Now came the tranquil days of the Connecticut autumn. The change of the landscape colors was a constant delight to Mark Twain. There were several large windows in his room, and he called them his picture-gallery. The window-panes were small, and each formed a separate picture of its own that was changing almost hourly. The red tones that began to run through the foliage; the red berry bushes; the fading grass, and the little touches of sparkling frost that came every now and then at early morning; the background of distant blue hills and changing skies-these things gave his gallery a multitude of variation that no art-museums could furnish. He loved it all, and he loved to walk out in it, pacing up and down the terrace, or the long path that led to the pergola at the foot of a natural garden. If a friend came, he was willing to walk much farther; and we often descended the hill in one direction or another, though usually going toward the “gorge,” a romantic spot where a clear brook found its way through a deep and rather dangerous-looking chasm. Once he was persuaded to descend into this fairy-like place, for it was well worth exploring; but his footing was no longer sure and he did not go far.
He liked better to sit on the grass-grown, rocky arch above and look down into it, and let his talk follow his mood. He liked to contemplate the geology of his surroundings, the record of the ageless periods of construction required to build the world. The marvels of science always appealed to him. He reveled in the thought of the almost limitless stretches of time, the millions upon millions of years that had been required for this stratum and that — he liked to amaze himself with the sounding figures. I remember him expressing a wish to see the Grand Canon of Arizona, where, on perpendicular walls six thousand feet high, the long story of geological creation is written. I had stopped there during my Western trip of the previous year, and I told him something of its wonders. I urged him to see them for himself, offering to go with him. He said:
“I should enjoy that; but the railroad journey is so far and I should have no peace. The papers would get hold of it, and I would have to make speeches and be interviewed, and I never want to do any of those things again.”
I suggested that the railroads would probably be glad to place a private car at his service, so that he might travel in comfort; but he shook his head.
“That would only make me more conspicuous.”
“How about a disguise?”
“Yes,” he said, “I might put on a red wig and false whiskers and change my name, but I couldn’t disguise my drawling speech and they’d find me out.”
It was amusing, but it was rather sad, too. His fame had deprived him of valued privileges.
He talked of many things during these little excursions. Once he told how he had successively advised his nephew, Moffett, in the matter of obtaining a desirable position. Moffett had wanted to become a reporter. Clemens devised a characteristic scheme. He said:
“I will get you a place on any newspaper you may select if you promise faithfully to follow out my instructions.”
The applicant agreed, eagerly enough. Clemens said:
“Go to the newspaper of your choice. Say that you are idle and want work, that you are pining for work — longing for it, and that you ask no wages, and will support yourself. All that you ask is work. That you will do anything, sweep, fill the inkstands, mucilage-bottles, run errands, and be generally useful. You must never ask for wages. You must wait until the offer of wages comes to you. You must work just as faithfully and just as eagerly as if you were being paid for it. Then see what happens.”
The scheme had worked perfectly. Young Moffett had followed his instructions to the letter. By and by he attracted attention. He was employed in a variety of ways that earned him the gratitude and the confidence of the office. In obedience to further instructions, he began to make short, brief, unadorned notices of small news matters that came under his eye and laid them on the city editor’s desk. No pay was asked; none was expected. Occasionally one of the items was used. Then, of course, it happened, as it must sooner or later at a busy time, that he was given a small news assignment. There was no trouble about his progress after that. He had won the confidence of the management and shown that he was not afraid to work.
The plan had been variously tried since, Clemens said, and he could not remember any case in which it had failed. The idea may have grown out of his own pilot apprenticeship on the river, when cub pilots not only received no salary, but paid for the privilege of learning.
Clemens discussed public matters less often than formerly, but they were not altogether out of his mind. He thought our republic was in a fair way to become a monarchy — that the signs were already evident. He referred to the letter which he had written so long ago in Boston, with its amusing fancy of the Archbishop of Dublin and his Grace of Ponkapog, and declared that, after all, it contained something of prophecy. 185 He would not live to see the actual monarchy, he said, but it was coming.
“I’m not expecting it in my time nor in my children’s time, though it may be sooner than we think. There are two special reasons for it and one condition. The first reason is, that it is in the nature of man to want a definite something to love, honor, reverently look up to and obey; a God and King, for example. The second reason is, that while little republics have lasted long, protected by their poverty and insignificance, great ones have not. And the condition is, vast power and wealth, which breed commercial and political corruptions, and incite public favorites to dangerous ambitions.”
He repeated what I had heard him say before, that in one sense we already had a monarchy; that is to say, a ruling public and political aristocracy which could create a Presidential succession. He did not say these things bitterly now, but reflectively and rather indifferently.
He was inclined to speak unhopefully of the international plans for universal peace, which were being agitated rather persistently.
“The gospel of peace,” he said, “is always making a deal of noise, always rejoicing in its progress but always neglecting to furnish statistics. There are no peaceful nations now. All Christendom is a soldier-camp. The poor have been taxed in some nations to the starvation point to support the giant armaments which Christian governments have built up, each to protect itself from the rest of the Christian brotherhood, and incidentally to snatch any scrap of real estate left exposed by a weaker owner. King Leopold II. of Belgium, the most intensely Christian monarch, except Alexander VI., that has escaped hell thus far, has stolen an entire kingdom in Africa, and in fourteen years of Christian endeavor there has reduced the population from thirty millions to fifteen by murder and mutilation and overwork, confiscating the labor of the helpless natives, and giving them nothing in return but salvation and a home in heaven, furnished at the last moment by the Christian priest.
“Within the last generation each Christian power has turned the bulk of its attention to finding out newer and still newer and more and more effective ways of killing Christians, and, incidentally, a pagan now and then; and the surest way to get rich quickly in Christ’s earthly kingdom is to invent a kind of gun that can kill more Christians at one shot than any other existing kind. All the Christian nations are at it. The more advanced they are, the bigger and more destructive engines of war they create.”
Once, speaking of battles great and small, and how important even a small battle must seem to a soldier who had fought in no other, he said:
“To him it is a mighty achievement, an achievement with a big A, when to a wax-worn veteran it would be a mere incident. For instance, to the soldier of one battle, San Juan Hill was an Achievement with an A as big as the Pyramids of Cheops; whereas, if Napoleon had fought it, he would have set it down on his cuff at the time to keep from forgetting it had happened. But that is all natural and human enough. We are all like that.”
The curiosities and absurdities of religious superstitions never failed to furnish him with themes more or less amusing. I remember one Sunday, when he walked down to have luncheon at my house, he sat under the shade and fell to talking of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, which he said could not have happened.
“Tacitus makes no mention of it,” he said, “and he would hardly have overlooked a sweeping order like that, issued by a petty ruler like Herod. Just consider a little king of a corner of the Roman Empire ordering the slaughter of the first-born of a lot of Roman subjects. Why, the Emperor would have reached out that long arm of his and dismissed Herod. That tradition is probably about as authentic as those connected with a number of old bridges in Europe which are said to have been built by Satan. The inhabitants used to go to Satan to build bridges for them, promising him the soul of the first one that crossed the bridge; then, when Satan had the bridge done, they would send over a rooster or a jackass — a cheap jackass; that was for Satan, and of course they could fool him that way every time. Satan must have been pretty simple, even according to the New Testament, or he wouldn’t have led Christ up on a high mountain and offered him the world if he would fall down and worship him. That was a manifestly absurd proposition, because Christ, as the Son of God, already owned the world; and, besides, what Satan showed him was only a few rocky acres of Palestine. It is just as if some one should try to buy Rockefeller, the owner of all the Standard Oil Company, with a gallon of kerosene.”
He often spoke of the unseen forces of creation, the immutable laws that hold the planet in exact course and bring the years and the seasons always exactly on schedule time. “The Great Law” was a phrase often on his lips. The exquisite foliage, the cloud shapes, the varieties of color everywhere: these were for him outward manifestations of the Great Law, whose principle I understood to be unity — exact relations throughout all nature; and in this I failed to find any suggestion of pessimism, but only of justice. Once he wrote on a card for preservation:
From everlasting to everlasting, this is the law: the sum of wrong & misery shall always keep exact step with the sum of human blessedness.
No “civilization,” no “advance,” has ever modified these proportions by even the shadow of a shade, nor ever can, while our race endures.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00