Clair McKelway, Hamilton Mabie, and Wayne MacVeagh. Dr. Henry van Dyke and John Kendrick Bangs read poems. The chairman constantly kept the occasion from becoming too serious by maintaining an attitude of "thinking ambassador" for the guest of the evening, gently pushing Clemens back in his seat when he attempted to rise and expressing for him an opinion of each of the various tributes.
"The limit has been reached," he announced at the close of Dr. van Dyke's poem. "More that is better could not be said. Gentlemen, Mr. Clemens."
It is seldom that Mark Twain has made a better after-dinner speech than he delivered then. He was surrounded by some of the best minds of the nation, men assembled to do him honor. They expected much of him--to Mark Twain always an inspiring circumstance. He was greeted with cheers and hand-clapping that came volley after volley, and seemed never ready to end. When it had died away at last he stood waiting a little in the stillness for his voice; then he said, "I think I ought to be allowed to talk as long as I want to," and again the storm broke.
It is a speech not easy to abridge--a finished and perfect piece of after-dinner eloquence,--[The "Sixty-seventh Birthday Speech" entire is included in the volume Mark Twain's Speeches.]--full of humorous stories and moving references to old friends--to Hay; and Reed, and Twichell, and Howells, and Rogers, the friends he had known so long and loved so well. He told of his recent trip to his boyhood home, and how he had stood with John Briggs on Holliday's Hill and they had pointed out the haunts of their youth. Then at the end he paid a tribute to the companion of his home, who could not be there to share his evening's triumph. This peroration--a beautiful heart-offering to her and to those that had shared in long friendship--demands admission:
Now, there is one invisible guest here. A part of me is not present; the larger part, the better part, is yonder at her home; that is my wife, and she has a good many personal friends here, and I think it won't distress any one of them to know that, although she is going to be confined to her bed for many months to come from that nervous prostration, there is not any danger and she is coming along very well--and I think it quite appropriate that I should speak of her. I knew her for the first time just in the same year that I first knew John Hay and Tom Reed and Mr. Twichell--thirty-six years ago--and she has been the best friend I have ever had, and that is saying a good deal--she has reared me--she and Twichell together-- and what I am I owe to them. Twichell--why, it is such a pleasure to look upon Twichell's face! For five and twenty years I was under the Rev. Mr. Twichell's tuition, I was in his pastorate occupying a pew in his church and held him in due reverence. That man is full of all the graces that go to make a person companionable and beloved; and wherever Twichell goes to start a church the people flock there to buy the land; they find real estate goes up all around the spot, and the envious and the thoughtful always try to get Twichell to move to their neighborhood and start a church; and wherever you see him go you can go and buy land there with confidence, feeling sure that there will be a double price for you before very long.
I have tried to do good in this world, and it is marvelous in how many different ways I have done good, and it is comfortable to reflect--now, there's Mr. Rogers--just out of the affection I bear that man many a time I have given him points in finance that he had never thought of--and if he could lay aside envy, prejudice, and superstition, and utilize those ideas in his business, it would make a difference in his bank-account.
Well, I liked the poetry. I liked all the speeches and the poetry, too. I liked Dr. van Dyke's poem. I wish I could return thanks in proper measure to you, gentlemen, who have spoken and violated your feelings to pay me compliments; some were merited and some you overlooked, it is true; and Colonel Harvey did slander every one of you, and put things into my mouth that I never said, never thought of at all.