Mark Twain\'s Speeches

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Mark Twain's Speeches

Plymouth Rock And The Pilgrims

Address at the first annual dinner, N. E. Society, Philadelphia, December 22, 1881

On calling upon Mr. Clemens to make response, President Rollins said:

“This sentiment has been assigned to one who was never exactly born in New England, nor, perhaps, were any of his ancestors. He is not technically, therefore, of New England descent. Under the painful circumstances in which he has found himself, however, he has done the best he could – he has had all his children born there, and has made of himself a New England ancestor. He is a self-made man. More than this, and better even, in cheerful, hopeful, helpful literature he is of New England ascent. To ascend there in any thing that’s reasonable is difficult; for – confidentially, with the door shut – we all know that they are the brightest, ablest sons of that goodly land who never leave it, and it is among and above them that Mr. Twain has made his brilliant and permanent ascent – become a man of mark.”

I rise to protest. I have kept still for years; but really I think there is no sufficient justification for this sort of thing. What do you want to celebrate those people for? – those ancestors of yours of 1620—the Mayflower tribe, I mean. What do you want to celebrate them for? Your pardon: the gentleman at my left assures me that you are not celebrating the Pilgrims themselves, but the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth rock on the 22d of December. So you are celebrating their landing. Why, the other pretext was thin enough, but this is thinner than ever; the other was tissue, tinfoil, fish-bladder, but this is gold-leaf. Celebrating their lauding! What was there remarkable about it, I would like to know? What can you be thinking of? Why, those Pilgrims had been at sea three or four months. It was the very middle of winter: it was as cold as death off Cape Cod there. Why shouldn’t they come ashore? If they hadn’t landed there would be some reason for celebrating the fact: It would have been a case of monumental leatherheadedness which the world would not willingly let die. If it had been you, gentlemen, you probably wouldn’t have landed, but you have no shadow of right to be celebrating, in your ancestors, gifts which they did not exercise, but only transmitted. Why, to be celebrating the mere landing of the Pilgrims – to be trying to make out that this most natural and simple and customary procedure was an extraordinary circumstance – a circumstance to be amazed at, and admired, aggrandized and glorified, at orgies like this for two hundred and sixty years – hang it, a horse would have known enough to land; a horse – Pardon again; the gentleman on my right assures me that it was not merely the landing of the Pilgrims that we are celebrating, but the Pilgrims themselves. So we have struck an inconsistency here – one says it was the landing, the other says it was the Pilgrims. It is an inconsistency characteristic of your intractable and disputatious tribe, for you never agree about anything but Boston. Well, then, what do you want to celebrate those Pilgrims for? They were a mighty hard lot – you know it. I grant you, without the slightest unwillingness, that they were a deal more gentle and merciful and just than were the people of Europe of that day; I grant you that they are better than their predecessors. But what of that? – that is nothing. People always progress. You are better than your fathers and grandfathers were (this is the first time I have ever aimed a measureless slander at the departed, for I consider such things improper). Yes, those among you who have not been in the penitentiary, if such there be, are better than your fathers and grandfathers were; but is that any sufficient reason, for getting up annual dinners and celebrating you? No, by no means – by no means. Well, I repeat, those Pilgrims were a hard lot. They took good care of themselves, but they abolished everybody else’s ancestors. I am a border-ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me, you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man. But where are my ancestors? Whom shall I celebrate? Where shall I find the raw material?

My first American ancestor, gentlemen, was an Indian – an early Indian. Your ancestors skinned him alive, and I am an orphan. Not one drop of my blood flows in that Indian’s veins today. I stand here, lone and forlorn, without an ancestor. They skinned him! I do not object to that, if they needed his fur; but alive, gentlemen-alive! They skinned him alive – and before company! That is what rankles. Think how he must have felt; for he was a sensitive person and easily embarrassed. If he had been a bird, it would have been all right, and no violence done to his feelings, because he would have been considered “dressed.” But he was not a bird, gentlemen, he was a man, and probably one of the most undressed men that ever was. I ask you to put yourselves in his place. I ask it as a favor; I ask it as a tardy act of justice; I ask it in the interest of fidelity to the traditions of your ancestors; I ask it that the world may contemplate, with vision unobstructed by disguising swallow-tails and white cravats, the spectacle which the true New England Society ought to present. Cease to come to these annual orgies in this hollow modern mockery – the surplusage of raiment. Come in character; come in the summer grace, come in the unadorned simplicity, come in the free and joyous costume which your sainted ancestors provided for mine.

Later ancestors of mine were the Quakers William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, et al. Your tribe chased them put of the country for their religion’s sake; promised them death if they came back; for your ancestors had forsaken the homes they loved, and braved the perils of the sea, the implacable climate, and the savage wilderness, to acquire that highest and most precious of boons, freedom for every man on this broad continent to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience – and they were not going to allow a lot of pestiferous Quakers to interfere with it. Your ancestors broke forever the chains of political slavery, and gave the vote to every man in this wide land, excluding none! – none except those who did not belong to the orthodox church. Your ancestors – yes, they were a hard lot; but, nevertheless, they gave us religious liberty to worship as they required us to worship, and political liberty to vote as the church required; and so I the bereft one, I the forlorn one, am here to do my best to help you celebrate them right.

The Quaker woman Elizabeth Hooton was an ancestress of mine. Your people were pretty severe with her you will confess that. But, poor thing! I believe they changed her opinions before she died, and took her into their fold; and so we have every reason to presume that when she died she went to the same place which your ancestors went to. It is a great pity, for she was a good woman. Roger Williams was an ancestor of mine. I don’t really remember what your people did with him. But they banished him to Rhode Island, anyway. And then, I believe, recognizing that this was really carrying harshness to an unjustifiable extreme, they took pity on him and burned him. They were a hard lot! All those Salem witches were ancestors of mine! Your people made it tropical for them. Yes, they did; by pressure and the gallows they made such a clean deal with them that there hasn’t been a witch and hardly a halter in our family from that day to this, and that is one hundred and eighty-nine years. The first slave brought into New England out of Africa by your progenitors was an ancestor of mine – for I am of a mixed breed, an infinitely shaded and exquisite Mongrel. I’m not one of your sham meerschaums that you can color in a week. No, my complexion is the patient art of eight generations. Well, in my own time, I had acquired a lot of my kin – by purchase, and swapping around, and one way and another – and was getting along very well. Then, with the inborn perversity of your lineage, you got up a war, and took them all away from me. And so, again am I bereft, again am I forlorn; no drop of my blood flows in the veins of any living being who is marketable.

O my friends, hear me and reform! I seek your good, not mine. You have heard the speeches. Disband these New England societies – nurseries of a system of steadily augmenting laudation and hosannaing, which; if persisted in uncurbed, may some day in the remote future beguile you into prevaricating and bragging. Oh, stop, stop, while you are still temperate in your appreciation of your ancestors! Hear me, I beseech you; get up an auction and sell Plymouth Rock! The Pilgrims were a simple and ignorant race. They never had seen any good rocks before, or at least any that were not watched, and so they were excusable for hopping ashore in frantic delight and clapping an iron fence around this one. But you, gentlemen, are educated; you are enlightened; you know that in the rich land of your nativity, opulent New England, overflowing with rocks, this one isn’t worth, at the outside, more than thirty-five cents. Therefore, sell it, before it is injured by exposure, or at least throw it open to the patent-medicine advertisements, and let it earn its taxes:

Yes, hear your true friend-your only true friend – list to his voice. Disband these societies, hotbeds of vice, of moral decay – perpetuators of ancestral superstition. Here on this board I see water, I see milk, I see the wild and deadly lemonade. These are but steps upon the downward path. Next we shall see tea, then chocolate, then coffee – hotel coffee. A few more years – all too few, I fear – mark my words, we shall have cider! Gentlemen, pause ere it be too late. You are on the broad road which leads to dissipation, physical ruin, moral decay, gory crime and the gallows! I beseech you, I implore you, in the name of your anxious friends, in the name of your suffering families, in the name of your impending widows and orphans, stop ere it be too late. Disband these New England societies, renounce these soul-blistering saturnalia, cease from varnishing the rusty reputations of your long-vanished ancestors – the super-high-moral old iron-clads of Cape Cod, the pious buccaneers of Plymouth Rock – go home, and try to learn to behave!

 

However, chaff and nonsense aside, I think I honor and appreciate your Pilgrim stock as much as you do yourselves, perhaps; and I endorse and adopt a sentiment uttered by a grandfather of mine once – a man of sturdy opinions, of sincere make of mind, and not given to flattery. He said: “People may talk as they like about that Pilgrim stock, but, after all’s said and done, it would be pretty hard to improve on those people; and, as for me, I don’t mind coming out flatfooted and saying there ain’t any way to improve on them – except having them born in, Missouri!”

Compliments And Degrees

Delivered at the lotos club, January 11, 1908

In introducing Mr. Clemens, Frank R. Lawrence, the President of the Lotos Club, recalled the fact that the first club dinner in the present club-house, some fourteen years ago, was in honor of Mark Twain.

I wish to begin this time at the beginning, lest I forget it altogether; that is to say, I wish to thank you for this welcome that you are giving, and the welcome which you gave me seven years ago, and which I forgot to thank you for at that time. I also wish to thank you for the welcome you gave me fourteen years ago, which I also forgot to thank you for at the time.

I hope you will continue this custom to give me a dinner every seven years before I join the hosts in the other world – I do not know which world.

Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Porter have paid me many compliments. It is very difficult to take compliments. I do not care whether you deserve the compliments or not, it is just as difficult to take them. The other night I was at the Engineers’ Club, and enjoyed the sufferings of Mr. Carnegie. They were complimenting him there; there it was all compliments, and none of them deserved. They say that you cannot live by bread alone, but I can live on compliments.

I do not make any pretence that I dislike compliments. The stronger the better, and I can manage to digest them. I think I have lost so much by not making a collection of compliments, to put them away and take them out again once in a while. When in England I said that I would start to collect compliments, and I began there and I have brought some of them along.

The first one of these lies – I wrote them down and preserved them – I think they are mighty good and extremely just. It is one of Hamilton Mabie’s compliments. He said that La Salle was the first one to make a voyage of the Mississippi, but Mark Twain was the first to chart, light, and navigate it for the whole world.

If that had been published at the time that I issued that book [Life on the Mississippi], it would have been money in my pocket. I tell you, it is a talent by itself to pay compliments gracefully and have them ring true. It’s an art by itself.

Here is another compliment by Albert Bigelow Paine, my biographer. He is writing four octavo volumes about me, and he has been at my elbow two and one-half years.

I just suppose that he does not know me, but says he knows me. He says “Mark Twain is not merely a great writer, a great philosopher, a great man; he is the supreme expression of the human being, with his strength and his weakness.” What a talent for compression! It takes a genius in compression to compact as many facts as that.

W. D. Howells spoke of me as first of Hartford, and ultimately of the solar system, not to say of the universe:

You know how modest Howells is. If it can be proved that my fame reaches to Neptune and Saturn; that will satisfy even me. You know how modest and retiring Howells seems to be, but deep down he is as vain as I am.

Mr. Howells had been granted a degree at Oxford, whose gown was red. He had been invited to an exercise at Columbia, and upon inquiry had been told that it was usual to wear the black gown: Later he had found that three other men wore bright gowns, and he had lamented that he had been one of the black mass, and not a red torch.

Edison wrote: “The average American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person, he generally selects Mark Twain.”

Now here’s the compliment of a little Montana girl which came to me indirectly. She was in a room in which there was a large photograph of me. After gazing at it steadily for a time, she said:

“We’ve got a John the Baptist like that.” She also said: “Only ours has more trimmings.”

I suppose she meant the halo. Now here is a gold-miner’s compliment. It is forty-two years old. It was my introduction to an audience to which I lectured in a log school-house. There were no ladies there. I wasn’t famous then. They didn’t know me. Only the miners were there, with their breeches tucked into their boottops and with clay all over them. They wanted some one to introduce me, and they selected a miner, who protested, saying:

“I don’t know anything about this man. Anyhow, I only know two things about him. One is, he has never been in jail, and the other is, I don’t know why.”

There’s one thing I want to say about that English trip. I knew his Majesty the King of England long years ago, and I didn’t meet him for the first time then. One thing that I regret was that some newspapers said I talked with the Queen of England with my hat on. I don’t do that with any woman. I did not put it on until she asked me to. Then she told me to put it on, and it’s a command there. I thought I had carried my American democracy far enough. So I put it on. I have no use for a hat, and never did have.

Who was it who said that the police of London knew me? Why, the police know me everywhere. There never was a day over there when a policeman did not salute me, and then put up his hand and stop the traffic of the world. They treated me as though I were a duchess.

The happiest experience I had in England was at a dinner given in the building of the Punch publication, a humorous paper which is appreciated by all Englishmen. It was the greatest privilege ever allowed a foreigner. I entered the dining-room of the building, where those men get together who have been running the paper for over fifty years. We were about to begin dinner when the toastmaster said: “Just a minute; there ought to be a little ceremony.” Then there was that meditating silence for a while, and out of a closet there came a beautiful little girl dressed in pink, holding in her hand a copy of the previous week’s paper, which had in it my cartoon. It broke me all up. I could not even say “Thank you.” That was the prettiest incident of the dinner, the delight of all that wonderful table. When she was about to go; I said, “My child, you are not going to leave me; I have hardly got acquainted with you.” She replied, “You know I’ve got to go; they never let me come in here before, and they never will again.” That is one of the beautiful incidents that I cherish.

[At the conclusion of his speech, and while the diners were still cheering him, Colonel Porter brought forward the red-and-gray gown of the Oxford “doctor,” and Mr. Clemens was made to don it. The diners rose to their feet in their enthusiasm. With the mortar-board on his head, and looking down admiringly at himself, Mr. Twain said – ]

I like that gown. I always did like red. The redder it is the better I like it. I was born for a savage. Now, whoever saw any red like this? There is no red outside the arteries of an archangel that could compare with this. I know you all envy me. I am going to have luncheon shortly with ladies just ladies. I will be the only lady of my sex present, and I shall put on this gown and make those ladies look dim.

Books, Authors, And Hats

Address at the pilgrimsclub 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:

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