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NEW YORK, Aug 2--In a semi-jocose interview at his home near Redding, Conn. today, Mark Twain let it become known that he is combating heart disease, brought about by his many years of excessive smoking. A reporter asked the veteran humorist if he had anything to say in regard to Dr. James L. Tracy's assertion in "American Medicine," that Twain was below par morally because he smoked a cigar at Oxford, England, while waiting the conferment of a degree over there.
The white flannel clad Mark, sitting in an easy chair puffing at a pipe, said: "This is the third of the four smokers I'm allowed each 24 hours nowadays," he explained, without ever removing his pipe.
"I am obliged to sit right here for months, and perhaps forever, by the orders of my doctor. He allows me only four smokes a day, where I have been all my life in the habit of taking at least 40.
"I cannot walk 300 years or take an extra smoke or two, but I pay the penalty with a severe pain in my heart. When I consider that I lived almost 74 years in as good health as any man and smoked 40 times a day without injury, as I thought, only to be cut down now to four smokes a day, I am in no position to dispute anything which Dr. Tracy may say regarding smoking.
"Regarding the Oxford incident, the doctor seems to have a mistaken notion. I was not the chief criminal, and was not even responsible for the occurrence. While we were awaiting our turn in the ceremonies, those of us who came up for letters and a few who were there for science degrees had to wait perhaps an hour.
"I inquired if smoking was allowed. Mr. Kipling said that it was forbidden by the rules. Then some one of our group of four said that we could go down in an out-of-the-way corridor and have a smoke. I think it was Sir Edward Ramsay who said that, but I would not accuse anyone wilfully. We went down there and had our smoke, and no one said anything to us.
"No one came near us except a small army of photographers who got some pictures, so you see the crime was divided among four of us, one American and three Englishmen. If I can divide up all my crimes in the same proportion I shall be fortunate.
"So Dr. Tracy is worried about my moral character? And he thinks the excessive use of tobacco is responsible for it.
"Well, tobacco is responsible for a good deal physically, but I don't
think it can quite ruin a moral character."