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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LIV. The Lecturer
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was not easy to take up the daily struggle again, but it was
necessary.--[Clemens once declared he had been so blue at this period
that one morning he put a loaded pistol to his head, but found he lacked
courage to pull the trigger.]--Out of the ruck of possibilities (his
brain always thronged with plans) he constructed three or four resolves.
The chief of these was the trip around the world; but that lay months
ahead, and in the mean time ways and means must be provided. Another
intention was to finish the Hornet article, and forward it to Harper's
Magazine--a purpose carried immediately into effect. To his delight the
article found acceptance, and he looked forward to the day of its
publication as the beginning of a real career. He intended to follow it
up with a series on the islands, which in due time might result in a book
and an income. He had gone so far as to experiment with a dedication for
the book--an inscription to his mother, modified later for use in 'The
Innocents Abroad'. A third plan of action was to take advantage of the
popularity of the Hawaiian letters, and deliver a lecture on the same
subject. But this was a fearsome prospect--he trembled when he thought
of it. As Governor of the Third House he had been extravagantly received
and applauded, but in that case the position of public entertainer had
been thrust upon him. To come forward now, offering himself in the same
capacity, was a different matter. He believed he could entertain, but he
lacked the courage to declare himself; besides, it meant a risk of his
slender capital. He confided his situation to Col. John McComb, of the
Alta California, and was startled by McComb's vigorous endorsement.
"Do it, by all means!" urged McComb. "It will be a grand success--I know
it! Take the largest house in town, and charge a dollar a ticket."
Frightened but resolute, he went to the leading theater manager the same
Tom Maguire of his verses--and was offered the new opera-house at half
rates. The next day this advertisement appeared:
MAGUIRE'S ACADEMY OF MUSIC
PINE STREET, NEAR MONTGOMERY
THE SANDWICH ISLANDS
(HONOLULU CORRESPONDENT OF THE SACRAMENTO UNION)
WILL DELIVER A
LECTURE ON THE SANDWICH ISLANDS
AT THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC
ON TUESDAY EVENING, OCT. 2d
In which passing mention will be made of Harris, Bishop Staley, the
American missionaries, etc., and the absurd customs and characteristics
of the natives duly discussed and described. The great volcano of
Kilauea will also receive proper attention.
A SPLENDID ORCHESTRA
is in town, but has not been engaged
A DEN OF FEROCIOUS WILD BEASTS
will be on exhibition in the next block
were in contemplation for this occasion, but the idea has been abandoned
A GRAND TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION
may be expected; in fact, the public are privileged to expect whatever
Dress Circle, $1.00 Family Circle, 50c
Doors open at 7 o'clock The Trouble to begin at 8 o'clock
The story of that first lecture, as told in Roughing It, is a faithful
one, and need only be summarized here.
Expecting to find the house empty, he found it packed from the footlights
to the walls. Sidling out from the wings--wobbly-kneed and dry of
tongue--he was greeted by a murmur, a roar, a very crash of applause that
frightened away his remaining vestiges of courage. Then, came reaction--
these were his friends, and he began to talk to them. Fear melted away,
and as tide after tide of applause rose and billowed and came breaking at
his feet, he knew something of the exaltation of Monte Cristo when he
declared "The world is mine!"
It was a vast satisfaction to have succeeded. It was particularly
gratifying at this time, for he dreaded going back into newspaper
harness. Also; it softened later the disappointment resulting from
another venture; for when the December Harper appeared, with his article,
the printer and proof-reader had somehow converted Mark Twain into "Mark
Swain," and his literary dream perished.
As to the literary value of his lecture, it was much higher than had,
been any portion of his letters, if we may judge from its few remaining
fragments. One of these--a part of the description of the great volcano
Haleakala, on the island of Maui--is a fair example of his eloquence.
It is somewhat more florid than his later description of the same scene
in Roughing It, which it otherwise resembles; and we may imagine that its
poetry, with the added charm of its delivery, held breathless his
hearers, many of whom believed that no purer eloquence had ever been
uttered or written.
It is worth remembering, too, that in this lecture, delivered so long
ago, he advocated the idea of American ownership of these islands,
dwelling at considerable length on his reasons for this ideal.
--[For fragmentary extracts from this first lecture of Mark Twain and
news comment, see Appendix D, end of last volume.]--
There was a gross return from his venture of more than $1,200, but with
his usual business insight, which was never foresight, he had made an
arrangement by which, after paying bills and dividing with his manager,
he had only about one-third of, this sum left. Still, even this was
prosperity and triumph. He had acquired a new and lucrative profession
at a bound. The papers lauded him as the "most piquant and humorous
writer and lecturer on the Coast since the days of the lamented John
Phoenix." He felt that he was on the highroad at last.
Denis McCarthy, late of the Enterprise, was in San Francisco, and was
willing to become his manager. Denis was capable and honest, and Clemens
was fond of him. They planned a tour of the near-by towns, beginning
with Sacramento, extending it later even to the mining camps, such as Red
Dog and Grass Valley; also across into Nevada, with engagements at Carson
City, Virginia, and Gold Hill. It was an exultant and hilarious
excursion--that first lecture tour made by Denis McCarthy and Mark Twain.
Success traveled with them everywhere, whether the lecturer looked across
the footlights of some pretentious "opera-house" or between the two
tallow candles of some camp "academy." Whatever the building, it was
packed, and the returns were maximum.
Those who remember him as a lecturer in that long-ago time say that his
delivery was more quaint, his drawl more exaggerated, even than in later
life; that his appearance and movements on the stage were natural, rather
than graceful; that his manuscript, which he carried under his arm,
looked like a ruffled hen. It was, in fact, originally written on sheets
of manila paper, in large characters, so that it could be read easily by
dim light, and it was doubtless often disordered.
There was plenty of amusing experience on this tour. At one place, when
the lecture was over, an old man came to him and said:
"Be them your natural tones of eloquence?"
At Grass Valley there was a rival show, consisting of a lady tight-rope
walker and her husband. It was a small place, and the tight-rope
attraction seemed likely to fail. The lady's husband had formerly been a
compositor on the Enterprise, so that he felt there was a bond of
brotherhood between him and Mark Twain.
"Look here," he said. "Let's combine our shows. I'll let my wife do the
tight-rope act outside and draw a crowd, and you go inside and lecture."
The arrangement was not made.
Following custom, the lecturer at first thought it necessary to be
introduced, and at each place McCarthy had to skirmish around and find
the proper person. At Red Dog, on the Stanislaus, the man selected
failed to appear, and Denis had to provide another on short notice.
He went down into the audience and captured an old fellow, who ducked and
dodged but could not escape. Denis led him to the stage, a good deal
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "this is the celebrated Mark Twain from
the celebrated city of San Francisco, with his celebrated lecture about
the celebrated Sandwich Islands."
That was as far as he could go; but it was far enough. Mark Twain never
had a better introduction. The audience was in a shouting humor from the
Clemens himself used to tell of an introduction at another camp, where
his sponsor said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I know only two things about this man: the first
is that he's never been in jail, and the second is I don't know why."
But this is probably apocryphal; there is too much "Mark Twain" in it.
When he reached Virginia, Goodman said to him:
"Sam, you do not need anybody to introduce you. There's a piano on the
stage in the theater. Have it brought out in sight, and when the curtain
rises you be seated at the piano, playing and singing that song of yours,
'I Had an Old Horse Whose Name Was Methusalem,' and don't seem to notice
that the curtain is up at first; then be surprised when you suddenly find
out that it is up, and begin talking, without any further preliminaries."
This proved good advice, and the lecture, thus opened, started off with
general hilarity and applause.