The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy

In a small cottage belonging to Richard Watson Gilder, at Tyringham, Massachusetts, Samuel Clemens and his daughters tried to plan for the future. Mrs. Clemens had always been the directing force–they were lost without her. They finally took a house in New York City, No. 21 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Ninth Street, installed the familiar furnishings, and tried once more to establish a home. The house was handsome within and without–a proper residence for a venerable author and sage–a suitable setting for Mark Twain. But it was lonely for him.

It lacked soul–comfort that would reach the heart. He added presently a great Aeolian orchestrelle, with a variety of music for his different moods. Sometimes he played it himself, though oftener his secretary played to him. He went out little that winter–seeing only a few old and intimate friends. His writing, such as it was, was of a serious nature, protests against oppression and injustice in a variety of forms. Once he wrote a “War Prayer,” supposed to have been made by a mysterious, white- robed stranger who enters a church during those ceremonies that precede the marching of the nation’s armies to battle. The minister had prayed for victory, a prayer which the stranger interprets as a petition that the enemy’s country be laid waste, its soldiers be torn by shells, its people turned out roofless, to wander through their desolated land in rags and hunger. It was a scathing arraignment of war, a prophecy, indeed, which to-day has been literally fulfilled. He did not print it, because then it would have been regarded as sacrilege.

When summer came again, in a beautiful house at Dublin, New Hampshire, on the Monadnock slope, he seemed to get back into the old swing of work, and wrote that pathetic story, “A Horse’s Tale.” Also “Eve’s Diary," which, under its humor, is filled with tenderness, and he began a wildly fantastic tale entitled “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes,” a satire in which Gulliver is outdone. He never finished it. He never could finish it, for it ran off into amazing by-paths that led nowhere, and the tale was lost. Yet he always meant to get at it again some day and make order out of chaos.

Old friends were dying, and Mark Twain grew more and more lonely. “My section of the procession has but a little way to go,” he wrote when the great English actor Henry Irving died. Charles Henry Webb, his first publisher, John Hay, Bret Harte, Thomas B. Reed, and, indeed, most of his earlier associates were gone. When an invitation came from San Francisco to attend a California reunion he replied that his wandering days were over and that it was his purpose to sit by the fire for the rest of his life. And in another letter:

“I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old residents. Since I left there, it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more–I could have gone earlier–it was suggested.”

A choice example, by the way, of Mark Twain’s best humor, with its perfectly timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would have been content to end with the statement, “I could have gone earlier." Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch–"it was suggested.”

Mark Twain was nearing seventy. With the 30th of November (1905) he would complete the scriptural limitation, and the president of his publishing-house, Col. George Harvey, of Harper’s, proposed a great dinner for him in celebration of his grand maturity. Clemens would have preferred a small assembly in some snug place, with only his oldest and closest friends. Colonel Harvey had a different view. He had given a small, choice dinner to Mark Twain on his sixty-seventh birthday; now it must be something really worth while–something to outrank any former literary gathering. In order not to conflict with Thanksgiving holidays, the 5th of December was selected as the date. On that evening, two hundred American and English men and women of letters assembled in Delmonico’s great banquet-hall to do honor to their chief. What an occasion it was! The tables of gay diners and among them Mark Twain, his snow-white hair a gleaming beacon for every eye. Then, by and by, presented by William Dean Howells, he rose to speak. Instantly the brilliant throng was on its feet, a shouting billow of life, the white handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest. It was a supreme moment! The greatest one of them all hailed by their applause as he scaled the mountaintop.

Never did Mark Twain deliver a more perfect address than he gave that night. He began with the beginning, the meagerness of that little hamlet that had seen his birth, and sketched it all so quaintly and delightfully that his hearers laughed and shouted, though there was tenderness under it, and often the tears were just beneath the surface. He told of his habits of life, how he had reached seventy by following a plan of living that would probably kill anybody else; how, in fact, he believed he had no valuable habits at all. Then, at last, came that unforgetable close:

“Threescore years and ten!

“It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time- expired man, to use Kipling’s military phrase: you have served your term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions are not for you, nor any bugle-call but “lights out.” You pay the time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline, if you prefer–and without prejudice–for they are not legally collectable.

“The previous-engagement plea, which in forty years has cost you so many twinges, you can lay aside forever; on this side of the grave you will never need it again. If you shrink at thought of night, and winter, and the late homecomings from the banquet and the lights and laughter, through the deserted streets–a desolation which would not remind you now, as for a generation it did, that your friends are sleeping and you must creep in a-tiptoe and not disturb them, but would only remind you that you need not tiptoe, you can never disturb them more–if you shrink at the thought of these things you need only reply, ’Your invitation honors me and pleases me because you still keep me in your remembrance, but I am seventy; seventy, and would nestle in the chimney-corner, and smoke my pipe, and read my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and that when you, in your turn, shall arrive at Pier 70 you may step aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart.’”

The tears that had been lying in wait were no longer kept back. If there were any present who did not let them flow without shame, who did not shout their applause from throats choked with sobs, they failed to mention the fact later.

Many of his old friends, one after another, rose to tell their love for him–Cable, Carnegie, Gilder, and the rest. Mr. Rogers did not speak, nor the Reverend Twichell, but they sat at his special table. Aldrich could not be there, but wrote a letter. A group of English authors, including Alfred Austin, Barrie, Chesterton, Dobson, Doyle, Hardy, Kipling, Lang, and others, joined in a cable. Helen Keller wrote:

“And you are seventy years old? Or is the report exaggerated, like that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house of dear Mr. Hutton, in Princeton, you said:

“’If a man is a pessimist before he is forty-eight, he knows too much. If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight, he knows too little.’

“Now we know you are an optimist, and nobody would dare to accuse one on the “seven-terraced summit” of knowing little. So probably you are not seventy, after all, but only forty-seven!”

Helen Keller was right. Mark Twain was never a pessimist in his heart.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
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