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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|From that night Mark Twain's stay in England could not properly be called
a gloomy one.
Routledge, Hood, Lee, and, in fact, all literary London, set themselves
the task of giving him a good time. Whatever place of interest they
could think of he was taken there; whatever there was to see he saw it.
Dinners, receptions, and assemblies were not complete without him. The
White Friars' Club and others gave banquets in his honor. He was the
sensation of the day. When he rose to speak on these occasions he was
greeted with wild cheers. Whatever he said they eagerly applauded--too
eagerly sometimes, in the fear that they might be regarded as insensible
to American humor. Other speakers delighted in chaffing him in order to
provoke his retorts. When a speaker humorously referred to his American
habit of carrying a cotton umbrella, his reply that he followed this
custom because a cotton umbrella was the only kind of an umbrella that an
Englishman wouldn't steal, was all over England next day, and regarded as
one of the finest examples of wit since the days of Swift.
The suddenness and completeness of his acceptance by the great ones of
London rather overwhelmed and frightened him made him timid. Joaquin
He was shy as a girl, although time was already coyly flirting white
flowers at his temples, and could hardly be coaxed to meet the
learned and great who wanted to take him by the hand.
Many came to call on him at his hotel, among them Charles Reade and Canon
Kingsley. Kingsley came twice without finding him; then wrote, asking
for an appointment. Reade invited his assistance on a novel. Indeed, it
was in England that Mark Twain was first made to feel that he had come
into his rightful heritage. Whatever may have been the doubts concerning
him in America, there was no question in England. Howells says:
In England rank, fashion, and culture rejoiced in him. Lord mayors,
lord chief justices, and magnates of many kinds were his hosts; he
was desired in country houses, and his bold genius captivated the
favor of periodicals which spurned the rest of our nation.
After that first visit of Mark Twain's, when Americans in England,
referring to their great statesmen, authors, and the like, naturally
mentioned the names of Seward, Webster, Lowell, or Holmes, the English
comment was likely to be: "Never mind those. We can turn out academic
Sewards by the dozen, and cultured humorists like Lowell and Holmes by
the score. Tell us of Lincoln, Artemus Ward, and Mark Twain. We cannot
match these; they interest us." And it was true. History could not
match them, for they were unique.
Clemens would have been more than human if in time he had not realized
the fuller meaning of this triumph, and exulted in it a little to the
folks at home. There never lived a more modest, less pretentious, less
aggressive man than Mark Twain, but there never lived a man who took a
more childlike delight in genuine appreciation; and, being childlike, it
was only human that he should wish those nearest to him to share his
happiness. After one memorable affair he wrote:
I have been received in a sort of tremendous way to-night by the
brains of London, assembled at the annual dinner of the sheriffs of
London; mine being (between you and me) a name which was received
with a thundering outburst of spontaneous applause when the long
list of guests was called.
I might have perished on the spot but for the friendly support and
assistance of my excellent friend, Sir John Bennett.
This letter does not tell all of the incident or the real reason why he
might have perished on the spot. During the long roll-call of guests he
had lost interest a little, and was conversing in whispers with his
"excellent friend," Sir John Bennett, stopping to applaud now and then
when the applause of the others indicated that some distinguished name
had been pronounced. All at once the applause broke out with great
vehemence. This must be some very distinguished person indeed. He
joined in it with great enthusiasm. When it was over he whispered to Sir
"Whose name was that we were just applauding?"
Whereupon the support was needed.
Poor little pirate Hotten did not have a happy time during this visit.
He had reveled in the prospect at first, for he anticipated a large
increase to be derived from his purloined property; but suddenly, one
morning, he was aghast to find in the Spectator a signed letter from Mark
Twain, in which he was repudiated, referred to as "John Camden
Hottentot," an unsavory person generally. Hotten also sent a letter to
the Spectator, in which he attempted to justify himself, but it was a
feeble performance. Clemens prepared two other communications, each
worse than the other and both more destructive than the first one. But
these were only to relieve his mind. He did not print them. In one of
them he pursued the fancy of John Camden Hottentot, whom he offers as a
specimen to the Zoological Gardens.
It is not a bird. It is not a man. It is not a fish. It does not seem
to be in all respects a reptile. It has the body and features of a man,
but scarcely any of the instincts that belong to such a structure.... I
am sure that this singular little creature is the missing link between
the man and the hyena.
Hotten had preyed upon explorer Stanley and libeled him in a so-called.
biography to a degree that had really aroused some feeling against
Stanley in England. Only for the moment--the Queen invited Stanley to
luncheon, and newspaper criticism ceased. Hotten was in general
disrepute, therefore, so it was not worth while throwing a second brick
In fact, now that Clemens had expended his venom, on paper, Hotten seemed
to him rather an amusing figure than otherwise. An incident grew out of
it all, however, that was not amusing. E. P. Hingston, whom the reader
may remember as having been with Artemus Ward in Virginia City, and one
of that happy group that wined and dined the year away, had been engaged
by Hotten to write the introductory to his edition of The Innocents
Abroad. It was a well-written, highly complimentary appreciation.
Hingston did not dream that he was committing an offense, nor did Clemens
himself regard it as such in the beginning.
But Mark Twain's views had undergone a radical change, and with
characteristic dismissal of previous conditions he had forgotten that he
had ever had any other views than those he now held. Hingston was in
London, and one evening, at a gathering, approached Clemens with
outstretched hand. But Clemens failed to see Hingston's hand or to
recognize him. In after-years his conscience hurt him terribly for this.
He remembered it only with remorse and shame. Once, in his old age, he
spoke of it with deep sorrow.