"I was in Paradise"

[In an autobiographical dictation dated 11 April 1906, MT recalled, or invented, or both, how he had given his first lecture in the East almost exactly 30 years earlier (from The Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by A. B. Paine).]

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 persuaded, 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 Mammouth 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 in to 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 on people on the stage and when I had managed it and stood before the audience, that stage was full. There wasn't room 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.