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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLX. Matters Psychic and Otherwise
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|He returned to Tuxedo and took up his dictations, and mingled freely with
the social life; but the contrast between his recent London experience
and his semi-retirement must have been very great. When I visited him
now and then, he seemed to me lonely--not especially for companionship,
but rather for the life that lay behind him--the great career which in a
sense now had been completed since he had touched its highest point.
There was no billiard-table at Tuxedo, and he spoke expectantly of
getting back to town and the games there, also of the new home which was
then building in Redding, and which would have a billiard-room where we
could assemble daily--my own habitation being not far away. Various
diversions were planned for Redding; among them was discussed a possible
school of philosophy, such as Hawthorne and Emerson and Alcott had
established at Concord.
He spoke quite freely of his English experiences, but usually of the more
amusing phases. He almost never referred to the honors that had been
paid to him, yet he must have thought of them sometimes, and cherished
them, for it had been the greatest national tribute ever paid to a
private citizen; he must have known that in his heart. He spoke
amusingly of his visit to Marie Corelli, in Stratford, and of the Holy
Grail incident, ending the latter by questioning--in words at least--all
psychic manifestations. I said to him:
"But remember your own dream, Mr. Clemens, which presaged the death of
He answered: "I ask nobody to believe that it ever happened. To me it is
true; but it has no logical right to be true, and I do not expect belief
in it." Which I thought a peculiar point of view, but on the whole
He was invited to be a special guest at the Jamestown Exposition on
Fulton Day, in September, and Mr. Rogers lent him his yacht in which to
make the trip. It was a break in the summer's monotonies, and the
Jamestown honors must have reminded him of those in London. When he
entered the auditorium where the services were to be held there was a
demonstration which lasted more than five minutes. Every person in the
hall rose and cheered, waving handkerchiefs and umbrellas. He made them
a brief, amusing talk on Fulton and other matters, then introduced
Admiral Harrington, who delivered a masterly address and was followed by
Martin W. Littleton, the real orator of the day. Littleton acquitted
himself so notably that Mark Twain conceived for him a deep admiration,
and the two men quickly became friends. They saw each other often during
the remainder of the Jamestown stay, and Clemens, learning that Littleton
lived just across Ninth Street from him in New York, invited him to come
over when he had an evening to spare and join the billiard games.
So it happened, somewhat later, when every one was back in town, Mr. and
Mrs. Littleton frequently came over for billiards, and the games became
three-handed with an audience--very pleasant games played in that way.
Clemens sometimes set himself up as umpire, and became critic and gave
advice, while Littleton and I played. He had a favorite shot that he
frequently used himself and was always wanting us to try, which was to
drive the ball to the cushion at the beginning of the shot.
He played it with a good deal of success, and achieved unexpected results
with it. He was even inspired to write a poem on the subject.
When all your days are dark with doubt,
And dying hope is at its worst;
When all life's balls are scattered wide,
With not a shot in sight, to left or right,
Don't give it up;
Advance your cue and shut your eyes,
And take the cushion first.
The Harry Thaw trial was in progress just then, and Littleton was Thaw's
chief attorney. It was most interesting to hear from him direct the
day's proceedings and his views of the situation and of Thaw.
Littleton and billiards recall a curious thing which happened one
afternoon. I had been absent the evening before, and Littleton had been
over. It was after luncheon now, and Clemens and I began preparing for
the customary games. We were playing then a game with four balls, two
white and two red. I began by placing the red balls on the table, and
then went around looking in the pockets for the two white cue-balls.
When I had made the round of the table I had found but one white ball. I
thought I must have overlooked the other, and made the round again. Then
"There is one white ball missing."
Clemens, to satisfy himself, also made the round of the pockets, and
"It was here last night." He felt in the pockets of the little white-
silk coat which he usually wore, thinking that he might unconsciously
have placed it there at the end of the last game, but his coat pockets
He said: "I'll bet Littleton carried that ball home with him."
Then I suggested that near the end of the game it might have jumped off
the table, and I looked carefully under the furniture and in the various
corners, but without success. There was another set of balls, and out of
it I selected a white one for our play, and the game began. It went
along in the usual way, the balls constantly falling into the pockets,
and as constantly being replaced on the table. This had continued for
perhaps half an hour, there being no pocket that had not been frequently
occupied and emptied during that time; but then it happened that Clemens
reached into the middle pocket, and taking out a white ball laid it in
place, whereupon we made the discovery that three white balls lay upon
the table. The one just taken from the pocket was the missing ball. We
looked at each other, both at first too astonished to say anything at
all. No one had been in the room since we began to play, and at no time
during the play had there been more than two white balls in evidence,
though the pockets had been emptied at the end of each shot. The pocket
from which the missing ball had been taken had been filled and emptied
again and again. Then Clemens said:
"We must be dreaming."
We stopped the game for a while to discuss it, but we could devise no
material explanation. I suggested the kobold--that mischievous invisible
which is supposed to play pranks by carrying off such things as pencils,
letters, and the like, and suddenly restoring them almost before one's
eyes. Clemens, who, in spite of his material logic, was always a mystic
at heart, said:
"But that, so far as I know, has never happened to more than one person
at a time, and has been explained by a sort of temporary mental
blindness. This thing has happened to two of us, and there can be no
question as to the positive absence of the object."
"How about dematerialization?"
"Yes, if one of us were a medium that might be considered an
He went on to recall that Sir Alfred Russel Wallace had written of such
things, and cited instances which Wallace had recorded. In the end he
"Well, it happened, that's all we can say, and nobody can ever convince
me that it didn't."
We went on playing, and the ball remained solid and substantial ever
after, so far as I know.
I am reminded of two more or less related incidents of this period.
Clemens was, one morning, dictating something about his Christian Union
article concerning Mrs. Clemens's government of children, published in
1885. I had discovered no copy of it among the materials, and he was
wishing very much that he could see one. Somewhat later, as he was
walking down Fifth Avenue, the thought of this article and his desire for
it suddenly entered his mind. Reaching the corner of Forty-second
Street, he stopped a moment to let a jam of vehicles pass. As he did so
a stranger crossed the street, noticed him, and came dodging his way
through the blockade and thrust some clippings into his hand.
"Mr. Clemens," he said, "you don't know me, but here is something you may
wish to have. I have been saving them for more than twenty years, and
this morning it occurred to me to send them to you. I was going to mail
them from my office, but now I will give them to you," and with a word or
two he disappeared. The clippings were from the Christian Union of 1885,
and were the much-desired article. Clemens regarded it as a remarkable
case of mental telegraphy.
"Or, if it wasn't that," he said, "it was a most remarkable coincidence."
The other circumstance has been thought amusing. I had gone to Redding
for a few days, and while there, one afternoon about five o'clock, fell
over a coal-scuttle and scarified myself a good deal between the ankle
and the knee. I mention the hour because it seems important. Next
morning I received a note, prompted by Mr. Clemens, in which he said:
Tell Paine I am sorry he fell and skinned his shin at five o'clock
I was naturally astonished, and immediately wrote:
I did fall and skin my shin at five o'clock yesterday afternoon, but how
did you find it out?
I followed the letter in person next day, and learned that at the same
hour on the same afternoon Clemens himself had fallen up the front steps
and, as he said, peeled off from his "starboard shin a ribbon of skin
three inches long." The disaster was still uppermost in his mind at the
time of writing, and the suggestion of my own mishap had flashed out for
no particular reason.
Clemens was always having his fortune told, in one way or another, being
superstitious, as he readily confessed, though at times professing little
faith in these prognostics. Once when a clairvoyant, of whom he had
never even heard, and whom he had reason to believe was ignorant of his
family history, told him more about it than he knew himself, besides
reading a list of names from a piece of paper which Clemens had concealed
in his vest pocket he came home deeply impressed. The clairvoyant added
that he would probably live to a great age and die in a, foreign land--a
prophecy which did not comfort him.