Mark Twain had a large following of admirers who came to regard themselves as his personal friends. Many of them he never met. Most of them never saw him. All of them felt a certain relationship and were flattered by it. Men and women in all parts of our outspread domain, the men especially, cherished a private affection for him. They called him by his first name, which is the surest proof of abiding fondness. Andrew Jackson was known as "Andy"; Abraham Lincoln was simply "Abe" to every soldier boy; and as a later instance, we have "Teddy." Some men settle down to a kinship with the shirt-sleeve contingent, even when they seem indifferent to the favor of the plain multitude.
Mark Twain never practised any of the wiles of the politician in order to be cheered at railway stations and have Chautauquas send for him. He did not seem over-anxious to meet the reporters, and he had a fine contempt for most of the orthodox traditions cherished by the people who loved him. Probably no other American could have lived abroad for so many years without being editorially branded as an expatriate. In some sections of our country it is safer to be an accomplice in homicide, or a stand-patter in politics, than it is to be an "expatriate." When Mr. Clemens chose to take up his residence in Vienna he incurred none of the criticism visited upon Mr. William Waldorf Astor. Every one hoped he would have a good time and learn the German language. Then when the word came back that he made his loafing headquarters in a place up an alley known as a stube or a rathskeller, or something like that, all the women of the literary clubs, who kept his picture on the high pedestal with the candles burning in front of it, decided that stube meant "shrine." You may be sure that if they can find the place they will sink a bronze memorial tablet immediately above the main faucet.
Of course, the early books, such as "Innocents Abroad," "Roughing It," and "The Gilded Age" gave him an enormous vogue in every remote community visited by book-agents. The fact that people enjoyed reading these cheering volumes and preserved them in the bookcase and moved some of the classics by E. P. Roe and Mrs. Southworth in order to make room for "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," does not fully account for the evident and accepted popularity of Mark Twain. Other men wrote books that went into the bookcase but what one of them ever earned the special privilege being hailed by his first name?
When a man has done his work for many years more or less under the supervising eye of the public, the public learns a good many facts about him that are in no way associated with his set and regular duties as a servant of the public. Out of the thousand-and-one newspaper mentions and private bits of gossip and whispered words of inside information, even the man in the street comes to put an estimate on the real human qualities of each personage, and sometimes these estimates are surprisingly accurate, just as they are often sadly out of focus.
Joseph Jefferson had a place in the public esteem quite apart from that demanded by his skill as an actor. Players and readers of newspapers came to know in time that he was a kind and cheery old gentleman of blameless life, charitable in his estimates of professional associates, a modest devotee of the fine arts, a outdoor sportsman with the enthusiasm of a boy, and the chosen associate of a good many eminent citizens. When they spoke of "Joe" Jefferson in warmth and kindness, it was not because he played "Rip Van Winkle" so beautifully, but because the light of his private goodness had filtered through the mystery surrounding every popular actor. William H. Crane is another veteran of the stage who holds the regard of the public. It knows him as the kind of man we should like to invite up to our house to meet the "folks." The sororities throb with a feeling of sisterhood for Miss Maude Adams because the girls feel sure that she is gracious and charming and altogether "nice."
Mark Twain would have stood very well with the assorted grades making up what is generally known as the "great public" even if he had done his work in a box and passed it out through a knot-hole. Any one who knew our homely neighbors as he knew them and could tell about them in loving candor, so that we laughed at them and warmed up to them at the same time, simply had to be "all right." Being prejudiced in his favor, we knew that if he wanted to wear his hair in a mop and adopt white clothing and talk with a drawl, no one would dare to suggest that he was affecting the picturesque. He was big enough to be different. Any special privilege was his without the asking. Having earned 100 per cent. of our homage he did n't have to strain for new effects.
His devotion to the members of his family and the heroic performance in connection with the debts of the publishing house undoubtedly helped to strengthen the general regard for him. Also, the older generation, having heard him lecture, could say that they had "met" him. Every one who sat within the soothing presence of the drawl, waiting to be shirked up on every second sentence with a half-concealed stroke of drollery, was for all time a witness to the inimitable charm of the man and the story-teller.
The knowledge of his unaffected democracy became general. No doubt the housewives loved him for his outspoken devotion to home-cooking. Has any one told in public the anecdote of his tribute to an humble item in the bill of fare? It was at a dinner party in Washington. Senator Hearst was giving the dinner, and Mark Twain was the guest of honor. Here were two transplanted westerners who knew more about roughing it than ever appeared in a book. As the high-priced food was being served to them, they talked longingly of the old-fashioned cookery of Missouri. The Senator wondered if there was any real corned beef and cabbage left in the world. Mark Twain spoke up in praise of the many old-time dishes, reaching his climax when he declared that, in his opinion, "Bacon would improve the flavor of an angel!"
Furthermore is it not possible that much of the tremendous liking for Mark Twain grew out of his success in establishing our credit abroad? Any American who can invade Europe and command respectful attention is entitled to triumphal arches when he arrives home. Our dread and fear of foreign criticism are still most acute. Mrs. Trollope and Captain Maryat lacerated our feelings long ago. Dickens came over to have our choicest wild flowers strewn in his pathway and then went home to scourge us until we shrieked with pain. Kipling had fun with us, and for years after that we trembled at his approach. George Bernard Shaw peppers away at long range and the "London Spectator" grows peevish every time it looks out of the window and sees a drove of Cook tourists madly spending their money.
It is a terrible shock to the simple inlander, who has fed upon Congessional oratory and provincial editorials, when he discovers that in certain European capitals the name "American" is almost a term of reproach. The first-time-over citizen from Spudville or Alfalfa Center indicates his protest by wearing a flag on his coat and inviting those who sit in darkness to comes over and see what kind of trams are run on the Burlington. The lady, whose voice comes from a point directly between the eyes, seeks to correct all the erroneous impressions by going to the table d'hote with fewer clothes and more jewels than any one had reason to expect. These two are not as frequently to be seen as they were twenty years ago but they are still gleefully held up by our critics as being "typical."
Probably they are outnumbered nowadays by the apologetic kind,--those who approach the English accent with trembling determination and who, after ordering in French, put a finger on the line so that the waiter may be in on the secret.
There are Americans who live abroad and speak of their native land in shameful whispers. Another kind is an explainer. He becomes fretful and involved in the attempt to make it clear to some Englishman with a cold and fish-like eye that, as a matter of fact, the lynchings are scattered over a large territory, and Tammany has nothing whatever to do with the United States Senate, and the millionaire does not crawl into the presence of his wife and daughters, and Morgan never can be King, and citizens of St. Louis are not in danger of being hooked by moose. After he gets through the Englishman says "Really?" and the painful incident is closed.
Every man is handicapped and hobbled when he gets out of his own bailiwick. The American is at a special disadvantage in Europe. If he cannot adapt himself to strange customs and social regulations, he thinks that he will be set down as an ignoramus. If he tries to nullify or override them he may be regarded as a boor or a barbarian. Once in a while an American, finding himself beset by unfamiliar conditions, follows the simple policy of not trying to assimilate new rules or oppose them, and merely goes ahead in his own way, conducting himself as a human being possessed of the usual number of faculties. This odd performance may be counted upon to excite wonder and admiration. Benjamin Franklin tried it out long ago and became the sensation of Europe. General Grant and Colonel Roosevelt got along comfortably in all sorts of foreign complications merely by refusing to put on disguises and to be play-acting. But Mark Twain was probably the best of our emissaries. He never waved the starry banner and at the same time he never went around begging forgiveness. He knew the faults of his home people and he understood intimately and with a family knowledge all of their good qualities and groping intentions and half-formed plans for big things in the future; but apparently he did not think it necessary to justify all of his private beliefs to men who lived five thousand miles away from Hannibal, Missouri. He had been in all parts of the world and had made a calm and unbiased estimate of the relative values of men and institutions. Probably he came to know that all had been cut from one piece and then trimmed variously. He carried with him the same placid habit of life that sufficed him in Connecticut, and because he was what he pretended to be, the hypercritical foreigners doted upon him and the Americans at home, glad to flatter themselves, said, "Why certainly he's one of us."