[This piece is usually attributed to Edward H. House.]
Mark Twain as a Lecturer
About a year and a half ago, a communication entitled "Joe Smiley and his jumping Frog," with the hitherto unknown signature of "Mark Twain," appeared in The Saturday Press of this city. The name, though new, was not remarkable, but the style of the letter was so singularly fresh, original, and full of character as to attract prompt and universal attention among the readers of light humorous literature. Mark Twain was immediately entered as a candidate for high position among writers of his class, and passages from his first contribution to the metropolitan press became proverbs in the mouths of his admirers. No reputation was ever more rapidly won. The only doubt appeared to be whether he could satisfactorily sustain it. Subsequent productions, however -- most of them reproduced from California periodicals -- confirmed the good opinion so suddenly vouchsafed him, and abundantly vindicated the applause with which his first essay had been received. In his case, as in that of many other American humorous writers, it was only the first step that cost. Since that time he has walked easily -- let us hope not too easily -- over his special course.
His writings being comparatively new to the public, and his position having been so recently established, it might perhaps, have been doubted whether his name would at present be sufficient to attract an audience of any magnitude to witness his debut as a lecturer. But the proof of the general good-will in which he is already held was manifested last Monday evening by his brilliant reception at the Cooper Institute. The hall was crowded beyond all expectation. Not a seat was vacant, and all the aisles were filled with attentive listeners. The chance offering of "The Jumping Frog," carelessly cast, eighteen months ago, upon the Atlantic waters, returned to him in the most agreeable form which a young aspirant for popular fame could desire. The wind that was sowed with probably very little calculation as to its effect upon its future prospects, now enables him to reap quite a respectable tempest of encouragement and cordiality. His greeting was such as to inspire the utmost ease and confidence, and it is pleasant to add that his performance in every way justified the favor bestowed upon him. No other lecturer, of course excepting Artemus Ward, has so thoroughly succeeded in exciting the mirthful curiosity, and compelling the laughter of his hearers.
The subject of his address, "The Sandwich Islands," was treated mainly from a comic stand-point, although scraps of practical information and occasional picturesque descriptions of scenery and natural phenomena peculiar to that region were liberally interspersed. The scheme of the lecturer appeared to be to employ the various facts he had gathered as bases upon which to build fanciful illustrations of character, which were furthermore embellished with a multitude of fantastic anecdotes and personal reminiscences. The frequent incongruities of the narration evidently intentional made it all the more diverting, and the artifice of its partial incoherence was so cleverly contrived as to intensify the amusement of the audience, while leaving them for the most part in ignorance of the means employed. As to the manner of the speaker, it is difficult to write explicitly. It was certainly peculiar and original. Perhaps no better idea of it could be conveyed than by saying it is in almost every respect the exact opposite to that of the late Artemus Ward. It suited that admirable lecturer's humor to exhibit a nervous quickness and a vivacity which always communicated itself to those who surrounded him, and his best "points" were made by the droll affection of complete unconsciousness with which he uttered the most telling jests. Mark Twain's delivery, on the other hand, is deliberate and measured to the last degree. He lounges comfortably around his platform, seldom referring to notes, and seeks to establish a sort of button-hole relationship with his audience at the earliest possible moment. He is even willing to exchange confidences of the most literal nature. Having made an accidental error in figures, last Monday evening, at which there was great laughter, he paused and requested to be informed "what he had said," and was indisposed to proceed until his curiosity should be gratified. Instead of manifesting indifference to his own good jokes, he appears to relish them as heartily as anybody -- a characteristic, by the bye, which also belongs to the most eminent "reader" now known to the British public. The only obvious preconcerted "effect" which he employs is a momentary hesitation or break in his narration before touching the climax of an anecdote or a witticism. But his style is his own, and needs to be seen to be understood. A second opportunity for this, we learn, is presently to be afforded, to which, when it approaches, we shall invite particular attention.