I HAVE CHANCED TO MEET."
This formed the title of the lecture delivered last evening at the Academy of Music, by Mark Twain. Despite the inclemency of the weather the house was densely crammed; in fact, it contained the largest audience ever assembled within its walls to listen to a lecture.
Those present had evidently come to hear something good and quaint. In this they were not disappointed. Just before the lecturer was introduced, Mrs. Susan Galton Kelleher sang "The Skylark" sweetly, and received an encore. Upon the conclusion of this the lecturer came forward and said:--
Ladies and Gentlemen:--I ask leave to introduce to you the lecturer of the evening, Mr. Clemens, otherwise "Mark Twain," a gentleman whose great learning, whose accuracy of language, whose devotion to science, whose veneration for the truth and infelicitious harmonies are equal to his high moral character and the majesty of his benign presence. I refer in these vague general terms to myself. It is not the custom here, I believe, for lecturers to introduce themselves to the audience. I thought, perhaps, that it would be better for me to do this myself and then I could get in all the facts.
Well, this lecture is about Artemus Ward. Before I come to the heavier part of my subject I will make a little skeleton of it, an outline of the history of Mr. Ward. I do not propose to load you down with important information, so that you can go home with it. It would weigh you down. I rather illustrate the character of the man by personal examination than by didactics.
When I first started out to make this lecture I thought that I would put three or four persons into it, but as I got on I found I could not get them all into the compass of one lecture. Consequently, three or four were left out. There is no place for John Bunyan, Martin Luther and John Knox. Before I got the lecture done I could hardly squeeze Artemus Ward in so small a compass. I tried to get all of Artemus in, but I couldn't do it. Well, Artemus was perhaps the greatest showman and humorist of the time, but his sudden elevation was due more to his matter than to his manner. His speeches in print were flat, but his talk was interesting. It was unkind to report him. There was more in his pauses than in his words, and so no reporter's pen could do him justice.
Artemus had one favorite device in his speeches, and that was a sudden transition in the statement of sublime facts to a rehearsal of something decidedly ridiculous. The climax was spoiled, but the laugh came in, and that was just what was needed.
The wit of Mr. Ward was very lively. He was a great humorist, nevertheless. True, he must not be compared with Holmes or Lowell. These men have a refinement that he did not possess; but this does not detract from the great showman's ability to create fun for the million.
In his youthful days Artemus Ward hated work. It grieved his heart to see others work. He did not like to see convicts work upon a tread-mill. One time he proposed to the authorities a plan to run the tread-mill by steam. The father of Artemus had a farm, and tried to make the son scare the crows away by firing a shot-gun at them; but the boy was too indolent for this; he loaded the gun and the father fired it. The report was like a young earthquake.
Old Mr. Ward was laid up for a week. The senile gentleman, upon recovering, asked his son to come forward. He questioned him about the loading of the fowling piece -- why he didn't make a report. The precocious youth replied that he supposed the gun would make a report for itself, and so it did. That was enough.
Artemus' health was never good. He never had that strong constitution peculiar to those hardy men of his native state -- Maine.
The lecturer traced at length the career of the great showman and lecturer through America and England, relating a number of his favorite and amusing anecdotes. A beautiful tribute was paid to the deceased humorist.
Throughout the entire lecture the audience was kept in a continuous roar of laughter; and, if Artemus Ward could create fun for the million, as stated by the lecturer, the latter certainly demonstrated his ability to do the same.