It was on January 11, 1908, that Mark Twain was given his last great banquet by the Lotos Club. The club was about to move again, into splendid new quarters, and it wished to entertain him once more in its old rooms.
He wore white, and amid the throng of black-clad men was like a white moth among a horde of beetles. The room fairly swarmed with them, and they seemed likely to overwhelm him.
President Lawrence was toast-master of the evening, and he ended his customary address by introducing Robert Porter, who had been Mark Twain’s host at Oxford. Porter told something of the great Oxford week, and ended by introducing Mark Twain. It had been expected that Clemens would tell of his London experiences. Instead of doing this, he said he had started a new kind of collection, a collection of compliments. He had picked up a number of valuable ones abroad and some at home. He read selections from them, and kept the company going with cheers and merriment until just before the close of his speech. Then he repeated, in his most impressive manner, that stately conclusion of his Liverpool speech, and the room became still and the eyes of his hearers grew dim. It may have been even more moving than when originally given, for now the closing words, “homeward bound,” had only the deeper meaning.
Dr. John MacArthur followed with a speech that was as good a sermon as any he ever delivered, and closed it by saying:
“I do not want men to prepare for heaven, but to prepare to remain on earth, and it is such men as Mark Twain who make other men not fit to die, but fit to live.”
Andrew Carnegie also spoke, and Colonel Harvey, and as the speaking ended Robert Porter stepped up behind Clemens and threw over his shoulders the scarlet Oxford robe which had been surreptitiously brought, and placed the mortar-board cap upon his head, while the diners vociferated their approval. Clemens was quite calm.
“I like this,” he said, when the noise had subsided. “I like its splendid color. I would dress that way all the time, if I dared.”
In the cab going home I mentioned the success of his speech, how well it had been received.
“Yes,” he said; “but then I have the advantage of knowing now that I am likely to be favorably received, whatever I say. I know that my audiences are warm and responseful. It is an immense advantage to feel that. There are cold places in almost every speech, and if your audience notices them and becomes cool, you get a chill yourself in those zones, and it is hard to warm up again. Perhaps there haven’t been so many lately; but I have been acquainted with them more than once.” And then I could not help remembering that deadly Whittier birthday speech of more than thirty years before — that bleak, arctic experience from beginning to end.
“We have just time for four games,” he said, as we reached the billiard-room; but there was no sign of stopping when the four games were over. We were winning alternately, and neither noted the time. I was leaving by an early train, and was willing to play all night. The milk-wagons were rattling outside when he said:
“Well, perhaps we’d better quit now. It seems pretty early, though.” I looked at my watch. It was quarter to four, and we said good night.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00