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