INTRODUCING "MT" | AUTHORS' READINGS | FIRST EASTERN LECTURE |
[Written in 1898]
I REMEMBER Petroleum Vesuvius Nasby (Locke) very well. When the Civil War began he was on the staff of the Toledo Blade, an old and prosperous and popular weekly newspaper. He let fly a Nasby letter and it made a fine strike. He was famous at once. He followed up his new lead, and gave the Copperheads and the Democratic party a most admirable hammering every week, and his letters were copied everywhere, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and read and laughed over by everybody -- at least everybody except particularly dull and prejudiced Democrats and Copperheads. For suddenness, Nasby's fame was an explosion; for universality it was atmospheric. He was soon offered a company; he accepted and was straightway ready to leave for the front; but the Governor of the state was a wiser man than were the political masters of Korner and Petofi; for he refused to sign Nasby's commission and ordered him to stay at home. He said that in the field Nasby would be only one soldier, handling one sword, but at home with his pen he was an army -- with artillery! Nasby obeyed and went on writing his electric letters.
I saw him first when I was on a visit to Hartford; I think it was three or four years after the war. The Opera House was packed and jammed with people to hear him deliver his lecture on "Cussed be Canaan." He had been on the platform with that same lecture -- and no other -- during two or three years, and it had passed his lips several hundred times, yet even now he could not deliver any sentence of it without his manuscript -- except the opening one. His appearance on the stage was welcomed with a prodigious burst of applause, but he did not stop to bow or in any other way acknowledge the greeting, but strode straight to the reading desk, spread his portfolio open upon it, and immediate petrified himself into an attitude which he never changed during the hour and a half occupied by his performance, except to turn his leaves -- his body bent over the desk, rigidly supported by his left arm, as by a stake, the right arm lying across his back. About once in two minutes his right arm swung forward, turned a leaf, then swung to its resting-place on his back again just the action of a machine, and suggestive of one; regular, recurrent, prompt, exact. You might imagine you heard it clash. He was a great, burly figure, uncouthly and provincially clothed, and he looked like a simple old farmer.
I was all curiosity to hear him begin. He did not keep me waiting. The moment he had crutched himself upon his left arm, lodged his right upon his back, and bent himself over his manuscript he raised his face slightly, flashed a glance upon the audience, and bellowed this remark in a thundering bull-voice:
"We are all descended from grandfathers!"
Then he went right on roaring to the end, tearing his ruthless way through the continuous applause and laughter, and taking no sort of account of it. His lecture was a volleying and sustained discharge of bull's-eye hits, with the slave power and its Northern apologists for target, and his success was due to his matter, not his manner; for his delivery was destitute of art, unless a tremendous and inspiring earnestness and energy may be called by that name. The moment be had finished his piece he turned his back and marched off the stage with the seeming of being not personally concerned with the applause that was booming behind him.
He had the constitution of an ox and the strength and endurance of a prize-fighter. Express trains were not very plenty in those days. He missed a connection, and in order to meet this Hartford engagement he had traveled two-thirds of a night and a whole day in a cattle car -- it was midwinter. He went from the cattle car to his reading desk without dining; yet on the platform his voice was powerful and he showed no signs of drowsiness or fatigue. He sat up talking and supping with me until after midnight, and then it was I that had to give up, not he. He told me that in his first season he read his "Cussed be Canaan" twenty-five nights a month for nine successive months. No other lecturer ever matched that record, I imagine.
He said that as one result of repeating his lecture 225 nights straight along, he was able to say its opening sentence without glancing at his manuscript; and sometimes even did it, when in a daring mood. And there was another result: he reached home the day after his long campaign, and was sitting by the fire in the evening, musing, when the clock broke into his revery by striking eight. Habit is habit, and before he realized where he was he had thundered out, "We are all descended from grandfathers!"
I began as a lecturer in 1866, in California and Nevada; in 1867 lectured in New York once and in the Mississippi Valley a few times; in 1868 made the whole Western circuit; and in the two or three following seasons added the Eastern circuit to my route. We had to bring out a new lecture every season, now (Nasby with the rest), and expose it in the "Star Course," Boston, for a first verdict, before an audience of 2,500 in the old Music Hall; for it was by that verdict that all the lyceums in the country determined the lecture's commercial value. The campaign did not really begin in Boston, but in the towns around. We did not appear in Boston until we had rehearsed about a month in those towns and made all the necessary corrections and revisings.
This system gathered the whole tribe together in the city early in October, and we had a lazy and sociable time there for several weeks. We lived at Young's Hotel; we spent the days in Redpath's Bureau, smoking and talking shop; and early in the evenings we scattered out among the towns and made them indicate the good and poor things in the new lectures. The country audience is the difficult audience; a passage which it will approve with a ripple will bring a crash in the city. A fair success in the country means a triumph in the city. And so, when we finally stepped on to the great stage at the Music Hall we already had the verdict in our pocket.
But sometimes lecturers who were "new to the business" did not know the value of "trying it on the dog," and these were apt to come to the Music Hall with an untried product. There was one case of this kind which made some of us very anxious when we saw the advertisement. De Cordova -- humorist -- he was the man we were troubled about. I think he had another name, but I have forgotten what it was. He had been printing some dismally humorous things in the magazines; they had met with a deal of favor and given him a pretty wide name; and now he suddenly came poaching upon our preserve and took us by surprise. Several of us felt pretty unwell -- too unwell to lecture. We got outlying engagements postponed and remained in town. We took front seats in one of the great galleries -- Nasby, Billings, and I -- and waited. The house was full. When De Cordova came on he was received with what we regarded as a quite overdone and almost indecent volume of welcome. I think we were not jealous, nor even envious, but it made us sick, anyway. When I found he was going to read a humorous story -- from manuscript -- I felt better and hopeful, but still anxious. He had a Dickens arrangement of tall gallows frame adorned with upholsteries, and he stood behind it under its overhead row of hidden lights. The whole thing had a quite stylish look and was rather impressive. The audience was so sure that he was going to be funny that they took a dozen of his first utterances on trust and laughed cordially -- so cordially, indeed, that it was very hard for us to bear and we felt very much disheartened. Still, I tried to believe he would fail, for I saw that he didn't know how to read. Presently the laughter began to relax; then it began to shrink in area; and next to lose spontaneity; and next to show gaps between; the gaps widened; they widened more; more yet; still more. It was getting to be almost all gaps and silence, with that untrained and unlively voice droning through them. Then the house sat dead and emotionless for a whole ten minutes. We drew a deep sigh; it ought to have been a sigh of pity for a defeated fellow craftsman, but it was not -- for we were mean and selfish, like all the human race, and it was a sigh of satisfaction to see our unoffending brother fail.
He was laboring now, and distressed; he constantly mopped his face with his handkerchief, and his voice and his manner became a humble appeal for compassion, for help, for charity, and it was a pathetic thing to see. But the house remained cold and still, and gazed at him curiously and wonderingly.
There was a great clock on the wall, high up; presently the general gaze forsook the reader and fixed itself upon the clock face. We knew by dismal experience what that meant; we knew what was going to happen, but it was plain that the reader had not been warned and was ignorant. It was approaching nine now -- half the house watching the clock, the reader laboring on. At five minutes to nine, twelve hundred people rose, with one impulse, and swept like a wave down the aisles toward the doors! The reader was like a person stricken with a paralysis; he stood choking and gasping for a few minutes, gazing in a white horror at that retreat, then he turned drearily away and wandered from the stage with the groping and uncertain step of one who walks in his sleep.
The management were to blame. They should have told him that the last suburban cars left at nine and that half the house would rise and go then, no matter who might be speaking from the platform. I think De Cordova did not appear again in public.
INTRODUCING "MT" | AUTHORS' READINGS | FIRST EASTERN LECTURE |
[Written about 1898]
HE was a Californian. I probably knew him in San Francisco in the early days -- about 1865 -- when I was a newspaper reporter, and Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Charles Warren Stoddard and Prentice Mulford were doing young literary work for Mr. Joe Lawrence's weekly periodical, the Golden Era. At any rate, I knew him in Boston a few years later, where he comraded with Howells, Aldrich, Boyle O'Reilly, and James T. Fields, and was greatly liked by them. I say he comraded with them, and that is the proper term, though he would not have given the relationship so familiar a name himself, for he was the modestest young fellow that ever was and looked humbly up to those distinguished men from his lowly obscurity, and was boyishly grateful for the friendly notice they took of him, and frankly grateful for it; and when he got a smile and a nod from Mr. Emerson and Mr. Whittier and Holmes and Lowell and Longfellow, his happiness was the prettiest thing in the world to see. He was not more than twenty-four at this time; the native sweetness of his disposition had not been marred by cares and disappointments; be was buoyant and hopeful, simple-hearted, and full of the most engaging and unexacting little literary ambitions. Whomsoever he met became his friend and -- by some natural and unexplained impulse -- took him under protection.
He probably never had a home or a boyhood. He had wandered to California as a little chap from somewhere or other, and had cheerfully achieved his bread in various humble callings, educating himself as he went along, and having a good and satisfactory time. Among his various industries was clog-dancing in a "nigger" show. When he was about twenty years old he scraped together eighty-five dollars in greenbacks, worth about half that sum in gold, and on this capital he made the tour of Europe and published an account of his travels in the Atlantic Monthly. When he was about twenty-two he wrote a novel called Gloverson and His Silent Partners; and not only that, but found a publisher for it. But that was not really a surprising thing, in his case, for not even a publisher is hard-hearted enough to be able to say no to some people -- and Ralph was one of those people. His gratitude for a favor granted him was so simple and sincere and so eloquent and touching that a publisher would recognize that if there was no money in the book there was still a profit to be had out of it beyond the value of money and above money's reach. There was no money in that book, not a single penny; but Ralph Keeler always spoke of his publisher as other people speak of divinities. The publisher lost two or three hundred dollars on the book, of course, and knew he would lose it when he made the venture, but he got much more than the worth of it back in the author's adoring admiration of him.
Ralph had little or nothing to do, and he often went out with me to the small lecture towns in the neighborhood of Boston. These lay within an hour of town, and we usually started at six or thereabouts, and returned to the city in the morning. It took about a month to do these Boston annexes, and that was the easiest and pleasantest month of the four or five which constituted the "lecture season." The "lyceum system" was in full flower in those days, and James Redpath's Bureau in School Street, Boston, had the management of it throughout the Northern States and Canada. Redpath farmed out the lectures in groups of six or eight to the lyceums all over the country at an average of about $100 a night for each lecture. His commission was 10 per cent; each lecture appeared about 110 nights in the season. There were a number of good drawing names in his list: Henry Ward Beecher; Anna Dickinson; John B. Gough; Horace Greeley; Wendell Phillips; Petroleum V. Nasby; Josh Billings; Hayes, the Arctic Explorer; Vincent, the English astronomer; Parsons, Irish orator; Agassiz; et al. He had in his list twenty or thirty men and women of light consequence and limited reputation who wrought for fees ranging from twenty-five dollars to fifty dollars. Their names have perished long ago. Nothing but art could find them a chance on the platform. Redpath furnished that art. All the lyceums wanted the big guns, and wanted them yearningly, longingly, strenuously. Redpath granted their prayers on this condition: for each house-filler allotted them they must hire several of his house-emptiers. This arrangement permitted the lyceums to get through alive for a few years, but in the end it killed them all and abolished the lecture business.
Beecher, Gough, Nasby, and Anna Dickinson were the only lecturers who knew their own value and exacted it. In towns their fee was $200 and $250; in cities, $400. The lyceum always got a profit out of these four (weather permitting), but generally lost it again on the house-emptiers.
There were two women who should have been house-emptiers -- Olive Logan and Kate Field -- but during a season or two they were not. They charged $100, and were recognized house-fillers for certainly two years. After that they were capable emptiers and were presently shelved. Kate Field had made a wide, spasmodic notoriety in 1867 by some letters which she sent from Boston by telegraph to the Tribune about Dickens's readings there in the beginning of his triumphant American tour. The letters were a frenzy of praise -- praise which approached idolatry -- and this was the right and welcome key to strike, for the country was itself in a frenzy of enthusiasm about Dickens. Then the idea of telegraphing a newspaper letter was new and astonishing, and the wonder of it was in every one's mouth. Kate Field became a celebrity at once. By and by she went on the platform; but two or three years had elapsed and her subject -- Dickens -- had now lost its freshness and its interest. For a while people went to see her, because of her name; but her lecture was poor and her delivery repellently artificial; consequently, when the country's desire to look at her had been appeased, the platform forsook her.
She was a good creature, and the acquisition of a perishable and fleeting notoriety was the disaster of her life. To her it was infinitely precious, and she tried hard, in various ways, during more than a quarter of a century, to keep a semblance of life in it, but her efforts were but moderately successful. She died in the Sandwich Islands, regretted by her friends and forgotten of the world.
Olive Logan's notoriety grew out of -- only the initiated knew what. Apparently it was a manufactured notoriety, not an earned one. She did write and publish little things in newspapers and obscure periodicals, but there was no talent in them, and nothing resembling it. In a century they would not have made her known. Her name was really built up out of newspaper paragraphs set afloat by her husband, who was a small-salaried minor journalist. During a year or two this kind of paragraphing was persistent; one could seldom pick up a newspaper without encountering it.
It is said that Olive Logan has taken a cottage at Nahant, and will spend the summer there.
The result of this daily advertising was very curious. Olive Logan's name was as familiar to the simple public as was that of any celebrity of the time, and people talked with interest about her doings and movements and gravely discussed her opinions. Now and then an ignorant person from the backwoods would proceed to inform himself, and then there were surprises in store for all concerned:
"Who is Olive Logan?"
The listeners were astonished to find that they couldn't answer the question. It had never occurred to them to inquire into the matter.
"What has she done?"
The listeners were dumb again. They didn't know. They hadn't inquired.
"Well, then, how does she come to be celebrated ?"
"Oh, it's about something, I don't know what. I never inquired, but I supposed everybody knew."
For entertainment I often asked these questions myself, of people who were glibly talking about that celebrity and her doings and sayings. The questioned were surprised to find that they had been taking this fame wholly on trust and had no idea who Olive Logan was or what she had done -- if anything.
On the strength of this oddly created notoriety Olive Logan went on the platform, and for at least two seasons the United States flocked to the lecture halls to look at her. She was merely a name and some rich and costly clothes, and neither of these properties had any lasting quality, though for a while they were able to command a fee of $100 a night. She dropped out of the memories of men a quarter of a century ago.
Ralph Keeler was pleasant company on my lecture flights out of Boston, and we had plenty of good talks and smokes in our rooms after the committee had escorted us to the inn and made their good-night. There was always a committee, and they wore a silk badge of office; they received us at the station and drove us to the lecture hall; they sat in a row of chairs behind me on the stage, minstrel fashion, and in the earliest days their chief used to introduce me to the audience; but these introductions were so grossly flattering that they made me ashamed, and so I began my talk at a heavy disadvantage. It was a stupid custom. There was no occasion for the introduction; the introducer was almost always an ass, and his prepared speech a jumble of vulgar compliments and dreary effort to be funny; therefore after the first season I always introduced myself -- using, of course, a burlesque of the time-worn introduction. This change was not popular with committee chairmen. To stand up grandly before a great audience of his townsmen and make his little devilish speech was the joy of his life, and to have that joy taken from him was almost more than he could bear.
My introduction of myself was a most efficient "starter" for a while, then it failed. It had to be carefully and painstakingly worded, and very earnestly spoken, in order that all strangers present might be deceived into the supposition that I was only the introducer and not the lecturer; also that the flow of overdone compliments might sicken those strangers; then, when the end was reached and the remark casually dropped that I was the lecturer and had been talking about myself, the effect was very satisfactory. But it was a good card for only a little while, as I have said; for the newspapers printed it, and after that I could not make it go, since the house knew what was coming and retained its emotions.
Next I tried an introduction taken from my Californian experiences. It was gravely made by a slouching and awkward big miner in the village of Red Dog. The house, very much against his will, forced him to ascend the platform and introduce me. He stood thinking a moment, then said:
"I don't know anything about this man. At least I know only two things; one is, he hasn't been in the penitentiary, and the other is [after a pause, and almost sadly], I don't know why."
That worked well for a while, then the newspapers printed it and took the juice out of it, and after that I gave up introductions altogether.
Now and then Keeler and I had a mild little adventure, but none which couldn't be forgotten without much of a strain. Once we arrived late at a town and found no committee in waiting and no sleighs on the stand. We struck up a street in the gay moonlight, found a tide of people flowing along, judged it was on its way to the lecture hall -- a correct guess -- and joined it. At the hall I tried to press in, but was stopped by the ticket-taker.
I bent over and whispered: "It's all right. I am the lecturer."
He closed one eye impressively and said, loud enough for all the crowd to hear: "No you don't. Three of you have got in, up to now, but the next lecturer that goes in here to-night pays." Of course we paid; it was the least embarrassing way out of the trouble. The very next morning Keeler had an adventure. About eleven o'clock I was sitting in my room, reading the paper, when he burst into the place all atremble with excitement and said:
"Come with me -- quick!"
"What is it? What's happened?"
"Don't wait to talk. Come with me."
We tramped briskly up the main street three or four blocks, neither of us speaking, both of us excited, I in a sort of panic of apprehension and horrid curiosity; then we plunged into a building and down through the middle of it to the farther end. Keeler stopped, put out his hand, and said:
I looked, but saw nothing except a row of books.
"What is it, Keeler?"
He said, in a kind of joyous ecstasy, "Keep on looking -- to the right; farther -- farther to, the right. There -- see it? Gloverson and His Silent Partners!"
And there it was, sure enough.
"This is a library! Understand? Public library. And they've got it!"
His eyes, his face, his attitude, his gestures, his whole being spoke his delight, his pride, his happiness. It never occurred to me to laugh; a supreme joy like that moves one the other way. I was stirred almost to the crying point to see so perfect a happiness.
He knew all about the book, for he had been cross-examining the librarian. It bad been in the library two years and the records showed that it had been taken out three times.
"And read, too!" said Keeler. "See -- the leaves are all cut!"
Moreover, the book bad been "bought, not given -- it's on the record." I think Gloverson was published in San Francisco. Other copies had been sold, no doubt, but this present sale was the only one Keeler was certain of. It seems unbelievable that the sale of an edition of one book could give an author this immeasurable peace and contentment, but I was there and I saw it.
Afterward Keeler went out to Ohio and hunted out one of Osawatomie Brown's brothers on his farm and took down in longhand his narrative of his adventures in escaping from Virginia after the tragedy of 1859 -- the most admirable piece of reporting, I make no doubt, that was ever done by a man destitute of a knowledge of shorthand writing. It was published in the Atlantic Monthly, and I made three attempts to read it, but was frightened off each time before I could finish. The tale was so vivid and so real that I seemed to be living those adventures myself and sharing their intolerable perils, and the torture of it was so sharp that I was never able to follow the story to the end.
By and by the Tribune commissioned Keeler to go to Cuba and report the facts of an outrage or an insult of some sort which the Spanish authorities had been perpetrating upon us according to their wellworn habit and custom. He sailed from New York in the steamer and was last seen alive the night before the vessel reached Havana. It was said that he had not made a secret of his mission, but had talked about it freely, in his frank and innocent way. There were some Spanish military men on board. It may be that he was not flung into the sea; still, the belief was general that that was what had happened.
INTRODUCING "MT" | AUTHORS' READINGS | FIRST EASTERN LECTURE |
[Dictated Monday, February 26, 1906]
Then papa went to read in public; there were a great many authors that rcad, that Thursday afternoon, beside papa; I would have liked to have gone and heard papa read, but papa said he was going to read in Vassar just what he was planning to read in New York, so I stayed at home with mamma.
I think that that was the first exploitation of a new and devilish invention the thing called an Authors' Reading. This witch's Sabbath took place in a theater, and began at two in the afternoon. There were nine readers on the list, and I believe I was the only one who was qualified by experience to go at the matter in a sane way. I knew, by my old acquaintanceship with the multiplication table, that nine times ten are ninety, and that consequently the average of time allowed to each of these readers should be restricted to ten minutes. There would be an introducer, and he wouldn't understand his business -- this disastrous fact could be counted upon as a certainty. The introducer would be ignorant, windy, eloquent, and willing to hear himself talk. With nine introductions to make, added to his own opening speech -- well, I could not go on with these harrowing calculations; I foresaw that there was trouble on hand. I had asked for the sixth place in the list. When the curtain went up and I saw that our half circle of minstrels were all on hand, I made a change in my plan. I judged that in asking for sixth place I had done all that was necessary to establish a fictitious reputation for modesty, and that there could be nothing gained by pushing this reputation to the limit; it had done its work and it was time, now, to leave well enough alone, and do better. So I asked to be moved up to third place, and my prayer was granted.
The performance began at a quarter past two, and I, number three in a list of ten (if we include the introducer), was not called to the bat until a quarter after three. My reading was ten minutes long. When I had selected it originally, it was twelve minutes long, and it had taken me a good hour to find ways of reducing it by two minutes without damaging it. I was through in ten minutes. Then I retired to my seat to enjoy the agonies of the audience. I did enjoy them for an hour or two; then all the cruelty in my nature was exhausted and my native humanity came to the front again. By half past five a third of the house was asleep; another third were dying; and the rest were dead. I got out the back way and went home.
During several years, after that, the Authors' Readings continued. Every now and then we assembled in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and scourged the people. It was found impossible to teach the persons who managed these orgies any sense. Also it was found impossible to teach the readers any sense. Once I went to Boston to help in one of these revels which had been instigated in the interest of a memorial to Mr. Longfellow. Howells was always a member of these traveling afflictions, and I was never able to teach him to rehearse his proposed reading by the help of a watch and cut it down to a proper length. He couldn't seem to learn it. He was a bright man in all other ways, but whenever he came to select a reading for one of these carousals his intellect decayed and fell to ruin. I arrived at his house in Cambridge the night before the Longfellow Memorial occasion, and I probably asked him to show me his selection. At any rate, he showed it to me -- and I wish I may never attempt the truth again if it wasn't seven thousand words. I made him set his eye on his watch and keep game while I should read a paragraph of it. This experiment proved that it would take me an hour and ten minutes to read the whole of it, and I said, "And mind you, this is not allowing anything for such interruptions as applause -- for the reason that after the first twelve minutes there wouldn't be any."
He had a time of it to find something short enough, and he kept saying that he never would find a short enough selection that would be good enough -- that is to say, he never would be able to find one that would stand exposure before an audience.
I said: "It's no matter. Better that than a long one -- because the audience could stand a bad short one, but couldn't stand a good long one."
We got it arranged at last. We got him down to fifteen minutes, perhaps. But he and Doctor Holmes and Aldrich and I had the only short readings that day out of the most formidable accumulation of authors that had ever thus far been placed in position before the enemy -- a battery of sixteen. I think that that was the occasion when we had sixteen. It was in the afternoon, and the place was packed, and the air would have been very bad, only there wasn't any. I can see that mass of people yet, opening and closing their mouths like fishes gasping for breath. It was intolerable.
That graceful and competent speaker, Professor Norton, opened the game with a very handsome speech, but it was a good twenty minutes long. And a good ten minutes of it, I think, were devoted to the introduction of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who hadn't any more need of an introduction than the Milky Way. Then Doctor Holmes recited -- as only Doctor Holmes could recite it -- "The Last Leaf," and the house rose as one individual and went mad with worshiping delight. And the house stormed along, and stormed along, and got another poem out of the Doctor as an encore; it stormed again and got a third one -- though the storm was not so violent this time as had been the previous outbreaks. By this time Doctor Holmes had, himself, lost a part of his mind, and he actually went on reciting poem after poem until silence had taken the place of encores and he had to do the last encore by himself.
I had learned, by this time, to stipulate for third place on the program. The performance began at two o'clock. My train for Hartford would leave at four o'clock. I would need fifteen minutes for transit to the station. I needed ten minutes, for my reading. I did my reading in the ten minutes; I fled at once from the theater, and I came very near not catching that train. I was told afterward that by the time reader number eight stepped forward and trained his gun on the house, the audience were drifting out of the place in groups, shoals, blocks, and avalanches, and that about that time the siege was raised and the conflict given up, with six or seven readers still to hear from.
At the reading in Washington in the spring of '88 there was a crowd of readers. They all came overloaded, as usual. Thomas Nelson Page read forty minutes by the watch, and he was no further down than the middle of the list. We were all due at the White House at half past nine. The President and Mrs. Cleveland were present, and at half past ten they had to go away -- the President to attend to some official business which had been arranged to be considered after our White House reception, it being supposed by Mr. Cleveland, who was inexperienced in Authors' Readings, that our reception at the White House would be over by half past eleven, whereas if he had known as much about Authors' Readings as he knew about other kinds of statesmanship, he would have known that. we were not likely to get through before time for early breakfast.
INTRODUCING "MT" | AUTHORS' READINGS | FIRST EASTERN LECTURE |
[Dictated Wednesday, April 11, 1906]
I was on the Pacific coast thereafter five or six years, and returned to the States by the way of the Isthmus in January, '67. In the previous year I had spent several months in the Sandwich Islands for the Sacramento Union, and had returned to San Francisco empty as to cash, but full of information -- information proper for delivery from the lecture platform. My letters from the Islands had given me a large notoriety -- local notoriety. It did not extend eastward more than a hundred miles or so, but it was a good notoriety to lecture on, and I made use of it on the platform in California and Nevada and amassed twelve or fifteen hundred dollars in the few nights that I labored for the instruction and amusement of my public. Fifteen hundred dollars was about half -- the doorkeeper got the rest. He was an old circus man and knew how to keep door.
When I arrived in New York I found Fuller there in some kind of business. He was very hearty, very glad to see me, and wanted to show me his wife. I had not heard of a wife before; had not been aware that he had one. Well, he showed me his wife, a sweet and gentle woman with most hospitable and kindly and winning ways. Then he astonished me by showing me his daughters. Upon my word, they were large and matronly of aspect, and married -- he didn't say how long. Oh, Fuller was full of surprises. If he had shown me some little children, that would have been well enough, and reasonable. But he was too young-looking a man to have grown children. Well, I couldn't fathom the mystery and I let it go. Apparently it was a case where a man was well along in life, but had a handsome gift of not showing his age on the outside.
Governor Fuller -- it is what all his New York friends called him now, of course -- was in the full storm of one of his enthusiasms. He had one enthusiasm per day, and it was always a storm. He said I must take the biggest hall in New York and deliver that lecture of mine on the Sandwich Islands -- said that people would be wild to hear me. There was something catching about that man's prodigious energy. For a moment he almost convinced me that New York was wild to hear me. I knew better. I was well aware that New York had never heard of me, was not expecting to hear of me, and didn't want to hear of me -- yet that man almost persuaded me. I protested, as soon as the fire which he had kindled in me had cooled a little, and went on protesting. It did no good. Fuller was sure that I should make fame and fortune right away without any trouble. He said leave it to him -- just leave everything to him -- go to the hotel and sit down and be comfortable -- he would lay fame and fortune at my feet in ten days.
I was helpless. I was persuadable, but I didn't lose all of my mind, and I begged him to take a very small hall, and reduce the rates to side-show prices. No, he would not hear of that -- said he would have the biggest hall in New York City. He would have the basement hall in Cooper Institute, which seated three thousand people and there was room for half as many more to stand up; and he said he would fill that place so full, at a dollar a head, that those people would smother and he could charge two dollars apiece to let them out. Oh, he was all on fire with his project. He went ahead with it.
He said it shouldn't cost me anything. I said there would be no profit. He said: "Leave that alone. If there is no profit that is my affair. If there is profit it is yours. If it is loss, I stand the loss myself, and you will never hear of it."
He hired Cooper Institute, and he began to advertise this lecture in the usual way -- a small paragraph in the advertising columns of the newspapers. When this had continued about three days I had not yet heard anybody or any newspaper say anything about that lecture, and I got nervous. "Oh," he said, "it's working around underneath. You don't see it on the surface." He said, "Let it alone; now, let it work."
Very well, I allowed it to work -- until about the sixth or seventh day. The lecture would be due in three or four days more -- still I was not able to get down underneath, where it was working, and so I was filled with doubt and distress. I went to Fuller and said he must advertise more energetically.
He said he would. So he got a barrel of little things printed that you hang on a string -- fifty in a bunch. They were for the omnibuses. You could see them swinging and dangling around in every omnibus. My anxiety forced me to haunt those omnibuses. I did nothing for one or two days but sit in buses and travel from one end of New York to the other and watch those things dangle, and wait to catch somebody pulling one loose to read it. It never happened -- at least it happened only once. A man reached up and pulled one of those things loose, said to his friend, "Lecture on the Sandwich Islands by Mark Twain. Who can that be, I wonder" -- and he threw it away and changed the subject.
I couldn't travel in the omnibuses any more. I was sick. I went to Fuller and said: "Fuller, there is not going to be anybody in Cooper Institute that night, but you and me. It will be a dead loss, for we shall both have free tickets. Something must be done. I am on the verge of suicide. I would commit suicide if I had the pluck and the outfit." I said, "You must paper the house, Fuller. You must issue thousands of complimentary tickets. You must do this. I shall die if I have to go before an empty house that is not acquainted with me and that has never heard of me, and that has never traveled in the bus and seen those things dangle."
"Well," he said, with his customary enthusiasm, "I'll attend to it. It shall be done. I will paper that house, and when you step on the platform you shall find yourself in the presence of the choicest audience, the most intelligent audience, that ever a man stood before in this world."
And he was as good as his word. He sent whole basketsful of complimentary tickets to every public-school teacher within a radius of thirty miles of New York -- he deluged those people with complimentary tickets -- and on the appointed night they all came. There wasn't room in Cooper Institute for a third of them. The lecture was to begin at half past seven. I was so anxious that I had to go to that place at seven. I couldn't keep away. I wanted to see that vast vacant Mammoth Cave and die. But when I got near the building I found that all the streets for a quarter of a mile around were blocked with people, and traffic was stopped. I couldn't believe that those people were trying to get into Cooper Institute, and yet that was just what was happening. I found my way around to the back of the building and got in there by the stage door. And sure enough, the seats, the aisles, the great stage itself, was packed with bright-looking human beings raked in from the centers of intelligence -- the schools. I had a deal of difficulty to shoulder my way through the mass of people on the stage, and when I had managed it and stood before the audience, that stage was full. There wasn't room enough left for a child.
I was happy, and I was excited beyond expression., I poured the Sandwich Islands out on to those people with a free hand, and they laughed and shouted to my entire content. For an hour and fifteen minutes I was in Paradise. From every pore I exuded a divine delight -- and when we came to count up we had thirty-five dollars in the house.
Fuller was just as jubilant over it as if it had furnished the fame and the fortune of his prophecy. He was perfectly delighted, perfectly enchanted. He couldn't keep his mouth shut for several days. "Oh," he said, "the fortune didn't come in -- that didn't come in -- that's all right. That's coming in later. The fame is already here, Mark. Why, in a week you'll be the best-known man in the United States. This is no failure. This is a prodigious success."
That episode must have cost him four or five hundred dollars, but he never said a word about that. He was as happy, as satisfied, as proud, as delighted, as if he had laid the fabled golden egg and hatched it.
He was right about the fame. I certainly did get a working quantity of fame out of that lecture. The New York newspapers praised it. The country newspapers copied those praises. The lyceums of the country -- it was right in the heyday of the old lyceum lecture system -- began to call for me. I put myself in Redpath's hands, and I caught the tail end of the lecture season. I went West and lectured every night, for six or eight weeks, at a hundred dollars a night -- and I now considered that the whole of the prophecy was fulfilled. I had acquired fame, and also fortune. I don't believe these details are right, but I don't care a rap. They will do just as well as the facts. What I mean to say is, that I don't know whether I made that lecturing excursion in that year or whether it was the following year. But the main thing is that I made it, and that the, opportunity to make it was created by that wild Frank Fuller and his insane and immortal project.