|Clemens had promised to go to Baltimore for the graduation of "Francesca"
of his London visit in 1907--and to make a short address to her class.
It was the eighth of June when we set out on this journey,--[The reader
may remember that it was the 8th of June, 1867, that Mark Twain sailed
for the Holy Land. It was the 8th of June, 1907, that he sailed for
England to take his Oxford degree. This 8th of June, 1909, was at least
slightly connected with both events, for he was keeping an engagement
made with Francesca in London, and my notes show that he discussed, on
the way to the station, some incidents of his Holy Land trip and his
attitude at that time toward Christian traditions. As he rarely
mentioned the Quaker City trip, the coincidence seems rather curious.
It is most unlikely that Clemens himself in any way associated the two
dates.]--but the day was rather bleak and there was a chilly rain.
Clemens had a number of errands to do in New York, and we drove from one
place to another, attending to them. Finally, in the afternoon, the rain
ceased, and while I was arranging some matters for him he concluded to
take a ride on the top of a Fifth Avenue stage. It was fine and pleasant
when he started, but the weather thickened again and when he returned he
complained that he had felt a little chilly. He seemed in fine
condition, however, next morning and was in good spirits all the way to
Baltimore. Chauncey Depew was on the train and they met in the dining-
car--the last time, I think, they ever saw each other. He was tired when
we reached the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore and did not wish to see the
newspaper men. It happened that the reporters had a special purpose in
coming just at this time, for it had suddenly developed that in his
Shakespeare book, through an oversight, due to haste in publication, full
credit had not been given to Mr. Greenwood for the long extracts quoted
from his work. The sensational head-lines in a morning paper, "Is Mark
Twain a Plagiarist?" had naturally prompted the newspaper men to see what
he would have to say on the subject. It was a simple matter, easily
explained, and Clemens himself was less disturbed about it than anybody.
He felt no sense of guilt, he said; and the fact that he had been
stealing and caught at it would give Mr. Greenwood's book far more
advertising than if he had given him the full credit which he had
intended. He found a good deal of amusement in the situation, his only
worry being that Clara and Jean would see the paper and be troubled.
He had taken off his clothes and was lying down, reading. After a little
he got up and began walking up and down the room. Presently he stopped
and, facing me, placed his hand upon his breast. He said:
"I think I must have caught a little cold yesterday on that Fifth Avenue
stage. I have a curious pain in my breast."
I suggested that he lie down again and I would fill his hot-water bag.
The pain passed away presently, and he seemed to be dozing. I stepped
into the next room and busied myself with some writing. By and by I
heard him stirring again and went in where he was. He was walking up and
down and began talking of some recent ethnological discoveries--
something relating to prehistoric man.
"What a fine boy that prehistoric man must have been," he said--" the
very first one! Think of the gaudy style of him, how he must have lorded
it over those other creatures, walking on his hind legs, waving his arms,
practising and getting ready for the pulpit."
The fancy amused him, but presently he paused in his walk and again put
his hand on his breast, saying:
"That pain has come back. It's a curious, sickening, deadly kind of
pain. I never had anything just like it."
It seemed to me that his face had become rather gray. I said:
"Where is it, exactly, Mr. Clemens?"
He laid his hand in the center of his breast and said:
"It is here, and it is very peculiar indeed."
Remotely in my mind occurred the thought that he had located his heart,
and the "peculiar deadly pain" he had mentioned seemed ominous. I
suggested, however, that it was probably some rheumatic touch, and this
opinion seemed warranted when, a few moments later, the hot water had
again relieved it. This time the pain had apparently gone to stay, for
it did not return while we were in Baltimore. It was the first positive
manifestation of the angina which eventually would take him from us.
The weather was pleasant in Baltimore, and his visit to St. Timothy's
School and his address there were the kind of diversions that meant most
to him. The flock of girls, all in their pretty commencement dresses,
assembled and rejoicing at his playfully given advice: not to smoke--to
excess; not to drink--to excess; not to marry--to excess; he standing
there in a garb as white as their own--it made a rare picture--a sweet
memory--and it was the last time he ever gave advice from the platform to
Edward S. Martin also spoke to the school, and then there was a great
feasting in the big assembly-hall.
It was on the lawn that a reporter approached him with the news of the
death of Edward Everett Hale--another of the old group. Clemens said
thoughtfully, after a moment:
"I had the greatest respect and esteem for Edward Everett Hale, the
greatest admiration for his work. I am as grieved to hear of his death
as I can ever be to hear of the death of any friend, though my grief is
always tempered with the satisfaction of knowing that for the one that
goes, the hard, bitter struggle of life is ended."
We were leaving the Belvedere next morning, and when the subject of
breakfast came up for discussion he said:
"That was the most delicious Baltimore fried chicken we had yesterday
morning. I think we'll just repeat that order. It reminds me of John
We had been having our meals served in the rooms, but we had breakfast
that morning down in the diningroom, and "Francesca" and her mother were
As he stood on the railway platform waiting for the train, he told me how
once, fifty-five years before, as a boy of eighteen, he had changed cars
there for Washington and had barely caught his train--the crowd yelling
at him as he ran.
We remained overnight in New York, and that evening, at the Grosvenor, he
read aloud a poem of his own which I had not seen before. He had brought
it along with some intention of reading it at St. Timothy's, he said,
but had not found the occasion suitable.
"I wrote it a long time ago in Paris. I'd been reading aloud to Mrs.
Clemens and Susy--in'93, I think--about Lord Clive and Warren Hastings,
from Macaulay--how great they were and how far they fell. Then I took an
imaginary case--that of some old demented man mumbling of his former
state. I described him, and repeated some of his mumblings. Susy and
Mrs. Clemens said, 'Write it'--so I did, by and by, and this is it. I
call it 'The Derelict.'"
He read in his effective manner that fine poem, the opening stanza of
You sneer, you ships that pass me by,
Your snow-pure canvas towering proud!
You traders base!--why, once such fry
Paid reverence, when like a cloud
Storm-swept I drove along,
My Admiral at post, his pennon blue
Faint in the wilderness of sky, my long
Yards bristling with my gallant crew,
My ports flung wide, my guns displayed,
My tall spars hid in bellying sail!
--You struck your topsails then, and made
Obeisance--now your manners fail.
He had employed rhyme with more facility than was usual for him, and the
figure and phrasing were full of vigor.
"It is strong and fine," I said, when he had finished.
"Yes," he assented. "It seems so as I read it now. It is so long since
I have seen it that it is like reading another man's work. I should call
it good, I believe."
He put the manuscript in his bag and walked up and down the floor
"There is no figure for the human being like the ship," he said; "no such
figure for the storm-beaten human drift as the derelict--such men as
Clive and Hastings could only be imagined as derelicts adrift, helpless,
tossed by every wind and tide."
We returned to Redding next day. On the train going home he fell to
talking of books and authors, mainly of the things he had never been able
"When I take up one of Jane Austen's books," he said, "such as Pride and
Prejudice, I feel like a barkeeper entering the kingdom of heaven. I
know, what his sensation would be and his private comments. He would not
find the place to his taste, and he would probably say so."
He recalled again how Stepniak had come to Hartford, and how humiliated
Mrs. Clemens had been to confess that her husband was not familiar with
the writings of Thackeray and others.
"I don't know anything about anything," he said, mournfully, "and never
did. My brother used to try to get me to read Dickens, long ago. I
couldn't do it--I was ashamed; but I couldn't do it. Yes, I have read
The Tale of Two Cities, and could do it again. I have read it a good
many times; but I never could stand Meredith and most of the other
By and by he handed me the Saturday Times Review, saying:
"Here is a fine poem, a great poem, I think. I can stand that."
It was "The Palatine (in the 'Dark Ages')," by Willa Sibert Cather,
reprinted from McClure's. The reader will understand better than I can
express why these lofty opening stanzas appealed to Mark Twain:
"Have you been with the King to Rome,
Brother, big brother?"
"I've been there and I've come home,
Back to your play, little brother."
"Oh, how high is Caesar's house,
Brother, big brother?"
"Goats about the doorways browse;
Night-hawks nest in the burnt roof-tree,
Home of the wild bird and home of the bee.
A thousand chambers of marble lie
Wide to the sun and the wind and the sky.
Poppies we find amongst our wheat
Grow on Caesar's banquet seat.
Cattle crop and neatherds drowse
On the floors of Caesar's house."
"But what has become of Caesar's gold,
Brother, big brother?"
"The times are bad and the world is old--
Who knows the where of the Caesar's gold?
Night comes black on the Caesar's hill;
The wells are deep and the tales are ill.
Fireflies gleam in the damp and mold,
All that is left of the Caesar's gold.
Back to your play, little brother."
Farther along in our journey he handed me the paper again, pointing to
these lines of Kipling:
How is it not good for the Christian's health
To hurry the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles,
And he weareth the Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
And the name of the late deceased:
And the epitaph drear: "A fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."
"I could stand any amount of that," he said, and presently: "Life is too
long and too short. Too long for the weariness of it; too short for the
work to be done. At the very most, the average mind can only master a
few languages and a little history."
I said: "Still, we need not worry. If death ends all it does not matter;
and if life is eternal there will be time enough."
"Yes," he assented, rather grimly, "that optimism of yours is always
ready to turn hell's back yard into a playground."
I said that, old as I was, I had taken up the study of French, and
mentioned Bayard Taylor's having begun Greek at fifty, expecting to need
it in heaven.
Clemens said, reflectively: "Yes--but you see that was Greek."