Clemens might have lectured that winter with profit, and Major Pond did his best to persuade him; but Rogers agreed that his presence in New York was likely to be too important to warrant any schedule of absence. He went once to Boston to lecture for charity, though his pleasure in the experience was a sufficient reward. On the evening before the lecture Mrs. James T. Fields had him to her house to dine with Dr. Holmes, then not far from the end of his long, beautiful life.136
136 [He died that same year, October, 1894.]
Clemens wrote to Paris of their evening together:
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes never goes out (he is in his 84th year), but he came out this time — said he wanted to “have a time” once more with me.
Mrs. Fields said Aldrich begged to come, & went away crying because she wouldn’t let him. She allowed only her family (Sarah Orne Jewett & sister) to be present, because much company would overtax Dr. Holmes.
Well, he was just delightful! He did as brilliant and beautiful talking (& listening) as he ever did in his life, I guess. Fields and Jewett said he hadn’t been in such splendid form for years. He had ordered his carriage for 9. The coachman sent in for him at 9, but he said, “Oh, nonsense! — leave glories & grandeurs like these? Tell him to go away & come in an hour!”
At 10 he was called for again, & Mrs. Fields, getting uneasy, rose, but he wouldn’t go —& so we rattled ahead the same as ever. Twice more Mrs. Fields rose, but he wouldn’t go —& he didn’t go till half past 10 — an unwarrantable dissipation for him in these days. He was prodigiously complimentary about some of my books, & is having Pudd’nhead read to him. I told him you & I used the Autocrat as a courting book & marked it all through, & that you keep it in the sacred green box with the loveletters, & it pleased him.
One other address Clemens delivered that winter, at Fair Haven, on the opening of the Millicent Library, a present to the town from Mrs. Rogers. Mrs. Rogers had suggested to her husband that perhaps Mr. Clemens would be willing to say a few words there. Mr. Rogers had replied, “Oh, Clemens is in trouble. I don’t like to ask him,” but a day or two later told him of Mrs. Rogers’s wish, adding:
“Don’t feel at all that you need to do it. I know just how you are feeling, how worried you are.”
Clemens answered, “Mr. Rogers, do you think there is anything I could do for you that I wouldn’t do?”
It was on this occasion that he told for the first time the “stolen watermelon” story, so often reprinted since; how once he had stolen a watermelon, and when he found it to be a green one, had returned it to the farmer, with a lecture on honesty, and received a ripe one in its place.
In spite of his cares and diversions Clemens’s literary activities of this time were considerable. He wrote an article for the Youth’s Companion —“How to Tell a Story”— and another for the North American Review on Fenimore Cooper’s “Literary Offenses.” Mark Twain had not much respect for Cooper as a literary artist. Cooper’s stilted artificialities and slipshod English exasperated him and made it hard for him to see that in spite of these things the author of the Deerslayer was a mighty story-teller. Clemens had also promised some stories to Walker, of the Cosmopolitan, and gave him one for his Christmas number, “Traveling with a Reformer,” which had grown out of some incidents of that long-ago journey with Osgood to Chicago, supplemented by others that had happened on the more recent visit to that city with Hall. This story had already appeared when Clemens and Rogers had made their Chicago trip. Rogers had written for passes over the Pennsylvania road, and the president, replying, said:
“No, I won’t give Mark Twain a pass over our road. I’ve been reading his ‘Traveling with a Reformer,’ in which he abuses our road. I wouldn’t let him ride over it again if I could help it. The only way I’ll agree to let him go over it at all is in my private car. I have stocked it with everything he can possibly want, and have given orders that if there is anything else he wants the train is to be stopped until they can get it.”
“Pudd’nhead Wilson” was appearing in the Century during this period, and “Tom Sawyer Abroad” in the St. Nicholas. The Century had issued a tiny calendar of the Pudd’nhead maxims, and these quaint bits of philosophy, the very gems of Mark Twain mental riches, were in everybody’s mouth. With all this going on, and with his appearance at various social events, he was rather a more spectacular figure that winter than ever before.
From the note-book:
The Haunted Looking-glass. The guest (at midnight a dim light burning) wakes up & sees appear & disappear the faces that have looked into the glass during 3 centuries.
Love seems the swiftest but is the slowest of all growths. No man and woman really know what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.
It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.
Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash — that one is the cat.
Truth is stranger than fiction — to some people, but I am measurably familiar with it.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55