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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXI. Minor Events and Diversions
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Mark Twain was deeply interested during the autumn of 1907 in the
Children's Theater of the Jewish Educational Alliance, on the lower East
Side--a most worthy institution which ought to have survived. A Miss
Alice M. Herts, who developed and directed it, gave her strength and
health to build up an institution through which the interest of the
children could be diverted from less fortunate amusements. She had
interested a great body of Jewish children in the plays of Shakespeare,
and of more modern dramatists, and these they had performed from time to
time with great success. The admission fee to the performance was ten
cents, and the theater was always crowded with other children--certainly
a better diversion for them than the amusements of the street, though of
course, as a business enterprise, the theater could not pay. It required
patrons. Miss Herts obtained permission to play "The Prince and the
Pauper," and Mark Twain agreed to become a sort of chief patron in using
his influence to bring together an audience who might be willing to
assist financially in this worthy work.
"The Prince and the Pauper" evening turned out a distinguished affair.
On the night of November 19, 1907, the hall of the Educational Alliance
was crowded with such an audience as perhaps never before assembled on
the East Side; the finance and the fashion of New York were there. It
was a gala night for the little East Side performers. Behind the curtain
they whispered to each other that they were to play before queens. The
performance they gave was an astonishing one. So fully did they enter
into the spirit of Tom Canty's rise to royalty that they seemed
absolutely to forget that they were lowly-born children of the Ghetto.
They had become little princesses and lords and maids-in-waiting, and
they moved through their pretty tinsel parts as if all their ornaments
were gems and their raiment cloth of gold. There was no hesitation, no
awkwardness of speech or gesture, and they rose really to sublime heights
in the barn scene where the little Prince is in the hands of the mob.
Never in the history of the stage has there been assembled a mob more
wonderful than that. These children knew mobs! A mob to them was a
daily sight, and their reproduction of it was a thing to startle you with
its realism. Never was it absurd; never was there a single note of
artificiality in it. It was Hogarthian in its bigness.
Both Mark Twain and Miss Herts made brief addresses, and the audience
shouted approval of their words. It seems a pity that such a project as
that must fail, and I do not know why it happened. Wealthy men and women
manifested an interest; but there was some hitch somewhere, and the
Children's Theater exists to-day only as history.--[In a letter to a Mrs.
Amelia Dunne Hookway, who had conducted some children's plays at the
Howland School, Chicago, Mark Twain once wrote: "If I were going to
begin life over again I would have a children's theater and watch it, and
work for it, and see it grow and blossom and bear its rich moral and
intellectual fruitage; and I should get more pleasure and a saner and
healthier profit out of my vocation than I should ever be able to get out
of any other, constituted as I am. Yes, you are easily the most
fortunate of women, I think."]
It was at a dinner at The Players--a small, private dinner given by Mr.
George C. Riggs-that I saw Edward L. Burlingame and Mark Twain for the
only time together. They had often met during the forty-two years that
had passed since their long-ago Sandwich Island friendship; but only
incidentally, for Mr. Burlingame cared not much for great public
occasions, and as editor of Scribner's Magazine he had been somewhat out
of the line of Mark Twain's literary doings.
Howells was there, and Gen. Stewart L. Woodford, and David Bispham, John
Finley, Evan Shipman, Nicholas Biddle, and David Munro. Clemens told
that night, for the first time, the story of General Miles and the three-
dollar dog, inventing it, I believe, as he went along, though for the
moment it certainly did sound like history. He told it often after that,
and it has been included in his book of speeches.
Later, in the cab, he said:
"That was a mighty good dinner. Riggs knows how to do that sort of
thing. I enjoyed it ever so much. Now we'll go home and play
We began about eleven o'clock, and played until after midnight. I
happened to be too strong for him, and he swore amazingly. He vowed that
it was not a gentleman's game at all, that Riggs's wine had demoralized
the play. But at the end, when we were putting up the cues, he said:
"Well, those were good games. There is nothing like billiards after
We did not play billiards on his birthday that year. He went to the
theater in the afternoon; and it happened that, with Jesse Lynch
Williams, I attended the same performance--the "Toy-Maker of Nuremberg"--
written by Austin Strong. It proved to be a charming play, and I could
see that Clemens was enjoying it. He sat in a box next to the stage, and
the actors clearly were doing their very prettiest for his benefit.
When later I mentioned having seen him at the play, he spoke freely of
his pleasure in it.
"It is a fine, delicate piece of work," he said. "I wish I could do such
things as that."
"I believe you are too literary for play-writing."
"Yes, no doubt. There was never any question with the managers about my
plays. They always said they wouldn't act. Howells has come pretty near
to something once or twice. I judge the trouble is that the literary man
is thinking of the style and quality of the thing, while the playwright
thinks only of how it will play. One is thinking of how it will sound,
the other of how it will look."
"I suppose," I said, "the literary man should have a collaborator with a
genius for stage mechanism. John Luther Long's exquisite plays would
hardly have been successful without David Belasco to stage them. Belasco
cannot write a play himself, but in the matter of acting construction his
genius is supreme."
"Yes, so it is; it was Belasco who made it possible to play "The Prince
and the Pauper"--a collection of literary garbage before he got hold of
Clemens attended few public functions now. He was beset with
invitations, but he declined most of them. He told the dog story one
night to the Pleiades Club, assembled at the Brevoort; but that was only
a step away, and we went in after the dining was ended and came away
before the exercises were concluded.
He also spoke at a banquet given to Andrew Carnegie--Saint Andrew, as he
called him--by the Engineers Club, and had his usual fun at the chief
I have been chief guest at a good many banquets myself, and I know
what brother Andrew is feeling like now. He has been receiving
compliments and nothing but compliments, but he knows that there is
another side to him that needs censure.
I am going to vary the complimentary monotony. While we have all
been listening to the complimentary talk Mr. Carnegie's face has
scintillated with fictitious innocence. You'd think he never
committed a crime in his life. But he has.
Look at his pestiferous simplified spelling. Imagine the calamity
on two sides of the ocean when he foisted his simplified spelling on
the whole human race. We've got it all now so that nobody could
spell . . . .
If Mr. Carnegie had left spelling alone we wouldn't have had any
spots on the sun, or any San Francisco quake, or any business
There, I trust he feels better now and that he has enjoyed my abuse
more than he did his compliments. And now that I think I have him
smoothed down and feeling comfortable I just want to say one thing
more--that his simplified spelling is all right enough, but, like
chastity, you can carry it too far.
As he was about to go, Carnegie called his attention to the beautiful
souvenir bronze and gold-plated goblets that stood at each guest's plate.
"The club had those especially made at Tiffany's for this occasion. They
cost ten dollars apiece."
Clemens sand: "Is that so? Well, I only meant to take my own; but if
that's the case I'll load my cab with them."
We made an attempt to reform on the matter of billiards. The continued
strain of late hours was doing neither of us any particular good. More
than once I journeyed into the country on one errand and another, mainly
for rest; but a card saying that he was lonely and upset, for lack of his
evening games, quickly brought me back again. It was my wish only to
serve him; it was a privilege and an honor to give him happiness.
Billiards, however, was not his only recreation just then. He walked out
a good deal, and especially of a pleasant Sunday morning he liked the
stroll up Fifth Avenue. Sometimes we went as high as Carnegie's, on
Ninety-second Street, and rode home on top of the electric stage--always
one of Mark Twain's favorite diversions.
From that high seat he liked to look down on the panorama of the streets,
and in that free, open air he could smoke without interference. Oftener,
however, we turned at Fifty-ninth Street, walking both ways.
When it was pleasant we sometimes sat on a bench in Central Park; and
once he must have left a handkerchief there, for a few days later one of
his handkerchiefs came to him accompanied by a note. Its finder, a Mr.
Lockwood, received a reward, for Mark Twain wrote him:
There is more rejoicing in this house over that one handkerchief
that was lost and is found again than over the ninety and nine that
never went to the wash at all. Heaven will reward you, I know it
On Sunday mornings the return walk would be timed for about the hour that
the churches would be dismissed. On the first Sunday morning we had
started a little early, and I thoughtlessly suggested, when we reached
Fifty-ninth Street, that if we returned at once we would avoid the
throng. He said, quietly:
"I like the throng."
So we rested in the Plaza Hotel until the appointed hour. Men and women
noticed him, and came over to shake his hand. The gigantic man in
uniform; in charge of the carriages at the door, came in for a word. He
had opened carriages for Mr. Clemens at the Twenty-third Street station,
and now wanted to claim that honor. I think he received the most cordial
welcome of any one who came. I am sure he did. It was Mark Twain's way
to warm to the man of the lower social rank. He was never too busy,
never too preoccupied, to grasp the hand of such a man; to listen to his
story, and to say just the words that would make that man happy
We left the Plaza Hotel and presently were amid the throng of outpouring
congregations. Of course he was the object on which every passing eye
turned; the presence to which every hat was lifted. I realized that this
open and eagerly paid homage of the multitude was still dear to him, not
in any small and petty way, but as the tribute of a nation, the
expression of that affection which in his London and Liverpool speeches
he had declared to be the last and final and most precious reward that
any man can win, whether by character or achievement. It was his final
harvest, and he had the courage to claim it--the aftermath of all his
years of honorable labor and noble living.