Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCI

Social Life in Vienna

Clemens, no longer worried about finances and full of ideas and prospects, was writing now at a great rate, mingling with all sorts of social events, lecturing for charities, and always in the lime-light.

I have abundant peace of mind again — no sense of burden. Work is become a pleasure — it is not labor any longer.

He was the lion of the Austrian capital, and it was natural that he should revel in his new freedom and in the universal tribute. Mrs. Clemens wrote that they were besieged with callers of every description:

Such funny combinations are here sometimes: one duke, several counts, several writers, several barons, two princes, newspaper women, etc. I find so far, without exception, that the high-up aristocracy are simple and cordial and agreeable.

When Clemens appeared as a public entertainer all society turned out to hear him and introductions were sought by persons of the most exclusive rank. Once a royal introduction led to an adventure. He had been giving a charity reading in Vienna, and at the end of it was introduced, with Mrs. Clemens, to her Highness, Countess Bardi, a princess of the Portuguese royal house by marriage and sister to the Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa. They realized that something was required after such an introduction; that, in fact, they must go within a day or two and pay their respects by writing their names in the visitors’ book, kept in a sort of anteroom of the royal establishment. A few days later, about noon, they drove to the archducal palace, inquired their way to the royal anteroom, and informed the grandly uniformed portier that they wished to write their names in the visitors’ book. The portier did not produce the book, but summoned a man in livery and gold lace and directed him to take them up-stairs, remarking that her Royal Highness was out, but would be in presently. They protested that her Royal Highness was not looking for them, that they were not calling, but had merely come to sign the visitors’ book, but he said:

“You are Americans, are you not?”

“Yes, we are Americans.”

“Then you are expected. Please go up-stairs.”

Mrs. Clemens said:

“Oh no, we are not expected; there is some mistake. Please let us sign the book and we will go away.”

But it was no use. He insisted that her Royal Highness would be back in a very little while; that she had commanded him to say so and that they must wait. They were shown up-stairs, Clemens going willingly enough, for he scented an adventure; but Mrs. Clemens was far from happy. They were taken to a splendid drawing-room, and at the doorway she made her last stand, refusing to enter. She declared that there was certainly some mistake, and begged them to let her sign her name in the book and go, without parleying. It was no use. Their conductor insisted that they remove their wraps and sit down, which they finally did — Mrs. Clemens miserable, her husband in a delightful state of anticipation. Writing of it to Twichell that night he said:

I was hoping and praying that the Princess would come and catch us up there, & that those other Americans who were expected would arrive and be taken as impostors by the portier & be shot by the sentinels & then it would all go into the papers & be cabled all over the world & make an immense stir and be perfectly lovely.

Livy was in a state of mind; she said it was too theatrically ridiculous & that I would never be able to keep my mouth shut; that I would be sure to let it out & it would get into the papers, & she tried to make me promise.

“Promise what?” I said.

“To be quiet about this.”

“Indeed I won’t; it’s the best thing ever happened. I’ll tell it and add to it & I wish Joe & Howells were here to make it perfect; I can’t make all the rightful blunders by myself — it takes all three of us to do justice to an opportunity like this. I would just like to see Howells get down to his work & explain & lie & work his futile & inventionless subterfuges when that Princess comes raging in here & wanting to know.”

But Livy could not hear fun — it was not a time to be trying to be funny. We were in a most miserable & shameful situation, & it —— Just then the door spread wide & our Princess & 4 more & 3 little Princes flowed in! Our Princess & her sister, the Archduchess Maria Theresa (mother to the imperial heir & to the a young girl Archduchesses present, & aunt to the 3 little Princes), & we shook hands all around & sat down & had a most sociable time for half an hour, & by & by it turned out that we were the right ones & had been sent for by a messenger who started too late to catch us at the hotel. We were invited for a o’clock, but we beat that arrangement by an hour & a half.

Wasn’t it a rattling good comedy situation? Seems a kind of pity we were the right ones. It would have been such nuts to see the right ones come and get fired out, & we chatting along comfortably & nobody suspecting us for impostors.

Mrs. Clemens to Mrs. Crane:

Of course I know that I should have courtesied to her Imperial Majesty & not quite so deep to her Royal Highness, and that Mr. Clemens should have kissed their hands; but it was all so unexpected that I had no time to prepare, and if I had had I should not have been there; I only went in to help Mr. C. with my bad German. When our minister’s wife is going to be presented to the Archduchess she practises her courtesying beforehand.

They had met royalty in simple American fashion and no disaster had followed.

We have already made mention of the distinguished visitors who gathered in the Clemens apartments at the Hotel Metropole. They were of many nations and ranks. It was the winter in London of twenty-five years before over again. Only Mark Twain was not the same. Then he had been unsophisticated, new, not always at his ease; now he was the polished familiar of courts and embassies — at home equally with poets and princes, authors and ambassadors and kings. Such famous ones were there as Vereshchagin, Leschetizky, Mark Hambourg, Dvorak, Lenbach, and Jokai, with diplomats of many nations. A list of foreign names may mean little to the American reader, but among them were Neigra, of Italy; Paraty, of Portugal; Lowenhaupt, of Sweden; and Ghiki, of Rumania. The Queen of Rumania, Carmen Sylva, a poetess in her own right, was a friend and warm admirer of Mark Twain. The Princess Metternich, and Madame de Laschowska, of Poland, were among those who came, and there were Nansen and his wife, and Campbell-Bannerman, who was afterward British Premier. Also there was Spiridon, the painter, who made portraits of Clara Clemens and her father, and other artists and potentates — the list is too long.

Those were brilliant, notable gatherings and are remembered in Vienna today. They were not always entirely harmonious, for politics was in the air and differences of opinion were likely to be pretty freely expressed.

Clemens and his family, as Americans, did not always have a happy time of it. It was the eve of the Spanish American War and most of continental Europe sided with Spain. Austria, in particular, was friendly to its related nation; and from every side the Clemenses heard how America was about to take a brutal and unfair advantage of a weaker nation for the sole purpose of annexing Cuba.

Charles Langdon and his son Jervis happened to arrive in Vienna about this time, bringing straight from America the comforting assurance that the war was not one of conquest or annexation, but a righteous defense of the weak. Mrs. Clemens gave a dinner for them, at which, besides some American students, were Mark Hambourg, Gabrilowitsch, and the great Leschetizky himself. Leschetizky, an impetuous and eloquent talker, took this occasion to inform the American visitors that their country was only shamming, that Cuba would soon be an American dependency. No one not born to the language could argue with Leschetizky. Clemens once wrote of him:

He is a most capable and felicitous talker-was born for an orator, I think. What life, energy, fire in a man past 70! & how he does play! He is easily the greatest pianist in the world. He is just as great & just as capable today as ever he was.

Last Sunday night, at dinner with us, he did all the talking for 3 hours, and everybody was glad to let him. He told his experiences as a revolutionist 50 years ago in ’48, & his battle-pictures were magnificently worded. Poetzl had never met him before. He is a talker himself & a good one — but he merely sat silent & gazed across the table at this inspired man, & drank in his words, & let his eyes fill & the blood come & go in his face & never said a word.

Whatever may have been his doubts in the beginning concerning the Cuban War, Mark Twain, by the end of May, had made up his mind as to its justice. When Theodore Stanton invited him to the Decoration Day banquet to be held in Paris, he replied:

I thank you very much for your invitation and I would accept if I were foot-free. For I should value the privilege of helping you do honor to the men who rewelded our broken Union and consecrated their great work with their lives; and also I should like to be there to do, homage to our soldiers and sailors of today who are enlisted for another most righteous war, and utter the hope that they may make short and decisive work of it and leave Cuba free and fed when they face for home again. And finally I should like to be present and see you interweave those two flags which, more than any others, stand for freedom and progress in the earth-flags which represent two kindred nations, each great and strong by itself, competent sureties for the peace of the world when they stand together.

That is to say, the flags of England and America. To an Austrian friend he emphasized this thought:

The war has brought England and America close together — and to my mind that is the biggest dividend that any war in this world has ever paid. If this feeling is ever to grow cold again I do not wish to live to see it.

And to Twichell, whose son David had enlisted:

You are living your war-days over again in Dave & it must be strong pleasure mixed with a sauce of apprehension . . . .

I have never enjoyed a war, even in history, as I am enjoying this one, for this is the worthiest one that was ever fought, so far as my knowledge goes. It is a worthy thing to fight for one’s own country. It is another sight finer to fight for another man’s. And I think this is the first time it has been done.

But it was a sad day for him when he found that the United States really meant to annex the Philippines, and his indignation flamed up. He said: “When the United States sent word to Spain that the Cuban atrocities must end she occupied the highest moral position ever taken by a nation since the Almighty made the earth. But when she snatched the Philippines she stained the flag.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00