The “above story” is a synopsis of a tale which he tried then and later in various forms—a tale based on a scientific idea that one may dream an episode covering a period of years in minute detail in what, by our reckoning, may be no more than a few brief seconds. In this particular form of the story a man sits down to write some memories and falls into a doze. The smell of his cigarette smoke causes him to dream of the burning of his home, the destruction of his family, and of a long period of years following. Awakening a few seconds later, and confronted by his wife and children, he refuses to believe in their reality, maintaining that this condition, and not the other, is the dream. Clemens tried the psychological literary experiment in as many as three different ways during the next two or three years, and each at considerable length; but he developed none of them to his satisfaction, or at least he brought none of them to conclusion. Perhaps the most weird of these attempts, and the most intensely interesting, so long as the verisimilitude is maintained, is a dream adventure in a drop of water which, through an incredible human reduction to microbic, even atomic, proportions, has become a vast tempestuous sea. Mark Twain had the imagination for these undertakings and the literary workmanship, lacking only a definite plan for development of his tale—a lack which had brought so many of his literary ventures to the rocks.
A SUMMER IN SWITZERLAND
The Queen’s Jubilee came along—June 22, 1897, being the day chosen to celebrate the sixty-year reign. Clemens had been asked to write about it for the American papers, and he did so after his own ideas, illustrating some of his material with pictures of his own selection. The selections were made from various fashion-plates, which gave him a chance to pick the kind of a prince or princess or other royal figure that he thought fitted his description without any handicap upon his imagination. Under his portrait of Henry V. (a very correctly dressed person in top hat and overcoat) he wrote:
In the original the King has a crown on. That is no kind of a thing for the King to wear when he has come home on business. He ought to wear something he can collect taxes in. You will find this represenation of Henry V. active, full of feeling, full of sublimity. I have pictured him looking out over the battle of Agincourt and studying up where to begin.
Mark Twain’s account of the Jubilee probably satisfied most readers; but James Tufts, then managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner, had a rather matter-of-fact Englishman on the staff, who, after reading the report, said:
“Well, Jim Tufts, I hope you are satisfied with that Mark Twain cable.”
“Why, yes,” said Tufts; “aren’t you?”
“I should say not. Just look what he says about the number of soldiers. He says, ’I never saw so many soldiers anywhere except on the stage of a theater.’ Why, Tufts, don’t you know that the soldiers in the theater are the same old soldiers marching around and around? There aren’t more than a hundred soldiers in the biggest army ever put on the stage.”