Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search
THE LIVING OBELISK.
STRANGE NEWS FROM HARTFORD.
Exaggerated Reports About the Condition of Mark Twain - Found with a Melancholia Upon Him - A Sad Interview.
A correspondent of the New York Sun from Hartford writes as follows: Under ordinary circumstances it would no doubt be judicious to withhold from the public the information which I am about to communicate. But as exaggerated accounts of Mr. Mark Twain's present condition are already in circulation here in town, and as these false reports are likely, sooner or later, to reach the ears of the humorist's friends in other parts of the country, causing them greater solicitude than the true facts warrant, it seems best to publish an accurate and authentic statement of the case.
It is well known that Mr. Clemens is subject to protracted spells of profound melancholy, usually culminating in hallucinations of the most bizarre character. After one of these attacks he was seized with a sudden and unaccountable but intense hatred for a bust of Calvin, presented to Mrs. Clemens on her wedding day by her uncle, a clergyman. Mark Twain fancied that this little harmless image meant to do him evil; and after heaping contumely on his foe by disfiguring the plaster face with inked mustaches and a goatee, he as last put an end to the imaginary feud and to the bust by demolishing it with a poker. At another time, Twain believed himself to be the real editor of General Joe Hawley's paper, the Courant, and his illusion led to some curious complications that would have been amusing if they had not been serious. Again, it is said he tried to take up a collection along the middle aisle of Rev. Joe Twichell's church, at the moment fancying him a deacon. By similar illusions he has been lead at times to attempt an active part in politics.
Although aware that ever since his speech at the Grant reception Mr. Clemens has been suffering from melancholia, I did not know until this morning what form the attack had taken. I met Mr. J________, a common friend of mine and Clemens' in front of the postoffice. "Have you been up to Twain's lately?" he asked. "No," said I. "Is anything the matter?" "Well, you had better go up and see," he replied with a significant motion of his right finger.
So I proceeded through the damp, chilly air and slushy mud of Christmas morning to Twain's bright red mansion and rang the door bell. Was Mr. Clemens home? No, not exactly. That was to say, he wasn't in the house; I might find him yonder in the north yard, behind the barn. I turned up the bottoms of my trousers and trudged through the mud and snow to the place indicated by the domestic. There I discovered the humorist, standing on an empty dry goods box. His posture was very erect. His arms were tightly pressed against his sides. He word a long ulster, reading to his ankles, and on his head a high peaked hat, procured during his travels in the Tyrol. His face was solemn.
"Hello, Mark," said I; "what are you doing on that box? Merry Christmas!"
He stiffly inclined his head. "Didn't you know," he demanded, in slow, grave tones, "that I antedate the Christian era by many centuries? "What in the thunder to you mean by talking Christmas in my presence?"
"Come, come," said I, "no joking. Get down off the box and go in where it's warm."
"If you refer to the pedestal," he replied, "I can't get down unless I'm lowered. And as to the temperature, it has little effect on a monolith, seasoned as I am seasoned."
"You look like a monolith," I admitted, "in that ulster and that hat."
"You really think so?" he eagerly asked. His features relaxed to an expression something like complacency, and he sat down upon the edge of the box and began to drum against the side with his heels. "You really believe I'm the genuine, only original obelisk?"
"Obelisk!" said I. "I saw the obelisk day before yesterday in New York. They've got it as far as the trestlework. You're a humorist, not an obelisk."
"Mark Twain immediately ascended the box again, while his features once more assumed their stony look. "You have been imposed upon," he remarked with great dignity. "That thing in New York is bogus. It is a practical joke of Gorringe's. It is a Cardiff giant of an obelisk, a composite plaster fraud concocted on the voyage over, and palmed off on an unsuspecting community. The real obelisk was shipped to Hartford by freight number 27, New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad. You behold it at this identical moment."
I took off my hat. This seemed to please him a good deal.
"Excuse me," he went on. I am a trifle touchy on the subject. Every monolith is naturally sensitive when his authenticity is called in question. Don't I appear stiff and hard enough to satisfy the most skeptical?"
"You look stiff and hard enough," said I, "but where are your hieroglyphics? That's the test of a true obelisk -- the hieroglyphics."
"Just what I expected," he returned, with some show of feeling. "There don't appear to be any hieroglyphics, perhaps you think. Singular, but I'd noticed the fact myself, and it's given me considerable concern. D____n those hieroglyphics?" he continued, getting excited. "I don't know what to make of it. Sometimes I think Gorringe took 'em and plastered 'em onto his sham shaft. Then I think Marshall Jewell's stolen 'em for a telegraphic cipher. Then again I surmise that they've merely struck in, and will blossom out again as soon as I've got acclimated. But you'll allow that it's putting a respectable Egyptian antiquity at a disadvantage to steal his hieroglyphics. Any fool can come along and say 'You're no obelisk; where the d____l are your hieroglyphics?'"
I turned sadly away from this example of self-deception. I knew it was no use to reason with him. Happily, these attacks do not last, as a rule, more than ten days or a fortnight, and the friends of the clever, humorist have no cause for serious anxiety on his account.