There is nothing novel about it, nothing striking, nothing to thrill you & make your eye glitter & your tongue cry out, “Oh, it is wonderful, perfectly wonderful!” Yes, it is disappointing. You say, “Is this it?—this? after all this talk and fuss of a thousand generations of travelers who have crossed this frontier & looked about them & told what they saw & felt? Why, it looks just like 69.”
And that is true. Also it is natural, for you have not come by the fast express; you have been lagging & dragging across the world’s continents behind oxen; when that is your pace one country melts into the next one so gradually that you are not able to notice the change; 70 looks like 69; 69 looked like 68; 68 looked like 67—& so on back & back to the beginning. If you climb to a summit & look back—ah, then you see!
Down that far-reaching perspective you can make out each country & climate that you crossed, all the way up from the hot equator to the ice-summit where you are perched. You can make out where Infancy verged into Boyhood; Boyhood into down-lipped Youth; Youth into bearded, indefinite Young-Manhood; indefinite Young-Manhood into definite Manhood; definite Manhood, with large, aggressive ambitions, into sobered & heedful Husbandhood & Fatherhood; these into troubled & foreboding Age, with graying hair; this into Old Age, white-headed, the temple empty, the idols broken, the worshipers in their graves, nothing left but You, a remnant, a tradition, belated fag-end of a foolish dream, a dream that was so ingeniously dreamed that it seemed real all the time; nothing left but You, center of a snowy desolation, perched on the ice-summit, gazing out over the stages of that long trek & asking Yourself, “Would you do it again if you had the chance?”
THE WRITER MEETS MARK TWAIN
We have reached a point in this history where the narrative becomes mainly personal, and where, at the risk of inviting the charge of egotism, the form of the telling must change.
It was at the end of 1901 that I first met Mark Twain—at The Players Club on the night when he made the Founder’s Address mentioned in an earlier chapter.
I was not able to arrive in time for the address, but as I reached the head of the stairs I saw him sitting on the couch at the dining-room entrance, talking earnestly to some one, who, as I remember it, did not enter into my consciousness at all. I saw only that crown of white hair, that familiar profile, and heard the slow modulations of his measured speech. I was surprised to see how frail and old he looked. From his pictures I had conceived him different. I did not realize that it was a temporary condition due to a period of poor health and a succession of social demands. I have no idea how long I stood there watching him. He had been my literary idol from childhood, as he had been of so many others; more than that, for the personality in his work had made him nothing less than a hero to his readers.