Clemens had promised to go to Baltimore for the graduation of “Francesca” of his London visit in 1907 — and to make a short address to her class.
It was the eighth of June when we set out on this journey, 190 but the day was rather bleak and there was a chilly rain. Clemens had a number of errands to do in New York, and we drove from one place to another, attending to them. Finally, in the afternoon, the rain ceased, and while I was arranging some matters for him he concluded to take a ride on the top of a Fifth Avenue stage. It was fine and pleasant when he started, but the weather thickened again and when he returned he complained that he had felt a little chilly. He seemed in fine condition, however, next morning and was in good spirits all the way to Baltimore. Chauncey Depew was on the train and they met in the dining-car — the last time, I think, they ever saw each other. He was tired when we reached the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore and did not wish to see the newspaper men. It happened that the reporters had a special purpose in coming just at this time, for it had suddenly developed that in his Shakespeare book, through an oversight, due to haste in publication, full credit had not been given to Mr. Greenwood for the long extracts quoted from his work. The sensational head-lines in a morning paper, “Is Mark Twain a Plagiarist?” had naturally prompted the newspaper men to see what he would have to say on the subject. It was a simple matter, easily explained, and Clemens himself was less disturbed about it than anybody. He felt no sense of guilt, he said; and the fact that he had been stealing and caught at it would give Mr. Greenwood’s book far more advertising than if he had given him the full credit which he had intended. He found a good deal of amusement in the situation, his only worry being that Clara and Jean would see the paper and be troubled.
190 [The reader may remember that it was the 8th of June, 1867, that Mark Twain sailed for the Holy Land. It was the 8th of June, 1907, that he sailed for England to take his Oxford degree. This 8th of June, 1909, was at least slightly connected with both events, for he was keeping an engagement made with Francesca in London, and my notes show that he discussed, on the way to the station, some incidents of his Holy Land trip and his attitude at that time toward Christian traditions. As he rarely mentioned the Quaker City trip, the coincidence seems rather curious. It is most unlikely that Clemens himself in any way associated the two dates.]
He had taken off his clothes and was lying down, reading. After a little he got up and began walking up and down the room. Presently he stopped and, facing me, placed his hand upon his breast. He said:
“I think I must have caught a little cold yesterday on that Fifth Avenue stage. I have a curious pain in my breast.”
I suggested that he lie down again and I would fill his hot-water bag. The pain passed away presently, and he seemed to be dozing. I stepped into the next room and busied myself with some writing. By and by I heard him stirring again and went in where he was. He was walking up and down and began talking of some recent ethnological discoveries — something relating to prehistoric man.
“What a fine boy that prehistoric man must have been,” he said —” the very first one! Think of the gaudy style of him, how he must have lorded it over those other creatures, walking on his hind legs, waving his arms, practising and getting ready for the pulpit.”
The fancy amused him, but presently he paused in his walk and again put his hand on his breast, saying:
“That pain has come back. It’s a curious, sickening, deadly kind of pain. I never had anything just like it.”
It seemed to me that his face had become rather gray. I said:
“Where is it, exactly, Mr. Clemens?”
He laid his hand in the center of his breast and said:
“It is here, and it is very peculiar indeed.”
Remotely in my mind occurred the thought that he had located his heart, and the “peculiar deadly pain” he had mentioned seemed ominous. I suggested, however, that it was probably some rheumatic touch, and this opinion seemed warranted when, a few moments later, the hot water had again relieved it. This time the pain had apparently gone to stay, for it did not return while we were in Baltimore. It was the first positive manifestation of the angina which eventually would take him from us.
The weather was pleasant in Baltimore, and his visit to St. Timothy’s School and his address there were the kind of diversions that meant most to him. The flock of girls, all in their pretty commencement dresses, assembled and rejoicing at his playfully given advice: not to smoke — to excess; not to drink — to excess; not to marry — to excess; he standing there in a garb as white as their own — it made a rare picture — a sweet memory — and it was the last time he ever gave advice from the platform to any one.
Edward S. Martin also spoke to the school, and then there was a great feasting in the big assembly-hall.
It was on the lawn that a reporter approached him with the news of the death of Edward Everett Hale — another of the old group. Clemens said thoughtfully, after a moment:
“I had the greatest respect and esteem for Edward Everett Hale, the greatest admiration for his work. I am as grieved to hear of his death as I can ever be to hear of the death of any friend, though my grief is always tempered with the satisfaction of knowing that for the one that goes, the hard, bitter struggle of life is ended.”
We were leaving the Belvedere next morning, and when the subject of breakfast came up for discussion he said:
“That was the most delicious Baltimore fried chicken we had yesterday morning. I think we’ll just repeat that order. It reminds me of John Quarles’s farm.”
We had been having our meals served in the rooms, but we had breakfast that morning down in the diningroom, and “Francesca” and her mother were there.
As he stood on the railway platform waiting for the train, he told me how once, fifty-five years before, as a boy of eighteen, he had changed cars there for Washington and had barely caught his train — the crowd yelling at him as he ran.
We remained overnight in New York, and that evening, at the Grosvenor, he read aloud a poem of his own which I had not seen before. He had brought it along with some intention of reading it at St. Timothy’s, he said, but had not found the occasion suitable.
“I wrote it a long time ago in Paris. I’d been reading aloud to Mrs. Clemens and Susy — in’93, I think — about Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, from Macaulay — how great they were and how far they fell. Then I took an imaginary case — that of some old demented man mumbling of his former state. I described him, and repeated some of his mumblings. Susy and Mrs. Clemens said, ‘Write it’— so I did, by and by, and this is it. I call it ‘The Derelict.’”
He read in his effective manner that fine poem, the opening stanza of which follows:
You sneer, you ships that pass me by, Your snow-pure canvas towering proud! You traders base! — why, once such fry Paid reverence, when like a cloud Storm-swept I drove along, My Admiral at post, his pennon blue Faint in the wilderness of sky, my long Yards bristling with my gallant crew, My ports flung wide, my guns displayed, My tall spars hid in bellying sail! — You struck your topsails then, and made Obeisance — now your manners fail.
He had employed rhyme with more facility than was usual for him, and the figure and phrasing were full of vigor.
“It is strong and fine,” I said, when he had finished.
“Yes,” he assented. “It seems so as I read it now. It is so long since I have seen it that it is like reading another man’s work. I should call it good, I believe.”
He put the manuscript in his bag and walked up and down the floor talking.
“There is no figure for the human being like the ship,” he said; “no such figure for the storm-beaten human drift as the derelict — such men as Clive and Hastings could only be imagined as derelicts adrift, helpless, tossed by every wind and tide.”
We returned to Redding next day. On the train going home he fell to talking of books and authors, mainly of the things he had never been able to read.
“When I take up one of Jane Austen’s books,” he said, “such as Pride and Prejudice, I feel like a barkeeper entering the kingdom of heaven. I know, what his sensation would be and his private comments. He would not find the place to his taste, and he would probably say so.”
He recalled again how Stepniak had come to Hartford, and how humiliated Mrs. Clemens had been to confess that her husband was not familiar with the writings of Thackeray and others.
“I don’t know anything about anything,” he said, mournfully, “and never did. My brother used to try to get me to read Dickens, long ago. I couldn’t do it — I was ashamed; but I couldn’t do it. Yes, I have read The Tale of Two Cities, and could do it again. I have read it a good many times; but I never could stand Meredith and most of the other celebrities.”
By and by he handed me the Saturday Times Review, saying:
“Here is a fine poem, a great poem, I think. I can stand that.”
It was “The Palatine (in the ‘Dark Ages’),” by Willa Sibert Cather, reprinted from McClure’s. The reader will understand better than I can express why these lofty opening stanzas appealed to Mark Twain:
“Have you been with the King to Rome, Brother, big brother?” “I’ve been there and I’ve come home, Back to your play, little brother.”
“Oh, how high is Caesar’s house, Brother, big brother?” “Goats about the doorways browse; Night-hawks nest in the burnt roof-tree, Home of the wild bird and home of the bee. A thousand chambers of marble lie Wide to the sun and the wind and the sky. Poppies we find amongst our wheat Grow on Caesar’s banquet seat. Cattle crop and neatherds drowse On the floors of Caesar’s house.”
“But what has become of Caesar’s gold, Brother, big brother?” “The times are bad and the world is old — Who knows the where of the Caesar’s gold? Night comes black on the Caesar’s hill; The wells are deep and the tales are ill. Fireflies gleam in the damp and mold, All that is left of the Caesar’s gold. Back to your play, little brother.”
Farther along in our journey he handed me the paper again, pointing to these lines of Kipling:
How is it not good for the Christian’s health To hurry the Aryan brown, For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles, And he weareth the Christian down; And the end of the fight is a tombstone white And the name of the late deceased: And the epitaph drear: “A fool lies here Who tried to hustle the East.”
“I could stand any amount of that,” he said, and presently: “Life is too long and too short. Too long for the weariness of it; too short for the work to be done. At the very most, the average mind can only master a few languages and a little history.”
I said: “Still, we need not worry. If death ends all it does not matter; and if life is eternal there will be time enough.”
“Yes,” he assented, rather grimly, “that optimism of yours is always ready to turn hell’s back yard into a playground.”
I said that, old as I was, I had taken up the study of French, and mentioned Bayard Taylor’s having begun Greek at fifty, expecting to need it in heaven.
Clemens said, reflectively: “Yes — but you see that was Greek.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00