Jackson Weekly Citizen

1871: December 19

His Lecture on Artemus Ward--A Budget of Humor.

An unusually fine audience assembled at Union Hall, Wednesday night, to hear Mark Twain's new lecture on Artemus Ward. Promptly on the hour, Mark shambled out on the stage, gazing intently on an open watch, which he held in his hand about as gracefully as he would his "jumping frog." He bowed to the audience, and then stood perfectly still for about five minutes, as though waiting for a sufficient supply of words to commence his speech with. Finally he spoke, and in a nasal voice which from its twang was of itself amusing:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN -- In the absence of the chairman of the Lecture Board, I ask leave to introduce to you the lecturer of the evening, Mr. Samuel B. Clemens, otherwise known as "Mark Twain" -- a gentleman, I may say, whose devotion to science, aptness in philosophy, historical accuracy and love of -- truth [laughter] are in perfect harmony with his majestic and imposing presence; I -- ah -- refer -- ah -- indirectly to -- to myself! [Shouts of laughter and applause.] It is not, I know, customary to introduce a lecturer after the amount of advertising that I have had; but as it was desireable that the introduction should be made, I preferred making it myself, being sure, by this means, of getting in all the -- facts. [Laughter.] I always feel uncomfortable while undergoing this ordeal. There is nothing that will take back, for instance, a young lady, so much as to be introduced at an evening party as the finest singer, the best conversationalist, or the handsomest lady of her vicinity; why, you might as well knock her in the head at once. [Laughter.] I never had but one introduction that suited me. I knew nothing of the man who introduced me, and he knew nothing concerning me. I requested him to leave out all compliments, and get me through as quickly as possible. Well, we went upon the platform and the man said: "Ladies and Gentlemen -- I suppose I am to introduce the speaker to you, and I will do it without delay. I know only two things about him: The first is, that he never was in the penitentiary, and the second is, that I don't know why." [Laughter and applause.] Now, such an introduction as that always puts a man at his ease. [More applause.]

My lecture is about Artemus Ward. It is my purposeto show that he was America's greatest humorist, and I will give you a skeleton outline -- I have not time for more -- of his life. In this outline I shall not load you down with historic facts to such an extent that you will be unable to get home, nor will I even make for you any of my philosophical deductions. This last promise is on my part, a sacrifice, for I admire my philosophical deductions as I admire few other things on earth. Strange as it may seem, I have always found that the effect produced by them upon an audience is that of intense and utter exasperation! [Laughter.]

Artemus Ward's real name, as most of you are probably aware, was Charles F. Brown. He was born in Waterford, Me., in 1834. His personal appearance was not like that of most Maine men. He looked like a glove-stretcher. His hair, red, and brushed well forward at the sides, reminded one of a divided flame. His nose rambled on aggressively before him and was ormamented with a very large and beautiful instep.

He was of Puritan descent, and prided himself not a little on being derived from that stern old stock of people, who had bravely left their country and home for the sake of having freedom on a foreign shore to enjoy their own religion, and, at the same time, to prevent other folks from enjoying theirs. [Laughter.]

Artemus as a youth even, showed signs of the spirit and talent of wit and humor that was in him. When he was very young, he and a companion got hold of a pack of cards and learned to play euchre. Artemus was perfectly fascinated with the game and played it as often as he had an opportunity; but it had to be done on the sly, and he had to hide his cards from his parents. So, when he was looking around for a place to hide them, and the boys thought the safest place they could put the cards was in the pocket of the minister's black gown, under the very aegis of the church. (I don't know what aegis means, but it's a good word and I suppose it's all right.) Well, the old minister was called on to baptize a convert, and as he went down into the water wearing the gown the cards began to come up to the surface and float off. The boys who were on the bank watching, though too great fear, kept their eyes on the cards. As it happened there came up first two bowers and three aces. Of course the boys were thrashed, and an old Aunt of Artemus' proceeded to lecture him on the enormity of his crime. "Why," said she, "just imagine how the poor man must have felt when he saw the cards coming up! I should have thought he would have fainted, and I don't see how he got out." "Well," said Artemus, "I don't see how he could help going out on such a hand."

Ward never had any regular schooling; he was too poor to afford it for one thing, and too lazy to care for it for another. He had an intense, ingrained dislike of work of any kind; he even, when requested by his father, refused to scare crows out of a corn field with a shot gun. But one day he got his eye on an old Queen Ann musket, hanging up in the house, and was seized with a sudden desire to fire it off. So he took it down, and went to the hired man to find out how great a quantity of powder and shot he should use. The hired man was busy and would not pay much attention to him. "Oh," said he, "put in three or four handsfull of powder, two or three of balls, as many more each of slugs and shot, and then fill the gun up with rusty nails and old bits of iron for a variety." Aretmus loaded the gun according to these directions, but dared not fire it off. He carried it around through the fields all day, aiming it first at a bird, and then at a tree, but his courage failed him every time. Finally, his father came up from his work. "Well, so you've been hunting black birds, have ye; killed any?" Artemus with some trepidation acknowledged that he dare not fire the gun. The old man was angry. "Gimme that gun; darsent fire it off, eh?" and he drew bead on a sapling about ten rods off. Artemus knew what was coming, and commence sidling off. The next moment there was an earthquake; the old man was going end-over-end; the sapling had disappeared, and the old man was whirling round and round on one hell, holding his jaw with both hands. The boy began to tremble, for he knew that as soon as the old man could get sufficiently settled, his day of reckoning would come. "Why the dickens didn't you tell me that that gun would kick -- didn't you know it?" shouted the old man. "Yes," said Artemus, with trembling accents, "I was about to tell you, but then I thought you would find it out!" Ward was a dutiful son, and his first act, when money began to come in on him from his lectures, was to free from incumbrance the old homestead in his native town, and settle upon it his aged mother.

His first literary venture was at type-setting in the office of the old Boston Carpet-Bagger, and for that paper he wrote his first squib. He tried every branch of writing, even going so far as to send to the Smithsonian Institute -- at least so he himself said -- a scientific essay. He soon tired of settled life and poor pay in Boston, and wandered off over the country to better his fortune, obtaining a position in Cleveland as a reporter, at $12 per week. It was while in Cleveland that he wrote his first badly spelled article, signing it "Aretmus Ward." He did not think much of it at the time of writing it, but it gave him a start that sent him to the top of the ladder without touching a single rung. He developed here very rapidly. And especially was he noted for the manner in which he would "go for" public nuisances. In a neighboring state was a railroad, one end of which was at the State capital and seat of justice, and the other at the State penitentiary. It was notoriously slow, its trains not averaging over five miles an hour. Aretmus once took a trip over this, and on returning was furiously mad. He immediately perpetrated a squib to the effect that a youth in full vigor of his strength had been sentenced to the penitentiary for two years, and going over this railroad to that institution, he grew grey and decrepid with age before he reached his journey's end. When he got to the penitentiary, the authorities refused to receive him because he did not answer the description; and the poor old man, was turned out to die! Artemus once went to a conductor on this road, and told him that he'd better transfer the cow catcher to the rear end of the train, for there was where the danger was to be apprehended. The train couldn't overtake a cow, but then the animals might overtake the train, and entering the car bite some of the passengers.

He soon left Cleveland, and going to New York assumed the editorship of Vanity Fair. Settled employment, however, did not suit him, and he soon started on his first lecture tour. The success of this new employment, although not great at first, soon exceeded his most sanguine expectations, and he adopted it as a permanent profession. When he went to England his reception was of the nature of an ovation. It is said that for each of his articles contributed to Punch he received $600. His panoramic exhibitions in Egyptian Hall were a grand success, drawing night after night immense crowds to witness them.

The English climate of cold and fog seemed to have the effect of eating away his life, and, although he struggled hard, he had to relinquish his avocation. When he knew that he must die his only desire was to get home, but this was denied him. When he found that he could not get home, he wanted to see some American whom he had known, and have him perform the last duties of friendship for him; but even this was denied. He got as far as Southampton, but his physician peremptorily forbade his attempting the sea voyage, and at Southhampton, in the thirty-fourth year of his age he died, a stranger in a strange land.

Mr. Clemens then closed his lecture with the recitation of several stanzas written for an English publication on the occasion of Ward's death.

Mr. Clemens is a very slow speaker, and one of the easiest to report we ever listened to; but his tones are rather monotonous and tiresome. Unlike Mr. Brown, whom he was lecturing upon, his speeches read better than he delivers them. For this lecture, which took an hour and fifteen minutes for delivering, Mr. Clemens received $125 -- or nearly two dollars per minute.

MARK TWAIN'S NEW BOOK. -- "Roughing It" is the title of Mark Twain's new book, which will soon be issued. It is a companion volume to "The Innocents Abroad," and is filled with descriptions of people and things seen by Mark. In this volume the author relates how "a three months' pleasure trip was extended to a term of seven years, and the causes therefor." Mark tells many humorous and instructive incidents connected with the education of an Innocent, and in this book is a record of varied experiences of the author in various positions in life while en route from that of a penniless American citizen to that of a millionaire, and back to his original condition." The volume will contain between 600 and 700 octavo pages, and will be abundantly supplied with characteristic engravings. Those who had read that charming book, "The Innocents Abroad," will want this companion volume. The book will no doubt be purchased by all admirers of the humorist, and they are many. Miss Nellie Lewis is the agent for Jackson, and is now engaged in canvassing for subscribers to the work.