Returning to New York, I ran out to Tuxedo, where he had taken a home for the summer (for it was already May), and walking along the shaded paths of that beautiful suburban park, he told me what he knew of the Oxford matter.
Moberly Bell, of the London Times, had been over in April, and soon after his return to England there had come word of the proposed honor. Clemens privately and openly (to Bell) attributed it largely to his influence. He wrote to him:
DEAR MR. BELL,--Your hand is in it & you have my best thanks. Although I wouldn't cross an ocean again for the price of the ship that carried me I am glad to do it for an Oxford degree. I shall plan to sail for England a shade before the middle of June, so that I can have a few days in London before the 26th.
A day or two later, when the time for sailing had been arranged, he overtook his letter with a cable:
I perceive your hand in it. You have my best thanks. Sail on Minneapolis June 8th. Due in Southampton ten days later.
Clemens said that his first word of the matter had been a newspaper cablegram, and that he had been doubtful concerning it until a cablegram to himself had confirmed it.
"I never expected to cross the water again," he said; "but I would be willing to journey to Mars for that Oxford degree."
He put the matter aside then, and fell to talking of Jim Gillis and the others I had visited, dwelling especially on Gillis's astonishing faculty for improvising romances, recalling how he had stood with his back to the fire weaving his endless, grotesque yarns, with no other guide than his fancy. It was a long, happy walk we had, though rather a sad one in its memories; and he seemed that day, in a sense, to close the gate of those early scenes behind him, for he seldom referred to them afterward.
He was back at 21 Fifth Avenue presently, arranging for his voyage. Meantime, cable invitations of every sort were pouring in, from this and that society and dignitary; invitations to dinners and ceremonials, and what not, and it was clear enough that his English sojourn was to be a busy one. He had hoped to avoid this, and began by declining all but two invitations--a dinner-party given by Ambassador Whitelaw Reid and a luncheon proposed by the "Pilgrims." But it became clear that this would not do. England was not going to confer its greatest collegiate honor without being permitted to pay its wider and more popular tribute.
Clemens engaged a special secretary for the trip--Mr. Ralph W. Ashcroft, a young Englishman familiar with London life. They sailed on the 8th of June, by a curious coincidence exactly forty years from the day he had sailed on the Quaker City to win his great fame. I went with him to the ship. His first elation had passed by this time, and he seemed a little sad, remembering, I think, the wife who would have enjoyed this honor with him but could not share it now.
A TRUE ENGLISH WELCOME
Mark Twain's trip across the Atlantic would seem to have been a pleasant one. The Minneapolis is a fine, big ship, and there was plenty of company. Prof. Archibald Henderson, Bernard Shaw's biographer, was aboard;--[Professor .Henderson has since then published a volume on Mark Twain-an interesting commentary on his writings-mainly from the sociological point of view.]--also President Patton, of the Princeton Theological Seminary; a well-known cartoonist, Richards, and some very attractive young people--school-girls in particular, such as all through his life had appealed to Mark Twain. Indeed, in his later life they made a stronger appeal than ever. The years had robbed him of his own little flock, and always he was trying to replace them. Once he said:
"During those years after my wife's death I was washing about on a forlorn sea of banquets and speech-making in high and holy causes, and these things furnished me intellectual cheer, and entertainment; but they got at my heart for an evening only, then left it dry and dusty.