Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter XCI

A London Lecture

Clemens concluded to hasten the homeward journey, but to lecture a few nights in London before starting. He would then accompany his little family home, and return at once to continue the lecture series and protect his copyright. This plan was carried out. In a communication to the Standard, October 7th, he said:

SIR — In view of the prevailing frenzy concerning the Sandwich Islands, and the inflamed desire of the public to acquire information concerning them, I have thought it well to tarry yet another week in England and deliver a lecture upon this absorbing subject. And lest it should be thought unbecoming in me, a stranger, to come to the public rescue at such a time, instead of leaving to abler hands a matter of so much moment, I desire to explain that I do it with the best motives and the most honorable intentions. I do it because I am convinced that no one can allay this unwholesome excitement as effectually as I can, and to allay it, and allay it as quickly as possible, is surely one thing that is absolutely necessary at this juncture. I feel and know that I am equal to this task, for I can allay any kind of an excitement by lecturing upon it. I have saved many communities in this way. I have always been able to paralyze the public interest in any topic that I chose to take hold of and elucidate with all my strength.

Hoping that this explanation will show that if I am seeming to intrude I am at least doing it from a high impulse, I am, sir, your obedient servant,
MARK TWAIN.

A day later the following announcement appeared:

QUEEN’S CONCERT ROOMS,
HANOVER SQUARE.

MR. GEORGE DOLBY begs to announce that

MR. MARK TWAIN

WILL DELIVER A
LECTURE
OF A
HUMOROUS CHARACTER,

AS ABOVE, ON
MONDAY EVENING NEXT, OCTOBER 13th, 1873,
AND REPEAT IT IN THE SAME PLACE, ON
TUESDAY EVENING, OCTOBER 14th,
WEDNESDAY “ “ 15th,
THURSDAY “ “ 16th,
FRIDAY “ “ 17th,

At Eight o’Clock,
AND
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, OCTOBER 18th,
At Three o’Clock.

SUBJECT:
“Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands.”

As Mr. TWAIN has spent several months in these Islands, and is well acquainted with his subject, the Lecture may be expected to furnish matter of interest.

STALLS, 5s. UNRESERVED SEATS, 3s.

The prospect of a lecture from Mark Twain interested the London public. Those who had not seen him were willing to pay even for that privilege. The papers were encouraging; Punch sounded a characteristic note:

WELCOME TO A LECTURER

“’Tis time we Twain did show ourselves.” ’Twas said
By Caesar, when one Mark had lost his head:
By Mark, whose head’s quite bright, ’tis said again:
Therefore, “go with me, friends, to bless this Twain.”

— Punch.

Dolby had managed the Dickens lectures, and he proved his sound business judgment and experience by taking the largest available hall in London for Mark Twain.

On the evening of October 13th, in the spacious Queen’s Concert Rooms, Hanover Square, Mark Twain delivered his first public address in England. The subject was “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,” the old lecture with which he had made his first great successes. He was not introduced. He appeared on the platform in evening dress, assuming the character of a manager announcing a disappointment.

Mr. Clemens, he said, had fully expected to be present. He paused and loud murmurs arose from the audience. He lifted his hand and they subsided. Then he added, “I am happy to say that Mark Twain is present, and will now give his lecture.” Whereupon the audience roared its approval.

It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that his triumph that week was a regal one. For five successive nights and a Saturday matinee the culture and fashion of London thronged to hear him discourse of their “fellow savages.” It was a lecture event wholly without precedent. The lectures of Artemus Ward, 79 who had quickly become a favorite in London, had prepared the public for American platform humor, while the daily doings of this new American product, as reported by the press, had aroused interest, or curiosity, to a high pitch. On no occasion in his own country had he won such a complete triumph. The papers for a week devoted columns of space to appreciation and editorial comment. The Daily News of October 17th published a column-and-a-half editorial on American humor, with Mark Twain’s public appearance as the general text. The Times referred to the continued popularity of the lectures:

79 [“Artemus the delicious,” as Charles Reade called him, came to London in June, 1866, and gave his “piece” in Egyptian Hall. The refined, delicate, intellectual countenance, the sweet, gave, mouth, from which one might have expected philosophical lectures retained their seriousness while listeners were convulsed with laughter. There was something magical about it. Every sentence was a surprise. He played on his audience as Liszt did on a piano most easily when most effectively. Who can ever forget his attempt to stop his Italian pianist-” a count in his own country, but not much account in this “-who went on playing loudly while he was trying to tell us an “affecting incident” that occurred near a small clump of trees shown on his panorama of the Far West. The music stormed on-we could see only lips and arms pathetically moving till the piano suddenly ceased, and we heard-it was all we heard “and, she fainted in Reginald’s arms.” His tricks have been at tempted in many theaters, but Artemus Ward was inimitable. And all the time the man was dying. (Moneure D. Conway, Autobiography.)]

They can’t be said to have more than whetted the public appetite, if we are to take the fact which has been imparted to us, that the holding capacity of the Hanover Square Rooms has been inadequate to the demand made upon it every night by Twain’s lecturing, as a criterion. The last lecture of this too brief course was delivered yesterday before an audience which crammed to discomfort every part of the principal apartment of the Hanover Square Rooms. . . .

At the close of yesterday’s lecture Mark Twain was so loudly applauded that he returned to the stage, and, as soon as the audience gave him a chance of being heard, he said, with much apparent emotion:

“Ladies and Gentlemen — I won’t keep you one single moment in this suffocating atmosphere. I simply wish to say that this is the last lecture I shall have the honor to deliver in London until I return from America, four weeks from now. I only wish to say (here Mr. Clemens faltered as if too much affected to proceed) I am very grateful. I do not wish to appear pathetic, but it is something magnificent for a stranger to come to the metropolis of the world and be received so handsomely as I have been. I simply thank you.”

The Saturday Review devoted a page, and Once a Week, under the head of “Cracking jokes,” gave three pages, to praise of the literary and lecture methods of the new American humorist. With the promise of speedy return, he left London, gave the lecture once in Liverpool, and with his party (October 21st) set sail for home.

In mid-Atlantic he remembered Dr. Brown, and wrote him:

We have plowed a long way over the sea, and there’s twenty-two hundred miles of restless water between us now, besides the railway stretch. And yet you are so present with us, so close to us, that a span and a whisper would bridge the distance.

So it would seem that of all the many memories of that eventful half-year, that of Dr. Brown was the most present, the most tender.

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