Mark Twain

(pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Mark Twain at the Whitefriars Club

Western Daily Press, Tuesday 10 September 1872, p. 3.

Within the last few days the celebrated humourist Mark Twain has arrived in England and he was present at a dinner given by the members of the Whitefriars Club at the Mitre Tavern [on 6 September]. The meeting was presided over by Mr. J.Crawford Wilson, Mr G. Wharton Sampson occupying the vice-chair. It was as Mr Tom Hood’s guest that the distinguished visitor was present.

Mark Twain, with whose writings the English public are so familiar, belongs to the order of quiet humourists. Quaintness is his distinguishing characteristic. In the course of the evening the Chairman took occasion to propose the health of the visitor in eloquent terms.

Mr. Mark Twain responded after his peculiar fashion, amidst roars of laughter, which an effect of which the simple words convey but little idea, so much depended on the quaint and original manner of the speaker. He said:–

Gentlemen, I thank you very heartily indeed for this expression of kindness towards me. What I have done for England and civilisation in the arduous affairs which I have engaged in all that is good – that is so smooth, that I will say it again and again – what I have done for England and for civilisation in the arduous part I have performed, I have done with single-hearted devotion and with no hope of reward. I am proud, I am very proud, that it was reserved to me to find Dr. Livingstone, and for Mr. Stanley to get all the credit. (Laughter.) I hunted for that man in Africa all over seventy-five or one hundred parishes, thousands and thousands of miles in the wilds and the deserts, all over the place, sometimes riding negroes, and sometimes travelling by rail. I didn’t mind the rail or anything else, so that I didn’t come in for the tar and feathers. I found that man in Ujiji – a place you may remember if you have ever been there – and it was a very great satisfaction that I found him just in the nick of time. I found that poor old man deserted by his … geographers, deserted by all of his kind except the gorillas – dejected, miserable, famishing, absolutely famishing; but he was eloquent. Just as I had found him, he had eaten his last elephant, and he said to me, ‘God knows where I shall get another’. He had nothing to wear except his venerable and honourable navy suit, and nothing to eat but his diary. But I said to him, ‘It is all right; I have discovered you, and Stanley will be here by the four o’clock train and will discover you officially, and then we will turn to, and have a reg’lar good time.’ I said, ‘Cheer up, for Stanley has got corn, ammunition, glass beads, hymn books, whisky, and everything the human heart can desire; he has got all kinds of valuables, including telegraph poles and a few cartloads of money. By this time communication has been made with the land of Bibles and civilisation, and property will advance.’ And then we surveyed all that country from Ujiji, through Unanogo and other places, to Unyanyemba. I mention these names simply for your edification, nothing more; do not expect it – particularly as intelligence to the Royal Geographical Society. (Roars of laughter.) And then, having filled up the old man, we were all too full for utterance, and departed. Stanley has received a snuff-box, and I have received considerable snuff; he has got to write a book and gather in the rest of the credit, and I am going to levy on the copyright and to collect the money. Nothing comes amiss to me – cash or credit; but, seriously, I do feel that Stanley is the chief man, and an illustrious one, and I do applaud him with all my heart. Whether he is an American or a Welshman by birth, or one, or both, matters not to me. So far as I am personally concerned, I am simply here to stay a few months, and to see English people and to learn English manners and customs, and to enjoy myself; so the simplest thing I can do is to thank you for the toast you have honoured me with and for the remarks you have made, and to wish health and prosperity to the Whitefriars Club, and to sink down to my accustomed level. (Cheers.)


Dinner to Mark Twain

From the Glasgow Herald, Saturday 17 June 1899, p. 8.
250 Friars and guests attended this dinner.

Mark Twain (Mr S. L. Clemens) was last night the guest of the Whitefriars Club at a dinner at the Hotel Cecil, when a distinguished company of ladies and gentlemen assembled under the presidency of Mr Poultney Bigelow.

The Chairman, in proposing the toast of ‘The Queen’, remarked that all over the world, wherever the English language is spoken, there was but one echo of response to the toast of the Queen of England. Even at Bloemfontein, he said, the little town which had recently been brought prominently before their notice, they did honour to Queen Victoria.

Mr L. F. Austin then proposed the toast of the evening – ‘Our Guest, Friar Mark Twain’. Their distinguished guest, he said, had been a member of the Whitefriars Club a quarter of a century. (Cheers.) He was wondering whether during all that time Friar Mark Twain had observed the vows of their order. He (the speaker) had been a friar four weeks, and he had not the dimmest notion of what those vows were. (Laughter.) He knew that when they had tramped with other ‘Innocents Abroad’ they were not required to carry peas in their shoes, but on an occasion like that, and in the presence of Mrs Clemens, they heartily wore their hearts upon their sleeves. (Cheers.) Remarking upon the various reasons for the welcome they gave to their guest, he said it was always a pleasure to see the man whose writings one had to a great extent been brought up on in his earlier years. But that which most appealed to men and women of his own calling was the monument of personal character – the monument of noble courage in misfortune, of that high honour that accepted the penalty of disaster, and of that undaunted toil that lifted again the colours of victory. (Cheers.)

Mark Twain, on rising to respond, was received with loud cheers. He admitted he did not know what the vow of the Friars was. Neither did he care. He had made thousands of vows. There was no pleasure comparable to making a vow in the presence of men who appreciated it, and admired one for making it, unless it was to get outside and break that vow. (Laughter.) A vow was always a pledge of some kind for the protection of one’s own or somebody else’s morals. (Laughter.) Hence they had pledges to eschew tobacco and wine, and when they were making a pledge of that kind they could never be so happy in this world again until they got outside and took a drink. (Laughter.) He did not know anything so sad as having to make an after-dinner speech. If the proposer said something severe, if he would deride one or traduce one, he would furnish a text, because any one could get up and straighten out his own character. (Laughter.) But when a gentleman got up and merely told the truth, what could be said? (Laughter.) It was difficult to choose from the texts that such an orator furnished. He saw present his master in the art of oration of twenty-five years ago, Mr Depew, and there was also Mr Choate. While they three were absent from America there was a pleasing tranquility there – a building up of public confidence, (Laughter.) They were doing the best for their country. He thought they had spent their lives in serving their country, but they never served it to so good advantage as when they were out of it. (Laughter.) Having given a humorous description of how he had learned to make ‘impromptu’ speeches – by preparing them carefully a week beforehand, writing them out, learning them by heart, and afterwards handing a printed copy to the Press – (laughter) – he observed in conclusion that he had said nothing that would make them better than when they came there. He would therefore, like to say one serious word, which they could carry home to their children and the old people, who were not able to come. Let them take this as a legacy from him – ‘When in doubt tell the truth.’ (Cheers.)

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Mark Twain returned to the USA on 6 October 1900, having the night before attended a Whitefriars Club dinner at which Winston Churchill was the Club guest. Twain ‘contributed to the gaiety of the evening by a humorous speech, which he wound up with some graceful words of farewell at the close of a long stay of “exceeding felicity” in England.’ (Pall Mall Gazette, 6 October 1900, p. 8.)

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1 Chauncey Mitchell Depew (1834-1928), Secretary of State of New York 1864-65, president of the New York Central Railroad System and a United States Senator from New York 1899-1911.
2 Joseph Hodges Choate (1832-1917), an American lawyer and diplomat, United States Ambassador to the Court of St James 1899-1905.