A READING-TOUR WITH CABLE
Every little while Mark Twain had a fever of play-writing, and it was about this time that he collaborated with W. D. Howells on a second Colonel Sellers play. It was a lively combination.
Once to the writer Howells said: “Clemens took one scene and I another. We had loads of fun about it. We cracked our sides laughing over it as we went along. We thought it mighty good, and I think to this day it was mighty good.”
But actors and managers did not agree with them. Raymond, who had played the original Sellers, declared that in this play the Colonel had not become merely a visionary, but a lunatic. The play was offered elsewhere, and finally Mark Twain produced it at his own expense. But perhaps the public agreed with Raymond, for the venture did not pay.
It was about a year after this (the winter of 1884-5) that Mark Twain went back to the lecture platform—or rather, he joined with George W. Cable in a reading-tour. Cable had been giving readings on his own account from his wonderful Creole stories, and had visited Mark Twain in Hartford. While there he had been taken down with the mumps, and it was during his convalescence that the plan for a combined reading-tour had been made. This was early in the year, and the tour was to begin in the autumn.
Cable, meantime, having quite recovered, conceived a plan to repay Mark Twain’s hospitality. It was to be an April-fool—a great complimentary joke. A few days before the first of the month he had a “private and confidential” circular letter printed, and mailed it to one hundred and fifty of Mark Twain’s friends and admirers in Boston, New York, and elsewhere, asking that they send the humorist a letter to arrive April 1, requesting his autograph. It would seem that each one receiving this letter must have responded to it, for on the morning of April 1st an immense pile of letters was unloaded on Mark Twain’s table. He did not know what to make of it, and Mrs. Clemens, who was party to the joke, slyly watched results. They were the most absurd requests for autographs ever written. He was fooled and mystified at first, then realizing the nature and magnitude of the joke, he entered into it fully-delighted, of course, for it was really a fine compliment. Some of the letters asked for autographs by the yard, some by the pound. Some commanded him to sit down and copy a few chapters from “The Innocents Abroad.” Others asked that his autograph be attached to a check. John Hay requested that he copy a hymn, a few hundred lines of Young’s “Night Thoughts,” etc., and added:
“I want my boy to form a taste
for serious and elevated poetry, and
it will add considerable commercial value to have it in your
Altogether, the reading of the letters gave Mark Twain a delightful day.