Now, after being here and hearing Mrs. Hewitt and Mrs. Thomas, it seems to me I know of nothing like it at all. It's a charity that carries no humiliation with it. Marvellous it is, to think of schools where you don't have to drive the children in but drive them out. It was not so in my day.
Down-stairs just now I saw a dancing lesson going on. You must pay a cent for a lesson. You can't get it for nothing. That's the reason I never learned to dance.
But it was the pawnbroker's shop you have here that interested me mightily. I've known something about pawnbrokers' shops in my time, but here you have a wonderful plan. The ordinary pawnbroker charges thirty-- six per cent. a year for a loan, and I've paid more myself, but here a man or woman in distress can obtain a loan for one per cent. a month! It's wonderful!
I've been interested in all I've heard to-day, especially in the romances recounted by Mrs. Thomas, which reminds me that I have a romance of my own in my autobiography, which I am building for the instruction of the world.
In San Francisco, many years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter (perhaps I should say I had been and was willing to be), a pawnbroker was taking care of what property I had. There was a friend of mine, a poet, out of a job, and he was having a hard time of it, too. There was passage in it, but I guess I've got to keep that for the autobiography.
Well, my friend the poet thought his life was a failure, and I told him I thought it was, and then he said he thought he ought to commit suicide, and I said "all right," which was disinterested advice to a friend in trouble; but, like all such advice, there was just a little bit of self- interest back of it, for if I could get a "scoop" on the other newspapers I could get a job.
The poet could be spared, and so, largely for his own good and partly for mine, I kept the thing in his mind, which was necessary, as would-be suicides are very changeable aid hard to hold to their purpose. He had a preference for a pistol, which was an extravagance, for we hadn't enough between us to hire a pistol. A fork would have been easier.
And so he concluded to drown himself, and I said it was an excellent idea--the only trouble being that he was so good a swimmer. So we went down to the beach. I went along to see that the thing was done right. Then something most romantic happened. There came in on the sea something that had been on its way for three years. It rolled in across the broad Pacific with a message that was full of meaning to that poor poet and cast itself at his feet. It was a life-preserver! This was a complication. And then I had an idea--he never had any, especially when he was going to write poetry; I suggested that we pawn the life-preserver and get a revolver.
The pawnbroker gave us an old derringer with a bullet as big as a hickory nut. When he heard that it was only a poet that was going to kill himself he did not quibble. Well, we succeeded in sending a bullet right through his head. It was a terrible moment when he placed that pistol against his forehead and stood for an instant. I said, "Oh, pull the trigger!" and he did, and cleaned out all the gray matter in his brains. It carried the poetic faculty away, and now he's a useful member of society.
Now, therefore, I realize that there's no more beneficent institution than this penny fund of yours, and I want all the poets to know this. I did think about writing you a check, but now I think I'll send you a few copies of what one of your little members called 'Strawberry Finn'.
PUBLIC EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
ADDRESS AT A MEETING OF THE BERKELEY LYCEUM, NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 23, 1900
I don't suppose that I am called here as an expert on education, for that would show a lack of foresight on your part and a deliberate intention to remind me of my shortcomings.
As I sat here looking around for an idea it struck me that I was called for two reasons. One was to do good to me, a poor unfortunate traveller on the world's wide ocean, by giving me a knowledge of the nature and scope of your society and letting me know that others beside myself have been of some use in the world.