|The game of billiards has destroyed my
naturally sweet disposition.
- Speech, April 24, 1906
The billiard table, as a Sabbath-breaker can beat any coal-breaker in
Pennsylvania and give it 30 in the game.
I wonder why a man should prefer a good billiard-table to a poor one; and why
he should prefer straight cues to crooked ones; and why he should prefer round
balls to chipped ones; and why he should prefer a level table to one that slants;
and why he should prefer responsive cushions to the dull and unresponsive kind.
I wonder at these things, because when we examine the matter we find that the
essentials involved in billiards are as competently and exhaustively furnished
by a bad billiard outfit as they are by the best one. One of the essentials
is amusement. Very well, if there is any more amusement to be gotten out of
the one outfit than out of the other, the facts are in favor of the bad outfit.
The bad outfit will always furnish thirty per cent. more fun for the players
and for the spectators than will the good outfit. Another essential of the game
is that the outfit shall give the players full opportunity to exercise their
best skill, and display it in a way to compel the admiration of the spectators.
Very well, the bad outfit is nothing behind the good one in this regard. It
is a difficult matter to estimate correctly the eccentricities of chipped balls
and a slanting table, and make the right allowance for them and secure a count;
the finest kind of skill is required to accomplish the satisfactory result.
Another essential of the game is that it shall add to the interest of the game
by furnishing opportunities to bet. Very well, in this regard no good outfit
can claim any advantage over a bad one. I know, by experience, that a bad outfit
is as valuable as the best one; that an outfit that couldn't be sold at auction
for seven dollars is just as valuable for all the essentials of the game as
an outfit that is worth a thousand. ... Last winter, here in New York, I saw
Hoppe and Schaefer and Sutton and the three or four other billiard champions
of world-wide fame contend against each other, and certainly the art and science
displayed were a wonder to see; yet I saw nothing there in the way of science
and art that was more wonderful than shots which I had seen Texas Tom make on
the wavy surface of that poor old wreck in the perishing saloon at Jackass Gulch
forty years before.
- Mark Twain's Autobiography, Chapters from the North American Review, November 1907
Glass windows from Mark Twain's billiard room in his Hartford, CT mansion showing year 1874.
Photos from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.
(New York) Sun, Tuesday, March 6, 1883
VIGNAUX'S BALK-LINE PLAY.
About 250 gentlemen met in response to this invitation:
Among those present were Judge Brady, Judge Roosevelt, Col. Fellows, Mark Twain, Commodore Brady, C. D. Keep, Daniel Strauss, William Sexton, Joseph Dion, Maurice Daly, the Dwyer brothers, James Kelly, L. O. Appleby, Henry Stedeker, C. Davis, and a host of other sporting men.
When all were seated and Mr. Vignaux appeared ready for play Mark Twain, who had been chatting with a friend at the end of a row of seats back of the table, arose and said:
After the applause and laughter had subsided rm. Vignaux and Mr. Sexton stepped to the table to play 300 points up at what is called the balk-line game of billiards ...
(Special thanks to Leslie Myrick of the Mark Twain Papers for recovering the text of this speech.)
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