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Special Feature

originally published in Sketch (London), 45 (30 Mar 1904), page 376
Reprinted in Harper's Weekly, 48 (14 May 1904), 753.

The following text and photo is from the Harper's Weekly reprinting titled
By James MacArthur

photo of Twain
Mark Twain in the Garden of the Villa di Quarto, near Florence

Half an hour's journey from Florence in the Sesto Train, and then another twenty minutes gentle up-hill walk along a lane, will bring you to a small iron gate in a wall--the wall which encloses the grounds of the Villa di Quarto, where Mark Twain has been spending the winter. Here a special representative of the Sketch visited the great humorist recently, and obtained a new photograph and interview with him which are herewith reprinted for the benefit of Mr. Clemens's host of admirers in this country.

It was raining dismally when I arrived (writes the representative of the Sketch), as it can rain sometimes in Florence; the chrysanthemums round the villa were woefully bedraggled, and there was a general feeling of damp discomfort in the air, so that I was scarcely surprised when I was told that the famous humorist was confined to bed with a sharp attack of rheumatism. Fortunately, however, he sent word that he would receive me. The first thing that impressed me was his eyes. What wonderful eyes Mark Twain has! At times in response, seeming to set far back in his dead, dull, dead of expression, and then, keen, piercing, full of life. I recognized at once the mass of long hair inclined to curl, the heavy mustache, and the shaggy eyebrows of lighter hue, which go to make up the characteristic head so familiar in portraits. He has extraordinarily expressive hands, full of nervous force, seeming to point his meaning even more than the vigorous "By George!" with which he would introduce a more than usually interesting comment. On my entrance, I made some stumbling apology for my intrusion, and he said, rather severely, that he had made it a rule never to be interviewed between whiles, but that during the twenty-four hours preceding his departure from one country and the twenty-four hours after his arrival in another country he was open to all comers. I ventured to hope that might visit would not result in his undoing, and inquired if he knew Italy well.

"No," he replied, laboring with a recalcitrant pipe; "I should like to very much, but this is the only part of Italy that I know. A very pleasant race the Tuscans are, and I get on well with them in a deaf-and-dumb fashion; not that I did not carry on long conversations with every Italian I met when I was in Settignano eleven years ago, only I spoke English and the Italian spoke Italian, and neither of us understood what the other was saying. But we never bore malice and always parted friends." After applying a fresh match to his pipe he went on: "The world, of course, is the same all over, and I have the singular correspondents here, too. To-day I have received a letter from a Florentine gentleman in which, as far as I can make out with the aid of my daughter, he asks me to pay him twenty francs for some copies of his paper which he sent to me and as recompense for five visits which he has made to my house 'at grave risk from your dogs.' I did not ask for his papers, I did not ask him to pay me those visits, and the dogs who threatened his life belong to my neighbor!"

Speaking of the followers of Mrs. Eddy, who do not reason but blindly believe, he said: "For the matter of that, the ordinary followers of any religion may be accused of the incapacity to reason clearly about it. The opinion of 'The Man in the Street' is worthless on a subject of which he has not made a special study. Lawyers, perhaps, and college professors may be listened to with attention on their own subjects, for their training has been long and in one direction, but this is true of scarcely any other men." The pipe was going easier now. "Take, again the burning copyright question. Why, when I want some plumbing done in the house, do I go to the expense of getting the plumber out from the town, if the village carpenter who lives next door could do the work as well and cheaper? It is just because he does not understand the mysteries of pipes and soldering that I do not ask him for his opinion. And why should we expect the seven hundred or so Members of Parliament or Congress to settle satisfactorily the intricate question of copyright? Perhaps there are twenty-five out of the whole number who have written a book that has achieved success; of the twenty-five certainly not more than five have written a book that will outlast the statutory forty-two years. The remaining six hundred and seventy-five may be gifted with more than average intelligence, but that is not sufficient if they are to adjudicate on a matter outside their own special province. Now the learned Law Lord who examined me when I appeared before the House of Lords made a point that the owner of land, for instance, had a right to perpetual freehold, but not the author of a book, the value of which depended on an idea, on something evanescent. I objected at once that the value of real estate was as much dependent on an idea as any book was. Take a simple example: A shrewd traveller in the heart of Africa come upon some land, which he foresees will some day become the centre of a network of railways, and purchases it from the local chief. At that moment it is not worth a cent, but will be valuable in the future, in his children's or his grandchildren's time, years after some wretched writer, perhaps, would have ceased to have any property in a book he had written at the same time. And yet in both cases it was an idea which gave the value, and why should there be this discrimination? I cannot understand why Lord Macaulay, was qualified to judge, and whose advice was listened to, favored the forty-two rather than the sixty years' limit in copyright. But, even with forty-two years, the English are better off than we with our twenty-eight years in America. It is true that we can extend our copyright for another fourteen years, but the application has to be made, personally, within the last six months of the term, and it not always easy to remember dates."

I rose to go, and, looking out the window at the incessant rain, expressed a regret that Florence was treating him so unkindly with her weather. "Well," quoth the humorist, "it is rather an incent to imaginary rheumatism. Mother Eddy has not taught me yet to suppress my imaginings." Whereat I laughed, and so ended a long visit in which all my preconceived notions of the great writer had been upset, and a new Mark Twain showed himself to me, not solely humorous, but intensely earnest.

Since Mark Twain published a portion of Adam's Diary a few years ago in HARPER'S MAGAZINE, he has, as he puts it "deciphered some more of Adam's hieroglyphics," and they now appear in book form, with comic drawings by the humorous illustrator, Mr. F. Strothmann. Extracts from Adam's Diary, "translated from the original MS" and illustrated "with photographic reproductions of the original Diary carved on stone," is conceived in a spirit of broad fun, and yet it is not without its touches of seriousness. Adam has his doubts about Eve for a long time, but "after all these years," he concludes, "I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the garden with her than inside it without her."

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