W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. XVI, August, 1897) pp. 123-133
“Victoria reigns over more territory than any other Sovereign in the world’s history ever reigned over. Her estate covers a fourth part of the habitable area of the globe, and her subjects number about four hundred millions. It is indeed a mighty estate. And I perceive now that the English are mentioned in the Bible. ‘Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.'” Mark Twain’s special correspondence for the New York Journal, June 20th, 1897.
I.—IN PRAISE OF THE HUMORIST
Mark Twain was retained as one of a staff of descriptive writers to do the recent Jubilee for the New York Journal. In the above sentence, with which he brings to a close his first Jubilee letter, we have the undimmed brilliancy of the original Mark—the Mark Twain who for nearly thirty years has held the foremost place among all the modern men who “tickle the midriff of the world.”
Of late years Mark Twain has been cultivating a different style from that which won him fame in the early seventies. Mark Twain, the humorist, has receded somewhat into the background, while Mr. Samuel Clemens, historical novelist and reverent chronicler of the heroism and piety of Jeanne D’Arc, has come to the front. Far be it from me to speak disrespectfully of Mr. Clemens’ excursion into the field of historical romance. It is a wide field and fertile withal, and he is a labourer who indeed is worthy of his hire. But there is no use denying the fact that Mark Twain’s fame rests primarily on the bedrock of his capacity for exciting mirth. He has been, and still is for this generation, the very high priest of Momus, the most favoured of all the hierarchy of the Laughter-loving, God.
It was, therefore, with delight that I stumbled upon this gleam of the old Mark Twain, and one which for humour and sarcasm is as good as anything that has been written for many a long day. Who can overestimate the debt of gratitude which mankind owes to those rare children of genius who are able to make us for a time forget our cares in the abandonment of hearty laughter? Your jester has in every age been one of the most popular members of the community, and yet one whose popularity, strange enough, perishes with the using. Poor Yorick with all his infinite jest never seems to command the gratitude of those whose life he has lightened and brightened by his wit, to anything like the same extent as the soldier, the statesman, the philosopher or the apostle. It would almost seem as if care had eaten so deeply into the heart of man as to beget a certain half latent sense of shame as the twin brother of mirth. Why should we laugh and be merry in this sad world all scarred with graves? We laugh almost as urchins in prayer-time, with a certain furtive feeling of alarm lest we should be found out, and as if a broad grin was almost treason to humanity. Of course it sounds ridiculous to put it in this way; but if there be not this inarticulate resentment against whole-hearted mirth, how is it that the merry-makers of the world are passed on one side as a man passes a poor relation of whose existence he does not wish to be reminded? Nay, why do our jesters and humorists themselves more or less assume an apologetic attitude, as if the knack of banishing dull care and filling the heart of man with gladsome and genial thoughts was not a gift of the gods for which there is much more reason to sing a Te Deam in the churches than for half the victories which call forth the sound of loud thanksgiving over slaughtered men?
In other lands it may be otherwise, but here in northern latitudes the comic muse, although cherished, is not honoured as befits her desert, and the proof of that, if proof be wanting, is that probably few readers will think that I am not indulging in a paradox when I claim for Mark Twain a foremost place among the benefactors of the world. Mark Twain has waged no battles, has founded no university, has amassed no fortune, has made no great discovery in science, neither has he explored any unknown continent, but he has done more than all these things. For nearly thirty years he has gone to and fro among the nations of the earth causing, for many a happy hour, the weary and the careworn to forget their sadness, and trimming with fresh and fragrant oil the flame of jocund mirth which should ever burn on the altar of home. “Merely to make men laugh,” say the austere, “merely to tickle the ribs of silly fools so that they cackle like geese over the follies and fictions of the scribbler, call you that a benefaction to the human race?” “Yea! verily,” I reply. “A blessed benefaction, indeed, and one for which all the wealth of all the Vanderbilts, if it could be offered us, would be but a poor exchange.” For the quality of mirth , like that of mercy, is not strained. It is, indeed, like the oil in the widow’s cruse, which multiplied the more it was used, and instead of losing value by its infinite diffusion through space, acquires additional potency the more widely its healing virtues are diffused among mankind.
II.— FIRST IMPRESSIONS.
I well remember the first time I made the acquaintance of Mark Twain’s writings. I was a young bachelor, living in lodgings, and my sister and cousin had come to enliven my solitude. It was in the most strenuous days of early youth, when an editor, not yet twenty-five, feels the full strain of the burden of the world; and I remember as if it were yesterday a certain feeling of irritation at my flippant cousin, who, while I was pounding through the papers, curled herself up on the sofa, and after a series of subcutaneous chuckles, would explode in irrepressible laughter. She was reading a yellow-backed sixpenny edition of “The Innocents Abroad,” by one Mark Twain, of whom before that day I had never heard. It seemed to me rather silly that anyone should giggle and guffaw over a book in that fashion, especially by an author not certified as a classic, who seemed to be vulgar enough withal. But after a few days the temptation to see what it was moved her risible faculties so constantly, led me, under protest as it were, from the literary and journalistic conscience, which was in a sad state in those days, to turn over a few of the pages myself. Alas! there is only one rule of safety in dealing with Mark Twain, and that is to obey scrupulously the command, “Touch not, taste not, handle not”; for those who begin to dally with the tempter will find that he is too much for them, and that one by one all their scruples and qualms of conscience are laughed away. So it was with me. So I doubt not it has been with many hundred thousand others who have long since learnt to regard Mark Twain as one of the perennial springs of amusement in a world where such springs are rare. “The New Pilgrim’s Progress” and “The Innocents Abroad” have now somewhat gone out of fashion, but I can never forget the mirthful hours which we spent over those pages. Like many other humorists, Mark Twain is best read aloud to a small but sympathetic company of listeners. Better still, no doubt, it is to hear Mark Twain read his own stories; but even without the personal presence of the author, any one who can read the English language and articulate audibly can be relied upon to produce somewhat of the same effect. If I owe to “The Innocents Abroad” and “The New Pilgrim’s Progress” my first introduction to Mark Twain, I must give the second place to his inimitable “Tramp Abroad.” And this reminds me that in mentioning the benefactions of the humorist to mankind, I laid too much stress upon his services as an anodyne for care and trouble. His services are quite as useful and much more likely to be appreciated when they tend to heighten. a pleasurable mood by finishing, rounding off, and completing the whole. When you are on a holiday, especially when you go up the Rhine or into German countries, there is no better book to take, especially if you have with you a genial companion, than “A Tramp Abroad.” To read it aloud at any time after tramping round all day is quite one of the pleasantest and merriest additions to the day’s pleasure. I still remember with a certain genial glow round that particular spot in my memory, the old inn at Boppard, in which after various wrestlings with the German language through the day on our own account, we revelled in Mark Twain’s exposition of its beauties and its mysteries in “A Tramp Abroad.” It is good, no doubt, and great to cheer the mourner and to smooth the furrows of care from the brow, but it is not less good an achievement, and one not less gratefully remembered, to crown a pleasant day with a merry hour when the candles are lighted and it wants but a good laugh to make the day complete.
Nor must I in glancing very rapidly over the contributions which Mark Twain has made to the enjoyment of human kind, omit his inimitable boys, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who are the common possessions of the English-speaking family. Their pranks, their adventures, their quaint outlook on the world, and the things that are therein, have made them universal favourites. Merely to have invented Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would in itself have been a sufficient passport to the gratitude of all English-speaking men and women; but when these form but one exhibit in the caravan of Mark Twain’s unparalleled show, even the most sceptical must admit that he has made good his claim to be regarded as one of the benefactors of the world.
I sometimes wonder how far the good feeling which undoubtedly prevails on our side of the water towards the citizens of the United States is due to the fact that Mark Twain is more read amongst us than any other American author. It is a very curious fact, often overlooked by those who pride themselves on their philosophic views, or their profound observations of men and things, that the conception of the man in the street of America and the Americans is usually based upon data very different from those which are possessed by writers and speakers on the subject. The English journalist, for instance, sometimes, at least, sees American newspapers, and forms his estimate of his kinsmen across the Atlantic from the scare-heads and blanket-sheets of their marvellous papers; but of the forty millions of people who inhabit these islands, it is safe to say forty thousand would be an outside estimate for those who have read the American newspapers. On the other hand, the number of those who have read Mark Twain must be numbered by the million. Thus while the American newspaper is the interpreter of American men and things to but a handful, the multitude know Americans best, not from their journalists, but from Mark Twain and those who have preceded him as popular favourites. Mrs. Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher, Longfellow, Emerson, and, of late, Russell Lowell, are the only American writers who have left the impress of their personality on the mind and heart of the ordinary Briton. Hence it is not to be wondered at that among our people there is an utter absence of any of that feeling against Americans such as undoubtedly, alas! prevails in many quarters of the United States against the English. We know the Americans only by their best, and judge them only by writers whose voices are audible across the Atlantic as samples of the bulk. Hence it is possible that Mark Twain counts for more in the promotion of good and friendly feelings between the two great branches of the English-speaking race than any act of statecraft, the Alabama Arbitration Treaty itself not excepted.
Be it remembered, too, that in all Mark Twain’s writings— and Messrs. Chatto and Windus have just sent me in a complete and uniform edition of his works, which number nearly a score of volumes— there is not one unkind or bitter word, nor is there a page which could not be read aloud in any company. When we consider what constitutes the staple of humorous literature in other countries, this is no mean testimony to the restraint and delicacy of the American humorist who, if all men had their deserts in coin as well as in favour, would certainly be the multi-millionaire of the United States.
III.—A PERSONAL REMINISCENCE.
It was my good fortune some four years ago to cross the Atlantic in the New York as a fellow passenger with Mark Twain. It was in the early months of 1891. I was returning from Chicago. Mark Twain was hastening from New York to rejoin his family at Paris. We had a capital passage, and, as we were neither of us inconvenienced by mal de mer, we used to have long and pleasant conversations every day on deck. Before I left the ship I dictated notes of our talk, and from these notes I venture to draw freely for the purposes of this sketch. For they were jotted down while the presence of the man was still with me, when his quaint sayings were still murmuring in my ears. I do not suppose that Mark Twain has changed much since 1894, although he was then at the zenith of his fortune, while now plaguy Fortune, with her revolving wheel, has landed him otherwhere.
Mr. Clemens is a man below the average height, with bushy, shaggy grey hair, and a somewhat shambling gait. He has a moustache, but no beard or whiskers. The face is fresh-coloured, the eyes grey and kindly-looking. When on board the New York, he had a slight cold, and for the most part wore an overcoat, which he threw off his shoulders halfway down his arms when he was in the sunlight, and pulled over his shoulders again when he was in the shade. He smoked a briar-wood pipe, and then three cigars, before twelve in the morning.
For the most part he kept himself to himself, writing regularly every morning a certain definite quantity of copy, and devoting the rest of the day to reading, revising, or conversation. At an entertainment in the saloon on the eve of our arrival he gave a reading from his works, selecting the story of his experiences as a courier. No one could have been more kindly, more friendly, or more obliging when communications were opened, but for the majority the opening never came.
The first word I heard from his lips was an amusing anathema upon a recalcitrant match, which, despite all he could do to the contrary, obstinately refused to light his pipe. The way he condemned that match, the pathetic solemnity of his protest against the ignominy of being “insulted by a mere inanimate thing” lingers with me to this day. It was the genuine keynote of the “Innocents Abroad.”
We had much talk about his books, and I was delighted to have the opportunity of saying to him in person how much I felt indebted to him for many a laughter-lifted hour. He said that laughter was a very good thing, but for himself he scarcely got two laughs a month, and this was natural, because every humorist dwelt upon the serious side of life. All true humour was based on seriousness, and hence the humorist, who often made other people laugh, laughed least himself. He said it was so in his own case anyhow.
On my saying that I thought I had laughed more over his description of the German language in “A Tramp Abroad” than over anything else, he said that probably appealed very much to those who were struggling with German. As for himself, he had never been able to master the mysteries of a foreign language to his own satisfaction. He had done his best, but it had been no use. For seven years he used to put himself to sleep by constructing German sentences. He got on fairly well on those occasions, when there was no one to listen, but he had never been able to stand up and face a human being and air his German more than two words at a time without coming to a dead stop.
A short time before he came on board he had made a speech on George Washington. He said that the Washington joke had always been one from which he had made a great deal of fun. The usual way he got it off was by remarking that there were many points of difference between himself and Washington, only one of which he need specify. He used to say, “Washington could not tell a lie, I can ” —then he would pause until they took in the joke, and then would add, “but I won’t.”
Talking about his books, he said that for the last sixteen years he had a regular yearly account from Chatto and Windus which specified how many of each of his books in each edition had been sold, how many sets were in hand, and who had them all. He was able to tell at a moment’s notice what the sale of his books had been, both in England and in India—for there is an East Indian edition. He said that some years ago he had taken the trouble to total up how many copies Chatto and Windus had sold. He found up to that date they had sold three hundred and eighty thousand copies of his various books. There were five other publishers who published his earlier works who gave him no royalties, so that there must be a pretty considerable sale for his books. A fact which pleased him as much as the receipt of money was the universal recognition which ths circulation secured him wherever he went.
He said that “A Tramp Abroad” was the greatest favourite of his books, then “Roughing It,” and after them “The Innocents Abroad.” At one time “The Innocents Abroad” was the most popular, but that now his works stood in the above order. In England, “A Tramp Abraod,” “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” were the most popular. He could not say whether “Roughing It ” was as popular in England as in America. Humour he remarked, could not be served up alone, it needed something with it. It was like embroidery, very good as an ornament, but one could not dress in embroidery you needed something else to keep the cold out.
He said that of the American humorists there were very few who were doing any work at present. One whom he named was still working, but he was the bond-slave of a syndicate, for whom he had to pound out jokes whether he had anything in his mill or not, and no one could do that and not suffer. “M. Quad” of the Detroit Free Press is also extremely clever, but he was not working an inexhaustible vein. Writing people, like other folks, have only a certain amount of capital, and when that is done they have nothing more to go on with. Burdette had done very good work, but for some time past he had not done anything. He did not know of any new man who was coming on.
When he was asked to sign his name on the back of a steamer-ticket, I said they could keep it as an autograph. He said, “Yes, it ought to be worth 25 cents.” He said that Aldrich had come in one time with a catalogue of autographs to Howells and said with great glee, “Here is fame indeed! I find that my signature if valued in this catalogue at 25 cents There is glory!” Howells turned over the pages, and then said, “Yes, I see. Here is Habberton who wrote ‘Helens Babies’—his autograph is worth 75 cents, three times as much as yours.”
The colour of the sea being green led him to remark that we were in shoal water. He did not know why the water should be green in shoal water, but it was so. Certainly after we got out of sight of land it became deeply and beautifully blue. I asked him about the Mississippi. He said that the colour of the Mississippi was the colour of coffee when made up with a very great deal of cream; that it was a varying shade of brown, changing according to the quantity of rain. I asked him if they drank it.
He said, “Yes, and people who drink it never like to drink any other.” If he went back to the Mississippi, he would as soon drink that as any other water. It was very strange the taste people acquired for drinking Mississippi water. To a person accustomed to drink[ing] it, clear water is positively distasteful. If you took a glass of Mississippi water and allowed it to stand for a little time, there formed a sediment of about an inch deep at the bottom. If you are accustomed to Mississippi water, you stir it up before drinking in order that you may have the sediment in solution. Was it not very unhealthy? No, he said, it was good alluvial loam, and the utmost that it would do would be to line your inside with more aluminium than would otherwise be the case. I asked him about the river. He said you could always see both sides of it, and that both banks were flat, with the exception of the Chicasaw Bluffs and the Bluffs before Memphis; but they were very small. The only impression that he got from the river was one of immense solemnity, such as you got from the desert or any other immense wild place. He said that when he was in St. Louis, Chicago was not considered to be the rival of that city. Then for about ten years the rivalry continued; but after the census of 1870, when Chicago had 350,000 population, St. Louis dropped behind. There has never been any more talk about rivalry between the two cities. Speaking of Chicago he said he thought there was a greater mixture of all nationalities there than in any other place excepting Hell. Speaking of Chicago, he laughed heartily over the story of the contest between the Chicago liar and the St Louis liar, which was won by the St. Louis man, who began by saying: “There was once upon a time a gentleman in St. Louis— ” whereupon the Chicago man gave up and declared that no one could possibly tell a greater lie than that. Twain said: “A Chicago man was once in St. Louis and sent a telegram to some place in Missouri. He was charged so heavily for it that he protested. “Great Scott,” he exclaimed, “why, in Chicago it does not cost so much to telegraph to Hell!” “No,” said the operator quickly, “that’s in the city limits”— an unpremeditated and unconscious sarcasm, which is always worth much more than a premeditated one.
When we got upon the subject of clothes, Mark discoursed learnedly and at much length upon the sinfulness of apparel. It had come in with the Fall and was the badge of depravity. No one ought to wear more than a breech-clout, and even that ought some day to be dispensed with. The worst of it was that when people simplified their clothes to the extent of a breech-clout, they seemed to find it necessary to do other wicked things to make up for the virtue of dispensing with garments. They took to scalping and other abominations, which for their neighbours were even worse than their clothes. Cycling, he said, was doing good service in tending to simplify woman’s costume, and in making clothes to be adapted to the necessities and uses of life.
I asked if he ever cycled. He sad yes, he had, but it was a long while ago. It was in the days of the high cycles. He had never ridden, but he used to take lessons from a professor in cycling, who after watching him for some time remarked judicially: “‘Clemens, it seems to me that you have the art or falling off in a greater variety of ways than I had ever conceived it possible for any one to fall off.’ I suppose it was so, for although I never happened to break a limb, I raised a large bump upon my head and the skin on my legs hung in festoons.” He was all for a bicycle; a tricycle he thought, was a miserable compromise.
IV,—HIS TYPE-SETTING MACHINE.
I had some talk to him about Chicago and about monopolies. He said he had thought a great deal about monopolies, and thought that it was impossible to do anything excepting very slowly, and that it would take one hundred years to do it. “You see,” he said, “they have such a hold upon all the agencies by which you can express public opinion. There is a great deal of cowardice, if you like to call it so, but cowardice is not the right word. It is a great principle in the human heart. I am not going to do anything that will deprive my wife and children of their daily bread, and as long as men are not willing to sacrifice their wives and children as well as themselves in denouncing millionaires, the millionaires will have things pretty much their own way. There are some things upon which you can get public opinion roused. For instance, if it were to be proved that gas were so deadly as to poison people, nothing would be easier than to get up an agitation to pass a law-sentencing any man who had a gas-jet in his possession to instant death. That would be easy enough, but the case of the monopolist is very different, and it is very difficult to see what can be done.”
Mark Twain himself was then contemplating no less a monopoly than the exclusive contract for the type-setting of the world. For many years past he said he has been engaged on a type-setting machine. I asked him how he was getting on. He said they were about to place the machine upon the market. Two machines had already been built, nine were almost finished, while forty were in process of construction, when the cyclone of the financial disaster struck the country last year and compelled them to postpone everything. He said he was very glad it was so, for by his old arrangement there were two companies, one of which had granted a concession to another. The second company was a business-like concern, but the other was of moonshine and water. When the crisis came last year the moonshine one had to disappear, and the two companies were amalgamated into one. He said that he had struck oil. The two companies amalgamated into one had a capital of five million dollars instead of seven and a half millions, and were then ready to go ahead.
I asked him what kind of machine his was. He said it was a perfect machine. ” It is made of blue steel, polished, graceful and beautiful; a thing of beauty and a joy to the eye. You could place it upon the finest carpet in the house without fear of any dirt or broken type. It is a machine which to know is to love; a machine which the men who were making it were so fascinated by that they said that if I had not money to pay their wages, they would go on working at it as long as they had anything left to pawn in order to keep them alive. They are now being gathered together from where they have been working. They will come back any distance in order to work at that machine. [“]It is a fascination,” he said. “To be allowed to work on that machine is enough for them. When that machine is in the market all other machines will disappear; 65,000 compositors in the United States be thrown out of work, or will have to find other work to do.”
He then entered into an elaborate explanation of the immense superiority of his machine over all others, and especially over one, which, he declared, seemed to develop more unscientific lying and bad spacing than any other machine invented. He really feared that it was possessed by an evil spirit. Whereas other machines cheapened the cost of composition by 25 per cent., his machine would cut it by 90 per cent. “My machine will enable a man to do the work of 10, 15, 24 men. With my machine an ordinary instructed man can set 10,000 ems an hour, a smarter man could do 15,000, and the capacity of the machine, if it were worked by the supreme expert, is 24,000 ems an hour. Some time ago I could not believe that a type-writing girl could do 46 words a minute until I saw it done before my eyes. Since then, 100 words a minute is by no means unusual, while the supreme expert will sometimes do 120 words a minute on superior speed machines. So it is with our machine. With the evolution of the supreme expert we will get up to the maximum speed. “We do not, however, expect anything more than 10,000 or 15,000 ems, which gives us a margin of 4;000 ems an hour over the maximum claimed by other machines.”
The way they would put the machine upon the market is as follows. They would not sell any nor would they lease them at an annual rental. They would simply go to any one who was using either hand composition or the Linotype machine, and ask them how much their Present composition was costing them. “Take your best man and your best machine and cipher it out exactly, and we will undertake to put our machine in and charge less for the best work than for the poor results you obtain from your existing machines. We shall be able to bring down the cost of composition to five cents per thousand ems, and we snail be able to attain a perfection of composition in the way of exact spacing to which hand composition cannot compare. We have nine different sized spaces so that we can space to the breadth of a hair. The machine makes no mistakes, for it adjusts the spaces after the line is set.”
I said I did not see how this was possible until he had constructed a machine which could think. “But,” he said, “it does think. That is one of the beauties of the machine. Suppose,” said he, “you have a line of 27 ems to space, the words varying from 6 to 7 ems. When the operator is striking the keys at the end of each word, he strikes the space key, but no space drops. All he does is to remind the machine that the space ought to come in that place. He sets straight on, and when he has filled up his 27 ems, the machine takes the line of type and measures off 27 ems so as to make the word either fall rightly or turn correctly. It then fills in exactly the spaces which are required to make the line fit. This it does with mathematical accuracy. The ordinary compositor has only spaces of four sizes, we have nine. As I said, we can adjust to a hair.
“When our space bar is struck a space is left large enough for the insertion of any size that may be required, but the thickness of the space is not calculated until the whole line has been set, when the machine measures it automatically and takes up the spaces as they are wanted. Our machine distributes the type as well as sets it.” I remarked that I thought there would be a great deal of difficulty in distinguishing between the various spaces. He said that was all done by the machine, and it knew what to do.
“Another great advantage of our machine over existing type-setting machines, is that it does not have to depend upon gravity for getting the type into the right place. That is to say, it does not have to depend upon the weight of the type and the degree of friction it may have to overcome. Then again, in the old machines you have to have a perfectly smooth type and a clean groove or your type will not fall easily. Hence in the gravitation machines type continually falls at varying rates of speed with resulting irregularities and frequently a block. Nothing of this takes place in my machine. Nothing is left to the uncertain action of gravitation. Every type from the moment that the keyboard is struck is clutched by the mechanism and thrust into its place. Hence there is no danger of that blocking, and no irregularity.”
“I suppose you work it as a typewriter does?”
“Yes, with this exception, that whereas a typewriter must strike every letter in rotation, in our machine you can strike several keys at once—a whole word can be struck simultaneously.”
“What about correction?” I said.
“We have no corrections,” he said. “People may think that strange. But ask a good pianist how many false notes he strikes in playing a piece of music. He strikes none, he is not expected to strike any. So it is with our machine, it can be played as correctly as a piano, and the corrections are not due to errors and do not amount to two literals in a column. That is, of course, when you have good copy, as is the case in all reprints. In fact, we do not reckon anything for corrections. Author’s corrections, of course, are different, but what may be called compositor’s corrections disappear in our machine.”
Of course, if his machine would do all he said it would be an earthquake. Labour-saving machines in the long run increase employment no doubt, but in their immediate effects they inflict great hardships on multitudes.
He admitted this, but the process of introducing a new machine was always slow. It took seven years for the Linotype even to attain its present position, so there is a period of grace allowed to compositors to clear out and adapt themselves to other functions. “For instance, my machine is bound to throw out of work 65,000 men in the United States. That is to say, it will enable their work to be done better than it is done now but it will lead to the employment of many more than sixty-five thousand men by the impulse which it will give to the multiplication of printed matter. There will be more men wanted in paperworks and in the manufacture of printers’ ink, and more women and girls in binderies, and the result will be that it will give work to two or three for every one it throws out of employment.”
I said I had no doubt but that was true in the long run. What was wanted was some kind of Industrial Insurance Society which would enable workmen to tide over the transition period.
He said he did not see how it was to be fixed up. The same thing has always occurred in every department of life. Take, for instance, crinolines. There was a great industry which employed hundreds and thousands of men and women. Suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, crinolines went out of fashion and all these people were thrown out of work.
I said this was true, and hence the social reformer always considered that changes of fashion were of the devil, producing great hardship with no compensating advantages.
He said, “Look at the wood-engraving trade! There were thousands of men making their living by engraving in wood. Then the Morse process came in and away they went. There still remained the better class of wood-engravers, but then came photography and other processes and cleared out the rest of them. Take the cotton gin, which enabled one man to do the work of 2000, and the spinning jenny, and all those means of production. The world adjusts itself to them, and people find that they can make their living all the better. In fact,” he said, “it is the discovery of these labour-saving machines which have brought about the great increase of population. It is wonderful to think that England and Scotland remained for centuries with such small populations, and then a hundred years ago suddenly blossomed out into their present millions.”
V.—MARK TWAIN AT HOME.
In his domestic life Mark Twain has been almost ideally fortunate. He told me that during the twenty-four years of his married life whenever his wife had been absent she had written to him with the punctuality of a planet, every day of the week. He had written to her every mail with one exception, which-caused him great grief. Some mutton-headed idiot, he said, had told him that the quickest steamer sailed on Thursday, whereas it sailed on Wednesday. He wanted to add some more to his letter, and so missed the mail. She was greatly grieved, and he has been getting letters full of despair ever since. When she first left he wrote once, twice, or thrice a day, until he discovered that the mail only went once or twice a week He still wrote every day, but he kept them till mail day. He put everything into the letters that came into his life, writing with a freedom which was utterly impossible when he was writing for a magazine or a book. ” From a literary point of view,” he said, these letters to my wife in the last six months satisfy me much better than anything I have ever written; there is a lightness of touch and a vividness of description, and altogether a lightness which I try for in vain when I am writing for magazines or books.”
He said on an average his letters were twenty-five pages each, containing from four to five thousand words. These were sent twice a week, so that in the six months he must have written some 200,000 words to her. “I was telling Walker, of the Cosmopolitan” he said, “the other day what I had been doing. He said, ‘What a waste, what a waste to send all those letters to your wife, when you know I would give you a thousand dollars apiece for them.’ So I wrote to my wife, and told her I was afraid I had been guilty of much waste, and that I must ask her to send me my letters back, inasmuch as Walker of the Cosmopolitan would give me one thousand dollars apiece. She replied she would not give them up for one thousand five hundred dollars apiece.” I suggested he might get that from Walker. “No,” he replied, “she would go up again.” I said it would be well if in a few years he published these letters, altering the names and places. He objected that it would make them unreal. They were a picture of New York as it is to-day. “There is nothing that I have written or read compared in value to these letters to my wife.”
Some day possibly these voluminous letters will see the light, duly expurgated, a kind of new and domestic diary of a nineteenth century Pepys.
His friend Mr. Twichell, writing in Harper’s Magazine last year on the subject of Twain’s family life, pays a noteworthy tribute to the domestic side of the great humorist. Nowhere is Mark Twain more entirely admirable, more favourably esteemed by all his friends, than in his capacity of a family man.
In 1868, when a newly-married friend was asking him why he did not begin to think of marrying, he replied with deep feeling:—
“I am taking thought of it. I am in love beyond all telling with the dearest and best girl in the whole world. I don’t suppose she will marry me. I can’t think it possible. She ought not to. But if she doesn’t, I shall always be sure that the best thing I ever did was to fall in love with her, and proud to have it known that I tried to win her!”
Mr: Twichell says :—
Two years afterward the lady of whom he spoke became his wife. From their wedding-day he has never ceased to be the lover revealed in that confession and humble declaration, as every one who has been observant of him under his own roof will bear witness. His wife’s companionship is his perpetual supreme felicity, absence from her his supreme discomfort. He is eminently fond of abiding at home. His fireside is ever his peculiar delight. Nothing gives him more pleasure than to arrange and take part in simple domestic festivities and entertainments—tableaux, charades, etc.—for which he has the happiest talent.
Perhaps no better insight of his family life, and, by inference, of himself as a factor of it, can be given than that afforded by a letter which, in 1885, he wrote to the Christian Union. It was drawn out by a foregoing letter, printed in the same paper, on the subject of the discipline of children, to which he was moved to reply. There is no need to state the particular point in discussion, or the argument on either side. But, as pertinent to what he had been saying, Mark, toward the end of his communication,broke into this personal strain:
“The mother of my children adores them—there is no milder term for it—and they worship her; they even worship anything which the touch of her hand has made sacred. They know her for the best and truest friend they have ever had, or ever shall have; they know her for one who neverdid them a wrong, and cannot do them a wrong; who never told them a lie nor the shadow of one; who never deceived them by even an ambiguous gesture; who never gave them an unreasonable command, nor ever contented herself with anything short of a perfect obedience; who has always treated them as politely and considerately as she would the best and oldest in the land, and has always required of them gentle speech and courteous conduct towards all, of whatsoever degree, with whom they chanced to come in contact; they know her for one whose promise, whether of reward or punishment, is gold, and always worth its face to the uttermost farthing. In a word, they know her, and I know her, for the best and dearest mother that lives—and by a long, long way the wisest.”
Of the four children born of this happy marriage two only survive. His only son died in infancy; but the death of Miss Clemens was the heaviest blow that fate has yet dealt Mark Twain.
VI—MARK TWAIN’S HUMOUR.
The peculiar quality of Mark Twain’s humour has been the subject of some interesting criticisms by a brother humorist. Mr. Frank R. Stockton made some observations on the subject that are very pertinent and just. He said:—
Mark Twain’s most notable characteristic is courage. Few other men—even if the other men could think of such things —would dare to say the things that Mark Twain says. To describe the travels of a man on a glacier, with particular reference to the fact that being pressed for time, he rode upon the middle of the glacier, which moves faster than the edges, is one of the bravest things in literature. Mark Twain does not depend entirely upon the humour of his situations and conditions to make his points. His faculty and range of expression are wonderful, and it is his courage which gives to his expressions, as well as his inventions, their force and unique effect. His glittering phrases are as daring as they are bright, and they sparkle through all his books like stars in the sky. A humiliated person has the aspect of a “bladder that has been stepped on by a cow.” A disguised king, practising obeisances, looks about “as humble as the leaning tower of Pisa,” and an orator is described “who loved to stand forth before a dazed world and pour forth flame and smoke, and lava, and pumice stone, into the skies, and work his subterranean thunders, and shake himself with earthquakes, and stench himself with sulphur fumes. If he consumed his own fields and vineyards, that was a pity, yes; but he would have his eruption at any cost.” The Yankee at King Arthur’s court speaks thus of a damsel of the period —
“I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl; for nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless trans-continental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me, that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language.”
Examples of the poignancy of expression, with which Mark Twain spurs his readers into a proper appreciation of what he is telling them, are too abundant for further reference, but although he uses them so easily, he does not always find them necessary. Some of the funniest passages in his later works, as well as in those by which he made his reputation, contain not a flash of wit nor any unusual expressions. A combination is presented in the plainest and simplest way, and as the substances are poured together the humour effervesces, not in the author’s story, but in the ‘reader’s mind. The author draws out the wit of his readers as a magnet draws needles from a cushion.
Mark Twain somewhere declared that there were only thirty-five varieties of joke known to the human race. He has practised most of these at one time or another—sometimes under dreary circumstances enough. As he said grimly when resigning the direction of the humorous department of the Galaxy in 1871:—
For the last eight months, with hardly an interval, I have had for my fellows and comrades, night and day, doctors and watchers of the sick. During these eight months death has taken two members of my home circle and malignantly threatened two others. All this I have experienced, yet all the time been under contract to furnish humorous matter once a month for this magazine.
His wide and varied experiences of life have begot in him a somewhat sombre way of looking at things, which occasionally finds expression in a mordant phrase. Take for example some of the sententious passages from ” Pud-d’nhead Wilson’s Calendar”:—
Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world. Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved. If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives. The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.
The charm of the unexpected is one of the secrets of Mark Twain’s humour, which is perhaps more noticeable in his talk than even in his books. Here are two of Mr Twichell’s anecdotes illustrating this:—
Chancing to look one morning at the house opposite, into which a family had recently moved, he saw something that made him cross the street quickly and deliver this speech, in substance, to a group of the new neighbours seated on the verandah: “My name is Clemens. My wife and I have been intending to call on you and make your acquaintance. We owe you an apology for not doing it before now. I beg your pardon for intruding on you in this informal manner and at this time of day, but your house is afire!”
That at this point the meeting suddenly adjourned it is unnecessary to state. For another example of his humorous way of saying a serious thing: One Sunday, when he had happened specially to like the sermon he heard in church, he lingered at the door after service, waiting for the minister to come out, in order to give him a pleasant word; which he did in this fashion: “I mean no offence, but I feel obliged to tell you that the preaching this morning has been of a kind that I can spare. I go to church to pursue my own trains of thought. But today I couldn’t do it. You have interfered with me. You have forced me to attend to you —and have lost me a whole half-hour. I beg that it may not occur again.”
The useful art of telling apposite anecdotes—real or invented—has seldom been cultivated more successfully than by Mark Twain. One of his friends is voucher for the following illustration of this gift:—
The students of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania made him an honorary member of the class of ’94. In accepting it he said that he really did not deserve the honour as his education had neglected him, but that now it had been thrust upon him his ambition had been fired and he wanted to be not only a member of a Bryn Mawr class, but a member of the Bryn Mawr faculty. “I should like to be,” said he, “a professor of anecdote. It’s a very useful art. I’ll give you a lesson. One kind of anecdote contains only words. You talk till you’re tired, and then you ring in a laugh—if you’re lucky. I’ll illustrate this plan by an anecdote of a Scotch-Irish christening. In this Scotch-Irish village a baby had been born, and a large number of friends had collected to see it christened. The minister, thinking this a good opportunity to display his oratorical powers, took the baby in his hand saying, “What is his name?
“He is a little fellow—yes, a little fellow—and as I look into your faces I see an expression of scorn that suggests that you despise him. But if you had the soul of a poet and the gift of prophecy you would not despise him. You would look far into the future and see what it might be. Consider how small the acorn is from which grows the mighty oak. So this little child may be a great poet and write tragedies, or a great statesman, or perhaps a future warrior wading in blood up to his neck; he may be—er—what is his name?” “His name?” asked the mother, who had been carried away by the preacher’s eloquence: “Oh, Mary Ann, sir.”
There is a Continental largesse about his mode of expression, a fine colossal breadth about his phrases that has about it the humour of the extravaganza. For instance, when he exults over the misfortune of an enemy, he writes:—
I am more than charmed to hear of it; still, it doesn’t do me half the good it could have done if it had come sooner. My malignity has so worn out and wasted away with time and the exercise of charity that even his death would not afford me anything more than a mere fleeting ecstasy, a sort of momentary, pleasurable titillation, now.
In a similar vein he is never weary of denouncing the pesky nuisance that man calls his conscience. Again and again does he express his resentment, but seldom more characteristically than when one of his immortal boys soliloquises concerning the inconvenience of this internal monitor:—
But that’s always the way; it don’t make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does, I would pisen him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides and ain’t no good, nohow.
The startling incongruity of the Western humorist, the portentous gravity with which the more absurd remarks are handed out to the listener as if they were nuggets of golden wisdom, have seldom been cultivated more successfully than by Mark Twain. There was “fine audacity in his offer in his lecture on the Sandwich Islands to offer to show his audience how the cannibals consume their food if only some one would lend him a live baby.” His story of the Jumping Frog has become one of the universal possessions of the human race. Some of his phrases stick like burrs. How unforgettable his prescription for the carving of the ancient fowl served at a German restaurant: “To carve a German chicken, use a club and avoid, the joints.”
His writing abounds in quaint turns and happy hits:—
This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February. Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
When the reporters circulated recently that Mark Twain was dying in poverty in London, Mark observed gravely, “Yes, I am dying—of course I am dying. But I do not know that I am doing it any faster than anybody else.” We all hope that he will imitate the Merry Monarch in being an unconscionably long time in dying, for as long as he lives, as Mr. Stockton truly remarks, Mark Twain will not cease to be the man of the double stroke—the Bismarck of humourists.
VII—AS MAN OF LETTERS.
Mark Twain was not educated for a literary career, nor was he passed through the curriculum of the colleges. He graduated in the university of the world, in which he entered as a freshman at the early age of thirteen, when he was apprenticed to a printer. From the composing stick to the wheel of a Mississippi steamboat, and from the Great River to the Great Desert, and the silver mines of Nevada—these were his class-rooms. He is a graduate of the Far West. Born in Florida, trained on the Mississippi, he took his degree in the Rockies, made his first mark as a descriptive writer as special correspondent in the Sandwich Islands, and first achieved fame in his humorous description of the Old World as seen by this most modern of all the children of the newest West. Few men have had more ups and downs. He has experienced almost every extreme of good and ill fortune. He has confronted the temptation to commit suicide when he had only a ten cent. piece in his pocket, he has been one of tne wealthiest of authors, and he is once more in financial straits, facing the difficulties like a man confident now as ever of coming out on top.
And as the result of this rich and varied experience, Mark Twain, altogether apart from his humour, has developed a literary genius which entitles him to rank in the forefront of contemporary authors. Mr. Howells, who is no mean judge, declares he “portrays and interprets real types, not only with exquisite appreciation and sympathy, but with a force and truth of drawing that makes them permanent.” If the literary man is he who alone can express things in words so that they live before the eye of the readers, Mark Twain is one of the first literary men of his day. For vivid portraiture of men and things, it would be difficult to find his equal. His description of the way in which the coyote is hunted over the plains is an excellent illustration of his peculiar talent. The coyote, or wolf of the plains, he says, first fools the dog by allowing him to keep within a few feet of his rear. But when the dog grows desperate, and makes a sprint, “forthwith there is a rushing sound, and the sudden splitting of a long crack through the atmosphere, and behold, that dog is solitary and alone in the midst of a vast solitude.” In another vein, but not less effective, is the little sketch of the significance of a cat as an element or character of a house:—
When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there — in sunny weather stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw covered over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat— and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?
His description of the Sandwich Islands remains to this day unequalled. “Roughing It” to this day is the standard description of the beginning of the Silver States. And who is there among all writing men who has so completely and satisfactorily interpreted a great river to the world as Mark Twain has interpreted the Mississippi? As Mr. Twichell says:—
His description of the Father of Waters, for beauty and splendour and deep feeling of Nature in some of her rarer aspects and most bewitching moods, was doubtless never surpassed.
His sympathy with Nature, which betrays the soul of the poet behind the mask of the humorist, is always present in Mark Twain’s writings. Here is an extract from some of his private letters quoted in Harpers, which illustrate this fact. Writing on November 29, 1895, from Napier, New Zealand, he says:—
Here we have the smooth and placidly complaining sea at our door, with nothing between us and it but twenty yards of shingle—and hardly a suggestion of life in that space to mar it or make a noise. Away down here, fifty-five degrees south of the equator, this sea seems to murmur in an unfamiliar tongue—a foreign tongue—a tongue bred among the ice-fields of the Antarctic—a murmur with a note of melancholy in it proper to the vast, unvisited solitudes it has come from. It was very delicious and solacing to wake in the night and find it still pulsing there.
Take as another example the following rhapsody over the Alps:—
O Switzerland! the further it recedes into the enriching haze of time, the more intolerably delicious the charm of it, and the cheer of it, and the glory and majesty and solemnity and pathos of it, grow. Those mountains had a soul; they thought; they spoke—one couldn’t hear it with the ears of the body, but what a voice it was!—and how real! Deep down in my memory it is sounding yet. Alp calleth unto Alp!—that stately old Scriptural wording is the right one for God’s Alps and God’s ocean. How puny we were in that awful presence—and how-painless it was to be so; how fitting and right it seemed, and how stingless was the sense of our unspeakable insignificance! And, Lord, how pervading were the repose and peace and blessedness that poured out of the heart of the invisible Great Spirit of the Mountains! Now, what is it? There are mountains and mountains and mountains in ths world—but only these take you by the heart-strings. I wonder what the secret of it is? Well, time and time again it has seemed to me that I must drop everything and flee to Switzerland once more. It is a longing; a deep, strong, tugging longing—that is the word. We must go again.
Readers of his “Jeanne D’Arc” need not be surprised to know that nothing is so fascinating to the wild humorist of the Pacific Slope as the history of the Middle Ages. Says Mr. Twichell:—
In those fields he has been an indefatigable, it is not too much to say, exhaustive, reader, while, by grace of a rarely tenacious memory, his learning in them is remarkably at hand and accessible to him. Hardly ever will an event of any importance in their annals be mentioned in his presence that he cannot at once supply the date of it. The aspect of remote times that chiefly fascinates his interest is the social. Books like Pepys’s Diary, that afford the means of looking narrowly and with human sympathy into the life and manners of bygone generations, have a peculiar charm to him.
He is a laborious and conscientious worker, returning often to his MS. after the lapse of many years. “It is a strange thing,” he once told a friend:—
“You have your ideas, your facts, your plot, and you go to work on your book and write yourself up. You use all the material yon have in your brain and then you stop, naturally. Well, lay the book aside and go to work on something else. “After awhile, three or four months, say, or perhaps three or four years, something suggests that old story to you, and you feel a sudden awakening of interest in it. And then lo and behold! you find that your stock of ideas and facts has been replenished, and your mind is full of your subject again and you must write, your brain is overflowing and you finish your book— if you are lucky.”
VIII— UP TO DATE.
Messrs. Chatto and Windus have just issued a new uniform edition of his works, including a volume of selected pieces of American humour which Mark Twain edited. Many who have read much of Mark Twain can now read more, nor will they regret completing their collection. But there is still better news. For this Christmas Mark Twain will bring out a new book under the title “A Surviving Innocent Abroad.” It is a narrative of his experiences and observations in the lecturing tour which he has been making round the world. Speaking of this forthcoming volume to the New York Herald interviewer, Mark Twain said:—
“Everybody has done his little circumnavigation act, and I thought it about time I did mine, so I have been getting it ready for the press since I have been here, and therefore, for the matter of that, the book is just my impressions of the world at large. I go into no details. I never do, for that matter. Details are not my strong point, unless I choose for my own pleasure to go into them seriously. Besides, I am under no contract to supply details to the reader. All that I undertake to do is to interest him. If I instruct him, that is his fate. He is that much ahead.”
“What is to be its name?”
“I had thought of calling it ‘ Another Innocent Abroad’; but following advice, as the lawyers say, I have decided to call it ‘The Surviving Innocent Abroad.’
“Now, my wife said, ‘But that is not true, because there’s So-and-so in Cleveland, and that and the other in Philadelphia.’ But, I said to her, ‘I will fix that.’ So I am going to put a little explanatory note to that title pointing out that although there are still in existence some eight or ten of the pilgrims who went on the Quaker City expedition some twenty-eight years ago, I am the only surviving one that has remained innocent.
“In fact, that title ‘The Innocents Abroad’ could only be strictly applied to two even at the time it was written, and the other is dead.”
“When do you expect the survivor to appear?”
“Oh, about Christmas,” said Mark Twain. “Christmas is a good time to bring out a book. Everybody is thinking about Christmas presents, and the pious are praying that Divine Providence may give them some clue as to what to give for a present, and the book, if it comes just at the right time, is about as good a thing as one could desire.”
We have seen Great Britain through the eyes of Max O’Rell; it will be a rare treat to journey through the English-speaking world in company with Mark Twain.
The fact that Mark Twain has been involved in difficulties through no fault of his own, and is now once more manfully struggling like Sir Walter Scott to satisfy his creditors, will, I hope, cause all those who owe him many happy hours to at least pay a peppercorn acknowledgment of their debt by purchasing “The Surviving Innocent.” In no other way is it possible to help him. The New York Herald recently started a fund to extricate him from the worst of his liabilities; but he stopped it.
“The facts,” said the Westminster Gazette, “speaking roughly, are, we believe, that some years ago he became a publisher in the firm of Charles L. Webster and Company, of New York, of which on the death of Mr. Webster he became the controlling member. In this capacity he had a considerable measure of success, but he became concerned in certain outside ventures, among them the production of a new typewriter, which brought trouble and made an assignment necessary. This was about three years ago, and the upshot was to leave him as poor as when he began work thirty years earlier. The New York Herald adds a rumour that he became personally responsible for over £40,000 of the firm’s debts, and it was to earn the money with which to pay these off that he undertook his subsequent extensive lecturing tour.”
“Poverty,” said Mark Twain, “is relative. I have been in poverty so often that it does not worry me very much. A more serious matter is the money owing to other people, not by any fault of mine, and yet owing to them by me.” But he put his foot down all the same upon the subscription. He wrote to the Editor of the Herald as follows:—
I made no revelation to my family of your generous undertaking in my behalf and for my relief from debt, and in that I was wrong. Now that they know all about the matter they contend that I have no right to allow my friends to help me while my health is good and my ability to work remains; that it is not fair to the friends and not justifiable; that it will be time enough to accept help when it shall be proven that I am no longer able to work. I am persuaded that they are right. While they are grateful for what you have done and for the kindly instinct which prompted you, they are urgent that the contributions be returned to the givers, with their thanks and mine. I yield to their desire and forward their request and my endorsement of it to you. I was glad when you initiated that movement, for I was tired of the fret and worry of debt, but I recognise that it is not permissible for a man whose case is not hopeless to shift his burdens to other men’s shoulders. S. L. CLEMENS.
Mark Twain was in London over Jubilee Day, and was retained by the New York Journal to write his impressions of the great festival for the entertainment of American readers. His letters were good journalistic copy; but, with the exception of the one inimitable joke quoted at the head of this article, there was not much in them to remind us of the sole surviving “Innocent Abroad.” Shortly after the Jubilee, Mr. Clemens with his family left London for Lucerne, where he is busy at work finishing his book. He says that Lucerne is a good place to work in, but not so good as London, from which let us hope that we may infer that before long we shall have Mark back in this capital.
I have not attempted in this sketch to tell the story of Mark Twain’s life. To do so would make a volume, and an interesting volume, and it could be compiled without much difficulty from his various books; but for such a compilation we should have the author at our elbow, and a volume as large as “A Tramp Abroad” in which to set things forth. These conditions, being absent, the compilation of the autobiography must be left for Mr. Clemens to undertake himself. I am well content if in these few pages I have made some acknowledgment of the debt under which the genial humorist has placed all English-speaking men, and have contributed, however little, to help the sale of the new edition of his works and the forthcoming volume of his latest travels.
One word by way of apology and explanation. Believing that Mr. Clemens was within short postal range I left myself no time to submit these proofs to a man as far away as the Lake of Lucerne. So for all mistakes and things that should not have been said, I alone am responsible. I am very sorry, but it can’t be helped.