“What an amusing creature the human being is!”
It is absolutely impossible, of course, to preserve the atmosphere and personality of such talks as this—the delicacies of his speech and manner which carried an ineffable charm. It was difficult, indeed, to record the substance. I did not know shorthand, and I should not have taken notes at such times in any case; but I had trained myself in similar work to preserve, with a fair degree of accuracy, the form of phrase, and to some extent its wording, if I could get hold of pencil and paper soon enough afterward. In time I acquired a sort of phonographic faculty; though it always seemed to me that the bouquet, the subtleness of speech, was lacking in the result. Sometimes, indeed, he would dictate next morning the substance of these experimental reflections; or I would find among his papers memoranda and fragmentary manuscripts where he had set them down himself, either before or after he had tried them verbally. In these cases I have not hesitated to amend my notes where it seemed to lend reality to his utterance, though, even so, there is always lacking—and must be—the wonder of his personality.
IN THE DAY’S ROUND
A number of dictations of this period were about Susy, her childhood, and the biography she had written of him, most of which he included in his chapters. More than once after such dictations he reproached himself bitterly for the misfortunes of his house. He consoled himself a little by saying that Susy had died at the right time, in the flower of youth and happiness; but he blamed himself for the lack of those things which might have made her childhood still more bright. Once he spoke of the biography she had begun, and added:
“Oh, I wish I had paid more attention to that little girl’s work! If I had only encouraged her now and then, what it would have meant to her, and what a beautiful thing it would have been to have had her story of me told in her own way, year after year! If I had shown her that I cared, she might have gone on with it. We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time nor the interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift-our personal association, which means so much to them-we give grudgingly and throw it away on those who care for it so little.” Then, after a moment of silence: “But we are repaid for it at last. There comes a time when we want their company and their interest. We want it more than anything in the world, and we are likely to be starved for it, just as they were starved so long ago. There is no appreciation of my books that is so precious to me as appreciation from my children. Theirs is the praise we want, and the praise we are least likely to get.”
His moods of remorse seemed to overwhelm him at times. He spoke of Henry’s death and little Langdon’s, and charged himself with both. He declared that for years he had filled Mrs. Clemens’s life with privations, that the sorrow of Susy’s death had hastened her own end. How darkly he painted it! One saw the jester, who for forty years had been making the world laugh, performing always before a background of tragedy.