WHEN TWAIN GOT HIS SAY
Paid His Respects to Fellow-Guests at Col. Harvey's Dinner.
Describes Thomas B. Reed's Goings On During a Yachting Trip; Also a Dream of Another World.
Humorous oratory flowed freely at the Metropolitan Club Friday night after the banquet given to Mark Twain, in honor of the humorist's sixty-seventh birthday, by Col. George Harvey. Mr. Twain himself was the target, and had difficulty in getting a hearing. Thomas B. Reed was there, and he took occasion, as he always does when he encounters the author of "Huckleberry Finn," to say a multitude of things more or less true but always funny things about him. Chauncey M. Depew, Wayne MacVeagh, Dr. Van Dyke, W. D. Howells, Hamilton W. Mabie, St. Clair McKelway, and John Kendrick Bangs had their say before Mr. Twain got the floor.
W. D. Howells read what he called a double-barreled sonnet, prefacing it with the apology that Mark Twain did not lend himself well to the sonnet, as verse must be smooth, while his method was the inspired higglety-pigglety.
After Col. Harvey had restrained Mark Twain's attempt to reply and had told of various experiences on board Mr. Rogers's yacht, where Mr. Clemens had a hard time of it, Mr. Thomas B. Reed took the humorist in hand, saying, in part:
"One of Mark Twain's defects and shortcomings arises from inaccuracy - inaccuracy of statement. For instance, in this trip to which Mr. Harvey has alluded, there was a storm, and MR. Rogers heard a noise in the next stateroom, and he stepped in, and there he found Mr. Twain, clothed in his favorite raiment - a nightshirt and an overcoat - vibrating backward and forward in the somewhat circumscribed limits of the stateroom, and upon being asked what he was doing he said he was hunting for a match. Asked what he intended to do with it when he did find it, he said he intended to sit on it.
"Now, in my judgment, history will reason with Mr. Twain on that subject. It will not accept his statement without further proof in the nature of affidavits, because you see at once, if he had found that match and laid it down lengthwise, and if he had sat upon it, it would not have given him either fixidity of purpose or of body, nor would it have elevated him in the world in the slightest degree. If the match had been put upon end, it was certainly a very improper thing to suppose that he could balance himself against the laws of gravity in that way, and if the match was aflame, sitting upon it, especially in that costume, would not have been a safe or wise or sensible expedient."
Mr. Depew told about a time at Hamburg when he and Mark Twain met the present King of England.
"Mark was walking with me," he said, and his trousers were too short, because they had been worn too long; the sleeves of his coat had the same general expression; his linen was clean, but his hat had lost the nap. The Prince of Wales came along about that time and wanted to know who this apparition was, and when I told him it was Mark Twain he wanted an introduction. Well, I lost Twain shortly after, because at that time royalty had a charm for him which the ordinary American citizen did not possess, and he stuck to the Prince, much the same as the waiter once said to me when I had given him a dollar and nobody else had given him much of anything: 'I will stick to you like a duck to water.' Well, the Prince gave a dinner to which I was invited, and at that dinner the Prince said to me: 'I would have invited Mark Twain if I thought he had any clothes.' I said: 'Mark has clothes,' and he said: 'Then bring him down immediately and we will have a night of it.' So Mark came down and we had a famous dinner, and he told the same story I had told the night before!"
Mr. Mabie told of the time when a certain religious newspaper in Boston was called The Fireside Companion, and then, with the change of modern habits and modern methods of heating it was called The Christian Register. It was this sort of modern progress Mark Twain represented.
Dr. Henry Van Dyke read a poem. John Kendrick Bangs also read a poem in which he proved that Twain was really Adam.
When at last Mr. Clemens himself got a chance he said in part:
"Tom Reed has got a good heart and he has got a good intellect, but he hasn't got any judgment. He has had a good deal to say about that yachting cruise last Spring down in the West Indies in Mr. H. H. Rogers's yacht. We went down there to hunt up Martinique and start up that volcano, and that was a remarkable voyage in various ways.
"We had a storm, so I got out of my berth at 2 o'clock in the morning, and went up to the poker chapel to see if I could find anything to hang on to, and presently I heard Tom Reed lumbering up that companionway and grunting and blaspheming, and butting the bulkhead, carrying on - land! I thought something was the matter with his appendicitis. Then he appeared, he appeared up there in his pajamas, and he was going it. Well, he said: 'I couldn't stay in my berth at all, it's wet!' 'Why,' I said, 'you old thing, you ought to be ashamed of yourself - scared to that extent.'
"A lot of accounts have been settled here to-night for me; I have held grudges against some of these people, but they have all been wiped out by the very handsome compliments they have paid me. Even Wayne MacVeagh, I have had a grudge against him many years. The first time I saw Wayne MacVeagh was at a private dinner party at Charles A. Dana's, and when I got there he was going on, and I tried to get a word in here and there - but you know what Wayne MacVeagh is when he is started, and I could not get in five words to his one, or one word to his five. I struggled along, and - well, I wanted to tell, and I was trying to tell a dream I had had the night before.
"It was a remarkable dream, a dream it was worth people's while to listen to, and it was a dream such as the revivalists describe, some general reception in heaven, and I got along. I was on a train, and had stopped at the Celestial Way Station - I had a through ticket - and I noticed a man sitting alongside of me that was asleep and he had his ticket in his hat; that was the remains of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I recognized him by his photograph. I had nothing against him, he didn't object, he wasn't in a condition to object, and presently when the train stopped at the heavenly station - well, I got off and he went on my request.
"There they all were, the angels, you know, millions of them, every one with a torch. They had a torchlight procession, they were expecting the Archbishop, and when I got off they started to raise a shout, but it didn't materialize. I don't know whether they were disappointed; I suppose they had a lot of superstitious ideas about the Archbishop and what he looked like, and I didn't fill the bill, and I was trying to explain to St. Peter, and I was doing it in the German tongue because I didn't want to be too explicit.
"Well, I found it was no use, I couldn't get along, for Wayne MacVeagh was occupying the whole place, and I said to Mr. Dana, 'What is the matter with that man? Who is that man with the long tongue? What's the trouble with him, getting up a conflagration like this, without giving a man a chance; another incendiary, that long, lank, cadaver, old oil derrick out of a job, who is that?' 'Well, now,' Mr. Dana says, 'you don't want to meddle with him, you had better keep quiet; just keep quiet, because that's a bad man. Talk! He was born to talk. Don't let him get out with you; he'll skin you.' I said: 'I have been skinned, skinned, and skinned right along: there is nothing left.' He says: 'Oh, yes; that man is the very man, he is the very seed and inspiration of that proverb which says, "It's no sue how close you skin an onion, a clever man can always peel it again." ' Well, I reflected, and I quieted down. That would never occur to Tom Reed. He's got not discretion.
"When I was living in that village in Hannibal, Mo., on the banks of the Mississippi, and John Hay up in the town of Warsaw, also on the banks of the Mississippi River - it was a simple, simple life, cheap but comfortable, and we were good boys and we did not break the Sabbath often - not more than once a week. So we grew, John Hay and I, and now John Hay is Secretary of State and I am a gentleman.
"Another of my oldest friends is here - the Rev. Joe Twichell - and whenever Twichell goes to start a church I see them flocking, rushing to buy the land all around there. Many and many a time I have attended the annual sale in his church, and bought up all the pews on a margin and it would have been better for me spiritually and financially if I had staid under his wing. I try to serve him, I have tried to do good in this world, and it is marvelous in how many ways I have done good.
"Well, I like the poetry, I like all the speeches and the poetry, too, I liked Dr. Van Dyke's poem. I wish I could return those in proper measure to you, gentlemen, who have spoken and violated your feelings to pay me compliments. There is your double guest, my wife and me, and we together out of our single heart return you our deepest and most grateful thanks - and - yesterday was her birthday."