All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
XCII. Further London Lecture Triumphs
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Orion Clemens records that he met "Sam and Livy" on their arrival from
England, November 2d, and that the president of the Mercantile Library
Association sent up his card "four times," in the hope of getting a
chance to propose a lecture engagement--an incident which impressed Orion
deeply in its evidence of his brother's towering importance. Orion
himself was by this time engaged in various projects. He was inventing a
flying-machine, for one thing, writing a Jules Verne story, reading proof
on a New York daily, and contemplating the lecture field. This great
blaze of international appreciation which had come to the little boy who
used to set type for him in Hannibal, and wash up the forms and cry over
the dirty proof, made him gasp.
They went to see Booth in Hamlet [he says], and Booth sent for Sam to
come behind the scenes, and when Sam proposed to add a part to Hamlet,
the part of a bystander who makes humorous modern comment on the
situations in the play, Booth laughed immoderately.
Proposing a sacrilege like that to Booth! To what heights had this
printer-pilot, miner-brother not attained!--[This idea of introducing a
new character in Hamlet was really attempted later by Mark Twain, with
the connivance of Joe Goodman [of all men], sad to relate. So far as is
known it is the one stain on Goodman's literary record.]
Clemens returned immediately to England--the following Saturday, in fact
--and was back in London lecturing again after barely a month's absence.
He gave the "Roughing It" address, this time under the title of "Roughing
It on the Silver Frontier," and if his audiences were any less
enthusiastic, or his houses less crowded than before, the newspapers of
that day have left no record of it. It was the height of the season now,
and being free to do so, he threw himself into the whirl of it, and for
two months, beyond doubt, was the most talked-of figure in London. The
Athenaeum Club made him a visiting member (an honor considered next to
knighthood); Punch quoted him; societies banqueted him; his apartments,
as before; were besieged by callers. Afternoons one was likely to find
him in "Poets' Corner" of the Langham smoking-room, with a group of
London and American authors--Reade, Collins, Miller, and the others--
frankly rioting in his bold fancies. Charles Warren Stoddard was in
London at the time, and acted as his secretary. Stoddard was a gentle
poet, a delightful fellow, and Clemens was very fond of him. His only
complaint of Stoddard was that he did not laugh enough at his humorous
yarns. Clemens once said:
"Dolby and I used to come in after the lecture, or perhaps after being
out to some dinner, and we liked to sit down and talk it over and tell
yarns, and we expected Stoddard to laugh at them, but Stoddard would lie
there on the couch and snore. Otherwise, as a secretary, he was
The great Tichborne trial was in progress then, and the spectacle of an
illiterate impostor trying to establish his claim as the rightful heir to
a great estate was highly diverting to Mark Twain.--[In a letter of this
period he speaks of having attended one of the Claimant's "Evenings."]--
He wanted to preserve the evidence as future literary material, and
Stoddard day after day patiently collected the news reports and neatly
pasted them into scrap-books, where they still rest, a complete record of
that now forgotten farce. The Tichborne trial recalled to Mark Twain the
claimant in the Lampton family, who from time to time wrote him long
letters, urging him to join in the effort to establish his rights to the
earldom of Durham. This American claimant was a distant cousin, who had
"somehow gotten hold of, or had fabricated a full set of documents."
Colonel Henry Watterson, just quoted (also a Lampton connection), adds:
During the Tichborne trial Mark and I were in London, and one day he
said to me: "I have investigated this Durham business down at the
Herald's office. There is nothing to it. The Lamptons passed out
of the earldom of Durham a hundred years ago. There were never any
estates; the title lapsed; the present earldom is a new creation,
not in the same family at all. But I'll tell you what: if you'll
put up $500, I'll put up $500 more; we'll bring our chap over here
and set him in as claimant, and, my word for it, Kenealy's fat boy
won't be a marker to him."
It was a characteristic Mark Twain project, one of the sort he never
earned out in reality, but loved to follow in fancy, and with the pen
sometimes. The "Rightful Earl of Durham" continued to send letters for a
long time after that (some of them still exist), but he did not establish
his claim. No one but Mark Twain ever really got anything out of it.
Like the Tennessee land, it furnished material by and by for a book.
Colonel Watterson goes on to say that Clemens was only joking about
having looked up the matter in the peerage; that he hadn't really looked
it up at all, and that the earldom lies still in the Lampton family.
Another of Clemens's friends in London at this time was Prentice Mulford,
of California. In later years Mulford acquired a wide reputation for his
optimistic and practical psychologies. Through them he lifted himself
out of the slough of despond, and he sought to extend a helping hand to
others. His "White Cross Library" had a wide reading and a wide
influence; perhaps has to this day. But in 1873 Mulford had not found
the tangibility of thought, the secret of strength; he was only finding
it, maybe, in his frank acknowledgment of shortcoming:
Now, Mark, I am down-very much down at present; you are up-where you
deserve to be. I can't ask this on the score of any past favors,
for there have been none. I have not always spoken of you in terms
of extravagant praise; have sometimes criticized you, which was due,
I suppose, in part to an envious spirit. I am simply human. Some
people in the same profession say they entertain no jealousy of
those more successful. I can't. They are divine; I am not.
It was only that he wished Clemens to speak a word for him to Routledge,
to get him a hearing for his work. He adds:
I shall be up myself some day, although my line is far apart from
yours. Whether you can do anything that I ask of you or not, I
shall be happy then, as I would be now, to do you any just and right
service.... Perhaps I have mistaken my vocation. Certainly, if I
was back with my rocker on the Tuolumne, I'd make it rattle livelier
than ever I did before. I have occasionally thought of London
Bridge, but the Thames is now so d---d cold and dirty, and besides I
can swim, and any attempt at drowning would, through the mere
instinct of self-preservation, only result in my swimming ashore and
ruining my best clothes; wherefore I should be worse off than ever.
Of course Mark Twain granted the favor Mulford asked, and a great deal
more, no doubt, for that was his way. Mulford came up, as he had
prophesied, but the sea in due time claimed him, though not in the way he
had contemplated. Years after he was one day found drifting off the
shores of Long Island in an open boat, dead.
Clemens made a number of notable dinner speeches during this second
London lecture period. His response to the toast of the "Ladies,"
delivered at the annual dinner of the Scottish Corporation of London, was
the sensational event of the evening.
He was obliged to decline an invitation to the Lord Mayor's dinner,
whereupon his Lordship wrote to urge him to be present at least at the
finale, when the welcome would be "none the less hearty," and bespoke his
attendance for any future dinners.
Clemens lectured steadily at the Hanover Square Rooms during the two
months of his stay in London, and it was only toward the end of this
astonishing engagement that the audience began to show any sign of
diminishing. Early in January he wrote to Twichell:
I am not going to the provinces because I cannot get halls that are large
enough. I always felt cramped in the Hanover Square Rooms, but I find
that everybody here speaks with awe and respect of that prodigious hall
and wonders that I could fill it so long.
I am hoping to be back in twenty days, but I have so much to go home to
and enjoy with a jubilant joy that it hardly seems possible that it can
come to pass in so uncertain a world as this.
In the same letter he speaks of attending an exhibition of Landseer's
paintings at the Royal Academy:
Ah, they are wonderfully beautiful! There are such rich moonlights
and dusks in the "Challenge" and the "Combat," and in that long
flight of birds across a lake in the subdued flush of sunset (or
sunrise, for no man can ever tell t'other from which in a picture,
except it has the filmy morning mist breathing itself up from the
water), and there is such a grave analytical profundity in the face
of the connoisseurs; and such pathos in the picture of a fawn
suckling its dead mother on a snowy waste, with only the blood in
the footprints to hint that she is not asleep. And the way that he
makes animals' flesh and blood, insomuch that if the room were
darkened ever so little, and a motionless living animal placed
beside the painted one, no man could tell which was which.
I interrupted myself here, to drop a line to Shirley Brooks and suggest a
cartoon for Punch. It was this: in one of the Academy saloons (in a
suite where these pictures are) a fine bust of Landseer stands on a
pedestal in the center of the room. I suggested that some of Landseer's
best known animals be represented as having come down out of their frames
in the moonlight and grouped themselves about the bust in mourning
He sailed January 13 (1874.), on the Paythia, and two weeks later was at
home, where all was going well. The Gilded Age had been issued a day or
two before Christmas, and was already in its third edition. By the end
of January 26,000 copies had been sold, a sale that had increased to
40,000 a month later. The new house was progressing, though it was by no
means finished. Mrs. Clemens was in good health. Little Susy was full
of such American activities as to earn the name of "The Modoc." The
promise of the year was bright.