TRIBUTES TO POET BY MEN OF LETTERS
Mark Twain Tells of His Visits--W. D. Howells, Dr. H. C. van Dyke, Col. Higginson, and John Bigelow Add Interesting Opinions.
It was about the time of the publication of "The Innocents Abroad" that Mark Twain came East to lecture. His lecture tours took him to New England,where he soon came in contact with the poet Longfellow. To a TIME reporter he relates as follows his recollections of the latter:
"I first lectured in New York in '67. The next year I lectured in Boston--I was always lecturing in those days. But on that first Boston occasion there was no Longfellow present, so far as I can remember. On that visit I called on Holmes. Again, another time, soon after that, my wife and I called on Emerson. Nothing happened. But--yes, yes, we went once, Mrs. Clemens and I, just about that time, and took luncheon with Longfellow at Craigie House. And then there was another time, during the same visit, when I was present at a little dinner given in Boston to Wilkie Collins. Longfellow was there, and Emerson, Whittier, Holmes, Whipple. J. T. Field, and J. T. Trowbridge. Trowbridge survives. I also survive--ostensibly. The others are dead. I used to meet all those men with some little frequency--before they had passed away, of course--in those early days at Fields's house, both before and after Fields's death. Unhappily for the purposes of this Longfellow reminiscence, there was no striking incident, so far as I can recall, connected with my contact with Mr. Longfellow; whereas, with those others it was different. In my various contacts with them things happened to happen that have left little landmarks in my memory and which might be edifying to relate if we were not on the subject of Longfellow.
"In my mind's eye, however, I only see Mr. Longfellow. I see his silky white hair, his benignant face, as he appeared to me surrounded by his friends. But I don't hear his voice. It may be that things happened in his case, also, that left an impression in my memory. But at the present moment I can't recall them.
"I remember that there were dinners in those days, just as there are now. One dinner that I especially recall took place just thirty years ago. This dinner was given in honor of Whittier's seventieth birthday. I was invited to attend. I thought I was going to do one of the gayest things in my whole career. But things happened differently, and before I left I had turned that dinner into a funeral. What did I do? The time has not yet come for a recital of those painful events. I will publish a full account of it, however, in my 'Autobiography,' which is running along indefinitely in The North American Review. The feeling of remorse for the part I took on that festive occasion has gone away now. But I confess that for two years after that dinner I used to kick myself regularly every morning for half an hour on account of what I had done.
"Speaking of affairs of this kind, I have one most poignant recollection connected with Mr. Longfellow. This was not a dinner. It was a thing that happened not long after his death, when there was a Longfellow Memorial Authors' Reading in the Globe Theatre, in Boston. This reading was to begin at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I was number three in the list of readers. The piece I was to read would ordinarily take twelve minutes to finish; but by art and hard work I reduced its length to ten and a half minutes before I carried it to Boston. My train was to leave Boston for New York at 4 o'clock. I vacated the stage of that theatre the moment I had finished my brief stunt, and I had only barely time left in which to catch that train. When I left, third in the list, as I have said, that orgy had already endured two hours. Six other readers were still to be heard from, and not a man in the list experienced enough in the business to know that when a person has been reading twelve minutes the audience feel that he ought to be gagged, and that when he has been reading fifteen minutes they know that he ought to be shot. I learned afterward--at least I was told by a person with an average reputation for trustworthiness, that at 6 o'clock half the audience had been carried out on stretchers, and that the rest were dead--with a lot of readers still to hear from."
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