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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCXLII. Mark Twain's Good-By to the Platform
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was on April 19, 1906, the day following the great earthquake, that
Mark Twain gave a "Farewell Lecture" at Carnegie Hall for the benefit of
the Robert Fulton Memorial Association. Some weeks earlier Gen.
Frederick D. Grant, its president, had proposed to pay one thousand
dollars for a Mark Twain lecture; but Clemens' had replied that he was
permanently out of the field, and would never again address any audience
that had to pay to hear him.
"I always expect to talk as long as I can get people to listen to me," he
sand, "but I never again expect to charge for it." Later came one of his
inspirations, and he wrote: "I will lecture for one thousand dollars, on
one condition: that it will be understood to be my farewell lecture, and
that I may contribute the thousand dollars to the Fulton Association."
It was a suggestion not to be discouraged, and the bills and notices,
"Mark Twain's Farewell Lecture," were published without delay.
I first heard of the matter one afternoon when General Grant had called.
Clemens came into the study where I was working; he often wandered in and
out-sometimes without a word, sometimes to relieve himself concerning
things in general. But this time he suddenly chilled me by saying:
"I'm going to deliver my farewell lecture, and I want you to appear on
the stage and help me."
I feebly expressed my pleasure at the prospect. Then he said:
"I am going to lecture on Fulton--on the story of his achievements. It
will be a burlesque, of course, and I am going to pretend to forget my
facts, and I want you to sit there in a chair. Now and then, when I seem
to get stuck, I'll lean over and pretend to ask you some thing, and I
want you to pretend to prompt me. You don't need to laugh, or to pretend
to be assisting in the performance any more than just that."
HANDBILL OF MARK TWAIN'S "FAREWELL LECTURE":
Will Deliver His Farewell Lecture
APRIL 19TH, 1906
FOR THE BENEFIT OF
Robert Fulton Memorial Association
MILITARY ORGANIZATION OLD GUARD IN
FULL DRESS UNIFORM WILL BE PRESENT
MUSIC BY OLD GUARD BAND
TICKETS AND BOXES ON SALE AT CARNEGIE HALL
SEATS $1.50, $1.00, 50 CENTS
It was not likely that I should laugh. I had a sinking feeling in the
cardiac region which does not go with mirth. It did not for the moment
occur to me that the stage would be filled with eminent citizens and
vice-presidents, and I had a vision of myself sitting there alone in the
chair in that wide emptiness, with the chief performer directing
attention to me every other moment or so, for perhaps an hour. Let me
hurry on to say that it did not happen. I dare say he realized my
unfitness for the work, and the far greater appropriateness of conferring
the honor on General Grant, for in the end he gave him the assignment, to
my immeasurable relief.
It was a magnificent occasion. That spacious hall was hung with bunting,
the stage was banked and festooned with decoration of every sort.
General Grant, surrounded by his splendidly uniformed staff, sat in the
foreground, and behind was ranged a levee of foremost citizens of the
republic. The band played "America" as Mark Twain entered, and the great
audience rose and roared out its welcome. Some of those who knew him
best had hoped that on this occasion of his last lecture he would tell of
that first appearance in San Francisco, forty years before, when his
fortunes had hung in the balance. Perhaps he did not think of it, and no
one had had the courage to suggest it. At all events, he did a different
thing. He began by making a strong plea for the smitten city where the
flames were still raging, urging prompt help for those who had lost not
only their homes, but the last shred of their belongings and their means
of livelihood. Then followed his farcical history of Fulton, with
General Grant to make the responses, and presently he drifted into the
kind of lecture he had given so often in his long trip around the world-
retelling the tales which had won him fortune and friends in many lands.
I do not know whether the entertainment was long or short. I think few
took account of time. To a letter of inquiry as to how long the
entertainment would last, he had replied:
I cannot say for sure. It is my custom to keep on talking till I
get the audience cowed. Sometimes it takes an hour and fifteen
minutes, sometimes I can do it in an hour.
There was no indication at any time that the audience was cowed. The
house was packed, and the applause was so recurrent and continuous that
often his voice was lost to those in its remoter corners. It did not
matter. The tales were familiar to his hearers; merely to see Mark
Twain, in his old age and in that splendid setting, relating them was
enough. The audience realized that it was witnessing the close of a
heroic chapter in a unique career.