It is Mark Twain’s greatest short story. It is fine that it should be that, as well as much more than that; for he was no longer essentially a story-teller. He had become more than ever a moralist and a sage. Having seen all of the world, and richly enjoyed and deeply suffered at its hands, he sat now as in a seat of judgment, regarding the passing show and recording his philosophies.
AN IMPERIAL TRAGEDY
For the summer they went to Kaltenleutgeben, just out of Vienna, where they had the Villa Paulhof, and it was while they were there, September 10, 1898, that the Empress Elizabeth of Austria was assassinated at Geneva by an Italian vagabond, whose motive seemed to have been to gain notoriety. The news was brought to them one evening, just at supper-time, by Countess Wydenbouck-Esterhazy.
Clemens wrote to Twichell:
That good & unoffending lady, the Empress, is killed by a madman, & I am living in the midst of world-history again. The Queen’s Jubilee last year, the invasion of the Reichsrath by the police, & now this murder, which will still be talked of & described & painted a thousand years from now. To have a personal friend of the wearer of two crowns burst in at the gate in the deep dusk of the evening & say, in a voice broken with tears, “My God! the Empress is murdered,” & fly toward her home before we can utter a question —why, it brings the giant event home to you, makes you a part of it & personally interested; it is as if your neighbor Antony should come flying & say, “Caesar is butchered—the head of the world is fallen!”
Of course there is no talk but of this. The mourning is universal and genuine, the consternation is stupefying. The Austrian Empire is being draped with black. Vienna will be a spectacle to see by next Saturday, when the funeral cortege marches.
Clemens and the others went into Vienna for the funeral ceremonies and witnessed them from the windows of the new Krantz Hotel, which faces the Capuchin church where the royal dead lie buried. It was a grandly impressive occasion, a pageant of uniforms of the allied nations that made up the Empire of Austria. Clemens wrote of it at considerable length, and sent the article to Mr. Rogers to offer to the magazines. Later, however, he recalled it just why is not clear. In one place he wrote:
Twice the Empress entered Vienna in state; the first time was in 1854, when she was a bride of seventeen, & when she rode in measureless pomp through a world of gay flags & decorations down the streets, walled on both hands with the press of shouting & welcoming subjects; & the second time was last Wednesday, when she entered the city in her coffin, & moved down the same streets in the dead of night under waving black flags, between human walls again, but everywhere was a deep stillness now & a stillness emphasized rather