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The New York Times, November 24, 1900

Public Education Association Complimented by the Humorist.
Russia Disappoints Him - Wherein He Agrees with the Boxer - An Idle Man's Apology.

The annual meeting of the Public Education Association, held yesterday in the Berkeley Lyceum, on West Forty-fourth Street, brought out the largest attendance that has been present at these meetings in several years. Every seat in the hall was taken by women interested in auxiliary educational work in the city, while the standing room in the aisles was largely taken up.

There were probably a half dozen men scattered around in the wilderness of millinery while two lone specimens of the male sex were led out on the speaker's platform. These were Dr. James H. Canfield of Columbia University and Mark Twain. Both were greeted with an enthusiastic round of gloved applause as they took their seats meekly behind a big bunch of roses that stood on a table beside the President's chair. This seemed to cheer them considerably.

This was the second occasion since his return from foreign shores that Mr. Clemens has faced an audience composed chiefly of women, and it was the universal verdict that he bore himself with wonderful composure. Nevertheless, he earnestly requested that an opportunity be granted to him to make his address as soon as possible, giving the excuse that he had another engagement. Accordingly, he was introduced immediately after the President's opening address.

Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer, the President of the association, reviewed the work accomplished by the organization during the past year, calling attention to the fact that very gratifying results had been attained. Reference was made to the fact that the association had been appealed to by the Charter Revision Commission for details regarding the special lines of instruction of the association.

In outlining the plans of the association for the coming season Mrs. Van Rensselaer said that it was intended to hold a series of public meetings in Cooper Union, at which instructive lectures would be given free. She said it was hoped to have for exhibition the public school which had been shown during the past Summer at the Paris Exposition, but that the pictures had attracted so much attention abroad that several foreign Governments had asked for the loan of them, and that they were at present in the hands of the Russian Government.

The President then introduced Mark Twain, who was honored with more applause. The humorist affected great embarrassment in beginning his address.

"I was not invited to speak here as an expert on education, he said; "or, at least, I should hope not, and when I thank the President and members of the society for asking me here at all, I do so with the distinct understanding that I am not expected to furnish information.

"I can conceive of two reasons why I am invited to be present. The first is that I may gather an idea of the worthy objects of an education society of this order and some notion of the good work which it accomplishes. The second reason is that I am asked here to operate as a contrast - the contrast of an idle and lazy man in the company of 600 or 700 earnest, energetic women, and, further, to show by this contrast, the possibilities of education. Go on with your good work and you will receive the applause of the idle and lazy as well as the others.

"I have a wild and vague and nebulous idea of the aims and objects of the society, and already I applaud. If I understood fully the grand scope of your organization I might raise my applause to a still higher key.

"The president has just mentioned the fact that the society has won the great credit mark in the fact that it has been called upon for instruction by the Charter Revision Commission. The commission would not have made this request unless it had felt sure of being able to learn something from its counsels.

"Reference has been made to the fact that the pictures of the New York schools have gone here and there throughout Europe for the instruction of foreign governments, and are now in the hands of Russia. Well, that was a compliment that I was not expecting for our educational system, because it has not been an hour since I was reading a cable dispatch in one of the newspapers which began, 'Russia proposes to retrench."'

"When one is not expecting a thunderbolt like that it is exciting. I thought, what a good thing for the whole world! 'Russia has 30,000 soldiers in Manchuria,' I said to myself, 'and this dispatch means that she is going to take them out of there and send them back to their farms to live in peace. If Russia retrenches this way why shouldn't Germany and France follow suit? Why shouldn't all the foreign powers withdraw from China and leave her free to attend to her own business?'

"It is the foreigners, who are making all the trouble in China, and if they would only get out, how pleasant everything would be!

"As far as America is concerned we don't allow the Chinese to come here, and we would be doing the graceful thing to allow China to decide whether she will allow us to go there. China never wanted any foreigners, and when it comes to a settlement of this immigrant question I am with the Boxer every time.

The Boxer is a patriot; he is the only patriot China has, and I wish him success. The Boxer believes in driving us out of his country. I am a Boxer, for I believe in driving the Chinaman out of this country. The Boxers on this side have won out. Why not give the Boxer on the other side a chance?

"But about that Russian dispatch regarding retrenchment. I read further and my dream vanished. The dispatch went on to say that Russia, on account of the vast expense to which she was being put in the Far East, had decided to cut down expenses, so she had withdrawn her appropriations for the public schools.

" Now, I never expected to see any humor in a cable dispatch from Russia. The worst thing about it is that the Russians themselves probably don't see any humor in it. The idea of a country concluding that the best way to save expenses is to cut off the common schools! We, who have been led to believe that out of the schools grows a nation's greatness, can hardly believe this tale.

It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself and how great minds all over the earth are sure at some time to alight on the same great idea. Now, this same Russian plan of retrenchment was brought up once in a township on the Mississippi River when I was a boy. The town was short of money and it was proposed to discontinue the common schools. At a meeting where the scheme was being discussed, an old farmer got up and said:

" 'I think it's a mistake to try to save money that way. It's not a real saving, for every time you stop a school you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It wouldn't fatten that dog.'

"This society is much wiser in its day and generation than the Emperor of Russia and all his people. That is not much of a compliment, but it's the best I've got in stock."

Dr. Canfield then read a paper on the relation of education to the State.

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