|Mark Twain's fiftieth birthday was one of the pleasantly observed events
of that year. There was no special celebration, but friends sent kindly
messages, and The Critic, then conducted by Jeannette and Joseph Gilder,
made a feature of it. Miss Gilder wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes and
invited some verses, which with his never-failing kindliness he sent,
though in his accompanying note he said:
"I had twenty-three letters spread out on my table for answering, all
marked immediate, when your note came."
Dr. Holmes's stanzas are full of his gentle spirit:
TO MARK TWAIN
(On his fiftieth birthday)
Ah, Clemens, when I saw thee last,
We both of us were younger;
How fondly mumbling o'er the past
Is Memory's toothless hunger!
So fifty years have fled, they say,
Since first you took to drinking;
I mean in Nature's milky way
Of course no ill I'm thinking.
But while on life's uneven road
Your track you've been pursuing,
What fountains from your wit have flowed
What drinks you have been brewing!
I know whence all your magic came,
Your secret I've discovered,
The source that fed your inward flame,
The dreams that round you hovered.
Before you learned to bite or munch,
Still kicking in your cradle,
The Muses mixed a bowl of punch
And Hebe seized the ladle.
Dear babe, whose fiftieth year to-day
Your ripe half-century rounded,
Your books the precious draught betray
The laughing Nine compounded.
So mixed the sweet, the sharp, the strong,
Each finds its faults amended,
The virtues that to each belong
In happiest union blended.
And what the flavor can surpass
Of sugar, spirit, lemons?
So while one health fills every glass
Mark Twain for Baby Clemens!
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
Frank R. Stockton, Charles Dudley Warner, and Joel Chandler Harris sent
pleasing letters. Warner said:
You may think it an easy thing to be fifty years old, but you will
find it's not so easy to stay there, and your next fifty years will
slip away much faster than those just accomplished.
Many wrote letters privately, of course, and Andrew Lang, like Holmes,
sent a poem that has a special charm.
FOR MARK TWAIN
To brave Mark Twain, across the sea,
The years have brought his jubilee.
One hears it, half in pain,
That fifty years have passed and gone
Since danced the merry star that shone
Above the babe Mark Twain.
We turn his pages and we see
The Mississippi flowing free;
We turn again and grin
O'er all Tom Sawyer did and planned
With him of the ensanguined hand,
With Huckleberry Finn!
Spirit of Mirth, whose chime of bells
Shakes on his cap, and sweetly swells
Across the Atlantic main,
Grant that Mark's laughter never die,
That men through many a century
May chuckle o'er Mark Twain!
Assuredly Mark Twain was made happy by these attentions; to Dr. Holmes he
DEAR DR. HOLMES,-- I shall never be able to tell you the half of how
proud you have made me. If I could you would say you were nearly paid
for the trouble you took. And then the family: If I could convey the
electrical surprise and gratitude and exaltation of the wife and the
children last night, when they happened upon that Critic where I had,
with artful artlessness, spread it open and retired out of view to see
what would happen--well, it was great and fine and beautiful to see, and
made me feel as the victor feels when the shouting hosts march by: and if
you also could have seen it you would have said the account was squared.
For I have brought them up in your company, as in the company of a warm
and friendly and beneficent but far-distant sun; and so, for you to do
this thing was for the sun to send down out of the skies the miracle of a
special ray and transfigure me before their faces. I knew what that poem
would be to them; I knew it would raise me up to remote and shining
heights in their eyes, to very fellowship with the chambered Nautilus
itself, and that from that fellowship they could never more dissociate me
while they should live; and so I made sure to be by when the surprise
Charles Dudley Warner is charmed with the poem for its own felicitous
sake; and so indeed am I, but more because it has drawn the sting of my
fiftieth year; taken away the pain of it, the grief of it, the somehow
shame of it, and made me glad and proud it happened.
With reverence and affection,
S. L. CLEMENS.
So Samuel Clemens had reached the half-century mark; reached it in what
seemed the fullness of success from every viewpoint. If he was not yet
the foremost American man of letters, he was at least the most widely
known he sat upon the highest mountain-top. Furthermore, it seemed to
him that fortune was showering her gifts into his lap. His unfortunate
investments were now only as the necessary experiments that had led him
to larger successes. As a publisher, he was already the most conspicuous
in the world, and he contemplated still larger ventures: a type-setting
machine patent, in which he had invested, and now largely controlled, he
regarded as the chief invention of the age, absolutely certain to yield
incalculable wealth. His connection with the Grant family had associated
him with an enterprise looking to the building of a railway from
Constantinople to the Persian Gulf. Charles A. Dana, of the Sun, had
put him in the way of obtaining for publication the life of the Pope, Leo
XIII, officially authorized by the Pope himself, and this he regarded as
a certain fortune.
Now that the tide had turned he felt no hesitancy in reckoning a fortune
from almost any venture. The Grant book, even on the liberal terms
allowed to the author, would yield a net profit of one hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to its publishers. Huck Finn would yield fifty thousand
dollars more. The sales of his other books had considerably increased.
Certainly, at fifty, Mark Twain's fortunes were at flood-tide; buoyant
and jubilant, he was floating on the topmost wave. If there were
undercurrents and undertow they were down somewhere out of sight. If
there were breakers ahead, they were too far distant to be heard. So
sure was he of the triumphant consummation of every venture that to a
friend at his home one night he said:
"I am frightened at the proportions of my prosperity. It seems to me
that whatever I touch turns to gold."