Autobiography of Mark Twain (101 page)

BOOK: Autobiography of Mark Twain

The gospel left behind by Jay Gould is doing giant work in our days. Its message is “Get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it in prodigious abundance. Get it dishonestly if you can, honestly if you must.”

This gospel does seem to be almost universal. Its great apostles, to-day, are the McCurdys, McCalls, Hydes, Alexanders, and the rest of that robber gang who have lately been driven out of their violated positions of trust in the colossal insurance companies of New York. President McCall was reported to be dying day before yesterday. The others have been several times reported, in the past two or three months, as engaged in dying. It has been imagined that the cause of these death-strokes was sorrow and shame for the robberies committed upon the two or three million policy holders and their families, and the widow and the orphan—but every now and then one is astonished to find that it is not the outraged conscience of these men that is at work; they are merely sick and sore because they have been exposed.

Yesterday—as I see by the morning paper—John A. McCall quite forgot about his obsequies and sat up and became impressive, and worked his morals for the benefit of the nation. He
knew quite well that anything which a prodigiously rich man may say—whether in health or moribund—will be spread by the newspapers from one end of this continent to the other and be eagerly read by every creature who is able to read. McCall sits up and preaches to his son—ostensibly to his son—really to the nation. The man seems to be sincere, and I think he
sincere. I believe his moral sense is atrophied. I believe he really regards himself as a high and holy man. And I believe he thinks he is so regarded by the people of the United States. He has been worshiped because of his wealth, and particularly because of his shady methods of acquiring it, for twenty years. And I think he has become so accustomed to this adulation, and so beguiled and deceived by it, that he does really think himself a fine and great and noble being, and a proper model for the emulation of the rising generation of young men.

John D. Rockefeller is quite evidently a sincere man. Satan, twaddling sentimental sillinesses to a Sunday-school, could be no burlesque upon John D. Rockefeller and his performances in his Cleveland Sunday-school. When John D. is employed in that way he strikes the utmost limit of grotesqueness. He can’t be burlesqued—he is himself a burlesque. I know Mr. Rockefeller pretty well, and I am convinced that he is a sincere man.

I also believe in
John D.’s sincerity. When he twaddles to his Bible Class every Sunday, he exposes himself just after his father’s fashion. He stands up and with admirable solemnity and confidence discusses the Bible with the inspiration and the confidence of an idiot—and does it in all honesty and good faith. I know him, and I am quite sure he is sincere.

McCall has the right and true Rockefeller whang. He snivels owlishly along and is evidently as happy and as well satisfied with himself as if there wasn’t a stain upon his name, nor a crime in his record. Listen—here is his little sermon:

FEBRUARY 16, 1906


Tells of His Last Cigar in a Talk with His Son

Special to The New York Times

, Feb. 15.—John A. McCall felt so much better to-day that he had a long talk with his son, John C. McCall, and told many incidents of his career.
“John,” he said to his son, “I have done many things in my life for which I am sorry, but I’ve never done anything of which I feel ashamed.
“My counsel to young men who would succeed is that they should take the world as they find it, and then work—work!”
Mr. McCall thought the guiding force of mankind was will power, and in illustration he said:
“Some time ago, John, your mother and I were sitting together, chatting. I was smoking a cigar. I liked a cigar, and enjoyed a good, quiet smoke. She objected to it.
“ ‘John,’ said she, ‘why don’t you throw that cigar away?’
“I did so.
“ ‘John,’ she added, ‘I hope you’ll never smoke again.’
“The cigar I threw away was my last. I determined to quit then and there, and did so. That was exactly thirty-five years ago.”
Mr. McCall told his son many stories of his business life and seemed in a happier frame of mind than usual. This condition was attributed partly to the fact that he received hundreds of telegrams to-day congratulating him on his statement of yesterday reiterating his friendship for Andrew Hamilton.
“Father received a basketful of dispatches from friends in the North, South, East, and West commending him for his statement about his friend Judge Hamilton,” said young Mr. McCall to-night. “The telegrams came from persons who wished him good health and recovery. It has made him very happy.”
Mr. McCall had a sinking spell at 3 o’clock this morning, but it was slight, and he recovered before it was deemed necessary to send for a physician.
Milk and bouillons are now his sole form of nourishment. He eats no solids and is rapidly losing weight.
Drs. Vanderpoel and Charles L. Lindley held a conference at the McCall house at 5 o’clock this evening, and later told Mrs. McCall and Mrs. Darwin P. Kingsley, his daughter, that Mr. McCall’s condition was good, and that there was no immediate danger.
John C. McCall gave out this statement to-night: “Mr. McCall has had a very favorable day and is somewhat better.”

Following it comes the kind of bulletin which is given out, from day to day, when a king or other prodigious personage has had a favorable day, and is somewhat better—a fact which will interest and cheer and comfort the rest of the human race, nobody can explain why.

The sons and daughters of Jay Gould move, to-day, in what is regarded as the best society—the aristocratic society—of New York. One of his daughters married a titled Frenchman, ten or twelve years ago, a noisy and silly ruffian, gambler, and gentleman, and agreed to pay his debts, which amounted to a million or so. But she only agreed to pay the existing debts, not the future ones. The future ones have become present ones now, and are colossal. To-day she is suing for a separation from her shabby purchase, and the world’s sympathy and compassion are with her, where it belongs.

Kinney went to Wall Street to become a Jay Gould and slaughter the innocents. Then he sank out of sight. I never heard of him again, nor saw him during thirty-five years. Then I encountered a very seedy and shabby tramp on Broadway—it was some months ago—and the tramp borrowed twenty-five cents of me. To buy a couple of drinks with, I suppose. He had a pretty tired look and seemed to need them. It was Kinney. His dapperness was all gone; he showed age, neglect, care, and that something which indicates that a long fight is over and that defeat has been accepted.

Mr. Langdon was a man whose character and nature were made up pretty exclusively of excellencies. I think that he had greatness in him also—executive greatness—and that it would have exhibited itself if his lines had been cast in a large field instead of in a small and obscure one. He once came within five minutes of being one of the great railway magnates of America.

Tuesday, February 20, 1906

About Rear-Admiral Wilkes—And meeting Mr. Anson Burlingame in Honolulu


Florence, Italy, Feb. 19.—Mrs. Mary Wilkes, widow of Rear-Admiral Wilkes, U.S.N., is dead, aged eighty-five.

It is death-notices like this that enable me to realize in some sort how long I have lived. They drive away the haze from my life’s road and give me glimpses of the beginning of it—glimpses of things which seem incredibly remote.

When I was a boy of ten, in that village on the Mississippi River which at that time was so incalculably far from any place and is now so near to all places, the name of Wilkes, the explorer, was in everybody’s mouth, just as Roosevelt’s is to-day. What a noise it made; and how wonderful the glory! How far away and how silent it is now. And the glory has faded to tradition. Wilkes had discovered a new world, and was another Columbus. That world afterward turned mainly to ice and snow. But it was not
ice and snow—and in our late day we are rediscovering it, and the world’s interest in it has revived. Wilkes was a marvel in another way, for he had gone wandering about the globe in his ships and had looked with his own eyes upon its furthest corners, its dreamlands—names and places which existed rather as shadows and rumors than as realities. But everybody visits those places now, in outings and summer excursions, and no fame is to be gotten out of it.

One of the last visits I made in Florence—this was two years ago—was to Mrs. Wilkes. She had sent and asked me to come, and it seemed a chapter out of the romantic and the impossible that I should be looking upon the gentle face of the sharer in that long-forgotten glory. We talked of the common things of the day, but my mind was not present. It was wandering among the snow-storms and the ice floes and the fogs and mysteries of the Antarctic with this patriarchal lady’s young husband. Nothing remarkable was said; nothing remarkable happened. Yet a visit has seldom impressed me so much as did this one.

Here is a pleasant and welcome letter, which plunges me back into the antiquities again.

Westfield, New Jersey.
February 17, 1906.

My dear Mr. Clemens:—
I should like to tell you how much I thank you for an article which you wrote once, long ago, (1870 or ’71) about my grandfather, Anson Burlingame.
In looking over the interesting family papers and letters, which have come into my possession this winter, nothing has impressed me more deeply than your tribute. I have read it again and again. I found it pasted into a scrap-book and apparently it was cut from a newspaper. It is signed with your name.
It seems to bring before one more clearly, than anything I have been told or read, my grandfather’s personality and achievements. . . . .
Family traditions grow less and less in the telling. Young children are so impatient of anecdotes, and when they grow old enough to understand their value, frequent repetitions, as well as newer interests and associations seem to have dulled, not the memory, but the spontaneity and joy of telling about the old days—so unless there is something written and preserved, how much is lost to children of the good deeds of their fathers.
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