Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITHOUT MARK TWAIN





At 6:20 pm EDT (3:20 pm, here on the coast, I would hope there might be a moment of silence and ultimate respect. For it was on this date that Samuel Clemens, the great"Mark Twain passed from this weary Earth one hundred years ago this very day. The man who was born in the year of Hayley's Comet and died in the year of a returning Hayley's comet died after a full day of peace albeit of a broken heart. Mr. Twain had lost much in his life (a wife, two daughters, an infants son not to mention a fortune in wealth) but he was bar none one of the best authors of the entire world. My favorite sayings of his are "I think God created man because he was disappointed in the monkey" and "It's man idea, you see that the Deity sits up night and admires him" and perhaps the funniest "Man is actually God's second favorite creature. He's right there between the housefly and the French" The day of his passing is so inspiring. Death was very kind to Mark Twain. Although the end had been foreseen by the doctors and would not have been a shock at any time, the apparently strong rally of the morning of this day had given basis for the hope that his passing would be postponed for several days. Mr. Clemens awoke at about 4 o'clock this morning after a few hours of the first natural sleep he has had for several days, and the nurses could see by the brightness of his eyes that his vitality had been considerably restored. He was able to raise his arms above his head and clasp them behind his neck with the first evidence of physical comfort he had given for a long time. His strength seemed to increase enough to allow him to enjoy the sunrise, the first signs of which he could see out of the windows in the three sides of the room where he lay. The increasing sunlight seemed to bring ease to him, and by the time the family was about he was strong enough to sit up in bed and overjoyed them by recognizing all of them and speaking a few words to each. This was the first time that his mental powers had been fully his for nearly two days, with the exception of a few minutes early last evening, when he addressed a few sentences to his daughter.
For two hours he lay in bed enjoying the feeling of this return of strength. Then he made a movement asked in a faint voice for the copy of Carlyle's "French Revolution," which he has always had near him for the last year, and which he has read and re-read and brooded over. The book was handed to him, and he lifted it up as if to read. Then a smile faintly illuminated his face when he realized that he was trying to read without his glasses. He tried to say, "Give me my glasses," but his voice failed, and the nurses bending over him could not understand. He motioned for a sheet of paper and a pencil, and wrote what he could not say.
With his glasses on he read a little and then slowly put the book down with a sigh. Soon he appeared to become drowsy and settled on his pillow. Gradually he sank and settled into a lethargy. Dr. Halsey appreciated that he could have been roused, but considered it better for him to rest. At 3 o'clock he went into complete unconsciousness. Later Dr. Quintard, who had arrived from New York, held a consultation with Dr. Halsey, and it was decided that death was near. The family was called and gathered about the bedside watching in a silence which was long unbroken. It was the end. At twenty-two minutes past 6, with the sunlight just turning red as it stole into the window in perfect silence he breathed his last. The people of Redding, Bethel, and Danbury listened when they were told that the doctors said Mark Twain was dying of angina pectoris. But they say among themselves that he died of a broken heart. And this is a verdict not of popular sentiment alone. Albert Bigelow Paine, his biographer to be and literary executor, who has been constantly with him, said that for the last year at least Mr. Clemens had been weary of life. When Richard Watson Gilder died, he said: "How fortunate he is. No good fortune of that kind ever comes to me."The man who has stood to the public for the greatest humorist this country has produced has in private life suffered overwhelming sorrows. The loss of an only son in infancy, a daughter in her teens and one in middle life, and finally of a wife who was a constant and sympathetic companion, has preyed upon his mind. The recent loss of his daughter Jean, who was closest to him in later years when her sister was abroad studying, was the final blow. On the heels of this came the first symptoms of the disease which was surely to be fatal and one of whose accompaniments is mental depression. Mr. Paine says that all heart went out of him and his work when his daughter Jean died. He has practically written nothing since he summoned his energies to write a last chapter memorial of her for his autobiography.He told his biographer that the past Winter in Bermuda was gay but not happy. Bermuda is always gay in Winter and Mark Twain was a central figure in the gaiety. He was staying at the home of William H. Allen. Even in Bermuda, however, Mr. Clemens found himself unable to write and finally relied on Mr. Allen's fifteen-year old daughter, Helen, to write the few letters he cared to send.His health failed rapidly and finally Mr. Allen wrote to Albert Bigelow Paine that his friend was in a most serious condition. Mr. Paine immediately cabled to Mrs. Babrilowitsch, his surviving daughter, who was in Europe, and started himself on April 2 for Bermuda, embarking with the humorist for the return to New York immediately after his arrival. On the trip over Mark Twain became very much worse and finally realized his condition."It's a losing game," he said to his companion. "I'll never get home alive."
Mr. Clemens did manage to summon his strength, however, and in spite of being so weak that he had to be carried down the gangplank he survived the journey to his beautiful place at Redding. The first symptom of angina pectoris came last June when he went to Baltimore to address a young ladies school. In his room at the hotel he was suddenly taken with a terrible gripping at the heart. It soon passed away, however, and he was able to make an address with no inconvenience. The pains however, soon returned with more frequency and steadily grew worse until they became a constant torture. One of the last acts of Mark Twain was to write out a check for $6,000 for the library in which the literary coterie settled near Redding have been interested for a year; fairs, musicales, and sociables having been held in order to raise the necessary amount. The library is to be a memorial to Jean Clemens, and will be built on a site about half a mile from Stormfield at ... Cross Roads. It is certain to be recalled that Mark Twain was for more than fifty years an inveterate smoker, and the first conjecture of the layman would be that he had weakened his heart by overindulgence in tobacco. Dr. Halsey said to-night that he was unable to say that the angina pectoris from which Mark Twain died was in any way [related to] nicotine poisoning. Some constitutions, he said, seem immune from the effects of tobacco, and his was one of them. Yet it is true that since his illness began the doctors had cut down Mark Twain's daily allowance of twenty cigars and countless pipes to four cigars a day.
No deprivation was a greater sorrow to him. He tried to smoke on the steamer while returning from Bermuda, and only gave it up because he was too feeble to draw on his pipe. Even on his death bed when passed the point of speech, and it was no longer certain that his ideas were held, he would make the motion of waiving a cigar, and smiling expel empty air from under the mustache still stained with smoke. So at 3:20 this afternoon on the West Coast and 6:20 on the east let us raise a glass to the great Mark Twain: one of the best authors of all time. One of the wittiest and greatest writing talents who ever lived. I am glad to hear that Mr. Hal Holbrook will again be doing Mr. Twain on stage in "Mark Twain Tonight", especially now that his own wife Dixie Carter has passed. Mr. Holbrook is amazing as Mark Twain I will tell you that! God love you, Mark Twain! You have brought much joy into my life. I even portrayed you once at a tribute to a makeup artist who spent a great deal of time making me up to look like you! It was a grand day-- and it actually led to my association with the Gallery Theatre and my writing of musicals. Funny in life how one thing leads so amazingly to another!

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