All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
13 January, 2012
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCI. Social Life in Vienna
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Clemens, no longer worried about finances and full of ideas and
prospects, was writing now at a great rate, mingling with all sorts of
social events, lecturing for charities, and always in the lime-light.
I have abundant peace of mind again--no sense of burden. Work is become
a pleasure--it is not labor any longer.
He was the lion of the Austrian capital, and it was natural that he
should revel in his new freedom and in the universal tribute. Mrs.
Clemens wrote that they were besieged with callers of every description:
Such funny combinations are here sometimes: one duke, several
counts, several writers, several barons, two princes, newspaper
women, etc. I find so far, without exception, that the high-up
aristocracy are simple and cordial and agreeable.
When Clemens appeared as a public entertainer all society turned out to
hear him and introductions were sought by persons of the most exclusive
rank. Once a royal introduction led to an adventure. He had been giving
a charity reading in Vienna, and at the end of it was introduced, with
Mrs. Clemens, to her Highness, Countess Bardi, a princess of the
Portuguese royal house by marriage and sister to the Austrian Archduchess
Maria Theresa. They realized that something was required after such an
introduction; that, in fact, they must go within a day or two and pay
their respects by writing their names in the visitors' book, kept in a
sort of anteroom of the royal establishment. A few days later, about
noon, they drove to the archducal palace, inquired their way to the royal
anteroom, and informed the grandly uniformed portier that they wished to
write their names in the visitors' book. The portier did not produce the
book, but summoned a man in livery and gold lace and directed him to take
them up-stairs, remarking that her Royal Highness was out, but would be
in presently. They protested that her Royal Highness was not looking for
them, that they were not calling, but had merely come to sign the
visitors' book, but he said:
"You are Americans, are you not?"
"Yes, we are Americans."
"Then you are expected. Please go up-stairs."
Mrs. Clemens said:
"Oh no, we are not expected; there is some mistake. Please let us sign
the book and we will go away."
But it was no use. He insisted that her Royal Highness would be back in
a very little while; that she had commanded him to say so and that they
must wait. They were shown up-stairs, Clemens going willingly enough,
for he scented an adventure; but Mrs. Clemens was far from happy. They
were taken to a splendid drawing-room, and at the doorway she made her
last stand, refusing to enter. She declared that there was certainly
some mistake, and begged them to let her sign her name in the book and
go, without parleying. It was no use. Their conductor insisted that
they remove their wraps and sit down, which they finally did--Mrs.
Clemens miserable, her husband in a delightful state of anticipation.
Writing of it to Twichell that night he said:
I was hoping and praying that the Princess would come and catch us
up there, & that those other Americans who were expected would
arrive and be taken as impostors by the portier & be shot by the
sentinels & then it would all go into the papers & be cabled all
over the world & make an immense stir and be perfectly lovely.
Livy was in a state of mind; she said it was too theatrically
ridiculous & that I would never be able to keep my mouth shut; that
I would be sure to let it out & it would get into the papers, & she
tried to make me promise.
"Promise what?" I said.
"To be quiet about this."
"Indeed I won't; it's the best thing ever happened. I'll tell it
and add to it & I wish Joe & Howells were here to make it perfect; I
can't make all the rightful blunders by myself--it takes all three
of us to do justice to an opportunity like this. I would just like
to see Howells get down to his work & explain & lie & work his
futile & inventionless subterfuges when that Princess comes raging
in here & wanting to know."
But Livy could not hear fun--it was not a time to be trying to be
funny. We were in a most miserable & shameful situation, & it----
Just then the door spread wide & our Princess & 4 more & 3 little
Princes flowed in! Our Princess & her sister, the Archduchess Maria
Theresa (mother to the imperial heir & to the a young girl
Archduchesses present, & aunt to the 3 little Princes), & we shook
hands all around & sat down & had a most sociable time for half an
hour, & by & by it turned out that we were the right ones & had been
sent for by a messenger who started too late to catch us at the
hotel. We were invited for a o'clock, but we beat that arrangement
by an hour & a half.
Wasn't it a rattling good comedy situation? Seems a kind of pity we
were the right ones. It would have been such nuts to see the right
ones come and get fired out, & we chatting along comfortably &
nobody suspecting us for impostors.
Mrs. Clemens to Mrs. Crane:
Of course I know that I should have courtesied to her Imperial
Majesty & not quite so deep to her Royal Highness, and that Mr.
Clemens should have kissed their hands; but it was all so unexpected
that I had no time to prepare, and if I had had I should not have
been there; I only went in to help Mr. C. with my bad German. When
our minister's wife is going to be presented to the Archduchess she
practises her courtesying beforehand.
They had met royalty in simple American fashion and no disaster had
We have already made mention of the distinguished visitors who gathered
in the Clemens apartments at the Hotel Metropole. They were of many
nations and ranks. It was the winter in London of twenty-five years
before over again. Only Mark Twain was not the same. Then he had been
unsophisticated, new, not always at his ease; now he was the polished
familiar of courts and embassies--at home equally with poets and princes,
authors and ambassadors and kings. Such famous ones were there as
Vereshchagin, Leschetizky, Mark Hambourg, Dvorak, Lenbach, and Jokai,
with diplomats of many nations. A list of foreign names may mean little
to the American reader, but among them were Neigra, of Italy; Paraty, of
Portugal; Lowenhaupt, of Sweden; and Ghiki, of Rumania. The Queen of
Rumania, Carmen Sylva, a poetess in her own right, was a friend and warm
admirer of Mark Twain. The Princess Metternich, and Madame de
Laschowska, of Poland, were among those who came, and there were Nansen
and his wife, and Campbell-Bannerman, who was afterward British Premier.
Also there was Spiridon, the painter, who made portraits of Clara Clemens
and her father, and other artists and potentates--the list is too long.
Those were brilliant, notable gatherings and are remembered in Vienna
today. They were not always entirely harmonious, for politics was in the
air and differences of opinion were likely to be pretty freely expressed.
Clemens and his family, as Americans, did not always have a happy time of
it. It was the eve of the Spanish American War and most of continental
Europe sided with Spain. Austria, in particular, was friendly to its
related nation; and from every side the Clemenses heard how America was
about to take a brutal and unfair advantage of a weaker nation for the
sole purpose of annexing Cuba.
Charles Langdon and his son Jervis happened to arrive in Vienna about
this time, bringing straight from America the comforting assurance that
the war was not one of conquest or annexation, but a righteous defense of
the weak. Mrs. Clemens gave a dinner for them, at which, besides some
American students, were Mark Hambourg, Gabrilowitsch, and the great
Leschetizky himself. Leschetizky, an impetuous and eloquent talker, took
this occasion to inform the American visitors that their country was only
shamming, that Cuba would soon be an American dependency. No one not
born to the language could argue with Leschetizky. Clemens once wrote of
He is a most capable and felicitous talker-was born for an orator, I
think. What life, energy, fire in a man past 70! & how he does play! He
is easily the greatest pianist in the world. He is just as great & just
as capable today as ever he was.
Last Sunday night, at dinner with us, he did all the talking for 3 hours,
and everybody was glad to let him. He told his experiences as a
revolutionist 50 years ago in '48, & his battle-pictures were
magnificently worded. Poetzl had never met him before. He is a talker
himself & a good one--but he merely sat silent & gazed across the table
at this inspired man, & drank in his words, & let his eyes fill & the
blood come & go in his face & never said a word.
Whatever may have been his doubts in the beginning concerning the Cuban
War, Mark Twain, by the end of May, had made up his mind as to its
justice. When Theodore Stanton invited him to the Decoration Day banquet
to be held in Paris, he replied:
I thank you very much for your invitation and I would accept if I were
foot-free. For I should value the privilege of helping you do honor to
the men who rewelded our broken Union and consecrated their great work
with their lives; and also I should like to be there to do, homage to our
soldiers and sailors of today who are enlisted for another most righteous
war, and utter the hope that they may make short and decisive work of it
and leave Cuba free and fed when they face for home again. And finally I
should like to be present and see you interweave those two flags which,
more than any others, stand for freedom and progress in the earth-flags
which represent two kindred nations, each great and strong by itself,
competent sureties for the peace of the world when they stand together.
That is to say, the flags of England and America. To an Austrian friend
he emphasized this thought:
The war has brought England and America close together--and to my mind
that is the biggest dividend that any war in this world has ever paid.
If this feeling is ever to grow cold again I do not wish to live to see
And to Twichell, whose son David had enlisted:
You are living your war-days over again in Dave & it must be strong
pleasure mixed with a sauce of apprehension . . . .
I have never enjoyed a war, even in history, as I am enjoying this one,
for this is the worthiest one that was ever fought, so far as my
knowledge goes. It is a worthy thing to fight for one's own country. It
is another sight finer to fight for another man's. And I think this is
the first time it has been done.
But it was a sad day for him when he found that the United States really
meant to annex the Philippines, and his indignation flamed up. He said:
"When the United States sent word to Spain that the Cuban atrocities must
end she occupied the highest moral position ever taken by a nation since
the Almighty made the earth. But when she snatched the Philippines she
stained the flag."