TWAIN AT THE WHITTIER DINNER.
HIS FIRST AND ONLY ATTEMPT TO TRAVEL ON HIS NOM DE PLUME - THE EXTRAORDINARY GUESTS AN OLD MINER HAD.
The Boston Advertiser gives the following report of the remarks of Mr. Samuel L. Clemens at the banquet given in honor of Mr. John G. Whittier in that city on Monday evening:
Mr. CHAIRMAN: This is an occasion peculiarly meet for the digging up of pleasant reminiscences concerning literary folk; therefore, I will drop lightly into history myself. Standing here on the shore of the Atlantic and contemplating certain of its biggest literary billows, I am reminded of a thing which happened to me 15 years ago, when I had just succeeded in stirring up a little Nevadian literary ocean-puddle, whose spume-flakes were beginning to blow thinly Californiaward. I started an inspection tramp through the southern mines of California. I was callow and conceited, and I resolved to try the virtue of my nom de plume. I very soon had an opportunity. I knocked at a miner's lonely log-cabin in the foot-hills of the Sierras just at nightfall. It was snowing at the time. A jaded, melancholy man of 50, bare-footed, opened to me. When he heard my nom de plume, he looked more dejected than before. He let me in - pretty reluctantly, I thought - and after the customary bacon and beans, black coffee and a hot whisky, I took a pipe. This sorrowful man had not said three words up to this time. Now he spoke up and said in the voice of one who is secretly suffering: "You're the fourth - I'm a going to move. "The fourth what?" said I. "The fourth literary man that's been here in 24 hours - I'm a going to move." "You don't tell me!" said I; "Who were the others?" "Mr. Longfellow, Mr. Emerson and Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes - dad fetch the lot!"
You can easily believe I was interested. I supplicated - three hot whiskys did the rest - and finally the melancholy miner began. Said he:
"They came here just at dark yesterday evening, and I let them in, of course. Said they were going to Yo Semite. They were a rough lot - but that's nothing - everybody looks rough that travels afoot. Mr. Emerson was a seedy little bit of a chap - red-headed. Mr. Holmes was as fat as a balloon - he weighed as much as 300, and had double chins all the way down to his stomach. Mr. Longfellow was built like a prize-fighter. His head was cropped and bristly - like as if he had a wig made of hair-brushes. His nose lay straight down his face, like a finger with the end joint tilted up. They had been drinking - I could see that. And what queer talk they used! Mr. Holmes inspected this cabin, then he took me by the button-hole, and says he -
" 'Through the deep caves of thought
I hear a voice that sings;
Build thee more stately mansions,
O my soul! '
"Says I, 'I can't afford it, Mr. Holmes, and, moreover, I don't want to.' Blamed if I liked it pretty well, either, coming from a stranger, that way. However, I started to get out my bacon and beans, when Mr. Emerson came and looked on a while, and then he takes me aside by the button-hole and says:
" 'Give me agates for my meat;
Give me cantharides to eat;
From air and ocean bring me foods,
From all zones and altitudes.'
"Says I, 'Mr. Emerson, if you'll excuse me, this ain't no hotel.' You see it sort of riled me; I wasn't used to the ways of littery swells. But I went on a-sweating over my work, and next comes Mr. Longfellow and button-holes me and interrupts me. Says he:
" 'Honor be to Mudjikeewis!
You shall hear how Pau-Puk-Keewis -'
"But I broke in, and says I, 'Begging your pardon, Mr. Longfellow, if you'll be so kind as to hold your yawp for about five minutes and let me get this grub ready, you'll do me proud.' Well, Sir, after they'd filled up I set out the jug. Mr. Holmes looks at it, and then fires up all of a sudden and yells,
" 'Flash out a stream of blood-red wine!
For I would drink to other days.'
"By George, I was getting kind of worked up. I don't deny it, I was getting kind of worked up. I turns to Mr. Holmes, and says I, 'Looky here, my fat friend, I'm a-running this shanty, and if the court knows herself, you'll take whisky straight, or you'll go dry. Them's the very words I said to him. Now I didn't want to sass such famous littery people, but you see they kind of forced me. There ain't nothing onreasonable 'bout me; I don't mind a passel of guests a-treading on my tail three or four times, but when it comes to standing on it, it's different, and if the court knows herself, you'll take whisky straight, or you'll go dry. Well, between drinks, they'd swell around the cabin and strike attitudes and spout. Says Mr. Longfellow,
" 'This is the forest primeval.
"Says Mr. Emerson:
" 'Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.'
"Says I: 'O, blackguard the premises as much as you want to - it don't cost you a cent.' Well, they went on drinking, and pretty soon they got out a greasy old deck and went to playing cut-throat euchre at 10 cents a corner - on trust. I began to notice some pretty suspicious things. Mr. Emerson dealt, looked at his hand, shook his head, says:
" 'I am the doubter and the doubt -'
and calmly bunched the hands, and went to shuffling for a new lay-out. Says he,
" 'They reckon ill who leave me out;
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep. I pass and deal again!'
"Hang'd if he didn't go ahead and do it, too! Oh, he was a cool one. Well, in about a minute, things were running pretty tight, but of a sudden I see by Mr. Emerson's eye that he judged he had 'em. He had already corralled two tricks, and each of the others one. So now he kind of lifts a little in his chair, and says:
" 'I tire of globes and aces! -
Too long the game is played!'
- and down he fetched a right bower. Mr. Longfellow smiles as sweet as pie, and says:
" 'Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!'
- and dog my cats, if he didn't down with another right bower! Well, Sir, up jumps Holmes, a war-whooping, as usual, and says:
" 'God help them if the tempest swings
The pine against the palm!'
- and I wish I may go to grass if he didn't swoop down with another right bower. Emerson claps his hand on his bowie, Longfellow clasps his on his revolver, and I went under a bunk. There was gong to be trouble; but that monstrous Holmes rose up, wobbling his double chins, and says he: 'Order, gentlemen; the first man that draws, I'll lay down on him an smother him!' All quiet on the Potomac, you bet you!
"They were pretty how-come-you-so, now, and they began to blow. Emerson says: 'The bulliest thing I ever wrote was "Barbara Frietchie." ' Says Longfellow, 'It don't begin with my "Biglow Papers." ' Says Holmes, 'My "Thanatopsis" lays over 'em both.' They might near ended in a fight. Then they wished they had some more company, and Mr. Emerson pointed at me and says:
" 'Is yonder squalid peasant all
That this proud nursery could breed?'
"He was a-whetting his bowie on his boot - so I let it pass. Well, Sir, next they took it into their heads that they would like some music; so they made me stand up and sing 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' till I dropped - at thirteen minutes past four this morning. That's what I've been through, my friend. When I woke at 7, they were leaving, thank goodness, and Mr. Longfellow had my only boots on, and his own under his arm. Says I, 'Hold on there, Evangeline, what you going o do with them?' He says: 'Going to make tracks with 'em, because -
" 'Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime;
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of Time.'
"As I said, Mr. Twain, you are the fourth in 24 hours - and I'm agoing to move - I ain't suited to a literary atmosphere."
I said to the miner, "Why, my dear Sir, these were not the gracious singers to whom we and the world pay homage; these were imposters."
The miner investigated me with a calm eye for a while, then said he, "Ah! Imposters, where they! - are you?" I did not pursue the subject, and since then I haven't traveled on my nom de plume enough to hurt. Such was the reminiscence I was moved to contribute, Mr. Chairman. In my enthusiasm I may have exaggerated the details a little, but you will easily forgive me that fault, since I believe it is the first time I have ever deflected from the perpendicular fact on an occasion like this.
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