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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCLI. A Lobbying Expedition
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Clara Clemens came home now and then to see how matters were progressing,
and very properly, for Clemens was likely to become involved in social
intricacies which required a directing hand. The daughter inherited no
little of the father's characteristics of thought and phrase, and it was
always a delight to see them together when one could be just out of range
of the crossfire. I remember soon after her return, when she was making
some searching inquiries concerning the billiard-room sign, and other
suggested or instituted reforms, he said:
"Oh well, never mind, it doesn't matter. I'm boss in this house."
She replied, quickly: "Oh no, you're not. You're merely owner. I'm the
One night at dinner she mentioned the possibility of going abroad that
year. During several previous summers she had planned to visit Vienna to
see her old music-master, Leschetizky, once more before his death. She
"Leschetizky is getting so old. If I don't go soon I'm afraid I sha'n't
be in time for his funeral."
"Yes," said her father, thoughtfully, "you keep rushing over to
Leschetizky's funeral, and you'll miss mine."
He had made one or two social engagements without careful reflection, and
the situation would require some delicacy of adjustment. During a moment
between the courses, when he left the table and was taking his exercise
in the farther room, she made some remark which suggested a doubt of her
father's gift for social management. I said:
"Oh, well, he is a king, you know, and a king can do no wrong."
"Yes, I know," she answered. "The king can do no wrong; but he frightens
me almost to death, sometimes, he comes so near it."
He came back and began to comment rather critically on some recent
performance of Roosevelt's, which had stirred up a good deal of newspaper
amusement--it was the Storer matter and those indiscreet letters which
Roosevelt had written relative to the ambassadorship which Storer so much
desired. Miss Clemens was inclined to defend the President, and spoke
with considerable enthusiasm concerning his elements of popularity, which
had won him such extraordinary admiration.
"Certainly he is popular," Clemens admitted, "and with the best of
reasons. If the twelve apostles should call at the White House, he would
say, 'Come in, come in! I am delighted to see you. I've been watching
your progress, and I admired it very much.' Then if Satan should come,
he would slap him on the shoulder and say, 'Why, Satan, how do you do? I
am so glad to meet you. I've read all your works and enjoyed every one
of them.' Anybody could be popular with a gift like that."
It was that evening or the next, perhaps, that he said to her:
"Ben [one of his pet names for her], now that you are here to run the
ranch, Paine and I are going to Washington on a vacation. You don't seem
to admire our society much, anyhow."
There were still other reasons for the Washington expedition. There was
an important bill up for the extension of the book royalty period, and
the forces of copyright were going down in a body to use every possible
means to get the measure through.
Clemens, during Cleveland's first administration, some nineteen years
before, had accompanied such an expedition, and through S. S. ("Sunset")
Cox had obtained the "privileges of the floor" of the House, which had
enabled him to canvass the members individually. Cox assured the
doorkeeper that Clemens had received the thanks of Congress for national
literary service, and was therefore entitled to that privilege. This was
not strictly true; but regulations were not very severe in those days,
and the ruse had been regarded as a good joke, which had yielded
excellent results. Clemens had a similar scheme in mind now, and
believed that his friendship with Speaker Cannon--" Uncle Joe"--would
obtain for him a similar privilege. The Copyright Association working in
its regular way was very well, he said, but he felt he could do more as
an individual than by acting merely as a unit of that body.
"I canvassed the entire House personally that other time," he said. "Cox
introduced me to the Democrats, and John D. Long, afterward Secretary of
the Navy, introduced me to the Republicans. I had a darling time
converting those members, and I'd like to try the experiment again."
I should have mentioned earlier, perhaps, that at this time he had begun
to wear white clothing regularly, regardless of the weather and season.
On the return from Dublin he had said:
"I can't bear to put on black clothes again. I wish I could wear white
all winter. I should prefer, of course, to wear colors, beautiful
rainbow hues, such as the women have monopolized. Their clothing makes a
great opera audience an enchanting spectacle, a delight to the eye and to
the spirit--a garden of Eden for charm and color.
"The men, clothed in odious black, are scattered here and there over the
garden like so many charred stumps. If we are going to be gay in spirit,
why be clad in funeral garments? I should like to dress in a loose and
flowing costume made all of silks and velvets resplendent with stunning
dyes, and so would every man I have ever known; but none of us dares to
venture it. If I should appear on Fifth Avenue on a Sunday morning
clothed as I would like to be clothed the churches would all be vacant
and the congregation would come tagging after me. They would scoff, of
course, but they would envy me, too. When I put on black it reminds me
of my funerals. I could be satisfied with white all the year round."
It was not long after this that he said:
"I have made up my mind not to wear black any more, but white, and let
the critics say what they will."
So his tailor was sent for, and six creamy flannel and serge suits were
ordered, made with the short coats, which he preferred, with a gray suit
or two for travel, and he did not wear black again, except for evening
dress and on special occasions. It was a gratifying change, and though
the newspapers made much of it, there was no one who was not gladdened by
the beauty of his garments and their general harmony with his person. He
had never worn anything so appropriate or so impressive.
This departure of costume came along a week or two before the Washington
trip, and when his bags were being packed for the excursion he was
somewhat in doubt as to the propriety of bursting upon Washington in
December in that snowy plumage. I ventured:
"This is a lobbying expedition of a peculiar kind, and does not seem to
invite any half-way measures. I should vote in favor of the white suit."
I think Miss Clemens was for it, too. She must have been or the vote
wouldn't have carried, though it was clear he strongly favored the idea.
At all events, the white suits came along.
We were off the following afternoon: Howells, Robert Underwood Johnson,
one of the Appletons, one of the Putnams, George Bowker, and others were
on the train. On the trip down in the dining-car there was a discussion
concerning the copyrighting of ideas, which finally resolved itself into
the possibility of originating a new one. Clemens said:
"There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take
a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We
give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on
turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same
old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages."
We put up at the Willard, and in the morning drove over to the
Congressional Library, where the copyright hearing was in progress.
There was a joint committee of the two Houses seated round a long table
at work, and a number of spectators more or less interested in the bill,
mainly, it would seem, men concerned with the protection of mechanical
music-rolls. The fact that this feature was mixed up with literature was
not viewed with favor by most of the writers. Clemens referred to the
musical contingent as "those hand-organ men who ought to have a bill of
I should mention that early that morning Clemens had written this letter
to Speaker Cannon:
December 7, 1906.
DEAR UNCLE JOSEPH,--Please get me the thanks of the Congress--not next
week, but right away. It is very necessary. Do accomplish this for your
affectionate old friend right away; by persuasion, if you can; by
violence, if you must, for it is imperatively necessary that I get on the
floor for two or three hours and talk to the members, man by man, in
behalf of the support, encouragement, and protection of one of the
nation's most valuable assets and industries--its literature. I have
arguments with me, also a barrel with liquid in it.
Give me a chance. Get me the thanks of Congress. Don't wait for others
--there isn't time. I have stayed away and let Congress alone for
seventy-one years and I am entitled to thanks. Congress knows it
perfectly well, and I have long felt hurt that this quite proper and
earned expression of gratitude has been merely felt by the House and
never publicly uttered. Send me an order on the Sergeant-at-Arms quick.
When shall I come?
With love and a benediction;
We went over to the Capitol now to deliver to "Uncle Joe" this
characteristic letter. We had picked up Clemens's nephew, Samuel E.
Moffett, at the Library, and he came along and led the way to the
Speaker's room. Arriving there, Clemens laid off his dark overcoat and
stood there, all in white, certainly a startling figure among those
clerks, newspaper men, and incidental politicians. He had been noticed
as he entered the Capitol, and a number of reporters had followed close
behind. Within less than a minute word was being passed through the
corridors that Mark Twain was at the Capitol in his white suit. The
privileged ones began to gather, and a crowd assembled in the hall
Speaker Cannon was not present at the moment; but a little later he
"billowed" in--which seems to be the word to express it--he came with
such a rush and tide of life. After greetings, Clemens produced the
letter and read it to him solemnly, as if he were presenting a petition.
Uncle Joe listened quite seriously, his head bowed a little, as if it
were really a petition, as in fact it was. He smiled, but he said, quite
"That is a request that ought to be granted; but the time has gone by
when I am permitted any such liberties. Tom Reed, when he was Speaker,
inaugurated a strict precedent excluding all outsiders from the use of
the floor of the House."
"I got in the other time," Clemens insisted.
"Yes," said Uncle Joe; "but that ain't now. Sunset Cox could let you in,
but I can't. They'd hang me." He reflected a moment, and added: "I'll
tell you what I'll do: I've got a private room down-stairs that I never
use. It's all fitted up with table and desk, stationery, chinaware, and
cutlery; you could keep house there, if you wanted to. I'll let you have
it as long as you want to stay here, and I'll give you my private
servant, Neal, who's been here all his life and knows every official,
every Senator and Representative, and they all know him. He'll bring you
whatever you want, and you can send in messages by him. You can have the
members brought down singly or in bunches, and convert them as much as
you please. I'd give you a key to the room, only I haven't got one
myself. I never can get in when I want to, but Neal can get in, and
he'll unlock it for you. You can have the room, and you can have Neal.
Now, will that do you?"
Clemens said it would. It was, in fact, an offer without precedent.
Probably never in the history of the country had a Speaker given up his
private room to lobbyists. We went in to see the House open, and then
went down with Neal and took possession of the room. The reporters had
promptly seized upon the letter, and they now got hold of its author, led
him to their own quarters, and, gathering around him, fired questions at
him, and kept their note-books busy. He made a great figure, all in
white there among them, and they didn't fail to realize the value of it
as "copy." He talked about copyright, and about his white clothes, and
about a silk hat which Howells wore.
Back in the Speaker's room, at last, he began laying out the campaign,
which would begin next day. By and by he said:
"Look here! I believe I've got to speak over there in that committee-
room to-day or to-morrow. I ought to know just when it is."
I had not heard of this before, and offered to go over and see about it,
which I did at once. I hurried back faster than I had gone.
"Mr. Clemens, you are to speak in half an hour, and the room is crowded
full; people waiting to hear you."
"The devil!" he said. "Well, all right; I'll just lie down here a few
minutes and then we'll go over. Take paper and pencil and make a few
There was a couch in the room. He lay down while I sat at the table with
a pencil, making headings now and then, as he suggested, and presently he
rose and, shoving the notes into his pocket, was ready. It was half past
three when we entered the committee-room, which was packed with people
and rather dimly lighted, for it was gloomy outside. Herbert Putnam, the
librarian, led us to seats among the literary group, and Clemens,
removing his overcoat, stood in that dim room clad as in white armor.
There was a perceptible stir. Howells, startled for a moment, whispered:
"What in the world did he wear that white suit for?" though in his heart
he admired it as much as the others.
I don't remember who was speaking when we came in, but he was saying
nothing important. Whoever it was, he was followed by Dr. Edward Everett
Hale, whose age always commanded respect, and whose words always invited
interest. Then it was Mark Twain's turn. He did not stand by his chair,
as the others had done, but walked over to the Speaker's table, and,
turning, faced his audience. I have never seen a more impressive sight
than that snow-white figure in that dim-lit, crowded room. He never
touched his notes; he didn't even remember them. He began in that even,
quiet, deliberate voice of his the most even, the most quiet, the most
deliberate voice in the world--and, without a break or a hesitation for a
word, he delivered a copyright argument, full of humor and serious
reasoning, such a speech as no one in that room, I suppose, had ever
heard. Certainly it was a fine and dramatic bit of impromptu pleading.
The weary committee, which had been tortured all day with dull,
statistical arguments made by the mechanical device fiends, and dreary
platitudes unloaded by men whose chief ambition was to shine as copyright
champions, suddenly realized that they were being rewarded for the long
waiting. They began to brighten and freshen, and uplift and smile, like
flowers that have been wilted by a drought when comes the refreshing
shower that means renewed life and vigor. Every listener was as if
standing on tiptoe. When the last sentence was spoken the applause came
like an explosion.--[Howells in his book My Mark Twain speaks of
Clemens's white clothing as "an inspiration which few men would have had
the courage to act upon." He adds: "The first time I saw him wear it
was at the authors' hearing before the Congressional Committee on
Copyright in Washington. Nothing could have been more dramatic than the
gesture with which he flung off his long, loose overcoat and stood forth
in white from his feet to the crown of his silvery head. It was a
magnificent coup, and he dearly loved a coup; but the magnificent speech
which he made, tearing to shreds the venerable farrago of nonsense about
nonproperty in ideas which had formed the basis of all copyright
legislation, made you forget even his spectacularity."]
There came a universal rush of men and women to get near enough for a
word and to shake his hand. But he was anxious to get away. We drove to
the Willard and talked and smoked, and got ready for dinner. He was
elated, and said the occasion required full-dress. We started down at
last, fronted and frocked like penguins.
I did not realize then the fullness of his love for theatrical effect.
I supposed he would want to go down with as little ostentation as
possible, so took him by the elevator which enters the dining-room
without passing through the long corridor known as "Peacock Alley,"
because of its being a favorite place for handsomely dressed fashionables
of the national capital. When we reached the entrance of the dining-room
"Isn't there another entrance to this place?"
I said there was, but that it was very conspicuous. We should have to go
down the long corridor.
"Oh, well," he said, "I don't mind that. Let's go back and try it
So we went back up the elevator, walked to the other end of the hotel,
and came down to the F Street entrance. There is a fine, stately flight
of steps--a really royal stair--leading from this entrance down into
"Peacock Alley." To slowly descend that flight is an impressive thing to
do. It is like descending the steps of a throne-room, or to some royal
landing-place where Cleopatra's barge might lie. I confess that I was
somewhat nervous at the awfulness of the occasion, but I reflected that I
was powerfully protected; so side by side, both in full-dress, white
ties, white-silk waistcoats, and all, we came down that regal flight.
Of course he was seized upon at once by a lot of feminine admirers, and
the passage along the corridor was a perpetual gantlet. I realize now
that this gave the dramatic finish to his day, and furnished him with
proper appetite for his dinner. I did not again make the mistake of
taking him around to the more secluded elevator. I aided and abetted him
every evening in making that spectacular descent of the royal stairway,
and in running that fair and frivolous gantlet the length of "Peacock
Alley." The dinner was a continuous reception. No sooner was he seated
than this Congressman and that Senator came over to shake hands with Mark
Twain. Governor Francis of Missouri also came. Eventually Howells
drifted in, and Clemens reviewed the day, its humors and successes. Back
in the rooms at last he summed up the progress thus far--smoked, laughed
over "Uncle Joe's" surrender to the "copyright bandits," and turned in
for the night.
We were at the Capitol headquarters in Speaker Cannon's private room
about eleven o'clock next morning. Clemens was not in the best humor
because I had allowed him to oversleep. He was inclined to be
discouraged at the prospect, and did not believe many of the members
would come down to see him. He expressed a wish for some person of
influence and wide acquaintance, and walked up and down, smoking
gloomily. I slipped out and found the Speaker's colored body-guard,
Neal, and suggested that Mr. Clemens was ready now to receive the
That was enough. They began to arrive immediately. John Sharp Williams
came first, then Boutell, from Illinois, Littlefield, of Maine, and after
them a perfect procession, including all the leading lights--Dalzell,
Champ Clark, McCall--one hundred and eighty or so in all during the next
three or four hours.
Neal announced each name at the door, and in turn I announced it to
Clemens when the press was not too great. He had provided boxes of
cigars, and the room was presently blue with smoke, Clemens in his white
suit in the midst of it, surrounded by those darker figures--shaking
hands, dealing out copyright gospel and anecdotes--happy and wonderfully
excited. There were chairs, but usually there was only standing room.
He was on his feet for several hours and talked continually; but when at
last it was over, and Champ Clark, who I believe remained longest and was
most enthusiastic in the movement, had bade him good-by, he declared that
he was not a particle tired, and added:
"I believe if our bill could be presented now it would pass."
He was highly elated, and pronounced everything a perfect success. Neal,
who was largely responsible for the triumph, received a ten-dollar bill.
We drove to the hotel and dined that night with the Dodges, who had been
neighbors at Riverdale. Later, the usual crowd of admirers gathered
around him, among them I remember the minister from Costa Rica, the
Italian minister, and others of the diplomatic service, most of whom he
had known during his European residence. Some one told of traveling in
India and China, and how a certain Hindu "god" who had exchanged
autographs with Mark Twain during his sojourn there was familiar with
only two other American names--George Washington and Chicago; while the
King of Siam had read but three English books--the Bible, Bryce's
American Commonwealth, and The Innocents Abroad.
We were at Thomas Nelson Page's for dinner next evening--a wonderfully
beautiful home, full of art treasures. A number of guests had been
invited. Clemens naturally led the dinner-talk, which eventually drifted
to reading. He told of Mrs. Clemens's embarrassment when Stepniak had
visited them and talked books, and asked her what her husband thought of
Balzac, Thackeray, and the others. She had been obliged to say that he
had not read them.
"'How interesting!' said Stepniak. But it wasn't interesting to Mrs.
Clemens. It was torture."
He was light-spirited and gay; but recalling Mrs. Clemens saddened him,
perhaps, for he was silent as we drove to the hotel, and after he was in
bed he said, with a weary despair which even the words do not convey:
"If I had been there a minute earlier, it is possible--it is possible
that she might have died in my arms. Sometimes I think that perhaps
there was an instant--a single instant--when she realized that she was
dying and that I was not there."
In New York I had once brought him a print of the superb "Adams
Memorial," by Saint-Gaudens--the bronze woman who sits in the still court
in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington.
On the morning following the Page dinner at breakfast, he said:
"Engage a carriage and we will drive out and see the Saint-Gaudens
It was a bleak, dull December day, and as we walked down through the
avenues of the dead there was a presence of realized sorrow that seemed
exactly suited to such a visit. We entered the little inclosure of
cedars where sits the dark figure which is art's supreme expression of
the great human mystery of life and death. Instinctively we removed our
hats, and neither spoke until after we had come away. Then:
"What does he call it?" he asked.
I did not know, though I had heard applied to it that great line of
Shakespeare's--"the rest is silence."
"But that figure is not silent," he said.
And later, as we were driving home:
"It is in deep meditation on sorrowful things."
When we returned to New York he had the little print framed, and kept it
always on his mantelpiece.