He did not print it, because then it would have been regarded as sacrilege.
When summer came again, in a beautiful house at Dublin, New Hampshire, on the Monadnock slope, he seemed to get back into the old swing of work, and wrote that pathetic story, "A Horse's Tale." Also "Eve's Diary," which, under its humor, is filled with tenderness, and he began a wildly fantastic tale entitled "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes," a satire in which Gulliver is outdone. He never finished it. He never could finish it, for it ran off into amazing by-paths that led nowhere, and the tale was lost. Yet he always meant to get at it again some day and make order out of chaos.
Old friends were dying, and Mark Twain grew more and more lonely. "My section of the procession has but a little way to go," he wrote when the great English actor Henry Irving died. Charles Henry Webb, his first publisher, John Hay, Bret Harte, Thomas B. Reed, and, indeed, most of his earlier associates were gone. When an invitation came from San Francisco to attend a California reunion he replied that his wandering days were over and that it was his purpose to sit by the fire for the rest of his life. And in another letter:
"I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old residents. Since I left there, it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more--I could have gone earlier--it was suggested."
A choice example, by the way, of Mark Twain's best humor, with its perfectly timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would have been content to end with the statement, "I could have gone earlier." Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch--"it was suggested."
Mark Twain was nearing seventy. With the 30th of November (1905) he would complete the scriptural limitation, and the president of his publishing-house, Col. George Harvey, of Harper's, proposed a great dinner for him in celebration of his grand maturity. Clemens would have preferred a small assembly in some snug place, with only his oldest and closest friends. Colonel Harvey had a different view. He had given a small, choice dinner to Mark Twain on his sixty-seventh birthday; now it must be something really worth while--something to outrank any former literary gathering. In order not to conflict with Thanksgiving holidays, the 5th of December was selected as the date. On that evening, two hundred American and English men and women of letters assembled in Delmonico's great banquet-hall to do honor to their chief. What an occasion it was! The tables of gay diners and among them Mark Twain, his snow-white hair a gleaming beacon for every eye. Then, by and by, presented by William Dean Howells, he rose to speak. Instantly the brilliant throng was on its feet, a shouting billow of life, the white handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest. It was a supreme moment! The greatest one of them all hailed by their applause as he scaled the mountaintop.
Never did Mark Twain deliver a more perfect address than he gave that night. He began with the beginning, the meagerness of that little hamlet that had seen his birth, and sketched it all so quaintly and delightfully that his hearers laughed and shouted, though there was tenderness under it, and often the tears were just beneath the surface. He told of his habits of life, how he had reached seventy by following a plan of living that would probably kill anybody else; how, in fact, he believed he had no valuable habits at all. Then, at last, came that unforgetable close:
"Threescore years and ten!
"It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time- expired man, to use Kipling's military phrase: you have served your term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions are not for you, nor any bugle-call but "lights out." You pay the time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline, if you prefer--and without prejudice--for they are not legally collectable.