From Harper's Weekly Magazine
MT 70
th Birthday Supplement: 23 December 1905


These cheers, Mr. President, and ladies and gentlemen, are more terrifying to me than the dead silence of which I would gladly be a part. Since you have thought me fit, I could not wish a greater pleasure than that which you have proffered to me. I have written something prefatory to the toast I shall propose, and I wish before reading it to offer you what I believe ought to be a biographical explanation. Mr. Clemens has always had the effect on me of throwing me into a poetic ecstasy. (Laughter.) I know it is very uncommon. Most people speak of him in prose, and I dare say there will be a deal of prosing about him to-night; but for myself, I am obliged to resort to metre whenever I think of him. I fancy there is some strong undercurrent of poetry in the man which drags me down and sweeps me along with him. I remember three years ago, when he was a comparative youth of sixty-seven, I was called upon to respond to some sort of toast, and I instantly fell into rhyme. I don't know that I shall quite be able to scramble out of it to-night. At that time I praised him in what I ventured to call a double barreled sonnet; it was a sonnet of twenty-eight lines instead of fourteen. To-night, as he has the Psalmist's age limit, I thought perhaps a psalm would be more fitting; the psalm of David, if we could not get anything better. (Laughter.) But I found myself quite helpless when it came to the matter of preparation, and I fell back on the Shakespearean sonnet. I found myself, however, obliged to write a Shakespearean sonnet of extraordinary length. Shakespeare wrote sonnets of fourteen lines, mine is of twenty-eight. But you will find Shakespeare again has been improved upon since he died. Mr. Bernard Shaw now writes plays twice as good as Shakespeare, -- and I write sonnets twice of long as Shakespeare. (Laughter and applause.) I don't know that I need delay you longer from the pleasure before you, but such as my sonnet is I will read it. This is a sonnet to Mark Twain.

A traveler from the Old World just escaped
      Our customs with his life, had found his way
To a place up-town, where a Colossus shaped
      Itself, sky-scraper high, against the day.
A vast smile, dawning from its mighty lips,
      Like sunshine on its visage seemed to brood;
One eye winked in perpetual eclipse,
      In the other a huge tear of pity stood.
Wisdom in chunks about its temples shone;
      Its measureless bulk grotesque, exultant, rose;
And while Titanic puissance clothed it on,
      Patience with foreigners was in its pose.
So that, "What art though?" the emboldened traveler spoke,
And it replies, "I am the American joke.

I am the joke that laughs the proud to scorn;
      I mock at cruelty, I banish care,
I cheer the lowly, chipper the forlorn,
      I bid the oppressor and hypocrite beware.
I tell the tale that makes men cry for joy;
      I bring the laugh that has no hate in it;
In the heart of age I wake the undying boy;
      My big stick blossoms with a thornless wit,
The lame dance with delight in me, my mirth
      Reaches the deaf untrumpeted; the blind
My point can see. I jolly the whole earth,
      But most I love to jolly my own kind,
Joke of a people great, gay, bold, and free,
I type their master-mood. Mark Twain made me."
Now, ladies and gentlemen, and Colonel Harvey, I will try not to be greedy on your behalf in wishing the health of our honored and, in view of his great age, our revered guest. I will not say, "Oh King, live forever," but "Oh King, live as long as you like!" (Amid great applause and waving of napkins all rise and drink to Mark Twain.)

Homepage Next Page