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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXVII. Views and Addresses
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
| [As I am beginning this chapter, April 16, 1912, the news comes of
the loss, on her first trip, of the great White Star Line steamer
Titanic, with the destruction of many passengers, among whom are
Frank D. Millet, William T. Stead, Isadore Straus, John Jacob Astor,
and other distinguished men. They died as heroes, remaining with
the ship in order that the women and children might be saved.
It was the kind of death Frank Millet would have wished to die.
He was always a soldier--a knight. He has appeared from time to
time in these pages, for he was a dear friend of the Clemens
household. One of America's foremost painters; at the time of his
death he was head of the American Academy of Arts in Rome.]
Mark Twain made a number of addresses during the spring of 1908.
He spoke at the Cartoonists' dinner, very soon after his return from
Bermuda; he spoke at the Booksellers' banquet, expressing his debt of
obligation to those who had published and sold his books; he delivered a
fine address at the dinner given by the British Schools and University
Club at Delmonico's, May 25th, in honor of Queen Victoria's birthday.
In that speech he paid high tribute to the Queen for her attitude toward
America, during the crisis of the Civil War, and to her royal consort,
What she did for us in America in our time of storm and stress we
shall not forget, and whenever we call it to mind we shall always
gratefully remember the wise and righteous mind that guided her in
it and sustained and supported her--Prince Albert's. We need not
talk any idle talk here to-night about either possible or impossible
war between two countries; there will be no war while we remain sane
and the son of Victoria and Albert sits upon the throne. In
conclusion, I believe I may justly claim to utter the voice of my
country in saying that we hold him in deep honor, and also in
cordially wishing him a long life and a happy reign.
But perhaps his most impressive appearance was at the dedication of the
great City College (May 14, 1908), where President John Finley, who had
been struggling along with insufficient room, was to have space at last
for his freer and fuller educational undertakings. A great number of
honored scholars, statesmen, and diplomats assembled on the college
campus, a spacious open court surrounded by stately college architecture
of medieval design. These distinguished guests were clad in their
academic robes, and the procession could not have been widely different
from that one at Oxford of a year before. But there was something rather
fearsome about it, too. A kind of scaffolding had been reared in the
center of the campus for the ceremonies; and when those grave men in
their robes of state stood grouped upon it the picture was strikingly
suggestive of one of George Cruikshank's drawings of an execution scene
at the Tower of London. Many of the robes were black--these would be the
priests--and the few scarlet ones would be the cardinals who might have
assembled for some royal martyrdom. There was a bright May sunlight over
it all, one of those still, cool brightnesses which served to heighten
the weird effect. I am sure that others felt it besides myself, for
everybody seemed wordless and awed, even at times when there was no
occasion for silence. There was something of another age about the whole
setting, to say the least.
We left the place in a motor-car, a crowd of boys following after. As
Clemens got in they gathered around the car and gave the college yell,
ending with "Twain! Twain! Twain!" and added three cheers for Tom
Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Pudd'nhead Wilson. They called for a speech, but
he only said a few words in apology for not granting their request. He
made a speech to them that night at the Waldorf--where he proposed for
the City College a chair of citizenship, an idea which met with hearty
In the same address he referred to the "God Trust" motto on the coins,
and spoke approvingly of the President's order for its removal.
We do not trust in God, in the important matters of life, and not
even a minister of the Gospel will take any coin for a cent more
than its accepted value because of that motto. If cholera should
ever reach these shores we should probably pray to be delivered from
the plague, but we would put our main trust in the Board of Health.
Next morning, commenting on the report of this speech, he said:
"If only the reporters would not try to improve on what I say. They seem
to miss the fact that the very art of saying a thing effectively is in
its delicacy, and as they can't reproduce the manner and intonation in
type they make it emphatic and clumsy in trying to convey it to the
I pleaded that the reporters were often young men, eager, and unmellowed
in their sense of literary art.
"Yes," he agreed, "they are so afraid their readers won't see my good
points that they set up red flags to mark them and beat a gong. They
mean well, but I wish they wouldn't do it."
He referred to the portion of his speech concerning the motto on the
coins. He had freely expressed similar sentiments on other public
occasions, and he had received a letter criticizing him for saying that
we do not really trust in God in any financial matter.
"I wanted to answer it," he said; "but I destroyed it. It didn't seem
I asked how the motto had originated.
"About 1853 some idiot in Congress wanted to announce to the world that
this was a religious nation, and proposed putting it there, and no other
Congressman had courage enough to oppose it, of course. It took courage
in those days to do a thing like that; but I think the same thing would
"Still the country has become broader. It took a brave man before the
Civil War to confess he had read the 'Age of Reason'."
"So it did, and yet that seems a mild book now. I read it first when I
was a cub pilot, read it with fear and hesitation, but marveling at its
fearlessness and wonderful power. I read it again a year or two ago, for
some reason, and was amazed to see how tame it had become. It seemed
that Paine was apologizing everywhere for hurting the feelings of the
He drifted, naturally, into a discussion of the Knickerbocker Trust
Company's suspension, which had tied up some fifty-five thousand dollars
of his capital, and wondered how many were trusting in God for the return
of these imperiled sums. Clemens himself, at this time, did not expect
to come out whole from that disaster. He had said very little when the
news came, though it meant that his immediate fortunes were locked up,
and it came near stopping the building activities at Redding. It was
only the smaller things of life that irritated him. He often met large
calamities with a serenity which almost resembled indifference. In the
Knickerbocker situation he even found humor as time passed, and wrote a
number of gay letters, some of which found their way into print.
It should be added that in the end there was no loss to any of the