Mark Twain discoursed about the Sandwich Islands for an hour last night at the Music Hall, and although at the early part of the lecture there was evidently some disappointment, he soon was in favor with his hearers, and the last two-thirds of the production were richly enjoyed. Mr. Clemens is truly an original lecturer, his manner being as unique as his matter. He spoke without notes, walked about the stage most of the time, and was dry and droll, serious and even pathetic. His matter was a series of surprises, it being difficult for the listener to know what was earnest and what was fun. His most ludicrous jokes were related with a serious air, that imparted a fresh flavor to them. The entertainment, for such indeed it was, was a very enjoyable one, so enjoyable and peculiar that all attempts to describe it would fail. The hearty applause given indicated that the audience were pleased.
Boston Daily Advertiser,
November 11, 1869
Mark Twain on "The Sandwich Islands."
Boston had a very novel, if not a very startling, sensation last evening in the shape of a lecture from Mr. Samuel L. Clemens, who is known to fame as the humorist Mark Twain. Known to fame, we say, for who that breathes the vital air in America has not heard of the jumping frog of Calaveras County, California? and who has not read of the "new specimen" which Mark Twain made by combining a hawk and a crow in "one neat job"? A company, even greater than that which usually attends the Bureau lectures, assembled in the Music Hall that night with faces primed for merriment, and punctually to the hour Mr. Clemens and Mr. Redpath appeared upon the platform. This was of course, and it was also of course that for fifteen minutes afterwards the speaker's voice should be made inaudible by the rustling and creaking and tramping of the regular crowd of the tardy.
Mark Twain is a very good looking man. He is of medium height and moderately slender build, has light brown hair, a reddish brown moustache, regular features and a fresh complexion; and he has a queer way of wrinkling up his nose and half closing his eyes when he speaks. The expression of his face is as calm and imperturbable as that of the sphinx. Looking at him you feel it to be an impossibility that he should ever hurry or ever be out of temper, and you might suppose him to be incapable of a joke, if it were not for the peculiar twinkle in his merry eyes. His voice is remarkably light and remarkably dry--like some German wines--and it seems to be modulated to only two keys. His style of speaking is unique to the last degree. It is all of a piece with the quality of his humor, and fits him like a glove. He delivers his sentences without haste, and in a tone of utter indifference, marking the highest waves of his thought only by a strong flavor of nasality, and knowing for the most part only the rising inflection at the beginning, middle and end of his sentences. The rising inflection is not native here, nor is it born in the manner of any of our own speakers. Mr. Dickens first taught us how it might be used to advantage; and Mark Twain, doubtless without borrowing a leaf from Mr. Dickens's note-book, has found out for himself how effective an adjunct it is to humorous speech. In short, the platform manner of Mr. Clemens is the exact reflection in speech of his peculiar style of composition. The fun of both is genuine enough; but the perception of the fun is unmeasurably heightened by the apparently serious intention of the general discourse, and at times by an air of half seriousness in the joke itself. The audience gets into a queer state after a while. It knows not what to trust; for while much is meant to be seriously taken, the fun is felt to be the real life of the thing; and yet they never know where the fun will come in. Even when Mr. Clemens has made a really fine period, or introduced a brilliant descriptive passage, he takes pains to turn the affair into a joke at the end. As, for instance, after a very graphic and well written description of the great volcanic eruption in the Sandwich Islands, delivered with perfect indifference and almost as if with an effort--he paused for just an instant, and then said in the same passionless tone--"There! I'm glad I've got that volcano off my mind." The manner is a direct resultant of the matter; and the manner of his speech does a great deal for the substance of his discourse. The story of "Our Fellow-Savages in the Sandwich Islands" would not be nearly so funny to read as it is to hear from Mark Twain's lips;--though we do not mean to deny that there is a great deal of genuine and irresistible humor in the texture of the discourse. Indeed, we mean to say, distinctly, that the contrary was the fact, and that Mr. Clemens showed himself last night in the character of a very quaint, peculiar, and eminently original humorist. America has produced, at least, a quintette of genuine humorists, whose productions have many of the indicia of genius, if they are not wholly inspired by it.
We are obliged to say again, as we said in the cases of Nasby and Josh Billings, that there is little use in trying to write a sketch of the discourse. But we must attempt to give our readers a little taste of the speaker's quality. Mr. Clemens devoted the first ten minutes of his lecture to a painfully accurate description of a person afflicted with the most loathsome form of Oriental leprosy; and then he gave five minutes to the narration of a boyish adventure which ended in his seeing the horrible face of a dead man in the moonlight. And all this mass of horror for what? Simply that he might say that his memory was full of unpleasant things so linked together that when he thought of one he inevitably thought of another, and so on through the entire series; and starting with leprosy and dead faces in the moonlight his mind necessarily ran through other unpleasant things until it brought him to the Sandwich Islands and his lecture. The position of the islands he gave geographically; but why they were placed so far away from everything and in such an inconvenient space, he declined to consider. The man who would have discovered the islands but did not, he said, was diverted from his course by a manuscript found in a bottle; and this, said Mark Twain, is not the only case in which a man has been turned from the true path by suggestions drawn from a bottle. The European nations brought into the islands their own diseases, together with civilization, education and other calamities. The effect of this had been to diminish the native population;--education in particular causing a frightful mortality as the facilities for learning were multiplied. But fifty thousand natives are now left upon the islands, and it is proposed to start a few more seminaries to finish them. The country people of the islands, the women, he said, wear a single garment made of one piece; "and the men don't." But when the weather is inclement the men wear cotton in their ears. The hospitality of the people he declared to be of a very high and generous order. A stranger might enter any house and straightway his host would set before him raw fresh fish with the scales on, baked dogs, fricasseed cats, and all the luxuries of the season. But in trade they were exceedingly sharp and deceitful,--lying invariably from one end of the transaction to the other; not descending to common lies either, but indulging in lies that are "gorgeously imposing and that awe you by their grandeur." The fondness of the islanders for dogs he declared to be intense. Dogs had the best of everything and were the close companions of the men. "They fondle and caress the dog until he is a full grown dog, and then they eat him." "I couldn't do that," said Mr. Clemens, in one of his dryest and funniest passages; "I'd rather go hungry two days than eat an old personal friend in that way."
At one point in his lecture, namely, in the midst of a discussion of cannibalism, Mark Twain paused and said with an indescribable look: "At this point I usually illustrate cannibalism before the audience: but I am a stranger here, and feel diffident about asking favors." However, he said, if there is any one present who is willing to contribute a baby for the purposes of the lecture, I should be glad to know it now. I am aware, though, that children have become scarce and high of late, having been thinned out by neglect and ill treatment since the woman movement began.
But we must leave the rest to the imagination of our readers, only saying that Mr. Clemens told two of the funniest of exaggerated stories in the most irresistible fashion, and concluded his lecture with a few graceful words of thanks to the audience for their attention. Perhaps he is not a great humorist, but he is a genuine humorist. The man who can say that the Islanders' dish of plain dog "is only our cherished American sausage with the mystery removed" is one whose reputation fame will not suffer to die; and if Mr. Clemens can please everywhere as he pleased in Boston last night, he will be sure to make his fortune if he does not become a standard author.
[MT's Boston lecture was also reviewed in a report to the Springfield Daily Republican.]The Springfield Daily Republican,
Saturday, Nov. 13, 1869
From Our Own Correspondent.
THE LECTURE SEASON.
NASBY--MARK TWAIN--DE CORDOVA.
I was going to head this paragraph "The Humorist Lecturers," but the only professed humorist among the three men I have named is Mark Twain. De Cordova is not a humorist at all; and Nasby's humor is subordinate to his radicalism and reformatory power. De Cordova is a nice looking person and is well dressed. "He is put upon the stage unexceptionably," as the theatrical critics say of a new piece at Selwyn's. The screen, the foot-lights, the music stand on which he places his manuscript, are all very nice, and you are somewhat reminded of Dickens when you look at the whole arrangement. And De Cordova is not unlike Dickens in his gesticulation, being very active and sprightly and dramatic on his platform. But his lecture is very thin stuff. I heard him describe the sham family. Ezra Penniman and Anastasia Johnson,--if I have their names right,--were portrayed justly enough, and all the others of the intermarried Penniman-Johnson family; and the bits were all fair, and in the direction of justice and good sense. But the satire was of the mildest sort. Mr De Cordova is, among the lecturers, what one of the illustrated weeklies of the poorer sort would be among newspapers, provided it were better printed and on better paper. There is no wit in him, and no humor. His audience, however, seemed pleased, and not bored by his vivacious nothingness. Nasby applied his remarkable powers of irony and fun to the woman question. I have a little doubt whether his lecture was enjoyed by all his hearers. In the first place the woman cause is not so far advanced that a lecturer who supports the common sense view can be sure of the entire sympathy of an average Boston audience. The Fraternity ticket holders may be supposed to be more radically inclined than any others, but there must be, even among these, many ignorant persons, such as follow Fulton, who are not converted, and are probably incapable of conversion. Then the finest irony, such as Nasby's requires, except in the quickest witted, rather too great a strain of attention for its full appreciation, and for this reason I think Nasby would do well to make his lecture (at least until the people become familiar with the woman question,) mainly argumentative, and let the irony and fun come in frequently and in spurts. I noticed that when, near the close of his speech, he left his assumed character of the conservative, and spoke earnestly in his true radical shape, he got the largest amount of applause. By and by, when the apologists for the subjection of woman are as few and as bad-charactered as the apologists for slavery, Nasby's lecture will be as greatly relished as his wonderful letters. His manner on the stage is not specially happy. He reads, and hurries through his lecture. Lowell says of Alcott, comparing him to a lamb, that "he goes to sure death when he goes to his pen," and I might almost say, so great is the difference between Nasby as a lecturer and as a writer, that he goes to his death when he goes from his pen. But this would not be true. His lecture was a success. It was in argument admirable. Nobody in this country has so keen a scent for a humbug as Nasby. How much he did for us by his inimitable satires upon Johnson and the negro-hating democracy. And now, as I am rejoiced to see, he makes his quarry that glorified and ermined imposture, Chief Justice Chase, and I wish him equal success in hunting him down. May he live long to lecture as well as to write. Mark Twain is a man of a different sort. He (and Nasby also as I am informed), was very nervous at the idea of meeting a Boston audience, though what there is in a Boston audience to frighten anybody I cannot imagine. Boston people are moved by the same appeals, they laugh at the same jokes, yawn at the same dullness, wonder at the same platitudes, as other people. There was no occasion for anxiety in either case. Twain cut his lecture short, finishing it at about 20 minutes before nine, evidently afraid that he was boring his hearers. The best tribute I can give to his performance is to say that I was very sorry to lose the other half hour, to which, as a paying dead-head critic, I thought myself entitled. The lecture was delivered without notes, and so, prima facie, had an advantage over Nasby's. Voice, manner, gesticulation, were all good; and the drawl, whether natural or a trick of art, was an effective aid to the story and the joke. There was no inconsiderable amount of information about the Sandwich Islands and the Kanakas, and some admirable bits of description, so admirable, indeed, that I felt myself a little misused when, getting ready to applaud a genuine piece of eloquence, I was interrupted by the remark, in a low tone, "There, I'm glad I've got that volcano off my mind." Or, "There, I call that rather neat." The Advertiser has so cleverly picked out the plums of this discourse, that I will not quote much. The remark about the islanders' dish of plain dog, that "it is only our cherished American sausage with the mystery removed," is likely to live as long as the best of the anti-sausage jokes. The story of the man who was thrown into the air by the premature explosion of a blast, while he was tamping the charge, and who went up and up till he was but a speck in the sky, and then came down and down and struck his crowbar into the same hole and went on tamping again, was irresistibly funny, and its nub, viz: that the man, though gone only fifteen minutes, had that amount of time deducted from his pay, was better even than the story itself. The proposition to illlustrate cannibalism by an experiment if anyone among the audience would contribute a baby for the purpose, was perhaps the funniest thing in the lecture, and it is hard to describe the dry style of his following remark, quoted in the Advertiser, "I am aware, though, that children have become scarce and high of late, having been thinned out by neglect and ill-treatment since the woman movement began." On the whole, Mark Twain is not only a genuine humorist,--that we all know,--but an enjoyable and successful lecturer.