand his own misfortunes; but when I
read in the papers all about the rascalities and outrages going on I
realize what a creature the human animal is. Don't you care more about
the wretchedness of others than anything that happens to you?' Joe said
he did, and shut up."
It occurred to me to suggest that he should not read the daily papers.
"No difference," he said. "I read books printed two hundred years ago,
and they hurt just the same."
"Those people are all dead and gone," I objected.
"They hurt just the same," he maintained.
I sometimes thought of his inner consciousness as a pool darkened by his
tragedies, its glassy surface, when calm, reflecting all the joy and
sunlight and merriment of the world, but easily--so easily--troubled and
stirred even to violence. Once following the dictation, when I came to
the billiard-room he was shooting the balls about the table, apparently
much depressed. He said:
"I have been thinking it out--if I live two years more I will put an end
to it all. I will kill myself."
"You have much to live for----"
"But I am so tired of the eternal round," he interrupted; "so tired."
And I knew he meant that he was ill of the great loneliness that had come
to him that day in Florence, and would never pass away.
I referred to the pressure of social demands in the city, and the relief
he would find in his country home. He shook his head.
"The country home I need," he said, fiercely, "is a cemetery."
Yet the mood changed quickly enough when the play began. He was gay and
hilarious presently, full of the humors and complexities of the game.
H. H. Rogers came in with a good deal of frequency, seldom making very
long calls, but never seeming to have that air of being hurried which one
might expect to find in a man whose day was only twenty-four hours long,
and whose interests were so vast and innumerable. He would come in where
we were playing, and sit down and watch the game, or perhaps would pick
up a book and read, exchanging a remark now and then. More often,
however, he sat in the bedroom, for his visits were likely to be in the
morning. They were seldom business calls, or if they were, the business
was quickly settled, and then followed gossip, humorous incident, or
perhaps Clemens would read aloud something he had written. But once,
after greetings, he began:
"Well, Rogers, I don't know what you think of it, but I think I have had
about enough of this world, and I wish I were out of it."
Mr. Rogers replied, "I don't say much about it, but that expresses my
This from the foremost man of letters and one of the foremost financiers
of the time was impressive. Each at the mountain-top of his career, they
agreed that the journey was not worth while--that what the world had
still to give was not attractive enough to tempt them to prevent a desire
to experiment with the next stage. One could remember a thousand poor
and obscure men who were perfectly willing to go on struggling and
starving, postponing the day of settlement as long as possible; but
perhaps, when one has had all the world has to give, when there are no
new worlds in sight to conquer, one has a different feeling.
Well, the realization lay not so far ahead for either of them, though at
that moment they both seemed full of life and vigor--full of youth. One
could not imagine the day when for them it would all be over.
A LOBBYING EXPEDITION
Clara Clemens came home now and then to see how matters were progressing,
and very properly, for Clemens was likely to become involved in social
intricacies which required a directing hand. The daughter inherited no
little of the father's characteristics of thought and phrase, and it was
always a delight to see them together when one could be just out of range
of the crossfire. I remember soon after her return, when she was making
some searching inquiries concerning the billiard-room sign, and other
suggested or instituted reforms, he said:
"Oh well, never mind, it doesn't matter. I'm boss in this house."
She replied, quickly: "Oh no, you're not. You're merely owner. I'm the
One night at dinner she mentioned the possibility of going abroad that
year. During several previous summers she had planned to visit Vienna to
see her old music-master, Leschetizky, once more before his death. She
"Leschetizky is getting so old. If I don't go soon I'm afraid I sha'n't
be in time for his funeral."
"Yes," said her father, thoughtfully, "you keep rushing over to
Leschetizky's funeral, and you'll miss mine."
He had made one or two social engagements without careful reflection, and
the situation would require some delicacy of adjustment. During a moment
between the courses, when he left the table and was taking his exercise
in the farther room, she made some remark which suggested a doubt of her
father's gift for social management. I said:
"Oh, well, he is a king, you know, and a king can do no wrong."
"Yes, I know," she answered. "The king can do no wrong; but he frightens
me almost to death, sometimes, he comes so near it."
He came back and began to comment rather critically on some recent
performance of Roosevelt's, which had stirred up a good deal of newspaper
amusement--it was the Storer matter and those indiscreet letters which
Roosevelt had written relative to the ambassadorship which Storer so much
desired. Miss Clemens was inclined to defend the President, and spoke
with considerable enthusiasm concerning his elements of popularity, which
had won him such extraordinary admiration.
"Certainly he is popular," Clemens admitted, "and with the best of
reasons. If the twelve apostles should call at the White House, he would
say, 'Come in, come in! I am delighted to see you. I've been watching
your progress, and I admired it very much.' Then if Satan should come,
he would slap him on the shoulder and say, 'Why, Satan, how do you do? I
am so glad to meet you. I've read all your works and enjoyed every one
of them.' Anybody could be popular with a gift like that."
It was that evening or the next, perhaps, that he said to her:
"Ben [one of his pet names for her], now that you are here to run the
ranch, Paine and I are going to Washington on a vacation. You don't seem
to admire our society much, anyhow."
There were still other reasons for the Washington expedition. There was
an important bill up for the extension of the book royalty period, and
the forces of copyright were going down in a body to use every possible
means to get the measure through.
Clemens, during Cleveland's first administration, some nineteen years
before, had accompanied such an expedition, and through S. S. ("Sunset")
Cox had obtained the "privileges of the floor" of the House, which had
enabled him to canvass the members individually. Cox assured the
doorkeeper that Clemens had received the thanks of Congress for national
literary service, and was therefore entitled to that privilege. This was
not strictly true; but regulations were not very severe in those days,
and the ruse had been regarded as a good joke, which had yielded
excellent results. Clemens had a similar scheme in mind now, and
believed that his friendship with Speaker Cannon--" Uncle Joe"--would
obtain for him a similar privilege. The Copyright Association working in
its regular way was very well, he said, but he felt he could do more as
an individual than by acting merely as a unit of that body.
"I canvassed the entire House personally that other time," he said. "Cox
introduced me to the Democrats, and John D. Long, afterward Secretary of
the Navy, introduced me to the Republicans. I had a darling time
converting those members, and I'd like to try the experiment again."
I should have mentioned earlier, perhaps, that at this time he had begun
to wear white clothing regularly, regardless of the weather and season.
On the return from Dublin he had said:
"I can't bear to put on black clothes again. I wish I could wear white
all winter. I should prefer, of course, to wear colors, beautiful
rainbow hues, such as the women have monopolized. Their clothing makes a
great opera audience an enchanting spectacle, a delight to the eye and to
the spirit--a garden of Eden for charm and color.
"The men, clothed in odious black, are scattered here and there over the
garden like so many charred stumps. If we are going to be gay in spirit,
why be clad in funeral garments? I should like to dress in a loose and
flowing costume made all of silks and velvets resplendent with stunning
dyes, and so would every man I have ever known; but none of us dares to
venture it. If I should appear on Fifth Avenue on a Sunday morning
clothed as I would like to be clothed the churches would all be vacant
and the congregation would come tagging after me. They would scoff, of
course, but they would envy me, too. When I put on black it reminds me
of my funerals. I could be satisfied with white all the year round."
It was not long after this that he said:
"I have made up my mind not to wear black any more, but white, and let
the critics say what they will."
So his tailor was sent for, and six creamy flannel and serge suits were
ordered, made with the short coats, which he preferred, with a gray suit
or two for travel, and he did not wear black again, except for evening
dress and on special occasions. It was a gratifying change, and though
the newspapers made much of it, there was no one who was not gladdened by
the beauty of his garments and their general harmony with his person. He
had never worn anything so appropriate or so impressive.
This departure of costume came along a week or two before the Washington
trip, and when his bags were being packed for the excursion he was
somewhat in doubt as to the propriety of bursting upon Washington in
December in that snowy plumage. I ventured:
"This is a lobbying expedition of a peculiar kind, and does not seem to
invite any half-way measures. I should vote in favor of the white suit."
I think Miss Clemens was for it, too. She must have been or the vote
wouldn't have carried, though it was clear he strongly favored the idea.
At all events, the white suits came along.
We were off the following afternoon: Howells, Robert Underwood Johnson,
one of the Appletons, one of the Putnams, George Bowker, and others were
on the train. On the trip down in the dining-car there was a discussion
concerning the copyrighting of ideas, which finally resolved itself into
the possibility of originating a new one. Clemens said:
"There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take
a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We
give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on
turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same
old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages."
We put up at the Willard, and in the morning drove over to the
Congressional Library, where the copyright hearing was in progress.
There was a joint committee of the two Houses seated round a long table
at work, and a number of spectators more or less interested in the bill,
mainly, it would seem, men concerned with the protection of mechanical
music-rolls. The fact that this feature was mixed up with literature was
not viewed with favor by most of the writers. Clemens referred to the
musical contingent as "those hand-organ men who ought to have a bill of
I should mention that early that morning Clemens had written this letter
to Speaker Cannon:
December 7, 1906.
DEAR UNCLE JOSEPH,--Please get me the thanks of the Congress--not next
week, but right away. It is very necessary. Do accomplish this for your
affectionate old friend right away; by persuasion, if you can; by
violence, if you must, for it is imperatively necessary that I get on the
floor for two or three hours and talk to the members, man by man, in
behalf of the support, encouragement, and protection of one of the
nation's most valuable assets and industries--its literature. I have
arguments with me, also a barrel with liquid in it.
Give me a chance. Get me the thanks of Congress. Don't wait for others
--there isn't time. I have stayed away and let Congress alone for
seventy-one years and I am entitled to thanks. Congress knows it
perfectly well, and I have long felt hurt that this quite proper and
earned expression of gratitude has been merely felt by the House and
never publicly uttered. Send me an order on the Sergeant-at-Arms quick.
When shall I come?
With love and a benediction;
We went over to the Capitol now to deliver to "Uncle Joe" this
characteristic letter. We had picked up Clemens's nephew, Samuel E.
Moffett, at the Library, and he came along and led the way to the
Speaker's room. Arriving there, Clemens laid off his dark overcoat and
stood there, all in white, certainly a startling figure among those
clerks, newspaper men, and incidental politicians. He had been noticed
as he entered the Capitol, and a number of reporters had followed close
behind. Within less than a minute word was being passed through the
corridors that Mark Twain was at the Capitol in his white suit. The
privileged ones began to gather, and a crowd assembled in the hall
Speaker Cannon was not present at the moment; but a little later he
"billowed" in--which seems to be the word to express it--he came with
such a rush and tide of life. After greetings, Clemens produced the
letter and read it to him solemnly, as if he were presenting a petition.
Uncle Joe listened quite seriously, his head bowed a little, as if it
were really a petition, as in fact it was. He smiled, but he said, quite
"That is a request that ought to be granted; but the time has gone by
when I am permitted any such liberties. Tom Reed, when he was Speaker,
inaugurated a strict precedent excluding all outsiders from the use of
the floor of the House."
"I got in the other time," Clemens insisted.
"Yes," said Uncle Joe; "but that ain't now. Sunset Cox could let you in,
but I can't. They'd hang me." He reflected a moment, and added: "I'll
tell you what I'll do: I've got a private room down-stairs that I never
use. It's all fitted up with table and desk, stationery, chinaware, and
cutlery; you could keep house there, if you wanted to. I'll let you have
it as long as you want to stay here, and I'll give you my private
servant, Neal, who's been here all his life and knows every official,
every Senator and Representative, and they all know him. He'll bring you
whatever you want, and you can send in messages by him. You can have the
members brought down singly or in bunches, and convert them as much as
you please. I'd give you a key to the room, only I haven't got one
myself. I never can get in when I want to, but Neal can get in, and
he'll unlock it for you. You can have the room, and you can have Neal.
Now, will that do you?"
Clemens said it would. It was, in fact, an offer without precedent.
Probably never in the history of the country had a Speaker given up his
private room to lobbyists. We went in to see the House open, and then
went down with Neal and took possession of the room. The reporters had
promptly seized upon the letter, and they now got hold of its author, led
him to their own quarters, and, gathering around him, fired questions at
him, and kept their note-books busy. He made a great figure, all in
white there among them, and they didn't fail to realize the value of it
as "copy." He talked about copyright, and about his white clothes, and
about a silk hat which Howells wore.
Back in the Speaker's room, at last, he began laying out the campaign,
which would begin next day. By and by he said:
"Look here! I believe I've got to speak over there in that committee-
room to-day or to-morrow. I ought to know just when it is."
I had not heard of this before, and offered to go over and see about it,
which I did at once. I hurried back faster than I had gone.
"Mr. Clemens, you are to speak in half an hour, and the room is crowded
full; people waiting to hear you."
"The devil!" he said. "Well, all right; I'll just lie down here a few
minutes and then we'll go over. Take paper and pencil and make a few
There was a couch in the room. He lay down while I sat at the table with
a pencil, making headings now and then, as he suggested, and presently he
rose and, shoving the notes into his pocket, was ready. It was half past
three when we entered the committee-room, which was packed with people
and rather dimly lighted, for it was gloomy outside. Herbert Putnam, the
librarian, led us to seats among the literary group, and Clemens,
removing his overcoat, stood in that dim room clad as in white armor.
There was a perceptible stir. Howells, startled for a moment, whispered:
"What in the world did he wear that white suit for?" though in his heart
he admired it as much as the others.
I don't remember who was speaking when we came in, but he was saying
nothing important. Whoever it was, he was followed by Dr. Edward Everett
Hale, whose age always commanded respect, and whose words always invited
interest. Then it was Mark Twain's turn. He did not stand by his chair,
as the others had done, but walked over to the Speaker's table, and,
turning, faced his audience. I have never seen a more impressive sight
than that snow-white figure in that dim-lit, crowded room. He never
touched his notes; he didn't even remember them. He began in that even,
quiet, deliberate voice of his the most even, the most quiet, the most
deliberate voice in the world--and, without a break or a hesitation for a
word, he delivered a copyright argument, full of humor and serious
reasoning, such a speech as no one in that room, I suppose, had ever
heard. Certainly it was a fine and dramatic bit of impromptu pleading.
The weary committee, which had been tortured all day with dull,
statistical arguments made by the mechanical device fiends, and dreary
platitudes unloaded by men whose chief ambition was to shine as copyright
champions, suddenly realized that they were being rewarded for the long
waiting. They began to brighten and freshen, and uplift and smile, like
flowers that have been wilted by a drought when comes the refreshing
shower that means renewed life and vigor. Every listener was as if
standing on tiptoe. When the last sentence was spoken the applause came
like an explosion.--[Howells in his book My Mark Twain speaks of
Clemens's white clothing as "an inspiration which few men would have had
the courage to act upon." He adds: "The first time I saw him wear it
was at the authors' hearing before the Congressional Committee on
Copyright in Washington. Nothing could have been more dramatic than the
gesture with which he flung off his long, loose overcoat and stood forth
in white from his feet to the crown of his silvery head. It was a
magnificent coup, and he dearly loved a coup; but the magnificent speech
which he made, tearing to shreds the venerable farrago of nonsense about
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.
MARK TWAIN, A BIOGRAPHY
By Albert Bigelow Paine
VOLUME III, Part 2: 1907-1910
HONORS FROM OXFORD
Clemens made a brief trip to Bermuda during the winter, taking Twichell
along; their first return to the island since the trip when they had
promised to come back so soon-nearly thirty years before. They had been
comparatively young men then. They were old now, but they found the
green island as fresh and full of bloom as ever. They did not find their
old landlady; they could not even remember her name at first, and then
Twichell recalled that it was the same as an author of certain
schoolbooks in his youth, and Clemens promptly said, "Kirkham's Grammar."
Kirkham was truly the name, and they went to find her; but she was dead,
and the daughter, who had been a young girl in that earlier time, reigned
in her stead and entertained the successors of her mother's guests. They
walked and drove about the island, and it was like taking up again a
long-discontinued book and reading another chapter of the same tale. It
gave Mark Twain a fresh interest in Bermuda, one which he did not allow
to fade again.
Later in the year (March, 1907) I also made a journey; it having been
agreed that I should take a trip to the Mississippi and to the Pacific
coast to see those old friends of Mark Twain's who were so rapidly
passing away. John Briggs was still alive, and other Hannibal
schoolmates; also Joe Goodman and Steve Gillis, and a few more of the
early pioneers--all eminently worth seeing in the matter of such work as
I had in hand. The billiard games would be interrupted; but whatever
reluctance to the plan there may have been on that account was put aside
in view of prospective benefits. Clemens, in fact, seemed to derive joy
from the thought that he was commissioning a kind of personal emissary to
his old comrades, and provided me with a letter of credentials.
It was a long, successful trip that I made, and it was undertaken none
too soon. John Briggs, a gentle-hearted man, was already entering the
valley of the shadow as he talked to me by his fire one memorable
afternoon, and reviewed the pranks of those days along the river and in
the cave and on Holliday's Hill. I think it was six weeks later that he
died; and there were others of that scattering procession who did not
reach the end of the year. Joe Goodman, still full of vigor (in 1912),
journeyed with me to the green and dreamy solitudes of Jackass Hill to
see Steve and Jim Gillis, and that was an unforgetable Sunday when Steve
Gillis, an invalid, but with the fire still in his eyes and speech, sat
up on his couch in his little cabin in that Arcadian stillness and told
old tales and adventures. When I left he said:
"Tell Sam I'm going to die pretty soon, but that I love him; that I've
loved him all my life, and I'll love him till I die. This is the last
word I'll ever send to him." Jim Gillis, down in Sonora, was already
lying at the point of death, and so for him the visit was too late,
though he was able to receive a message from his ancient mining partner,
and to send back a parting word.
I returned by way of New Orleans and the Mississippi River, for I wished
to follow that abandoned water highway, and to visit its presiding
genius, Horace Bixby,--[He died August 2, 1912, at the age of 86]--still
alive and in service as pilot of the government snagboat, his
headquarters at St. Louis.
Coming up the river on one of the old passenger steam boats that still
exist, I noticed in a paper which came aboard that Mark Twain was to
receive from Oxford University the literary doctor's degree. There had
been no hint of this when I came away, and it seemed rather too sudden
and too good to be true. That the little barefoot lad that had played
along the river-banks at Hannibal, and received such meager advantages in
the way of schooling--whose highest ambition had been to pilot such a
craft as this one--was about to be crowned by the world's greatest
institution of learning, to receive the highest recognition for
achievement in the world of letters, was a thing which would not be
likely to happen outside of a fairy tale.
Returning to New York, I ran out to Tuxedo, where he had taken a home for
the summer (for it was already May), and walking along the shaded paths
of that beautiful suburban park, he told me what he knew of the Oxford
Moberly Bell, of the London Times, had been over in April, and soon after
his return to England there had come word of the proposed honor. Clemens
privately and openly (to Bell) attributed it largely to his influence.
He wrote to him:
DEAR MR. BELL,--Your hand is in it & you have my best thanks.
Although I wouldn't cross an ocean again for the price of the ship
that carried me I am glad to do it for an Oxford degree. I shall
plan to sail for England a shade before the middle of June, so that
I can have a few days in London before the 26th.
A day or two later, when the time for sailing had been arranged, he
overtook his letter with a cable:
I perceive your hand in it. You have my best thanks. Sail on
Minneapolis June 8th. Due in Southampton ten days later.
Clemens said that his first word of the matter had been a newspaper
cablegram, and that he had been doubtful concerning it until a cablegram
to himself had confirmed it.
"I never expected to cross the water again," he said; "but I would be
willing to journey to Mars for that Oxford degree."
He put the matter aside then, and fell to talking of Jim Gillis and the
others I had visited, dwelling especially on Gillis's astonishing faculty
for improvising romances, recalling how he had stood with his back to the
fire weaving his endless, grotesque yarns, with no other guide than his
fancy. It was a long, happy walk we had, though rather a sad one in its
memories; and he seemed that day, in a sense, to close the gate of those
early scenes behind him, for he seldom referred to them afterward.
He was back at 21 Fifth Avenue presently, arranging for his voyage.
Meantime, cable invitations of every sort were pouring in, from this and
that society and dignitary; invitations to dinners and ceremonials, and
what not, and it was clear enough that his English sojourn was to be a
busy one. He had hoped to avoid this, and began by declining all but two
invitations--a dinner-party given by Ambassador Whitelaw Reid and a
luncheon proposed by the "Pilgrims." But it became clear that this
would not do. England was not going to confer its greatest collegiate
honor without being permitted to pay its wider and more popular tribute.
Clemens engaged a special secretary for the trip--Mr. Ralph W. Ashcroft,
a young Englishman familiar with London life. They sailed on the 8th of
June, by a curious coincidence exactly forty years from the day he had
sailed on the Quaker City to win his great fame. I went with him to the
ship. His first elation had passed by this time, and he seemed a little
sad, remembering, I think, the wife who would have enjoyed this honor
with him but could not share it now.
A TRUE ENGLISH WELCOME
Mark Twain's trip across the Atlantic would seem to have been a pleasant
one. The Minneapolis is a fine, big ship, and there was plenty of
company. Prof. Archibald Henderson, Bernard Shaw's biographer, was
aboard;--[Professor .Henderson has since then published a volume on Mark
Twain-an interesting commentary on his writings-mainly from the
sociological point of view.]--also President Patton, of the Princeton
Theological Seminary; a well-known cartoonist, Richards, and some very
attractive young people--school-girls in particular, such as all through
his life had appealed to Mark Twain. Indeed, in his later life they made
a stronger appeal than ever. The years had robbed him of his own little
flock, and always he was trying to replace them. Once he said:
"During those years after my wife's death I was washing about on a
forlorn sea of banquets and speech-making in high and holy causes, and
these things furnished me intellectual cheer, and entertainment; but they
got at my heart for an evening only, then left it dry and dusty. I had
reached the grandfather stage of life without grandchildren, so I began
to adopt some."
He adopted several on that journey to England and on the return voyage,
and he kept on adopting others during the rest of his life. These
companionships became one of the happiest aspects of his final days, as
we shall see by and by.
There were entertainments on the ship, one of them given for the benefit
of the Seamen's Orphanage. One of his adopted granddaughters--"Charley"
he called her--played a violin solo and Clemens made a speech. Later his
autographs were sold at auction. Dr. Patton was auctioneer, and one
autographed postal card brought twenty-five dollars, which is perhaps the
record price for a single Mark Twain signature. He wore his white suit
on this occasion, and in the course of his speech referred to it. He
told first of the many defects in his behavior, and how members of his
household had always tried to keep him straight. The children, he said,
had fallen into the habit of calling it "dusting papa off." Then he went
When my daughter came to see me off last Saturday at the boat she
slipped a note in my hand and said, "Read it when you get aboard the
ship." I didn't think of it again until day before yesterday, and
it was a "dusting off." And if I carry out all the instructions
that I got there I shall be more celebrated in England for my
behavior than for anything else. I got instructions how to act on
every occasion. She underscored "Now, don't you wear white clothes
on ship or on shore until you get back," and I intended to obey. I
have been used to obeying my family all my life, but I wore the
white clothes to-night because the trunk that has the dark clothes
in it is in the cellar. I am not apologizing for the white clothes;
I am only apologizing to my daughter for not obeying her.
He received a great welcome when the ship arrived at Tilbury. A throng
of rapid-fire reporters and photographers immediately surrounded him, and
when he left the ship the stevedores gave him a round of cheers. It was
the beginning of that almost unheard-of demonstration of affection and
honor which never for a moment ceased, but augmented from day to day
during the four weeks of his English sojourn.
In a dictation following his return, Mark Twain said:
Who began it? The very people of all people in the world whom I
would have chosen: a hundred men of my own class--grimy sons of
labor, the real builders of empires and civilizations, the
stevedores! They stood in a body on the dock and charged their
masculine lungs, and gave me a welcome which went to the marrow of
J. Y. W. MacAlister was at the St. Pancras railway station to meet him,
and among others on the platform was Bernard Shaw, who had come down to
meet Professor Henderson. Clemens and Shaw were presented, and met
eagerly, for each greatly admired the other. A throng gathered. Mark
Twain was extricated at last, and hurried away to his apartments at
Brown's Hotel, "a placid, subdued, homelike, old-fashioned English inn,"
he called it, "well known to me years ago, a blessed retreat of a sort
now rare in England, and becoming rarer every year."
But Brown's was not placid and subdued during his stay. The London
newspapers declared that Mark Twain's arrival had turned Brown's not only
into a royal court, but a post-office--that the procession of visitors
and the bundles of mail fully warranted this statement. It was, in fact,
an experience which surpassed in general magnitude and magnificence
anything he had hitherto known. His former London visits, beginning with
that of 1872, had been distinguished by high attentions, but all of them
combined could not equal this. When England decides to get up an
ovation, her people are not to be outdone even by the lavish Americans.
An assistant secretary had to be engaged immediately, and it sometimes
required from sixteen to twenty hours a day for two skilled and busy men
to receive callers and reduce the pile of correspondence.
A pile of invitations had already accumulated, and others flowed in.
Lady Stanley, widow of Henry M. Stanley, wrote:
You know I want to see you and join right hand to right hand. I
must see your dear face again . . . . You will have no peace,
rest, or leisure during your stay in London, and you will end by
hating human beings. Let me come before you feel that way.
Mary Cholmondeley, the author of Red Pottage, niece of that lovable
Reginald Cholmondeley, and herself an old friend, sent greetings and
urgent invitations. Archdeacon Wilberforce wrote:
I have just been preaching about your indictment of that scoundrel
king of the Belgians and telling my people to buy the book. I am
only a humble item among the very many who offer you a cordial
welcome in England, but we long to see you again, and I should like
to change hats with you again. Do you remember?
The Athenaeum, the Garrick, and a dozen other London clubs had
anticipated his arrival with cards of honorary membership for the period
of his stay. Every leading photographer had put in a claim for sittings.
It was such a reception as Charles Dickens had received in America in
1842, and again in 1867. A London paper likened it to Voltaire's return
to Paris in 1778, when France went mad over him. There is simply no
limit to English affection and, hospitality once aroused. Clemens wrote:
Surely such weeks as this must be very rare in this world: I had
seen nothing like them before; I shall see nothing approaching them
Sir Thomas Lipton and Bram Stoker, old friends, were among the first to
present themselves, and there was no break in the line of callers.
Clemens's resolutions for secluding himself were swept away. On the very
next morning following his arrival he breakfasted with J. Henniker
Heaton, father of International Penny Postage, at the Bath Club, just
across Dover Street from Brown's. He lunched at the Ritz with Marjorie
Bowen and Miss Bisland. In the afternoon he sat for photographs at
Barnett's, and made one or two calls. He could no more resist these
things than a debutante in her first season.
He was breakfasting again with Heaton next morning; lunching with "Toby,
M.P.," and Mrs. Lucy; and having tea with Lady Stanley in the afternoon,
and being elaborately dined next day at Dorchester House by Ambassador
and Mrs. Reid. These were all old and tried friends. He was not a
stranger among them, he said; he was at home. Alfred Austin, Conan
Doyle, Anthony Hope, Alma Tadema, E. A. Abbey, Edmund Goss, George
Smalley, Sir Norman Lockyer, Henry W. Lucy, Sidney Brooks, and Bram
Stoker were among those at Dorchester House--all old comrades, as were
many of the other guests.
"I knew fully half of those present," he said afterward.
Mark Twain's bursting upon London society naturally was made the most of
by the London papers, and all his movements were tabulated and
elaborated, and when there was any opportunity for humor in the situation
it was not left unimproved. The celebrated Ascot racing-cup was stolen
just at the time of his arrival, and the papers suggestively mingled
their head-lines, "Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup Stolen," and kept the
joke going in one form or another. Certain state jewels and other
regalia also disappeared during his stay, and the news of these
burglaries was reported in suspicious juxtaposition with the news of Mark
English reporters adopted American habits for the occasion, and invented
or embellished when the demand for a new sensation was urgent. Once,
when following the custom of the place, he descended the hotel elevator
in a perfectly proper and heavy brown bath robe, and stepped across
narrow Dover Street to the Bath Club, the papers flamed next day with the
story that Mark Twain had wandered about the lobby of Brown's and
promenaded Dover Street in a sky-blue bath robe attracting wide
Clara Clemens, across the ocean, was naturally a trifle disturbed by such
reports, and cabled this delicate "dusting off":
"Much worried. Remember proprieties."
To which he answered:
"They all pattern after me," a reply to the last degree characteristic.
It was on the fourth day after his arrival, June 22d, that he attended
the King's garden-party at Windsor Castle. There were eighty-five
hundred guests at the King's party, and if we may judge from the London
newspapers, Mark Twain was quite as much a figure in that great throng as
any member of the royal family. His presentation to the King and the
Queen is set down as an especially notable incident, and their
conversation is quite fully given. Clemens himself reported:
His Majesty was very courteous. In the course of the conversation
I reminded him of an episode of fifteen years ago, when I had the
honor to walk a mile with him when he was taking the waters at
Homburg, in Germany. I said that I had often told about that
episode, and that whenever I was the historian I made good history
of it and it was worth listening to, but that it had found its way
into print once or twice in unauthentic ways and was badly damaged
thereby. I said I should like to go on repeating this history, but
that I should be quite fair and reasonably honest, and while I
should probably never tell it twice in the same way I should at
least never allow it to deteriorate in my hands. His Majesty
intimated his willingness that I should continue to disseminate that
piece of history; and he added a compliment, saying that he knew
good and sound history would not suffer at my hands, and that if
this good and sound history needed any improvement beyond the facts
he would trust me to furnish that improvement.
I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the Queen looked as
young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago when I saw her
first. I did not say this to her, because I learned long ago never
to say the obvious thing, but leave the obvious thing to commonplace
and inexperienced people to say. That she still looked to me as
young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago is good
evidence that ten thousand people have already noticed this and have
mentioned it to her. I could have said it and spoken the truth, but
I was too wise for that. I kept the remark unuttered and saved her
Majesty the vexation of hearing it the ten-thousand-and-oneth time.
All that report about my proposal to buy Windsor Castle and its
grounds was a false rumor. I started it myself.
One newspaper said I patted his Majesty on the shoulder--an
impertinence of which I was not guilty; I was reared in the most
exclusive circles of Missouri and I know how to behave. The King
rested his hand upon my arm a moment or two while we were chatting,
but he did it of his own accord. The newspaper which said I talked
with her Majesty with my hat on spoke the truth, but my reasons for
doing it were good and sufficient--in fact unassailable. Rain was
threatening, the temperature had cooled, and the Queen said, "Please
put your hat on, Mr. Clemens." I begged her pardon and excused
myself from doing it. After a moment or two she said, "Mr. Clemens,
put your hat on"--with a slight emphasis on the word "on" "I can't
allow you to catch cold here." When a beautiful queen commands it
is a pleasure to obey, and this time I obeyed--but I had already
disobeyed once, which is more than a subject would have felt
justified in doing; and so it is true, as charged; I did talk with
the Queen of England with my hat on, but it wasn't fair in the
newspaper man to charge it upon me as an impoliteness, since there
were reasons for it which he could not know of.
Nearly all the members of the British royal family were there, and there
were foreign visitors which included the King of Siam and a party of
India princes in their gorgeous court costumes, which Clemens admired
openly and said he would like to wear himself.
The English papers spoke of it as one of the largest and most
distinguished parties ever given at Windsor. Clemens attended it in
company with Mr. and Mrs. J. Henniker Heaton, and when it was over Sir
Thomas Lipton joined them and motored with them back to Brown's.
He was at Archdeacon Wilberforce's next day, where a curious circumstance
developed. When he arrived Wilberforce said to him, in an undertone:
"Come into my library. I have something to show you."
In the library Clemens was presented to a Mr. Pole, a plain-looking man,
suggesting in dress and appearance the English tradesman. Wilberforce
"Mr. Pole, show to Mr. Clemens what you have brought here."
Mr. Pole unrolled a long strip of white linen and brought to view at last
a curious, saucer-looking vessel of silver, very ancient in appearance,
and cunningly overlaid with green glass. The archdeacon took it and
handed it to Clemens as some precious jewel. Clemens said:
"What is it?"
Wilberforce impressively answered:
"It is the Holy Grail."
Clemens naturally started with surprise.
"You may well start," said Wilberforce; "but it's the truth. That is the
Then he gave this explanation: Mr. Pole, a grain merchant of Bristol, had
developed some sort of clairvoyant power, or at all events he had dreamed
several times with great vividness the location of the true Grail.
Another dreamer, a Dr. Goodchild, of Bath, was mixed up in the matter,
and between them this peculiar vessel, which was not a cup, or a goblet,
or any of the traditional things, had been discovered. Mr. Pole seemed a
man of integrity, and it was clear that the churchman believed the
discovery to be genuine and authentic. Of course there could be no
positive proof. It was a thing that must be taken on trust. That the
vessel itself was wholly different from anything that the generations had
conceived, and was apparently of very ancient make, was opposed to the
natural suggestion of fraud.
Clemens, to whom the whole idea of the Holy Grail was simply a poetic
legend and myth, had the feeling that he had suddenly been transmigrated,
like his own Connecticut Yankee, back into the Arthurian days; but he
made no question, suggested no doubt. Whatever it was, it was to them
the materialization of a symbol of faith which ranked only second to the
cross itself, and he handled it reverently and felt the honor of having
been one of the first permitted to see the relic. In a subsequent
dictation he said:
I am glad I have lived to see that half-hour--that astonishing half-
hour. In its way it stands alone in my life's experience. In the
belief of two persons present this was the very vessel which was
brought by night and secretly delivered to Nicodemus, nearly
nineteen centuries ago, after the Creator of the universe had
delivered up His life on the cross for the redemption of the human
race; the very cup which the stainless Sir Galahad had sought with
knightly devotion in far fields of peril and adventure in Arthur's
time, fourteen hundred years ago; the same cup which princely
knights of other bygone ages had laid down their lives in long and
patient efforts to find, and had passed from life disappointed--and
here it was at last, dug up by a grain-broker at no cost of blood or
travel, and apparently no purity required of him above the average
purity of the twentieth-century dealer in cereal futures; not even a
stately name required--no Sir Galahad, no Sir Bors de Ganis, no Sir
Lancelot of the Lake--nothing but a mere Mr. Pole.--[From the New
York Sun somewhat later: "Mr. Pole communicated the discovery to a
dignitary of the Church of England, who summoned a number of eminent
persons, including psychologists, to see and discuss it. Forty
attended, including some peers with ecclesiastical interests,
Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, Professor Crookas, and ministers of
various religious bodies, including the Rev. R. J. Campbell. They
heard Mr. Pole's story with deep attention, but he could not prove
the genuineness of the relic."]
Clemens saw Mr. and Mrs. Rogers at Claridge's Hotel that evening; lunched
with his old friends Sir Norman and Lady Lockyer next day; took tea with
T. P. O'Connor at the House of Commons, and on the day following, which
was June a 5th, he was the guest of honor at one of the most elaborate
occasions of his visit--a luncheon given by the Pilgrims at the Savoy
Hotel. It would be impossible to set down here a report of the doings,
or even a list of the guests, of that gathering. The Pilgrims is a club
with branches on both sides of the ocean, and Mark Twain, on either side,
was a favorite associate. At this luncheon the picture on the bill of
fare represented him as a robed pilgrim, with a great pen for his staff,
turning his back on the Mississippi River and being led along his
literary way by a huge jumping frog, to which he is attached by a string.
On a guest-card was printed:
Pilot of many Pilgrims since the shout
"Mark Twain!"--that serves you for a deathless sign--
On Mississippi's waterway rang out
Over the plummet's line--
Still where the countless ripples laugh above
The blue of halcyon seas long may you keep
Your course unbroken, buoyed upon a love
Ten thousand fathoms deep!
--O. S. [OWEN SEAMAN].
Augustine Birrell made the speech of introduction, closing with this
Mark Twain is a man whom Englishmen and Americans do well to honor.
He is a true consolidator of nations. His delightful humor is of
the kind which dissipates and destroys national prejudices. His
truth and his honor--his love of truth and his love of honor--
overflow all boundaries. He has made the world better by his
presence, and we rejoice to see him here. Long may he live to reap
a plentiful harvest of hearty honest human affection.
The toast was drunk standing. Then Clemens rose and made a speech which
delighted all England. In his introduction Mr. Birrell had happened to
say, "How I came here I will not ask!" Clemens remembered this, and
looking down into Mr. Birrell's wine-glass, which was apparently unused,
"Mr. Birrell doesn't know how he got here. But he will be able to get
away all right--he has not drunk anything since he came."
He told stories about Howells and Twichell, and how Darwin had gone to
sleep reading his books, and then he came down to personal things and
company, and told them how, on the day of his arrival, he had been
shocked to read on a great placard, "Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup
No doubt many a person was misled by those sentences joined together
in that unkind way. I have no doubt my character has suffered from
it. I suppose I ought to defend my character, but how can I defend
it? I can say here and now that anybody can see by my face that I
am sincere--that I speak the truth, and that I have never seen that
Cup. I have not got the Cup, I did not have a chance to get it. I
have always had a good character in that way. I have hardly ever
stolen anything, and if I did steal anything I had discretion enough
to know about the value of it first. I do not steal things that are
likely to get myself into trouble. I do not think any of us do
that. I know we all take things--that is to be expected; but really
I have never taken anything, certainly in England, that amounts to
any great thing. I do confess that when I was here seven years ago
I stole a hat--but that did not amount to anything. It was not a
good hat it was only a clergyman's hat, anyway. I was at a
luncheon-party and Archdeacon Wilberforce was there also. I dare say
he is archdeacon now--he was a canon then--and he was serving in the
Westminster Battery, if that is the proper term. I do not know, as
you mix military and ecclesiastical things together so much.
He recounted the incident of the exchanged hats; then he spoke of graver
things. He closed:
I cannot always be cheerful, and I cannot always be chaffing. I
must sometimes lay the cap and bells aside and recognize that I am
of the human race. I have my cares and griefs, and I therefore
noticed what Mr. Birrell said--I was so glad to hear him say it--
something that was in the nature of these verses here at the top of
He lit our life with shafts of sun
And vanquished pain.
Thus two great nations stand as one
In honoring Twain.
I am very glad to have those verses. I am very glad and very grateful
for what Mr. Birrell said in that connection. I have received since I
have been here, in this one week, hundreds of letters from all conditions
of people in England, men, women, and children, and there is compliment,
praise, and, above all, and better than all, there is in them a note of
Praise is well, compliment is well, but affection--that is the last and
final and most precious reward that any man can win, whether by character
or achievement, and I am very grateful to have that reward. All these
letters make me feel that here in England, as in America, when I stand
under the English or the American flag I am not a, stranger, I am not an
alien, but at home.
DOCTOR OF LITERATURE, OXFORD
He left, immediately following the Pilgrim luncheon, with Hon. Robert P.
Porter, of the London Times, for Oxford, to remain his guest there during
the various ceremonies. The encenia--the ceremony of conferring the
degrees--occurred at the Sheldonian Theater the following morning, June
It was a memorable affair. Among those who were to receive degrees that
morning besides Samuel Clemens were: Prince Arthur of Connaught; Prime
Minister Campbell-Bannerman; Whitelaw Reid; Rudyard Kipling; Sidney Lee;
Sidney Colvin; Lord Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland; Sir Norman
Lockyer; Auguste Rodin, the sculptor; Saint-Saens, and Gen. William
Booth, of the Salvation Army-something more than thirty, in all, of the
world's distinguished citizens.
The candidates assembled at Magdalen College, and led by Lord Curzon, the
Chancellor, and clad in their academic plumage, filed in radiant
procession to the Sheldonian Theater, a group of men such as the world
seldom sees collected together. The London Standard said of it:
So brilliant and so interesting was the list of those who had been
selected by Oxford University on Convocation to receive degrees,
'honoris causa', in this first year of Lord Curzon's chancellorship,
that it is small wonder that the Sheldonian Theater was besieged
today at an early hour.
Shortly after 11 o'clock the organ started playing the strains of
"God Save the King," and at once a great volume of sound arose as
the anthem was taken up by the undergraduates and the rest of the
assemblage. Every one stood up as, headed by the mace of office,
the procession slowly filed into the theater, under the leadership
of Lord Curzon, in all the glory of his robes of office, the long
black gown heavily embroidered with gold, the gold-tasseled mortar-
board, and the medals on his breast forming an admirable setting,
thoroughly in keeping with the dignity and bearing of the late
Viceroy of India. Following him came the members of Convocation, a
goodly number consisting of doctors of divinity, whose robes of
scarlet and black enhanced the brilliance of the scene. Robes of
salmon and scarlet-which proclaim the wearer to be a doctor of civil
law--were also seen in numbers, while here and there was a gown of
gray and scarlet, emblematic of the doctorate of science or of
The encenia is an impressive occasion; but it is not a silent one. There
is a splendid dignity about it; but there goes with it all a sort of
Greek chorus of hilarity, the time-honored prerogative of the Oxford
undergraduate, who insists on having his joke and his merriment at the
expense of those honored guests. The degrees of doctor of law were
conferred first. Prince Arthur was treated with proper dignity by the
gallery; but when Whitelaw Reid stepped forth a voice shouted, "Where's
your Star-spangled Banner?" and when England's Prime Minister-Campbell-
Bannerman--came forward some one shouted, "What about the House of
Lords?" and so they kept it up, cheering and chaffing, until General
Booth was introduced as the "Passionate advocate of the dregs of the
people, leader of the submerged tenth," and general of the Salvation
Army," when the place broke into a perfect storm of applause, a storm
that a few minutes later became, according to the Daily News, "a
veritable cyclone," for Mark Twain, clad in his robe of scarlet and gray,
had been summoned forward to receive the highest academic honors which
the world has to give. The undergraduates went wild then. There was
such a mingling of yells and calls and questions, such as, "Have you
brought the jumping Frog with you?" "Where is the Ascot Cup?" "Where are
the rest of the Innocents?" that it seemed as if it would not be possible
to present him at all; but, finally, Chancellor Curzon addressed him (in
Latin), "Most amiable and charming sir, you shake the sides of the whole
world with your merriment," and the great degree was conferred.
If only Tom Sawyer could have seen him then! If only Olivia Clemens
could have sat among those who gave him welcome! But life is not like
that. There is always an incompleteness somewhere, and the shadow across
Rudyard Kipling followed--another supreme favorite, who was hailed with
the chorus, "For he's a jolly good fellow," and then came Saint-Satins.
The prize poems and essays followed, and then the procession of newly
created doctors left the theater with Lord Curzon at their head. So it
was all over-that for which, as he said, he would have made the journey
to Mars. The world had nothing more to give him now except that which he
had already long possessed-its honor and its love.
The newly made doctors were to be the guests of Lord Curzon at All Souls
College for luncheon. As they left the theater (according to Sidney
The people in the streets singled out Mark Twain, formed a vast and
cheering body-guard around him and escorted him to the college
gates. But before and after the lunch it was Mark Twain again whom
everybody seemed most of all to want to meet. The Maharajah of
Bikanir, for instance, finding himself seated at lunch next to Mrs.
Riggs (Kate Douglas Wiggin), and hearing that she knew Mark Twain,
asked her to present him a ceremony duly performed later on the
quadrangle. At the garden-party given the same afternoon in the
beautiful grounds of St. John's, where the indefatigable Mark put
in an appearance, it was just the same--every one pressed forward
for an exchange of greetings and a hand-shake. On the following
day, when the Oxford pageant took place, it was even more so. "Mark
Twain's Pageant," it was called by one of the papers.--[There was a
dinner that evening at one of the colleges where, through mistaken
information, Clemens wore black evening dress when he should have
worn his scarlet gown. "When I arrived," he said, "the place was
just a conflagration--a kind of human prairie-fire. I looked as out
of place as a Presbyterian in hell."]
Clemens remained the guest of Robert Porter, whose house was besieged
with those desiring a glimpse of their new doctor of letters. If he went
on the streets he was instantly recognized by some newsboy or cabman or
butcher-boy, and the word ran along like a cry of fire, while the crowds
At a luncheon which the Porters gave him the proprietor of the catering
establishment garbed himself as a waiter in order to have the distinction
of serving Mark Twain, and declared it to have been the greatest moment
of his life. This gentleman--for he was no less than that--was a man
well-read, and his tribute was not inspired by mere snobbery. Clemens,
learning of the situation, later withdrew from the drawing-room for a
talk with him.
"I found," he said, "that he knew about ten or fifteen times as much
about my books as I knew about them myself."
Mark Twain viewed the Oxford pageant from a box with Rudyard Kipling and
Lord Curzon, and as they sat there some one passed up a folded slip of
paper, on the outside of which was written, "Not true." Opening it, they
East is East and West is West,
And never the Twain shall meet,
--a quotation from Kipling.
They saw the panorama of history file by, a wonderful spectacle which
made Oxford a veritable dream of the Middle Ages. The lanes and streets
and meadows were thronged with such costumes as Oxford had seen in its
long history. History was realized in a manner which no one could
appreciate more fully than Mark Twain.
"I was particularly anxious to see this pageant," he said, "so that I
could get ideas for my funeral procession, which I am planning on a large
He was not disappointed; it was a realization to him of all the gorgeous
spectacles that his soul had dreamed from youth up.
He easily recognized the great characters of history as they passed by,
and he was recognized by them in turn; for they waved to him and bowed
and sometimes called his name, and when he went down out of his box, by
and by, Henry VIII. shook hands with him, a monarch he had always
detested, though he was full of friendship for him now; and Charles I.
took off his broad, velvet-plumed hat when they met, and Henry II. and
Rosamond and Queen Elizabeth all saluted him--ghosts of the dead