I don’t think he attempted any further writing for print. His mind was busy with ideas, but he was willing to talk, rather than to write, rather even than to play billiards, it seemed, although we had a few quiet games — the last we should ever play together. Evenings he asked for music, preferring the Scotch airs, such as “Bonnie Doon” and “The Campbells are Coming.” I remember that once, after playing the latter for him, he told, with great feeling, how the Highlanders, led by Gen. Colin Campbell, had charged at Lucknow, inspired by that stirring air. When he had retired I usually sat with him, and he drifted into literature, or theology, or science, or history — the story of the universe and man.
One evening he spoke of those who had written but one immortal thing and stopped there. He mentioned “Ben Bolt.”
“I met that man once,” he said. “In my childhood I sang ‘Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,’ and in my old age, fifteen years ago, I met the man who wrote it. His name was Brown. 197 He was aged, forgotten, a mere memory. I remember how it thrilled me to realize that this was the very author of ‘Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt.’ He was just an accident. He had a vision and echoed it. A good many persons do that — the thing they do is to put in compact form the thing which we have all vaguely felt. ‘Twenty Years Ago’ is just like it ‘I have wandered through the village, Tom, and sat beneath the tree’— and Holmes’s ‘Last Leaf’ is another: the memory of the hallowed past, and the gravestones of those we love. It is all so beautiful — the past is always beautiful.”
197 [Thomas Dunn English. Mr. Clemens apparently remembered only the name satirically conferred upon him by Edgar Allan Poe, “Thomas Dunn Brown.”]
He quoted, with great feeling and effect:
The massy marbles rest On the lips that we have pressed In their bloom, And the names we love to hear Have been carved for many a year On the tomb.
He continued in this strain for an hour or more. He spoke of humor, and thought it must be one of the chief attributes of God. He cited plants and animals that were distinctly humorous in form and in their characteristics. These he declared were God’s jokes.
“Why,” he said, “humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”
“Your own case is an example,” I answered. “Without it, whatever your reputation as a philosopher, you could never have had the wide-spread affection that is shown by the writers of that great heap of letters.”
“Yes,” he said, gently, “they have liked to be amused.”
I tucked him in for the night, promising to send him to Bermuda, with Claude to take care of him, if he felt he could undertake the journey in two days more.
He was able, and he was eager to go, for he longed for that sunny island, and for the quiet peace of the Allen home. His niece, Mrs. Loomis, came up to spend the last evening in Stormfield, a happy evening full of quiet talk, and next morning, in the old closed carriage that had been his wedding-gift, he was driven to the railway station. This was on January 4, 1910.
He was to sail next day, and that night, at Mr. Loomis’s, Howells came in, and for an hour or two they reviewed some of the questions they had so long ago settled, or left forever unsettled, and laid away. I remember that at dinner Clemens spoke of his old Hartford butler, George, and how he had once brought George to New York and introduced him at the various publishing houses as his friend, with curious and sometimes rather embarrassing results.
The talk drifted to sociology and to the labor-unions, which Clemens defended as being the only means by which the workman could obtain recognition of his rights.
Howells in his book mentions this evening, which he says “was made memorable to me by the kind, clear, judicial sense with which he explained and justified the labor-unions as the sole present help of the weak against the strong.”
They discussed dreams, and then in a little while Howells rose to go. I went also, and as we walked to his near-by apartment he spoke of Mark Twain’s supremacy. He said:
“I turn to his books for cheer when I am down-hearted. There was never anybody like him; there never will be.”
Clemens sailed next morning. They did not meet again.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00