Part 4 out of 5
That was the moment of the great Vesuvian eruption, and we figured
ourselves in easy reach of a volcano which was every now and then
"blowing a cone off," as the telegraphic phrase was. The roof of
the great market in Naples had just broken in under its load of
ashes and cinders, and crushed hundreds of people; and we asked each
other if we were not sorry we had not been there, where the pressure
would have been far less terrific than it was with us in Fifth
Avenue. The forbidden butler came up with a message that there were
some gentlemen below who wanted to see Clemens.
"How many?" he demanded.
"Five," the butler faltered.
The butler feigned uncertainty.
"What would you do?" he asked me.
"I wouldn't see them," I said, and then Clemens went directly down
to them. How or by what means he appeased their voracity I cannot
say, but I fancy it was by the confession of the exact truth, which
was harmless enough. They went away joyfully, and he came back in
radiant satisfaction with having seen them.
It is not quite clear at this time just what word was sent to Gorky but
the matter must have been settled that night, for Clemens was in a fine
humor next morning. It was before dictation time, and he came drifting
into the study and began at once to speak of the dinner and the
impossibility of its being given now. Then he said:
"American public opinion is a delicate fabric. It shrivels like the webs
of morning at the lightest touch."
Later in the day he made this memorandum:
Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly
transgressed custom brings sure punishment. The penalty may be
unfair, unrighteous, illogical, and a cruelty; no matter, it will be
inflicted just the same. Certainly, then, there can be but one wise
thing for a visiting stranger to do--find out what the country's
customs are and refrain from offending against them.
The efforts which have been made in Gorky's justification are
entitled to all respect because of the magnanimity of the motive
back of them, but I think that the ink was wasted. Custom is
custom: it is built of brass, boiler-iron, granite; facts,
seasonings, arguments have no more effect upon it than the idle
winds have upon Gibraltar.--[To Dan Beard he said, "Gorky made an
awful mistake, Dan. He might as well have come over here in his
The Gorky disturbance had hardly begun to subside when there came another
upheaval that snuffed it out completely. On the afternoon of the 18th of
April I heard, at The Players, a wandering telephonic rumor that a great
earthquake was going on in San Francisco. Half an hour later, perhaps, I
met Clemens coming out of No. 21. He asked:
"Have you heard the news about San Francisco?"
I said I had heard a rumor of an earthquake; and had seen an extra with
big scare-heads; but I supposed the matter was exaggerated.
"No," he said, "I am afraid it isn't. We have just had a telephone
message that it is even worse than at first reported. A great fire is
consuming the city. Come along to the news-stand and we'll see if there
is a later edition."
We walked to Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street and got some fresh extras.
The news was indeed worse, than at first reported. San Francisco was
going to destruction. Clemens was moved deeply, and began to recall this
old friend and that whose lives and property might be in danger. He
spoke of Joe Goodman and the Gillis families, and pictured conditions in
the perishing city.
MARK TWAIN'S GOOD-BY TO THE PLATFORM
It was on April 19, 1906, the day following the great earthquake, that
Mark Twain gave a "Farewell Lecture" at Carnegie Hall for the benefit of
the Robert Fulton Memorial Association. Some weeks earlier Gen.
Frederick D. Grant, its president, had proposed to pay one thousand
dollars for a Mark Twain lecture; but Clemens' had replied that he was
permanently out of the field, and would never again address any audience
that had to pay to hear him.
"I always expect to talk as long as I can get people to listen to me," he
sand, "but I never again expect to charge for it." Later came one of his
inspirations, and he wrote: "I will lecture for one thousand dollars, on
one condition: that it will be understood to be my farewell lecture, and
that I may contribute the thousand dollars to the Fulton Association."
It was a suggestion not to be discouraged, and the bills and notices,
"Mark Twain's Farewell Lecture," were published without delay.
I first heard of the matter one afternoon when General Grant had called.
Clemens came into the study where I was working; he often wandered in and
out-sometimes without a word, sometimes to relieve himself concerning
things in general. But this time he suddenly chilled me by saying:
"I'm going to deliver my farewell lecture, and I want you to appear on
the stage and help me."
I feebly expressed my pleasure at the prospect. Then he said:
"I am going to lecture on Fulton--on the story of his achievements. It
will be a burlesque, of course, and I am going to pretend to forget my
facts, and I want you to sit there in a chair. Now and then, when I seem
to get stuck, I'll lean over and pretend to ask you some thing, and I
want you to pretend to prompt me. You don't need to laugh, or to pretend
to be assisting in the performance any more than just that."
HANDBILL OF MARK TWAIN'S "FAREWELL LECTURE":
Will Deliver His Farewell Lecture
APRIL 19TH, 1906
FOR THE BENEFIT OF
Robert Fulton Memorial Association
MILITARY ORGANIZATION OLD GUARD IN
FULL DRESS UNIFORM WILL BE PRESENT
MUSIC BY OLD GUARD BAND
TICKETS AND BOXES ON SALE AT CARNEGIE HALL
SEATS $1.50, $1.00, 50 CENTS
It was not likely that I should laugh. I had a sinking feeling in the
cardiac region which does not go with mirth. It did not for the moment
occur to me that the stage would be filled with eminent citizens and
vice-presidents, and I had a vision of myself sitting there alone in the
chair in that wide emptiness, with the chief performer directing
attention to me every other moment or so, for perhaps an hour. Let me
hurry on to say that it did not happen. I dare say he realized my
unfitness for the work, and the far greater appropriateness of conferring
the honor on General Grant, for in the end he gave him the assignment, to
my immeasurable relief.
It was a magnificent occasion. That spacious hall was hung with bunting,
the stage was banked and festooned with decoration of every sort.
General Grant, surrounded by his splendidly uniformed staff, sat in the
foreground, and behind was ranged a levee of foremost citizens of the
republic. The band played "America" as Mark Twain entered, and the great
audience rose and roared out its welcome. Some of those who knew him
best had hoped that on this occasion of his last lecture he would tell of
that first appearance in San Francisco, forty years before, when his
fortunes had hung in the balance. Perhaps he did not think of it, and no
one had had the courage to suggest it. At all events, he did a different
thing. He began by making a strong plea for the smitten city where the
flames were still raging, urging prompt help for those who had lost not
only their homes, but the last shred of their belongings and their means
of livelihood. Then followed his farcical history of Fulton, with
General Grant to make the responses, and presently he drifted into the
kind of lecture he had given so often in his long trip around the world-
retelling the tales which had won him fortune and friends in many lands.
I do not know whether the entertainment was long or short. I think few
took account of time. To a letter of inquiry as to how long the
entertainment would last, he had replied:
I cannot say for sure. It is my custom to keep on talking till I
get the audience cowed. Sometimes it takes an hour and fifteen
minutes, sometimes I can do it in an hour.
There was no indication at any time that the audience was cowed. The
house was packed, and the applause was so recurrent and continuous that
often his voice was lost to those in its remoter corners. It did not
matter. The tales were familiar to his hearers; merely to see Mark
Twain, in his old age and in that splendid setting, relating them was
enough. The audience realized that it was witnessing the close of a
heroic chapter in a unique career.
AN INVESTMENT IN REDDING
Many of the less important happenings seem worth remembering now. Among
them was the sale, at the Nast auction, of the Mark Twain letters,
already mentioned. The fact that these letters brought higher prices
than any others offered in this sale was gratifying. Roosevelt, Grant,
and even Lincoln items were sold; but the Mark Twain letters led the
list. One of them sold for forty-three dollars, which was said to be the
highest price ever paid for the letter of a living man. It was the
letter written in 1877, quoted earlier in this work, in which Clemens
proposed the lecture tour to Nast. None of the Clemens-Nast letters
brought less than twenty-seven dollars, and some of them were very brief.
It was a new measurement of public sentiment. Clemens, when he heard of
"I can't rise to General Grant's lofty place in the estimation of this
country; but it is a deep satisfaction to me to know that when it comes
to letter-writing he can't sit in the front seat along with me. That
forty-three-dollar letter ought to be worth as much as eighty-six dollars
after I'm dead."
A perpetual string of callers came to 21 Fifth Avenue, and it kept the
secretary busy explaining to most of them why Mark Twain could not
entertain their propositions, or listen to their complaints, or allow
them to express in person their views on public questions. He did see a
great many of what might be called the milder type persons who were
evidently sincere and not too heavily freighted with eloquence. Of these
there came one day a very gentle-spoken woman who had promised that she
would stay but a moment, and say no more than a few words, if only she
might sit face to face with the great man. It was in the morning hour
before the dictations, and he received her, quite correctly clad in his
beautiful dressing-robe and propped against his pillows. She kept her
contract to the letter; but when she rose to go she said, in a voice of
"May I kiss your hand?"
It was a delicate situation, and might easily have been made ludicrous.
Denial would have hurt her. As it was, he lifted his hand, a small,
exquisite hand it was, with the gentle dignity and poise of a king, and
she touched her lips to it with what was certainly adoration. Then, as
she went, she said:
"How God must love you!"
"I hope so," he said, softly, and he did not even smile; but after she
had gone he could not help saying, in a quaint, half-pathetic voice
"I guess she hasn't heard of our strained relations."
Sitting in that royal bed, clad in that rich fashion, he easily conveyed
the impression of royalty, and watching him through those marvelous
mornings he seemed never less than a king, as indeed he was--the king of
a realm without national boundaries. Some of those nearest to him fell
naturally into the habit of referring to him as "the King," and in time
the title crept out of the immediate household and was taken up by others
who loved him.
He had been more than once photographed in his bed; but it was by those
who had come and gone in a brief time, with little chance to study his
natural attitudes. I had acquired some knowledge of the camera, and I
obtained his permission to let me photograph him--a permission he seldom
denied to any one. We had no dictations on Saturdays, and I took the
pictures on one of these holiday mornings. He was so patient and
tractable, and so natural in every attitude, that it was a delight to
make the negatives. I was afraid he would become impatient, and made
fewer exposures than I might otherwise have done. I think he expected
very little from this amateur performance; but, by that happy element of
accident which plays so large a part in photographic success, the results
were better than I had hoped for. When I brought him the prints, a few
days later, he expressed pleasure and asked, "Why didn't you make more?"
Among them was one in an attitude which had grown so familiar to us, that
of leaning over to get his pipe from the smoking-table, and this seemed
to give him particular satisfaction. It being a holiday, he had not
donned his dressing-gown, which on the whole was well for the
photographic result. He spoke of other pictures that had been made of
him, especially denouncing one photograph, taken some twenty years before
by Sarony, a picture, as he said, of a gorilla in an overcoat, which the
papers and magazines had insisted on using ever since.
"Sarony was as enthusiastic about wild animals as he was about
photography, and when Du Chaillu brought over the first gorilla he sent
for me to look at it and see if our genealogy was straight. I said it
was, and Sarony was so excited that I had recognized the resemblance
between us, that he wanted to make it more complete, so he borrowed my
overcoat and put it on the gorilla and photographed it, and spread that
picture out over the world as mine. It turns up every week in some
newspaper or magazine; but it's not my favorite; I have tried to get it
Mark Twain made his first investment in Redding that spring. I had
located there the autumn before, and bought a vacant old house, with a
few acres of land, at what seemed a modest price. I was naturally
enthusiastic over the bargain, and the beauty and salubrity of the
situation. His interest was aroused, and when he learned that there was
a place adjoining, equally reasonable and perhaps even more attractive,
he suggested immediately that I buy it for him; and he wanted to write a
check then for the purchase price, for fear the opportunity might be
lost. I think there was then no purpose in his mind of building a
country home; but he foresaw that such a site, at no great distance from
New York, would become more valuable, and he had plenty of idle means.
The purchase was made without difficulty--a tract of seventy-five acres,
to which presently was added another tract of one hundred and ten acres,
and subsequently still other parcels of land, to complete the ownership
of the hilltop, for it was not long until he had conceived the idea of a
home. He was getting weary of the heavy pressure of city life. He
craved the retirement of solitude--one not too far from the maelstrom, so
that he might mingle with it now and then when he chose. The country
home would not be begun for another year yet, but the purpose of it was
already in the air. No one of the family had at this time seen the
TRAITS AND PHILOSOPHIES
I brought to the dictation one morning the Omar Khayyam card which
Twichell had written him so long ago; I had found it among the letters.
It furnished him a subject for that morning. He said:
How strange there was a time when I had never heard of Omar Khayyam!
When that card arrived I had already read the dozen quatrains or so
in the morning paper, and was still steeped in the ecstasy of
delight which they occasioned. No poem had ever given me so much
pleasure before, and none has given me so much pleasure since. It
is the only poem I have ever carried about with me. It has not been
from under my hand all these years.
He had no general fondness for poetry; but many poems appealed to him,
and on occasion he liked to read them aloud. Once, during the dictation,
some verses were sent up by a young authoress who was waiting below for
his verdict. The lines pictured a phase of negro life, and she wished to
know if he thought them worthy of being read at some Tuskegee ceremony.
He did not fancy the idea of attending to the matter just then and said:
"Tell her she can read it. She has my permission. She may commit any
crime she wishes in my name."
It was urged that the verses were of high merit and the author a very
charming young lady.
"I'm very glad," he said, "and I am glad the Lord made her; I hope He
will make some more just like her. I don't always approve of His
handiwork, but in this case I do."
Then suddenly he added:
"Well, let me see it--no time like the present to get rid of these
He took the manuscript and gave such a rendition of those really fine
verses as I believe could not be improved upon. We were held breathless
by his dramatic fervor and power. He returned a message to that young
aspirant that must have made her heart sing. When the dictation had
ended that day, I mentioned his dramatic gift.
"Yes," he said, "it is a gift, I suppose, like spelling and punctuation
and smoking. I seem to have inherited all those." Continuing, he spoke
of inherited traits in general.
"There was Paige," he said; "an ignorant man who could not make a machine
himself that would stand up, nor draw the working plans for one; but he
invented the eighteen thousand details of the most wonderful machine the
world has ever known. He watched over the expert draftsmen, and
superintended the building of that marvel. Pratt & Whitney built it; but
it was Paige's machine, nevertheless--the child of his marvelous gift.
We don't create any of our traits; we inherit all of them. They have
come down to us from what we impudently call the lower animals. Man is
the last expression, and combines every attribute of the animal tribes
that preceded him. One or two conspicuous traits distinguish each family
of animals from the others, and those one or two traits are found in
every member of each family, and are so prominent as to eternally and
unchangeably establish the character of that branch of the animal world.
In these cases we concede that the several temperaments constitute a law
of God, a command of God, and that whatsoever is done in obedience to
that law is blameless. Man, in his evolution, inherited the whole sum of
these numerous traits, and with each trait its share of the law of God.
He widely differs from them in this: that he possesses not a single
characteristic that is equally prominent in each member of his race. You
can say the housefly is limitlessly brave, and in saying it you describe
the whole house-fly tribe; you can say the rabbit is limitlessly timid,
and by the phrase you describe the whole rabbit tribe; you can say the
spider and the tiger are limitlessly murderous, and by that phrase you
describe the whole spider and tiger tribes; you can say the lamb is
limitlessly innocent and sweet and gentle, and by that phrase you
describe all the lambs. There is hardly a creature that you cannot
definitely and satisfactorily describe by one single trait--except man.
Men are not all cowards like the rabbit, nor all brave like the house-
fly, nor all sweet and innocent and gentle like the lamb, nor all
murderous like the spider and the tiger and the wasp, nor all thieves
like the fox and the bluejay, nor all vain like the peacock, nor all
frisky like the monkey. These things are all in him somewhere, and they
develop according to the proportion of each he received in his allotment:
We describe a man by his vicious traits and condemn him; or by his fine
traits and gifts, and praise him and accord him high merit for their
possession. It is comical. He did not invent these things; he did not
stock himself with them. God conferred them upon him in the first
instant of creation. They constitute the law, and he could not escape
obedience to the decree any more than Paige could have built the type-
setter he invented, or the Pratt & Whitney machinists could have invented
the machine which they built."
He liked to stride up and down, smoking as he talked, and generally his
words were slowly measured, with varying pauses between them. He halted
in the midst of his march, and without a suggestion of a smile added:
"What an amusing creature the human being is!"
It is absolutely impossible, of course, to preserve the atmosphere and
personality of such talks as this--the delicacies of his speech and
manner which carried an ineffable charm. It was difficult, indeed, to
record the substance. I did not know shorthand, and I should not have
taken notes at such times in any case; but I had trained myself in
similar work to preserve, with a fair degree of accuracy, the form of
phrase, and to some extent its wording, if I could get hold of pencil and
paper soon enough afterward. In time I acquired a sort of phonographic
faculty; though it always seemed to me that the bouquet, the subtleness
of speech, was lacking in the result. Sometimes, indeed, he would
dictate next morning the substance of these experimental reflections; or
I would find among his papers memoranda and fragmentary manuscripts where
he had set them down himself, either before or after he had tried them
verbally. In these cases I have not hesitated to amend my notes where it
seemed to lend reality to his utterance, though, even so, there is always
lacking--and must be--the wonder of his personality.
IN THE DAY'S ROUND
A number of dictations of this period were about Susy, her childhood, and
the biography she had written of him, most of which he included in his
chapters. More than once after such dictations he reproached himself
bitterly for the misfortunes of his house. He consoled himself a little
by saying that Susy had died at the right time, in the flower of youth
and happiness; but he blamed himself for the lack of those things which
might have made her childhood still more bright. Once he spoke of the
biography she had begun, and added:
"Oh, I wish I had paid more attention to that little girl's work! If I
had only encouraged her now and then, what it would have meant to her,
and what a beautiful thing it would have been to have had her story of me
told in her own way, year after year! If I had shown her that I cared,
she might have gone on with it. We are always too busy for our children;
we never give them the time nor the interest they deserve. We lavish
gifts upon them; but the most precious gift-our personal association,
which means so much to them-we give grudgingly and throw it away on those
who care for it so little." Then, after a moment of silence: "But we are
repaid for it at last. There comes a time when we want their company and
their interest. We want it more than anything in the world, and we are
likely to be starved for it, just as they were starved so long ago.
There is no appreciation of my books that is so precious to me as
appreciation from my children. Theirs is the praise we want, and the
praise we are least likely to get."
His moods of remorse seemed to overwhelm him at times. He spoke of
Henry's death and little Langdon's, and charged himself with both.
He declared that for years he had filled Mrs. Clemens's life with
privations, that the sorrow of Susy's death had hastened her own end.
How darkly he painted it! One saw the jester, who for forty years had
been making the world laugh, performing always before a background of
But such moods were evanescent. He was oftener gay than somber. One
morning before we settled down to work he related with apparent joy how
he had made a failure of story-telling at a party the night before. An
artist had told him a yarn, he said, which he had considered the most
amusing thing in the world. But he had not been satisfied with it, and
had attempted to improve on it at the party. He had told it with what he
considered the nicest elaboration of detail and artistic effect, and when
he had concluded and expected applause, only a sickening silence had
"A crowd like that can make a good deal of silence when they combine," he
said, "and it probably lasted as long as ten seconds, because it seemed
an hour and a half. Then a lady said, with evident feeling, 'Lord, how
pathetic!' For a moment I was stupefied. Then the fountains of my great
deeps were broken up, and I rained laughter for forty days and forty
nights during as much as three minutes. By that time I realized it was
my fault. I had overdone the thing. I started in to deceive them with
elaborate burlesque pathos, in order to magnify the humorous explosion at
the end; but I had constructed such a fog of pathos that when I got to
the humor you couldn't find it."
He was likely to begin the morning with some such incident which perhaps
he did not think worth while to include in his dictations, and sometimes
he interrupted his dictations to relate something aside, or to outline
some plan or scheme which his thought had suggested.
Once, when he was telling of a magazine he had proposed to start, the
Back Number, which was, to contain reprints of exciting events from
history--newspaper gleanings--eye-witness narrations, which he said never
lost their freshness of interest--he suddenly interrupted himself to
propose that we start such a magazine in the near future--he to be its
publisher and I its editor. I think I assented, and the dictation
proceeded, but the scheme disappeared permanently.
He usually had a number of clippings or slips among the many books on the
bed beside him from which he proposed to dictate each day, but he seldom
could find the one most needed. Once, after a feverishly impatient
search for a few moments, he invited Miss Hobby to leave the room
temporarily, so, as he said, that he might swear. He got up and we began
to explore the bed, his profanity increasing amazingly with each moment.
It was an enormously large bed, and he began to disparage the size of it.
"One could lose a dog in this bed," he declared.
Finally I suggested that he turn over the clipping which he had in his
hand. He did so, and it proved to be the one he wanted. Its discovery
was followed by a period of explosions, only half suppressed as to
volume. Then he said:
"There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It's dangerous to
have to repress an emotion like that."
A moment later, when Miss Hobby returned, he was serene and happy again.
He was usually gentle during the dictations, and patient with those
around him--remarkably so, I thought, as a rule. But there were moments
that involved risk. He had requested me to interrupt his dictation at
any time that I found him repeating or contradicting himself, or
misstating some fact known to me. At first I hesitated to do this, and
cautiously mentioned the matter when he had finished. Then he was likely
"Why didn't you stop me? Why did you let me go on making a jackass of
myself when you could have saved me?"
So then I used to take the risk of getting struck by lightning, and
nearly always stopped him at the time. But if it happened that I upset
his thought the thunderbolt was apt to fly. He would say:
"Now you've knocked everything out of my head."
Then, of course, I would apologize and say I was sorry, which would
rectify matters, though half an hour later it might happen again. I
became lightning-proof at last; also I learned better to select the
psychological moment for the correction.
There was a humorous complexion to the dictations which perhaps I have
not conveyed to the reader at all; humor was his natural breath and life,
and was not wholly absent in his most somber intervals.
But poetry was there as well. His presence was full of it: the grandeur
of his figure; the grace of his movement; the music of his measured
speech. Sometimes there were long pauses when he was wandering in
distant valleys of thought and did not speak at all. At such times he
had a habit of folding and refolding the sleeve of his dressing-gown
around his wrist, regarding it intently, as it seemed. His hands were so
fair and shapely; the palms and finger-tips as pink as those of a child.
Then when he spoke he was likely to fling back his great, white mane, his
eyes half closed yet showing a gleam of fire between the lids, his
clenched fist lifted, or his index-finger pointing, to give force and
meaning to his words. I cannot recall the picture too often, or remind
myself too frequently how precious it was to be there, and to see him and
to hear him. I do not know why I have not said before that he smoked
continually during these dictations--probably as an aid to thought--
though he smoked at most other times, for that matter. His cigars were
of that delicious fragrance which characterizes domestic tobacco; but I
had learned early to take refuge in another brand when he offered me one.
They were black and strong and inexpensive, and it was only his early
training in the printing-office and on the river that had seasoned him to
tobacco of that temper. Rich, admiring friends used to send him
quantities of expensive imported cigars; but he seldom touched them, and
they crumbled away or were smoked by visitors. Once, to a minister who
proposed to send him something very special, he wrote:
I should accept your hospitable offer at once but for the fact that
I couldn't do it and remain honest. That is to say, if I allowed
you to send me what you believed to be good cigars it would
distinctly mean that I meant to smoke them, whereas I should do
nothing of the kind. I know a good cigar better than you do, for I
have had 60 years' experience.
No, that is not what I mean; I mean I know a bad cigar better than
anybody else. I judge by the price only; if it costs above 5 cents
I know it to be either foreign or half foreign & unsmokable--by me.
I have many boxes of Havana cigars, of all prices from 20 cents
apiece up to $1.66 apiece; I bought none of them, they were all
presents; they are an accumulation of several years. I have never
smoked one of them & never shall; I work them off on the visitor.
You shall have a chance when you come.
He smoked a pipe a good deal, and he preferred it to be old and violent;
and once, when he had bought a new, expensive English brier-root he
regarded it doubtfully for a time, and then handed it over to me, saying:
"I'd like to have you smoke that a year or two, and when it gets so you
can't stand it, maybe it will suit me."
I am happy to add that subsequently he presented me with the pipe
altogether, for it apparently never seemed to get qualified for his
taste, perhaps because the tobacco used was too mild.
One day, after the dictation, word was brought up that a newspaper man
was down-stairs who wished to see him concerning a report that Chauncey
Depew was to resign his Senatorial seat and Mark Twain was to be
nominated in his place. The fancy of this appealed to him, and the
reporter was allowed to come up. He was a young man, and seemed rather
nervous, and did not wish to state where the report had originated. His
chief anxiety was apparently to have Mark Twain's comment on the matter.
Clemens said very little at the time. He did not wish to be a Senator;
he was too busy just now dictating biography, and added that he didn't
think he would care for the job, anyway. When the reporter was gone,
however, certain humorous possibilities developed. The Senatorship would
be a stepping-stone to the Presidency, and with the combination of
humorist, socialist, and peace-patriot in the Presidential chair the
nation could expect an interesting time. Nothing further came of the
matter. There was no such report. The young newspaper man had invented
the whole idea to get a "story" out of Mark Twain. The item as printed
next day invited a good deal of comment, and Collier's Weekly made it a
text for an editorial on his mental vigor and general fitness for the
If it happened that he had no particular engagement for the afternoon, he
liked to walk out, especially when the pleasant weather came. Sometimes
we walked up Fifth Avenue, and I must admit that for a good while I could
not get rid of a feeling of self-consciousness, for most people turned to
look, though I was fully aware that I did not in the least come into
their scope of vision. They saw only Mark Twain. The feeling was a more
comfortably one at The Players, where we sometimes went for luncheon, for
the acquaintance there and the democracy of that institution had a
tendency to eliminate contrasts and incongruities. We sat at the Round
Table among those good fellows who were always so glad to welcome him.
Once we went to the "Music Master," that tender play of Charles Klein's,
given by that matchless interpreter, David Warfield. Clemens was
fascinated, and said more than once:
"It is as permanent as 'Rip Van Winkle.' Warfield, like Jefferson, can go
on playing it all his life."
We went behind when it was over, and I could see that Warfield glowed
with Mark Twain's unstinted approval. Later, when I saw him at The
Players, he declared that no former compliment had ever made him so
There were some billiard games going on between the champions Hoppe and
Sutton, at the Madison Square Garden, and Clemens, with his eager
fondness for the sport, was anxious to attend them. He did not like to
go anywhere alone, and one evening he invited me to accompany him. Just
as he stepped into the auditorium there was a vigorous round of applause.
The players stopped, somewhat puzzled, for no especially brilliant shot
had been made. Then they caught the figure of Mark Twain and realized
that the game, for the moment, was not the chief attraction. The
audience applauded again, and waved their handkerchiefs. Such a tribute
is not often paid to a private citizen.
Clemens had a great admiration for the young champion Hoppe, which the
billiardist's extreme youth and brilliancy invited, and he watched his
game with intense eagerness. When it was over the referee said a few
words and invited Mark Twain to speak. He rose and told them a story-
probably invented on the instant. He said:
"Once in Nevada I dropped into a billiard-room casually, and picked
up a cue and began to knock the balls around. The proprietor, who
was a red-haired man, with such hair as I have never seen anywhere
except on a torch, asked me if I would like to play. I said, 'Yes.'
He said, 'Knock the balls around a little and let me see how you can
shoot.' So I knocked them around, and thought I was doing pretty
well, when he said, 'That's all right; I'll play you left-handed.'
It hurt my pride, but I played him. We banked for the shot and he
won it. Then he commenced to play, and I commenced to chalk my cue
to get ready to play, and he went on playing, and I went on chalking
my cue; and he played and I chalked all through that game. When he
had run his string out I said:
"That's wonderful! perfectly wonderful! If you can play that way
left-handed what could you do right-handed?'
"'Couldn't do anything,' he said. 'I'm a left-handed man.'"
How it delighted them! I think it was the last speech of any sort he
made that season. A week or two later he went to Dublin, New Hampshire,
for the summer--this time to the Upton House, which had been engaged a
year before, the Copley Greene place being now occupied by its owner.
THE SECOND SUMMER AT DUBLIN
The Upton House stands on the edge of a beautiful beech forest some two
or three miles from Dublin, just under Monadnock--a good way up the
slope. It is a handsome, roomy frame-house, and had a long colonnaded
veranda overlooking one of the most beautiful landscape visions on the
planet: lake, forest, hill, and a far range of blue mountains--all the
handiwork of God is there. I had seen these things in paintings, but I
had not dreamed that such a view really existed. The immediate
foreground was a grassy slope, with ancient, blooming apple-trees; and
just at the right hand Monadnock rose, superb and lofty, sloping down to
the panorama below that stretched away, taking on an ever deeper blue,
until it reached that remote range on which the sky rested and the world
seemed to end. It was a masterpiece of the Greater Mind, and of the
highest order, perhaps, for it had in it nothing of the touch of man. A
church spire glinted here and there, but there was never a bit of field,
or stone wall, or cultivated land. It was lonely; it was unfriendly; it
cared nothing whatever for humankind; it was as if God, after creating
all the world, had wrought His masterwork here, and had been so engrossed
with the beauty of it that He had forgotten to give it a soul. In a
sense this was true, for He had not made the place suitable for the
habitation of men. It lacked the human touch; the human interest, and I
could never quite believe in its reality.
The time of arrival heightened this first impression. It was mid-May and
the lilacs were prodigally in bloom; but the bright sunlight was chill
and unnatural, and there was a west wind that laid the grass flat and
moaned through the house, and continued as steadily as if it must never
stop from year's end to year's end. It seemed a spectral land, a place
of supernatural beauty. Warm, still, languorous days would come, but
that first feeling of unreality would remain permanent. I believe Jean
Clemens was the only one who ever really loved the place. Something
about it appealed to her elemental side and blended with her melancholy
moods. She dressed always in white, and she was tall and pale and
classically beautiful, and she was often silent, like a spirit. She had
a little retreat for herself farther up the mountain-side, and spent most
of her days there wood-carving, which was her chief diversion.
Clara Clemens did not come to the place at all. She was not yet strong,
and went to Norfolk, Connecticut, where she could still be in quiet
retirement and have her physician's care. Miss Hobby came, and on the
21st of May the dictations were resumed. We began in his bedroom, as
before, but the feeling there was depressing--the absence of the great
carved bed and other furnishings, which had been so much a part of the
picture, was felt by all of us. Nothing of the old luxury and richness
was there. It was a summer-furnished place, handsome but with the
customary bareness. At the end of this first session he dressed in his
snowy flannels, which he had adopted in the place of linen for summer
wear, and we descended to the veranda and looked out over that wide,
wonderful expanse of scenery.
"I think I shall like it," he said, "when I get acquainted with it, and
get it classified and labeled, and I think we'll do our dictating out
here hereafter. It ought to be an inspiring place."
So the dictations were transferred to the long veranda, and he was
generally ready for them, a white figure pacing up and down before that
panoramic background. During the earlier, cooler weeks he usually
continued walking with measured step during the dictations, pausing now
and then to look across the far-lying horizon. When it stormed we moved
into the great living-room, where at one end there was a fireplace with
blazing logs, and at the other the orchestrelle, which had once more been
freighted up those mountain heights for the comfort of its harmonies.
Sometimes, when the wind and rain were beating outside, and he was
striding up and down the long room within, with only the blurred shapes
of mountains and trees outlined through the trailing rain, the feeling of
the unreality became so strong that it was hard to believe that somewhere
down below, beyond the rain and the woods, there was a literal world--a
commonplace world, where the ordinary things of life were going on in the
usual way. When the dictation finished early, there would be music--the
music that he loved most--Beethoven's symphonies, or the Schubert
impromptu, or the sonata by Chopin.--[Schubert, Op. 142, No. 2; Chopin,
Op. 37, No. 2.]--It is easy to understand that this carried one a remove
farther from the customary things of life. It was a setting far out of
the usual, though it became that unique white figure and his occupation.
In my notes, made from day to day, I find that I have set down more than
once an impression of the curious unreality of the place and its
surroundings, which would show that it was not a mere passing fancy.
I had lodgings in the village, and drove out mornings for the dictations,
but often came out again afoot on pleasant afternoons; for he was not
much occupied with social matters, and there was opportunity for quiet,
informing interviews. There was a woods path to the Upton place, and it
was a walk through a fairyland. A part of the way was through such a
growth of beech timber as I have never seen elsewhere: tall, straight,
mottled trees with an undergrowth of laurel, the sunlight sifting
through; one found it easy to expect there storybook ladies, wearing
crowns and green mantles, riding on white palfreys. Then came a more
open way, an abandoned grass-grown road full of sunlight and perfume; and
this led to a dim, religious place, a natural cathedral, where the
columns were stately pine-trees branching and meeting at the top: a
veritable temple in which it always seemed that music was about to play.
You crossed a brook and climbed a little hill, and pushed through a hedge
into a place more open, and the house stood there among the trees.
The days drifted along, one a good deal like another, except, as the
summer deepened, the weather became warmer, the foliage changed, a drowsy
haze gathered along the valleys and on the mountain-side. He sat more
often now in a large rocking-chair, and generally seemed to be looking
through half-dosed lids toward the Monadnock heights, that were always
changing in aspect-in color and in form--as cloud shapes drifted by or
gathered in those lofty hollows. White and yellow butterflies hovered
over the grass, and there were some curious, large black ants--the
largest I have ever seen and quite harmless--that would slip in and out
of the cracks on the veranda floor, wholly undisturbed by us. Now and
then a light flutter of wind would come murmuring up from the trees
below, and when the apple-bloom was falling there would be a whirl of
white and pink petals that seemed a cloud of smaller butterflies.
On June 1st I find in my note-book this entry:
Warm and pleasant. The dictation about Grant continues; a great
privilege to hear this foremost man, of letters review his
associations with that foremost man of arms. He remained seated
today, dressed in white as usual, a large yellow pansy in his
buttonhole, his white hair ruffled by the breeze. He wears his worn
morocco slippers with black hose; sits in the rocker, smoking and
looking out over the hazy hills, delivering his sentences with a
measured accuracy that seldom calls for change. He is speaking just
now of a Grant dinner which he attended where Depew spoke. One is
impressed with the thought that we are looking at and listening to
the war-worn veteran of a thousand dinners--the honored guest of
many; an honored figure of all. Earlier, when he had been
chastising some old offender, he added, "However, he's dead, and I
forgive him." Then, after a moment's reflection, "No; strike that
last sentence out." When we laughed, he added, "We can't forgive
A few days later--it was June 4th, the day before the second anniversary
of the death of Mrs. Clemens--we found him at first in excellent humor
from the long dictation of the day before. Then his mind reverted to the
tragedy of the season, and he began trying to tell of it. It was hard
work. He walked back and forth in the soft sunlight, saying almost
nothing. He gave it up at last, remarking, "We will not work to-morrow."
So we went away.
He did not dictate on the 5th or the 6th, but on the 7th he resumed the
story of Mrs. Clemens's last days at Florence. The weather had changed:
the sunlight and warmth had all gone; a chill, penetrating mist was on
the mountains; Monadnock was blotted out. We expected him to go to the
fire, but evidently he could not bear being shut in with that subject in
his mind. A black cape was brought out and thrown about his shoulders,
which seemed to fit exactly into the somberness of the picture. For two
hours or more we sat there in the gloom and chill, while he paced up and
down, detailing as graphically as might be that final chapter in the life
of the woman he had loved.
It is hardly necessary to say that beyond the dictation Clemens did very
little literary work during these months. He had brought his "manuscript
trunk" as usual, thinking, perhaps, to finish the "microbe" story and
other of the uncompleted things; but the dictation gave him sufficient
mental exercise, and he did no more than look over his "stock in trade,"
as he called it, and incorporate a few of the finished manuscripts into
"autobiography." Among these were the notes of his trip down the Rhone,
made in 1891, and the old Stormfield story, which he had been treasuring
and suppressing so long. He wrote Howells in June:
The dictating goes lazily and pleasantly on. With intervals. I
find that I've been at it, off & on, nearly two hours for 155 days
since January 9. To be exact, I've dictated 75 hours in 80 days &
loafed 75 days. I've added 60,000 words in the month that I've been
here; which indicates that I've dictated during 20 days of that
time--40 hours, at an average of 1,500 words an hour. It's a
plenty, & I'm satisfied.
There's a good deal of "fat." I've dictated (from January 9)
210,000 words, & the "fat" adds about 50,000 more.
The "fat" is old pigeonholed things of the years gone by which I or
editors didn't das't to print. For instance, I am dumping in the
little old book which I read to you in Hartford about 30 years ago &
which you said "publish & ask Dean Stanley to furnish an
introduction; he'll do it" (Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven).
It reads quite to suit me without altering a word now that it isn't
to see print until I am dead.
To-morrow I mean to dictate a chapter which will get my heirs &
assigns burned alive if they venture to print it this side of A.D.
2006--which I judge they won't. There'll be lots of such chapters
if I live 3 or 4 years longer. The edition of A.D. 2006 will make a
stir when it comes out. I shall be hovering around taking notice,
along with other dead pals. You are invited.
The chapter which was to invite death at the stake for his successors was
naturally one of religious heresies a violent attack on the orthodox,
scriptural God, but really an expression of the highest reverence for the
God which, as he said, had created the earth and sky and the music of the
constellations. Mark Twain once expressed himself concerning reverence
and the lack of it:
"I was never consciously and purposely irreverent in my life, yet one
person or another is always charging me with a lack of reverence.
Reverence for what--for whom? Who is to decide what ought to command my
reverence--my neighbor or I? I think I ought to do the electing myself.
The Mohammedan reveres Mohammed--it is his privilege; the Christian
doesn't--apparently that is his privilege; the account is square enough.
They haven't any right to complain of the other, yet they do complain of
each other, and that is where the unfairness comes in. Each says that
the other is irreverent, and both are mistaken, for manifestly you can't
have reverence for a thing that doesn't command it. If you could do that
you could digest what you haven't eaten, and do other miracles and get a
He was not reading many books at this time--he was inclined rather to be
lazy, as he said, and to loaf during the afternoons; but I remember that
he read aloud 'After the Wedding' and 'The Mother'--those two beautiful
word-pictures by Howells--which he declared sounded the depths of
humanity with a deep-sea lead. Also he read a book by William Allen
White, 'In Our Town', a collection of tales that he found most admirable.
I think he took the trouble to send White a personal, hand-written letter
concerning them, although, with the habit of dictation, he had begun, as
he said, to "loathe the use of the pen."
There were usually some sort of mild social affairs going on in the
neighborhood, luncheons and afternoon gatherings like those of the
previous year, though he seems to have attended fewer of them, for he did
not often leave the house. Once, at least, he assisted in an afternoon
entertainment at the Dublin Club, where he introduced his invention of
the art of making an impromptu speech, and was assisted in its
demonstration by George de Forest Brush and Joseph Lindon Smith, to the
very great amusement of a crowd of summer visitors. The "art" consisted
mainly of having on hand a few reliable anecdotes and a set formula which
would lead directly to them from any given subject.
Twice or more he collected the children of the neighborhood for charades
and rehearsed them, and took part in the performance, as in the Hartford
days. Sometimes he drove out or took an extended walk. But these things
Now and then during the summer he made a trip to New York of a semi-
business nature, usually going by the way of Fairhaven, where he would
visit for a few days, journeying the rest of the way in Mr. Rogers's
yacht. Once they made a cruise of considerable length to Bar Harbor and
elsewhere. Here is an amusing letter which he wrote to Mrs. Rogers after
such a visit:
DEAR MRS. ROGERS,--In packing my things in your house yesterday
morning I inadvertently put in some articles that was laying around,
I thinking about theology & not noticing, the way this family does
in similar circumstances like these. Two books, Mr. Rogers' brown
slippers, & a ham. I thought it was ourn, it looks like one we used
to have. I am very sorry it happened, but it sha'n't occur again &
don't you worry. He will temper the wind to the shorn lamb & I will
send some of the things back anyway if there is some that won't
In time Mark Twain became very lonely in Dublin. After the brilliant
winter the contrast was too great. He was not yet ready for exile. In
one of his dictations he said:
The skies are enchantingly blue. The world is a dazzle of sunshine.
Monadnock is closer to us than usual by several hundred yards. The
vast extent of spreading valley is intensely green--the lakes as
intensely blue. And there is a new horizon, a remoter one than we
have known before, for beyond the mighty half-circle of hazy
mountains that form the usual frame of the picture rise certain
shadowy great domes that are unfamiliar to our eyes . . . .
But there is a defect--only one, but it is a defect which almost
entitles it to be spelled with a capital D. This is the defect of
loneliness. We have not a single neighbor who is a neighbor.
Nobody lives within two miles of us except Franklin MacVeagh, and he
is the farthest off of any, because he is in Europe . . . .
I feel for Adam and Eve now, for I know how it was with them. I am
existing, broken-hearted, in a Garden of Eden.... The Garden of
Eden I now know was an unendurable solitude. I know that the advent
of the serpent was a welcome change--anything for society . . . .
I never rose to the full appreciation of the utter solitude of this
place until a symbol of it--a compact and visible allegory of it--
furnished me the lacking lift three days ago. I was standing alone
on this veranda, in the late afternoon, mourning over the stillness,
the far-spreading, beautiful desolation, and the absence of visible
life, when a couple of shapely and graceful deer came sauntering
across the grounds and stopped, and at their leisure impudently
looked me over, as if they had an idea of buying me as bric-a-brac.
Then they seemed to conclude that they could do better for less
money elsewhere, and they sauntered indolently away and disappeared
among the trees. It sized up this solitude. It is so complete, so
perfect, that even the wild animals are satisfied with it. Those
dainty creatures were not in the least degree afraid of me.
This was no more than a mood--though real enough while it lasted--somber,
and in its way regal. It was the loneliness of a king--King Lear. Yet
he returned gladly enough to solitude after each absence.
It was just before one of his departures that I made another set of
pictures of him, this time on the colonnaded veranda, where his figure
had become so familiar. He had determined to have his hair cut when he
reached New York, and I was anxious to get the pictures before this
happened. When the proofs came seven of them--he arranged them as a
series to illustrate what he called "The Progress of a Moral Purpose."
He ordered a number of sets of this series, and he wrote a legend on each
photograph, numbering them from 1 to 7, laying each set in a sheet of
letter-paper which formed a sort of wrapper, on which was written:
This series of q photographs registers with scientific precision,
stage by stage, the progress of a moral purpose through the
mind of the human race's Oldest Friend. S. L. C.
He added a personal inscription, and sent one to each of his more
intimate friends. One of the pictures amused him more than the others,
because during the exposure a little kitten, unnoticed, had walked into
it, and paused near his foot. He had never outgrown his love for cats,
and he had rented this kitten and two others for the summer from a
neighbor. He didn't wish to own them, he said, for then he would have to
leave them behind uncared for, so he preferred to rent them and pay
sufficiently to insure their subsequent care. These kittens he called
Sackcloth and Ashes--Ashes being the joint name of the two that looked
exactly alike, and so did not need distinctive titles. Their gambols
always amused him. He would stop any time in the midst of dictation to
enjoy them. Once, as he was about to enter the screen-door that led into
the hall, two of the kittens ran up in front of him and stood waiting.
With grave politeness he opened the door, made a low bow, and stepped
back and said: "Walk in, gentlemen. I always give precedence to
royalty." And the kittens marched in, tails in air. All summer long
they played up and down the wide veranda, or chased grasshoppers and
butterflies down the clover slope. It was a never-ending amusement to
him to see them jump into the air after some insect, miss it and tumble
back, and afterward jump up, with a surprised expression and a look of
disappointment and disgust. I remember once, when he was walking up and
down discussing some very serious subject--and one of the kittens was
lying on the veranda asleep--a butterfly came drifting along three feet
or so above the floor. The kitten must have got a glimpse of the insect
out of the corner of its eye, and perhaps did not altogether realize its
action. At all events, it suddenly shot straight up into the air,
exactly like a bounding rubber ball, missed the butterfly, fell back on
the porch floor with considerable force and with much surprise. Then it
sprang to its feet, and, after spitting furiously once or twice, bounded
away. Clemens had seen the performance, and it completely took his
subject out of his mind. He laughed extravagantly, and evidently cared
more for that moment's entertainment than for many philosophies.
In that remote solitude there was one important advantage--there was no
procession of human beings with axes to grind, and few curious callers.
Occasionally an automobile would find its way out there and make a
circuit of the drive, but this happened too seldom to annoy him. Even
newspaper men rarely made the long trip from Boston or New York to secure
his opinions, and when they came it was by permission and appointment.
Newspaper telegrams arrived now and then, asking for a sentiment on some
public condition or event, and these he generally answered willingly
enough. When the British Premier, Campbell-Bannerman, celebrated his
seventieth birthday, the London Tribune and the New York Herald requested
a tribute. He furnished it, for Bannerman was a very old friend. He had
known him first at Marienbad in '91, and in Vienna in '98, in daily
intercourse, when they had lived at the same hotel. His tribute ran:
To HIS EXCELLENCY THE BRITISH PREMIER,--Congratulations, not condolences.
Before seventy we are merely respected, at best, and we have to behave
all the time, or we lose that asset; but after seventy we are respected,
esteemed, admired, revered, and don't have to behave unless we want to.
When I first knew you, Honored Sir, one of us was hardly even respected.
He had some misgivings concerning the telegram after it had gone, but he
did not recall it.
Clemens became the victim of a very clever hoax that summer. One day a
friend gave him two examples of the most deliciously illiterate letters,
supposed to have been written by a woman who had contributed certain
articles of clothing to the San Francisco sufferers, and later wished to
recall them because of the protests of her household. He was so sure
that the letters were genuine that he included them in his dictations,
after reading them aloud with great effect. To tell the truth, they did
seem the least bit too well done, too literary in their illiteracy; but
his natural optimism refused to admit of any suspicion, and a little
later he incorporated one of the Jennie Allen letters in a speech which
he made at a Press Club dinner in New York on the subject of simplified
spelling--offering it as an example of language with phonetic brevity
exercising its supreme function, the direct conveyance of ideas. The
letters, in the end, proved to be the clever work of Miss Grace Donworth,
who has since published them serially and in book form. Clemens was not
at all offended or disturbed by the exposure. He even agreed to aid the
young author in securing a publisher, and wrote to Miss Stockbridge,
through whom he had originally received the documents:
DEAR MISS STOCKBRIDGE (if she really exists),
257 Benefit Street (if there is any such place):
Yes, I should like a copy of that other letter. This whole fake is
delightful; & I tremble with fear that you are a fake yourself &
that I am your guileless prey. (But never mind, it isn't any
Now as to publication----
He set forth his views and promised his assistance when enough of the
letters should be completed.
Clemens allowed his name to be included with the list of spelling
reformers, but he never employed any of the reforms in his letters or
writing. His interest was mainly theoretical, and when he wrote or spoke
on the subject his remarks were not likely to be testimonials in its
favor. His own theory was that the alphabet needed reform, first of all,
so that each letter or character should have one sound, and one sound
only; and he offered as a solution of this an adaptation of shorthand.
He wrote and dictated in favor of this idea to the end of his life. Once
"Our alphabet is pure insanity. It can hardly spell any large word in
the English language with any degree of certainty. Its sillinesses are
quite beyond enumeration. English orthography may need reforming and
simplifying, but the English alphabet needs it a good many times as
He would naturally favor simplicity in anything. I remember him reading,
as an example of beautiful English, The Death of King Arthur, by Sir
Thomas Malory, and his verdict:
"That is one of the most beautiful things ever written in English, and
written when we had no vocabulary."
"A vocabulary, then, is sometimes a handicap?"
"It is indeed."
Still I think it was never a handicap with him, but rather the plumage of
flight. Sometimes, when just the right word did not come, he would turn
his head a little at different angles, as if looking about him for the
precise term. He would find it directly, and it was invariably the word
needed. Most writers employ, now and again, phrases that do not sharply
present the idea--that blur the picture like a poor opera-glass. Mark
Twain's English always focused exactly.
"WHAT IS MAN?" AND THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Clemens decided to publish anonymously, or, rather, to print privately,
the Gospel, which he had written in Vienna some eight years before and
added to from time to time. He arranged with Frank Doubleday to take
charge of the matter, and the De Vinne Press was engaged to do the work.
The book was copyrighted in the name of J. W. Bothwell, the
superintendent of the De Vinne company, and two hundred and fifty
numbered copies were printed on hand-made paper, to be gradually
distributed to intimate friends.--[In an introductory word (dated
February, 1905) the author states that the studies for these papers had
been made twenty-five or twenty-seven years before. He probably referred
to the Monday Evening Club essay, "What Is Happiness?" (February, 1883).
See chap. cxli.]--A number of the books were sent to newspaper
reviewers, and so effectually had he concealed the personality of his
work that no critic seems to have suspected the book's authorship. It
was not over-favorably received. It was generally characterized as a
clever, and even brilliant, expose of philosophies which were no longer
startlingly new. The supremacy of self-interest and "man the
irresponsible machine" are the main features of 'What Is Man' and both of
these and all the rest are comprehended in his wider and more absolute
doctrine of that inevitable life-sequence which began with the first
created spark. There can be no training of the ideals, "upward and still
upward," no selfishness and unselfishness, no atom of voluntary effort
within the boundaries of that conclusion. Once admitting the postulate,
that existence is merely a sequence of cause and effect beginning with
the primal atom, and we have a theory that must stand or fall as a whole.
We cannot say that man is a creature of circumstance and then leave him
free to select his circumstance, even in the minutest fractional degree.
It was selected for him with his disposition; in that first instant of
created life. Clemens himself repeatedly emphasized this doctrine, and
once, when it was suggested to him that it seemed to "surround every
thing, like the sky," he answered:
"Yes, like the sky; you can't break through anywhere."
Colonel Harvey came to Dublin that summer and persuaded Clemens to let
him print some selections from the dictations in the new volume of the
North American Review, which he proposed to issue fortnightly. The
matter was discussed a good deal, and it was believed that one hundred
thousand words could be selected which would be usable forthwith, as well
as in that long-deferred period for which it was planned. Colonel Harvey
agreed to take a copy of the dictated matter and make the selections
himself, and this plan was carried out. It may be said that most of the
chapters were delightful enough; though, had it been possible to edit
them with the more positive documents as a guide, certain complications
might have been avoided. It does not matter now, and it was not a matter
of very wide import then.
The payment of these chapters netted Clemens thirty thousand dollars--a
comfortable sum, which he promptly proposed to spend in building on the
property at Redding. He engaged John Mead Howells to prepare some
Clara Clemens, at Norfolk, was written to of the matter.
A little later I joined her in Redding, and she was the first of the
family to see that beautiful hilltop. She was well pleased with the
situation, and that day selected the spot where the house should stand.
Clemens wrote Howells that he proposed to call it "Autobiography House,"
as it was to be built out of the Review money, and he said:
"If you will build on my farm and live there it will set Mrs. Howells's
health up for sure. Come and I'll sell you the site for twenty-five
dollars. John will tell you it is a choice place."
The unusual summer was near its close. In my notebook, under date of
September 16th, appears this entry:
Windy in valleys but not cold. This veranda is protected. It is
peaceful here and perfect, but we are at the summer's end.
This is my last entry, and the dictations must have ceased a few days
later. I do not remember the date of the return to New York, and
apparently I made no record of it; but I do not think it could have been
later than the 20th. It had been four months since the day of arrival, a
long, marvelous summer such as I would hardly know again. When I think
of that time I shall always hear the ceaseless slippered, shuffling walk,
and see the white figure with its rocking, rolling movement passing up
and down the long gallery, with that preternaturally beautiful landscape
behind, and I shall hear his deliberate speech--always deliberate, save
at rare intervals; always impressive, whatever the subject might be;
whether recalling some old absurdity of youth, or denouncing orthodox
creeds, or detailing the shortcomings of human-kind.
The return to New York marked the beginning of a new era in my relations
with Mark Twain. I have not meant to convey up to this time that there
was between us anything resembling a personal friendship. Our relations
were friendly, certainly, but they were relations of convenience and
mainly of a business, or at least of a literary nature. He was twenty-
six years my senior, and the discrepancy of experience and attainments
was not measurable. With such conditions friendship must be a deliberate
growth; something there must be to bridge the dividing gulf. Truth
requires the confession that, in this case, the bridge took a very solid,
material form, it being, in fact, nothing less than a billiard-table.--
[Clemens had been without a billiard-table since 1891, the old one having
been disposed of on the departure from Hartford.]
It was a present from Mrs. Henry H. Rogers, and had been intended for
his Christmas; but when he heard of it he could not wait, and suggested
delicately that if he had it "right now" he could begin using it sooner.
So he went one day with Mr. Rogers to the Balke-Collender Company, and
they selected a handsome combination table suitable to all games--the
best that money could buy. He was greatly excited over the prospect, and
his former bedroom was carefully measured, to be certain that it was
large enough for billiard purposes. Then his bed was moved into the
study, and the bookcases and certain appropriate pictures were placed and
hung in the billiard-room to give it the proper feeling.
The billiard-table arrived and was put in place, the brilliant green
cloth in contrast with the rich red wallpaper and the bookbindings and
pictures making the room wonderfully handsome and inviting.
Meantime, Clemens, with one of his sudden impulses, had conceived the
notion of spending the winter in Egypt, on the Nile. He had gone so far,
within a few hours after the idea developed, as to plan the time of his
departure, and to partially engage a traveling secretary, so that he
might continue his dictations. He was quite full of the idea just at the
moment when the billiard table was being installed. He had sent for a
book on the subject--the letters of Lady Duff-Gordon, whose daughter,
Janet Ross, had become a dear friend in Florence during the Viviani days.
He spoke of this new purpose on the morning when we renewed the New York
dictations, a month or more following the return from Dublin. When the
dictation ended he said:
"Have you any special place to lunch to-day?"
I replied that I had not.
"Lunch here," he said, "and we'll try the new billiard-table."
I said what was eminently true--that I could not play--that I had never
played more "than a few games of pool, and those very long ago.
"No matter," he answered; "the poorer you play, the better I shall like
So I remained for luncheon and we began, November 2d, the first game ever
played on the Christmas table. We played the English game, in which
caroms and pockets both count. I had a beginner's luck, on the whole,
and I remember it as a riotous, rollicking game, the beginning of a
closer understanding between us--of a distinct epoch in our association.
When it was ended he said:
"I'm not going to Egypt. There was a man here yesterday afternoon who
said it was bad for bronchitis, and, besides, it's too far away from this
He suggested that I come back in the evening and play some more. I did
so, and the game lasted until after midnight. He gave me odds, of
course, and my "nigger luck," as he called it, continued. It kept him
sweating and swearing feverishly to win. Finally, once I made a great
fluke--a carom, followed by most of the balls falling into the pockets.
"Well," he said, "when you pick up that cue this damn table drips at
After that the morning dictations became a secondary interest. Like a
boy, he was looking forward to the afternoon of play, and it never seemed
to come quick enough to suit him. I remained regularly for luncheon, and
he was inclined to cut the courses short, that he might the sooner get
up-stairs to the billiard-room. His earlier habit of not eating in the
middle of the day continued; but he would get up and dress, and walk
about the dining-room in his old fashion, talking that marvelous,
marvelous talk which I was always trying to remember, and with only
fractional success at best. To him it was only a method of killing time.
I remember once, when he had been discussing with great earnestness the
Japanese question, he suddenly noticed that the luncheon was about
ending, and he said:
"Now we'll proceed to more serious matters--it's your--shot." And he was
quite serious, for the green cloth and the rolling balls afforded him a
much larger interest.
To the donor of his new possession Clemens wrote:
DEAR MRS. ROGERS,--The billiard-table is better than the doctors.
I have a billiardist on the premises, & walk not less than ten miles
every day with the cue in my hand. And the walking is not the whole
of the exercise, nor the most health giving part of it, I think.
Through the multitude of the positions and attitudes it brings into
play every muscle in the body & exercises them all.
The games begin right after luncheons, daily, & continue until
midnight, with 2 hours' intermission for dinner & music. And so it
is 9 hours' exercise per day & 10 or 12 on Sunday. Yesterday & last
night it was 12--& I slept until 8 this morning without waking. The
billiard-table as a Sabbath-breaker can beat any coal-breaker in
Pennsylvania & give it 30 in the game. If Mr. Rogers will take to
daily billiards he can do without the doctors & the massageur, I
We are really going to build a house on my farm, an hour & a half
from New York. It is decided.
With love & many thanks.
S. L. C.
Naturally enough, with continued practice I improved my game, and he
reduced my odds accordingly. He was willing to be beaten, but not too
often. Like any other boy, he preferred to have the balance in his
favor. We set down a record of the games, and he went to bed happier if
the tally-sheet showed him winner.
It was natural, too, that an intimacy of association and of personal
interest should grow under such conditions--to me a precious boon--and I
wish here to record my own boundless gratitude to Mrs. Rogers for her
gift, which, whatever it meant to him, meant so much more to me. The
disparity of ages no longer existed; other discrepancies no longer
mattered. The pleasant land of play is a democracy where such things do
To recall all the humors and interesting happenings of those early
billiard-days would be to fill a large volume. I can preserve no more
than a few characteristic phases.
He was not an even-tempered player. When the balls were perverse in
their movements and his aim unsteady, he was likely to become short with
his opponent--critical and even fault-finding. Then presently a reaction
would set in, and he would be seized with remorse. He would become
unnecessarily gentle and kindly--even attentive--placing the balls as I
knocked them into the pockets, hurrying from one end of the table to
render this service, endeavoring to show in every way except by actual
confession in words that he was sorry for what seemed to him, no doubt,
an unworthy display of temper, unjustified irritation.
Naturally, this was a mood that I enjoyed less than that which had
induced it. I did not wish him to humble himself; I was willing that he
should be severe, even harsh, if he felt so inclined; his age, his
position, his genius entitled him to special privileges; yet I am glad,
as I remember it now, that the other side revealed itself, for it
completes the sum of his great humanity.
Indeed, he was always not only human, but superhuman; not only a man, but
superman. Nor does this term apply only to his psychology. In no other
human being have I ever seen such physical endurance. I was
comparatively a young man, and by no means an invalid; but many a time,
far in the night, when I was ready to drop with exhaustion, he was still
as fresh and buoyant and eager for the game as at the moment of
beginning. He smoked and smoked continually, and followed the endless
track around the billiard-table with the light step of youth. At three
or four o'clock in the morning he would urge just one more game, and
would taunt me for my weariness. I can truthfully testify that never
until the last year of his life did he willingly lay down the billiard-
cue, or show the least suggestion of fatigue.
He played always at high pressure. Now and then, in periods of
adversity, he would fly into a perfect passion with things in general.
But, in the end, it was a sham battle, and he saw the uselessness and
humor of it, even in the moment of his climax. Once, when he found it
impossible to make any of his favorite shots, he became more and more
restive, the lightning became vividly picturesque as the clouds
blackened. Finally, with a regular thunder-blast, he seized the cue with
both hands and literally mowed the balls across the table, landing one or
two of them on the floor. I do not recall his exact remarks during the
performance; I was chiefly concerned in getting out of the way, and those
sublime utterances were lost. I gathered up the balls and we went on
playing as if nothing had happened, only he was very gentle and sweet,
like the sun on the meadows after the storm has passed by. After a
little he said:
"This is a most amusing game. When you play badly it amuses me, and when
I play badly and lose my temper it certainly must amuse you."
His enjoyment of his opponent's perplexities was very keen. When he had
left the balls in some unfortunate position which made it almost
impossible for me to score he would laugh boisterously. I used to affect
to be injured and disturbed by this ridicule. Once, when he had made the
conditions unusually hard for me, and was enjoying the situation
accordingly, I was tempted to remark:
"Whenever I see you laugh at a thing like that I always doubt your sense
of humor." Which seemed to add to his amusement.
Sometimes, when the balls were badly placed for me, he would offer
ostensible advice, suggesting that I should shoot here and there--shots
that were possible, perhaps, but not promising. Often I would follow his
advice, and then when I failed to score his amusement broke out afresh.
Other billiardists came from time to time: Colonel Harvey, Mr. Duneka,
and Major Leigh, of the Harper Company, and Peter Finley Dunne (Mr.
Dooley); but they were handicapped by their business affairs, and were
not dependable for daily and protracted sessions. Any number of his
friends were willing, even eager, to come for his entertainment; but the
percentage of them who could and would devote a number of hours each day
to being beaten at billiards and enjoy the operation dwindled down to a
single individual. Even I could not have done it--could not have
afforded it, however much I might have enjoyed the diversion--had it not
been contributory to my work. To me the association was invaluable; it
drew from him a thousand long-forgotten incidents; it invited a stream of
picturesque comments and philosophies; it furnished the most intimate
insight into his character.
He was not always glad to see promiscuous callers, even some one that he
might have met pleasantly elsewhere. One afternoon a young man whom he
had casually invited to "drop in some day in town" happened to call in
the midst of a very close series of afternoon games. It would all have
been well enough if the visitor had been content to sit quietly on the
couch and "bet on the game," as Clemens suggested, after the greetings
were over; but he was a very young man, and he felt the necessity of
being entertaining. He insisted on walking about the room and getting in
the way, and on talking about the Mark Twain books he had read, and the
people he had met from time to time who had known Mark Twain on the
river, or on the Pacific coast, or elsewhere. I knew how fatal it was
for him to talk to Clemens during his play, especially concerning matters
most of which had been laid away. I trembled for our visitor. If I
could have got his ear privately I should have said: "For heaven's sake
sit down and keep still or go away! There's going to be a combination of
earthquake and cyclone and avalanche if you keep this thing up."
I did what I could. I looked at my watch every other minute. At last,
in desperation, I suggested that I retire from the game and let the
visitor have my cue. I suppose I thought this would eliminate an element
of danger. He declined on the ground that he seldom played, and
continued his deadly visit. I have never been in an atmosphere so
fraught with danger. I did not know how the game stood, and I played
mechanically and forgot to count the score. Clemens's face was grim and
set and savage. He no longer ventured even a word. By and by I noticed
that he was getting white, and I said, privately, "Now, this young man's
hour has come."
It was certainly by the mercy of God just then that the visitor said:
"I'm sorry, but I've got to go. I'd like to stay longer, but I've got an
engagement for dinner."
I don't remember how he got out, but I know that tons lifted as the door
closed behind him. Clemens made his shot, then very softly said:
"If he had stayed another five minutes I should have offered him twenty-
five cents to go."
But a moment later he glared at me.
"Why in nation did you offer him your cue?"
"Wasn't that the courteous thing to do?" I asked.
"No!" he ripped out. "The courteous and proper thing would have been to
strike him dead. Did you want to saddle that disaster upon us for life?"
He was blowing off steam, and I knew it and encouraged it. My impulse
was to lie down on the couch and shout with hysterical laughter, but I
suspected that would be indiscreet. He made some further comment on the
propriety of offering a visitor a cue, and suddenly began to sing a
travesty of an old hymn:
"How tedious are they
Who their sovereign obey,"
and so loudly that I said:
"Aren't you afraid he'll hear you and come back?" Whereupon he pretended
alarm and sang under his breath, and for the rest of the evening was in
I have recalled this incident merely as a sample of things that were
likely to happen at any time in his company, and to show the difficulty
one might find in fitting himself to his varying moods. He was not to be
learned in a day, or a week, or a month; some of those who knew him
longest did not learn him at all.
We celebrated his seventy-first birthday by playing billiards all day.
He invented a new game for the occasion; inventing rules for it with
almost every shot.
It happened that no member of the family was at home on this birthday.
Ill health had banished every one, even the secretary. Flowers,
telegrams, and congratulations came, and there was a string of callers;
but he saw no one beyond some intimate friends--the Gilders--late in the
afternoon. When they had gone we went down to dinner. We were entirely
alone, and I felt the great honor of being his only guest on such an
occasion. Once between the courses, when he rose, as usual, to walk
about, he wandered into the drawing-room, and seating himself at the
orchestrelle began to play the beautiful flower-song from "Faust." It
was a thing I had not seen him do before, and I never saw him do it
again. When he came back to the table he said:
"Speaking of companions of the long ago, after fifty years they become
only shadows and might as well be in the grave. Only those whom one has
really loved mean anything at all. Of my playmates I recall John Briggs,
John Garth, and Laura Hawkins--just those three; the rest I buried long
ago, and memory cannot even find their graves."
He was in his loveliest humor all that day and evening; and that night,
when he stopped playing, he said:
"I have never had a pleasanter day at this game."
I answered, "I hope ten years from to-night we shall still be playing
"Yes," he said, "still playing the best game on earth."
PHILOSOPHY AND PESSIMISM
In a letter to MacAlister, written at this time, he said:
The doctors banished Jean to the country 5 weeks ago; they banished
my secretary to the country for a fortnight last Saturday; they
banished Clara to the country for a fortnight last Monday . . . .
They banished me to Bermuda to sail next Wednesday, but I struck and
sha'n't go. My complaint is permanent bronchitis & is one of the
very best assets I've got, for it excuses me from every public
function this winter--& all other winters that may come.
If he had bronchitis when this letter was written, it must have been of a
very mild form, for it did not interfere with billiard games, which were
more protracted and strenuous than at almost any other period. I
conclude, therefore, that it was a convenient bronchitis, useful on
For a full ten days we were alone in the big house with the servants. It
was a holiday most of the time. We hurried through the mail in the
morning and the telephone calls; then, while I answered such letters as
required attention, he dictated for an hour or so to Miss Hobby, after
which, billiards for the rest of the day and evening. When callers were
reported by the butler, I went down and got rid of them. Clara Clemens,
before her departure, had pinned up a sign, "NO BILLIARDS AFTER 10 P.M.,"
which still hung on the wall, but it was outlawed. Clemens occasionally
planned excursions to Bermuda and other places; but, remembering the
billiard-table, which he could not handily take along, he abandoned these
projects. He was a boy whose parents had been called away, left to his
own devices, and bent on a good time.
There were likely to be irritations in his morning's mail, and more often
he did not wish to see it until it had been pretty carefully sifted. So
many people wrote who wanted things, so many others who made the claim of
more or less distant acquaintanceship the excuse for long and trivial
"I have stirred up three generations," he said; "first the grandparents,
then the children, and now the grandchildren; the great-grandchildren
will begin to arrive soon."
His mail was always large; but often it did not look interesting. One
could tell from the envelope and the superscription something of the
contents. Going over one assortment he burst out:
"Look at them! Look how trivial they are! Every envelope looks as if it
contained a trivial human soul."
Many letters were filled with fulsome praise and compliment, usually of
one pattern. He was sated with such things, and seldom found it possible
to bear more than a line or two of them. Yet a fresh, well-expressed
note of appreciation always pleased him.
"I can live for two months on a good compliment," he once said.
Certain persistent correspondents, too self-centered to realize their
lack of consideration, or the futility of their purpose, followed him
relentlessly. Of one such he remarked:
"That woman intends to pursue me to the grave. I wish something could be
done to appease her."
"Everybody in the world who wants something--something of no interest to
me--writes to me to get it."
These morning sessions were likely to be of great interest. Once a
letter spoke of the desirability of being an optimist. "That word
perfectly disgusts me," he said, and his features materialized the
disgust, "just as that other word, pessimist, does; and the idea that one
can, by any effort of will, be one or the other, any more than he can
change the color of his hair. The reason why a man is a pessimist or an
optimist is not because he wants to be, but because he was born so; and
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