Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

1900-1907

Chapter CCX

London Social Affairs

All this time Clemens had been tossing on the London social tide. There was a call for him everywhere. No distinguished visitor of whatever profession or rank but must meet Mark Twain. The King of Sweden was among his royal conquests of that season.

He was more happy with men of his own kind. He was often with Moberly Bell, editor of the Times; E. A. Abbey, the painter; Sir Henry Lucy, of Punch (Toby, M.P.); James Bryce, and Herbert Gladstone; and there were a number of brilliant Irishmen who were his special delight. Once with Mrs. Clemens he dined with the author of his old favorite, ‘European Morals’, William E. H. Lecky. Lady Gregory was there and Sir Dennis Fitz-Patrick; who had been Governor-General at Lahore when they were in India, and a number of other Irish ladies and gentlemen. It was a memorable evening. To Twichell Clemens wrote:

Joe, do you know the Irish gentleman & the Irish lady, the Scotch gentleman & the Scotch lady? These are darlings, every one. Night before last it was all Irish — 24. One would have to travel far to match their ease & sociability & animation & sparkle & absence of shyness & self-consciousness. It was American in these fine qualities. This was at Mr. Lecky’s. He is Irish, you know. Last night it was Irish again, at Lady Gregory’s. Lord Roberts is Irish, & Sir William Butler, & Kitchener, I think, & a disproportion of the other prominent generals are of Irish & Scotch breed keeping up the traditions of Wellington & Sir Colin Campbell, of the Mutiny. You will have noticed that in S. A., as in the Mutiny, it is usually the Irish & Scotch that are placed in the forefront of the battle. . . . Sir William Butler said, “the Celt is the spearhead of the British lance.”

He mentions the news from the African war, which had been favorable to England, and what a change had come over everything in consequence. The dinner-parties had been lodges of sorrow and depressing. Now everybody was smiling again. In a note-book entry of this time he wrote:

Relief of Mafeking (May 18, 1900). The news came at 9.17 P.M. Before 10 all London was in the streets, gone mad with joy. By then the news was all over the American continent.

Clemens had been talking copyright a good deal in London, and introducing it into his speeches. Finally, one day he was summoned before a committee of the House of Lords to explain his views. His old idea that the product of a man’s brain is his property in perpetuity and not for any term of years had not changed, and they permitted him to dilate on this (to them) curious doctrine. The committee consisted of Lords Monkswell, Knutsford, Avebury, Farrar, and Thwing. When they asked for his views he said:

“In my opinion the copyright laws of England and America need only the removal of the forty-two-year limit and the return to perpetual copyright to be perfect. I consider that at least one of the reasons advanced in justification of limited copyright is fallacious — namely, the one which makes a distinction between an author’s property and real estate, and pretends that the two are not created, produced, or acquired in the same way, thus warranting a different treatment of the two by law.”

Continuing, he dwelt on the ancient doctrine that there was no property in an idea, showing how the far greater proportion of all property consisted of nothing more than elaborated ideas — the steamship, locomotive, telephone, the vast buildings in the world, how all of these had been constructed upon a basic idea precisely as a book is constructed, and were property only as a book is property, and therefore rightly subject to the same laws. He was carefully and searchingly examined by that shrewd committee. He kept them entertained and interested and left them in good-nature, even if not entirely converted. The papers printed his remarks, and London found them amusing.

A few days after the copyright session, Clemens, responding to the toast, “Literature,” at the Royal Literary Fund Banquet, made London laugh again, and early in June he was at the Savoy Hotel welcoming Sir Henry Irving back to England after one of his successful American tours.

On the Fourth of July (1900) Clemens dined with the Lord Chief-Justice, and later attended an American banquet at the Hotel Cecil. He arrived late, when a number of the guests were already going. They insisted, however, that he make a speech, which he did, and considered the evening ended. It was not quite over. A sequel to his “Luck” story, published nine years before, suddenly developed.

To go back a little, the reader may recall that “Luck” was a story which Twichell had told him as being supposedly true. The hero of it was a military officer who had risen to the highest rank through what at least seemed to be sheer luck, including a number of fortunate blunders. Clemens thought the story improbable, but wrote it and laid it away for several years, offering it at last in the general house-cleaning which took place after the first collapse of the machine. It was published in Harper’s Magazine for August, 1891, and something less than a year later, in Rome, an English gentleman — a new acquaintance — said to him:

“Mr. Clemens, shall you go to England?”

“Very likely.”

“Shall you take your tomahawk with you?”

“Why — yes, if it shall seem best.”

“Well, it will. Be advised. Take it with you.”

“Why?”

“Because of that sketch of yours entitled ‘Luck.’ That sketch is current in England, and you will surely need your tomahawk.”

“What makes you think so?”

“I think so because the hero of the sketch will naturally want your scalp, and will probably apply for it. Be advised. Take your tomahawk along.”

“Why, even with it I sha’n’t stand any chance, because I sha’n’t know him when he applies, and he will have my scalp before I know what his errand is.”

“Come, do you mean to say that you don’t know who the hero of that sketch is?”

“Indeed I haven’t any idea who the hero of the sketch is. Who is it?”

His informant hesitated a moment, then named a name of world-wide military significance.

As Mask Twain finished his Fourth of July speech at the Cecil and started to sit down a splendidly uniformed and decorated personage at his side said:

“Mr. Clemens, I have been wanting to know you a long time,” and he was looking down into the face of the hero of “Luck.”

“I was caught unprepared,” he said in his notes of it. “I didn’t sit down — I fell down. I didn’t have my tomahawk, and I didn’t know what would happen. But he was, composed, and pretty soon I got composed and we had a good, friendly time. If he had ever heard of that sketch of mine he did not manifest it in any way, and at twelve, midnight, I took my scalp home intact.”

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