You can make out where Infancy verged into Boyhood; Boyhood into down-lipped Youth; Youth into bearded, indefinite Young-Manhood; indefinite Young-Manhood into definite Manhood; definite Manhood, with large, aggressive ambitions, into sobered & heedful Husbandhood & Fatherhood; these into troubled & foreboding Age, with graying hair; this into Old Age, white-headed, the temple empty, the idols broken, the worshipers in their graves, nothing left but You, a remnant, a tradition, belated fag-end of a foolish dream, a dream that was so ingeniously dreamed that it seemed real all the time; nothing left but You, center of a snowy desolation, perched on the ice-summit, gazing out over the stages of that long trek & asking Yourself, "Would you do it again if you had the chance?"
THE WRITER MEETS MARK TWAIN
We have reached a point in this history where the narrative becomes mainly personal, and where, at the risk of inviting the charge of egotism, the form of the telling must change.
It was at the end of 1901 that I first met Mark Twain--at The Players Club on the night when he made the Founder's Address mentioned in an earlier chapter.
I was not able to arrive in time for the address, but as I reached the head of the stairs I saw him sitting on the couch at the dining-room entrance, talking earnestly to some one, who, as I remember it, did not enter into my consciousness at all. I saw only that crown of white hair, that familiar profile, and heard the slow modulations of his measured speech. I was surprised to see how frail and old he looked. From his pictures I had conceived him different. I did not realize that it was a temporary condition due to a period of poor health and a succession of social demands. I have no idea how long I stood there watching him. He had been my literary idol from childhood, as he had been of so many others; more than that, for the personality in his work had made him nothing less than a hero to his readers.
He rose presently to go, and came directly toward me. A year before I had done what new writers were always doing--I had sent him a book I had written, and he had done what he was always doing--acknowledged it with a kindly letter. I made my thanks now an excuse for addressing him. It warmed me to hear him say that he remembered the book, though at the time I confess I thought it doubtful. Then he was gone; but the mind and ear had photographed those vivid first impressions that remain always clear.
It was the following spring that I saw him again--at an afternoon gathering, and the memory of that occasion is chiefly important because I met Mrs. Clemens there for the only time, and like all who met her, however briefly, felt the gentleness and beauty of her spirit. I think I spoke with her at two or three different moments during the afternoon, and on each occasion was impressed with that feeling of acquaintanceship which we immediately experience with those rare beings whose souls are wells of human sympathy and free from guile. Bret Harte had just died, and during the afternoon Mr. Clemens asked me to obtain for him some item concerning the obsequies.
It was more than three years before I saw him again. Meantime, a sort of acquaintance had progressed. I had been engaged in writing the life of Thomas Nast, the cartoonist, and I had found among the material a number of letters to Nast from Mark Twain. I was naturally anxious to use those fine characteristic letters, and I wrote him for his consent. He wished to see the letters, and the permission that followed was kindness itself. His admiration of Nast was very great.
It was proper, under the circumstances, to send him a copy of the book when it appeared; but that was 1904, his year of sorrow and absence, and the matter was postponed. Then came the great night of his seventieth birthday dinner, with an opportunity to thank him in person for the use of the letters. There was only a brief exchange of words, and it was the next day, I think, that I sent him a copy of the book.