A large part of the daughter of civilization is her dress – as it should be. Some civilized women would lose half their charm without dress, and some would lose all of it. The daughter Of modern civilization dressed at her utmost best is a marvel of exquisite and beautiful art and expense. All the lands, all the climes, and all the arts are laid under tribute to furnish her forth. Her linen is from Belfast, her robe is from Paris, her lace is from Venice, or Spain, or France, her feathers are from the remote regions of Southern Africa, her furs from the remoter region of the iceberg and the aurora, her fan from Japan, her diamonds from Brazil, her bracelets from California, her pearls from Ceylon, her cameos from Rome. She has gems and trinkets from buried Pompeii, and others that graced comely Egyptian forms that have been dust and ashes now for forty centuries. Her watch is from Geneva, her card case is from China, her hair is from – from – I don’t know where her hair is from; I never could find out; that is, her other hair – her public hair, her Sunday hair; I don’t mean the hair she goes to bed with.
And that reminds me of a trifle. Any time you want to you can glance around the carpet of a Pullman car, and go and pick up a hair-pin; but not to save your life can you get any woman in that car to acknowledge that hair-pin. Now, isn’t that strange? But it’s true. The woman who has never swerved from cast-iron veracity and fidelity in her whole life will, when confronted with this crucial test, deny her hair-pin. She will deny that hair-pin before a hundred witnesses. I have stupidly got into more trouble and more hot water trying to hunt up the owner of a hair-pin in a Pullman than by any other indiscretion of my life.
When the present copyright law was under discussion, Mr. Clemens appeared before the committee. He had sent Speaker Cannon the following letter:
“Dear uncle Joseph, – Please get me the thanks of Congress, not next week but right away. It is very necessary. Do accomplish this for your affectionate old friend right away – by, persuasion if you can, by violence if you must, for it is imperatively necessary that I get on the floor of the House for two or three hours and talk to the members, man by man, in behalf of support; encouragement, and protection of one of the nation’s most valuable assets and industries – its literature. I have arguments with me – also a barrel with liquid in it.
“Give me a chance. Get me the thanks of Congress. Don’t wait for others – there isn’t time; furnish them to me yourself and let Congress ratify later. I have stayed away and let Congress alone for seventy-one years and am entitled to the thanks. Congress knows this perfectly well, and I have long felt hurt that this quite proper and earned expression of gratitude has been merely felt by the House and never publicly uttered.
“Send me an order on the sergeant-at-arms quick. When shall I come?
“With love and a benediction,
While waiting to appear before the committee, Mr. Clemens talked to the reporters:
Why don’t you ask why I am wearing such apparently unseasonable clothes? I’ll tell you. I have found that when a man reaches the advanced age of seventy-one years, as I have, the continual sight of dark clothing is likely to have a depressing effect upon him. Light-colored clothing is more pleasing to the eye and enlivens the spirit. Now, of course, I cannot compel every one to wear such clothing just for my especial benefit, so I do the next best thing and wear it myself.
Of course, before a man reaches my years the fear of criticism might prevent him from indulging his fancy. I am not afraid of that. I am decidedly for pleasing color combinations in dress. I like to see the women’s clothes, say, at the opera. What can be more depressing than the sombre black which custom requires men to wear upon state occasions? A group of men in evening clothes looks like a flock of crows, and is just about as inspiring.
After all, what is the purpose of clothing? Are not clothes intended primarily to preserve dignity and also to afford comfort to their wearer? Now I know of nothing more uncomfortable than the present-day clothes of men. The finest clothing made is a person’s own skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.
The best-dressed man I have ever seen, however, was a native of the Sandwich Islands who attracted my attention thirty years ago. Now, when that man wanted to don especial dress to honor a public occasion or a holiday, why, he occasionally put on a pair of spectacles. Otherwise the clothing with which God had provided him sufficed.
Of course, I have ideas of dress reform. For one thing, why not adopt some of the women’s styles? Goodness knows, they adopt enough of ours. Take the peek-a-boo waist, for instance. It has the obvious advantages of being cool and comfortable, and in addition it is almost always made up in pleasing colors which cheer and do not depress.
It is true that I dressed the Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court in a plug-hat, but, let’s see, that was twenty-five years ago. Then no man was considered fully dressed until he donned a plug-hat. Nowadays I think that no man is dressed until he leaves it home. Why, when I left home yesterday they trotted out a plug-hat for me to wear.
“You must wear it,” they told me; “why, just think of going to Washington without a plug-hat!” But I said no; I would wear a derby or nothing. Why, I believe I could walk along the streets of New York – I never do – but still I think I could – and I should never see a well-dressed man wearing a plug-hat. If I did I should suspect him of something. I don’t know just what, but I would suspect him.
Why, when I got up on the second story of that Pennsylvania ferry-boat coming down here yesterday I saw Howells coming along. He was the only man on the boat with a plug-hat, and I tell you he felt ashamed of himself. He said he had been persuaded to wear it against his better sense. But just think of a man nearly seventy years old who has not a mind of his own on such matters!
“Are you doing any work now?” the youngest and most serious reporter asked.
Work? I retired from work on my seventieth birthday. Since then I have been putting in merely twenty-six hours a day dictating my autobiography, which, as John Phoenix said in regard to his autograph, may be relied upon as authentic, as it is written exclusively by me. But it is not to be published in full until I am thoroughly dead. I have made it as caustic, fiendish, and devilish as possible. It will fill many volumes, and I shall continue writing it until the time comes for me to join the angels. It is going to be a terrible autobiography. It will make the hair of some folks curl. But it cannot be published until I am dead, and the persons mentioned in it and their children and grandchildren are dead. It is something awful!
“Can you tell us the names of some of the notables that are here to see you off?”
I don’t know. I am so shy. My shyness takes a peculiar phase. I never look a person in the face. The reason is that I am afraid they may know me and that I may not know them, which makes it very embarrassing for both of us. I always wait for the other person to speak. I know lots of people, but I don’t know who they are. It is all a matter of ability to observe things. I never observe anything now. I gave up the habit years ago. You should keep a habit up if you want to become proficient in it. For instance, I was a pilot once, but I gave it up, and I do not believe the captain of the Minneapolis would let me navigate his ship to London. Still, if I think that he is not on the job I may go up on the bridge and offer him a few suggestions.
Five hundred undergraduates, under the auspices of the Woman’s University Club, New York, welcomed Mr. Clemens as their guest, April 3, 1906, and gave him the freedom of the club, which the chairman explained was freedom to talk individually to any girl present.
I’ve worked for the public good thirty years, so for the rest of my life I shall work for my personal contentment. I am glad Miss Nerón has fed me, for there is no telling what iniquity I might wander into on an empty stomach – I mean, an empty mind.
I am going to tell you a practical story about how once upon a time I was blind – a story I should have been using all these months, but I never thought about telling it until the other night, and now it is too late, for on the nineteenth of this month I hope to take formal leave of the platform forever at Carnegie Hall – that is, take leave so far as talking for money and for people who have paid money to hear me talk. I shall continue to infest the platform on these conditions – that there is nobody in the house who has paid to hear me, that I am not paid to be heard, and that there will be none but young women students in the audience. [Here Mr. Clemens told the story of how he took a girl to the theatre while he was wearing tight boots, which appears elsewhere in this volume, and ended by saying: “And now let this be a lesson to you – I don’t know what kind of a lesson; I’ll let you think it out.”]
In my capacity of publisher I recently received a manuscript from a teacher which embodied a number of answers given by her pupils to questions propounded. These answers show that the children had nothing but the sound to go by – the sense was perfectly empty. Here are some of their answers to words they were asked to define: Auriferous – pertaining to an orifice; ammonia – the food of the gods; equestrian – one who asks questions; parasite – a kind of umbrella; ipecaca – man who likes a good dinner. And here is the definition of an ancient word honored by a great party: Republican – a sinner mentioned in the Bible. And here is an innocent deliverance of a zoological kind: “There are a good many donkeys in the theological gardens.” Here also is a definition which really isn’t very bad in its way: Demagogue – a vessel containing beer and other liquids. Here, too, is a sample of a boy’s composition on girls, which, I must say, I rather like:
“Girls are very stuckup and dignified in their manner and behaveyour. They think more of dress than anything and like to play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time and go to church every Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-ways furry and making fun of boys hands and they say how dirty. They cant play marbles. I pity them poor things. They make fun of boys and then turn round and love them. I don’t belave they ever kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say, ’Oh, a’nt the moon lovely!’—Thir is one thing I have not told and that is they al-ways now their lessons bettern boys.”
Delivered at the anniversary festival, 1872, of the Scottish corporation of London Mr. Clemens replied to the toast “The Ladies.”
I am proud, indeed, of the distinction of being chosen to respond to this especial toast, to “The Ladies,” or to women if you please, for that is the preferable term, perhaps; it is certainly the older, and therefore the more entitled to reverence. I have noticed that the Bible, with that plain, blunt honesty which is such a conspicuous characteristic of the Scriptures, is always particular to never refer to even the illustrious mother of all mankind as a “lady,” but speaks of her as a woman. It is odd, but you will find it is so. I am peculiarly proud of this honor, because I think that the toast to women is one which, by right and by every rule of gallantry, should take precedence of all others – of the army, of the navy, of even royalty itself – perhaps, though the latter is not necessary in this day and in this land, for the reason that, tacitly, you do drink a broad general health to all good women when you drink the health of the Queen of England and the Princess of Wales. I have in mind a poem just now which is familiar to you all, familiar to everybody. And what an inspiration that was, and how instantly the present toast recalls the verses to all our minds when the most noble, the most gracious, the purest, and sweetest of all poets says:
“Woman! O woman! – er
However, you remember the lines; and you remember how feelingly, how daintily, how almost imperceptibly the verses raise up before you, feature by feature, the ideal of a true and perfect woman; and how, as you contemplate the finished marvel, your homage grows into worship of the intellect that could create so fair a thing out of mere breath, mere words. And you call to mind now, as I speak, how the poet, with stern fidelity to the history of all humanity, delivers this beautiful child of his heart and his brain over to the trials and sorrows that must come to all, sooner or later, that abide in the earth, and how the pathetic story culminates in that apostrophe – so wild, so regretful, so full of mournful retrospection. The lines run thus:
“Alas! – alas! – a – alas! – Alas! – alas!” —and so on. I do not remember the rest; but, taken together, it seems to me that poem is the noblest tribute to woman that human genius has ever brought forth – and I feel that if I were to talk hours I could not do my great theme completer or more graceful justice than I have now done in simply quoting that poet’s matchless words. The phases of the womanly nature are infinite in their variety. Take any type of woman, and you shall find in it something to respect, something to admire, something to love. And you shall find the whole joining you heart and hand. Who was more patriotic than Joan of Arc? Who was braver? Who has given us a grander instance of self-sacrificing devotion? Ah! you remember, you remember well, what a throb of pain, what a great tidal wave of grief swept over us all when Joan of Arc fell at Waterloo. Who does not sorrow for the loss of Sappho, the sweet singer of Israel? Who among us does not miss the gentle ministrations, the softening influences, the humble piety of Lucretia Borgia? Who can join in the heartless libel that says woman is extravagant in dress when he can look back and call to mind our simple and lowly mother Eve arrayed in her modification of the Highland costume? Sir, women have been soldiers, women have been painters, women have been poets. As long as language lives the name of Cleopatra will live. And not because she conquered George III. – but because she wrote those divine lines:
“Let dogs delight to bark and bite,
For God hath made them so.”
The story of the world is adorned with the names of illustrious ones of our own sex – some of, them sons of St. Andrew, too – Scott, Bruce, Burns, the warrior Wallace, Ben Nevis – the gifted Ben Lomond, and the great new Scotchman, Ben Disraeli. Out of the great plains of history tower whole mountain ranges of sublime women: the Queen of Sheba, Josephine, Semiramis, Sairey Gamp; the list is endless – but I will not call the mighty roll, the names rise up in your own memories at the mere suggestion, luminous with the glory of deeds that cannot die, hallowed by the loving worship of the good and the true of all epochs and all climes. Suffice it for our pride and our honor that we in our day have added to it such names as those of Grace Darling and Florence Nightingale. Woman is all that she should be gentle, patient, longsuffering, trustful, unselfish, full of generous impulses. It is her blessed mission to comfort the sorrowing, plead for the erring, encourage the faint of purpose, succor the distressed, uplift the fallen, befriend the friendless – in a word, afford the healing of her sympathies and a home in her heart for all the bruised and persecuted children that knock at its hospitable door. And when I say, God bless her, there is none among us who has known the ennobling affection of a wife, or the steadfast devotion of a mother but in his heart will say, Amen!
On October 27, 1900, the New York Woman’s Press Club gave a tea in Carnegie Hall. Mr. Clemens was the guest of honor.
If I were asked an opinion I would call this an ungrammatical nation. There is no such thing as perfect grammar, and I don’t always speak good grammar myself. But I have been foregathering for the past few days with professors of American universities, and I’ve heard them all say things like this: “He don’t like to do it.” [There was a stir.] Oh, you’ll hear that to-night if you listen, or, “He would have liked to have done it.” You’ll catch some educated Americans saying that. When these men take pen in hand they write with as good grammar as any. But the moment they throw the pen aside they throw grammatical morals aside with it.
To illustrate the desirability and possibility of concentration, I must tell you a story of my little six-year-old daughter. The governess had been teaching her about the reindeer, and, as the custom was, she related it to the family. She reduced the history of that reindeer to two or three sentences when the governess could not have put it into a page. She said: “The reindeer is a very swift animal. A reindeer once drew a sled four hundred miles in two hours.” She appended the comment: “This was regarded as extraordinary.” And concluded: “When that reindeer was done drawing that sled four hundred miles in two hours it died.”
As a final instance of the force of limitations in the development of concentration, I must mention that beautiful creature, Helen Keller, whom I have known for these many years. I am filled with the wonder of her knowledge, acquired because shut out from all distraction. If I could have been deaf, dumb, and blind I also might have arrived at something.
At the annual meeting of the Hebrew technical school for girls, held in the Temple Emmanuel, January 20, 1901
Mr. Clemens was introduced by President Meyer, who said: “In one of Mr. Clemens’s works he expressed his opinion of men, saying he had no choice between Hebrew and Gentile, black men or white; to him all men were alike. But I never could find that he expressed his opinion of women; perhaps that opinion was so exalted that he could not express it. We shall now be called to hear what he thinks of women.”
Ladies and gentlemen, – It is a small help that I can afford, but it is just such help that one can give as coming from the heart through the mouth. The report of Mr. Meyer was admirable, and I was as interested in it as you have been. Why, I’m twice as old as he, and I’ve had so much experience that I would say to him, when he makes his appeal for help: “Don’t make it for to-day or to-morrow, but collect the money on the spot.”
We are all creatures of sudden impulse. We must be worked up by steam, as it were. Get them to write their wills now, or it may be too late by-and-by. Fifteen or twenty years ago I had an experience I shall never forget. I got into a church which was crowded by a sweltering and panting multitude. The city missionary of our town – Hartford – made a telling appeal for help. He told of personal experiences among the poor in cellars and top lofts requiring instances of devotion and help. The poor are always good to the poor. When a person with his millions gives a hundred thousand dollars it makes a great noise in the world, but he does not miss it; it’s the widow’s mite that makes no noise but does the best work.
I remember on that occasion in the Hartford church the collection was being taken up. The appeal had so stirred me that I could hardly wait for the hat or plate to come my way. I had four hundred dollars in my pocket, and I was anxious to drop it in the plate and wanted to borrow more. But the plate was so long in coming my way that the fever-heat of beneficence was going down lower and lower – going down at the rate of a hundred dollars a minute. The plate was passed too late. When it finally came to me, my enthusiasm had gone down so much that I kept my four hundred dollars – and stole a dime from the plate. So, you see, time sometimes leads to crime.
Oh, many a time have I thought of that and regretted it, and I adjure you all to give while the fever is on you.
Referring to woman’s sphere in life, I’ll say that woman is always right. For twenty-five years I’ve been a woman’s rights man. I have always believed, long before my mother died, that, with her gray hairs and admirable intellect, perhaps she knew as much as I did. Perhaps she knew as much about voting as I.
I should like to see the time come when women shall help to make the laws. I should like to see that whip-lash, the ballot, in the hands of women. As for this city’s government, I don’t want to say much, except that it is a shame – a shame; but if I should live twenty-five years longer – and there is no reason why I shouldn’t – I think I’ll see women handle the ballot. If women had the ballot to-day, the state of things in this town would not exist.
If all the women in this town had a vote to-day they would elect a mayor at the next election, and they would rise in their might and change the awful state of things now existing here.