It is not often that a whole world mourns. Nations have often mourned a hero — and races — but perhaps never before had the entire world really united in tender sorrow for the death of any man.
In one of his aphorisms he wrote: “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” And it was thus that Mark Twain himself had lived.
No man had ever so reached the heart of the world, and one may not even attempt to explain just why. Let us only say that it was because he was so limitlessly human that every other human heart, in whatever sphere or circumstance, responded to his touch. From every remote corner of the globe the cables of condolence swept in; every printed sheet in Christendom was filled with lavish tribute; pulpits forgot his heresies and paid him honor. No king ever died that received so rich a homage as his. To quote or to individualize would be to cheapen this vast offering.
We took him to New York to the Brick Church, and Dr. Henry van Dyke spoke only a few simple words, and Joseph Twichell came from Hartford and delivered brokenly a prayer from a heart wrung with double grief, for Harmony, his wife, was nearing the journey’s end, and a telegram that summoned him to her death-bed came before the services ended.
Mark Twain, dressed in the white he loved so well, lay there with the nobility of death upon him, while a multitude of those who loved him passed by and looked at his face for the last time. The flowers, of which so many had been sent, were banked around him; but on the casket itself lay a single laurel wreath which Dan Beard and his wife had woven from the laurel which grows on Stormfield hill. He was never more beautiful than as he lay there, and it was an impressive scene to see those thousands file by, regard him for a moment gravely, thoughtfully, and pass on. All sorts were there, rich and poor; some crossed themselves, some saluted, some paused a little to take a closer look; but no one offered even to pick a flower. Howells came, and in his book he says:
I looked a moment at the face I knew so well; and it was patient with the patience I had so often seen in it: something of a puzzle, a great silent dignity, an assent to what must be from the depths of a nature whose tragical seriousness broke in the laughter which the unwise took for the whole of him.
That night we went with him to Elmira, and next day — a somber day of rain — he lay in those stately parlors that had seen his wedding-day, and where Susy had lain, and Mrs. Clemens, and Jean, while Dr. Eastman spoke the words of peace which separate us from our mortal dead. Then in the quiet, steady rain of that Sunday afternoon we laid him beside those others, where he sleeps well, though some have wished that, like De Soto, he might have been laid to rest in the bed of that great river which must always be associated with his name.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00