He left, immediately following the Pilgrim luncheon, with Hon. Robert P. Porter, of the London Times, for Oxford, to remain his guest there during the various ceremonies. The encenia — the ceremony of conferring the degrees — occurred at the Sheldonian Theater the following morning, June 26, 1907.
It was a memorable affair. Among those who were to receive degrees that morning besides Samuel Clemens were: Prince Arthur of Connaught; Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman; Whitelaw Reid; Rudyard Kipling; Sidney Lee; Sidney Colvin; Lord Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland; Sir Norman Lockyer; Auguste Rodin, the sculptor; Saint-Saens, and Gen. William Booth, of the Salvation Army-something more than thirty, in all, of the world’s distinguished citizens.
The candidates assembled at Magdalen College, and led by Lord Curzon, the Chancellor, and clad in their academic plumage, filed in radiant procession to the Sheldonian Theater, a group of men such as the world seldom sees collected together. The London Standard said of it:
So brilliant and so interesting was the list of those who had been selected by Oxford University on Convocation to receive degrees, ‘honoris causa’, in this first year of Lord Curzon’s chancellorship, that it is small wonder that the Sheldonian Theater was besieged today at an early hour.
Shortly after 11 o’clock the organ started playing the strains of “God Save the King,” and at once a great volume of sound arose as the anthem was taken up by the undergraduates and the rest of the assemblage. Every one stood up as, headed by the mace of office, the procession slowly filed into the theater, under the leadership of Lord Curzon, in all the glory of his robes of office, the long black gown heavily embroidered with gold, the gold-tasseled mortar-board, and the medals on his breast forming an admirable setting, thoroughly in keeping with the dignity and bearing of the late Viceroy of India. Following him came the members of Convocation, a goodly number consisting of doctors of divinity, whose robes of scarlet and black enhanced the brilliance of the scene. Robes of salmon and scarlet-which proclaim the wearer to be a doctor of civil law — were also seen in numbers, while here and there was a gown of gray and scarlet, emblematic of the doctorate of science or of letters.
The encenia is an impressive occasion; but it is not a silent one. There is a splendid dignity about it; but there goes with it all a sort of Greek chorus of hilarity, the time-honored prerogative of the Oxford undergraduate, who insists on having his joke and his merriment at the expense of those honored guests. The degrees of doctor of law were conferred first. Prince Arthur was treated with proper dignity by the gallery; but when Whitelaw Reid stepped forth a voice shouted, “Where’s your Star-spangled Banner?” and when England’s Prime Minister-Campbell-Bannerman — came forward some one shouted, “What about the House of Lords?” and so they kept it up, cheering and chaffing, until General Booth was introduced as the “Passionate advocate of the dregs of the people, leader of the submerged tenth,” and general of the Salvation Army,” when the place broke into a perfect storm of applause, a storm that a few minutes later became, according to the Daily News, “a veritable cyclone,” for Mark Twain, clad in his robe of scarlet and gray, had been summoned forward to receive the highest academic honors which the world has to give. The undergraduates went wild then. There was such a mingling of yells and calls and questions, such as, “Have you brought the jumping Frog with you?” “Where is the Ascot Cup?” “Where are the rest of the Innocents?” that it seemed as if it would not be possible to present him at all; but, finally, Chancellor Curzon addressed him (in Latin), “Most amiable and charming sir, you shake the sides of the whole world with your merriment,” and the great degree was conferred. If only Tom Sawyer could have seen him then! If only Olivia Clemens could have sat among those who gave him welcome! But life is not like that. There is always an incompleteness somewhere, and the shadow across the path.
Rudyard Kipling followed — another supreme favorite, who was hailed with the chorus, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” and then came Saint-Satins. The prize poems and essays followed, and then the procession of newly created doctors left the theater with Lord Curzon at their head. So it was all over-that for which, as he said, he would have made the journey to Mars. The world had nothing more to give him now except that which he had already long possessed-its honor and its love.
The newly made doctors were to be the guests of Lord Curzon at All Souls College for luncheon. As they left the theater (according to Sidney Lee):
The people in the streets singled out Mark Twain, formed a vast and cheering body-guard around him and escorted him to the college gates. But before and after the lunch it was Mark Twain again whom everybody seemed most of all to want to meet. The Maharajah of Bikanir, for instance, finding himself seated at lunch next to Mrs. Riggs (Kate Douglas Wiggin), and hearing that she knew Mark Twain, asked her to present him a ceremony duly performed later on the quadrangle. At the garden-party given the same afternoon in the beautiful grounds of St. John’s, where the indefatigable Mark put in an appearance, it was just the same — every one pressed forward for an exchange of greetings and a hand-shake. On the following day, when the Oxford pageant took place, it was even more so. “Mark Twain’s Pageant,” it was called by one of the papers.182
182 [There was a dinner that evening at one of the colleges where, through mistaken information, Clemens wore black evening dress when he should have worn his scarlet gown. “When I arrived,” he said, “the place was just a conflagration — a kind of human prairie-fire. I looked as out of place as a Presbyterian in hell.”]
Clemens remained the guest of Robert Porter, whose house was besieged with those desiring a glimpse of their new doctor of letters. If he went on the streets he was instantly recognized by some newsboy or cabman or butcher-boy, and the word ran along like a cry of fire, while the crowds assembled.
At a luncheon which the Porters gave him the proprietor of the catering establishment garbed himself as a waiter in order to have the distinction of serving Mark Twain, and declared it to have been the greatest moment of his life. This gentleman — for he was no less than that — was a man well-read, and his tribute was not inspired by mere snobbery. Clemens, learning of the situation, later withdrew from the drawing-room for a talk with him.
“I found,” he said, “that he knew about ten or fifteen times as much about my books as I knew about them myself.”
Mark Twain viewed the Oxford pageant from a box with Rudyard Kipling and Lord Curzon, and as they sat there some one passed up a folded slip of paper, on the outside of which was written, “Not true.” Opening it, they read:
East is East and West is West, And never the Twain shall meet,
— a quotation from Kipling.
They saw the panorama of history file by, a wonderful spectacle which made Oxford a veritable dream of the Middle Ages. The lanes and streets and meadows were thronged with such costumes as Oxford had seen in its long history. History was realized in a manner which no one could appreciate more fully than Mark Twain.
“I was particularly anxious to see this pageant,” he said, “so that I could get ideas for my funeral procession, which I am planning on a large scale.”
He was not disappointed; it was a realization to him of all the gorgeous spectacles that his soul had dreamed from youth up.
He easily recognized the great characters of history as they passed by, and he was recognized by them in turn; for they waved to him and bowed and sometimes called his name, and when he went down out of his box, by and by, Henry VIII. shook hands with him, a monarch he had always detested, though he was full of friendship for him now; and Charles I. took off his broad, velvet-plumed hat when they met, and Henry II. and Rosamond and Queen Elizabeth all saluted him — ghosts of the dead centuries.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00