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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLVII. A True English Welcome
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Mark Twain's trip across the Atlantic would seem to have been a pleasant
one. The Minneapolis is a fine, big ship, and there was plenty of
company. Prof. Archibald Henderson, Bernard Shaw's biographer, was
aboard;--[Professor Henderson has since then published a volume on Mark
Twain-an interesting commentary on his writings-mainly from the
sociological point of view.]--also President Patton, of the Princeton
Theological Seminary; a well-known cartoonist, Richards, and some very
attractive young people--school-girls in particular, such as all through
his life had appealed to Mark Twain. Indeed, in his later life they made
a stronger appeal than ever. The years had robbed him of his own little
flock, and always he was trying to replace them. Once he said:
"During those years after my wife's death I was washing about on a
forlorn sea of banquets and speech-making in high and holy causes, and
these things furnished me intellectual cheer, and entertainment; but they
got at my heart for an evening only, then left it dry and dusty. I had
reached the grandfather stage of life without grandchildren, so I began
to adopt some."
He adopted several on that journey to England and on the return voyage,
and he kept on adopting others during the rest of his life. These
companionships became one of the happiest aspects of his final days, as
we shall see by and by.
There were entertainments on the ship, one of them given for the benefit
of the Seamen's Orphanage. One of his adopted granddaughters--"Charley"
he called her--played a violin solo and Clemens made a speech. Later his
autographs were sold at auction. Dr. Patton was auctioneer, and one
autographed postal card brought twenty-five dollars, which is perhaps the
record price for a single Mark Twain signature. He wore his white suit
on this occasion, and in the course of his speech referred to it. He
told first of the many defects in his behavior, and how members of his
household had always tried to keep him straight. The children, he said,
had fallen into the habit of calling it "dusting papa off." Then he went
When my daughter came to see me off last Saturday at the boat she
slipped a note in my hand and said, "Read it when you get aboard the
ship." I didn't think of it again until day before yesterday, and
it was a "dusting off." And if I carry out all the instructions
that I got there I shall be more celebrated in England for my
behavior than for anything else. I got instructions how to act on
every occasion. She underscored "Now, don't you wear white clothes
on ship or on shore until you get back," and I intended to obey. I
have been used to obeying my family all my life, but I wore the
white clothes to-night because the trunk that has the dark clothes
in it is in the cellar. I am not apologizing for the white clothes;
I am only apologizing to my daughter for not obeying her.
He received a great welcome when the ship arrived at Tilbury. A throng
of rapid-fire reporters and photographers immediately surrounded him, and
when he left the ship the stevedores gave him a round of cheers. It was
the beginning of that almost unheard-of demonstration of affection and
honor which never for a moment ceased, but augmented from day to day
during the four weeks of his English sojourn.
In a dictation following his return, Mark Twain said:
Who began it? The very people of all people in the world whom I
would have chosen: a hundred men of my own class--grimy sons of
labor, the real builders of empires and civilizations, the
stevedores! They stood in a body on the dock and charged their
masculine lungs, and gave me a welcome which went to the marrow of
J. Y. W. MacAlister was at the St. Pancras railway station to meet him,
and among others on the platform was Bernard Shaw, who had come down to
meet Professor Henderson. Clemens and Shaw were presented, and met
eagerly, for each greatly admired the other. A throng gathered. Mark
Twain was extricated at last, and hurried away to his apartments at
Brown's Hotel, "a placid, subdued, homelike, old-fashioned English inn,"
he called it, "well known to me years ago, a blessed retreat of a sort
now rare in England, and becoming rarer every year."
But Brown's was not placid and subdued during his stay. The London
newspapers declared that Mark Twain's arrival had turned Brown's not only
into a royal court, but a post-office--that the procession of visitors
and the bundles of mail fully warranted this statement. It was, in fact,
an experience which surpassed in general magnitude and magnificence
anything he had hitherto known. His former London visits, beginning with
that of 1872, had been distinguished by high attentions, but all of them
combined could not equal this. When England decides to get up an
ovation, her people are not to be outdone even by the lavish Americans.
An assistant secretary had to be engaged immediately, and it sometimes
required from sixteen to twenty hours a day for two skilled and busy men
to receive callers and reduce the pile of correspondence.
A pile of invitations had already accumulated, and others flowed in.
Lady Stanley, widow of Henry M. Stanley, wrote:
You know I want to see you and join right hand to right hand. I
must see your dear face again . . . . You will have no peace,
rest, or leisure during your stay in London, and you will end by
hating human beings. Let me come before you feel that way.
Mary Cholmondeley, the author of Red Pottage, niece of that lovable
Reginald Cholmondeley, and herself an old friend, sent greetings and
urgent invitations. Archdeacon Wilberforce wrote:
I have just been preaching about your indictment of that scoundrel
king of the Belgians and telling my people to buy the book. I am
only a humble item among the very many who offer you a cordial
welcome in England, but we long to see you again, and I should like
to change hats with you again. Do you remember?
The Athenaeum, the Garrick, and a dozen other London clubs had
anticipated his arrival with cards of honorary membership for the period
of his stay. Every leading photographer had put in a claim for sittings.
It was such a reception as Charles Dickens had received in America in
1842, and again in 1867. A London paper likened it to Voltaire's return
to Paris in 1778, when France went mad over him. There is simply no
limit to English affection and, hospitality once aroused. Clemens wrote:
Surely such weeks as this must be very rare in this world: I had
seen nothing like them before; I shall see nothing approaching them
Sir Thomas Lipton and Bram Stoker, old friends, were among the first to
present themselves, and there was no break in the line of callers.
Clemens's resolutions for secluding himself were swept away. On the very
next morning following his arrival he breakfasted with J. Henniker
Heaton, father of International Penny Postage, at the Bath Club, just
across Dover Street from Brown's. He lunched at the Ritz with Marjorie
Bowen and Miss Bisland. In the afternoon he sat for photographs at
Barnett's, and made one or two calls. He could no more resist these
things than a debutante in her first season.
He was breakfasting again with Heaton next morning; lunching with "Toby,
M.P.," and Mrs. Lucy; and having tea with Lady Stanley in the afternoon,
and being elaborately dined next day at Dorchester House by Ambassador
and Mrs. Reid. These were all old and tried friends. He was not a
stranger among them, he said; he was at home. Alfred Austin, Conan
Doyle, Anthony Hope, Alma Tadema, E. A. Abbey, Edmund Goss, George
Smalley, Sir Norman Lockyer, Henry W. Lucy, Sidney Brooks, and Bram
Stoker were among those at Dorchester House--all old comrades, as were
many of the other guests.
"I knew fully half of those present," he said afterward.
Mark Twain's bursting upon London society naturally was made the most of
by the London papers, and all his movements were tabulated and
elaborated, and when there was any opportunity for humor in the situation
it was not left unimproved. The celebrated Ascot racing-cup was stolen
just at the time of his arrival, and the papers suggestively mingled
their head-lines, "Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup Stolen," and kept the
joke going in one form or another. Certain state jewels and other
regalia also disappeared during his stay, and the news of these
burglaries was reported in suspicious juxtaposition with the news of Mark
English reporters adopted American habits for the occasion, and invented
or embellished when the demand for a new sensation was urgent. Once,
when following the custom of the place, he descended the hotel elevator
in a perfectly proper and heavy brown bath robe, and stepped across
narrow Dover Street to the Bath Club, the papers flamed next day with the
story that Mark Twain had wandered about the lobby of Brown's and
promenaded Dover Street in a sky-blue bath robe attracting wide
Clara Clemens, across the ocean, was naturally a trifle disturbed by such
reports, and cabled this delicate "dusting off":
"Much worried. Remember proprieties."
To which he answered:
"They all pattern after me," a reply to the last degree characteristic.
It was on the fourth day after his arrival, June 22d, that he attended
the King's garden-party at Windsor Castle. There were eighty-five
hundred guests at the King's party, and if we may judge from the London
newspapers, Mark Twain was quite as much a figure in that great throng as
any member of the royal family. His presentation to the King and the
Queen is set down as an especially notable incident, and their
conversation is quite fully given. Clemens himself reported:
His Majesty was very courteous. In the course of the conversation
I reminded him of an episode of fifteen years ago, when I had the
honor to walk a mile with him when he was taking the waters at
Homburg, in Germany. I said that I had often told about that
episode, and that whenever I was the historian I made good history
of it and it was worth listening to, but that it had found its way
into print once or twice in unauthentic ways and was badly damaged
thereby. I said I should like to go on repeating this history, but
that I should be quite fair and reasonably honest, and while I
should probably never tell it twice in the same way I should at
least never allow it to deteriorate in my hands. His Majesty
intimated his willingness that I should continue to disseminate that
piece of history; and he added a compliment, saying that he knew
good and sound history would not suffer at my hands, and that if
this good and sound history needed any improvement beyond the facts
he would trust me to furnish that improvement.
I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the Queen looked as
young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago when I saw her
first. I did not say this to her, because I learned long ago never
to say the obvious thing, but leave the obvious thing to commonplace
and inexperienced people to say. That she still looked to me as
young and beautiful as she did thirty-five years ago is good
evidence that ten thousand people have already noticed this and have
mentioned it to her. I could have said it and spoken the truth, but
I was too wise for that. I kept the remark unuttered and saved her
Majesty the vexation of hearing it the ten-thousand-and-oneth time.
All that report about my proposal to buy Windsor Castle and its
grounds was a false rumor. I started it myself.
One newspaper said I patted his Majesty on the shoulder--an
impertinence of which I was not guilty; I was reared in the most
exclusive circles of Missouri and I know how to behave. The King
rested his hand upon my arm a moment or two while we were chatting,
but he did it of his own accord. The newspaper which said I talked
with her Majesty with my hat on spoke the truth, but my reasons for
doing it were good and sufficient--in fact unassailable. Rain was
threatening, the temperature had cooled, and the Queen said, "Please
put your hat on, Mr. Clemens." I begged her pardon and excused
myself from doing it. After a moment or two she said, "Mr. Clemens,
put your hat on"--with a slight emphasis on the word "on" "I can't
allow you to catch cold here." When a beautiful queen commands it
is a pleasure to obey, and this time I obeyed--but I had already
disobeyed once, which is more than a subject would have felt
justified in doing; and so it is true, as charged; I did talk with
the Queen of England with my hat on, but it wasn't fair in the
newspaper man to charge it upon me as an impoliteness, since there
were reasons for it which he could not know of.
Nearly all the members of the British royal family were there, and there
were foreign visitors which included the King of Siam and a party of
India princes in their gorgeous court costumes, which Clemens admired
openly and said he would like to wear himself.
The English papers spoke of it as one of the largest and most
distinguished parties ever given at Windsor. Clemens attended it in
company with Mr. and Mrs. J. Henniker Heaton, and when it was over Sir
Thomas Lipton joined them and motored with them back to Brown's.
He was at Archdeacon Wilberforce's next day, where a curious circumstance
developed. When he arrived Wilberforce said to him, in an undertone:
"Come into my library. I have something to show you."
In the library Clemens was presented to a Mr. Pole, a plain-looking man,
suggesting in dress and appearance the English tradesman. Wilberforce
"Mr. Pole, show to Mr. Clemens what you have brought here."
Mr. Pole unrolled a long strip of white linen and brought to view at last
a curious, saucer-looking vessel of silver, very ancient in appearance,
and cunningly overlaid with green glass. The archdeacon took it and
handed it to Clemens as some precious jewel. Clemens said:
"What is it?"
Wilberforce impressively answered:
"It is the Holy Grail."
Clemens naturally started with surprise.
"You may well start," said Wilberforce; "but it's the truth. That is the
Then he gave this explanation: Mr. Pole, a grain merchant of Bristol, had
developed some sort of clairvoyant power, or at all events he had dreamed
several times with great vividness the location of the true Grail.
Another dreamer, a Dr. Goodchild, of Bath, was mixed up in the matter,
and between them this peculiar vessel, which was not a cup, or a goblet,
or any of the traditional things, had been discovered. Mr. Pole seemed a
man of integrity, and it was clear that the churchman believed the
discovery to be genuine and authentic. Of course there could be no
positive proof. It was a thing that must be taken on trust. That the
vessel itself was wholly different from anything that the generations had
conceived, and was apparently of very ancient make, was opposed to the
natural suggestion of fraud.
Clemens, to whom the whole idea of the Holy Grail was simply a poetic
legend and myth, had the feeling that he had suddenly been transmigrated,
like his own Connecticut Yankee, back into the Arthurian days; but he
made no question, suggested no doubt. Whatever it was, it was to them
the materialization of a symbol of faith which ranked only second to the
cross itself, and he handled it reverently and felt the honor of having
been one of the first permitted to see the relic. In a subsequent
dictation he said:
I am glad I have lived to see that half-hour--that astonishing half-
hour. In its way it stands alone in my life's experience. In the
belief of two persons present this was the very vessel which was
brought by night and secretly delivered to Nicodemus, nearly
nineteen centuries ago, after the Creator of the universe had
delivered up His life on the cross for the redemption of the human
race; the very cup which the stainless Sir Galahad had sought with
knightly devotion in far fields of peril and adventure in Arthur's
time, fourteen hundred years ago; the same cup which princely
knights of other bygone ages had laid down their lives in long and
patient efforts to find, and had passed from life disappointed--and
here it was at last, dug up by a grain-broker at no cost of blood or
travel, and apparently no purity required of him above the average
purity of the twentieth-century dealer in cereal futures; not even a
stately name required--no Sir Galahad, no Sir Bors de Ganis, no Sir
Lancelot of the Lake--nothing but a mere Mr. Pole.--[From the New
York Sun somewhat later: "Mr. Pole communicated the discovery to a
dignitary of the Church of England, who summoned a number of eminent
persons, including psychologists, to see and discuss it. Forty
attended, including some peers with ecclesiastical interests,
Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, Professor Crookas, and ministers of
various religious bodies, including the Rev. R. J. Campbell. They
heard Mr. Pole's story with deep attention, but he could not prove
the genuineness of the relic."]
Clemens saw Mr. and Mrs. Rogers at Claridge's Hotel that evening; lunched
with his old friends Sir Norman and Lady Lockyer next day; took tea with
T. P. O'Connor at the House of Commons, and on the day following, which
was June a 5th, he was the guest of honor at one of the most elaborate
occasions of his visit--a luncheon given by the Pilgrims at the Savoy
Hotel. It would be impossible to set down here a report of the doings,
or even a list of the guests, of that gathering. The Pilgrims is a club
with branches on both sides of the ocean, and Mark Twain, on either side,
was a favorite associate. At this luncheon the picture on the bill of
fare represented him as a robed pilgrim, with a great pen for his staff,
turning his back on the Mississippi River and being led along his
literary way by a huge jumping frog, to which he is attached by a string.
On a guest-card was printed:
Pilot of many Pilgrims since the shout
"Mark Twain!"--that serves you for a deathless sign--
On Mississippi's waterway rang out
Over the plummet's line--
Still where the countless ripples laugh above
The blue of halcyon seas long may you keep
Your course unbroken, buoyed upon a love
Ten thousand fathoms deep!
--O. S. [OWEN SEAMAN].
Augustine Birrell made the speech of introduction, closing with this
Mark Twain is a man whom Englishmen and Americans do well to honor.
He is a true consolidator of nations. His delightful humor is of
the kind which dissipates and destroys national prejudices. His
truth and his honor--his love of truth and his love of honor--
overflow all boundaries. He has made the world better by his
presence, and we rejoice to see him here. Long may he live to reap
a plentiful harvest of hearty honest human affection.
The toast was drunk standing. Then Clemens rose and made a speech which
delighted all England. In his introduction Mr. Birrell had happened to
say, "How I came here I will not ask!" Clemens remembered this, and
looking down into Mr. Birrell's wine-glass, which was apparently unused,
"Mr. Birrell doesn't know how he got here. But he will be able to get
away all right--he has not drunk anything since he came."
He told stories about Howells and Twichell, and how Darwin had gone to
sleep reading his books, and then he came down to personal things and
company, and told them how, on the day of his arrival, he had been
shocked to read on a great placard, "Mark Twain Arrives: Ascot Cup
No doubt many a person was misled by those sentences joined together
in that unkind way. I have no doubt my character has suffered from
it. I suppose I ought to defend my character, but how can I defend
it? I can say here and now that anybody can see by my face that I
am sincere--that I speak the truth, and that I have never seen that
Cup. I have not got the Cup, I did not have a chance to get it. I
have always had a good character in that way. I have hardly ever
stolen anything, and if I did steal anything I had discretion enough
to know about the value of it first. I do not steal things that are
likely to get myself into trouble. I do not think any of us do
that. I know we all take things--that is to be expected; but really
I have never taken anything, certainly in England, that amounts to
any great thing. I do confess that when I was here seven years ago
I stole a hat--but that did not amount to anything. It was not a
good hat it was only a clergyman's hat, anyway. I was at a
luncheon-party and Archdeacon Wilberforce was there also. I dare say
he is archdeacon now--he was a canon then--and he was serving in the
Westminster Battery, if that is the proper term. I do not know, as
you mix military and ecclesiastical things together so much.
He recounted the incident of the exchanged hats; then he spoke of graver
things. He closed:
I cannot always be cheerful, and I cannot always be chaffing. I
must sometimes lay the cap and bells aside and recognize that I am
of the human race. I have my cares and griefs, and I therefore
noticed what Mr. Birrell said--I was so glad to hear him say it--
something that was in the nature of these verses here at the top of
He lit our life with shafts of sun
And vanquished pain.
Thus two great nations stand as one
In honoring Twain.
I am very glad to have those verses. I am very glad and very grateful
for what Mr. Birrell said in that connection. I have received since I
have been here, in this one week, hundreds of letters from all conditions
of people in England, men, women, and children, and there is compliment,
praise, and, above all, and better than all, there is in them a note of
Praise is well, compliment is well, but affection--that is the last and
final and most precious reward that any man can win, whether by character
or achievement, and I am very grateful to have that reward. All these
letters make me feel that here in England, as in America, when I stand
under the English or the American flag I am not a, stranger, I am not an
alien, but at home.