Seattle Encounter with an Interviewer
14 August 1895
But it Does Not Irritate Him -- Talk of Cable and Lecturing
When Mark Twain was shown what purported to be an interview with him published in the Washington City Post, he sat quietly for a minute yesterday afternoon, puffing his cigar, and then said:
"Well, a fellow oughtn't to be too severe on a man that's as hard up for an interview as that. If he wants to palm that sort of stuff off on me, it's all right -- I can bear it. He ought to have made his story a little more plausible, however. In the first place he represents me as collecting, while city editor of the Morning Call of San Francisco, which was just thirty years ago, verses which were not in existence until that time, and most of which were simply manufactured by him for the occasion. In the next place, he represents the interview as having taken place in Hartford, when in point of fact I have not been in Hartford for four years."
Having thus disposed of the tombstone poetry that has been floating about the country with his name attached to a sort of running critique of the sentiment contained in the verses, Mr. Clemens sank back on the sofa and meditated. He had come in the Flyer from Tacoma, where he lectured Monday night, having, as he said, a "delightful audience." Reaching Seattle at 2:45, he was taking a short rest before going aboard the United States steamship Mohican, where he was to dine at the invitation of Lieutenant Commander Wadhams, an old acquaintance of his. Resting, he talked, or according to his own logic, talking, he rested. It is easy enough to tell what he said, but not to reproduce his way of saying it. Talking seems to come as easy to him as breathing. He goes through all moods in five minutes, "from gay to grave, from lively to severe," and it is safe to say that many of his private conversations are fully as rich in thought and humor as his more pretentious efforts on the stage.
"I have a fellow-feeling for newspaper men," he said, "because of my own experience. I have not only written a great deal as correspondent and contributor, but I was at one time city editor of the Territorial Enterprise, of Virginia City, and afterwards of the San Francisco Morning Call.
"My lecture tour thus far has been remarkably successful. I had thought before setting out that everybody in the cities would be taking a vacation; but there have been enough to give us large audiences everywhere."
Then very delicately, almost as if speaking of the disaster that had befallen some friend, he spoke of the business reverses that have come upon him, and his listener was reminded of the story told by Thackeray of the great French comedian's consulting a physician, who, observing his melancholy and not knowing who he was, advised him to go and hear himself and laugh away his fit of blues.
"I cannot hope to build up another fortune now," he said. "I am getting too old for that; I shall be more than satisfied if within the next five years I can pay off my creditors. I believe that I can do it, too.
"It is a little remarkable that Scott was just my age, 58, when the great publishing house of Ballantyne Bros., with which he had formed a business partnership very similar to the one in which I was engaged in Hartford, failed. In his successful effort to pay off the vast debt of $600,000 he killed himself by overwork. No other author could have accomplished such a feat, even at the sacrifice of his own life. Dickens would have come nearer being able to do it than any other, but he could not. Gen. Grant's book, bringing the rich return of nearly half a million dollars within seven months, was an exceptional production and does not afford a precedent in the realm of authorship.
"Now, if I have to pay my debts by writing books as Scott had to write them, I might easily kill myself in five years as he did. But I have the advantage of this lecture bureau system, which has grown to such enormous proportions. Instead of killing me, it builds me up physically. The fatigue of travel by easy stages is not great, and the constant change of air and scenery is beneficial. My health is a hundred per cent. better already than when I started out from home in July."
Just then a small boy happened to pass by, and perhaps attracted and emboldened by Mr. Clemens' kindly bearing, approached him and said, "Say, mister, can you tell me where this place is at?"
Directing the lad with as much care as if he were guiding a caravan to an oasis, Mr. Clemens said:
"It is strange, but although that expletive 'say' is so commonly used throughout the West and South, only once have I heard it for many years. I was standing one day with George W. Cable in front of the St. Charles hotel in New Orleans, when we heard a man shout to another, 'Say, where have you been at?' and the odd form of speech gave us food for talk for some time afterward."
Speaking further of Cable, Mr. Clemens said, "There is no truth whatever in the story that has been going the rounds to the effect that the lecture partnership in which Cable and I were at one time engaged was broken up by a quarrel between us. There is no foundation for such a story. I had been off the platform for several years, and was anxious to take a short turn at it again. At the same time I did not feel equal to the strain of a full evening's programme. I wanted some one to relieve me of part of the burden. Mr. Cable and I entered into a specific agreement for four months, and it is a sufficient contradiction of the story about a quarrel to say that we did not miss a single engagement. We are exactly opposite temperaments, and on that account perhaps became not only close friends, but the most congenial of traveling companions."
Mr. Clemens took occasion again to pay a high tribute to the Northwest, and especially to this city. He is accompanied by his wife, his daughter, his nephew, and Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Pond. The whole party leaves today for New Whatcom, where Mr. Clemens is billed for tonight. Thence he goes to Vancouver, which is his last appointment in America. On Friday he sails for Australia, stopping only at Honolulu, where arrangements have been made for him to speak while the ship waits.