Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCLIX

London Social Honors

We may not detail all the story of that English visit; even the path of glory leads to monotony at last. We may only mention a few more of the great honors paid to our unofficial ambassador to the world: among them a dinner given to members of the Savage Club by the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House, also a dinner given by the American Society at the Hotel Cecil in honor of the Fourth of July. Clemens was the guest of honor, and responded to the toast given by Ambassador Reid, “The Day we Celebrate.” He made an amusing and not altogether unserious reference to the American habit of exploding enthusiasm in dangerous fireworks.

To English colonists he gave credit for having established American independence, and closed:

We have, however, one Fourth of July which is absolutely our own, and that is the memorable proclamation issued forty years ago by that great American to whom Sir Mortimer Durand paid that just and beautiful tribute — Abraham Lincoln: a proclamation which not only set the black slave free, but set his white owner free also. The owner was set free from that burden and offense, that sad condition of things where he was in so many instances a master and owner of slaves when he did not want to be. That proclamation set them all free. But even in this matter England led the way, for she had set her slaves free thirty years before, and we but followed her example. We always follow her example, whether it is good or bad. And it was an English judge, a century ago, that issued that other great proclamation, and established that great principle, that when a slave, let him belong to whom he may, and let him come whence he may, sets his foot upon English soil his fetters, by that act, fall away and he is a free man before the world!

It is true, then, that all our Fourths of July, and we have five of them, England gave to us, except that one that I have mentioned — the Emancipation Proclamation; and let us not forget that we owe this debt to her. Let us be able to say to old England, this great-hearted, venerable old mother of the race, you gave us our Fourths of July, that we love and that we honor and revere; you gave us the Declaration of Independence, which is the charter of our rights; you, the venerable Mother of Liberties, the Champion and Protector of Anglo-Saxon Freedom — you gave us these things, and we do most honestly thank you for them.

It was at this dinner that he characteristically confessed, at last, to having stolen the Ascot Cup.

He lunched one day with Bernard Shaw, and the two discussed the philosophies in which they were mutually interested. Shaw regarded Clemens as a sociologist before all else, and gave it out with great frankness that America had produced just two great geniuses — Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain. Later Shaw wrote him a note, in which he said:

I am persuaded that the future historian of America will find your works as indispensable to him as a French historian finds the political tracts of Voltaire. I tell you so because I am the author of a play in which a priest says, “Telling the truth’s the funniest joke in the world,” a piece of wisdom which you helped to teach me.

Clemens saw a great deal of Moberly Bell. The two lunched and dined privately together when there was opportunity, and often met at the public gatherings.

The bare memorandum of the week following July Fourth will convey something of Mark Twain’s London activities:

Friday, July 5. Dined with Lord and Lady Portsmouth.

Saturday, July 6. Breakfasted at Lord Avebury’s. Lord Kelvin, Sir Charles Lyell, and Sir Archibald Geikie were there. Sat 22 times for photos, 16 at Histed’s. Savage Club dinner in the evening. White suit. Ascot Cup.

Sunday, July 7. Called on Lady Langattock and others. Lunched with Sir Norman Lockyer.

Monday, July 8. Lunched with Plasmon directors at Bath Club. Dined privately at C. F. Moberly Bell’s.

Tuesday, July 9. Lunched at the House with Sir Benjamin Stone. Balfour and Komura were the other guests of honor. Punch dinner in the evening. Joy Agnew and the cartoon.

Wednesday, July 10. Went to Liverpool with Tay Pay. Attended banquet in the Town Hall in the evening.

Thursday, July 11. Returned to London with Tay Pay. Calls in the afternoon.

The Savage Club would inevitably want to entertain him on its own account, and their dinner of July 6th was a handsome, affair. He felt at home with the Savages, and put on white for the only time publicly in England. He made them one of his reminiscent speeches, recalling his association with them on his first visit to London, thirty-seven years before. Then he said:

That is a long time ago, and as I had come into a very strange land, and was with friends, as I could see, that has always remained in my mind as a peculiarly blessed evening, since it brought me into contact with men of my own kind and my own feelings. I am glad to be here, and to see you all, because it is very likely that I shall not see you again. I have been received, as you know, in the most delightfully generous way in England ever since I came here. It keeps me choked up all the time. Everybody is so generous, and they do seem to give you such a hearty welcome. Nobody in the world can appreciate it higher than I do.

The club gave him a surprise in the course of the evening. A note was sent to him accompanied by a parcel, which, when opened, proved to contain a gilded plaster replica of the Ascot Gold Cup. The note said:

Dere Mark, i return the Cup. You couldn’t keep your mouth shut about it. ’Tis 2 pretty 2 melt, as you want me 2; nest time I work a pinch ile have a pard who don’t make after-dinner speeches.

There was a postcript which said: “I changed the acorn atop for another nut with my knife.” The acorn was, in fact, replaced by a well-modeled head of Mark Twain.

So, after all, the Ascot Cup would be one of the trophies which he would bear home with him across the Atlantic.

Probably the most valued of his London honors was the dinner given to him by the staff of Punch. Punch had already saluted him with a front-page cartoon by Bernard Partridge, a picture in which the presiding genius of that paper, Mr. Punch himself, presents him with a glass of the patronymic beverage with the words, “Sir, I honor myself by drinking your health. Long life to you — and happiness — and perpetual youth!”

Mr. Agnew, chief editor; Linley Sambourne, Francis Burnand, Henry Lucy, and others of the staff welcomed him at the Punch offices at 10 Bouverie Street, in the historic Punch dining-room where Thackeray had sat, and Douglas Jerrold, and so many of the great departed. Mark Twain was the first foreign visitor to be so honored — in fifty years the first stranger to sit at the sacred board — a mighty distinction. In the course of the dinner they gave him a pretty surprise, when little joy Agnew presented him with the original drawing of Partridge’s cartoon.

Nothing could have appealed to him more, and the Punch dinner, with its associations and that dainty presentation, remained apart in his memory from all other feastings.

Clemens had intended to return early in July, but so much was happening that he postponed his sailing until the 13th. Before leaving America, he had declined a dinner offered by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.

Repeatedly urged to let Liverpool share in his visit, he had reconsidered now, and on the day following the Punch dinner, on July loth, they carried him, with T. P. O’Connor (Tay Pay) in the Prince of Wales’s special coach to Liverpool, to be guest of honor at the reception and banquet which Lord Mayor Japp tendered him at the Town Hall. Clemens was too tired to be present while the courses were being served, but arrived rested and fresh to respond to his toast. Perhaps because it was his farewell speech in England, he made that night the most effective address of his four weeks’ visit — one of the most effective of his whole career: He began by some light reference to the Ascot Cup and the Dublin Jewels and the State Regalia, and other disappearances that had been laid to his charge, to amuse his hearers, and spoke at greater length than usual, and with even greater variety. Then laying all levity aside, he told them, like the Queen of Sheba, all that was in his heart.

. . . Home is dear to us all, and now I am departing to my own home beyond the ocean. Oxford has conferred upon me the highest honor that has ever fallen to my share of this life’s prizes. It is the very one I would have chosen, as outranking all and any others, the one more precious to me than any and all others within the gift of man or state. During my four weeks’ sojourn in England I have had another lofty honor, a continuous honor, an honor which has flowed serenely along, without halt or obstruction, through all these twenty-six days, a most moving and pulse-stirring honor — the heartfelt grip of the hand, and the welcome that does not descend from the pale-gray matter of the brain, but rushes up with the red blood from the heart. It makes me proud and sometimes it makes me humble, too. Many and many a year ago I gathered an incident from Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. It was like this: There was a presumptuous little self-important skipper in a coasting sloop engaged in the dried-apple and kitchen-furniture trade, and he was always hailing every ship that came in sight. He did it just to hear himself talk and to air his small grandeur. One day a majestic Indiaman came plowing by with course on course of canvas towering into the sky, her decks and yards swarming with sailors, her hull burdened to the Plimsoll line with a rich freightage of precious spices, lading the breezes with gracious and mysterious odors of the Orient. It was a noble spectacle, a sublime spectacle! Of course the little skipper popped into the shrouds and squeaked out a hail, “Ship ahoy! What ship is that? And whence and whither?” In a deep and thunderous bass the answer came back through the speaking-trumpet, “The Begum, of Bengal — 142 days out from Canton — homeward bound! What ship is that?” Well, it just crushed that poor little creature’s vanity flat, and he squeaked back most humbly, “Only the Mary Ann, fourteen hours out from Boston, bound for Kittery Point — with nothing to speak of!” Oh, what an eloquent word that “only,” to express the depths of his humbleness! That is just my case. During just one hour in the twenty-four — not more — I pause and reflect in the stillness of the night with the echoes of your English welcome still lingering in my ears, and then I am humble. Then I am properly meek, and for that little while I am only the Mary Ann, fourteen hours out, cargoed with vegetables and tinware; but during all the other twenty-three hours my vain self-complacency rides high on the white crests of your approval, and then I am a stately Indiaman, plowing the great seas under a cloud of canvas and laden with the kindest words that have ever been vouchsafed to any wandering alien in this world, I think; then my twenty-six fortunate days on this old mother soil seem to be multiplied by six, and I am the Begum, of Bengal, 142 days out from Canton — homeward bound!

He returned to London, and with one of his young acquaintances, an American — he called her Francesca — paid many calls. It took the dreariness out of that social function to perform it in that way. With a list of the calls they were to make they drove forth each day to cancel the social debt. They paid calls in every walk of life. His young companion was privileged to see the inside of London homes of almost every class, for he showed no partiality; he went to the homes of the poor and the rich alike. One day they visited the home of an old bookkeeper whom he had known in 1872 as a clerk in a large establishment, earning a salary of perhaps a pound a week, who now had risen mightily, for he had become head bookkeeper in that establishment on a salary of six pounds a week, and thought it great prosperity and fortune for his old age.

He sailed on July 13th for home, besought to the last moment by a crowd of autograph-seekers and reporters and photographers, and a multitude who only wished to see him and to shout and wave good-by. He was sailing away from them for the last time. They hoped he would make a speech, but that would not have been possible. To the reporters he gave a farewell message: “It has been the most enjoyable holiday I have ever had, and I am sorry the end of it has come. I have met a hundred, old friends, and I have made a hundred new ones. It is a good kind of riches to have; there is none better, I think.” And the London Tribune declared that “the ship that bore him away had difficulty in getting clear, so thickly was the water strewn with the bay-leaves of his triumph. For Mark Twain has triumphed, and in his all-too-brief stay of a month has done more for the cause of the world’s peace than will be accomplished by the Hague Conference. He has made the world laugh again.”

His ship was the Minnetonka, and there were some little folks aboard to be adopted as grandchildren. On July 5th, in a fog, the Minnetonka collided with the bark Sterling, and narrowly escaped sinking her. On the whole, however, the homeward way was clear, and the vessel reached New York nearly a day in advance of their schedule. Some ceremonies of welcome had been prepared for him; but they were upset by the early arrival, so that when he descended the gang-plank to his native soil only a few who had received special information were there to greet him. But perhaps he did not notice it. He seldom took account of the absence of such things. By early afternoon, however, the papers rang with the announcement that Mark Twain was home again.

It is a sorrow to me that I was not at the dock to welcome him. I had been visiting in Elmira, and timed my return for the evening of the a 2d, to be on hand the following morning, when the ship was due. When I saw the announcement that he had already arrived I called a greeting over the telephone, and was told to come down and play billiards. I confess I went with a certain degree of awe, for one could not but be overwhelmed with the echoes of the great splendor he had so recently achieved, and I prepared to sit a good way off in silence, and hear something of the tale of this returning conqueror; but when I arrived he was already in the billiard-room knocking the balls about — his coat off, for it was a hot night. As I entered he said:

“Get your cue. I have been inventing a new game.” And I think there were scarcely ten words exchanged before we were at it. The pageant was over; the curtain was rung down. Business was resumed at the old stand.

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