Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Editor's Note


Along in 1909, Fisher and I were working for the same newspaper, Fisher as a special writer and I in the art department. We both subsequently escaped, but that is another story. Just then I happened to be working on the BIBLIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN (Harper, 1910). Fisher told me that he was going to do some magazine stories on Mark and promised to let me have proofs, but a week or two later he went away on one of his periodical trips to Europe, and I lost track of him for several years.

Some time in 1921, I met him on Broadway, New York. "Hello, Fisher," says I, "where have you been, what are you doing, and where are those flowing whiskers you used to sport?"

"Hello, Johnson," replied Fisher, peering at me through his thick glasses, "I am just back from London, the air raids scared off my whiskers, and my eyesight has become so bad, I am only fit to be a 'dictator' now."

"Well," says I, continuing our conversation of many years ago, "where are those Mark Twain yarns you promised me?"

"In my head," he said; "never had time to put them on paper." "You know," he added, "old Mark and I spent many weeks and months together in Berlin and Vienna and frequently met in London and Paris, not to mention more out-of-the-way places, and if I really put my mind to it, I can remember reams of Mark Twain's sayings, while others are available in notebooks, diaries and such I kept off and on. And come to think of it, I can tell you about Eugene Field over there as well. I happened to occupy an editorial position in London, while Gene tried to set the Thames afire and failed, poor chap."

"Then," says I, "come up to the studio any day, to-morrow if you like. I will have a stenographer there and you can start dictating your stories and we shall set the world laughing, putting them in a book."

Fisher did, and here's the book.

Twain and Field did not expatriate themselves to the extent of other gifted Americans—Henry James, Bret Harte, Whistler, Abbey and Sargent—yet Twain settled down for months, and even years, in various European countries, while Field tried, during a hundred days or more, to make a go of it in London, before capitulating to climate and home-hunger.

Previous glimpses of these two great American humorists during their several sojourns in Europe have come to us almost wholly through their letters to friends at home. Of course, a man reveals himself to a great extent in his private correspondence and diaries, but, even so, the picture is never complete; he cannot quite see himself as others see him. How Twain and Field appeared to another American in their strange environment is here set down for the first time.

Fisher was in a unique position for contact with these men, both of whom he had met previously in the United States. He was one of the most widely known American correspondents in foreign parts; he had written for the Dalziel News Company (then a sort of United Press, dealing with the European continent) letters from Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Belgrade, Vienna, Budapest, etc., that were telegraphed all over the world. He had acted as correspondent for the New York Telegram, the New York World, the New York Sun, the London Evening News, the Paris Messenger and the St. James Gazette; he had written special articles for Harper's Weekly, printed alongside of Mark Twain's contributions. He knew, or at least had a smattering knowledge of, all European languages; he knew every European capital or resort by eyesight and insight; he had met the great personages of Europe. So it was quite in the nature of things that Mark and Field ran across Fisher at the common meeting places in foreign parts, the U. S. Embassies and Legations; likewise that these American writers accepted his guidance in the strange world they found themselves in.

Paine, Twain's great biographer, speaks of Fisher's contact with the famous author (vol. II, p. 935, "Mark Twain: A Biography"). Fisher's memory, trained by years of interviewing, when no notes could be taken in the presence of the interviewed, has retained the substance and the manner, if not always the exact language, used and exchanged.

Some writers reveal themselves only in their written, carefully edited works, but Twain's unique personality was as eminent, as inspiring and as lasting in his daily walks and talks as in his books and lectures. In so far as Fisher reproduces the meaning of Twain's observations on persons and things abroad, these anecdotes are of value to all friends and admirers of the great humorist. The same applies to Eugene Field, though, of course, in a more limited degree.


New York,
January, 1922.