Archive for July, 2013
The lively and youthful spirit of the raconteur Mark Twain, the “prince of lobbyists,” can be felt on a late evening at the Willard Hotel’s Peacock Alley.
Shout to Leeroy Beebops!
Per their website, “Located just off the lobby of The Willard InterContinental, the Round Robin & Scotch Bar has been a lively meeting place for Washington, DC’s political and social elite since the days of Abraham Lincoln. Long celebrated as one of the best in DC, this legendary bar was known as the nexus of “Rum Row” and the “E Street Corridor” — plying its trade to luminaries such as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. Today, this fashionable downtown spot draws a smart, stylish cross section of DC movers and shakers.”
Last minute shopping Christmas Eve 1874, “BOOKS MAKE THE BEST PRESENTS” notes titles by Twain & Townsend [Evening Star, 24 Dec. 1874, p. 2]
An advertisement for Shillington, Bookseller at the corner of 4 1/2 street and Pennsylvania Avenue notes “Washington Outside and Inside, by George Alfred Townsend. Mark Twain’s Books – Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, and Gilded Age.”
This past Saturday, Sat., March 9th, Jerry McCoy and I uncovered a previously unpublished item from The Georgetown Courier [22 February 1868] announcing Mark Twain’s lecture later that evening at Forrest Hall which still stands today on Wisconsin Avenue as the GAP clothing store. In looking through near hundreds of biographies of Twain his lecture in Georgetown has been mentioned but it has not been give more than a sentence or two in the less than half dozen biographies where it does appear. [ED Note: Mark Twain on the Lecture Circuit, which I have since acquired gives Twain’s Georgetown lecture a handful of paragraphs.]With Jerry’s guidance and direction I am confident I will be able to shine new light on this unique Twain lecture in a book, Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: Adventures of a Capital Correspondent, set for release later this fall. While in Washington, D.C. from November 1867 to March 1868 Twain turned down lucrative offers to lecture. While in Washington, he got his first book contract and began working on Innocents Abroad while sending “Washington Letters” to numerous newspapers from Nevada to California to Chicago to New York. My speculation is there is a personal connection Twain had who asked him to give this benefit lecture. For hardcore Twain scholars this is groundbreaking and for Georgetown it helps confirm another unique story in the neighborhood’s lore. In 1868 the “Ladies’ Union Benevolent Society” was founded with a donation from William Corcoran. It remains in Georgetown today.Jerry’s encyclopedic knowledge and guardianship of the Peabody Room’s collection has been recognized by dozens of authors, journalists and scholars over the years. Witnessing Jerry in action — pulling never before published photographs, vertical files, antiquarian books complete with separately typed index, maps, ephemera and other items with his memory his only finding aid — I now know why he is lauded by anyone who has ever had a question about Georgetown’s history, both past and present.
Mark Twain was born some two or three miles west of the Ninth Congressional District of Missouri, which I represent. He was reared jam up against the north end of it, in the city of Hannibal, which now has a Mark Twain hotel, a Mark Twain monument, and a Mark Twain museum.
It so happened that some years before his death I was top Democrat on the Committee on Patents which has jurisdiction over trade-marks and copyrights, as well as next to top Democrat on the great Committee on Foreign Affairs. In December, 1903, I gave up both those assignments to go on the Ways and Means Committee.
Twain and I had never seen each other, but because we were both Missourians from the same neck of the woods, and because he thought that I was still top Democrat on patents, in January 1904, he wrote to me stating that he wanted a bill passed giving to authors a perpetual copyright. I answered, explaining that the Congress would never enact any such law – also stating that the Congress would be willing to help the authors out, and outlining what I considered possible as to improvements in that regard. I suggested that he employ a good lawyer to work out a bill containing my suggestions, as I did not have time to do it. He followed my advice, and the bill was duly prepared, and finally with some immaterial amendments placed upon the statute-book, making more liberal arrangements as to copyrights, thereby largely enhancing their value.
In February he wrote me that he was coming to Washington to lobby for the bill, and he proved to be the prince of lobbyists. He came to my office as soon as he arrived. After a few minutes’ conversation he said that he wanted to see the members of the Committee on Patents, to talk to them about his bill, which seemed to be near his heart. As I had only one room, and Mr. Speaker Cannon had three or four, I borrowed one his stenographer’s rooms on the ground floor and sent a page up into the House to notify certain members that Mark Twain was below and desired to converse with them. They came gladly – in fact, first and last they nearly all came, and for two days Twain held his court – talking all the time – and such talk! He talked about steamboating on the Mississippi, about his experiences in Nevada, California, and the Sandwich Islands, about lecturing, writing books, about his travels in far lands, about getting rich and going broke, about the prominent people he had met – in short, about almost everything and everybody – but always wound up by arguing in favor of his bill. On the morning of the second day there was a blinding snow-storm in Washington, and Twain blossomed out in a flannel suit, white as the snow, while all the world wondered. For a week his eccentricity in dress was the talk not only of the town, but of the whole country. He was written up and cartooned in ever ambitious paper. His white flannels were the resounding theme of every tongue. Incidentally his bill was universally discussed. For that cunningly devised caper he must have received a million dollars’ worth of free advertising for his copyright bill. Not content with that, he wrote Mr. Speaker Cannon, a humorous note, asking permission to address the House – which the Speaker could not grant, as the rules of the House absolutely forbid the Speaker from even entertaining such a motion. I feel certain that if Twain had addressed the House he would have secured the perpetual copyright for which he longed.
It is said that for years he nursed an ambition to be a member of the House, as did John Lawrence Sullivan. Most assuredly both would have added to the gaiety of the nations.
Some moths after his death there was a great meeting in Carnegie Hall, New York, to pay tribute to his memory. That great hall was crowded to the ceiling. Dr. William Dean Howells presided, made a splendid opening speech, and most gracefully and graciously introduced the other speakers who were Joseph H. Choate, Henry van Dyke, George W. Cable, Mr. Speaker Cannon, Henry Watterson, and myself. I take it that no such funeral speeches have ever been delivered since the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. For three mortal hours we did nothing but crack jokes and tell anecdotes about Twain. The chances are ten to one that that was the sort of tribute to his memory that he would have desired had he been consulted. However that may be, the vast audience enjoyed it, and at 11 P.M., after the manner of Oliver Twist, cried for more.
Clark, Champ. My Quarter Century of American Politics, Volume 2. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920, p. 23 – 25
On the morning following the [Thomas Nelson] Page dinner at breakfast, he said:
“Engage a carriage and we will drive out and see the Saint-Gaudens bronze.”
It was a bleak, dull December day, and as we walked down through the avenues of the dead there was a presence of unrealized sorrow that seemed exactly suited to such a visit. We entered the little inclosure of cedars where sits the dark figure which is art’s supreme express of great human mystery of life and death. Instinctively we removed our hats, and neither spoke until we had come away. Then:
“What does he call it?” he asked.
I did not know, though I had heard applied to it that great line of Shakespeare’s – “the rest is silence.”
“But that figure is not silent,” he said.
And later, as we were driving home.
“It is in deep meditation on sorrowful things.”
When we returned to New York he had the little print framed, and kept it always on his mantelpiece.
Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography, Vol. 4. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912. p. 1351.