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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCX. London Social Affairs
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|All this time Clemens had been tossing on the London social tide. There
was a call for him everywhere. No distinguished visitor of whatever
profession or rank but must meet Mark Twain. The King of Sweden was
among his royal conquests of that season.
He was more happy with men of his own kind. He was often with Moberly
Bell, editor of the Times; E. A. Abbey, the painter; Sir Henry Lucy, of
Punch (Toby, M.P.); James Bryce, and Herbert Gladstone; and there were a
number of brilliant Irishmen who were his special delight. Once with
Mrs. Clemens he dined with the author of his old favorite, 'European
Morals', William E. H. Lecky. Lady Gregory was there and Sir Dennis
Fitz-Patrick; who had been Governor-General at Lahore when they were in
India, and a number of other Irish ladies and gentlemen. It was a
memorable evening. To Twichell Clemens wrote:
Joe, do you know the Irish gentleman & the Irish lady, the Scotch
gentleman & the Scotch lady? These are darlings, every one. Night
before last it was all Irish--24. One would have to travel far to
match their ease & sociability & animation & sparkle & absence of
shyness & self-consciousness. It was American in these fine
qualities. This was at Mr. Lecky's. He is Irish, you know. Last
night it was Irish again, at Lady Gregory's. Lord Roberts is Irish,
& Sir William Butler, & Kitchener, I think, & a disproportion of the
other prominent generals are of Irish & Scotch breed keeping up the
traditions of Wellington & Sir Colin Campbell, of the Mutiny. You
will have noticed that in S. A., as in the Mutiny, it is usually the
Irish & Scotch that are placed in the forefront of the battle....
Sir William Butler said, "the Celt is the spearhead of the British
He mentions the news from the African war, which had been favorable to
England, and what a change had come over everything in consequence. The
dinner-parties had been lodges of sorrow and depressing. Now everybody
was smiling again. In a note-book entry of this time he wrote:
Relief of Mafeking (May 18, 1900). The news came at 9.17 P.M.
Before 10 all London was in the streets, gone mad with joy. By then
the news was all over the American continent.
Clemens had been talking copyright a good deal in London, and introducing
it into his speeches. Finally, one day he was summoned before a
committee of the House of Lords to explain his views. His old idea that
the product of a man's brain is his property in perpetuity and not for
any term of years had not changed, and they permitted him to dilate on
this (to them) curious doctrine. The committee consisted of Lords
Monkswell, Knutsford, Avebury, Farrar, and Thwing. When they asked for
his views he said:
"In my opinion the copyright laws of England and America need only the
removal of the forty-two-year limit and the return to perpetual copyright
to be perfect. I consider that at least one of the reasons advanced in
justification of limited copyright is fallacious--namely, the one which
makes a distinction between an author's property and real estate, and
pretends that the two are not created, produced, or acquired in the same
way, thus warranting a different treatment of the two by law."
Continuing, he dwelt on the ancient doctrine that there was no property
in an idea, showing how the far greater proportion of all property
consisted of nothing more than elaborated ideas--the steamship,
locomotive, telephone, the vast buildings in the world, how all of these
had been constructed upon a basic idea precisely as a book is
constructed, and were property only as a book is property, and therefore
rightly subject to the same laws. He was carefully and searchingly
examined by that shrewd committee. He kept them entertained and
interested and left them in good-nature, even if not entirely converted.
The papers printed his remarks, and London found them amusing.
A few days after the copyright session, Clemens, responding to the toast,
"Literature," at the Royal Literary Fund Banquet, made London laugh
again, and early in June he was at the Savoy Hotel welcoming Sir Henry
Irving back to England after one of his successful American tours.
On the Fourth of July (1900) Clemens dined with the Lord Chief-Justice,
and later attended an American banquet at the Hotel Cecil. He arrived
late, when a number of the guests were already going. They insisted,
however, that he make a speech, which he did, and considered the evening
ended. It was not quite over. A sequel to his "Luck" story, published
nine years before, suddenly developed.
To go back a little, the reader may recall that "Luck" was a story which
Twichell had told him as being supposedly true. The hero of it was a
military officer who had risen to the highest rank through what at least
seemed to be sheer luck, including a number of fortunate blunders.
Clemens thought the story improbable, but wrote it and laid it away for
several years, offering it at last in the general house-cleaning which
took place after the first collapse of the machine. It was published in
Harper's Magazine for August, 1891, and something less than a year later,
in Rome, an English gentleman--a new acquaintance--said to him:
"Mr. Clemens, shall you go to England?"
"Shall you take your tomahawk with you?"
"Why--yes, if it shall seem best."
"Well, it will. Be advised. Take it with you."
"Because of that sketch of yours entitled 'Luck.' That sketch is current
in England, and you will surely need your tomahawk."
"What makes you think so?"
"I think so because the hero of the sketch will naturally want your
scalp, and will probably apply for it. Be advised. Take your tomahawk
"Why, even with it I sha'n't stand any chance, because I sha'n't know him
when he applies, and he will have my scalp before I know what his errand
"Come, do you mean to say that you don't know who the hero of that sketch
"Indeed I haven't any idea who the hero of the sketch is. Who is it?"
His informant hesitated a moment, then named a name of world-wide
As Mask Twain finished his Fourth of July speech at the Cecil and started
to sit down a splendidly uniformed and decorated personage at his side
"Mr. Clemens, I have been wanting to know you a long time," and he was
looking down into the face of the hero of "Luck."
"I was caught unprepared," he said in his notes of it. "I didn't sit
down--I fell down. I didn't have my tomahawk, and I didn't know what
would happen. But he was, composed, and pretty soon I got composed and
we had a good, friendly time. If he had ever heard of that sketch of
mine he did not manifest it in any way, and at twelve, midnight, I took
my scalp home intact."