Never a Whole Sentence.
“I never get hold of an entire sentence,” Just a word here and there that comes in handy, but they never stay with me more than a day.”
“How about ‘Dov’ e il gatto’?” I objected.
“What do you know about ‘Dov’ e il gatto’?” he said with one of his merry twinkles.
I have read your paper in Harper’s on ‘Italian Without a Master,’ “ I replied.
“There is one person who always understands me, and that is our old kitchen scrub. She was with us last time, too. We have quite long talks together and exchange no end of compliments. I talk English; she rattles along in her own lingo; neither of us knows what the other says; we get along perfectly and greatly respect each other’s conversation.”
The entrance of Prof. Willard Fiske of Cornell changed the current of our talk, and very naturally libraries and books came on the tapis. Carnegie’s princely donations were referred to by me, and I then learned for the first time that the millionaire does not really donate libraries, but only buildings to house them, which is quite a different matter.
“And he has just given one to—I forget the name of the town—and now Carnegie is about to add a new terror to my life and to ruin me and my poor family,” said Mark Twain.
“How is that?” we asked.
“Well, they have asked me to write something to be read at the opening. Just think, if I am to keep track of all Carnegie’s gifts and write about them, why where shall we be for a living?”
Some Book Criticisms
This brought us to talking of books in general, and he expressed his wonder at the expensive editions of so-called standard authors that publishers are always bringing out.
“Who reads them?” said Mark.
“They are the sort of thing ‘no gentleman’s library should be without,’ as the saying is,” I put in. “Then, too, remember that the publishers have to pay nothing to the authors, as these are dead and have no rights.”
“All the same,” he persisted, “it is strange that it pays them. Now would you, for example, read a novel of Walter Scott’s for pleasure?”
“I must confess I could not read them even as a child,” I answered. “Their long descriptions, their false Wardour Street air of antiquity repelled me even before I could critically give my reasons.”
“Just so,” he said. I was once ill and shut up and there was nothing but Scott’s novels to read, so I had another try. Well, when I got through ‘Guy Mannering’ I wrote to Brander Matthews and asked him if he would be good enough to point out to me the literary and stylistic merits of the work, for I could not find them.
“Fact is,” he went on, “nothing is eternal in this world, and literature is as much subject to the character of the times as any other intellectual manifestation. Books reflect the mental atmosphere in which they were born, and on that account cannot expect to live forever. Every generation has its own authors. Look at Dickens. At one time nothing went down that was not a little tinted with the Dickens style; now who would allow that? And the same for all the others. Is there a more tiresome and unnatural book than ‘Pendennis’? All the people are exaggerated, caricatures, with no intention of being so. It’s like when they show us some weird old picture and say it’s wonderful. I dare say it is wonderful, for its time; but its time is past.”
Praises Marion Crawford.
Henry James and Crawford were then discussed.
“I once heard James define Crawford,” said Mr. Fiske. “He said that Crawford was a story-teller, but no novelist.”
“How like James,” we all exclaimed, “always a hair splitter. As if it mattered. The purpose of a novel is to amuse, and if Crawford attains his end, and he undoubtedly does, his existence is justified.”
The war between China and Japan could not fail to crop up. I expressed my surprise to Mark Twain at the sympathy I had found existed in the States for Russia.
“Could there be a more unnatural alliance,” I said, “than between a free Republic and the most tyrannous of Governments?”
He was good enough to explain at some length the origin of this sympathy, but added that is obtained no longer after their late behavior about Manchuria. He then expressed his earnest sympathy with the plucky little
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.