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The New York Times, November 27, 1897

Mark Twain's Vienna Speech in German.

Mark Twain a few weeks ago was entertained in Vienna by the Concordia, a Socialistic club, when he made the following speech in the German language, a translation having been made for THE REVIEW OF BOOKS AND ART:


I am deeply touched to be received here so hospitably by colleagues of my own profession, and in a land so far from my own home. My heart is full of gratitude, but my lack of German words forces me to great economy of expression. I do not speak the German language well, but several experts have assured me that I write it like an angel. Maybe - I don't know - I have, so far, had no acquaintance with angles. That will come later - if it so please the dear Lord; there is no hurry.

For quite some time, gentlemen, I have nursed the passionate longing to make a speech in German, but I was never allowed to do that. People who had no feeling for art constantly laid obstacles in my way, and brought to naught my desire at times by means of excuses, and frequently by main force. These people always said to be, "Keep still, your Worship! Silence, for God's sake. Seek some other way to make yourself tiresome!"

In the present instance as usual, it was quite difficult to obtain the permission. The committee regretted it very much, but it could not grant me the permission on account of a law which demands of the Concordia that she protect the German language. Good gracious! How could, might, dared, should this be said to me? I am surely the truest friend of the German language, and not only since recently, but for a long time past; in fact, for the past twenty years. And never have I had the desire to injure the noble language; on the contrary, have only wished to improve it. I could merely reform it. It was the dream of my life. I have visited the various German Governments, and have applied for contracts. I have come to Austria now on just this mission. I shall merely compress the method, the luxurious, extended construction, I would suppress, eliminate, destroy the eternal parenthesis, move the verb so far forward that it could be discovered without a telescope. In short, gentlemen, I would simplify your beloved language, so that when you utilize it for prayer you may be understood above.

I implore you to allow yourselves to be counseled by me; effect these mentioned reforms. Then you will possess a splendid language, and afterward, when you say anything, you will at least understand what you yourself have said.

But frequently nowadays when you have delivered yourself of a mile-long sentence, and have paused to rest somewhat, you must certainly possess a touching curiosity to find out what it was that you really did say. Several days ago a corespondent of a local newspaper evolved a sentence containing 112 words, and in it were seven parentheses, while the subject was changed seven times. Just think of it! In the course of a single sentence the poor, persecuted, worn-out subject must suffer seven transfers.

Now, if we should carry out the mentioned reforms it will not be so bad. Still one more thing. I would like to reform just a little the separable verb. I would permit no one to do what Schiller did. He has compressed the entire history of the thirty years' war between the two parts of a separable verb. That aroused even Germany itself, and permission was refused him to compile the history of the hundred years' war. Thanks be to God!

After all these reforms have been established the German language will be the noblest and nicest in the world. As at present, gentlemen, the character of my mission is unknown to you. I would request that you be kind enough to extend your valuable aid to me. Mr. Poetzl desired to make the public believe that I came to Vienna to block the bridges and hinder traffic while I made and noted my observations. Don't allow yourselves to be deceived by him. My frequent presence on the bridges has an entirely innocent cause. There I find the necessary room. There one can extend a noble long German sentence along the bridge railing and overlook its entire contents with one glance. On one end of the railing I paste the first part of a separable very and the closing part I paste on the other end. Then I spread out the body of the sentence in between. Usually the bridges of the city are long enough for my purpose, but when I wish to study the writings of Poetzl I ride out to and use the magnificent endless State bridge. But that is calumny. Poetzl writes the most beautiful German. Perhaps not so pliable as mine, but in some details a good deal better. Excuse the flatteries. They are well deserved.

Now I would execute my speech, or rather bring it to a close. I am a stranger, but here among you I have quite forgotten this, and so again and once again my heartiest thanks.

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