When the British Premier, Campbell-Bannerman, celebrated his seventieth birthday, the London Tribune and the New York Herald requested a tribute. He furnished it, for Bannerman was a very old friend. He had known him first at Marienbad in '91, and in Vienna in '98, in daily intercourse, when they had lived at the same hotel. His tribute ran:
To HIS EXCELLENCY THE BRITISH PREMIER,--Congratulations, not condolences. Before seventy we are merely respected, at best, and we have to behave all the time, or we lose that asset; but after seventy we are respected, esteemed, admired, revered, and don't have to behave unless we want to. When I first knew you, Honored Sir, one of us was hardly even respected. MARK TWAIN.
He had some misgivings concerning the telegram after it had gone, but he did not recall it.
Clemens became the victim of a very clever hoax that summer. One day a friend gave him two examples of the most deliciously illiterate letters, supposed to have been written by a woman who had contributed certain articles of clothing to the San Francisco sufferers, and later wished to recall them because of the protests of her household. He was so sure that the letters were genuine that he included them in his dictations, after reading them aloud with great effect. To tell the truth, they did seem the least bit too well done, too literary in their illiteracy; but his natural optimism refused to admit of any suspicion, and a little later he incorporated one of the Jennie Allen letters in a speech which he made at a Press Club dinner in New York on the subject of simplified spelling--offering it as an example of language with phonetic brevity exercising its supreme function, the direct conveyance of ideas. The letters, in the end, proved to be the clever work of Miss Grace Donworth, who has since published them serially and in book form. Clemens was not at all offended or disturbed by the exposure. He even agreed to aid the young author in securing a publisher, and wrote to Miss Stockbridge, through whom he had originally received the documents:
DEAR MISS STOCKBRIDGE (if she really exists),
257 Benefit Street (if there is any such place):
Yes, I should like a copy of that other letter. This whole fake is delightful; & I tremble with fear that you are a fake yourself & that I am your guileless prey. (But never mind, it isn't any matter.)
Now as to publication----
He set forth his views and promised his assistance when enough of the letters should be completed.
Clemens allowed his name to be included with the list of spelling reformers, but he never employed any of the reforms in his letters or writing. His interest was mainly theoretical, and when he wrote or spoke on the subject his remarks were not likely to be testimonials in its favor. His own theory was that the alphabet needed reform, first of all, so that each letter or character should have one sound, and one sound only; and he offered as a solution of this an adaptation of shorthand. He wrote and dictated in favor of this idea to the end of his life. Once he said:
"Our alphabet is pure insanity. It can hardly spell any large word in the English language with any degree of certainty. Its sillinesses are quite beyond enumeration. English orthography may need reforming and simplifying, but the English alphabet needs it a good many times as much."
He would naturally favor simplicity in anything. I remember him reading, as an example of beautiful English, The Death of King Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory, and his verdict:
"That is one of the most beautiful things ever written in English, and written when we had no vocabulary."
"A vocabulary, then, is sometimes a handicap?"
"It is indeed."
Still I think it was never a handicap with him, but rather the plumage of flight. Sometimes, when just the right word did not come, he would turn his head a little at different angles, as if looking about him for the precise term.