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Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 online

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Liverpool in time for their sailing date, August 23d. Unquestionably he
was weary of railway travel, far he always detested it. Time would
magnify his remembered reluctance, until, in the end, he would load his
conscience with the entire burden of blame.

Their ship was the Gallia, and one night, when they were nearing the
opposite side of the Atlantic, Mark Twain, standing on deck, saw for the
third time in his experience a magnificent lunar rainbow: a complete
arch, the colors part of the time very brilliant, but little different
from a day rainbow. It is not given to many persons in this world to see
even one of these phenomena. After each previous vision there had come
to him a period of good-fortune. Perhaps this also boded well for him.



The Gallia reached New York September 3, 1879. A report of his arrival,
in the New York Sun, stated that Mark Twain had changed in his absence;
that only his drawl seemed natural.

His hat, as he stood on the deck of the incoming Cunarder, Gallia,
was of the pattern that English officers wear in India, and his suit
of clothes was such as a merchant might wear in his store. He
looked older than when he went to Germany, and his hair has turned
quite gray.

It was a late hour when they were finally up to the dock, and Clemens,
anxious to get through the Custom House, urged the inspector to accept
his carefully prepared list of dutiable articles, without opening the
baggage. But the official was dubious. Clemens argued eloquently, and a
higher authority was consulted. Again Clemens stated his case and
presented his arguments. A still higher chief of inspection was
summoned, evidently from his bed. He listened sleepily to the preamble,
then suddenly said: "Oh, chalk his baggage, of course! Don't you know
it's Mark Twain and that he'll talk all night?"

They went directly to the farm, for whose high sunlit loveliness they had
been longing through all their days of absence. Mrs. Clemens, in her
letters, had never failed to dwell on her hunger for that fair hilltop.
From his accustomed study-table Clemens wrote to Twichell:

"You have run about a good deal, Joe, but you have never seen any place
that was so divine as the farm. Why don't you come here and take a
foretaste of Heaven?" Clemens declared he would roam no more forever,
and settled down to the happy farm routine. He took up his work, which
had not gone well in Paris, and found his interest in it renewed. In the
letter to Twichell he said:

I am revising my MS. I did not expect to like it, but I do. I have
been knocking out early chapters for more than a year now, not
because they had not merit, but merely because they hindered the
flow of the narrative; it was a dredging process. Day before
yesterday my shovel fetched up three more chapters and laid them,
reeking, on the festering shore-pile of their predecessors, and now
I think the yarn swims right along, without hitch or halt. I
believe it will be a readable book of travels. I cannot see that it
lacks anything but information.

Mrs. Clemens was no less weary of travel than her husband. Yet she had
enjoyed their roaming, and her gain from it had been greater than his.
Her knowledge of art and literature, and of the personal geography of
nations, had vastly increased; her philosophy of life had grown beyond
all counting.

She had lost something, too; she had outstripped her traditions. One
day, when she and her sister had walked across the fields, and had
stopped to rest in a little grove by a pretty pond, she confessed,
timidly enough and not without sorrow, how she had drifted away from her
orthodox views. She had ceased to believe, she said, in the orthodox
Bible God, who exercised a personal supervision over every human soul.
The hordes of people she had seen in many lands, the philosophies she had
listened to from her husband and those wise ones about him, the life away
from the restricted round of home, all had contributed to this change.
Her God had become a larger God; the greater mind which exerts its care
of the individual through immutable laws of time and change and
environment - the Supreme Good which comprehends the individual flower,
dumb creature, or human being only as a unit in the larger scheme of life
and love. Her sister was not shocked or grieved; she too had grown with
the years, and though perhaps less positively directed, had by a path of
her own reached a wider prospect of conclusions. It was a sweet day
there in the little grove by the water, and would linger in the memory of
both so long as life lasted. Certainly it was the larger faith; though
the moment must always come when the narrower, nearer, more humanly
protecting arm of orthodoxy lends closer comfort. Long afterward, in the
years that followed the sorrow of heavy bereavement, Clemens once said to
his wife, "Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith do
so," and she answered, "I can't, Youth. I haven't any."

And the thought that he had destroyed her illusion, without affording a
compensating solace, was one that would come back to him, now and then,
all his days.



If the lunar rainbow had any fortuitous significance, perhaps we may find
it in the two speeches which Mark Twain made in November and December of
that year. The first of these was delivered at Chicago, on the occasion
of the reception of General Grant by the Army of the Tennessee, on the
evening of November 73, 1879. Grant had just returned from his splendid
tour of the world. His progress from San Francisco eastward had been
such an ovation as is only accorded to sovereignty. Clemens received an
invitation to the reunion, but, dreading the long railway journey, was at
first moved to decline. He prepared a letter in which he made "business"
his excuse, and expressed his regret that he would not be present to see
and hear the veterans of the Army of the Tennessee at the moment when
their old commander entered the room and rose in his place to speak.

"Besides," he said, "I wanted to see the General again anyway and renew
the acquaintance. He would remember me, because I was the person who did
not ask him for an office."

He did not send the letter. Reconsidering, it seemed to him that there
was something strikingly picturesque in the idea of a Confederate soldier
who had been chased for a fortnight in the rain through Ralls and Monroe
counties, Missouri, now being invited to come and give welcome home to
his old imaginary pursuer. It was in the nature of an imperative
command, which he could not refuse to obey.

He accepted and agreed to speak. They had asked him to respond to the
toast of "The Ladies," but for him the subject was worn out. He had
already responded to that toast at least twice. He telegraphed that
there was one class of the community that had always been overlooked upon
such occasions, and that if they would allow him to do so he would take
that class for a toast: the babies. Necessarily they agreed, and he
prepared himself accordingly.

He arrived in Chicago in time for the prodigious procession of welcome.
Grant was to witness the march from a grand reviewing stand, which had
been built out from the second story of the Palmer House. Clemens had
not seen the General since the "embarrassing" introduction in Washington,
twelve years before. Their meeting was characteristic enough. Carter
Harrison, Mayor of Chicago, arriving with Grant, stepped over to Clemens,
and asked him if he wouldn't like to be presented. Grant also came
forward, and a moment later Harrison was saying:

"General, let me present Mr. Clemens, a man almost as great as yourself."
They shook hands; there was a pause of a moment, then Grant said, looking
at him gravely:

"Mr. Clemens, I am not embarrassed, are you?"

So he remembered that first, long-ago meeting. It was a conspicuous
performance. The crowd could not hear the words, but they saw the
greeting and the laugh, and cheered both men.

Following the procession, there were certain imposing ceremonies of
welcome at Haverly's Theater where long, laudatory eloquence was poured
out upon the returning hero, who sat unmoved while the storm of music and
cheers and oratory swept about him. Clemens, writing of it that evening
to Mrs. Clemens, said:

I never sat elbow to elbow with so many historic names before.
Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Schofield, Pope, Logan, and so on.

What an iron man Grant is! He sat facing the house, with his right
leg crossed over his left, his right boot sole tilted up at an
angle, and his left hand and arm reposing on the arm of his chair.
You note that position? Well, when glowing references were made to
other grandees on the stage, those grandees always showed a trifle
of nervous consciousness, and as these references came frequently
the nervous changes of position and attitude were also frequent.
But Grant! He was under a tremendous and ceaseless bombardment of
praise and congratulation; but as true as I'm sitting here he never
moved a muscle of his body for a single instant during thirty
minutes! You could have played him on a stranger for an effigy.
Perhaps he never would have moved, but at last a speaker made such a
particularly ripping and blood-stirring remark about him that the
audience rose and roared and yelled and stamped and clapped an
entire minute - Grant sitting as serene as ever-when General Sherman
stepped up to him, laid his hand affectionately on his shoulder,
bent respectfully down, and whispered in his ear. Then Grant got up
and bowed, and the storm of applause swelled into a hurricane.

But it was the next evening that the celebration rose to a climax. This
was at the grand banquet at the Palmer House, where six hundred guests
sat down to dinner and Grant himself spoke, and Logan and Hurlbut, and
Vilas and Woodford and Pope, fifteen in all, including Robert G.
Ingersoll and Mark Twain. Chicago has never known a greater event than
that dinner, for there has never been a time since when those great
soldiers and citizens could have been gathered there.

To Howells Clemens wrote:

Imagine what it was like to see a bullet-shredded old battle-flag
reverently unfolded to the gaze of a thousand middle-aged soldiers,
most of whom hadn't seen it since they saw it advancing over
victorious fields when they were in their prime. And imagine what
it was like when Grant, their first commander, stepped into view
while they were still going mad over the flag, and then right in the
midst of it all somebody struck up "When we were marching through
Georgia." Well, you should have heard the thousand voices lift that
chorus and seen the tears stream down. If I live a hundred years I
sha'n't ever forget these things, nor be able to talk about them. I
sha'n't ever forget that I saw Phil Sheridan, with martial cloak and
plumed chapeau, riding his big black horse in the midst of his own
cannon; by all odds the superbest figure of a soldier. I ever
looked upon!
Grand times, my boy, grand times!

Mark Twain declared afterward that he listened to four speeches that
night which he would remember as long as he lived. One of them was by
Emory Storrs, another by General Vilas, another by Logan, and the last
and greatest by Robert Ingersoll, whose eloquence swept the house like a
flame. The Howells letter continues:

I doubt if America has ever seen anything quite equal to it; I am
well satisfied I shall not live to see its equal again. How pale
those speeches are in print, but how radiant, how full of color, how
blinding they were in the delivery! Bob Ingersoll's music will sing
through my memory always as the divinest that ever enchanted my
ears. And I shall always see him, as he stood that night on a
dinner-table, under the flash of lights and banners, in the midst of
seven hundred frantic shouters, the most beautiful human creature
that ever lived. "They fought, that a mother might own her child."
The words look like any other print, but, Lord bless me! he
borrowed the very accent of the angel of mercy to say them in, and
you should have seen that vast house rise to its feet; and you
should have heard the hurricane that followed. That's the only
test! People may shout, clap their hands, stamp, wave their
napkins, but none but the master can make them get up on their feet.

Clemens's own speech came last. He had been placed at the end to hold
the house. He was preceded by a dull speaker, and his heart sank, for it
was two o'clock and the diners were weary and sleepy, and the dreary
speech had made them unresponsive.

They gave him a round of applause when he stepped up upon the table in
front of him - a tribute to his name. Then he began the opening words of
that memorable, delightful fancy.

"We haven't all had the good-fortune to be ladies; we haven't all been
generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the
babies - we stand on common ground - "

The tired audience had listened in respectful silence through the first
half of the sentence. He made one of his effective pauses on the word
"babies," and when he added, in that slow, rich measure of his, "we stand
on common ground," they let go a storm of applause. There was no
weariness and inattention after that. At the end of each sentence, he
had to stop to let the tornado roar itself out and sweep by. When he
reached the beginning of the final paragraph, "Among the three or four
million cradles now rocking in the land are some which this nation would
preserve for ages as sacred things if we could know which ones they are,"
the vast audience waited breathless for his conclusion. Step by step he
led toward some unseen climax - some surprise, of course, for that would
be his way. Then steadily, and almost without emphasis, he delivered the
opening of his final sentence:

"And now in his cradle, somewhere under the flag, the future illustrious
commander-in-chief of the American armies is so little burdened with his
approaching grandeurs and responsibilities as to be giving his whole
strategic mind, at this moment, to trying to find out some way to get his
own big toe into his mouth, an achievement which (meaning no disrespect)
the illustrious guest of this evening also turned his attention to some
fifty-six years ago."

He paused, and the vast crowd had a chill of fear. After all, he seemed
likely to overdo it to spoil everything with a cheap joke at the end. No
one ever knew better than Mark Twain the value of a pause. He waited now
long enough to let the silence become absolute, until the tension was
painful, then wheeling to Grant himself he said, with all the dramatic
power of which he was master:

"And if the child is but the father of the man, there are mighty few who
will doubt that he succeeded!"

The house came down with a crash. The linking of their hero's great
military triumphs with that earliest of all conquests seemed to them so
grand a figure that they went mad with the joy of it. Even Grant's iron
serenity broke; he rocked and laughed while the tears streamed down his

They swept around the speaker with their congratulations, in their
efforts to seize his hand. He was borne up and down the great
dining-hall. Grant himself pressed up to make acknowledgments.

"It tore me all to pieces," he said; and Sherman exclaimed, "Lord bless
you, my boy! I don't know how you do it!"

The little speech has been in "cold type" so many years since then that
the reader of it to-day may find it hard to understand the flame of
response it kindled so long ago. But that was another day - and another
nation - and Mark Twain, like Robert Ingersoll, knew always his period and
his people.



The December good-fortune was an opportunity Clemens had to redeem
himself with the Atlantic contingent, at a breakfast given to Dr. Holmes.

Howells had written concerning it as early as October, and the first
impulse had been to decline. It would be something of an ordeal; for
though two years had passed since the fatal Whittier dinner, Clemens had
not been in that company since, and the lapse of time did not signify.
Both Howells and Warner urged him to accept, and he agreed to do so on
condition that he be allowed to speak.

If anybody talks there I shall claim the right to say a word myself, and
be heard among the very earliest, else it would be confoundedly awkward
for me - and for the rest, too. But you may read what I say beforehand,
and strike out whatever you choose.

Howells advised against any sort of explanation. Clemens accepted this
as wise counsel, and prepared an address relevant only to the guest of

It was a noble gathering. Most of the guests of the Whittier dinner were
present, and this time there were ladies. Emerson, Longfellow, and
Whittier were there, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Julia Ward Howe; also the
knightly Colonel Waring, and Stedman, and Parkman, and grand old John
Bigelow, old even then. - [He died in 1911 in his 94th year.]

Howells was conservative in his introduction this time. It was better
taste to be so. He said simply:

"We will now listen to a few words of truth and soberness from Mark

Clemens is said to have risen diffidently, but that was his natural
manner. It probably did not indicate anything of the inner tumult he
really felt.

Outwardly he was calm enough, and what he said was delicate and
beautiful, the kind of thing that he could say so well. It seems fitting
that it should be included here, the more so that it tells a story not
elsewhere recorded. This is the speech in full:

MR. CHAIRMAN, LADIES, AND GENTLEMEN, - I would have traveled a much
greater distance than I have come to witness the paying of honors to
Dr. Holmes, for my feeling toward him has always been one of
peculiar warmth. When one receives a letter from a great man for
the first time in his life it is a large event to him, as all of you
know by your own experience. You never can receive letters enough
from famous men afterward to obliterate that one or dim the memory
of the pleasant surprise it was and the gratification it gave you.
Lapse of time cannot make it commonplace or cheap. Well, the first
great man who ever wrote me a letter was our guest, Oliver Wendell
Holmes. He was also the first great literary man I ever stole
anything from, and that is how I came to write to him and he to me.
When my first book was new a friend of mine said, "The dedication is
very neat." Yes, I said, I thought it was. My friend said,
"I always admired it, even before I saw it in The Innocents Abroad."
I naturally said, "What do you mean? Where did you ever see it
before?" "Well, I saw it first, some years ago, as Dr. Holmes's
dedication to his Songs in Many Keys." Of course my first impulse
was to prepare this man's remains for burial, but upon reflection I
said I would reprieve him for a moment or two, and give him a chance
to prove his assertion if he could. We stepped into a book-store.
and he did prove it. I had stolen that dedication almost word for
word. I could not imagine how this curious thing happened; for I
knew one thing, for a dead certainty - that a certain amount of pride
always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride
protects a man from deliberately stealing other people's ideas.
That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for a man, and admirers
had often told me I had nearly a basketful, though they were rather
reserved as to the size of the basket. However, I thought the thing
out and solved the mystery. Some years before I had been laid up a
couple of weeks in the Sandwich Islands, and had read and reread Dr.
Holmes's poems till my mental reservoir was filled with them to the
brim. The dedication lay on top and handy, so by and by I
unconsciously took it. Well, of course, I wrote to Dr. Holmes and
told him I hadn't meant to steal, and he wrote back and said, in the
kindest way, that it was all right, and no harm done, and added that
he believed we all unconsciously worked over ideas gathered in
reading and hearing, imagining they were original with ourselves.
He stated a truth and did it in such a pleasant way, and salved over
my sore spot so gently and so healingly, that I was rather glad I
had committed the crime, for the sake of the letter. I afterward
called on him and told him to make perfectly free with any ideas of
mine that struck him as good protoplasm for poetry. He could see by
that time that there wasn't anything mean about me; so we got along,
right from the start. - [Holmes in his letter had said: "I rather
think The Innocents Abroad will have many more readers than Songs in
Many Keys. . . You will be stolen from a great deal oftener than
you will borrow from other people."]

I have met Dr. Holmes many times since; and lately he said - However,
I am wandering wildly away from the one thing which I got on my feet
to do; that is, to make my compliments to you, my fellow-teachers of
the great public, and likewise to say I am right glad to see that
Dr. Holmes is still in his prime and full of generous life, and as
age is not determined by years but by trouble, and by infirmities of
mind and body, I hope it may be a very long time yet before any can
truthfully say, "He is growing old."

Whatever Mark Twain may have lost on that former occasion, came back to
him multiplied when he had finished this happy tribute. So the year for
him closed prosperously. The rainbow of promise was justified.



Upset and disturbed as Mark Twain often was, he seldom permitted his
distractions to interfere with the program of his fireside. His days and
his nights might be fevered, but the evenings belonged to another world.
The long European wandering left him more than ever enamoured of his
home; to him it had never been so sweet before, so beautiful, so full of
peace. Company came: distinguished guests and the old neighborhood
circles. Dinner-parties were more frequent than ever, and they were
likely to be brilliant affairs. The best minds, the brightest wits,
gathered around Mark Twain's table. Booth, Barrett, Irving, Sheridan,
Sherman, Howells, Aldrich: they all assembled, and many more. There was
always some one on the way to Boston or New York who addressed himself
for the day or the night, or for a brief call, to the Mark Twain

Certain visitors from foreign lands were surprised at his environment,
possibly expecting to find him among less substantial, more bohemian
surroundings. Henry Drummond, the author of Natural Law in the Spiritual
World, in a letter of this time, said:

I had a delightful day at Hartford last Wednesday . . . . Called
on Mark Twain, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the widow of Horace
Bushnell. I was wishing A - - had been at the Mark Twain interview.
He is funnier than any of his books, and to my surprise a most
respected citizen, devoted to things esthetic, and the friend of the
poor and struggling. - [Life of Henry Drummond, by George Adam

The quieter evenings were no less delightful. Clemens did not often go
out. He loved his own home best. The children were old enough now to
take part in a form of entertainment that gave him and them especial
pleasure-acting charades. These he invented for them, and costumed the
little performers, and joined in the acting as enthusiastically and as
unrestrainedly as if he were back in that frolicsome boyhood on John
Quarles's farm. The Warner and Twichell children were often there and
took part in the gay amusements. The children of that neighborhood
played their impromptu parts well and naturally. They were in a dramatic
atmosphere, and had been from infancy. There was never any preparation
for the charades. A word was selected and the parts of it were whispered
to the little actors. Then they withdrew to the hall, where all sorts of
costumes had been laid out for the evening, dressed their parts, and each
detachment marched into the library, performed its syllable and retired,
leaving the audience, mainly composed of parents, to guess the answer.

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineMark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 → online text (page 7 of 20)