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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CXCIX. Winter in Vienna
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|They remained two months in Weggis--until toward the end of September;
thence to Vienna, by way of Innsbruck, in the Tyrol, "where the mountains
seem more approachable than in Switzerland." Clara Clemens wished to
study the piano under Leschetizky, and this would take them to Austria
for the winter. Arriving at Vienna, they settled in the Hotel Metropole,
on the banks of the Danube. Their rooms, a corner suite, looked out on a
pretty green square, the Merzimplatz, and down on the Franz Josef quay.
A little bridge crosses the river there, over which all kinds of life are
continually passing. On pleasant days Clemens liked to stand on this
bridge and watch the interesting phases of the Austrian capital. The
Vienna humorist, Poetzl, quickly formed his acquaintance, and they
sometimes stood there together. Once while Clemens was making some
notes, Poetzl interested the various passers by asking each one--the
errand-boy, the boot-black, the chestnut-vender, cabmen, and others--to
guess who the stranger was and what he wanted. Most of them recognized
him when their attention was called, for the newspapers had proudly
heralded his arrival and his picture was widely circulated.
Clemens had scarcely arrived in Vienna, in fact, before he was pursued by
photographers, journalists, and autograph-hunters. The Viennese were his
fond admirers, and knowing how the world elsewhere had honored him they
were determined not to be outdone. The 'Neues Viener Tageblatt', a
fortnight after his arrival, said:
It is seldom that a foreign author has found such a hearty reception
in Vienna as that accorded to Mark Twain, who not only has the
reputation of being the foremost humorist in the whole civilized.
world, but one whose personality arouses everywhere a peculiar
interest on account of the genuine American character which sways
He was the guest of honor at the Concordia Club soon after his arrival,
and the great ones of Vienna assembled to do him honor. Charlemagne
Tower, then American minister, was also one of the guests. Writers,
diplomats, financiers, municipal officials, everybody in Vienna that was
worth while, was there. Clemens gave them a surprise, for when Ferdinand
Gross, Concordia president, introduced him first in English, then in
German, Mark Twain made his reply wholly in the latter language.
The paper just quoted gives us a hint of the frolic and wassail of that
old 'Festkneipe' when it says:
At 9 o'clock Mark Twain appeared in the salon, and amid a storm of
applause took his seat at the head of the table. His characteristic
shaggy and flowing mane of hair adorning a youthful countenance
attracted the attention at once of all present. After a few formal
convivial commonplaces the president of the Concordia, Mr. Ferdinand
Gross, delivered an excellent address in English, which he wound up
with a few German sentences. Then Mr. Tower was heard in praise of
his august countryman. In the course of his remarks he said he
could hardly find words enough to express his delight at the
presence of the popular American. Then followed the greatest
attraction of the evening, an impromptu speech by Mark Twain in the
German language, which it is true he has not fully mastered, but
which he nevertheless controls sufficiently well to make it
difficult to detect any harsh foreign accent. He had entitled his
speech, "Die Schrecken der Deutschen Sprache" (the terrors of the
German language). At times he would interrupt himself in English
and ask, with a stuttering smile, "How do you call this word in
German" or "I only know that in mother-tongue." The Festkneipe
lasted far into the morning hours.
It was not long after their arrival in Vienna that the friction among the
unamalgamated Austrian states flamed into a general outbreak in the
Austrian Reichsrath, or Imperial Parliament. We need not consider just
what the trouble was. Any one wishing to know can learn from Mark
Twain's article on the subject, for it is more clearly pictured there
than elsewhere. It is enough to say here that the difficulty lay mainly
between the Hungarian and German wings of the house; and in the midst of
it Dr. Otto Lecher made his famous speech, which lasted twelve hours
without a break, in order to hold the floor against the opposing forces.
Clemens was in the gallery most of the time while that speech, with its
riotous accompaniment, was in progress.--["When that house is
legislating you can't tell it from artillery practice." From Mark
Twain's report, "Stirring Times in Austria," in Literary Essays,]--He
was intensely interested. Nothing would appeal to him more than that,
unless it should be some great astronomic or geologic change. He was
also present somewhat later when a resolution was railroaded through
which gave the chair the right to invoke the aid of the military, and he
was there when the military arrived and took the insurgents in charge.
It was a very great occasion, a "tremendous episode," he says.
The memory of it will outlast all the others that exist to-day. In
the whole history of free parliament the like of it had been seen
but three times before. It takes imposing place among the world's
unforgetable things. I think that in my lifetime I have not twice
seen abiding history made before my eyes, but I know that I have
seen it once.
Wild reports were sent to the American press; among them one that Mark
Twain had been hustled out with the others, and that, having waved his
handkerchief and shouted "Hoch die Deutschen!" he had been struck by an
officer of the law. Of course nothing of the kind happened. The
sergeant-at-arms, who came to the gallery where he sat, said to a friend
who suggested that Clemens be allowed to remain:
"Oh, I know him very well. I recognize him by his pictures, and I should
be very glad to let him stay, but I haven't any choice because of the
strictness of the order."
Clemens, however, immediately ran across a London Times correspondent,
who showed him the way into the first gallery, which it seems was not
emptied, so he lost none of the exhibit.
Mark Twain's report of the Austrian troubles, published in Harper's
Magazine the following March and now included with the Literary Essays,
will keep that episode alive and important as literature when otherwise
it would have been merely embalmed, and dimly remembered, as history.
It was during these exciting political times in Vienna that a
representative of a New York paper wrote, asking for a Mark Twain
interview. Clemens replied, giving him permission to call. When the
reporter arrived Clemens was at work writing in bed, as was so much his
habit. At the doorway the reporter paused, waiting for a summons to
enter. The door was ajar and he heard Mrs. Clemens say:
"Youth, don't you think it will be a little embarrassing for him, your
being in bed?"
And he heard Mark Twain's easy, gentle, deliberate voice reply:
"Why, Livy, if you think so, we might have the other bed made up for
Clemens became a privileged character in Vienna. Official rules were
modified for his benefit. Everything was made easy for him. Once, on a
certain grand occasion, when nobody was permitted to pass beyond a
prescribed line, he was stopped by a guard, when the officer in charge
suddenly rode up:
"Let him pass," he commanded. "Lieber Gott! Don't you see it's Herr
The Clemens apartments at the Metropole were like a court, where with
those of social rank assembled the foremost authors, journalists,
diplomats, painters, philosophers, scientists, of Europe, and therefore
of the world. A sister of the Emperor of Germany lived at the Metropole
that winter and was especially cordial. Mark Twain's daily movements
were chronicled as if he had been some visiting potentate, and, as usual,
invitations and various special permissions poured in. A Vienna paper
He has been feted and dined from morn till eve. The homes of the
aristocracy are thrown open to him, counts and princes delight to do
him honor, and foreign audiences hang upon the words that fall from
his lips, ready to burst out any instant into roars of laughter.
Deaths never came singly in the Clemens family. It was on the 11th of
December, 1897, something more than a year after the death of Susy, that
Orion Clemens died, at the age of seventy-two. Orion had remained the
same to the end, sensitively concerned as to all his brother's doings,
his fortunes and misfortunes: soaring into the clouds when any good news
came; indignant, eager to lend help and advice in the hour of defeat;
loyal, upright, and generally beloved by those who knew and understood
his gentle nature. He had not been ill, and, in fact, only a few days
before he died had written a fine congratulatory letter on his brother's
success in accumulating means for the payment of his debts, entering
enthusiastically into some literary plans which Mark Twain then had in
prospect, offering himself for caricature if needed.
I would fit in as a fool character, believing, what the Tennessee
mountaineers predicted, that I would grow up to be a great man and go to
Congress. I did not think it worth the trouble to be a common great man
like Andy Johnson. I wouldn't give a pinch of snuff, little as I needed
it, to be anybody, less than Napoleon. So when a farmer took my father's
offer for some chickens under advisement till the next day I said to
myself, "Would Napoleon Bonaparte have taken under advisement till the
next day an offer to sell him some chickens?"
To his last day and hour Orion was the dreamer, always with a new plan.
It was one morning early that he died. He had seated himself at a table
with pencil and paper and was setting down the details of his latest
project when death came to him, kindly enough, in the moment of new hope.
There came also, just then, news of the death of their old Hartford
butler, George. It saddened them as if it had been a member of the
household. Jean, especially, wept bitterly.