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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXX. The Aldrich Memorial
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|At the end of June came the dedication at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, of
the Thomas Bailey Aldrich Memorial Museum, which the poet's wife had
established there in the old Aldrich homestead. It was hot weather.
We were obliged to take a rather poor train from South Norwalk, and
Clemens was silent and gloomy most of the way to Boston. Once there,
however, lodged in a cool and comfortable hotel, matters improved.
He had brought along for reading the old copy of Sir Thomas Malory's
Arthur Tales, and after dinner he took off his clothes and climbed into
bed and sat up and read aloud from those stately legends, with comments
that I wish I could remember now, only stopping at last when overpowered
We went on a special train to Portsmouth next morning through the summer
heat, and assembled, with those who were to speak, in the back portion of
the opera-house, behind the scenes: Clemens was genial and good-natured
with all the discomfort of it; and he liked to fancy, with Howells, who
had come over from Kittery Point, how Aldrich must be amused at the whole
circumstance if he could see them punishing themselves to do honor to his
memory. Richard Watson Gilder was there, and Hamilton Mabie; also
Governor Floyd of New Hampshire; Colonel Higginson, Robert Bridges, and
other distinguished men. We got to the more open atmosphere of the stage
presently, and the exercises began. Clemens was last on the program.
The others had all said handsome, serious things, and Clemens himself had
mentally prepared something of the sort; but when his turn came, and he
rose to speak, a sudden reaction must have set in, for he delivered an
address that certainly would have delighted Aldrich living, and must have
delighted him dead, if he could hear it. It was full of the most
charming humor, delicate, refreshing, and spontaneous. The audience,
that had been maintaining a proper gravity throughout, showed its
appreciation in ripples of merriment that grew presently into genuine
waves of laughter. He spoke out his regret for having worn black
clothes. It was a mistake, he said, to consider this a solemn time--
Aldrich would not have wished it to be so considered. He had been a man
who loved humor and brightness and wit, and had helped to make life merry
and delightful. Certainly, if he could know, he would not wish this
dedication of his own home to be a lugubrious, smileless occasion.
Outside, when the services were ended, the venerable juvenile writer,
J. T. Trowbridge, came up to Clemens with extended hand. Clemens said:
"Trowbridge, are you still alive? You must be a thousand years old.
Why, I listened to your stories while I was being rocked in the cradle."
"Mark, there's some mistake. My earliest infant smile was wakened with
one of your jokes."
They stood side by side against a fence in the blazing sun and were
photographed--an interesting picture.
We returned to Boston that evening. Clemens did not wish to hurry in the
summer heat, and we remained another day quietly sight-seeing, and
driving around and around Commonwealth Avenue in a victoria in the cool
of the evening. Once, remembering Aldrich, he said:
"I was just planning Tom Sawyer when he was beginning the 'Story of a Bad
Boy'. When I heard that he was writing that I thought of giving up mine,
but Aldrich insisted that it would be a foolish thing to do. He thought
my Missouri boy could not by any chance conflict with his boy of New
England, and of course he was right."
He spoke of how great literary minds usually came along in company. He
"Now and then, on the stream of time, small gobs of that thing which we
call genius drift down, and a few of these lodge at some particular
point, and others collect about them and make a sort of intellectual
island--a towhead, as they say on the river--such an accumulation of
intellect we call a group, or school, and name it.
"Thirty years ago there was the Cambridge group. Now there's been still
another, which included Aldrich and Howells and Stedman and Cable. It
will soon be gone. I suppose they will have to name it by and by."
He pointed out houses here and there of people he had known and visited
in other days. The driver was very anxious to go farther, to other and
more distinguished sights. Clemens mildly but firmly refused any
variation of the program, and so we kept on driving around and around the
shaded loop of Beacon Street until dusk fell and the lights began to
twinkle among the trees.