He finished the evening by reading a chapter from Carlyle’s French Revolution—a fine pyrotechnic passage—the gathering at Versailles. I said that Carlyle somehow reminded me of a fervid stump-speaker who pounded his fists and went at his audience fiercely, determined to convince them.
“Yes,” he said, “but he is the best one that ever lived.”
November 10. This morning
early he heard me stirring and called. I
went in and found him propped up with a book, as usual. He said:
“I seldom read Christmas stories, but this is very beautiful. It has made me cry. I want you to read it.” (It was Booth Tarkington’s ’Beasley’s Christmas Party’.) “Tarkington has the true touch,” he said; “his work always satisfies me.” Another book he has been reading with great enjoyment is James Branch Cabell’s Chivalry. He cannot say enough of the subtle poetic art with which Cabell has flung the light of romance about dark and sordid chapters of history.
MARK TWAIN’S READING
Perhaps here one may speak of Mark Twain’s reading in general. On the table by him, and on his bed, and in the billiard-room shelves he kept the books he read most. They were not many—not more than a dozen—but they were manifestly of familiar and frequent usage. All, or nearly all, had annotations—spontaneously uttered marginal notes, title prefatories, or concluding comments. They were the books he had read again and again, and it was seldom that he had not had something to say with each fresh reading.
There were the three big volumes by Saint-Simon—’The Memoirs’—which he once told me he had read no less than twenty times. On the fly-leaf of the first volume he wrote—
This, & Casanova & Pepys, set in parallel columns, could afford a good coup d’oeil of French & English high life of that epoch.
All through those finely printed volumes are his commentaries, sometimes no more than a word, sometimes a filled, closely written margin. He found little to admire in the human nature of Saint-Simon’s period —little to approve in Saint-Simon himself beyond his unrestrained frankness, which he admired without stint, and in one paragraph where the details of that early period are set down with startling fidelity he wrote: “Oh, incomparable Saint-Simon!”
Saint-Simon is always frank, and Mark Twain was equally so. Where the former tells one of the unspeakable compulsions of Louis XIV., the latter has commented:
We have to grant that God made this royal hog; we may also be permitted to believe that it was a crime to do so.
And on another page:
In her memories of this period the Duchesse de St. Clair makes this striking remark: “Sometimes one could tell a gentleman, but it was only by his manner of using his fork.”
His comments on the orthodox religion of Saint-Simon’s period are not marked by gentleness. Of the author’s reference to the Edict of Nantes, which he says depopulated half of the realm, ruined its commerce, and “authorized torments and punishments by which so many innocent people of both sexes were killed by thousands,” Clemens writes: