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13 January, 2012
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCXCIV. The Last Rites
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It is not often that a whole world mourns. Nations have often mourned a
hero--and races--but perhaps never before had the entire world really
united in tender sorrow for the death of any man.
In one of his aphorisms he wrote: "Let us endeavor so to live that when
we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." And it was thus that
Mark Twain himself had lived.
No man had ever so reached the heart of the world, and one may not even
attempt to explain just why. Let us only say that it was because he was
so limitlessly human that every other human heart, in whatever sphere or
circumstance, responded to his touch. From every remote corner of the
globe the cables of condolence swept in; every printed sheet in
Christendom was filled with lavish tribute; pulpits forgot his heresies
and paid him honor. No king ever died that received so rich a homage as
his. To quote or to individualize would be to cheapen this vast
We took him to New York to the Brick Church, and Dr. Henry van Dyke spoke
only a few simple words, and Joseph Twichell came from Hartford and
delivered brokenly a prayer from a heart wrung with double grief, for
Harmony, his wife, was nearing the journey's end, and a telegram that
summoned him to her death-bed came before the services ended.
Mark Twain, dressed in the white he loved so well, lay there with the
nobility of death upon him, while a multitude of those who loved him
passed by and looked at his face for the last time. The flowers, of
which so many had been sent, were banked around him; but on the casket
itself lay a single laurel wreath which Dan Beard and his wife had woven
from the laurel which grows on Stormfield hill. He was never more
beautiful than as he lay there, and it was an impressive scene to see
those thousands file by, regard him for a moment gravely, thoughtfully,
and pass on. All sorts were there, rich and poor; some crossed
themselves, some saluted, some paused a little to take a closer look; but
no one offered even to pick a flower. Howells came, and in his book he
I looked a moment at the face I knew so well; and it was patient
with the patience I had so often seen in it: something of a puzzle,
a great silent dignity, an assent to what must be from the depths of
a nature whose tragical seriousness broke in the laughter which the
unwise took for the whole of him.
That night we went with him to Elmira, and next day--a somber day of
rain--he lay in those stately parlors that had seen his wedding-day, and
where Susy had lain, and Mrs. Clemens, and Jean, while Dr. Eastman spoke
the words of peace which separate us from our mortal dead. Then in the
quiet, steady rain of that Sunday afternoon we laid him beside those
others, where he sleeps well, though some have wished that, like De Soto,
he might have been laid to rest in the bed of that great river which must
always be associated with his name.