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This interview originally appeared in the Boston Transcript,
November 6, 1905.
The text below is a reprinting that appeared as follows:
[Boston Transcript, Nov. 6:] Sitting in the library of S. B. Pearmains' house in Beacon street last evening, with his friend Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson to put in a genial word now and then, Mark Twain, the author, talked to a party of newspaper men on some of the topics near his heart and some others. He was immaculately attired; he looked alert and keen as his monologue now and then evolved a statement that arrested his attention; and he smoked long black cigars. Mark Twain, at least for Americans, was long ago set down as one of the immortals; but as Samuel L. Clemens he will be 70 years old on Nov. 30. So it was on old age that the author began his talk. He proved that he is not a young man by his statement that he never allows himself to be interviewed by one city's reporters until the day before he leaves for his next stopping place; but he showed that he was not yet old by the gleam of his eye and the youthful laugh when somebody else made a clever remark. His own jokes make their way through an aspect of solemnity. Form old age he ran over copyright laws, the horrors of the Congo Free State, his lack of faith in the good intentions of either King Leopold or the Czar Nicholas, and then came around to the British and South Africa, their greed as the cause of war, their commissary scandals, and graft at home and abroad.
He thinks the copyright law should give to authors the exclusive right to their books for life and for fifty years afterwards. "Why, just take the trade-mark law," he exclaimed. "I was reading the other day in the newspapers that a man can register a trade-mark forever for some patent medicine--just bottled poison--but they limit me to propagating my literary poison to forty-two years. There is none of my books that I care anything about gone yet, but 'Innocents Abroad' goes out in six years."
"Don't you think it a little unfair for a man to be educated in a community, get all his ideas there and then keep them all for himself?" asked Col. Higginson.
"Guess I must have been born in a more selfish atmosphere," replied Mark Twain, blowing out a cloud of smoke and winking at one of the reporters.
"Well, you are in Boston, now," retorted the colonel.
"Don't believe I have absorbed enough of the atmosphere yet," was the ready response.
A little later he said: "When I was in South Africa the bulletins used to amuse me. They would tell of some battle; of the heroic defense of some one hundred white soldiers attacked by four thousand savages, and then they would wind up: 'Result, three thousand natives killed and one mule wounded on the white side.' Somehow it seemed ridiculous after a while. They say they must subdue them, but why subdue them? Why not go away and let them alone? I suppose England will go away after the mines are exhausted, and then there will be another misfortune and more gold found."
Asked what he thought of the McCurdy disclosures now coming to the front in New York, he said: "They remind me of the plague they had in Bombay some years ago when I was there. Every day they would discover a new plague center. It was here today, there tomorrow and somewhere else the next day. What I wanted to find was a center where there was no plague. It's the same with this insurance business. Every day brings to light a new plague center. Grafting seems to be all over the country, and I don't think much of the reforms. But in this country we have one great privilege which they don't have in other countries. When a thing gets to be absolutely unbearable the people can rise up and throw it off. That's the finest asset we've got--the ballot box, which has been exercised in Philadelphia."
When asked how he thought this new standard of ethics and morals in business had originated, and if he thought Rockefeller's success had anything to do with it, Mr. Clemens said:
I suppose it has had something to do with it. It's a new think. I believe, however, that it began with Jay Gould and Jim Fiske. The operations of these two men dazed people. Here were men who could make a million in a few minutes. This was all new. I remember being in the Lotus Club, I think it was, in 1869, and hearing some prominent men discuss these things, and I heard respectable men say: 'Well, give me the million and I'll take the odium.' The poison began to work then, you see."
It was suggested that perhaps the Civil War and the big army contracts and the reconstruction period might have been the origin of these new business ideals, and Mr. Clemens admitted that perhaps it was out of these things that the later business ethics grew. "We gave to the world the spirit of liberty more than one hundred years ago, and now we are giving the world the spirit of graft," he said. "Look at the British army scandals during the Boer War. No British commissioned officer ever did such things before. The spirit of graft has spread."