Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCXLII

Mark Twain’s Good-By to the Platform

It was on April 19, 1906, the day following the great earthquake, that Mark Twain gave a “Farewell Lecture” at Carnegie Hall for the benefit of the Robert Fulton Memorial Association. Some weeks earlier Gen. Frederick D. Grant, its president, had proposed to pay one thousand dollars for a Mark Twain lecture; but Clemens’ had replied that he was permanently out of the field, and would never again address any audience that had to pay to hear him.

“I always expect to talk as long as I can get people to listen to me,” he sand, “but I never again expect to charge for it.” Later came one of his inspirations, and he wrote: “I will lecture for one thousand dollars, on one condition: that it will be understood to be my farewell lecture, and that I may contribute the thousand dollars to the Fulton Association.”

It was a suggestion not to be discouraged, and the bills and notices, “Mark Twain’s Farewell Lecture,” were published without delay.

I first heard of the matter one afternoon when General Grant had called. Clemens came into the study where I was working; he often wandered in and out-sometimes without a word, sometimes to relieve himself concerning things in general. But this time he suddenly chilled me by saying:

“I’m going to deliver my farewell lecture, and I want you to appear on the stage and help me.”

I feebly expressed my pleasure at the prospect. Then he said:

“I am going to lecture on Fulton — on the story of his achievements. It will be a burlesque, of course, and I am going to pretend to forget my facts, and I want you to sit there in a chair. Now and then, when I seem to get stuck, I’ll lean over and pretend to ask you some thing, and I want you to pretend to prompt me. You don’t need to laugh, or to pretend to be assisting in the performance any more than just that.”

Handbill of Mark Twain’s “Farewell Lecture”


Will Deliver His Farewell Lecture


APRIL 19TH, 1906


Robert Fulton Memorial Association




SEATS $1.50, $1.00, 50 CENTS

It was not likely that I should laugh. I had a sinking feeling in the cardiac region which does not go with mirth. It did not for the moment occur to me that the stage would be filled with eminent citizens and vice-presidents, and I had a vision of myself sitting there alone in the chair in that wide emptiness, with the chief performer directing attention to me every other moment or so, for perhaps an hour. Let me hurry on to say that it did not happen. I dare say he realized my unfitness for the work, and the far greater appropriateness of conferring the honor on General Grant, for in the end he gave him the assignment, to my immeasurable relief.

It was a magnificent occasion. That spacious hall was hung with bunting, the stage was banked and festooned with decoration of every sort. General Grant, surrounded by his splendidly uniformed staff, sat in the foreground, and behind was ranged a levee of foremost citizens of the republic. The band played “America” as Mark Twain entered, and the great audience rose and roared out its welcome. Some of those who knew him best had hoped that on this occasion of his last lecture he would tell of that first appearance in San Francisco, forty years before, when his fortunes had hung in the balance. Perhaps he did not think of it, and no one had had the courage to suggest it. At all events, he did a different thing. He began by making a strong plea for the smitten city where the flames were still raging, urging prompt help for those who had lost not only their homes, but the last shred of their belongings and their means of livelihood. Then followed his farcical history of Fulton, with General Grant to make the responses, and presently he drifted into the kind of lecture he had given so often in his long trip around the world — retelling the tales which had won him fortune and friends in many lands.

I do not know whether the entertainment was long or short. I think few took account of time. To a letter of inquiry as to how long the entertainment would last, he had replied:

I cannot say for sure. It is my custom to keep on talking till I get the audience cowed. Sometimes it takes an hour and fifteen minutes, sometimes I can do it in an hour.

There was no indication at any time that the audience was cowed. The house was packed, and the applause was so recurrent and continuous that often his voice was lost to those in its remoter corners. It did not matter. The tales were familiar to his hearers; merely to see Mark Twain, in his old age and in that splendid setting, relating them was enough. The audience realized that it was witnessing the close of a heroic chapter in a unique career.

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