“’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
“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 never a pessimist in his heart.
MARK TWAIN ARRANGES FOR HIS BIOGRAPHY
It was at the beginning of 1906—a little more than a month after the seventieth-birthday dinner—that the writer of these chapters became personally associated with Mark Twain. I had met him before, and from time to time he had returned a kindly word about some book I had written and inconsiderately sent him, for he had been my literary hero from childhood. Once, indeed, he had allowed me to use some of his letters in a biography I was writing of Thomas Nast; he had been always an admirer of the great cartoonist, and the permission was kindness itself. Before the seating at the birthday dinner I happened to find myself for a moment alone with Mark Twain and remembered to thank him in person for the use of the letters; a day or two later I sent him a copy of the book. I did not expect to hear from it again.
It was a little while after this that I was asked to join in a small private dinner to be given to Mark Twain at the Players, in celebration of his being made an honorary member of that club—there being at the time only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving. I was in the Players a day or two before the event, and David Munro, of “The North American Review,” a man whose gentle and kindly nature made him “David” to all who knew him, greeted me joyfully, his face full of something he knew I would wish to hear.
He had been chosen, he said, to propose the Players’ dinner to Mark Twain, and had found him propped up in bed, and beside him a copy of the Nast book. I suspect now that David’s generous heart prompted Mark Twain to speak of the book, and that his comment had lost nothing in David’s eager retelling. But I was too proud and happy to question any feature of the precious compliment, and Munro—always most happy in making others happy—found opportunity to repeat it, and even to improve upon it —usually in the presence of others—several times during the evening.
The Players’ dinner to Mark Twain was given on the evening of January 3, 19066, and the picture of it still remains clear to me. The guests, assembled around a single table in the private dining-room, did not exceed twenty-five in number. Brander Matthews presided, and the knightly Frank Millet, who would one day go down on the “Titanic,” was there, and Gilder and Munro and David Bispham and Robert Reid, and others of their kind. It so happened that my seat was nearly facing the guest