|[Compare this review to the notice in The Chicago Tribune, 18 December 1871.]|
The Great Humorist's Lecture at Washington Hall
A Large and Well Pleased Audience.
Samuel L. Clemens, whose literary name is "Mark Twain," delivered his Lecture on "Roughing It" in Nevada, last evening at Washington Hall. The hall was crowded with the most intelligent and refined people of the city, who had a high appreciation of the lecture, if we may judge from the almost continuous laughter and applause that greeted it.
Mr. Clemens came upon the stage without attendance, and introduced himself in a manner at once droll and novel. He always does this for reasons which he gives his audiences. In personal appearance he very much resembles the pictures that are meant to represent him in his great book, "Innocents Abroad," except that he don't wear the check trousers on the lecture stand that he wore in the holy land. He is a youngish-looking man of somewhere about thirty-five, not handsome, but having a bright and intelligent look, and eyes with a merry twinkle that put him at once en rapport with an audience, and that have a habit of snapping just as he comes to the crisis of the joke. He was dressed very neatly in a black suit, the upper garment being black frock coat, closely buttoned. He is clean shaven except with a heavy dark moustache; and his manner of wearing his hair, which is very abundant, shows that he is his own tonsorial artist. His style of oratory is not unlike that of Artemus Ward. He has the same dry, hesitating, stammering manner, and his face, aside from the merry light in his eyes, is as grave as the visage of an undertaker when screwing down the coffin lid. He appears to labor under some embarrassment in not knowing just how to dispose of his arms and hands, but this only heightens the drollery of his manner, and may merely be a "stage trick." If we remember aright Artemus Ward labored under a like difficulty, real or assumed.
Mark prefaced his lecture with the following remarks:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: By request of the Chairman of the committee, who has been very busy, and is very tired, I suppose, I ask leave to introduce to you the lecturer of the evening, Mr. Clemens, otherwise Mark Twain, a gentleman whose great learning, whose historical accuracy, whose devotion to science, and whose veneration for the truth [laughter] are only equalled by his moral character and his majestic presence. [Renewed laughter.] I refer these vague general terms to myself. [Giggling.] I am a little opposed to the custom of ceremoniously introducing the lecturer to the audience, because it seems to me unnecessary where the man has been properly advertised [laughter,] and besides it is very uncomfortable for the lecturer. But where it is the custom, an introduction ought to be made, and I had rather make it myself in my own case, and then I can rely on getting in all the facts. [Continuous laughter.] It is not a simple introduction that I mind. I don't really care for that at all, but it is the compliments that sometimes goes with it--that is what hurts. It would make anyone uncomfortable. You can fancy a young lady introduced to a parlor-full of company as the best conversationalist, the best model in every way in her section of the country. You might just as well knock her in the head. She could not say a word the rest of the evening.
I never had but one public introduction that seemed exactly the thing; that seemed to be a very inspiration in the way of an introduction. The gentleman had a good head, and he said he supposed I didn't want any compliments. I said he was exactly right, I didn't want any compliments. And when he introduced me he said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I shall not waste any unnecessary time in the introduction. I don't know anything about this man; [laughter] at least I know only two things about him; one is that he has never been in the Penitentiary, and the other is I can't imagine why." [Prolonged laughter.] Now such an introduction puts a man right at ease. [Laughter.]
The speaker alluded to the various lectures which he had delivered the present season. He had prepared several; got tired of them, and cast them aside. He really supposed that his audience didn't care what the lecturer talked about. [Laughter.] The present address was part of a volume of 600 octavo pages, now in press, which detailed his experience in Nevada. He would give them 30 or 40 pages of it, or the whole 600, just as the preferred. "There's nothing mean about me," said Mark, with a sudden gush of innocence.
He then proceeded to describe an overland trip as it was twelve or fiften years ago, before the days of Pacific railroads. He and his party were bound for Nevada. A description of that territory followed, with the characteristics of soil, climate, productions which it presents, and the peculiarities of life and population which it then presented. Its mountains, its valleys, its cloudless skies, were all well depicted. The Territory never had possessed 30,000 inhabitants, and yet it sends two Senators to Congress, and has all the national influence that attends upon a Commonwealth. Equal representation was something which he believed one's ancestors contended for at the time of the revolution, although he was not certain, not having been present. He spent considerable time while in Nevada at Carson City. Here he had a peculiar adventure, which was given to the audience in the form of a narrative. We give it nearly in the speaker's own words:
Everybody rode horseback in that town. I never saw such magnificent horsemanship as that displayed in Carson streets every day, and I did envy them, though I was not much of a horseman. But I had soon learned to tell a horse from a cow [laughter], and was bursting with impatience to learn more. I was determined to have a horse and ride myself. Whilst this thought was rankling in my mind, the auctioneer came scouring through the place on a black beast, that was humped, and ---- like a dromedary, and tearfully homely. He was going at "twenty, twenty-two-two dollars, for horse, saddle, and bridle."
A man standing near me--whom I didn't know--but who turned out to be the auctioneer's brother, noticed the wistful look in my eye, and observed that that was a remarkable horse to be going at such a price, let alone the saddle and bridle. I said I had half a notion to bid. "Now," he says, "I know that horse. I know him well. You are a stranger, I take it. You might think he is an American horse, but he is not anything of the kind. He is a Mexican plug--that's what he is--a geniune Mexican plug," but there was something about that man's why of saying it, that made me just determine that I would own a genuine Mexican plug--if it took every cent I had. And I say, "Has he any other advantages?" He hooked his forefinger in the pocket of my army shirt, and led me to one side, and uttered, "Sh! don't say a word! He can outbuck any horse in the world" [laughter.] Just then the auctioneer came along. "Twenty-four, twenty-four dollars, for the horse, saddle, and bridle." I said "twenty-seven!" "Sold!" [Laughter.]
I took the genuine Mexican plug, paid for him, put him in a livery stable, let him get something to eat, and get rested, and then in the afternoon I brought him out in the plaza, and some of the citizens held him by the head, and others held him down to the earth by the tail, and I got on him. And as soon as those people let go [laughter] he put all of his feet in a bunch together, let his back sag down, and then he arched it up [laughter] suddenly [laughter] and shot me one hundred and eighty yards [great laughter]; and I came down again, straight down, and lighted in the saddle, and went up again. And when I came down the next time I lit on his neck, and seized him, and slid back into the saddle again, and held on. Then he raised himself straight up in the air on his hind feet, and just stepped around like a member of Congress [convulsive laughter], and then he came down and went up the other way, and just walked around on his hands, just as a schoolboy would. Then he came down on all fours again with the same old process of shooting me up in the air, and the third time I went up I heard a man say, "O, don't he buck!" [Loud laughter.] So that was "bucking." I was very glad to know it. Not that I was enjoying it, but then I was taking a general sort of interest in it [laughter], and had naturally desired to know what the name of it was. And whilst I was up somebody hit the horse a whack with a strap, and when I got down again the genuine bucker was gone. [Roars of laughter]
At this point of the interesting scene, a kind-hearted stranger came to the rider, told him that he had been taken in, explained the mysterious terms, and gave him the comforting information that anybody in town could have told him all about the horse if he had inquired.
A description of Lake Tahoe followed, which showed considerable literary skill. This is a sheet of water, beautifully clear and deep, which never freezes, and has wonderful curative properties.
The mining adventures of the speaker, with his hopes, fears, poverty and afflictions, were detailed at some length. Minute descriptions were given of the silver mines, the appearance of the various ores, and the ups and downs of mining life. But, quite unexpectedly, he received an invitation one day from a newspaper in Virginia City, with which he had been corresponding, to come and be a reporter on that journal, at a salary of $25 a week in gold. He went, and remained three years. The life of a reporter was described in the following terms:
I reported on that morning newspaper three years, and it was pretty hard work. But I enjoyed its attractions. Reporting is the best school in the world to get a knowledge of human beings, human nature and human ways. A nice, gentlemanly reporter--I make no references--is well treated by everybody. Just think of the wide range of his acquaintanceship, his experience of life and society! No other occupation brings a man into such familiar sociable relations with all grades and classes of people. The last thing at night--midnight--he goes browsing around after items among police and jail birds, in the lock up, questioning the prisoners, and making pleasant and lasting friendships with some of the worst people in the world. [Laughter.] And the very next evening he gets himself up regardless of expense, puts on all the good clothes his friends have got--[laughter]--goes and takes dinner with the Governor, or the Commander-in-Chief of the District, the U. S. Senator, and some more of the upper crust of society. He is on good terms with all of them, and is present at every public gathering, and has easy access to every variety of people. Why I breakfasted almost every morning with the Governor, dined with the principal clergyman, and slept in the Station House. [Laughter.]
A reporter has to lie a little, of course, or they would discharge him. That is the only drawback to the profession. That is why I left it. [Laughter]. I am different from Washington; I have a higher and grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won't! [Prolonged laughter]. Reporting is fascinating, but then it is distressing to have to lie so. Lying is bad--lying is very bad. Every individual in this house knows that by experience. I think that for a man to tell a lie when he can't make anything by it, is wrong. [Laughter].
A description of Virginia City followed.
After the reportorial experience of Mr. Clemens was ended, he became editor-in-chief of the paper on which he was working. He kept his position one week. The reason for this extreme brevity of time was that, according to the code of ethics of Virginia City, if you injured a man you were expected to challenge him. Duels accumulated rapidly on his hands. The first three or four he did not notice, as it was thought the persons would not fight. But at length he had trouble with the editor of a rival sheet, and a challenge passed. The boys were delighted, especially Steve, a near and dear friend. His friends took him out in the woods to practice with a revolver, that being the favorite duelling weapon. His opponent was a long, lean fellow, and not brilliant. A target for practice was made by leaning a rail against a stable-door to represent his antagonist, and putting on a squash for a head. The rail was a little too much of a caricature, but the squash did very well. He could not hit the rail, or even the stable-door. To make it more uncomfortable, they could hear his antagonist with his friends practising in a neighboring valley. Steve, being a dead shot, killed a bird, and the other party coming over to see what was the matter, the credit of this shot was given to Mark, and the party were informed that he could do the same thing nine times out of ten. When Mark and his friends got home that night they found a note declining the honor of a duel. All the other duels were declined with thanks, and Steve got them much to his delight. But accidentally hearing of his powers, they were all off, whereat that belligerent party was greatly grieved.
The lecture closed with some amusing moral reflections regarding the sins of duelling.