A YANKEE'S ADVENTURES AT THE COURT OF KING ARTHUR
How He Felt When He Wished to Scratch and Could Not Because of His Armor-- He Could Not Kill Giants but He Could Lie Better than Anybody Else. So He Became a Great Knight Till He Woke Up.
The regular monthly meeting of the Military Service Institution was held last evening in the museum building on Governor's Island, at which Mr. Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) read a learned essay on "The War Experiences of a Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court." The acting Vice-President, Gen. James B. Fry, presided, and there was a very large attendance. Among those present were Gen. W. T. Sherman and his brother, Gen. J. M. Schofield, Gen. T. F. Rodenbough, Gen. W. W. Burns, Gen. Wm. D. Whipple, Gen. James Grant Wilson, Gen. J. J. Neilhan, Gen. D. McClure, Gen. H. C. King, Gen. 0. L. Shepherd, Col. John Hamilton, Col. John H. Janewary, Col. A. A. Woodhull, Capt. Charles Morris, Capt. J. A. Fessenden, Major W. F. Randolph, Capt. V. Hasafd, Lieut. H. C. Carbaugh, Lieut. J. Reilly, Lieut. John Pitcher, Lieut. A. W. Vodges, Lieut. Frank Thorp and many ladies and gentlemen from this city.
When Mr. Clemens came forward to the reading-desk there was scant standing room in any part of the hall. He was received with much applause and at once announced the purpose of his lecture or talk as follows:
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: This fragment which by your courtesy I am to read here to-night is a story--a satire if you please--which I began to write some time ago and which is not finished; so what I propose to do under the circumstances is to read the first chapter just as it is and then in brief synopsis or outline tell the rest of it in bulk, do as the dying cowboy advised his spiritual adviser to do, 'Just leave out the details and heave in the bottom facts.' It would be impossible to tell much of the story in so short a time as we have and I will begin it just as it is written."
Mr. Clemens then went on to say, reading from the first chapter of his forthcoming book, that in exploring Warwick Castle in England he met a stranger who interested him greatly. They became very good friends and one day the stranger said, "You know about the transmigration of souls; do you know about the transposition of epochs and bodies?" Mr. Clemens had not heard of it, and subsequently this stranger sent him a manuscript. Beginning the reading of the supposed manuscript, the lecturer read:
"'I am an American.' Well, he did not look it. 'I was born in Hartford, in the State of Connecticut. I am a Yankee of the Yankees. My father was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse trader and I was both.' This Yankee was struck in the head one day, and when he awoke he was sitting under an oak tree." The narration goes on to say that there was a man clad in ancient armor from head to foot, and that this apparition said to him, "Will you joust?" "'I said,'" the narrative goes on, "'what are you giving me! Git along back to your circus or I'll report you,' but he went back a piece and then he came tilting at me and I saw he meant business and when he arrived where I was I was up in the tree." (Great laughter.) Mr. Clemens continued the reading, which described how an arrangement was made by which the Yankee was induced to accompany the Knight, believing him first to be from some circus and later on an escaped lunatic.
Describing a woman encountered on the way, the narrative said: "Around her head was a wreath of red poppies, but as regards the rest of her clothing--well, there was not enough of it to talk about. (Great laughter.) She walked along by the circus man and did not pay the slightest attention to him-did not even seem to see him; but when her eye fell on me she seemed to be turned into an image of stone, and there she stood gazing with a sort of stupefied attention till we turned a corner and were lost to view. That she should be startled at me instead of the other man was too many for me. That she should seem to consider me a spectacle, totally overlooking her own merits in that respect, I thought curious." (Laughter.)
Continuing, the manuscript stated that every one seemed to notice the narrator with great interest, while none paid the slightest attention to his conductor. The streets through which they passed were muddy and ill-kept, hogs rooted contentedly about and dogs were numerous. Finally a blare of music announced the approach of a gay cavalcade of Knights in armor, and this was followed by an ascent into a castle. With the asylum idea still uppermost the narrator asked an inmate if he belonged to the asylum, or if he was there only as a visitor. "And he said," continued the narrator, "'Marry, marry,' and I said, 'That'll do, I guess you're an inmate.' One gorgeously attired youth came to me and said, 'I am a page.' 'Oh, go along,' said I; 'you ain't big enough for a paragraph.' (Laughter.) Finally he mentioned in a casual way that he was born in the beginning of 513. Said I, 'Won't you say it again and say it slow? What did you say?' '513.' Said I: 'You don't look it.' And said I 'Are you in your right mind?' 'Yes,' said he. 'And are all these people in their right minds?' 'Yes,' said he, and said I, 'Where am I' and said he, 'You are in King Arthur's Court,' and said I, 'What year is it now?' and said he, '526, the 13th of June,' and said I, I shall never see my friends any more, for they won't be born for more than a thousand years,' and I seemed to believe the boy, although my reason didn't."
The above extract will show the nature of Mr. Clemens's entertainment. Continuing, he said the page assured him, after the dinner of the Knights of the Round Table was over, he would be called in and exhibited by the one who had brought him there, who was the Seneschal of the Castle and the King's foster-brother. Finally he was taken in, and then, in the most humorous style, he recounted the marvellous stories which each Knight at the table narrated and the deeds of valor which he had performed. Finally, the Yankee becomes one of the Knights and is clothed in armor and sent to destroy a castle and kill an ogre which guards it and to set at liberty some sixty beautiful princesses. The description of how a man of the present time would be supposed to feel in a suit of armor was one of the most humorous things in Mr. Clemens's paper. One portion of it was as follows: "God has so made us that there comes a time when we must scratch, and the more we want to scratch the more we would give $10,000 if we could scratch, and if that deprivation goes on there comes a time when we would give a million. First I wanted to scratch my head, then my arms, then my legs," &c. He went on to describe how he had perspired inside the armor, and how on ascending the mountain he froze stiff inside of it, and was finally in a frozen state rubbed off the horse by the animal passing under a tree, and, the armor breaking, he was liberated. He then concluded that instead of seeking further for the castle and the one-eyed giant, he would go back and lie about it, and that this succeeded very well and he came to be recognized as a prime warrior among the Knights of the Round Table. Finally he returns to this country and finds that the Knights had turned themselves into a stock board, and seats at the Round Table are worth $30,000 apiece.
At the close of Mr. Clemens's paper, of which this is but the faintest outline, on motion of Gen. Sherman a vote of thanks was given him.