He had never worn anything so appropriate or so impressive.
This departure of costume came along a week or two before the Washington trip, and when his bags were being packed for the excursion he was somewhat in doubt as to the propriety of bursting upon Washington in December in that snowy plumage. I ventured:
"This is a lobbying expedition of a peculiar kind, and does not seem to invite any half-way measures. I should vote in favor of the white suit."
I think Miss Clemens was for it, too. She must have been or the vote wouldn't have carried, though it was clear he strongly favored the idea. At all events, the white suits came along.
We were off the following afternoon: Howells, Robert Underwood Johnson, one of the Appletons, one of the Putnams, George Bowker, and others were on the train. On the trip down in the dining-car there was a discussion concerning the copyrighting of ideas, which finally resolved itself into the possibility of originating a new one. Clemens said:
"There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages."
We put up at the Willard, and in the morning drove over to the Congressional Library, where the copyright hearing was in progress. There was a joint committee of the two Houses seated round a long table at work, and a number of spectators more or less interested in the bill, mainly, it would seem, men concerned with the protection of mechanical music-rolls. The fact that this feature was mixed up with literature was not viewed with favor by most of the writers. Clemens referred to the musical contingent as "those hand-organ men who ought to have a bill of their own."
I should mention that early that morning Clemens had written this letter to Speaker Cannon:
December 7, 1906.
DEAR UNCLE JOSEPH,--Please get me the thanks of the Congress--not next week, but right away. It is very necessary. Do accomplish this for your affectionate old friend right away; by persuasion, if you can; by violence, if you must, for it is imperatively necessary that I get on the floor for two or three hours and talk to the members, man by man, in behalf of the support, encouragement, and protection of one of the nation's most valuable assets and industries--its literature. I have arguments with me, also a barrel with liquid in it.
Give me a chance. Get me the thanks of Congress. Don't wait for others --there isn't time. I have stayed away and let Congress alone for seventy-one years and I am entitled to thanks. Congress knows it perfectly well, and I have long felt hurt that this quite proper and earned expression of gratitude has been merely felt by the House and never publicly uttered. Send me an order on the Sergeant-at-Arms quick. When shall I come? With love and a benediction; MARK TWAIN.
We went over to the Capitol now to deliver to "Uncle Joe" this characteristic letter. We had picked up Clemens's nephew, Samuel E. Moffett, at the Library, and he came along and led the way to the Speaker's room. Arriving there, Clemens laid off his dark overcoat and stood there, all in white, certainly a startling figure among those clerks, newspaper men, and incidental politicians. He had been noticed as he entered the Capitol, and a number of reporters had followed close behind. Within less than a minute word was being passed through the corridors that Mark Twain was at the Capitol in his white suit. The privileged ones began to gather, and a crowd assembled in the hall outside.
Speaker Cannon was not present at the moment; but a little later he "billowed" in--which seems to be the word to express it--he came with such a rush and tide of life. After greetings, Clemens produced the letter and read it to him solemnly, as if he were presenting a petition. Uncle Joe listened quite seriously, his head bowed a little, as if it were really a petition, as in fact it was.