Mark Twain as Lecturer
How He Feels When He Gets on the Stage Before an Audience
Mark Twain, in a dress coat, patent-leather slippers and white tie, received a reporter of The World yesterday afternoon in the cosy waiting-room off the stage at Chickering Hall. Mr. George W. Cable was giving his recital of Creole life, and the sound of his baritone voice as he sang the songs of the sunny South floated into the room where the humorist was pacing up and down, gathering vital force, as he said, for his address, which was to follow that of Mr. Cable. Mark Twain's blond mustache was exquisitely curled, his chestnut-brown hair was done up in ringlets in the highest style of the tonsorial art, there was a slightly hectic flush on his cheeks and his eyes sparkled with a sort of feverish fire. Yet he spoke with his habitual drawl.
"Ah, you are cruel," he said, with an air of utter sadness, "to attempt to interview a man just at the moment when he needs to feel good. You've got to feel good, you know in order to make the audience feel the same way, but to try to be funny after you've been interviewed" --. The thought seemed to overpower him.
"I did not think it was such a physical strain to deliver a humorous lecture."
"Ah, you have never attempted it; you don't know. On a day like this, when we give two performances, I feel like all burnt out after the first performance. As soon as I get back to the hotel I go to bed. I must get some sleep somehow. If I don't I will not be able to go through with the evening performance the way I want to. It's the same thing when you're travelling. The audiences, intelligent, newspaper-reading audiences, are responsive enough. They quickly catch the point you are trying to make; oftentimes they anticipate it. Then you are put on your mettle to give a sudden turn to the story so as to bring out a new and unexpected point. If these things don't happen, don't blame the audience; it is yourself who is at fault. The travelling has exhausted you, as I said before; you're not feeling good."
"All this you can judge of by the effect you produce on the audience?"
"Oh, yes. If you hear a rustle here or there or see a particularly stolid face you can tell that there is something wrong with yourself. The effect, of course, is not general. Heaven forbid! You would then have to stop right off. Audiences have their peculiarities, you know. It is a great inspiration to find a particular individual fairly respond to you as if you were in telegraphic communication with him. You are tempted to address yourself solely to him. I've tried that experiment. Sometimes it is dangerous. Laughter is very infectious, and when you see a man give one big guffaw you begin to laugh with him in spite of yourself. Now, it will not do for the lecturer to laugh. His is a grave and serious business however it might strike the audience. His demeanor should be grave and serious. He should not even smile."
"You have had ample opportunity to average your audiences on their receptive faculties for fun?"
"Audiences are much the same everywhere. I have been delighted with all before whom I have had the honor of appearing. In Boston, where Mr. Cable and I appeared before coming here, the audiences were delighted with our efforts to please them. You should have witnessed the enthusiasm last evening. Oh, I have nothing to complain of my audiences -- perhaps they cannot say the same of me. Our entertainment lasts one hour and three-quarters. The fact that Mr. Cable and I alternate makes us able to extend it for that length. Were I lecturing alone one hour and five minutes is as much as I would dare to impose on the audience. The strain on them, all in a humorous direction, would be too much. But now Mr. Cable gently soothes them; then I excite them to laughter, or try to at least; then Mr. Cable has his turn again, and so the change is very healthful and beneficial."
"Your tour will be an extended one?"
"Our agent has booked us to the end of January, and the tour may extend into February. I should like to go to California, if I can manage it. You know this is my farewell appearance. I so intimated to the audience last evening. I told them that I had not practically appeared on the platform for nine years, and that when this tour was over I would not appear again at least, say, not for nine years. It will do me good it will do my hearers good. Yet, I've known people to give farewell performances for fifty years in succession. Now, that I would call stretching a thing a little too far. I like to feel good. To sleep after giving a performance is one way; to go into an assemblage of hail fellows, well met, when things are booming is another way. I expected to have such a time at the Press-Club dinner to-morrow evening. I thought we would give a performance in Brooklyn, and that after it was over I would go to the dinner when things had gotten to be rather lively. Unfortunately, however, there's been a change in the programme. We will be at Newburg, and it will be impossible for me to be at the dinner. I'm ever so sorry. I was going to answer the kind invitation sent me by the secretary of the club, but when I'm on a tour I can't write letters. My wife answers all she's able to. The rest --" A burst of applause at this juncture announced the conclusion of Mr. Cable's recital, and that the time had come for Mark Twain to appear on the stage. As the reporter passed out he heard an outburst of laughter. The humorist had made a point.