BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND HATS
by Mark Twain
ADDRESS AT THE PILGRIMS’ CLUB LUNCHEON, GIVEN IN HONOR OF Mr.
CLEMENS AT THE SAVOY HOTEL, LONDON, JUNE 25, 1907.
Mr. Birrell, M.P., Chief-Secretary for Ireland, in introducing
Mr. Clemens said: “We all love Mark Twain, and we are here to
tell him so. One more point—all the world knows it, and that
is why it is dangerous to omit it—our guest is a distinguished
citizen of the Great Republic beyond the seas. In America his
‘Huckleberry Finn’ and his ‘Tom Sawyer’ are what ‘Robinson
Crusoe’ and ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ have been to us. They
are racy of the soil. They are books to which it is impossible
to place any period of termination. I will not speak of the
classics—reminiscences of much evil in our early lives. We do
not meet here to-day as critics with our appreciations and
depreciations, our twopenny little prefaces or our forewords.
I am not going to say what the world a thousand years hence
will think of Mark Twain. Posterity will take care of itself,
will read what it wants to read, will forget what it chooses to
forget, and will pay no attention whatsoever to our critical
mumblings and jumblings. Let us therefore be content to say to
our friend and guest that we are here speaking for ourselves
and for our children, to say what he has been to us. I
remember in Liverpool, in 1867, first buying the copy, which I
still preserve, of the celebrated ‘Jumping Frog.’ It had a few
words of preface which reminded me then that our guest in those
days was called ‘the wild humorist of the Pacific slope,’ and a
few lines later down, ‘the moralist of the Main.’ That was
some forty years ago. Here he is, still the humorist, still
the moralist. His humor enlivens and enlightens his morality,
and his morality is all the better for his humor. That is one
of the reasons why we love him. I am not here to mention any
book of his—that is a subject of dispute in my family circle,
which is the best and which is the next best—but I must put in
a word, lest I should not be true to myself—a terrible thing
—for his Joan of Arc, a book of chivalry, of nobility, and of
manly sincerity for which I take this opportunity of thanking
him. But you can all drink this toast, each one of you with
his own intention. You can get into it what meaning you like.
Mark Twain is a man whom English and Americans do well to
honor. He is the true consolidator of nations. His delightful
humor is of the kind which dissipates and destroys national
prejudices. His truth and his honor, his love of truth, and
his love of honor, overflow all boundaries. He has made the
world better by his presence. We rejoice to see him here.
Long may he live to reap the plentiful harvest of hearty,
honest human affection!”
Pilgrims, I desire first to thank those undergraduates of Oxford. When a man has grown so old as I am, when he has reached the verge of seventy-two years, there is nothing that carries him back to the dreamland of his life, to his boyhood, like recognition of those young hearts up yonder. And so I thank them out of my heart. I desire to thank the Pilgrims of New York also for their kind notice and message which they have cabled over here. Mr. Birrell says he does not know how he got here. But he will be able to get away all right—he has not drunk anything since he came here. I am glad to know about those friends of his, Otway and Chatterton—fresh, new names to me. I am glad of the disposition he has shown to rescue them from the evils of poverty, and if they are still in London, I hope to have a talk with them. For a while I thought he was going to tell us the effect which my book had upon his growing manhood. I thought he was going to tell us how much that effect amounted to, and whether it really made him what he now is, but with the discretion born of Parliamentary experience he dodged that, and we do not know now whether he read the book or not. He did that very neatly. I could not do it any better myself.
My books have had effects, and very good ones, too, here and there, and some others not so good. There is no doubt about that. But I remember one monumental instance of it years and years ago. Professor Norton, of Harvard, was over here, and when he came back to Boston I went out with Howells to call on him. Norton was allied in some way by marriage with Darwin.
Mr. Norton was very gentle in what he had to say, and almost delicate, and he said: “Mr. Clemens, I have been spending some time with Mr. Darwin in England, and I should like to tell you something connected with that visit. You were the object of it, and I myself would have been very proud of it, but you may not be proud of it. At any rate, I am going to tell you what it was, and to leave to you to regard it as you please. Mr. Darwin took me up to his bedroom and pointed out certain things there-pitcher-plants, and so on, that he was measuring and watching from day to day—and he said: ‘The chambermaid is permitted to do what she pleases in this room, but she must never touch those plants and never touch those books on that table by that candle. With those books I read myself to sleep every night.’ Those were your own books.” I said: “There is no question to my mind as to whether I should regard that as a compliment or not. I do regard it as a very great compliment and a very high honor that that great mind, laboring for the whole human race, should rest itself on my books. I am proud that he should read himself to sleep with them.”
Now, I could not keep that to myself—I was so proud of it. As soon as I got home to Hartford I called up my oldest friend—and dearest enemy on occasion—the Rev. Joseph Twichell, my pastor, and I told him about that, and, of course, he was full of interest and venom. Those people who get no compliments like that feel like that. He went off. He did not issue any applause of any kind, and I did not hear of that subject for some time. But when Mr. Darwin passed away from this life, and some time after Darwin’s Life and Letters came out, the Rev. Mr. Twichell procured an early copy of that work and found something in it which he considered applied to me. He came over to my house—it was snowing, raining, sleeting, but that did not make any difference to Twichell. He produced the book, and turned over and over, until he came to a certain place, when he said: “Here, look at this letter from Mr. Darwin to Sir Joseph Hooker.” What Mr. Darwin said—I give you the idea and not the very words—was this: I do not know whether I ought to have devoted my whole life to these drudgeries in natural history and the other sciences or not, for while I may have gained in one way I have lost in another. Once I had a fine perception and appreciation of high literature, but in me that quality is atrophied. “That was the reason,” said Mr. Twichell, “he was reading your books.”
Mr. Birrell has touched lightly—very lightly, but in not an uncomplimentary way—on my position in this world as a moralist. I am glad to have that recognition, too, because I have suffered since I have been in this town; in the first place, right away, when I came here, from a newsman going around with a great red, highly displayed placard in the place of an apron. He was selling newspapers, and there were two sentences on that placard which would have been all right if they had been punctuated; but they ran those two sentences together without a comma or anything, and that would naturally create a wrong impression, because it said, “Mark Twain arrives Ascot Cup stolen.” No doubt many a person was misled by those sentences joined together in that unkind way. I have no doubt my character has suffered from it. I suppose I ought to defend my character, but how can I defend it? I can say here and now—and anybody can see by my face that I am sincere, that I speak the truth—that I have never seen that Cup. I have not got the Cup—I did not have a chance to get it. I have always had a good character in that way. I have hardly ever stolen anything, and if I did steal anything I had discretion enough to know about the value of it first. I do not steal things that are likely to get myself into trouble. I do not think any of us do that. I know we all take things—that is to be expected—but really, I have never taken anything, certainly in England, that amounts to any great thing. I do confess that when I was here seven years ago I stole a hat, but that did not amount to anything. It was not a good hat, and was only a clergyman’s hat, anyway.
I was at a luncheon party, and Archdeacon Wilberforce was there also. I dare say he is Archdeacon now—he was a canon then—and he was serving in the Westminster battery, if that is the proper term—I do not know, as you mix military and ecclesiastical things together so much. He left the luncheon table before I did. He began this. I did steal his hat, but he began by taking mine. I make that interjection because I would not accuse Archdeacon Wilberforce of stealing my hat—I should not think of it. I confine that phrase to myself. He merely took my hat. And with good judgment, too—it was a better hat than his. He came out before the luncheon was over, and sorted the hats in the hall, and selected one which suited. It happened to be mine. He went off with it. When I came out by-and-by there was no hat there which would go on my head except his, which was left behind. My head was not the customary size just at that time. I had been receiving a good many very nice and complimentary attentions, and my head was a couple of sizes larger than usual, and his hat just suited me. The bumps and corners were all right intellectually. There were results pleasing to me—possibly so to him. He found out whose hat it was, and wrote me saying it was pleasant that all the way home, whenever he met anybody his gravities, his solemnities, his deep thoughts, his eloquent remarks were all snatched up by the people he met, and mistaken for brilliant humorisms.
I had another experience. It was not unpleasing. I was received with a deference which was entirely foreign to my experience by everybody whom I met, so that before I got home I had a much higher opinion of myself than I have ever had before or since. And there is in that very connection an incident which I remember at that old date which is rather melancholy to me, because it shows how a person can deteriorate in a mere seven years. It is seven years ago. I have not that hat now. I was going down Pall-Mall, or some other of your big streets, and I recognized that that hat needed ironing. I went into a big shop and passed in my hat, and asked that it might be ironed. They were courteous, very courteous, even courtly. They brought that hat back to me presently very sleek and nice, and I asked how much there was to pay. They replied that they did not charge the clergy anything. I have cherished the delight of that moment from that day to this. It was the first thing I did the other day to go and hunt up that shop and hand in my hat to have it ironed. I said when it came back, “How much to pay?” They said, “Ninepence.” In seven years I have acquired all that worldliness, and I am sorry to be back where I was seven years ago.
But now I am chaffing and chaffing and chaffing here, and I hope you will forgive me for that; but when a man stands on the verge of seventy-two you know perfectly well that he never reached that place without knowing what this life is heart-breaking bereavement. And so our reverence is for our dead. We do not forget them; but our duty is toward the living; and if we can be cheerful, cheerful in spirit, cheerful in speech and in hope, that is a benefit to those who are around us.
My own history includes an incident which will always connect me with England in a pathetic way, for when I arrived here seven years ago with my wife and my daughter—we had gone around the globe lecturing to raise money to clear off a debt—my wife and one of my daughters started across the ocean to bring to England our eldest daughter. She was twenty four years of age and in the bloom of young womanhood, and we were unsuspecting. When my wife and daughter—and my wife has passed from this life since—when they had reached mid Atlantic, a cablegram—one of those heartbreaking cablegrams which we all in our days have to experience—was put into my hand. It stated that that daughter of ours had gone to her long sleep. And so, as I say, I cannot always be cheerful, and I cannot always be chaffing; I must sometimes lay the cap and bells aside, and recognize that I am of the human race like the rest, and must have my cares and griefs. And therefore I noticed what Mr. Birrell said—I was so glad to hear him say it—something that was in the nature of these verses here at the top of this:
“He lit our life with shafts of sun
And vanquished pain.
Thus two great nations stand as one
In honoring Twain.”
I am very glad to have those verses. I am very glad and very grateful for what Mr. Birrell said in that connection. I have received since I have been here, in this one week, hundreds of letters from all conditions of people in England—men, women, and children—and there is in them compliment, praise, and, above all and better than all, there is in them a note of affection. Praise is well, compliment is well, but affection—that is the last and final and most precious reward that any man can win, whether by character or achievement, and I am very grateful to have that reward. All these letters make me feel that here in England—as in America—when I stand under the English flag, I am not a stranger. I am not an alien, but at home.
Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal…check our About Us page for more. Also here is info on our On Classic Articles