Mark Twain’s trip across the Atlantic would seem to have been a pleasant one. The Minneapolis is a fine, big ship, and there was plenty of company. Prof. Archibald Henderson, Bernard Shaw’s biographer, was aboard; 180 also President Patton, of the Princeton Theological Seminary; a well-known cartoonist, Richards, and some very attractive young people — school-girls in particular, such as all through his life had appealed to Mark Twain. Indeed, in his later life they made a stronger appeal than ever. The years had robbed him of his own little flock, and always he was trying to replace them. Once he said:
180 [Professor .Henderson has since then published a volume on Mark Twain-an interesting commentary on his writings-mainly from the sociological point of view.]
“During those years after my wife’s death I was washing about on a forlorn sea of banquets and speech-making in high and holy causes, and these things furnished me intellectual cheer, and entertainment; but they got at my heart for an evening only, then left it dry and dusty. I had reached the grandfather stage of life without grandchildren, so I began to adopt some.”
He adopted several on that journey to England and on the return voyage, and he kept on adopting others during the rest of his life. These companionships became one of the happiest aspects of his final days, as we shall see by and by.
There were entertainments on the ship, one of them given for the benefit of the Seamen’s Orphanage. One of his adopted granddaughters —“Charley” he called her — played a violin solo and Clemens made a speech. Later his autographs were sold at auction. Dr. Patton was auctioneer, and one autographed postal card brought twenty-five dollars, which is perhaps the record price for a single Mark Twain signature. He wore his white suit on this occasion, and in the course of his speech referred to it. He told first of the many defects in his behavior, and how members of his household had always tried to keep him straight. The children, he said, had fallen into the habit of calling it “dusting papa off.” Then he went on:
When my daughter came to see me off last Saturday at the boat she slipped a note in my hand and said, “Read it when you get aboard the ship.” I didn’t think of it again until day before yesterday, and it was a “dusting off.” And if I carry out all the instructions that I got there I shall be more celebrated in England for my behavior than for anything else. I got instructions how to act on every occasion. She underscored “Now, don’t you wear white clothes on ship or on shore until you get back,” and I intended to obey. I have been used to obeying my family all my life, but I wore the white clothes to-night because the trunk that has the dark clothes in it is in the cellar. I am not apologizing for the white clothes; I am only apologizing to my daughter for not obeying her.
He received a great welcome when the ship arrived at Tilbury. A throng of rapid-fire reporters and photographers immediately surrounded him, and when he left the ship the stevedores gave him a round of cheers. It was the beginning of that almost unheard-of demonstration of affection and honor which never for a moment ceased, but augmented from day to day during the four weeks of his English sojourn.
In a dictation following his return, Mark Twain said:
Who began it? The very people of all people in the world whom I would have chosen: a hundred men of my own class — grimy sons of labor, the real builders of empires and civilizations, the stevedores! They stood in a body on the dock and charged their masculine lungs, and gave me a welcome which went to the marrow of me.
J. Y. W. MacAlister was at the St. Pancras railway station to meet him, and among others on the platform was Bernard Shaw, who had come down to meet Professor Henderson. Clemens and Shaw were presented, and met eagerly, for each greatly admired the other. A throng gathered. Mark Twain was extricated at last, and hurried away to his apartments at Brown’s Hotel, “a placid, subdued, homelike, old-fashioned English inn,” he called it, “well known to me years ago, a blessed retreat of a sort now rare in England, and becoming rarer every year.”
But Brown’s was not placid and subdued during his stay. The London newspapers declared that Mark Twain’s arrival had turned Brown’s not only into a royal court, but a post-office — that the procession of visitors and the bundles of mail fully warranted this statement. It was, in fact, an experience which surpassed in general magnitude and magnificence anything he had hitherto known. His former London visits, beginning with that of 1872, had been distinguished by high attentions, but all of them combined could not equal this. When England decides to get up an ovation, her people are not to be outdone even by the lavish Americans. An assistant secretary had to be engaged immediately, and it sometimes required from sixteen to twenty hours a day for two skilled and busy men to receive callers and reduce the pile of correspondence.
A pile of invitations had already accumulated, and others flowed in. Lady Stanley, widow of Henry M. Stanley, wrote:
You know I want to see you and join right hand to right hand. I must see your dear face again . . . . You will have no peace, rest, or leisure during your stay in London, and you will end by hating human beings. Let me come before you feel that way.
Mary Cholmondeley, the author of Red Pottage, niece of that lovable Reginald Cholmondeley, and herself an old friend, sent greetings and urgent invitations. Archdeacon Wilberforce wrote:
I have just been preaching about your indictment of that scoundrel king of the Belgians and telling my people to buy the book. I am only a humble item among the very many who offer you a cordial welcome in England, but we long to see you again, and I should like to change hats with you again. Do you remember?
The Athenaeum, the Garrick, and a dozen other London clubs had anticipated his arrival with cards of honorary membership for the period of his stay. Every leading photographer had put in a claim for sittings. It was such a reception as Charles Dickens had received in America in 1842, and again in 1867. A London paper likened it to Voltaire’s return to Paris in 1778, when France went mad over him. There is simply no limit to English affection and, hospitality once aroused. Clemens wrote:
Surely such weeks as this must be very rare in this world: I had seen nothing like them before; I shall see nothing approaching them again!
Sir Thomas Lipton and Bram Stoker, old friends, were among the first to present themselves, and there was no break in the line of callers.
Clemens’s resolutions for secluding himself were swept away. On the very next morning following his arrival he breakfasted with J. Henniker Heaton, father of International Penny Postage, at the Bath Club, just across Dover Street from Brown’s. He lunched at the Ritz with Marjorie Bowen and Miss Bisland. In the afternoon he sat for photographs at Barnett’s, and made one or two calls. He could no more resist these things than a debutante in her first season.
He was breakfasting again with Heaton next morning; lunching with “Toby, M.P.,” and Mrs. Lucy; and having tea with Lady Stanley in the afternoon, and being elaborately dined next day at Dorchester House by Ambassador and Mrs. Reid. These were all old and tried friends. He was not a stranger among them, he said; he was at home. Alfred Austin, Conan Doyle, Anthony Hope, Alma Tadema, E. A. Abbey, Edmund Goss, George Smalley, Sir Norman Lockyer, Henry W. Lucy, Sidney Brooks, and Bram Stoker were among those at Dorchester House — all old comrades, as were many of the other guests.
“I knew fully half of those present,” he said afterward.
Mark Twain’s bursting upon London society naturally was made the most of by the London papers, and all his movements were tabulated and elaborated, and when there was any opportunity for humor in the situation it was not left unimproved. The celebrated Ascot racing-cup was stolen just at the time of his arrival, and the papers suggestively mingled their head-lines, “Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup Stolen,” and kept the joke going in one form or another. Certain state jewels and other regalia also disappeared during his stay, and the news of these burglaries was reported in suspicious juxtaposition with the news of Mark Twain’s doings.
English reporters adopted American habits for the occasion, and invented or embellished when the demand for a new sensation was urgent. Once, when following the custom of the place, he descended the hotel elevator in a perfectly proper and heavy brown bath robe, and stepped across narrow Dover Street to the Bath Club, the papers flamed next day with the story that Mark Twain had wandered about the lobby of Brown’s and promenaded Dover Street in a sky-blue bath robe attracting wide attention.
Clara Clemens, across the ocean, was naturally a trifle disturbed by such reports, and cabled this delicate “dusting off”:
“Much worried. Remember proprieties.”
To which he answered:
“They all pattern after me,” a reply to the last degree characteristic.
It was on the fourth day after his arrival, June 22d, that he attended the King’s garden-party at Windsor Castle. There were eighty-five hundred guests at the King’s party, and if we may judge from the London newspapers, Mark Twain was quite as much a figure in that great throng as any member of the royal family. His presentation to the King and the Queen is set down as an especially notable incident, and their conversation is quite fully given. Clemens himself reported:
His Majesty was very courteous. In the course of the conversation I reminded him of an episode of fifteen years ago, when I had the honor to walk a mile with him when he was taking the waters at Homburg, in Germany. I said that I had often told about that episode, and that whenever I was the historian I made good history of it and it was worth listening to, but that it had found its way into print once or twice in unauthentic ways and was badly damaged thereby. I said I should like to go on repeating this history, but that I should be quite fair and reasonably honest, and while I should probably never tell it twice in the same way I should at least never allow it to deteriorate in my hands. His Majesty intimated his willingness that I should continue to disseminate that piece of history; and he added a compliment, saying that he knew good and sound history would not suffer at my hands, and that if this good and sound history needed any improvement beyond the facts he would trust me to furnish that improvement.
I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the Queen looked as young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago when I saw her first. I did not say this to her, because I learned long ago never to say the obvious thing, but leave the obvious thing to commonplace and inexperienced people to say. That she still looked to me as young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago is good evidence that ten thousand people have already noticed this and have mentioned it to her. I could have said it and spoken the truth, but I was too wise for that. I kept the remark unuttered and saved her Majesty the vexation of hearing it the ten-thousand-and-oneth time.
All that report about my proposal to buy Windsor Castle and its grounds was a false rumor. I started it myself.
One newspaper said I patted his Majesty on the shoulder — an impertinence of which I was not guilty; I was reared in the most exclusive circles of Missouri and I know how to behave. The King rested his hand upon my arm a moment or two while we were chatting, but he did it of his own accord. The newspaper which said I talked with her Majesty with my hat on spoke the truth, but my reasons for doing it were good and sufficient — in fact unassailable. Rain was threatening, the temperature had cooled, and the Queen said, “Please put your hat on, Mr. Clemens.” I begged her pardon and excused myself from doing it. After a moment or two she said, “Mr. Clemens, put your hat on”— with a slight emphasis on the word “on” “I can’t allow you to catch cold here.” When a beautiful queen commands it is a pleasure to obey, and this time I obeyed — but I had already disobeyed once, which is more than a subject would have felt justified in doing; and so it is true, as charged; I did talk with the Queen of England with my hat on, but it wasn’t fair in the newspaper man to charge it upon me as an impoliteness, since there were reasons for it which he could not know of.
Nearly all the members of the British royal family were there, and there were foreign visitors which included the King of Siam and a party of India princes in their gorgeous court costumes, which Clemens admired openly and said he would like to wear himself.
The English papers spoke of it as one of the largest and most distinguished parties ever given at Windsor. Clemens attended it in company with Mr. and Mrs. J. Henniker Heaton, and when it was over Sir Thomas Lipton joined them and motored with them back to Brown’s.
He was at Archdeacon Wilberforce’s next day, where a curious circumstance developed. When he arrived Wilberforce said to him, in an undertone:
“Come into my library. I have something to show you.”
In the library Clemens was presented to a Mr. Pole, a plain-looking man, suggesting in dress and appearance the English tradesman. Wilberforce said:
“Mr. Pole, show to Mr. Clemens what you have brought here.”
Mr. Pole unrolled a long strip of white linen and brought to view at last a curious, saucer-looking vessel of silver, very ancient in appearance, and cunningly overlaid with green glass. The archdeacon took it and handed it to Clemens as some precious jewel. Clemens said:
“What is it?”
Wilberforce impressively answered:
“It is the Holy Grail.”
Clemens naturally started with surprise.
“You may well start,” said Wilberforce; “but it’s the truth. That is the Holy Grail.”
Then he gave this explanation: Mr. Pole, a grain merchant of Bristol, had developed some sort of clairvoyant power, or at all events he had dreamed several times with great vividness the location of the true Grail. Another dreamer, a Dr. Goodchild, of Bath, was mixed up in the matter, and between them this peculiar vessel, which was not a cup, or a goblet, or any of the traditional things, had been discovered. Mr. Pole seemed a man of integrity, and it was clear that the churchman believed the discovery to be genuine and authentic. Of course there could be no positive proof. It was a thing that must be taken on trust. That the vessel itself was wholly different from anything that the generations had conceived, and was apparently of very ancient make, was opposed to the natural suggestion of fraud.
Clemens, to whom the whole idea of the Holy Grail was simply a poetic legend and myth, had the feeling that he had suddenly been transmigrated, like his own Connecticut Yankee, back into the Arthurian days; but he made no question, suggested no doubt. Whatever it was, it was to them the materialization of a symbol of faith which ranked only second to the cross itself, and he handled it reverently and felt the honor of having been one of the first permitted to see the relic. In a subsequent dictation he said:
I am glad I have lived to see that half-hour — that astonishing half-hour. In its way it stands alone in my life’s experience. In the belief of two persons present this was the very vessel which was brought by night and secretly delivered to Nicodemus, nearly nineteen centuries ago, after the Creator of the universe had delivered up His life on the cross for the redemption of the human race; the very cup which the stainless Sir Galahad had sought with knightly devotion in far fields of peril and adventure in Arthur’s time, fourteen hundred years ago; the same cup which princely knights of other bygone ages had laid down their lives in long and patient efforts to find, and had passed from life disappointed — and here it was at last, dug up by a grain-broker at no cost of blood or travel, and apparently no purity required of him above the average purity of the twentieth-century dealer in cereal futures; not even a stately name required — no Sir Galahad, no Sir Bors de Ganis, no Sir Lancelot of the Lake — nothing but a mere Mr. Pole.181
181 [From the New York Sun somewhat later: “Mr. Pole communicated the discovery to a dignitary of the Church of England, who summoned a number of eminent persons, including psychologists, to see and discuss it. Forty attended, including some peers with ecclesiastical interests, Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, Professor Crookas, and ministers of various religious bodies, including the Rev. R. J. Campbell. They heard Mr. Pole’s story with deep attention, but he could not prove the genuineness of the relic.”]
Clemens saw Mr. and Mrs. Rogers at Claridge’s Hotel that evening; lunched with his old friends Sir Norman and Lady Lockyer next day; took tea with T. P. O’Connor at the House of Commons, and on the day following, which was June a 5th, he was the guest of honor at one of the most elaborate occasions of his visit — a luncheon given by the Pilgrims at the Savoy Hotel. It would be impossible to set down here a report of the doings, or even a list of the guests, of that gathering. The Pilgrims is a club with branches on both sides of the ocean, and Mark Twain, on either side, was a favorite associate. At this luncheon the picture on the bill of fare represented him as a robed pilgrim, with a great pen for his staff, turning his back on the Mississippi River and being led along his literary way by a huge jumping frog, to which he is attached by a string. On a guest-card was printed:
Pilot of many Pilgrims since the shout “Mark Twain!”— that serves you for a deathless sign — On Mississippi’s waterway rang out Over the plummet’s line —
Still where the countless ripples laugh above The blue of halcyon seas long may you keep Your course unbroken, buoyed upon a love Ten thousand fathoms deep!
— O. S. [OWEN SEAMAN].
Augustine Birrell made the speech of introduction, closing with this paragraph:
Mark Twain is a man whom Englishmen and Americans do well to honor. He is a true consolidator of nations. His delightful humor is of the kind which dissipates and destroys national prejudices. His truth and his honor — his love of truth and his love of honor — overflow all boundaries. He has made the world better by his presence, and we rejoice to see him here. Long may he live to reap a plentiful harvest of hearty honest human affection.
The toast was drunk standing. Then Clemens rose and made a speech which delighted all England. In his introduction Mr. Birrell had happened to say, “How I came here I will not ask!” Clemens remembered this, and looking down into Mr. Birrell’s wine-glass, which was apparently unused, he said:
“Mr. Birrell doesn’t know how he got here. But he will be able to get away all right — he has not drunk anything since he came.”
He told stories about Howells and Twichell, and how Darwin had gone to sleep reading his books, and then he came down to personal things and company, and told them how, on the day of his arrival, he had been shocked to read on a great placard, “Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup Stolen.”
No doubt many a person was misled by those sentences joined together in that unkind way. I have no doubt my character has suffered from it. I suppose I ought to defend my character, but how can I defend it? I can say here and now that anybody can see by my face that I am sincere — that I speak the truth, and that I have never seen that Cup. I have not got the Cup, I did not have a chance to get it. I have always had a good character in that way. I have hardly ever stolen anything, and if I did steal anything I had discretion enough to know about the value of it first. I do not steal things that are likely to get myself into trouble. I do not think any of us do that. I know we all take things — that is to be expected; but really I have never taken anything, certainly in England, that amounts to any great thing. I do confess that when I was here seven years ago I stole a hat — but that did not amount to anything. It was not a good hat it was only a clergyman’s hat, anyway. I was at a luncheon-party and Archdeacon Wilberforce was there also. I dare say he is archdeacon now — he was a canon then — and he was serving in the Westminster Battery, if that is the proper term. I do not know, as you mix military and ecclesiastical things together so much.
He recounted the incident of the exchanged hats; then he spoke of graver things. He closed:
I cannot always be cheerful, and I cannot always be chaffing. I must sometimes lay the cap and bells aside and recognize that I am of the human race. I have my cares and griefs, and I therefore noticed what Mr. Birrell said — I was so glad to hear him say it — something that was in the nature of these verses here at the top of the program:
He lit our life with shafts of sun And vanquished pain. Thus two great nations stand as one In honoring Twain.
I am very glad to have those verses. I am very glad and very grateful for what Mr. Birrell said in that connection. I have received since I have been here, in this one week, hundreds of letters from all conditions of people in England, men, women, and children, and there is compliment, praise, and, above all, and better than all, there is in them a note of affection.
Praise is well, compliment is well, but affection — that is the last and final and most precious reward that any man can win, whether by character or achievement, and I am very grateful to have that reward. All these letters make me feel that here in England, as in America, when I stand under the English or the American flag I am not a, stranger, I am not an alien, but at home.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00