Every life is a drama — a play in all its particulars; comedy, farce, tragedy — all the elements are there. To examine in detail any life, however conspicuous or obscure, is to become amazed not only at the inevitable sequence of events, but at the interlinking of details, often far removed, into a marvelously intricate pattern which no art can hope to reproduce, and can only feebly imitate.
The biographer may reconstruct an episode, present a picture, or reflect a mood by which the reader is enabled to feel something of the glow of personality and know, perhaps, a little of the substance of the past. In so far as the historian can accomplish this his work is a success. At best his labor will be pathetically incomplete, for whatever its detail and its resemblance to life, these will record mainly but an outward expression, behind which was the mighty sweep and tumult of unwritten thought, the overwhelming proportion of any life, which no other human soul can ever really know.
Mark Twain’s appearance on the stage of the world was a succession of dramatic moments. He was always exactly in the setting. Whatever he did, or whatever came to him, was timed for the instant of greatest effect. At the end he was more widely observed and loved and honored than ever before, and at the right moment and in the right manner he died.
How little one may tell of such a life as his! He traveled always such a broad and brilliant highway, with plumes flying and crowds following after. Such a whirling panorama of life, and death, and change! I have written so much, and yet I have put so much aside — and often the best things, it seemed afterward, perhaps because each in its way was best and the variety infinite. One may only strive to be faithful — and I would have made it better if I could.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00