My father took me by the hand and introduced me. He knew Mark Twain well, as indeed he knew all the great people of the day. He introduced him correctly, of course, as “Mr. Clemens.”
I sat there like a bump while my father and Mark Twain talked. Finally, my father turned to me. “Haven’t you got anything to say to Mr. Clemens?” he asked me.
I muttered that no, I hadn’t, and continued to be a bump. ….
Finally, my father made an effort to save me.
“This is Mr. Clemens, Lionel,” he said. “But I expect you know him better as Mark Twain.’
I did indeed. We were old friends and had mutual acquaintances in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. So I looked Mark Twain in the eye then and began to blurt words at him.
I began to tell him his own story, the part about Nigger Jim, and I gave it to him verbatim, mostly whole paragraphs at a time….My father moved to fetch me a kick under the table…but Mr. Clemens laid a hand on
his arm and gave me his whole attention. At the end of my recital there were tears in his eyes. He beckoned a waiter and bought me an apple with spice and hot water, omitting, of course, the brandy. I was highly pleased with myself, unaware that I had pulled a potwalloping enormity.
I saw Mark Twain often after that, but this was the main time [We Barrymores, by Lionel Barrymore as told to Cameron Shipp, (ca 1951), p. 25-6].
Notes: Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954); Maurice Barrymore (born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe in India; 1849-1905) was the patriarch of the famous stage family, father to Lionel, John, and Ethel. He contracted syphilis, which caused his behavior to be erratic, and he ultimately died from the disease. Captain Swift opened at Madison Square Theater on Dec. 24, 1888 and ran through the season, closing on May 4, 1889; it is assumed here that the “holiday” Lionel referred to would most likely have been over the Christmas-New Year’s season; but the meeting described might have taken place any time during the play’s run. The play was a slightly altered stage piece produced by Dion Boucicault, and garnered good reviews. Undoubtedly Sam saw the play, though no record of it could be found, nor of any specific date or presence at the Hoffman House for Twain during this period, though he did stay there several times in 1890.
January 2, 1889 addition – Additional guests for this evening’s dinner have been identified from Parke-Bernet catalogs, 21-22 May 1957: They were neighbors William Gillette, and Charles Dudley Warner. Elsie Leslie (later Mrs. Milliken) remembered the dinner given for her: “Mr. Clemens put me at his right, although he did not sit at the head of the table. He told me his family never let him sit there, on account of the carving. ‘Elsie! I never could carve anything but soup & hash.’” Augustin Daly is not listed.
January 9, 1889 addition – In Sam’s letter to Johnston this date, he referred to a letter he wrote to Henry Perkins Goddard (1842-1916). Zon gives us an excerpt of this “not as yet cataloged” letter in which Sam remarks:
“There I must be on my good behavior and try to be entertaining, but at your club I can smoke in peace and say to you men, ‘Talk, hang you! I’ll listen’” .
February 20, 1889 addition – The book that Benjamin P. Shillaber wrote Sam about (his letter not extant) was Mrs. Partington’s New Grip-Sack Filled With Fresh Things (1890) the last book Shillaber published before his death on Nov. 25, 1890. Sam answered on Feb. 20.
July 19, 1889 correction – Further review of Arthur C. Thornton’s letter of this date, as well as his prior letter of Dec. 31, 1886, reveals that he did not send Mark Twain a comedy book (as previously reported) but “the horrible conglomeration of puns…two years since, & also the cowardly composition…when I sent
to you, the ‘remains’ as I termed them…of a copy of ‘Innocents Abroad,’ which was in shambles from so many readings. Thornton had been after a new copy back in 1886, and now asked for a photograph. On July 20, Sam forwarded Thornton’s letter to Franklin Whitmore, enclosing a letter to Thornton (not extant) and asking Whitmore to “put in one of those heliotype pictures of me.” See entry.