Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CLXVI

A “Player” And a Master of Arts

One morning early in January Clemens received the following note:

DALY’S THEATER, NEW YORK, January 2, 1888.

Mr. Augustin Daly will be very much pleased to have Mr. S. L. Clemens meet Mr. Booth, Mr. Barrett, and Mr. Palmer and a few friends at lunch on Friday next, January 6th (at one o’clock in Delmonico’s), to discuss the formation of a new club which it is thought will claim your (sic) interest.

R. S. V. P.

There were already in New York a variety of literary and artistic societies, such as The Kinsmen and Tile clubs, with which Clemens was more or less associated. It was proposed now to form a more comprehensive and pretentious organization — one that would include the various associated arts. The conception of this new club, which was to be called The Players, had grown out of a desire on the part of Edwin Booth to confer some enduring benefit upon the members of his profession. It had been discussed during a summer cruise on Mr. E. C. Benedict’s steam-yacht by a little party which, besides the owner, consisted of Booth himself, Aldrich, Lawrence Barrett, William Bispham, and Laurence Hutton. Booth’s original idea had been to endow some sort of an actors’ home, but after due consideration this did not appear to be the best plan. Some one proposed a club, and Aldrich, with never-failing inspiration, suggested its name, The Players, which immediately impressed Booth and the others. It was then decided that members of all the kindred arts should be admitted, and this was the plan discussed and perfected at the Daly luncheon. The guests became charter members, and The Players became an incorporated fact early in January, 1888. 122 Booth purchased the fine old brownstone residence at 16 Gramercy Park, and had expensive alterations made under the directions of Stanford White to adapt it for club purposes. He bore the entire cost, furnished it from garret to cellar, gave it his books and pictures, his rare collections of every sort. Laurence Hutton, writing of it afterward, said:

122 [Besides Mr. Booth himself, the charter members were: Lawrence Barrett, William Bispham, Samuel L. Clemens, Augustin Daly, Joseph F. Daly, John Drew, Henry Edwards, Laurence Hutton, Joseph Jefferson, John A. Lane, James Lewis, Brander Matthews, Stephen H. Olin, A. M. Palmer, and William T. Sherman.]

And on the first Founder’s Night, the 31st of December, 1888, he transferred it all to the association, a munificent gift; absolutely without parallel in its way. The pleasure it gave to Booth during the few remaining years of his life was very great. He made it his home. Next to his own immediate family it was his chief interest, care, and consolation. He nursed and petted it, as it nursed and petted and honored him. He died in it. And it is certainly his greatest monument.

There is no other club quite like The Players. The personality of Edwin Booth pervades it, and there is a spirit in its atmosphere not found in other large clubs — a spirit of unity, and ancient friendship, and mellowness which usually come only of small membership and long establishment. Mark Twain was always fond of The Players, and more than once made it his home. It is a true home, and its members are a genuine brotherhood.

It was in June, 1888, that Yale College conferred upon Samuel Clemens the degree of Master of Arts. It was his first honor of this kind, and he was proud of it. To Charles Hopkins (“Charley”) Clark, who had been appointed to apprise him of the honor, he wrote:

I felt mighty proud of that degree; in fact I could squeeze the truth a little closer and say vain of it. And why shouldn’t I be? I am the only literary animal of my particular subspecies who has ever been given a degree by any college in any age of the world as far as I know.

To which Clark answered:

MY DEAR FRIEND, You are “the only literary animal of your particular subspecies” in existence, and you’ve no cause for humility in the fact. Yale has done herself at least as much credit as she has done you, and “don’t you forget it.” C. H. C.

Clemens could not attend the alumni dinner, being at Elmira and unable to get away, but in an address he made at Yale College later in the year he thus freely expressed himself:

I was sincerely proud and grateful to be made a Master of Arts by this great and venerable University, and I would have come last June to testify this feeling, as I do now testify it, but that the sudden and unexpected notice of the honor done me found me at a distance from home and unable to discharge that duty and enjoy that privilege.

Along at first, say for the first month or so, I, did not quite know hove to proceed because of my not knowing just what authorities and privileges belonged to the title which had been granted me, but after that I consulted some students of Trinity — in Hartford — and they made everything clear to me. It was through them that I found out that my title made me head of the Governing Body of the University, and lodged in me very broad and severely responsible powers.

I was told that it would be necessary to report to you at this time, and of course I comply, though I would have preferred to put it off till I could make a better showing; for indeed I have been so pertinaciously hindered and obstructed at every turn by the faculty that it would be difficult to prove that the University is really in any better shape now than it was when I first took charge. By advice, I turned my earliest attention to the Greek department. I told the Greek professor I had concluded to drop the use of Greek-written character because it is so hard to spell with, and so impossible to read after you get it spelt. Let us draw the curtain there. I saw by what followed that nothing but early neglect saved him from being a very profane man. I ordered the professor of mathematics to simplify the whole system, because the way it was I couldn’t understand it, and I didn’t want things going on in the college in what was practically a clandestine fashion. I told him to drop the conundrum system; it was not suited to the dignity of a college, which should deal in facts, not guesses and suppositions; we didn’t want any more cases of if A and B stand at opposite poles of the earth’s surface and C at the equator of Jupiter, at what variations of angle will the left limb of the moon appear to these different parties? — I said you just let that thing alone; it’s plenty time to get in a sweat about it when it happens; as like as not it ain’t going to do any harm, anyway. His reception of these instructions bordered on insubordination, insomuch that I felt obliged to take his number and report him. I found the astronomer of the University gadding around after comets and other such odds and ends — tramps and derelicts of the skies. I told him pretty plainly that we couldn’t have that. I told him it was no economy to go on piling up and piling up raw material in the way of new stars and comets and asteroids that we couldn’t ever have any use for till we had worked off the old stock. At bottom I don’t really mind comets so much, but somehow I have always been down on asteroids. There is nothing mature about them; I wouldn’t sit up nights the way that man does if I could get a basketful of them. He said it was the bast line of goods he had; he said he could trade them to Rochester for comets, and trade the comets to Harvard for nebulae, and trade the nebula to the Smithsonian for flint hatchets. I felt obliged to stop this thing on the spot; I said we couldn’t have the University turned into an astronomical junk shop. And while I was at it I thought I might as well make the reform complete; the astronomer is extraordinarily mutinous, and so, with your approval, I will transfer him to the law department and put one of the law students in his place. A boy will be more biddable, more tractable, also cheaper. It is true he cannot be intrusted with important work at first, but he can comb the skies for nebulae till he gets his hand in. I have other changes in mind, but as they are in the nature of surprises I judge it politic to leave them unspecified at this time.

Very likely it was in this new capacity, as the head of the governing body, that he wrote one morning to Clark advising him as to the misuse of a word in the Courant, though he thought it best to sign the communication with the names of certain learned friends, to give it weight with the public, as he afterward explained.

SIR — The word “patricide” in your issue of this morning (telegrams) was an error. You meant it to describe the slayer of a father; you should have used “parricide” instead. Patricide merely means the killing of an Irishman — any Irishman, male or female.


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05