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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CLXXXVII. Some Literary Matters
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Clemens might have lectured that winter with profit, and Major Pond did
his best to persuade him; but Rogers agreed that his presence in New York
was likely to be too important to warrant any schedule of absence. He
went once to Boston to lecture for charity, though his pleasure in the
experience was a sufficient reward. On the evening before the lecture
Mrs. James T. Fields had him to her house to dine with Dr. Holmes, then
not far from the end of his long, beautiful life.--[He died that same
year, October, 1894.]
Clemens wrote to Paris of their evening together:
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes never goes out (he is in his 84th year), but he
came out this time--said he wanted to "have a time" once more with me.
Mrs. Fields said Aldrich begged to come, & went away crying because she
wouldn't let him. She allowed only her family (Sarah Orne Jewett &
sister) to be present, because much company would overtax Dr. Holmes.
Well, he was just delightful! He did as brilliant and beautiful talking
(& listening) as he ever did in his life, I guess. Fields and Jewett
said he hadn't been in such splendid form for years. He had ordered his
carriage for 9. The coachman sent in for him at 9, but he said, "Oh,
nonsense!--leave glories & grandeurs like these? Tell him to go away &
come in an hour!"
At 10 he was called for again, & Mrs. Fields, getting uneasy, rose, but
he wouldn't go--& so we rattled ahead the same as ever. Twice more Mrs.
Fields rose, but he wouldn't go--& he didn't go till half past 10--an
unwarrantable dissipation for him in these days. He was prodigiously
complimentary about some of my books, & is having Pudd'nhead read to him.
I told him you & I used the Autocrat as a courting book & marked it all
through, & that you keep it in the sacred green box with the loveletters,
& it pleased him.
One other address Clemens delivered that winter, at Fair Haven, on the
opening of the Millicent Library, a present to the town from Mrs. Rogers.
Mrs. Rogers had suggested to her husband that perhaps Mr. Clemens would
be willing to say a few words there. Mr. Rogers had replied, "Oh,
Clemens is in trouble. I don't like to ask him," but a day or two later
told him of Mrs. Rogers's wish, adding:
"Don't feel at all that you need to do it. I know just how you are
feeling, how worried you are."
Clemens answered, "Mr. Rogers, do you think there is anything I could do
for you that I wouldn't do?"
It was on this occasion that he told for the first time the "stolen
watermelon" story, so often reprinted since; how once he had stolen a
watermelon, and when he found it to be a green one, had returned it to
the farmer, with a lecture on honesty, and received a ripe one in its
In spite of his cares and diversions Clemens's literary activities of
this time were considerable. He wrote an article for the Youth's
Companion--"How to Tell a Story"--and another for the North American
Review on Fenimore Cooper's "Literary Offenses." Mark Twain had not much
respect for Cooper as a literary artist. Cooper's stilted
artificialities and slipshod English exasperated him and made it hard for
him to see that in spite of these things the author of the Deerslayer was
a mighty story-teller. Clemens had also promised some stories to Walker,
of the Cosmopolitan, and gave him one for his Christmas number,
"Traveling with a Reformer," which had grown out of some incidents of
that long-ago journey with Osgood to Chicago, supplemented by others that
had happened on the more recent visit to that city with Hall. This story
had already appeared when Clemens and Rogers had made their Chicago trip.
Rogers had written for passes over the Pennsylvania road, and the
president, replying, said:
"No, I won't give Mark Twain a pass over our road. I've been reading his
'Traveling with a Reformer,' in which he abuses our road. I wouldn't let
him ride over it again if I could help it. The only way I'll agree to
let him go over it at all is in my private car. I have stocked it with
everything he can possibly want, and have given orders that if there is
anything else he wants the train is to be stopped until they can get it."
"Pudd'nhead Wilson" was appearing in the Century during this period, and
"Tom Sawyer Abroad" in the St. Nicholas. The Century had issued a tiny
calendar of the Pudd'nhead maxims, and these quaint bits of philosophy,
the very gems of Mark Twain mental riches, were in everybody's mouth.
With all this going on, and with his appearance at various social events,
he was rather a more spectacular figure that winter than ever before.
From the note-book:
The Haunted Looking-glass. The guest (at midnight a dim light
burning) wakes up & sees appear & disappear the faces that have
looked into the glass during 3 centuries.
Love seems the swiftest but is the slowest of all growths. No man
and woman really know what perfect love is until they have been
married a quarter of a century.
It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.
Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made the
slave of the lash--that one is the cat.
Truth is stranger than fiction--to some people, but I am measurably
familiar with it.