On the train going home he fell to talking of books and authors, mainly of the things he had never been able to read.

"When I take up one of Jane Austen's books," he said, "such as Pride and Prejudice, I feel like a barkeeper entering the kingdom of heaven. I know, what his sensation would be and his private comments. He would not find the place to his taste, and he would probably say so."

He recalled again how Stepniak had come to Hartford, and how humiliated Mrs. Clemens had been to confess that her husband was not familiar with the writings of Thackeray and others.

"I don't know anything about anything," he said, mournfully, "and never did. My brother used to try to get me to read Dickens, long ago. I couldn't do it--I was ashamed; but I couldn't do it. Yes, I have read The Tale of Two Cities, and could do it again. I have read it a good many times; but I never could stand Meredith and most of the other celebrities."

By and by he handed me the Saturday Times Review, saying:

"Here is a fine poem, a great poem, I think. I can stand that."

It was "The Palatine (in the 'Dark Ages')," by Willa Sibert Cather, reprinted from McClure's. The reader will understand better than I can express why these lofty opening stanzas appealed to Mark Twain:


"Have you been with the King to Rome, Brother, big brother?" "I've been there and I've come home, Back to your play, little brother."

"Oh, how high is Caesar's house, Brother, big brother?" "Goats about the doorways browse; Night-hawks nest in the burnt roof-tree, Home of the wild bird and home of the bee. A thousand chambers of marble lie Wide to the sun and the wind and the sky. Poppies we find amongst our wheat Grow on Caesar's banquet seat. Cattle crop and neatherds drowse On the floors of Caesar's house."

"But what has become of Caesar's gold, Brother, big brother?" "The times are bad and the world is old-- Who knows the where of the Caesar's gold? Night comes black on the Caesar's hill; The wells are deep and the tales are ill. Fireflies gleam in the damp and mold, All that is left of the Caesar's gold. Back to your play, little brother."

Farther along in our journey he handed me the paper again, pointing to these lines of Kipling:

How is it not good for the Christian's health To hurry the Aryan brown, For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles, And he weareth the Christian down; And the end of the fight is a tombstone white And the name of the late deceased: And the epitaph drear: "A fool lies here Who tried to hustle the East."

"I could stand any amount of that," he said, and presently: "Life is too long and too short. Too long for the weariness of it; too short for the work to be done. At the very most, the average mind can only master a few languages and a little history."

I said: "Still, we need not worry. If death ends all it does not matter; and if life is eternal there will be time enough."

"Yes," he assented, rather grimly, "that optimism of yours is always ready to turn hell's back yard into a playground."

I said that, old as I was, I had taken up the study of French, and mentioned Bayard Taylor's having begun Greek at fifty, expecting to need it in heaven.

Clemens said, reflectively: "Yes--but you see that was Greek."



I was at Stormfield pretty constantly during the rest of that year.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book