MARK TWAIN TAKES A LESSON IN THE MANLY ART
[by Dan DeQuille]
We may have said some harsh things of Mark Twain, but now we take them all back. We feel like weeping for him -- year, we would fall on his breast and mingle our tears with his'n. But those manly shirt front of his air now a bloody one, and his nose is swollen to such an extent that to fall on his breast would be an utter impossibility.
Yesterday, he brought back all our things and promised us that he intended hereafter to lead a virtuous life. This was in the forenoon; in the afternoon he commenced the career of virtue he had marked out for himself and took a first lesson in boxing. Once he had the big gloves on, he imagined that he weighed a ton and could whip his weight in Greek-fire. He waded into a professor of the "manly art" like one of Howlan's rotary batteries, and the professor, in a playful way he has, when he wants to take the conceit out of forward pupils, let one fly straight out from the shoulder and "busted" Mr. Twain in the "snoot," sending him reeling -- not exactly to grass, but across a bench -- with two bountiful streams of "claret" spouting from his nostrils. At first his nose was smashed out till it covered nearly the whole of his face and then looked like a large piece of tripe, but it was finally scraped into some resemblance of a nose, when he rushed away for surgical advice. Pools of gore covered the floor of the Club Room where he fought, and he left a bloody trail for half a mile through the city. It is estimated that he lost several hogsheads of blood in all. He procured a lot of sugar of lead and other cooling lotions and spent the balance of the day in applying them with towels and sponges.
After dark, he ventured forth with his nose swollen to the size of several junk bottles -- a vast, inflammed and pulpy old snoot -- to get advice about having it amputated. None of his friends recognize him now, and he spends his time in solitude, contemplating his ponderous vermillion smeller in a two-bit mirror, which he bought for that purpose. We cannot comfort him, for we know his nose will never be a nose again. It always was somewhat lopsided; now it is a perfect lump of blubber. Since the above was in type, the doctors have decided to amputate poor Mark Twain's smeller. A new one is to be made for him of a quarter of veal.
[reprinted in The Washoe Giant in San Francisco, (George Fields, 1938), pp. 52-53.]
Background info on this story by Dan DeQuille:
One day some imp induced Mark Twain to put on a pair of boxing gloves, and with them all the airs of a knight of the prize ring. He had no thought of boxing with any one. Having seen more or less sparring on the stage, a good deal of amateur boxing, and probably one or two prize fights, Mark had got some of the motions. No sooner had he the gloves on than he began capering about the hall. [George F.] Dawson observed his antics with astonishment not unmixed with awe. He evidently considered that they were made for his special benefit and intimidation. Perhaps he may have thought that he detected Mark regarding him interrogatively from beneath his bushy brows at the end of each series of cabezal rotations. At all events, in view of Marks movements of a supposed warlike import, Dawson kept a wary eye on him; never once suspecting that the ex-Mississippi pilot was merely making a bid for his admiration.
Presently Mark squared off directly in front of Dawson and began working his right like the piston of a steam engine, at the same time stretching out his neck and gyrating his curly pate in a very astonishing manner.
Dawson took this to be a direct act of defiance -- a challenge to a trial of skill that could not be ignored. Desperately, therefore -- and probably not without a secret chill of fear at his heart -- Dawson drew off and with full force planted a heavy blow squarely upon Marks offered nose, the latter not making the least movement toward a guard.
The result was a plentiful flow of claret and a nose like an egg-plant, which supposedly so embarrassed Clemens that he accepted a reportorial assignment outside Virginia City just to get his nose out of town (William Wright, "Salad Days of Mark Twain," San Francisco Examiner, 19 March 1893, pp.1314. Reprinted in Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 1: 1853 - 1866. Online version available.
Also see related quotes on Boxing.
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