PHILOSOPHY AND POETRY
There was a side to Samuel Clemens that in those days few of his associates saw. This was the poetic, the philosophic, the contemplative side. Joseph Goodman recognized this phase of his character, and, while he perhaps did not regard it as a future literary asset, he delighted in it, and in their hours of quiet association together encouraged its exhibition. It is rather curious that with all his literary penetration Goodman did not dream of a future celebrity for Clemens. He afterward said:
“If I had been asked to prophesy which of the two men, Dan de Quille or Sam, would become distinguished, I should have said De Quille. Dan was talented, industrious, and, for that time and place, brilliant. Of course, I recognized the unusualness of Sam’s gifts, but he was eccentric and seemed to lack industry; it is not likely that I should have prophesied fame for him then.”
Goodman, like MacFarlane in Cincinnati, half a dozen years before, though by a different method, discovered and developed the deeper vein. Often the two, dining together in a French restaurant, discussed life, subtler philosophies, recalled various phases of human history, remembered and recited the poems that gave them especial enjoyment. “The Burial of Moses,” with its noble phrasing and majestic imagery, appealed strongly to Clemens, and he recited it with great power. The first stanza in particular always stirred him, and it stirred his hearer as well. With eyes half closed and chin lifted, a lighted cigar between his fingers, he would lose himself in the music of the stately lines.
On this side Jordan’s wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab,
There lies a lonely grave.
And no man
knows that sepulchre,
And no man saw it e’er,
For the angels of God, upturned the sod,
And laid the dead man there.
Another stanza that he cared for almost as much was the one beginning:
he not high honor
—The hill-side for a pall,
To lie in state while angels wait
With stars for tapers tall,
And the dark rock-pines, like tossing plumes,
Over his bier to wave,
And God’s own hand in that lonely land,
To lay him in the grave?
Without doubt he was moved to emulate the simple grandeur of that poem, for he often repeated it in those days, and somewhat later we find it copied into his notebook in full. It would seem to have become to him a sort of literary touchstone; and in some measure it may be regarded as accountable for the fact that in the fullness of time “he made use of the purest English of any modern writer.” These are Goodman’s words, though William Dean Howells has said them, also, in substance, and Brander Matthews, and many others who know about such things. Goodman adds, “The simplicity and beauty of his style are almost without a parallel, except in the common version of the Bible,” which is also true. One is reminded of what Macaulay said of Milton: