Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search
"A man who is a pessimist before he's 48 is a fool--he knows too much. A man who isn't a pessimist after he's 49 is a fool--he doesn't know enough.
This was one of Mark Twain's reflections yesterday afternoon while chatting with a group of newspaper men at the residence of G. B. Pearmain, 388 Beacon st.
The famous humorist was discussing old age and his approaching 71st birthday, which comes on the 30th of this month, when he made the above remark.
Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was present during the combination interview, which lasted more than two hours an during which time a wide range of subjects were discussed and commented on my Mr. Clemens. He was in a genial frame of mind and with little effort on the part of the reporters he talked on old age and its manifestations, on the copyright laws, on King Leopold and the Congo free state horrors, on Russia and the present uprising and on American graft and grafters. He also read a few of his latest aphorisms and a couple of letters from people who had views distinctly opposite to himself and his writings.
Every subject Mark Twain touched on was illuminated by some anecdote or experience or by some caustic observation which usually hit "the nail on the head."
The pallor of his face is perhaps lightened by his thick, white head of hair and moustache, but as he became more and more interested in his subject the excitement drove a slight flush into his countenance and his eyes flashed while he emphasized h is remarks by a wave of the hand or a toss of the head.
A Newspaper Man Himself.
Mark Twain likes newspaper men, for he claims to be one still himself; in fact he says he is the dean of American journalists and, as he said, "probably the most respectable, if you ask me about it," but he never cares to be interviewed until the day before he is to leave a place; hence the appointment with the reporters yesterday afternoon--he leaves Boston today.
After the reporters had been introduced by Mr. Pearmain there was a brief, uneasy moment's wait for somebody to break the ice. Col. Higgingson at once came to the rescue by suggesting that as Mr. Clemens was nearly 70 years of age a few reflections on old age from the dean of American humorists--and journalists--might be a proper beginning.
"I don't mind," said Mark, as he settled back in his chair, crossed his legs and lighted a big cigar. "I'm ready to talk on anything. I never really knew what it was to be old until about five years ago. Now I believe I'm the oldest man in the world.
"At that time I was in London and I met Sir William Harcourt. I hadn't seen him for 30 years and I couldn't see that time had made any change in him. You see, I had then begun to think that I was the only old man in the world. I said to Sir William: 'You're a satisfaction to look at. You look just as young as ever. I would like to find some one older than I am.'
"Sir William said there were two dates that he remembered--one was that when he was 9 years of age and crossing London bridge he distinctly heard the bells toll that announced the death of William IV, and the other was his birthday. He was born in 1828, and I was born in 1835. I said to him, 'Then I have found the only man older than I am.' "
When asked if he hadn't experienced any of the usual manifestations of old age up to his 65th year--the little pains and aches, the gray hairs, etc.--Mr. Clemens said:
"No. As for the gray hairs, I had them when I was 50, and I might have had indigestion, but that is not a sign of age; it is a sign of indiscretion. No, I can't say that I began to feel old until I was past 60."
The next subject touched upon was the copyright laws, a subject which Mark Twain has been deeply interested in nearly all his life, and in the interests of which he has fought very hard.
But before touching on that it might be well to give a few of his latest aphorisms. He said he had been writing aphorisms all his life--on occasion--and some day he hoped to publish a book of them. Here are the latest additions to his stock:
"Taking the pledge will not make bad liquor good but will improve it."
"It's not best to use our morals week days, it gets them out of repair for Sunday."
"Don't part with your illusions; when they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live."
"It is noble to be good; it is still nobler to show others how to be good, and much less trouble."
Interested in Copyright Question.
"I like aphorisms," commented the humorist with a twinkle.
The copyright question lies very close to his heart. He believes the author should be protected in this country as he is in Germany, France and Russia, where the author's copyright holds good through life and seven years thereafter. In this country the copyright law protects the author for 42 years, and it has taken years of agitation to bring it up to that point.
"There are no civilized countries," said Mark, "in which the author isn't protected for life, except England, Labrador and America.
"Consider what this means in the face of our boasted civilization. Even in Russia the author gets more protection than here. We are trying now to get the same kind of law."
"When do the copyrights begin to expire on your books, Mr. Clemens?"
"In about six years on 'Innocents Abroad,' and some others follow very soon after that. It is likely to cut down my children's income, not mine. I'm old and no much interest in the subject of incomes."
Col. Higginson thought the publisher should be protected also, but he said he could not agree with Mr. Clemens that the author should have a monopoly of his books through life.
Then there was a discussion. Mark maintained that a book was as much the property of an author as a piece of land.
Col. Higginson couldn't see it in that light. A book represented an idea to which the public was freely entitled after a certain time, for the author owed much to the public--for the materials from which he made his book--the characters and situations that inspired him to write it.
Mr. Clemens maintained that all property represented an idea. A number of men go into a new country. One of them is a trained civil engineer, and he sees by the lay of the land the spot where the city will eventually be built. He settles there and the city is built. That property is only so much stone and earth, like the spot where the others settle, miles away, but an idea has made it valuable. The same with all property--it is first an idea; so is a book.
"Take the trade mark," said Mr. Clemens. "It give perpetual protection. The government protect the article with its eyes shut. It may be a poisonous patent medicine. The mixture may be deadly, but it protected by the government, while the propagation of literary poison is protect for only 42 years.
"When the question is brought up in congress," continued Mr. Clemens, "some congressman gets up and argues that a copyright makes books dearer and his constituents want cheaper books. That is one of those things where men work on a theory. I never heard of a constituent asking his congressman for cheaper books. It is a fallacy, because they don't get them cheaper. The publisher gets all the profit and the author none."
He said he was interested in international copyright, but cared less about it than protection at home. He thought in the case of pictures that an artist when he sold a painting or work of art should stipulate in his contract with the buyer whatever was necessary in regard to the sale of duplicates or photographs. If there was no contract the purchaser should have the right to photographs.
Congo Free State Horrors.
The horrors of the Congo Free State, as told by missionaries, have brought down on the head of King Leopold of Belgium all the vials of Mark Twain's wrath and sarcasm. He has no use for King Leopold, and he has just published a little work entitled "King Leopold's Soliloquy," which shows the monarch of Belgium, who is also monarch of the Congo Free State, in anything but a pleasant light.
He believes the report which has just been made by the committee which the king appointed to investigate conditions in the Congo is a farce and a lie. The missionaries and the photographs which the missionaries have taken give the lie to King Leopold's committee's report, he said.
"Leopold is too well known as a domestic person, as a family person," said Mark Twain, facetiously, "as a king and a pirate, to believe what he says. He sits at home and drinks blood. His testimony is no good. The missionaries are to be believed. I have seen photographs of the natives with their hands cut off because the did not bring in the requited amount of rubber. If Leopold had only killed them outright it would not be so bad; but to cut off their hands and leave them helpless to die in misery--that is not forgivable.
"We're interested in all this because we were the first country to give recognition to Leopold's villainous Congo Free State in 1885."
Mr. Clemens commented on some of the brutalities perpetrated by other nations on the natives of Africa and cited the Matabele war, in which the English massacred so many thousands of the Matabeles.
Mr. Clemens apparently never had much use for Cecil Rhodes or the methods which he used in introducing civilization to South Africa. In 50 years he believes the mines in the Rand will be worked out and the country will revert once more to the Boers.
He is deeply interested in the present upheaval in Russia, but he fears it will not amount to anything. The peace of Portsmouth was premature--premature for the Russian people who desired to free themselves of the autocratic yoke. It should have been postponed until the Japs had won one more big battle. Then the people of Russia would have with them the sentiment of the soldiers at the front when they returned.
As long as the czar has the army, navy and treasury in his power, there is no hope for Russia. All the concessions he makes will amount to nothing unless the people have the control of the army, navy, and treasury.
Mark Twain takes little stock in the granting of Finland a constitution. Finland was granted that before and the grant was revoked. This grant will be revoked inside of three years unless something unforeseen happens.
No Confidence in Russia's Word.
"No one can place any confidence in what Russia says," said he. "She was only going to Khiva to pacify that place, but once there she held it. The same in Manchuria and other places.
"I thought when the czar had granted a constitutional government a few days ago that perhaps I was premature in my opinions about the peace of Portsmouth. But I see from later dispatches that the people have gained nothing that can't be taken from them again tomorrow or at any time as long as the czar controls the army, the navy and the treasury."
The speaker was even skeptical about the resignation of the procurator of the holy synod.
He sees no immediate hope for Russian freedom.
When asked what he thought of the present wave of reform that was sweeping over the United States Mr. Clemens quickly said:
"McCurdy business! The McCurdy's and the McCalls are a nice lot. It reminds me of the plague they had in Bombay some years ago when I was there. Every day they would discover a new plague canter. 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."
"What do you think of the municipal reform wave and the municipal grafters?"
"The grafting seems to be all over the country, and I don't think much of the reforms."
"How about Philadelphia?" interposed Col. Higginson.
"Well, of course 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. But graft seems to permeate everything in this country today."
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 thing. 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 Lotos 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," said he, "to the world the spirit of liberty more than 100 years ago and now we are giving the world the spirit of graft. 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."
Col. Higginson said the sturdy old spirit of honesty still existed among many of the people in the New England towns and he cited one notable example of a man in Dublin, NH, who did a little job for which he charged eight cents, and after being paid he tramped back in the rain a mile or more and said he had charged too much--the job was only worth six cents. He handed back two cents and returned to him home in the rain.
Mr. Clemens told a story of a burglar who had literary ideals--a New England burglar up at Dublin, NH--who when arrested was found deeply absorbed in a copy of "Innocents Abroad."