Vol 3 Section 1030

966                                                                        1904

Japs and his sincere hope that they would win in the fight they were undertaking on behalf of half the civilised world.

A few evenings after this an amateur performance of “Cousin Kate,” the play that has had such a vogue at the London Haymarket, was given for the benefit of the local British Relief Fund. After the proceedings had opened with an overture played by an amateur band, to the delight and surprise of the Audience, Mark Twain stepped on the platform, introduced by Mr. Gregory Smith. We were told that the great humorist had consented to furnish an extra number and was about to give us a lesson in Italian grammar.

The New Grammar

Speaking with the curious drawl that distinguishes him, but which, by the way, is less accentuated in his home and home relations, he began by stating it as his opinion that the Italian grammar was susceptible of vast improvement, and that, in fact, he was about to write a national grammar and to sell it to the Italian Government.

To begin with the verbs. They had for verbs too many ways of expressing themselves; even the regular verbs were irregular. To take the simple verb “I love.” There were fifty-seven ways of conjugating this verb, and not one is able to convince a girl who wanted to marry a title. The verb “Essere,” (to be,) too, might be improved beyond recognition. That unnatural way of saying “e’ stato,” (has been,) which is literally “is been,” wouldn’t do, anyhow. As for himself, he got on very well. When conversing with a stranger he was always taken for an Italian, but not so when he speaks with friends, for the friends were jealous. Members of his household had studied Italian at the Berlitz School, and he got the language out of them at no expense whatever. Woe to them if they should try to mislead him. One can’t be betrayed by one’s own family.

Exchanging Compliments.

He always aired his Italian whenever a chance occurred. Thus he had met an Italian a few days before in the big square where the Vecchi tower is and the statues. It was raining hard, and he had his umbrella up, but the Italian, who was wearing one of those unimaginable, inflamed overcoats, had no umbrella. However, in the polite Italian way he listened to the remarks Mark Twain addressed to him in order to air his Italian, and also in the polite Italian way tried to agree with him.

The conversation began by Mark saying to the stranger, “Io apro il libro,” which he had been taught to believe meant “None but the brave deserve the fair.” He then went on to remark, “Noi chiudiamo le nostre finestre, (we close our windows,) which of course means, “He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” The Italian listened with quiet courtesy as these phrases were poured over him, but at the next remark, “Quale differenza vi e’ fra questi due libri?” (what difference is there between these two books,) which according to Mark meant, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad,” the stranger began to look puzzled. However, he was cornered between two carts and could not break away, so the rain continued to pour down and the expressions to pour out. Mark then bethought him to show some interest in the stranger’s family, and so asked him how his mother was, or in Italian, “Questro libro e’ rosso,” (this book is red.) The bewildered expression on the stranger’s face, his look of admiration plainly showed that he took Mark for an Italian. When suddenly he asked what was the matter with him, “Che ha Lei?” (what has she literally.) Now coming from a damp, sloppy, disagreeable stranger, he did not like this. He objected to having his sex reversed. Well, he was a peaceable man, largely pacific, as largely as the ocean, and he restrained himself still he could stand it no longer, when the stranger continued, “Che ha Ella?” (What has she?”) literally, a more formal mode of address.

It was bad enough to be called “She” be a sloppy, sullen, saturated stranger, but “Ella” was beyond all bearing. Ella! What a name! “He might,” said Mark, “have called me Nancy at once.” Ella! Why not Daisy or some pretty name. But Ella! It was beyond bearing. He was prepared to come to blows, to heaven knows what, but somehow or other he found himself under one of the carts. Nevertheless, he went on formulating his just objections until looking up, he found the stranger had gone. But he was resolved he should not be let off thus easily. He would find him again and call him to account But when he got home and recounted the matter his ideas of summary vengeance were somewhat damped. He has been persuaded to believe that the stranger meant no offense. It was the grammar that was at fault, which removes a poor stranger to the third person and corrupts his sex. All the more need for his grammar. When that came out there would be a real reform.

SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.