1882 Toast: To Woman
There are actually two examples of "woman" in this speech -- one white, one black. Manuscripts in the Barrett Collection allow us to watch MT preparing it, and newspaper reports from the next day allow us to see how his times received it.
It was delivered at Delmonico's Restaurant, at the 77th Annual Dinner of the New England Society of New York, on December 22nd, the anniversary of the landing on Plymouth Rock. According to the lead story in next day's New York Times, in attendance were "250 gentlemen members of the Society and their friends." The banquet room was full of notables, including former President "Gen. U.S. Grant" and several Governors and Senators.
The eating ended at 9 p.m. "Cigars were lighted" and "the literary portion of the feast" began. MT gave the seventh of the toasts. He was preceded by Col. William F. Vilas, who responded to "Freemen of the Present Time," and followed by The Rev. Dr. Paxton, whose topic was "The Clergy." As attested by the news reports, MT's speech was a hit.
From the text below you can access, page by page, the handwritten manuscript of the toast. It shows as much care in the writing as any of MT's novels. After he'd written it, MT committed the manuscript to memory, so he could speak without notes, and without looking away from his audience.
The letter below, discussing his concern about his placement in the order of speakers, indicates how seriously MT took this kind of brief, humorous performance. He also says there that he gave particular attention to this speech, because it was going to be his last ever, except for one more (which turned out to be about one hundred more).
The newspaper articles below, besides indicating how much pleasure his performance gave the gentlemen members, help us appreciate the circulation MT's after-dinner remarks typically received. The reporters who attended his various performances usually took down every word he said. MT hated having his lectures published this way, because people could read such a transcript before he even got to their town to deliver the lecture. But he enjoyed the publicity whenever one of his banquet toasts was reprinted in papers across the country, and he obviously knew when he was preparing such a speech that, while only the guests at the banquet would hear him after dinner, thousands would read what he said at breakfast the next morning.