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The arrival of Mark Twain, the genial American humourist, who has for so many years delighted millions of readers of all nationalities with his inimitable drollery, is an event in the history of the Rand which, in after years, it will be pleasant to look back upon, in striking contrast to many much more sensational events which have recently brought the Rand into unenviable prominence. It is almost exactly a year since Mr. S. L. Clemens left his pleasant home in Hartford, Connecticut, for a tour round the world, and just twelve years since Archibald Forbes, the war special, suggested to him, when on a visit to Hartford, that he should take a holiday and go lecturing. Four years ago an Australian syndicate, knowing Mark Twain's value as a platform attraction, sent a man across to try and persuade him to leave his literary labours for a while, but it was all in vain. It is due to Mr. H. M. Stanley (says Mr. Carlyle Smythe, Mr. Clemens' manager) that the round-the-world tour was a last undertaken. The old war correspondent and explorer insisted that there was nothing like a lecturing tour, which combines business with pleasure, for bracing up the nerves and recuperating the system after it had been run down through over work. Mr. Clemens having decided at last to "go talking" wrote from Paris to Melbourne, arranging for a tour through America, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and England, which was posted within three days of a letter being despatched from Melbourne to himself, proposing that a similar route should be followed and offering identical terms as were suggested in Mr. Clemens' own letter from Paris, a most remarkable instance of mental telepathy, Mr. Clemens states.
After leaving Hartford on the 7th of June, 1895, Mark Twain travelled along the Canadian Pacific to Vancouver, thence to Sydney. Owing to cholera being prevalent at Honolulu, no lecture took place there, although 600 seats were booked. After 3 1/2 months pleasantly spend in Australia, India was toured from Peshawur, near the Kyber Pass, in the North, to Colombo in the South; from Bombay, in the West, to Calcutta, and Darjeeling, under the shadow of Mount Everest, in the East. Thence to Mauritius, where 10 days were spent, and then on to Natal, in the Arundel Castle.
Last night the Natal train, by which Mark Twain was expected, arrived in fairly good time, and although the night was chilly and cheerless a fairly large number of admirers and curious spectators had assembled to catch a glimpse of the famous American, who was easily recognised on alighting, as his features and general appearance are well known to most of his readers. As Mark Twain and his manager, Mr. Carlyle Smythe, with Mr. Bonamici, and the Times man got into the carriage to drive to the Grand National Hotel, the crowd pressed round, and it was easy to see that the author of "The Innocents Abroad" and the creator of Huck Finn has many friends on the Rand.
In the course of the conversation with the Times representative Mark Twain showed that he took a very keen interest in the local political situation. "Years ago," he said, "I was going from Southampton to New York, when I met Mrs. John Hays Hammond, whose husband was on the Reform Committee, I found she and I had much in common. She was born in Missouri, so was I; she had lived a long time in California, so had I, and we were therefore fellow-Americans. When I at last decided to come to Africa, I tried to recall the name of the pleasant lady I had met on board the ocean-steamer, but I could not succeed. You know," explained the speaker, "I am such a wretched hand at remembering people's names. I even forget my own at times, and I often have to give a fictitious name to the police. I was terribly aggravated at this unfortunate lapse of memory, and it was only when stopping at Durban three days ago, when I say a telegraphic message stating that Mr. John Hays Hammond was a political prisoner in the gaol at Pretoria, that the name came back to me. I understand that Mrs. Hammond is not here, but I will certainly make a point of going and renewing the acquaintance."
"How did you like the journey up form Natal?" put in the Pressman.
"The carriages on the Natal line are all right. I like them. But I seldom can sleep in a train anywhere, and when I do sleep it does me little good, as it is not at all refreshing. I see in the papers that one of the Reform prisoners has committed suicide. It is a most terrible case, and is really infinitely pitiful," said Mark Twain pathetically. "You know I take a great interest in the political situation, but at the same time I consider politics here are in an inextricable tangle."
"Good expression," put in the Pressman.
"The first I heard of the Jameson raid was when in Albany, Western Australia; it was just the bare fact of the incursion having taken place. At Colombo we got nothing further that was definite beyond the fact of the defeat, and we were without any more news till we got to Bombay, although it was aggravating to reflect that particulars were passing under the sea along the wires we were passing over. From that day to this I have been getting more and more bewildered through missing weeks of news at a time. From Calcutta to Mauritus I was in a state of handsome suspense, until at last I heard that the leaders were all in gaol, and I could not for the life of me make out what it was for."
"You will hear enough about it in Johannesburg," put in the Times man.
"I believe you have no municipality here. Isn't that curious?" said the man from America.
"It is one of the many peculiar customs of the country," put in the Pressman diplomatically. "What do you think of Cecil Rhodes of Africa?"
"Well," said the interviewed one, "if you take the newspaper accounts of him you get two sides only, a good side and a bad one. Never what one might call a rotund picture of the man--only that which is worst and best. There is one main point, however, on which everyone seems unanimous, namely, that he is a most extraordinary man. I did wish to see Cecil Rhodes before I left, but am afraid he is too far away to be got at. In my opinion to have seen South Africa, without having met Cecil Rhodes, is to have seen only a part of the country, but by no means all," said Mark Twain emphatically.
"Mr. Stead says that Rhodes and Olive Schreiner are far and away the two greatest figures in South Africa. What is your opinion of the latter?"
"I read the 'Story of an African Farm' when it first came out, in a casual sort of way, yet it left a definite impression upon me, which was chiefly derived from the first chapter. The book is good literary art, and gives a clear, definite picture, I believe, of the country where the scene is laid. It is full of the sentiment and atmosphere of the region described, and I had then a great opinion of the young girl's gifts. I read the book again on the ocean, this time as the literary critic examining the workmanship, and found the greater part to be written crudely, and to be formless and without any distinct aim. It was a plenty good-enough book for a girl her age," said the American,"and anybody could see there was a gift there beyond the ordinary that gave large promise of great things in the future, which were not fulfilled in her first effort. I have a great belief in W. T. Stead's opinion, and although he is not always right, if he says a thing is good he is certain not to be very far wrong."
Mr. Clemens, although just off a long sleepless journey, was brilliantly conversational, and, did space permit, much that is interesting could be written of the racy stories he related last evening of his adventures in South Africa and elsewhere. He is eloquent in praise of the hospitality he received at Durban and Maritzburg, at both of which places he was entertained by the Savage Clubs. If arrangements permit he will stay some time in Johannesburg. As an old gold pioneer himself, he takes a keen interest in the cyanide process, and is very anxious to study it. The only thing which he seems to regard as perfectly inexplicable is the present political situation, although he takes a positive delight in unravelling anything that is puzzling. He hopes, however, to get a grasp even of the situation, a description of which he hopes to take away in narrative form. Mr. Carlyle Smythe, who is piloting the ex-Mississippi steersman, is as courteous and affable as ever, and he will meet many old friends here who will be glad to renew his acquaintance.
It may confidently be anticipated that a crowded house will
welcome Mr. S. L. Clemens to-night in the Standard Theatre on the occasion
of his first lecture. Mark Twain is a household word in every civilised country
of the world; as an author and as a lecturer his success in America, Australia,
and India, while on this tour, has been remarkable. In Natal last week, his
lecturers were phenomenally successful. It is necessary to book early.