Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCV

Speeches that Were Not Made

In a volume of Mark Twain’s collected speeches there is one entitled “German for the Hungarians — Address at the jubilee Celebration of the Emancipation of the Hungarian Press, March 26, 1899.” An introductory paragraph states that the ministers and members of Parliament were present, and that the subject was the “Ausgleich”— i.e., the arrangement for the apportionment of the taxes between Hungary and Austria. The speech as there set down begins:

Now that we are all here together I think that it will be a good idea to arrange the Ausgleich. If you will act for Hungary I shall be quite willing to act for Austria, and this is the very time for it.

It is an excellent speech, full of good-feeling and good-humor, but it was never delivered. It is only a speech that Mark Twain intended to deliver, and permitted to be copied by a representative of the press before he started for Budapest.

It was a grand dinner, brilliant and inspiring, and when, Mark Twain was presented to that distinguished company he took a text from something the introducer had said and became so interested in it that his prepared speech wholly disappeared from his memory.

I think I will never embarrass myself with a set speech again [he wrote Twichell]. My memory is old and rickety and cannot stand the strain. But I had this luck. What I did was to furnish a text for a part of the splendid speech which was made by the greatest living orator of the European world — a speech which it was a great delight to listen to, although I did not understand any word of it, it being in Hungarian. I was glad I came, it was a great night, & I heard all the great men in the German tongue.

The family accompanied Clemens to Budapest, and while there met Franz, son of Louis Kossuth, and dined with him.

I assure you [wrote Mrs. Clemens] that I felt stirred, and I kept saying to myself “This is Louis Kossuth’s son.” He came to our room one day, and we had quite a long and a very pleasant talk together. He is a man one likes immensely. He has a quiet dignity about him that is very winning. He seems to be a man highly esteemed in Hungary. If I am not mistaken, the last time I saw the old picture of his father it was hanging in a room that we turned into a music-room for Susy at the farm.

They were most handsomely treated in Budapest. A large delegation greeted them on arrival, and a carriage and attendants were placed continually at their disposal. They remained several days, and Clemens showed his appreciation by giving a reading for charity.

It was hinted to Mark Twain that spring, that before leaving Vienna, it would be proper for him to pay his respects to Emperor Franz Josef, who had expressed a wish to meet him. Clemens promptly complied with the formalities and the meeting was arranged. He had a warm admiration for the Austrian Emperor, and naturally prepared himself a little for what he wanted to say to him. He claimed afterward that he had compacted a sort of speech into a single German sentence of eighteen words. He did not make use of it, however. When he arrived at the royal palace and was presented, the Emperor himself began in such an entirely informal way that it did no occur to his visitor to deliver his prepared German sentence. When he returned from the audience he said:

“We got along very well. I proposed to him a plan to exterminate the human race by withdrawing the oxygen from the air for a period of two minutes. I said Szczepanik would invent it for him. I think it impressed him. After a while, in the course of our talk I remembered and told the Emperor I had prepared and memorized a very good speech but had forgotten it. He was very agreeable about it. He said a speech wasn’t necessary. He seemed to be a most kind-hearted emperor, with a great deal of plain, good, attractive human nature about him. Necessarily he must have or he couldn’t have unbent to me as he did. I couldn’t unbend if I were an emperor. I should feel the stiffness of the position. Franz Josef doesn’t feel it. He is just a natural man, although an emperor. I was greatly impressed by him, and I liked him exceedingly. His face is always the face of a pleasant man and he has a fine sense of humor. It is the Emperor’s personality and the confidence all ranks have in him that preserve the real political serenity in what has an outside appearance of being the opposite. He is a man as well as an emperor — an emperor and a man.”

Clemens and Howells were corresponding with something of the old-time frequency. The work that Mark Twain was doing — thoughtful work with serious intent — appealed strongly to Howells. He wrote:

You are the greatest man of your sort that ever lived, and there is no use saying anything else . . . . You have pervaded your century almost more than any other man of letters, if not more; and it is astonishing how you keep spreading . . . . You are my “shadow of a great rock in a weary land” more than any other writer.

Clemens, who was reading Howells’s serial, “Their Silver-Wedding journey,” then running in Harper’s Magazine, responded:

You are old enough to be a weary man with paling interests, but you do not show it; you do your work in the same old, delicate & delicious & forceful & searching & perfect way. I don’t know how you can — but I suspect. I suspect that to you there is still dignity in human life, & that man is not a joke — a poor joke — the poorest that was ever contrived. Since I wrote my Bible 148 (last year), which Mrs. Clemens loathes & shudders over & will not listen to the last half nor allow me to print any part of it, man is not to me the respect-worthy person he was before, & so I have lost my pride in him & can’t write gaily nor praisefully about him any more . . . .

148 [The “Gospel,” What is Man?]

Next morning. I have been reading the morning paper. I do it every morning — well knowing that I shall find in it the usual depravities & basenesses & hypocrisies and cruelties that make up civilization & cause me to put in the rest of the day pleading for the damnation of the human race. I cannot seem to get my prayers answered, yet I do not despair.

He was not greatly changed. Perhaps he had fewer illusions and less iridescent ones, and certainly he had more sorrow; but the letters to Howells do not vary greatly from those written twenty-five years before. There is even in them a touch of the old pretense as to Mrs. Clemens’s violence.

I mustn’t stop to play now or I shall never get those helfiard letters answered. (That is not my spelling. It is Mrs. Clemens’s, I have told her the right way a thousand times, but it does no good, she never remembers.)

All through this Vienna period (as during several years before and after) Henry Rogers was in full charge of Mark Twain’s American affairs. Clemens wrote him almost daily, and upon every matter, small or large, that developed, or seemed likely to develop, in his undertakings. The complications growing out of the type machine and Webster failures were endless. 149 The disposal of the manuscripts alone was work for a literary agent. The consideration of proposed literary, dramatic, and financial schemes must have required not only thought, but time. Yet Mr. Rogers comfortably and genially took care of all these things and his own tremendous affairs besides, and apologized sometimes when he felt, perhaps, that he had wavered a little in his attention. Clemens once wrote him:

149 [“I hope to goodness I sha’n’t get you into any more jobs such as the type-setter and Webster business and the Bliss-Harper campaigns have been. Oh, they were sickeners.” (Clemens to Rogers, November 15, 1898.)]

Oh, dear me, you don’t have to excuse yourself for neglecting me; you are entitled to the highest praise for being so limitlessly patient and good in bothering with my confused affairs, and pulling me out of a hole every little while.

It makes me lazy, the way that Steel stock is rising. If I were lazier — like Rice — nothing could keep me from retiring. But I work right along, like a poor person. I shall figure up the rise, as the figures come in, and push up my literary prices accordingly, till I get my literature up to where nobody can afford it but the family. (N. B. — Look here, are you charging storage? I am not going to stand that, you know.) Meantime, I note those encouraging illogical words of yours about my not worrying because I am to be rich when I am 68; why didn’t you have Cheiro make it 90, so that I could have plenty of room?

It would be jolly good if some one should succeed in making a play out of “Is He Dead?” 150 From what I gather from dramatists, he will have his hands something more than full — but let him struggle, let him struggle.

150 [Clemens himself had attempted to make a play out of his story “Is He Dead?” and had forwarded the MS. to Rogers. Later he wrote: “Put ‘Is He Dead?’ in the fire. God will bless you. I too. I started to convince myself that I could write a play, or couldn’t. I’m convinced. Nothing can disturb that conviction.”]

Is there some way, honest or otherwise, by which you can get a copy of Mayo’s play, “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” for me? There is a capable young Austrian here who saw it in New York and wants to translate it and see if he can stage it here. I don’t think these people here would understand it or take to it, but he thinks it will pay us to try.

A couple of London dramatists want to bargain with me for the right to make a high comedy out of the “Million-Pound Note.” Barkis is willing.

This is but one of the briefer letters. Most of them were much longer and of more elaborate requirements. Also they overflowed with the gaiety of good-fortune and with gratitude. From Vienna in 1899 Clemens wrote:

Why, it is just splendid! I have nothing to do but sit around and watch you set the hen and hatch out those big broods and make my living for me. Don’t you wish you had somebody to do the same for you? — a magician who can turn steel add copper and Brooklyn gas into gold. I mean to raise your wages again — I begin to feel that I can afford it.

I think the hen ought to have a name; she must be called Unberufen. That is a German word which is equivalent to it “sh! hush’ don’t let the spirits hear you!” The superstition is that if you happen to let fall any grateful jubilation over good luck that you’ve had or are hoping to have you must shut square off and say “Unberufen!” and knock wood. The word drives the evil spirits away; otherwise they would divine your joy or your hopes and go to work and spoil your game. Set her again — do!

Oh, look here! You are just like everybody; merely because I am literary you think I’m a commercial somnambulist, and am not watching you with all that money in your hands. Bless you, I’ve got a description of you and a photograph in every police-office in Christendom, with the remark appended: “Look out for a handsome, tall, slender young man with a gray mustache and courtly manners and an address well calculated to deceive, calling himself by the name of Smith.” Don’t you try to get away — it won’t work.

From the note-book:

Midnight. At Miss Bailie’s home for English governesses. Two comedies & some songs and ballads. Was asked to speak & did it. (And rung in the “Mexican Plug.”)

A Voice. “The Princess Hohenlohe wishes you to write on her fan.”

“With pleasure — where is she?”

“At your elbow.”

I turned & took the fan & said, “Your Highness’s place is in a fairy tale; & by & by I mean to write that tale,” whereat she laughed a happy girlish laugh, & we moved through the crowd to get to a writing-table —& to get in a strong light so that I could see her better. Beautiful little creature, with the dearest friendly ways & sincerities & simplicities & sweetnesses — the ideal princess of the fairy tales. She is 16 or 17, I judge.

Mental Telegraphy. Mrs. Clemens was pouring out the coffee this morning; I unfolded the Neue Freie Presse, began to read a paragraph & said:

“They’ve found a new way to tell genuine gems from false ——”

“By the Roentgen ray!” she exclaimed.

That is what I was going to say. She had not seen the paper, & there had been no talk about the ray or gems by herself or by me. It was a plain case of telegraphy.

No man that ever lived has ever done a thing to please God — primarily. It was done to please himself, then God next.

The Being who to me is the real God is the one who created this majestic universe & rules it. He is the only originator, the only originator of thoughts; thoughts suggested from within, not from without; the originator of colors & of all their possible combinations; of forces & the laws that govern them; of forms & shapes of all forms-man has never invented a new one. He is the only originator. He made the materials of all things; He made the laws by which, & by which only, man may combine them into the machines & other things which outside influences suggest to him. He made character — man can portray it but not “create” it, for He is the only creator.

He, is the perfect artisan, the perfect artist.

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