MARK TWAIN IN WHITE AMUSES CONGRESSMEN
Advocates New Copyright Law and Dress Reform.
WEARS LIGHT FLANNEL SUIT
Says at 71 Dark Colors Depress Him - Talks Seriously of Author's Right to Profit
Special to The New York Times.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7. - Mark Twain spent a busy afternoon at the Capitol today, and for half an hour entertained the newspaper correspondents with a characteristic talk. Despite the blustering wind which swept down Pennsylvania Avenue, the author wore a suit of white flannels. In the members' gallery, which he first visited to watch the proceedings of the House, he attracted general attention.
Later Mr. Clemens visited the Speaker's room, and while awaiting the arrival of "Uncle Joe," entertained a dozen Congressmen, including Grosvenor, Payne, Daizell, and Foster, who hastened to pay him their respects. With the Speaker Mr. Clemens discussed briefly the pending Copyright bill. With William Dean Howells and a party of other authors and publishers, Mr. Clemens came here to be present at the hearings on this bill, which are now being conducted in the Senate reading room at the Congressional Library by the Committee on Patents of the Senate and the House.
With Mr. Howells, Edward Everett Hale, Thomas Nelson Page, and a number of other authors, he appeared before the committee this afternoon. The new Copyright bill extends the authors' copyright after the term of his life and for fifty years thereafter. It is also for the benefit of artists, musicians, and others, but the authors did most of the talking. F. D. Millet made a speech for the artists, and John Philip Sousa for the musicians.
Committee Enjoys Twain's Speech.
Mr. Clemens was the last speaker of the day, and its chief feature. He made a speech the serious parts of which created a strong impression, and the humorous parts set the Senators and Representatives in roars of laughter.
"I have read this bill," he began. "At least I have read such portions as I could understand. Nobody but a practices legislator can read the bill and thoroughly understand it, and I am not a practiced legislator.
"I am interested particularly and especially in the part of the bill which concerns my trade. I like that extension of copyright life to the author's life and fifty years afterward. I think that would satisfy any reasonable author, because it would take care of his children. Let the grandchildren take care of themselves. That would take care of my daughters, and after that I am not particular. I shall then have long been out of this struggle, independent of it, indifferent to it.
"It isn't objectionable to me that all the trades and professions in the United States are protected by the bill. I like that. They are all important and worthy, and if we can take care of them under the copyright law I should like to see it done. I should like to see oyster culture added, and anything else.
"I am aware that copyright must have a limit, because that is required by the Constitution of the United States, which sets aside the earlier Constitution, which we call the decalogue. The decalogue says you shall not take away from any man his profit. I don't like," he explained, "to use the harsh term. What the decalogue really says is, 'Thou shalt not steal,' but I am trying to use more polite language.
"The laws of England and America do take it way, do select but one class, the people who create the literature of the land. They always talk handsomely about the literature of the land, always what a fine, great, monumental thing a great literature is, and in the midst of their enthusiasm they turnaround and do what then can to discourage it.
"I know we must have a limit, but forty-two years is too much of a limit. I am quite unable to guess why there should be a limit at all to the possession of the product of a man's labor. There is no limit to real estate.
"Dr. Hale has suggested that a man might just as well, after discovering a coal mine and working it forty-two years, have the Government step in and take it away.
Says Publishers Never Die.
"What is the excuse? It is that the author who produced that book has had the profit of it long enough, and therefore the Government takes a profit which does not belong to it and generously give it to the 88,000,000 of people. But it doesn't do anything of the kind. It merely takes the author's property, takes his children's bread and gives the publisher double profit. He goes on publishing the book and as many of his confederates as choose to go into the conspiracy do so, and they rear families in affluence.
"And they continue the enjoyment of those ill-gotten gains generation after generation forever, for they never die. In a few weeks or months or years I shall be out of it, I hope under a monument. I hope I shall not be entirely forgotten, and shall subscribe to the monument myself. But I shall not be caring what happens if there if fifty years left of my copyright. My copyright produces annually a good deal more than I can use, but my children can use it. I can get along; I know a lot of trades. But that goes to my daughters, who can't get along as well as I can because I have carefully raised them as young ladies, who don't know anything and can't do anything. I hope Congress will extend to them the charity which they have failed to get from me.
No Limit on Families.
"Why, if a man who is not even mad, but only strenuous - strenuous about race suicide - should come to me and try to get me to use my large political and ecclesiastical influence to get a bill passed by this Congress limiting families to twenty-two children by one mother, I should try to calm him down. I should reason with him. I should say to him, 'Leave it alone. Leave it alone and it will take care of itself. Only one couple a year in the United States can reach that limit. If they have reached that limit let them go right on. Let them have all the liberty they want,. In restricting that family to twenty-two children you are merely conferring discomfort and unhappiness on one family per year in a nation of 88,000,000, which not worth while.'
"It is the very same with copyright. One author per year produces a book which can outlive the forty-two year limit; that's all. This Nation can't produce two authors a year that can do it; the thing is demonstrably impossible. All that the limited copyright can do is to take the bread out of the mouths of the children of that one author per year.
The Books That Live.
"I made an estimate some years ago, when I appeared before a committee for the House of Lords, that we had published in this country since the Declaration of Independence 220,00 [sic] books. they have all gone. They had all perished before they were ten years old. It is only one book in 1,000 that can outlive the forty-two year limit. Therefore why put a limit at all? You might as well limit the family to twenty-two children.
"If you recall the Americans in the nineteenth century who wrote books that lived forty-two years you will have to begin with Cooper; you can follow with Washington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allan Poe, and there you have to wait a long time. You come to Emerson, and you have to stand still and look further. you find Howells and T. B. Aldrich, and then your numbers begin to run pretty thin, and you question if you can name twenty persons in the United States who in a whole century have written books that would live forty-two years. Why, you could take them all and put them on one bench there, [pointing.] Add the wives and children and you could put the result in two or three more benches.
"One hundred persons - that is the little insignificant crowd whose bread and butter is to be taken away for what purpose, for what profit to anybody? You turn these few books into the hands of the pirate and of the legitimate publisher, too, and they get the profit that should have gone to the wife and children.
Property In Ideas.
"When I appeared before that committee of the House of Lords the Chairman asked me what limit I would propose. I said 'Perpetuity." I could see some resentment in his manner, and he said the idea was illogical, for the reason that it has long ago been decided that there can be no such thing as property in ideas. I said there was property in ideas before Queen Anne's time; they had perpetual copyright. He said, 'What is a book? A book is just built from base to roof on ideas, and there can be no property in it.'
"I said I wished he could mention any kind of property on this planet that had a pecuniary value which was not derived from an idea or ideas. he said real estate. I put a suppositious case, a dozen Englishmen who travel through South African and camp out, and eleven of them see nothing at all; they are mentally blind. But there is one in the party who knows what this harbor means and what the lay of the land means. To him is means that some day a railway will go through here, and there on that harbor a great city will spring up. That is his idea. And he has another, which to go and trade his last bottle of Scotch whisky and his last horse blanket to the principal chief of that region and buy apiece of land the size of Pennsylvania. [Laughter.] That was the value of an idea that the day would come when the Cape to Cairo Railway would be built.
"Every improvement that is put upon the real estate is the result of an idea in somebody's head. The skyscraper is another idea; the railroad is another; the telephone and all those things are merely symbols which represent ideas. An andiron, a washtub, is the result of an idea that did not exist before.
"So if, as that gentleman said, a book does consist solely of ideas, that is the best argument in the world that it is property, and should not be under any limitation at all. We don't ask for that. Fifty years from now we shall ask for it.
And Then He Tells a Story.
"I hope the bill will pass without any deleterious amendments. I do seem to be extraordinarily interested n a whole lot of arts and things that I have got nothing to do with. It is a part of my generous, liberal nature; I can't help it. I feel the same sort of charity to everybody that was manifested by a gentleman who arrived at home at 2 o'clock in the morning from the club and was feeling so perfectly satisfied with life, so happy, and so comfortable, and there was his house weaving, weaving, weaving around. He watched his chance, and by and by when the steps got in his neighborhood he made a jump an climbed up and got on the portico.
"And the house went on weaving and weaving, but he watched the door, and when it came around his way he plunged through it. He got to the stairs, and when he went up on all fours the house was so unsteady that he could hardly make his way, but a last he got to the top and raised his foot and put it on the top step. But only the toe hitched on the step, and he rolled down and fetched up on the bottom step, with his arm around the newel post, and he said: 'God pity the poor sailors out at sea on a night like this.' "
An Advocate of Dress Reform.
While waiting to appear before the committee Mr. Clemens talked to the reporters.
"Why don't you ask why I am wearing such apparently unseasonable clothes? I'll tell you. I have found that when a man reaches the advanced age of 71 years as I have, the continual sight of dark clothing is likely to have a depressing effect upon him. Light-colored clothing is more pleasing to the eye and enlivens the spirit. Now, of course, I cannot compel every one to wear such clothing just for my especial benefit, so I do the next best thing and wear it myself.
"Of course, before a man reaches my years, the fear of criticism might prevent him from indulging his fancy. I am not afraid of that. I am decidedly for pleasing color combinations in dress. I like to see the women's clothes, say, at the opera. What can be more depressing than the sombre black which custom requires men to wear upon state occasions. A group of men in evening clothes looks like a flock of crows, and is just about as inspiring.
"After all, what is the purpose of clothing? Are not clothes intended primarily to preserve dignity and also to afford comfort to the wearer? Now I know of nothing more uncomfortable than the present day clothes of men,. The finest clothing made is a person's own skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.
"The best-dressed man I have ever seen, however, was a native of the Sandwich Islands, who attracted my attention thirty years ago. Now, when that man wanted to don especial dress to honor a public occasion or a holiday, why he occasionally put on a pair of spectacles. Otherwise the clothing with which God had provided him sufficed.
"Of course, I have ideas of dress reform. For one thing, why not adopt some of the women's styles? Goodness knows, they adopt enough of ours. Take the peek-a-boo waist, for instance. It has the obvious advantages of being cool and comfortable, and in addition it is almost always made up in pleasing colors, which cheer and do not depress.
It is true that I dressed the Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court in a plug hat, but let's see, that was twenty-five years ago. Then no man was considered fully dressed until he donned a plug hat. Nowadays I think that no man is dressed until he leaves it home. Why, when I left home yesterday they trotted out a plug hat for me to wear.
" 'You must wear it,' they told me; 'why, just think of going to Washington without a plug hat!' But I said no; I would wear a derby or nothing. Why, I believe I could walk along the streets of New York - I never do - but still I think I could - and I should never see a well dressed man wearing a plug hat. If I did I should suspect him of something. I don't know just what, but I would suspect him.
"Why, when I got up on the second story of the Pennsylvania ferryboat coming down here yesterday, I saw Howells coming along. He was the only man on the boat with a plug hat, and I tell you he felt ashamed of himself. he said he had been persuaded to wear it against his better sense, but just think of a man nearly 70 years old who has not a mind of his own on such matters!"
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