But this was an unneeded suggestion. If he had eaten all the dinners proposed he would not have lived to enjoy his public honors a month. As it was, he accepted many more dinners than he could eat, and presently fell into the habit of arriving when the banqueting was about over and the after-dinner speaking about to begin. Even so the strain told on him.
"His friends saw that he was wearing himself out," says Howells, and perhaps this was true, for he grew thin and pale and contracted a hacking cough. He did not spare himself as often as he should have done. Once to Richard Watson Gilder he sent this line of regrets:
In bed with a chest cold and other company--Wednesday. DEAR GILDER,--I can't. If I were a well man I could explain with this pencil, but in the cir---ces I will leave it all to your imagination.
Was it Grady who killed himself trying to do all the dining and speeching?
No, old man, no, no! Ever yours, MARK.
He became again the guest of honor at the Lotos Club, which had dined him so lavishly seven years before, just previous to his financial collapse. That former dinner had been a distinguished occasion, but never before had the Lotos Club been so brimming with eager hospitality as on the second great occasion. In closing his introductory speech President Frank Lawrence said, "We hail him as one who has borne great burdens with manliness and courage, who has emerged from great struggles victorious," and the assembled diners roared out their applause. Clemens in his reply said:
Your president has referred to certain burdens which I was weighted with. I am glad he did, as it gives me an opportunity which I wanted--to speak of those debts. You all knew what he meant when he referred to it, & of the poor bankrupt firm of C. L. Webster & Co. No one has said a word about those creditors. There were ninety-six creditors in all, & not by a finger's weight did ninety-five out of the ninety-six add to the burden of that time. They treated me well; they treated me handsomely. I never knew I owed them anything; not a sign came from them.
It was like him to make that public acknowledgment. He could not let an unfair impression remain that any man or any set of men had laid an unnecessary burden upon him-his sense of justice would not consent to it. He also spoke on that occasion of certain national changes.
How many things have happened in the seven years I have been away from home! We have fought a righteous war, and a righteous war is a rare thing in history. We have turned aside from our own comfort and seen to it that freedom should exist, not only within our own gates, but in our own neighborhood. We have set Cuba free and placed her among the galaxy of free nations of the world. We started out to set those poor Filipinos free, but why that righteous plan miscarried perhaps I shall never know. We have also been making a creditable showing in China, and that is more than all the other powers can say. The "Yellow Terror" is threatening the world, but no matter what happens the United States says that it has had no part in it.
Since I have been away we have been nursing free silver. We have watched by its cradle, we have done our best to raise that child, but every time it seemed to be getting along nicely along came some pestiferous Republican and gave it the measles or something. I fear we will never raise that child.
We've done more than that. We elected a President four years ago. We've found fault and criticized him, and here a day or two ago we go and elect him for another four years, with votes enough to spare to do it over again.
One club followed another in honoring Mark Twain--the Aldine, the St. Nicholas, the Press clubs, and other associations and societies. His old friends were at these dinners--Howells, Aldrich, Depew, Rogers, ex-Speaker Reed--and they praised him and gibed him to his and their hearts' content.