And yet I think that England sinned when she got herself into a war in South Africa which she could have avoided, just as we sinned in getting into a similar war in the Philippines. Mr. Churchill, by his father, is an Englishman; by his mother he is an American--no doubt a blend that makes the perfect man. England and America; yes, we are kin. And now that we are also kin in sin, there is nothing more to be desired. The harmony is complete, the blend is perfect.
The New Vagabonds Club of London, made up of the leading younger literary men of the day, gave a dinner in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Clemens, July 8, 1899.
It has always been difficult--leave that word difficult--not exceedingly difficult, but just difficult, nothing more than that, not the slightest shade to add to that--just difficult--to respond properly, in the right phraseology, when compliments are paid to me; but it is more than difficult when the compliments are paid to a better than I--my wife.
And while I am not here to testify against myself--I can't be expected to do so, a prisoner in your own country is not admitted to do so--as to which member of the family wrote my books, I could say in general that really I wrote the books myself. My wife puts the facts in, and they make it respectable. My modesty won't suffer while compliments are being paid to literature, and through literature to my family. I can't get enough of them.
I am curiously situated to-night. It so rarely happens that I am introduced by a humorist; I am generally introduced by a person of grave walk and carriage. That makes the proper background of gravity for brightness. I am going to alter to suit, and haply I may say some humorous things.
When you start with a blaze of sunshine and upburst of humor, when you begin with that, the proper office of humor is to reflect, to put you into that pensive mood of deep thought, to make you think of your sins, if you wish half an hour to fly. Humor makes me reflect now to-night, it sets the thinking machinery in motion. Always, when I am thinking, there come suggestions of what I am, and what we all are, and what we are coming to. A sermon comes from my lips always when I listen to a humorous speech.
I seize the opportunity to throw away frivolities, to say something to plant the seed, and make all better than when I came. In Mr. Grossmith's remarks there was a subtle something suggesting my favorite theory of the difference between theoretical morals and practical morals. I try to instil practical morals in the place of theatrical--I mean theoretical; but as an addendum--an annex--something added to theoretical morals.
When your chairman said it was the first time he had ever taken the chair, he did not mean that he had not taken lots of other things; he attended my first lecture and took notes. This indicated the man's disposition. There was nothing else flying round, so he took notes; he would have taken anything he could get.
I can bring a moral to bear here which shows the difference between theoretical morals and practical morals. Theoretical morals are the sort you get on your mother's knee, in good books, and from the pulpit. You gather them in your head, and not in your heart; they are theory without practice. Without the assistance of practice to perfect them, it is difficult to teach a child to "be honest, don't steal."
I will teach you how it should be done, lead you into temptation, teach you how to steal, so that you may recognize when you have stolen and feel the proper pangs. It is no good going round and bragging you have never taken the chair.
As by the fires of experience, so by commission of crime, you learn real morals. Commit all the crimes, familiarize yourself with all sins, take them in rotation (there are only two or three thousand of them), stick to it, commit two or three every day, and by-and-by you will be proof against them. When you are through you will be proof against all sins and morally perfect.