MARK TWAIN JEERS AT SIMPLE SPELLING
Has Fun with Mr. Carnegie's System at the Dedication of the Engineers' Club.
PUTS HARD WORDS TO HIM
One of Them is Pterodactyl - The Ironmaster Elected to Honorary Place in Club for His Gift.
After three or four hundred members of the Engineers' Club had given over their voices and ears last night to sound and hear the praise of Andrew Carnegie, who gave them their million-dollar clubhouse in Fortieth Street, Mark Twain took it on himself to relieve the ironmaster of the embarrassment of a superfluity of laudation. The occasion was officially the christening of the new home of the Engineers' Club.
"I have been a guest of honor myself," said Mark Twain, "and I know what Mr. Carnegie is experiencing now. It is embarrassing to get compliments and compliments and only compliments, particularly when he knows as well as the rest of us that on the other side of him there are all sorts of damnation.
"Just look at Mr. Carnegie's face. It is fairly scintillating with fictitious innocence. You might think that he had never committed a crime in his life. But no - look at his pestiferous simplified spelling. You can't any of you imagine what a crime that has been. Torquemada was nothing to Mr. Carnegie. That old fellow shed some blood in the Inquisition, but Mr. Carnegie has brought destruction to the entire race. I know he didn't mean it to be a crime, but it was, just the same. He's got us all so we can't spell anything.
"The trouble with him is that he attacked orthography at the wrong end. He attacked the symptoms and not the cause of the disease. He ought to have gone to work on the alphabet. There's not a vowel in it with a definite value, and not a consonant that you can hitch anything to. Look at the 'h's' distributed all around. There's 'Gherkin.' What are you going to do with the 'h' in that? It's one thing I admire the English for; they just don't mind anything about them at all.
"But look at the 'pneumatics' and the 'pneumonias' and the rest of them. A real reform would settle them once and for all, and wind up by giving us an alphabet that we wouldn't have to spell with at all, instead of this present silly alphabet, which I fancy was invented by a drunken thief. Why, there isn't a man who doesn't have to throw out about fifteen hundred words a day when he writes his letters because he can't spell them! It's like trying to do a St. Vitus's dance with wooden legs.
"Now I'll bet there isn't a man here who can spell 'pterodactyl,' not even the prisoner at the bar. I'd like to hear him try once - but not in public, for it's too near Sunday when all extravagant histrionic entertainments are barred. I'd like to hear him try in private, and when he got through trying to spell 'pterodactyl' you wouldn't know whether it was a fish or a beast or a bird, and whether it flew on its legs or walked with its wings.
"Let's get Mr. Carnegie to reform the alphabet, and we'll pray for him if he'll take the risk."
Mr. Carnegie made two speeches, in which he told the engineers how much he though of them and what a fine thing it was for them to have such a club, and what a fine fellow an engineer was, anyway. This was after T. C. Martin, President of the club, made his speech presenting him to the members.
John Fritz, the 80-year-old engineer who is the Nestor of the engineering contingent in New York, presented to Mr. Carnegie a framed certificate of honorary membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Mr. Carnegie said he had received many honors in his life, but this honor was one that touched his heart.
Some of those present were the Rev. Wilton Merle Smith, John Foord, David J. Hill, Charles MacDonald, Lynde Belknap, Robert C. Clowry, James Cruickshank, H. L. Doherty, James Gayley, John Hays Hammond, Frank Hedley, Alexander C. Humphries, Frederick R. Hutton, Charles Kirchhoff, Emerson McMillin, Rear Admiral George W. Melville, John Reid, Joseph E. Schwab, Melville E. Stone, and H. H. Westinghouse.
Return to The New York Times
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search