Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCLIII

An Evening with Helen Keller

I recall two pleasant social events of that winter: one a little party given at the Clemenses’ home on New-Year’s Eve, with charades and story-telling and music. It was the music feature of this party that was distinctive; it was supplied by wire through an invention known as the telharmonium which, it was believed, would revolutionize musical entertainment in such places as hotels, and to some extent in private houses. The music came over the regular telephone wire, and was delivered through a series of horns or megaphones — similar to those used for phonographs — the playing being done, meanwhile, by skilled performers at the central station. Just why the telharmonium has not made good its promises of popularity I do not know. Clemens was filled with enthusiasm over the idea. He made a speech a little before midnight, in which he told how he had generally been enthusiastic about inventions which had turned out more or less well in about equal proportions. He did not dwell on the failures, but he told how he had been the first to use a typewriter for manuscript work; how he had been one of the earliest users of the fountain-pen; how he had installed the first telephone ever used in a private house, and how the audience now would have a demonstration of the first telharmonium music so employed. It was just about the stroke of midnight when he finished, and a moment later the horns began to play chimes and “Auld Lang Syne” and “America.”

The other pleasant evening referred to was a little company given in honor of Helen Keller. It was fascinating to watch her, and to realize with what a store of knowledge she had lighted the black silence of her physical life. To see Mark Twain and Helen Keller together was something not easily to be forgotten. When Mrs. Macy (who, as Miss Sullivan, had led her so marvelously out of the shadows) communicated his words to her with what seemed a lightning touch of the fingers her face radiated every shade of his meaning-humorous, serious, pathetic. Helen visited the various objects in the room, and seemed to enjoy them more than the usual observer of these things, and certainly in greater detail. Her sensitive fingers spread over articles of bric-a-brac, and the exclamations she uttered were always fitting, showing that she somehow visualized each thing in all its particulars. There was a bronze cat of handsome workmanship and happy expression, and when she had run those all — seeing fingers of hers over it she said: “It is smiling.”

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