MARK TWAIN'S EXPERIENCES IN THE HANDS OF BRITISH INTERVIEWERS.
These Strive Earnestly to be Funny, but Probably Don't Realize Just How
Funny They Are
Painful Account of How Shaw and Mark Twain Met and What One Said to the Other
Once more has the Innocent Gone Abroad and been delivered into the hands of Interviewers. It was while faring to London, where he was to receive a degree which Oxford had conferred upon him, that he fell among them.
The British reporters who had met the Minneapolis, the vessel which had borne him from these shores, give widely varying accounts of what he said and how he said it. One represents him as talking in a dialect that neither Huckleberry Finn nor Tom Sawyer nor Uncle Mumford, not even the man who had corrupted Hadleyburg, could understand.
According to one chronicler he carried a plug of tobacco in his "pistol pocket," from which he bit off a "chew" from time to time and expectorated wide and large. But this interviewer was probably very young. One calls him the "playboy of the Western World," whatever that may mean, and another concedes that he is "quite amusing." Several insist that the smileless humorist "laughed long and loud" over some questions that were put to him, and while many of these were sufficiently mirth provoking, there is somehow a false ring in the description. But think of the author of "The Jumping Frog" being seriously asked by a serious Briton scribe if he was in a serious mood when he wrote it and to explain - the plot!
It will interest many to know that Mark Twain has become "big and boisterous" since leaving these shores a few weeks ago. The Express says:
"One must see this big, boisterous man, with the red-veined cheeks of health and the little gray-blue eyes sparkling with the light of laughter, half hidden under the drooping bristles of his eyebrows, to appreciate why he can afford to joke even with death. He is 72, and any insurance company, one would hazard, would take him to-day as a 'first-class life,' and be glad of the opportunity.
" 'I think the funeral is going to be a great thing. I shall be there,' he drawled. I'm stopping for the Oxford pageant, and I guess I shall pick up a few hints from it. I only wish I could make it last six days, ' he mused, ruefully.
" 'Shall I have a band? Land! I shall have fifty bands, falling over one another at every fifty yards, and each playing a different tune. It'll be a showy funeral, with plenty of liquor for the guests. I shall issue invitation cards something like this: "The late Mr. Mark Twain requests the pleasure of _______'s company. Mourning dress." I haven't decided on the route yet, but it will be somewhere in a parallel latitude. Why, there was a lady on board asked me to come to her wedding. "Yes," I replied, "I will, if you'll come to my funeral." I told her all about it, and now she's quite eager for it to happen.' "
This classic is from The Press, also of London:
"Mark Twain leant against the bulwarks [sic] of the Minneapolis and faced the reporters.
" 'Waal,' said Mark Twain, chewing his plug of tobacco, 'that reminds me * * * ' "
"Mark Twain, (Samuel Clemens,) the bright young humorist, who arrived yesterday, stated to a Press representative that the voyage had been excellent. He was hoping to make a short but pleasant stay in England. In answer to a question Mr. Twain stated that he liked England; he had views on Christian Science which he preferred to keep to himself, and on the Congo, which he hoped would go no further, * * *
"Because, he complains, the interviewer cannot really convey to the reader the little subtleties of conversation that mean so much more than words."
The little subtleties!
"Our Special Representative" of The Pall Mall Gazette was waiting at the Tilbury station when into it walked the tall picturesque figure of George Bernard Shaw.
" 'You have come," I asked, addressing Mr. Shaw,' to meet Mark Twain?'
" 'Mark Twain?' he exclaimed in surprise; 'no, I have not come to meet Mark Twain; I have come to meet Prof. Henderson.'
" 'And who is Prof. Henderson?'
" 'Prof. Archibald Henderson, Professor of Mathematics of the University of North Carolina. He is writing my biography, and has come over to find out something about me.'
"At this point Mr. Clemens was told that Mr. Shaw was on the platform meeting a friend who had come by the same boat.
" 'Yes, I know,' Mr. Clemens said. 'I want to see him.'
" 'In the meantime can you,' he was asked, 'tell us what you think of Mr. Shaw?'
" 'I never give an opinion,' was the reply, 'unless I have studied and formed an opinion from my own deduction, and not from any one else's.'
"While one of the party went in search of Mr. Shaw I asked Mr. Clemens whether he is now engaged on any new work.
" 'I don't write anything now,' he replied, 'but I dictate my autobiography for one or two hours a day, five days in the week, and that is sufficient to keep me alive and keep the blood in circulation.'
" 'When will it be finished?'
" 'Just when they send for the undertaker, and not any sooner.'
" 'We all hope that will be very, very far off," we said.
" 'Waal,' said Mr. Clemens, 'I don't know. Palmists, clairvoyants, seers, and others kinds of fortune tellers all tell me that I am going to die, and I have the utmost admiration for their prediction. Perhaps they would convince me a little more of its truth if they told me the date. But I don't care so much about that. It was enough to know, on their authority, I was gong to die. I at once went and got insured.
"By this time Mr. Shaw had been found, and the great American humorist and the distinguished English dramatist, meeting for the first time, shook hand very heartily, and showed how pleased they were to see each other.
" 'While I have been waiting,' were Mr. Shaw's first words to Mr. Clemens, 'the representatives of the press have been asking me whether you were really serious when you wrote "The Jumping Frog." '
"Mr. Clemens laughed very heartily, and Mr. Shaw said he hoped he had answered correctly in telling them that he thought it was meant to be amusing."
Here is another impressionist's view:
"We trooped to the ship's side, and as we walked the photographers darted in, presented their cameras, and fired.
" 'Why, you're even worse than the reporters,' said the genial Mark. 'My characteristic smile? Well, I usually charge extra for that. But here you are.'
"Taking off his hat Mr. Clemens posed, and the cameras fired a volley. But they only got a photograph. No camera could ever have snapped up an impression of that great old man, with his intellectual face crowned with a mass of white luxurious hair. A humorist? Say rather a prophet. Somehow or other even the large cigar that Mr. Clemens slowly extracted from his waistcoat pocket did not spoil the picture.
" 'How many cigars a day you smoke, Mr. Clemens?'
" 'As many as I can get for six dollars a barrel.'
" 'No, I'm afraid I can't say anything more abut Mrs. Eddy. I said it all five years ago. She was constituted like some people. When I say a thing I've no further use for it.'
"The conversation drifted to gramophones.
" 'I don't mind them away back two or three rooms,' remarked Mr. Clemens, 'but I don't like to be close beside them when they're talking through their teeth. They never really represent the human voice, and for that reason I've always declined to talk a record into one.'
"Next we asked him how he spent his day.
"Mr. Clemens believes in plenty of sleep. 'I get as much rest as I can. I'm doing very little writing now - nothing beyond my biography. When shall I have that written? When the undertaker calls. But most of my books is done through dictation. I give it an hour and a half each day, from 10 o'clock in the morning till 11:30. The arrangement has this advantage: One need not be out of bed to dictate. However, I'm always up for lunch, but it is not long before I am again resting.
" 'For a man of my age rest is essential. I believe in giving way to the body as soon as it feels tired, just as I always obey my eyes when they suggest sleep. For dinner in the evening I always dress, but 11 o'clock generally sees me in bed, where I read and smoke till, perhaps, 1 o'clock in the morning.
" 'And what am I reading? Just the five or six books I've been reading all my life.'
" 'Are you as fond of encyclopaedias as ever?'
" 'Just as fond.'
" 'And when are you coming to London again?'
" 'As soon as you offer me another degree.'
" 'Going to Italy any more?'
" 'No, I sha'n't go to Italy. Since my last attempt to reform the Italian language I understand there have been difficulties with the police.'
" 'Mr. Clemens,' solemnly said the youngest of the journalists, 'do you think the world's improving?'
" ' Well, now, that's difficult to answer.' Puff, puff, puff, went the cigar while Mark Twain thought about the world. Then he said slowly, 'I think I can safely say this, that my latest impressions of it are better than my first.'
To the Graphic's man Mark confessed that he would stay in England for about a fortnight. He wanted to see the processions at Oxford.
"Asked, 'What do you think of the great pageants?' Mr. Clemens answer, 'I have never seen one.'
" 'But what do you think of the idea?' 'Oh, the idea is a good one; an excellent idea.'
" 'Don't you have them in America at all?' 'Why, yes. In 1876, you know, they had a series at the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and then, just as it happened here, any town or place that had some events in its history that connected it with the American Revolution, they all followed one after the other. That was in our hundredth year; but you are in your thousands. It is good, you know, to revive history and impress the people. It does not take us long, for there is not much of it, buy you have got to concentrate in six days the history of a thousand years.' "
A writer in The Chronicle pays to Mark this appreciative tribute:
"I remember noting, a little over a year ago, in a New York club, a token of the regard in which Mark Twain is held. The club was one of authors, actors, artists, and journalists - the New York equivalent of the Garrick. One does not look for much ceremony in such a club, yet when Mark Twain came in to lunch he was escorted to the table with every circumstance of attention, and the whole company, in which there was hardly a man without distinction, rose to greet him, and remained standing till he had taken his seat. It was a little incident, but a very significant one. No man could wish for a more genuine compliment than one which violated the privileged informality of club etiquette.
"Americans feel Mark Twin to be the incarnation of their National spirit. His humor is all American; so, too, is the largeness of his charity and his indomitable common sense and the freshness of heart and feelings which lies beneath his show of cynicism. So, too, is his capacity for crusading, his spiritual hardiness, his idealizing faith in women and democracy, his touch of misanthropy, the ferocity of his sarcasm. More than any man living has Mark Twin made the world laugh. But his humor has always been on the side of the angels. He has gibed at much, but never at anything that made for goodness and nobility. And though it is as a humorist that he will be remembered, though one's thoughts go first of all a the mention of his name to the 'Jumping Frog' and his immortal tussle with the German language and the duel in the 'Tramp Abroad,' I believe an even higher claim might be made out for him as a delineator, a very Homer, of boyhood and as a weaver of historical romances of an extraordinarily high imaginative delicacy.
" 'Papa,' said his 14-year-old daughter, 'can make exceedingly bright jokes, and he enjoys funny things, and when he is with people he jokes and laughs a great deal, but still he is more interested in earnest books and earnest subjects to talk upon than in humorous ones. * * * He is as much of a philosopher as anything, I think. I think he could have done a great deal in this direction if he had studied while young, for he seems to enjoy reasoning out things, no matter what.'
"I do not know whether Mark Twain has brought his famous white suit with him. But in any case, if in the course of the next few days you see on the streets of London a man with a vast mane of gray hair, blue eyes challenging beneath heavy, puckered brows, a grizzled mustache veiling a mouth of equal strength and sensitiveness, with a fine steadfast conquering look about him, and a drawl of incomparable softness - take off your hat to him with reverence, for he is Mark Twain."
In the Tribune Douglas Story became reminiscent and recalled how it had happened "in the course of a varied journalistic life to be told off on only three occasions to interview a man. On each occasion it has been the same man. On each occasion it has been Mark Twain.
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