Of one such he remarked:
"That woman intends to pursue me to the grave. I wish something could be done to appease her."
"Everybody in the world who wants something--something of no interest to me--writes to me to get it."
These morning sessions were likely to be of great interest. Once a letter spoke of the desirability of being an optimist. "That word perfectly disgusts me," he said, and his features materialized the disgust, "just as that other word, pessimist, does; and the idea that one can, by any effort of will, be one or the other, any more than he can change the color of his hair. The reason why a man is a pessimist or an optimist is not because he wants to be, but because he was born so; and this man [a minister of the Gospel who was going to explain life to him] is going to tell me why he isn't a pessimist. Oh, he'll do it, but he won't tell the truth; he won't make it short enough."
Yet he was always patient with any one who came with spiritual messages, theological arguments, and consolations. He might have said to them: "Oh, dear friends, those things of which you speak are the toys that long ago I played with and set aside." He could have said it and spoken the truth; but I believe he did not even think it. He listened to any one for whom he had respect, and was grateful for any effort in his behalf. One morning he read aloud a lecture given in London by George Bernard Shaw on religion, commenting as he read. He said:
"This letter is a frank breath of expression [and his comments were equally frank]. There is no such thing as morality; it is not immoral for the tiger to eat the wolf, or the wolf the cat, or the cat the bird, and so on down; that is their business. There is always enough for each one to live on. It is not immoral for one nation to seize another nation by force of arms, or for one man to seize another man's property or life if he is strong enough and wants to take it. It is not immoral to create the human species--with or without ceremony; nature intended exactly these things."
At one place in the lecture Shaw had said: "No one of good sense can accept any creed to-day without reservation."
"Certainly not," commented Clemens; "the reservation is that he is a d--d fool to accept it at all."
He was in one of his somber moods that morning. I had received a print of a large picture of Thomas Nast--the last one taken. The face had a pathetic expression which told the tragedy of his last years. Clemens looked at the picture several moments without speaking. Then he broke out:
"Why can't a man die when he's had his tragedy? I ought to have died long ago." And somewhat later: "Once Twichell heard me cussing the human race, and he said, 'Why, Mark, you are the last person in the world to do that--one selected and set apart as you are.' I said 'Joe, you don't know what you are talking about. I am not cussing altogether about my own little troubles. Any one can stand his own misfortunes; but when I read in the papers all about the rascalities and outrages going on I realize what a creature the human animal is. Don't you care more about the wretchedness of others than anything that happens to you?' Joe said he did, and shut up."
It occurred to me to suggest that he should not read the daily papers. "No difference," he said. "I read books printed two hundred years ago, and they hurt just the same."
"Those people are all dead and gone," I objected.
"They hurt just the same," he maintained.
I sometimes thought of his inner consciousness as a pool darkened by his tragedies, its glassy surface, when calm, reflecting all the joy and sunlight and merriment of the world, but easily--so easily--troubled and stirred even to violence. Once following the dictation, when I came to the billiard-room he was shooting the balls about the table, apparently much depressed. He said:
"I have been thinking it out--if I live two years more I will put an end to it all. I will kill myself."
"You have much to live for----"
"But I am so tired of the eternal round," he interrupted; "so tired." And I knew he meant that he was ill of the great loneliness that had come to him that day in Florence, and would never pass away.