The Toast of the Evening

According to the chronology at the end of Paul Fatout's Mark Twain Speaking, in the course of his career MT gave over 150 after-dinner speeches. The typical context for one of these performances was a lavish dinner, in honor of someone (like Whittier) or something (like the landing on Plymouth Rock), attended mainly by male notables. A couple hours of eating and drinking was followed by a couple of hours of ceremonial toasting, which allowed for more drinking and also fed the era's appetite for oratory. As comic relief to the standard grandiloquent rhetoric, MT was invited to many of these dinners. By the end of his career "Mark Twain" was himself the guest of honor at such affairs, as the four-page souvenir menu (below left) from a December, 1900, banquet thrown by The Aldine magazine attests. Although they were exhausting events, he never lost his enthusiasm for being there and, when his turn came, "making the tables roar with laughter," as newspaper reports often put it. By starting with the 1882 toast "To Woman" listed first below, you can get an idea how much of his care and energy MT invested in these ephemeral performances. The rest of the sampling below includes some of the best, and in some cases dramatic, of MT's speeches. Along with each text you will find newspaper reports and other contextualizing items.


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