To Finley Peter Dunne, friendship was a very special condition. When he called a man his friend, he was not referring to a casual acquaintance or a golfing partner but to someone as firmly and as lastingly related to him as the members of his own family. Friendship to him was a sacrament, as tangible and binding as the sacrament of marriage. His friends were an extraordinary group of men and women. They had to be to capture his affection. They included the famous and the obscure, the radical and the conservative, Americans and foreigners, drunkards and teetotalers, priests and atheists, near-scoundrels and near-saints.
Most of them are gone now, and most are forgotten, but a few will live for as long as the history of our civilization survives. In this category must be included Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. Mark Twain died when I was two years old; Theodore Roosevelt I remember mostly as an expanse of serge waistcoat crossed by a heavy gold watch chain. Whenever he came to our house, I was invited to punch this ample target. I would whale away with both hands while the Colonel cried encouragement in the voice which had so often stirred the multitudes. That is not much on which to build a personal memory. But I can convince myself that I knew both Colonel Roosevelt and Mark Twain well, because my father made them live again in my imagination. This was not only because he had the writer’s knack of description; it was because his description was informed with the affection born of friendship. — PHILIP DUNNE
ON THEODORE ROOSEVELT
I suppose it is really too early, in 1935, for any man to appraise Theodore Roosevelt correctly. His letters, his works, the anecdotes of his family and friends do not go very far in building up a simulacrum. Letters that a family dares to publish often conceal more than they reveal. Anecdotes are often malicious when they are not flattering. T.R. was more many-sided than any other man in my experience. To a student of government he was a statesman, to a political reporter a crafty politician, to a man of letters an author. He was an explorer, a hunter of big game, an ornithologist, a lover of poetry, a soldier, a historian. He had many styles. When he wrote with his own hand, he produced charming articles and books. When he dictated to a typist, his style was rude and awkward. So is the style of any man who is so indifferent to his art as to dictate. I tried my best to dissuade him from this pernicious habit. At one time we had offices with the Metropolitan magazine, and it annoyed me to hear him bawling out his articles to his secretary. He would rush in, hurl his hat and overcoat on the table, and begin a stump speech that was afterward to appear as a considered essay in a self-respecting magazine.
I told him how I felt, but he only laughed.
“They read all right to me,” he said.
“But you’re no judge,” I said. “You are damaging your reputation as a writer. Look at those wonderful things you wrote about your experiences in South America.”
“Oh, well,” he said, “you must suit your implement to your subject. A pen is all right for a naturalist, with a poetic strain in him.”
“A poetic strain,” he said. “You didn’t know I had it, but I have, and I can use it at times. But when you are dealing with politics you feel that you have your enemy in front of you and you must shake your fist at him and roar the gospel of righteousness in his deaf ear.”
And he resumed his march up and down the room, striking his palm with a clenched fist and shouting an article that no one but he himself ever read.
My first acquaintance with Colonel Roosevelt grew, strangely enough, out of an article that was by no means friendly to him. All my impressions of this man of destiny were derived from the New York papers; and the political editors of these papers at the time were all practically controlled by Roosevelt’s Republican enemies. Senator Platt and William Barnes. Roosevelt was easy to caricature, so violent were his mannerisms. The picture I had of him in my mind was that of a dude rancher — noisy, something of a bully, class proud, who pretended to a sentiment of democracy that he by no means felt. So one morning when I was especially peevish and found on my desk a copy of his Rough Riders, I was ready to ridicule it to the limit. I wrote a savage review and finished by having Mr. Dooley say: “No man that bears a gredge again’ himsilf’ll iver be governor iv a state. An’if Tiddy done it all he ought to say so an’ relieve th’ suspense. But if I was him I’d call th’ book ‘Alone in Cubia.’ ”
The review caught on, and for a while the book was better known as Alone in Cuba than by its real title. Some years afterward, coming east on the Century, I found Colonel and Mrs. Roosevelt on the train. They had just been at some sort of meeting in Buffalo.
“Tell him what happened,” said Mrs. Roosevelt, with the angelic smile of a loving wife who has a joke on her husband.
“Well, I oughtn’t to,” said the Colonel, “but I will. At a reception I was introduced to a very pretty young lady. She said, ‘Oh, Governor, I’ve read everything you ever wrote.’ ‘Really! What book did you like best?’ ‘Why that one, you know, Alone in Cuba.” ”
I never knew a man who could take a joke on himself with better grace. But I must say, going back to the earlier time when my review first appeared, that I was astonished when I received this letter from him:
MY DEAR MR. DUNNE:
I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall exact that when you next come east you pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.
He never forgot the review, or let me forget it. Years later, when he was President, he wrote me: “Do come on and let me see you again soon. I am by no means as much alone as in Cubia, because I have an ample surrounding of Senators and Congressmen, not to speak of railroad men, Standard Oil men, beef packers, and vendors of patent medicine, the depth of whose feelings for me cannot be expressed in words!” But that was later, after we had become friends.
I NEVER got really acquainted with him until the opening of the Republican convention at Philadelphia in 1900. I was editor in chief of the
Chicago Journal, and I gave myself the assignment of covering the convention. The proceedings were tailored in advance by Mark Hanna and the other bosses. Major McKinley was to be renominated. The platform had already been written. The only thing left undecided was the nomination of a candidate for Vice President. McKinley, and therefore Hanna, wanted Long of Massachusetts. But, strangely enough, Tom Platt demanded Roosevelt. The story was told me that Platt pleaded. “He has a great war record and is popular. McKinley’s war record is against him.”
“Oh,” said Hanna, “talk sense. Why do you really want that fellow?”
“Well,” said Platt, “I want to get rid of theI don’t want him raising hell in my state any longer. I want to bury him!”
Hanna got McKinley on the telephone. The President was at first indignant. He disliked his former assistant secretary of the navy. The two were almost exact opposites in character, in training, in disposition. But the feeling that their ally Platt needed help overcame his opposition. He consented to “bury” Roosevelt in the vice presidency.
The Colonel appeared by no means overanxious for the place. Platt worked to cajole him into accepting through appeals to his vanity. His ambition was appealed to, his duty as a soldier.
I don’t think he was convinced by the claque. My own theory is that he coolly weighed the political possibilities of the position. He might be able to overcome the majority of the Senate with voice and gavel. If he could hammer them into submission, he would be the best-loved man in America. He said afterward that he accepted the nomination because it offered him a quiet and sequestered place in which he could retire and study politics like a philosopher and write books without interruption — a remark that, if he never said anything else that was funny, alone would place him in the front rank of American humorists. Theodore Roosevelt seeking quiet in his life!
But his intention to accept was not known to anyone in the convention when an old friend of mine, Senator Tom Carter ot Montana, came up to the press section and said, “Governor Roosevelt wants to see you. Come on down.”I can’t say I was particularly keen for the meeting. To a somewhat cynical political reporter, a governor of any state was just a governor, and he was nothing more and wouldn’t be that much very long. But it suddenly occurred to me that I might gain from him an answer to the question, “Will Roosevelt accept the vice-presidential nomination?” So I went down and found T.R. most amiable and complimentary. I disregarded his flattery and asked him point-blank, “Will you accept the nomination for Vice President?" His face broke into the broadest of his famous grins, and he said, “I don’t desire the office, but there has been such an apparently unanimous demand from all parts of the country for my services that I feel bound to accept. Now, about that article, I wish to say —" But what he wished to say I never learned. I had only five minutes to send a flash to my paper.
After he succeeded to the presidency I saw him from time to time at the White House or at Oyster Bay. In the White House, my wife and I found him as cordial a host as Mrs. Roosevelt was a charming and kindly hostess. I must say that of all the men and women who have occupied this place in our day, President and Mrs. Roosevelt were socially the most graceful. They seemed to belong there. The President’s table was abundant. I am sure he never tried to live on his salary and allowance. This much is certain, he was less provident than Mr. Coolidge. But he came of another breed.
He drank no spirits himself. He told me that when he was a boy at Harvard, he got into a fight with a friend at the Porcellian Club after both of them had drunk too much whiskey. From that moment, he never touched the stronger forms of alcohol, but he liked the French white wines, especially champagne, and took good care that his guests had plenty of this excellent, if expensive, stimulant. I liked his dinners, but at his lunches we had what he would call a “bully” time. Mrs. Roosevelt named them “Dooley lunches” because I once described a gathering of baseball players, roller skaters, boxers, contortionists, and poets as his chosen company for meals. This was not quite true, but he did like to have amusing people around him at informal meals and he was utterly indifferent as to their political position, their social standing, or their wealth. Everybody who wanted to talked up, about art or politics or poetry or music or war, the President occasionally sending down a booming pleasantry to a friend at the end of the long table.
Once he placed me next to M. Jusserand, the French ambassador. Jusserand and Spring-Rice of England were great ambassadors for their countries with Roosevelt in the White House. T.R. felt a deep affection for the Frenchman, and SpringRice had acted as best man at his wedding in London. Among his other distinctions, M. Jusserand was one of the best living Shakespearean scholars. He spoke the most perfect English with a French accent that made it hard to understand him unless you knew some French. Roosevelt himself was a sound Shakespearean. The three of us first talked about the Baconian theory and agreed that we never knew a man with a spoonful of brains who had really read Shakespeare and Bacon and believed this silly nonsense. Then we got on Shakespeare’s plays, and there was a lively discussion. T.R. was disposed to question Shakespeare’s authorship of Romeo and Juliet, recalling, perhaps, the spuriousness of the First Folio of the play. Jusserand began, “But, my friend, who but a gr-reat poet could have written zis: ‘Oh, spik again, br-right angel! for zou art As glorious to zis night, being o’er my ‘ead, As eez a winged messenger of ‘eaven Unto zee wite-upturned wond’ring eyes Of mortals zat fall back to gaze on heem When he bestrides zee lazy-pacing clouds And sails upon zee bosom of zee air.’ ”
At this moment a soldierly-looking man across the table was heard to say to his neighbor, “The Japs have fine artillery. Their shrapnel is wonderful. I once saw a group of twenty men at Port Arthur actually disemboweled by one shell burst.”
“What was that? What was that?” the President cried suddenly. “Disemboweled?”
From that moment he left Juliet speechless in the moonlight on the balcony while he and the major discussed across the table the nature of gunshot wounds in modern warfare.
The ambassador rallied him lightly after lunch. “I’m sorry,” said the President. “I didn’t mean to break up our discussion on Shakespeare, but I was deeply interested in what the major said. He was one of our observers at Port Arthur. Major Pershing brought him here.”
“It makes little difference,” said the Frenchman. “There is quite as much bloodshed as love in Shakespeare — even in Romeo and Juliet.”
AS A general thing, T.R. didn’t like the diplomats. He thought few of them knew their own business. They were almost as stupid as our own ambassadors. John Fox used to tell of sitting with him when Miss Alice Roosevelt came in.
“Where are you going, Alice?” he asked.
“To a diplomatic reception,” she said.
“I suppose,” said her father, “there will be many dagos there. Do you know, John, I divide the human race into two great classes — white men and dagos. And I don’t mind telling you that under the term ‘dagos,’I include the entire diplomatic corps.”
Of course, this was fun. But it is a fact that his strong national feeling did lead him often into fierce expressions of animosity toward foreign countries. He had the deepest possible love of country, not particularly of its people, or of the form of government molded for them by the retired lawyers on the Supreme Court, but of a spiritual creation, something abstract and intangible that he called America. He was as jealous of her as a lover could be of his mistress, as distrustful of those who sought her goodwill, as sad over such faults as his doting eye could see in such a heavenly creature, and fiercely resentful of any attack on her honor.
At this point I should like to insert one of many letters I had from him. Most of them have been published by his various biographers. This one I reprint because it paints a picture of his feeling about our foreign relations that is more illuminating than any I could make. Apparently he wrote it at a white heat and with no premeditation. Dec. 3, 1904.
MY DEAR DUNNE:
Your letter pleases me so much that I must send you a line in reply. Did you ever happen to read (for your sins) a little volume of mine called American Ideals? If you have not, I won’t curse you by presenting it to you, but I shall show you some extracts from it when you come on here. I think you will see that I have exactly your theories. You could not protest any more strongly than I would protest against any “social and political campaign among university professors and associations of wholesale pawnbrokers to create an ‘Anglo-Saxon alliance.’ ” I doubt if this movement is as strong now as it was when I was younger. As I said, I shall show you some of the pieces I have written about it, including one I wrote in support of President Cleveland’s Venezuelan message — at which time I had promptly volunteered at the War Department for service against England in the event of war.
As I stated in my Frederick the Great statue speech the other day, and as I have stated many, many times, we are not the same as any OldWorld race. We are a new race, composed of many Old-World stocks. As you, perhaps, know, I was attacked in the last campaign by the A.P.A. people because of a speech of mine at a New England society dinner, where, having listened to what I regarded as altogether too much talk about our being transplanted Englishmen, I explained to the assembled guests that I was not English at all and had little English blood in me; and added that, though it was true I came of one stock (the Dutch) which the English had overridden in New York, yet that I also came from another (the Irish) which had in turn overridden them! As long as I am President there will be no alliance with anybody unless some conditions, which I cannot now see, arise; but there will be friendliness with everybody. I am as friendly to the English Government as to the government of any other European power, but no more so than to any other government. For the English people I have a sincere regard; and there are a very limited number of them, like John Morley, James Bryce, St. Loe Strachey, and my good friend Cecil Spring-Rice, of whom I am personally fond and whom I like to have as my guests. But I am not under the slightest illusion about the English feeling toward us, and the average Englishman is not a being whom I find congenial or with whom I care to associate. I wish him well, but I wish him well at a good distance from me. England has been friendly with us since we have grown so strong as to make her friendship a matter of more moment to her than to us. If we quit building our fleet England’s friendship would immediately cool: but I do not think that in this respect she differs from most of the powers of Continental Europe. If we get into trouble we cannot count upon the friendship of any power, or alliance with any power, or blood relationship with any power; we can count upon our preparedness for war and upon the fighting edge of our sailors and soldiers. But I do not want to see bitterness among us against England or against any other power. I have been a strong homeruler, as you know, and of course the descendants of the Irish here will cherish bitter memories against England just as my beloved friend Jacob Riis hates Germany because of the fate of Schleswig; just as Senator Nelson hates Russia because of what she has done to the Swedish and Finnish people of Finland; just as Alsatian friends of mine have hated Germany; as Italian friends have hated Austria. It is impossible for the American people, or for me, to go into these hatreds, any more than I could have heeded the protest of the Poles against my accepting the statue from the German Emperor. But always remember that I am with you heart and soul in laughing away such a folly as the “Anglo-Saxon alliance” business. The first part of your article in question pleased me much, and I have myself had letters from Englishmen which exactly and literally reproduced the attitude you described the British public is taking toward the United States; and Sir Edward Clarke’s speech at the banquet to Choate the other day, reached a point of unconsciously impertinent silliness which could not be caricatured.
I have had a certain share in making the Kiernans of New York a hereditary Harvard family. Kiernan and Daly were two of our best football captains. Nothing has pleased me so much about Harvard — and some things have pleased me very little about Harvard — as the growth of the young Irish, or perhaps I might speak a little more broadly, of the Catholic element in it.
Have you entered Dunne minimus at Groton yet? Pray enter him at once, or he won’t get in. All the boys have to be entered in extreme youth. Do write at once and let me know when you have entered him, and I shall send a letter to Endicott Peabody myself about it.
I have been deeply gratified by the support I have received from the young men, Catholic by faith and of Irish descent, this year; and most of all, I am pleased because I got it through no demagogic bid, but because they were convinced that I was their style of a man, and was trying to give everybody a square deal. For instance, I appointed Wynne First Assistant Postmaster General and afterwards promoted him to be Postmaster General; I appointed Lawrence Murray to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Labor. As a matter of fact, I did not know that either of them was a Catholic when I appointed him. I appointed each because I thought he was the right man to have in the place. I was pleased to find that they were Catholics, because in the Republican party, until within a short time, there have been so few Catholics, and especially so few Catholics of Irish parentage, that it has been a difficult matter to get them in high position. But of the nine members of the Supreme Court, two are now Catholics of Irish descent; of the seven Ambassadors, one; of the nine members of the Cabinet, one; of the Republican Senators, two; and so on and so on. This is not a bad showing for the Republican party when, as I say, you consider the small percentage of Catholics, and especially of Irish Catholics, which until very recently it has had within the ranks. If Senator Cockrell does not accept the Isthmian Canal Commissionership, I am going to put Major Byrne in. I am the first President who has ever brought the proportion of Catholic chaplains in the army and navy up to the proper level. Twenty years ago I was an ardent worker for the nomination of Phil Sheridan to the Presidency. In fact, my dear fellow, if there has been one thing more than another to which I have bent my energies, it has been to getting all Americans, of whatever creed, and whether of old native or of Irish or German or Scandinavian stock, fused into one people with the same spirit, and governed by the same principle of recognizing in a man nothing whatever but his individual merit.
Good-bye, friend! It is a good thing to have in the country a man to whom a President can write with the frankness and freedom with which I have written to you.
Give my warm regards to Mrs. Dunne. Faithfully yours,
I have read this letter over a great many times with delight to think that this fine American felt exactly as I — an American of Irish parentage — did on this question.
I HAVE said that there should be an adequate life of Theodore Roosevelt. The writer will have many documents to study, but one of his main sources of information for the history of this genius and his times must be the reports of his contemporaries, some of them intimate friends and others in a position to observe his acts intimately. His character is not to be caught in the delicate web of a cold and careful contemporary observer. The Roosevelt spirit has threshed itself free of such laces a score of times. And the biographer must be sure of the good faith of his witnesses. Of all sins, Roosevelt hated lying most. Yet he was more often accused of double-dealing than any other man of his generation. His hatred of falsehood was well known to those who were brought in daily relation to his life, but the slander on his veracity persisted.
Of all John Hay’s stories of Lincoln, the one that Roosevelt liked best reflected both his abhorrence of untruth and his fondness for physical force as a corrective of sin. A Cabinet meeting was in session, and a man appeared at the door and nodded to the President, who apparently knew him. The visitor spoke with great vehemence. Lincoln smilingly tried to quiet him. But the man grew more violent and was heard to say in a high voice, “Mr. President, I don’t believe you are telling the truth.” The President said no word in reply. But he seized the visitor by the coat collar and actually kicked him out of the White House. With the certain authority of his great physical strength, he held his victim at arm’s length and slowly and deliberately booted the man through the anteroom and down the hall to the door, and then, releasing him, gave him one magnificent kick down a short flight of stairs to the lawn. Then he returned to the business of the day.
In dealing with stories reflecting on Roosevelt’s truthfulness, any biographer must consider the character of the men he was fighting. Of what use would it be to him or his aims to be outspoken to such politicians as Tom Platt, Bill Barnes, or Matt Quay or such capitalists as Jim Hill or E. H. Harriman? They were his enemies and the enemies of his faith. Why should he lay his cards on the table before them? No, Theodore Roosevelt was a truth-telling man. He may have practiced what is known in theology as the “ Economics of St. Francis Liguori” — an admirable saint, but Italian. He was sometimes sparing of facts in talking with his enemies. Let them draw their own inferences from what he said. The inferences were often vicious. They were invariably incorrect. But why should he worry about that? You must never forget that Roosevelt had a soldier’s mind and that he looked upon his political career as war against the “forces of evil.” “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord,” he cried. Dissembling is an essential part of strategy in war. To accuse Roosevelt of falsehood because Harriman went away from a visit to the White House with the impression that Roosevelt had the same standards of personal integrity that were Harriman’s would be a good deal like calling Robert E. Lee a rascal because he let his soldiers bluff the prudent McClellan by placing logs fashioned like cannon on their entrenchments. People are too liable to remember only one part of T.R.’s famous saying: “Carry a big stick.” The other part of the adage was “Speak softly.” I think he meant “walk warily,” for he was not soft of speech.
I MUST revert again to my belief in the importance of the individual in the making of history when I repeat that the financiers and politicians encountered in Theodore Roosevelt a political genius of the first order. Carlyle afforded a perfect anodyne for the soreness of stupidity when he borrowed from Buffon the saying that genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains. But the frustrate of Cheyne Walk probably didn’t mean that any more than he meant the other silly things he said. When a genius comes along, the masses see him and marvel at him as they do at a comet. The middle class of businessmen find nothing in him to excite wonder and, if they ever admitted the possibility of such a thing, would be more likely to ascribe genius to the Michigan tinker, Henry Ford, than to the Bedford tinker, John Bunyan. But the highly intelligent classes see the prodigy clearly. The elder J. P. Morgan, being something of a genius himself, was first to understand Theodore Roosevelt. He gave way to him over the Reading strike, silenced the fool Baer who had proclaimed that he was ordained by God to keep down wages, and saw to it that the leaders of the union were secretly bribed. He was repaid a hundredfold when Roosevelt, with utter disregard for the statutes, let the U.S. Steel Company grab the Tennessee Coal Company away from the crippled or bankrupt Grant Schley.
Hill — the railroad Hill — had more of the stigmata attributed to genius by the pathologists. When he was angry his great hairy face became distorted, his eyeballs turned in, he stuttered and gasped broken invective, and altogether gave the appearance of a man in an epileptic convulsion. I have always thought that in 1900 and thereafter Hill was a good deal more than half mad. His egomania was terrifying. His plans for power had been thwarted by Roosevelt, and when Teddy’s name was mentioned, he frothed at the mouth. I don’t mean this as a figure of speech. It is actually a true description of a physical phenomenon. And what else but madness could it be in a man to advocate repealing the immigration laws and flooding this country with “cheap labor"? He visited this belief on Henry Cannon and myself one day, when he joined us at lunch at the Savarin restaurant. I thought he was joking when he cried, “Why should I have to pay a fireman six dollars a day for work that a Chinaman would do for fifty cents?” But Cannon, who was his banker and friend, told me he meant what he said, and I was convinced of it when he stopped me later in the day in front of the Sub-Treasury building and, holding me with a paw like a grizzly bear’s, pounded my chest with a roll of blueprints while he shouted: “This country is ruined by the wages paid the workingmen. Let down the bars!” His wildness made him look like a Blake picture of the prophet Elijah in one of his least playful moods. But he never ascended to heaven in a spectacular or any other way. Roosevelt threw a sprag into a wheel of that chariot, and the old fellow died cursing the man who had spoiled his exit.
Yes, Theodore the Great was confronted by the ablest and the most remorseless financiers of all time. They held the politicians in their hands completely. But Roosevelt’s intuitions were a thousand times as certain as Hanna’s wisdom or the slyness and cunning of Matt Quay and Tom Platt. His political clairvoyance was strengthened by his resentment of the control of government by the “Money Power.” Up to his time the direction of legislation at Washington by the rich men of the country was almost taken for granted. Even under Cleveland the public was treated to the spectacle of the Secretary of the Treasury, Carlisle, trying to sneak through the back door of a New York restaurant and get his orders on the Treasury’s policy from a small group of Wall Street financiers. But Roosevelt, unlike the average Washington politician, was used to money. It had no sacredness in his eyes. He was brought up among people who had money, and he was moderately well off himself. His father had left each of the children between $15,000 and $20,000 a year, and you may be sure that this did not diminish when nursed on the ample financial bosom of Edith Roosevelt. To this he added several thousand dollars a year from his writings. It must be remembered, also, that he often held highly remunerative public offices. Not as many as Calvin Coolidge, who, as the Irish say, “never did a tap of work” from the time he left Amherst College, but lived always on the salaries of the offices he managed to pick up. But at one time or another, Roosevelt was a member of the New York state legislature, commissioner of police in New York City, civil service commissioner, assistant secretary of the navy, Vice President, and President. But even if his income had not been supplemented by these windfalls, even if it had been less than his father left him, he would still have felt instinctively the resentment of every man who felt proud of his country and was jealous of its honor against the uncouth usurpation of the government’s functions by “malefactors of great wealth.”
These “Titans,” as the newspapers of the day loved to call them, fought among themselves for control of the Northwestern railways with utter disregard of the effect of the brawl on the public interest and the stockholders. Suddenly the President stepped in and smote them hip and thigh. They fought back for a time, but they were beaten the minute the Big Stick whirled.
The three marked capitalists in the battle of 1901 and the years following were Morgan, Harriman, and Hill. We thought at the time it was a war of the worlds, but the present generation knows little of it and probably cares less. In our day it was big stuff, and we watched the conduct of the principal actors with profound interest.
Morgan chuckled and conceded defeat with the urbanity of a monarch who has been outmaneuvered in diplomacy by a rival emperor. Hill raved. Harriman was a born gambler, and he took his losses with all the aplomb of Jack Hamlin. Roosevelt had destroyed his racket, which was to acquire such political control of New York and other states as would enable him to destroy Morgan’s financial ascendancy. He playfully regretted that he and the President didn’t see eye to eye on public matters. Each thought he was right. But it was a difference in opinion that made markets and horse races and so forth. Meanwhile, he coolly bided his time, which came when his adversary turned over the government at Washington to William Howard Taft.
Taft, with his brother Charlie to nudge his elbow, dealt cards that were entirely satisfactory to the gentlemen who placidly accepted the brevet of “Captain of Industry” or “Empire Builder” and probably really did think they were heroes of that “Romance of Business” of which we subsequently have read a good deal of slop. But the comedy nearly came to an end in 1907, even with its all-star cast. After the great actors had departed this life or retired, it bogged down pretty badly in 1921. It was revived by the speculative fury of the Stock Exchange and by the pressagent work of newspaper and magazine writers who spread the delusion that these “financial wizards” of the twenties were all supermen and not — as most of them were — empty-headed and coldhearted gamblers. Finally, its sham jewels and its tawdry scenery were flooded out by the freshet which the members of the Stock Exchange agreed in pronouncing the “debbicle” of 1929. Toward the end, with all its false splendor, it was fairly shabby to the experienced eye. No one in his senses would think of comparing the clownish troupers of the 1920s, the vendors of poisonous synthetic foods, to the pirates of an older age. Hill and Harriman and Morgan were more of the Drake and Frobisher school: these later ones were imitations of the kind of pirate that lurks in the backwaters of the Chinese rivers. Who would think of comparing Insull to Rockefeller, “Young Jack” Morgan to “J.P.,” Cravath to Whiting, the Van Sweringens to Harriman and Hill?
AND now with another Roosevelt at the helm in Washington, once more the winds of abuse blow at gale force from Wall Street toward the White House. Today’s political fury of the stockbroking caste against their rescuer is a most peculiar phenomenon. History offers no parallel insanity, except perhaps in the warped mind of John Wilkes Booth, whose bullet laid low the one man who might have spared the South the horrors of Reconstruction.
But then, no American President can wish for greater fortune than to be cordially hated by his greedier fellow citizens. The history books will have little to say of the nonentities in the White House who only succeeded in boring the people to death. But Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, the two Roosevelts will be remembered for as long as this republic survives.
It may be a sign of old age, but it seems to me that today’s political invective is sharper, fouler, less tolerant than it was in the days of my youth. The patriots of my time spoke freely of the horsewhip and the punch in the nose as legitimate methods of political persuasion, but there was none of today’s snarling hatred of an opponent, nor did individuals who blandly accept the designation of “gentleman” invent scatological stories about a political enemy’s wife.
An ancient acquaintance of mine, a banker of international reputation, would cheerfully enter a plot to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt — if he could find someone else to do the deed, put up the money, and take the blame! His emotions, as in his fiscal dealings, are tempered by his love of betting on a sure thing. Only a few years ago, when his bank nearly went under in the crash, this same fellow came to me in panic and asked what I thought the market would do, asked me, as innocent of finance as he is of courage ! Fearing the worst, he had his wife fire the servants, the first recourse of all withered plutocrats, and chartered his yacht to a rumrunner. Now, with the greater part of his millions restored, he is ready once more to assert himself in the affairs of state.
He detects a plot to Sovietize America, masterminded by none other than my friend Felix Frankfurter, and abetted by the columnists Walter Lippmann and David Lawrence. All three, as he points out, are Jews, and therefore a constant threat to pure Aryan financiers. But why waste my time writing of such a mushhead?
I have been asked why I don’t do some Dooleys on Adolf Hitler. The answer is that I cannot. Insanity and racial murder are not fit topics for one who would be considered a humorist. I fear that I am like my friend the banker: if I had a gun in my hand and Hitler in front of me, I would use it — provided that I had waiting for me a fast getaway car with one of Al Capone’s drivers at the wheel. And that is the real tragedy of our age, that those who live by hate contaminate us all and drag us down to their level.
But perhaps the worst thing that has happened to us is that we are losing our political humor. George Ade, who is two years older than I am, tells me that his failing eyes detect the same signs mine do. A candidate for high office these days must ape in dreariness the pronouncements of a Calvin Coolidge or a Herbert Hoover. There is no place for the sly jests of a Lincoln or the Homeric laughter of a Roosevelt. I’m glad that I’m not a young man, for I fear that today Mr. Dooley’s irreverence would be considered treasonable.
But not in Theodore Roosevelt’s time. He valued humor on a par with the other qualities which mark the civilized man: intelligence, charity, and courage. He even pretended to take as much interest in my work as I took in his. He was good enough to write me in 1907: “Let me repeat that Dooley, especially when he writes about Teddy Rosenfelt, has no more interested and amused reader than said Rosenfelt himself.” Since he was my most cherished source of copy, this could be taken to mean that he missed little that I wrote. Certainly I missed none of his actions. They were my bread and butter. I once listed my assets as a political commentator for him. I put him at 90 percent.
He didn’t mind what I said about him because he was a large man. He was even large enough to laugh at himself. Once, at a White House luncheon, he was talking of making a dive in one of the navy’s submarines and was extracting much pleasure from the horrified protests of some members of his entourage. He asked me for my opinion, and I said that it was perfectly all right for him to go “as long as you take Fairbanks with you.” Fairbanks was the fatuous politician who was currently Vice President. I will always remember the shocked silence at the table, broken by the President’s great booming laugh. He ended the argument by saying that he’d go if I’d go. Since he knew I wouldn’t enter a Central Park rowboat on the biggest kind of bet, he was perfectly safe in making the suggestion.
An era ended with his death. Whichever of the Elysiums his spirit has chosen to roam — and he will have had his choice of them — it will not be a dull place. The saints will have to go disguised as boxers, scholars, jockeys, prestidigitators, and, I may hope, minor journalists who see nothing sacrilegious in laughter. And, even in a halo, Theodore Roosevelt will be good copy and a good friend.
ON MARK TWAIN
We are now, December, 1935, celebrating the centenary of Mark Twain’s birth, and it is almost as funny as anything that great humorist ever wrote. I’m glad it’s being done if it quickens the sale of Mark Twain’s books. All through his married life his one dominating thought was the care of his family. When his beloved wife and his beautiful daughter Jean died, his affection centared on his surviving child, who returned it by giving all her slender strength toward the softening of his declining years. And even Mark Twain’s works needed a certain amount of pushing. At the time H. H. Rogers took hold of his affairs and compelled Harper’s (through George Harvey) to waken the public to the value of his books, his income from royalties was considerably less than $5000 a year.
Still, the centenary is funny. Mark himself would have enjoyed it. He always maintained that although his own success had been due to his appeal to intelligence, he would have made much more money if he could have got all the stupid people of the country to buy his books.
His centenary has inflamed to a Mark Twain frenzy all the hebetude of our fair land. Hundreds upon hundreds of preachers have delivered eulogies on this unbending atheist.
A regiment of boy scouts stormed the mayor’s office in New York and demanded that he buy the Fifth Avenue house where our genius lived for a few years before his death.
I don’t know how many essays have been written about him. “The Real Mark Twain,” “The Mark Twain I Knew,” “The Mark Twain I Didn’t Know,”“The Mark Twain Who Kicked Me Downstairs,”and so forth. Mark would have enjoyed it. He always had a boyish delight in the circus. Publicity never scared him. If he didn’t suffer fools gladly, he suffered them patiently. He knew what a vast proportion of the population of the world they constitute and how mischievous they can be when their dull prejudices or inferior susceptibilities are wounded. But how he would have laughed at their antics in 1935!
One of the strangest fables that has grown up about Mark Twain is that he was secretly a writer of filthy sexual tales. Indeed, one book reviewer in New York came out the other day in a furious demand on the heir to the Clemens estate to produce these mysterious obscenities. He wrote, in effect, “You have no right to withhold from the great libidinous American public, which I represent, even the most ignoble utterances of this superb but wicked genius. Give us the dirt!”
I’m afraid this apostle of lewdness must remain unsatisfied. One of the reasons why “Mark Twain’s Dirty Stories" has never been published is that Mark Twain didn’t write dirty stories!
It is sad, but it is true. It was the habit of the good old man to sit up in bed in the morning and write notes or articles on matters that interested him. Most of them were fierce letters to editors of newspapers on things he didn’t like. Being a sensible humorist and one unaccustomed to writing for fun, he destroyed these letters after he had spilled all the bile and ill nature that troubled him in the early mornings and was once again able to take a more cheerful view of life. “I write these things just to keep my hand in,” he told me. “A writer must never stop practicing. He can’t know when he will be called on to go back to his desk and write for his living. If his hand is out, he’ll have a hard time. Besides, if I write, I can let my breakfast get cold. I was always used to a cold breakfast when I was a young man in the West, and I detest piping hot rolls, sizzling bacon and eggs, and steaming coffee. When my breakfast is properly chilled I eat it and then resume my writing, like Paderewski, who does the five-finger exercise for hours every morning. . .”
I didn’t know Mark Twain as well as H. H. Rogers did, or William Dean Howells, or Thomas Bailey Aldrich, or that glorious Irishman Robert Collier, whom he fairly adored. But I saw a good deal of him at one time, and my experience agreed with that of his more intimate friends. He never told me a lubricious story. That may have been due to the fact that I never told him one. I find that the wag who has one of these jests to tell can only be sure of an audience in another fellow who has one ready to fire back at him. Not that I have any particular objection to filth as such. I’ve read a good deal of it, from the Satyricon to Europa. But I am no good at telling stories, chaste or otherwise. I always forget the point. The only “bad" tale Mark Twain ever wrote was the “Conversation at the Court of Queen Elizabeth.” But that was in no sense pornographic.
However cleanly his writings were, his language at times was enough to raise the hair. With everybody in the West in his time, or even in mine, profanity was part of the currency of ordinary conversation among men. We swore so much that our oaths lost their only true value — that is, as emphasis for a really heartfelt utterance, like the single “damn” in the life history of the old parson at the bridge at Lexington. Mr. Clemens was aware of this failing and warned me against it. He was always warning me against sins that he was equally guilty of, or more so. “You should not swear. You should not swear, especially in the presence of the young. I never realized more how powerful the force of example is than I did yesterday. You know I’m a little careless in my language. I’m not as bad as you are, or Collier. I have some respect for the proprieties. But I’ll admit I do sometimes forget myself in spite of my attempts to reform. Well, a few weeks ago we hired a waitress, a pleasant, innocent young Irish girl. The second day she quit. She went to my daughter and said, ‘I’d like to stay here but I just can’t stand Mr. Clemens’ language.’ My daughter is good at managing people. She made some trifling excuse for me. She said I was insane or had been brought up in Troy or something. Anyhow, the girl stayed on. Yesterday I was sitting at the table when I heard the waitress call out to the cook, ‘For God’s sake, Lizzie, what in hell’s the matter with you? Don’t you know that goddamned old tiger is out there hollering for his chops?' Such, my boy, is the force of example that this innocent child in two weeks had learned to talk as I do, only better. If you give an example, make it a good one. Mine always is, if I stop to think — and have the time.”
HIS power of objurgation was prodigious, appalling, unrestrained. As a rule he felt kindly toward individuals in private or public life. He could put up with most people. But there were three men of whom he never spoke except with rage. One was a bad poet of the same name as his, who traded, or so he thought, on a wholly fictitious relationship. He described this poetaster to George Harvey in language that George, who was himself a free-spoken man, could only repeat in a whisper. Another one of his hatreds was Bret Harte. Once Henry James, the flawless, the sedate, the impeccable Henry, asked him, “Do you know Bret Harte?” “Yes,” Mark replied readily, “I know the son of a bitch.”
But it was against William Randolph Hearst that his wildest rage was directed, the same William Randolph Hearst who has appointed himself journalistic master of ceremonies for the centenary. Mark Twain’s outbursts against Bret Harte were formidable, but his scorn and hatred of Hearst were beyond description. He had never had any business or social relations with the editor and publisher that I know of. It could not have been that Hearst had excited his rage because of attacks on H. H. Rogers, for everybody was attacking his friend at the time and the Hearst newspapers were comparatively lenient. Yet at the mention of the laird of San Simeon the old humorist and philosopher would rake his memory for the invective of the Mississippi steamboat, the Western mining camp, and the print shop, and pour forth such language as Ernest Hemingway would hesitate to put in the mouth of one of his matadors. And when Hearst ran for mayor or governor, I forget which it was, Mark wrote a lot of scurrilous unprintable doggerel about him which was circulated among his friends. And this may be where the rumor of his pornography began. There must have been some deep reason for this abhorrence. If I ever see Hearst again, I must ask him.
With these exceptions the great writer was a mild, kindly, clean-spoken, clean-living gentleman, always most courteous and polite with women, and they adored him. I remember his coming to my house for supper one night. There were other distinguished people there, but the ladies had eyes only for him.
He was immensely popular in England. I am told that when his doctorate was conferred on him the undergraduates at the Sheldonian Theatre outdid themselves in friendly riotousness. He knew everybody. Princes and potentates everywhere sought him out, and he remained unaffected and simple. In his own private circle he was worshiped. I have no other word for it. His friends adored him not only as a great writer but for his own fearlessness, his loyalty, his rightmindedness. He was modest when he was rich, modest and generous; he was undaunted by poverty.
In this connection I must tell a story about him while it is in my mind. He was an inveterate cigar smoker. The first thing he did in the morning when he awoke was to light a cigar; the last thing he did at night was to put one out. While money was pouring into his purse from the publishing business in which he had ventured his small fortune, he smoked the best and most expensive cigars. They were quite as good as J. P. Morgan’s, who had his made especially for him. But when the crash came, when the publishing business failed and Mark Twain’s fortune disappeared, he went to work as resolutely as Walter Scott or General Grant ever did, to earn and save money to pay his creditors. It was lucky for him that he had a sagacious friend in Rogers, so that his term of privation was shorter than that of the great Scotsman. But there was a time when he felt that in honor he could afford no luxury, no indulgence, no waste. His creditors must be paid. And one of the first comforts he put aside was his beloved cigar. But he couldn’t renounce it entirely; he had to smoke. In his earliest boyhood in Hannibal he had learned the habit, and he had continued it until it was no longer a habit or a luxury. It was a necessity, an essential part of his physical and mental well-being.
He made up his mind that if he must smoke or die, he would buy only the cheapest cigars. After all, most of our physical pleasures are attributable to a teasing of one or the other of the mucous membranes of the body. For this purpose, why wouldn’t a bad cigar be as useful as a good one? Why not, indeed? He first interviewed a manufacturer in Philadelphia who turned out a product that was generally known as the Stinkadora Manuro. Mark found these cigars quite bad enough to satisfy his desire for martyrdom, but the dealer wanted too much for them. He asked four cents apiece even in bulk, and this Mark thought was extravagant. He eventually settled on the popular disinfectant known as the Pittsburgh stogie. These stogies are long, wan tubes, wrapped in the noble tobacco leaves of Connecticut or Wisconsin. I don’t know what they are filled with. The aroma suggests at various times excelsior, rubber, and leather findings. Mark used to buy them by the bale at an average cost of three cents per cigar. When he went out in the morning he loaded his pockets with them, sometimes carrying as much as fifty or sixty cents’ worth of them. He was most generous, almost profuse in offering them to his friends. I think he would have been even more so with his enemies. He would have given a whole box to Hearst. If you offered him a Corona Corona or a Romeo and Juliet perfecto, he would wave it aside. “Why do you smoke those things? Such useless extravagance! Sixty cents for a cigar? Good God, man alive, don’t you realize that you could feed a whole family in Flatbush for a day on sixty cents if you wanted to? Try one of these of mine. They cost me three cents apiece and they — are — worth — every — penny of it. I never think of smoking any other.”
So great was his cunning, so engaging his smile when he proffered the poisonous rope that only a man of iron will could refuse. And the joy on his face as he puffed on his stogie and watched his victim’s contortions and choking was positively ecstatic. It seemed at one time as if all his friends would drop away from him. But his fortunes changed suddenly for the better. Through the financial wizardry of Rogers and the intelligent diligence of his publishers, his fears for the security of his family were dissolved, and he was again in receipt of a very large income.
At this time he turned up in London. William Gillette, the playwright and actor, who had known him in Hartford when Mark’s fame was at its zenith, promptly got up a dinner for him. That was easy enough. No man in London even at the height of the season would decline an invitation to meet Mark Twain. The chef of the Savoy was famous and could be depended on to provide the best of food and drink. The only thing to trouble the host was how to get cigars that the guest of honor could smoke. It was clear that he wouldn’t touch a good cigar, and there was nothing that approached a Pittsburgh stogie to be found in London. It was too late to send to America for a supply. So Gillette, who was a man of infinite resource, dispatched a messenger to Italy, where, he had heard, the government tobacco monopoly catered to the most depraved tastes in tobacco. The agent had some difficulty in finding anything like a substitute for Pittsburgh’s greatest gift to the nation. The most venomous specimens of the government’s artistry had straws in them, and to get them going you had to build a fire under them.
This wouldn’t do at all. But eventually, in Naples, where you were sure to find the worst of everything, he discovered a cigar that bore an adequate resemblance to the stogie. It was a long, lean cigar, somewhat more swarthy in complexion than the pale chloritic yellowish-green of our American product, but having an aroma that would penetrate the ordinary gas mask.
Gillette was delighted. After a perfect dinner, a waiter passed the cigars around. In one hand he carried a box of Oppenheim’s best; in the other a box of the Italian substitute for the stogie, which he placed before the guest of honor. Mark picked up one of these perilous things, shuddered, turned pale, and replaced it in the box. Then he cried: “Waiter! Come back here with those actual cigars.” And he took a handful and laid them beside his plate.
Gillette was amazed. “Why, Mr. Clemens,” he said, “don’t you like those others? They are exactly like your stogies.”
“That,” said Mark, “is one of many reasons why I abhor them.”
“But,” Gillette said, “you used to like them. You gave them to your friends. You even made me smoke one.”
“So I did, William. So I did,” Mark responded. “But those were my sad days. I couldn’t afford anything better than these disreputable inventions.
I suffered, but I’m not built to suffer alone. I like to share my distress with my friends. You were one of them. It gave me much pleasure to watch the manly pain you bore for my sake. But there is no longer any need for such playfulness. Please have those dangerous weapons removed. They might catch fire. And remember this, my friend, there is no poorer or more unsatisfactory or more unprofitable form of economy than trying to save money on cigars. Always buy the best, William. Always buy the best.”
IT WAS through the journalist Robert Collier that I knew Mark Twain — Robert Collier, his muchloved friend and mine. In New York, after the death of his lovely daughter Jean, Mark Twain tried to brighten his life a little by going to theaters, having friends come to his house, and making new friends with the younger generation. I was lucky enough to be among this group. He always treated me and Collier as if we were still in our adolescence, although when I first met him, in 1899, I had been a hard-boiled newspaper man for fifteen years, had written four or five books, and edited or published about that many newspapers and magazines. He would say, “I like you young fellows. I like to have you around me. But you mustn’t expect me to listen to your opinions. They are too immature. Wait till you and Collier have made a reputation. Then you can talk to me and I will stay awake.” I think that one day I squared accounts with him for this and similar admonitions. In his last years, he, who had once been rather shy, took hungrily to the publicity that was poured on him. He liked attention; he even demanded it. In the streets of New York he was a more marked figure than Theodore Roosevelt or J. P. Morgan. His noble countenance, his splendid head would distinguish him in any crowd, however great, but when he took to wearing white clothes — a sensible thing to do but a conspicuous one — no one who had ever seen a picture of him in the papers could miss him.
One bright spring afternoon I met him at the crowded corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. As usual, we stopped to exchange our customary banter about the ignorance of youth and the impotence of age. Thousands and thousands of men, women, and children passed us, and every mother’s son and daughter turned to look at the picturesque figure. Some of them stopped and listened. At one time there must have been fifteen or twenty typical New York Rufuses gawking at him. Mark loved it. His face was aflame. His eyes shone. He talked better and louder than I had ever heard him. Finally I said, “Let’s get out of here and go to the Century for a drink.”
“I’m not a member of the Century. What’s the matter with staying here?”
“But aren’t you embarrassed, standing here in these crowds, talking to a celebrity?” I said.
He answered like a man coming out of a trance. He stared at me and stammered, “Wh-wh-why, do you think these people are looking at you? Why, you conceited fellow, they’re looking at me!”
Then the fact dawned on him that youth had at last rebelled. His face broke into a great grin. “Oh, come on over to the Century and have a drink.”
“But you just said you weren’t a member.”
“I’m not. That makes my hospitality all the more remarkable. What could be finer than to entertain a friend at a club where you’re not a member?”
“But I’m a member.”
“I knew that, or I wouldn’t have invited you to have a drink.”
The most openhanded of men, he loved to pretend that he was stingy. One day I was lunching with him and he said, “This is very pleasant. Why can’t we keep it up? Suppose we get some fellows who write for a living and lunch together every Tuesday. Let’s see who we’ll have. Collier is all right. He is not, strictly speaking, a man of culture. He is only a publisher. But he has literary associations. So far as a man in his ignorant trade can be, he’s a man of letters. How about Howells?”
“He’s a great friend of mine. Howells, by all means.”
“Well, that’s settled. We won’t have George Harvey. He’s a good fellow, but he lacks beauty. He is almost homely enough to be good-looking, but not quite. How about H. H. Rogers?”
“I thought you said this was to be a literary lunch.”
“So it is.”
“Then why ask Rogers?”
“Why ask Rogers?” Mark cried. “Why ask Rogers? To pay for the lunch, you idiot.”
WHEN I knew Mark best, most of his old friends had died. Only a little while after he had rented the house at 21 Fifth Avenue, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a great wit and a charming poet and storyteller, ceased to come to New York, since he was very ill.
Aldrich was one of Mark’s best friends, so good a one, in fact, that when Mark sent an autographed copy of one of his books to Aldrich, he inscribed it, “To Thomas Bailey Aldrich from his only friend, S. L. Clemens.” But Tom Aldrich was a dying man, and only William Dean Howells remained of Mark’s earliest friends. He always had a deep affection for the round, rosy-cheeked little novelist, who was among the most delightful writers of his day until he took to using the typewriter, that assassin of style. Howells had a delicate wit, although he could express himself at times with sufficient emphasis about men and things he didn’t like. He was by way of being a socialist, but he never acted on his theories. He disliked and disparaged most of our modern writers. He lost all his smiling good nature when he talked about Stevenson, George Meredith, Rudyard Kipling, and told me he “couldn’t stand them.” He was forever digging up unknown writers, chiefly Spanish, and urging American readers to buy their works, although his own Spanish was of the slightest and the authors were even less widely known in Barcelona than in Kansas City. Who can know an author in translation? He thought no episode was possible that he couldn’t imagine as happening in the little town in Ohio where he was born, or in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he edited the Atlantic Monthly. In spite of his inveterate parochialism, he wrote more than one fine novel. The Lady of the Aroostook was one, and The Rise of Silas Lapham another, while his little essays, composed when he was consul at Venice and called Venetian Life, are still marvels of delicate fun and graceful English.
It seemed strange that intimacy should develop between this mild storyteller, whose vision was limited to the civilities of American life, and Mark Twain, who had actually shot buffalo on the plains, mined for gold, drunk coffee with the desperado and twenty-three-times murderer Slade, and seen men shot and hanged. But if you knew Howells, you could understand. For he was always genial, even when most dogmatic in his unfavorable opinion of everybody, except Flaubert and Mark Twain, from Shakespeare to Stevenson. He was full of drolleries, and he did appreciate, if not quite adequately, the genius of Mark Twain. And he put his appreciation in words. So they got on together famously.
Mark was a good deal of a radical in politics — foreign politics. At home he was more conservative. In the Cleveland-Blaine campaign he was a mugwump. He was conservative, but he hated tyranny. He went cheerfully with Howells and Collier on the committee to receive Maxim Gorki when that Russian nihilist came over here, was overwhelmed by a greeting that he knew was far beyond his due as a man of letters, and went home in tears. The New York World discovered that Gorki was living at a Fifth Avenue hotel with a lady not his wife, and with the delicacy characteristic of that great journal published the fact and got the hotelkeepers, who had never been known before to ask their guests to show marriage licenses, to kick the poor bewildered Russian into the street. But Mark was never a socialist or a communist. He thought too poorly of the human race to believe they could ever be got to live together in amity. “They’ll go on murdering each other and robbing each other, cheating each other and lying about each other to the end of time, no matter what form of government they choose,” he said. Nor was Howells by any means a Marx or a Liebknecht. His candidate for President was Brand Whitlock, whose mild opinions on free trade, civil service reform, government supervision of railways, and so forth represented to the kind and gentle novelist the very last word in revolution.
BUT, to get back to Mark Twain. I could talk about him forever, if anyone would listen to me; he was so much the greatest figure in American letters, so much the most picturesque figure in the life of New York, and he had such a capacity for friendship as no other man approached. I don’t know when or why it was that he began to dress in white, but he did look fine in those snowy flannels. He hated dyed clothes of any kind, but he loathed black clothes as a symbol of death and decay. Once he had a chance to pour out his feelings on this subject. As I have said, Thomas Bailey Aldrich was one of his dearest friends. Aldrich, in fact, was a friendly man. Everybody liked him who knew him. The very thing he said to Oliver Wendell Holmes might be said about him. The doctor was discoursing on his capacity for making friends. “Why,” he said, “if I were stranded on a cannibal island and met the king of the cannibals — ”
“Yes,” said Aldrich, “you would pick an acquaintance with him.”
After his death, Mrs. Aldrich decided that some permanent memorial to her husband should be created, so she filled the old frame house at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with pictures, books, manuscripts, and other memorabilia of her husband and made a charming place of it. I was appointed one of the committee to help dedicate this memorial. The committee included also Mark Twain, W. D. Howells, Thomas Nelson Page, R. W. Gilder, and Colonel Higginson. One bright, warm June day in 1908 the hundreds of Aldrich’s friends who were asked gathered in a hall in Portsmouth. Most of us came from neighboring summer places and were dressed in our summer clothes, the men in flannels, the ladies in light, fluffy dresses. The hall presented a cheerful appearance, perfectly suited to the character of the good fellow whose memory we were there to honor. That is, it was until there entered upon this gay scene of seasonably dressed, cheerful men and women, young and old, a lank figure, clothed from head to foot in black—black frock coat, black shoes, black tie — and carrying in his hand a black silk hat. It was the evangel of white clothes! It was Mark Twain! He sat down alongside Howells, who immediately began to tease him. “What did you think this was — a funeral in winter?" he said. “You should have worn galoshes and had a crape band on your hat.”
“I don’t give a damn what you say,” Mark shouted. “You can’t make me feel any worse, any more idiotically foolish than I did when I came in and saw you fellows in flannels and all those darling girls in muslin. It was Paine, my secretary, who I thought was also my friend, who made me dress up like an undertaker. He said these were the commemoration exercises for a dead friend and I must dress in black. I will see him after the meeting. I will do nothing to disgrace myself or my friends. I will not act without thought. But as soon after these exercises arE over that I can do so without appearing irreverent, I am going to kill him.”
Fortunately, Mark was not able to carry out his design on his secretary. When called upon, he began his speech with a heartrending appeal For sympathy, because he had appeared draped in black. It was genuine, too. But his audience didn’t respond in kind to his anger and grief. They started to laugh. Mark Twain looked them over and laughed with them. Then he commenced one of the most rollicking speeches I ever heard. And he and Paine went home arm in arm. There was no bloodshed.
MARK TWAIN’S greatest friend at the end was Henry Huddlestone Rogers, the active head of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. In a vague way I knew that Rogers had helped Clemens out of his financial difficulties, but I had no conception of the magnitude of his assistance. Clemens knew the publishing business thoroughly, especially the subscription business — that is, the sale of books by canvassers - and I believe he never sold his own to the trade, holding that publishers and booksellers got too much and authors too little out of the existing practices of the business.
His niece married Charles Webster, an active figure in the publishing business, and in the eighties Mark went into a partnership with this young fellow, Mark supplying the money and, as it turned out, the large business vision that made the firm of Webster and Company so successful for a while. Their first coup was General Grant’s Memoirs. Grant, in spite of all his dreary mistakes in business, where he became the prey of Ferdinand Ward, one of the most flagrant swindlers of his time, was still the greatest figure in American life. He and Mark were close friends, and the latter had once tried to persuade him to publish his recollections.
Now, just as Webster and Company started going, Mark heard that the Century Company was dickering with the general for his book. Dickering is the word. The Century people were a nice, gentlemanly, honorable group. But they were timid. They couldn’t see-their-way-quite-to making an advance payment of $25,000, although they would spend twice that much printing tiny poems by tiny poets. Mark heard of this and went to see Grant. “Why, General,” he said. “I’ll give you my check for $25,000 this minute if you promise me the book.”Eventually Webster and Company got the Memoirs. It was a wonderful book, and the sales were unprecedented. Up to 1912, the sum of $450,000 in royalties had been paid to General Grant or his estate. Grant worked and worked, and in less than two years had turned in more than 300,000 words of copy. All this time he was suffering from cancer of the throat. When his work was finished and he knew his family was safe, he died. He wrote the last page of his Memoirs on July 1, 1885. He died July 28, 1885. I think he was glad to die.
Why Webster and Company failed after this start, I don’t know. But oen day the humorist found that his publishing company was bankrupt and that he himself was faced with the necessity of spending the rest of his life writing to pay off an enormous debt. It was then that Rogers came upon the scene, and it was about Rogers that Mark wanted to talk when he called me up one morning and asked me to drop in at 21 Fifth Avenue on my way downtown.
At that time Everybody’s Magazine, now extinct, was printing a series of articles by Tom Lawson, whose roguery was almost as much envied in Wall Street, New York, as in State Street, Boston, where he usually operated. In these articles Lawson pretended to expose the wickedness of Rogers and others. He could write pretty well, and the publishers of the magazine were so infatuated with the success of his articles that one of them in a public address actually compared him to Jesus Christ!
Mark at once told me why he had sent for me. “Can’t you,” he asked me, “write a Dooley about
-Lawson and the-publisher of that-
magazine? [You can fill in the blanks to suit your taste; go as far as you like, and your words will seem shy and delicate in comparison with the
original.] “I have tried to flatten out these-.
I have written thousands of words, but I am always just cussing. If I could keep my faculty for humor uppermost I’d laugh the dogs out of the country. But I can’t. I get too mad.”
I told him that, although I liked Rogers from what little I knew about him, I couldn’t go to the defense of any of the Standard Oil people. I was brought up, in the West, to hate the Rockefellers. Also, I felt that Lawson and his gang were pretty cheap game. “I suppose so,”he said. “But never mind. I don’t imagine Rogers would want you to, anyway. He doesn’t mind these attacks much.”
“I wonder,” he said, “if you ever heard what Rogers did for me? No? Well, when Webster and Company failed I was all but destroyed. I had assumed that I was to be a man of leisure for the rest of my life, with an income more than enough to pay for all the necessities and luxuries of life and to provide amply for my family. Of course I would write occasionally, but only to amuse myselF and my friends. The dream was too beautiful to last. One day I found that I must grind out copy For the rest oF my days to pay my creditors. I was hopeless. And some of the creditors were angry, impatient, and mean. Then Rogers came to my rescue. I had never done a single thing for him in my life. He was a much pleasanter companion for me than I was for him. He was blessed with the greatest gift of humor I have ever known in any man. I never had to cheer him up, but often he pulled me out of one of those infernos of melancholy that I am liable to fall into at any time. When he heard of my troubles he came straight to me and offered to handle my financial affairs. Besides the Webster concern I was heavily interested in a company that owned patents for a typesetting machine. Rogers said, ‘Let me handle these people. You stop walking the floor.’ Unfortunately the machine was a failure and is now in some museum. Then he turned his attention to the publishing company and decided that it must be placed in bankruptcy at once. This was done, and Rogers, who was himself a considerable creditor, called a creditors’ meeting. He didn’t like the way some of the creditors were acting. He thought they were heartless. Most of them had made plenty of money out of us, much, much more than we owed them, but these fellows were the most exacting of the lot. That hardened Rogers, and when he was hard, he was hard. He settled down to a nice quiet talk with these men. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘you all know how deeply I feel toward Mr. Clemens. He is my best friend. But business is business, and we must not let our sentiments interfere with our interests. I therefore propose that we turn over the copyrights on Mr. Clemens’ books to Mrs. Clemens, to whom the company owes $60,000, and keep for ourselves the tangible assets, such as presses, type, furniture, et cetera. This may seem hard on Mrs. Clemens, but, well, business is business, you know, and I think she will realize considerable out of these copyrights — in time.’ And,” Mark went on, “it turned out that the copyrights were by far the most valuable assets of the company. The presses and furniture and other things went for not more than a quarter of the debt, but from the copyrights I was able to pay the creditors to the last cent.”
What Rogers had seen in Mark Twain’s books was what Mark himself had seen in Grant’s Memoirs — that is, their enormous possibilities. But these possibilities must be developed. So this true friend went to work and applied all his genius in finance to re-establishing the Clemens fortune.
I don’t know what were his financial relations with George Harvey, then the head of Harper & Brothers, but they were of a nature to cause Harvey to sign a contract with Clemens whereby for a long term he was to receive a minimum of (I have been told) $32,000 a year and as much more as the books could earn in royalties. The whole came to a large sum, for under energetic management the books sold in great numbers, and our good Mark was not only able to pay his creditors in full but to live at ease and to leave a substantial estate. And it all came out of Rogers’ quick decision to appeal to the venality of these rapacious smalltime financiers and give them the comfortable feeling that they were robbing an unprotected woman.
But Rogers did not stop here. He continued to direct the Clemens fortunes. He invested Mark’s money for him and always, strangely enough, in stocks that rose in value. “He is a wizard,” Mark said. “He never makes a bad investment. Every single thing he has done for me has been profitable.”
No wonder Mark Twain could write about Henry Rogers in “A Tribute,” which Rogers would not let Twain’s secretary, Paine, publish: “His character is full of fine graces but the finest is this: that he can load you down with crushing obligations and then so conduct himself that you never feel their weight. If he would only require something in return. But that is not his nature; it would not occur to him. He was born serene, patient, all-enduring where a friend is concerned. He is not only the best friend I have ever had, but is the best man I have known.”
MARK emphasized the delicacy of Rogers’ generous offices. The irritable genus of authors has a greater hatred of patronage than most people. They rebel against what Patrick Francis Murphy used to call “the unconscious arrogance of conscious wealth" — an arrogance that has caused more revolutions than the most savage misrule.
Mark and I talked about Rogers by the hour. I had no thought that twenty years later a similar generosity would be extended to me when the great heart of Payne Whitney rescued me from the abyss of debt into which I had been plunged by reckless gambling. I think that if Payne had lived, he would not have left me a fortune by will. He would have “worked my affairs” out. He was Rogers’ equal in business acumen when he found it was necessary to exercise a quality on which he placed no great value. He was as cool as Rogers, as indefatigable, and his financial resources were much larger. I could say with equal truth of him what Mark Twain said of Rogers: “I have not known his equal among men for lovable qualities.” I am sure that if he had lived, he would have worked with characteristic patience to get me out of my difficulties and would have done it in such a manner as to relieve me as much as possible from a sense of obligation. But he didn’t have time. The summons of death was too urgent. He knew that his life might end at any moment. He must hurry to save his friends. So in great haste he changed his will and left me a bequest that enabled me to pay all my debts and walk again with my head erect. For this I will bless him — and his — forever.
I have indeed been singularly blessed with friends, and I never lost one except by death. I have also been blessed with my enemies. They comprise some of the worst writers in the world. Sometimes I am scared by the thought that they hate me because I am really one of them and have escaped from their dingy company by miraculous good luck. Perhaps so. But I am indifferent to what they say or think. They are the scum of the earth.
The saddest feature of old age is not one’s own progressive enfeeblement, but the loss of one s friends. Many of mine are dead. In a short time — or, so I am advised — I may meet them in paradise; that is, if they are satisfied with their surroundings and they have not thought the regulations too irksome. Otherwise I shall probably find them camping out somewhere in ultrastellar space, for they were all independent fellows, and if things didn’t go well with them, wouldn’t hesitate to go forth and rough it for all eternity. But I think they will be in heaven, for their sins were such as a loving Father could only smile upon, and they harmed no one except in battle.
POSTSCRIPT BY PHILIP DUNNE
My father’s tribute to the generosity that Payne Whitney showed him when he was in financial trouble bears explanation. Money, or the lack of it, was always an important factor in our family. We lived like the rich, spent like the rich, and in fact resembled the rich in every way except in being rich.
I suppose that my father could only blame himself for our extravagance. He set the example. He had the tastes of a Morgan or a Rockefeller. In the great Dooley days the money had rolled in. He was by far the highest-paid writer of his time. He was courted and cultivated by rich men, joined their society, and quite naturally began to live as they did.
So my father, after he had begun to find it hard to write and had virtually retired from the editorial field, was faced with the constant problem of finding an income to fill the insatiable maw of our extravagance. Like everybody else in the innocent but greedy twenties, he began to play the market on margin. He did fairly well for a while — it was almost impossible to do otherwise in that steeply rising market —but then disaster struck.
Years later, he told me the story. As he told it, it was a masterpiece of irony. Payne Whitney and some others had decided to do what other enormously wealthy men had done for their less pecunious friends and organize a little killing for him. They told him to buy a certain stock—I forget which stock, but it was one of those subject to manipulation — to buy it at 25 and sell it at 50.
The instructions were clear and explicit, but my father, having pulled off some minor coups of his own, at this point had begun to consider himself a financial genius. So he shrewdly decided to hold off for a while. The stock, as strings were pulled behind the scenes, rose to 30 and then to 35. He still cannily held off. When it jumped to 40, he decided the time had come to buy. His friends were right after all, and the stock was a good investment. He put every nickel he had into it. It went up to 45 and then to 50, where he had been told to sell. But did he sell? Oh, no. He began to think: “If it goes to 50, why not 100? What gives those fellows the impression they know more about the market than I do?” So he held on. He was still firmly holding on the next week, when his broker finally sold him out at 18.
That is the story he told me. It may seem a little too neat and too pat. He was, after all, a professional writer, and he had had several years to perfect the tale.
However it happened, by 1927 he was a thoroughly disenchanted financier. At this point, and it was at the height of the bull market, he was really broke. Then his dearest friend, Payne Whitney, died and left to him and two other close friends legacies of half a million dollars each. He was crushed by his friend’s death and stunned by the legacy. When he came home that night, I saw him in tears for the first and only time in my memory. He repeated over and over again that he didn’t want the money — he only wanted his friend back. I never knew a death to affect him so, before or afterward.
The Whitney legacy saved him. He lost a great deal of it in the crash of 1929, but there was enough left to maintain him for the nine years he outlived his friend.
It was Mark Twain himself who said of my father: “He is blessed beyond reason with friends.”