The tears that had been lying in wait were not restrained now. If there were any present who did not let them flow without shame, who did not shout their applause from throats choked with sobs, the writer of these lines failed to see them or to hear of them. There was not one who was ashamed to pay the great tribute of tears.
Many of his old friends, one after another, rose to tell their love for him—Brander Matthews, Cable, Kate Douglas Riggs, Gilder, Carnegie, Bangs, Bacheller—they kept it up far into the next morning. No other arrival at Pier 70 ever awoke a grander welcome.
The announcement of the seventieth birthday dinner had precipitated a perfect avalanche of letters, which continued to flow in until the news accounts of it precipitated another avalanche. The carriers’ bags were stuffed with greetings that came from every part of the world, from every class of humanity. They were all full of love and tender wishes. A card signed only with initials said: “God bless your old sweet soul for having lived.”
Aldrich, who could not attend the dinner, declared that all through the evening he had been listening in his mind to a murmur of voices in the hall at Delmonico’s. A group of English authors in London combined in a cable of congratulations. Anstey, Alfred Austin, Balfour, Barrie, Bryce, Chesterton, Dobson, Doyle, Gosse, Hardy, Hope, Jacobs, Kipling, Lang, Parker, Tenniel, Watson, and Zangwill were among the signatures.
Helen Keller wrote:
And you are seventy years
old? Or is the report exaggerated, like
that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house
of dear Mr. Hutton, in Princeton, you said:
“If a man is a pessimist
before he is forty-eight he knows too much.
If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight he knows too little.”
Now we know you are an optimist,
and nobody would dare to accuse one
on the “seven-terraced summit” of knowing little. So probably you
are not seventy after all, but only forty-seven!
Helen Keller was right. Mark Twain was not a pessimist in his heart, but only by premeditation. It was his observation and his logic that led him to write those things that, even in their bitterness, somehow conveyed that spirit of human sympathy which is so closely linked to hope. To Miss Keller he wrote: