Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Genius in Extremis
GENIUS IN EXTREMIS
When we were about to pass the French Embassy in Berlin one afternoon, Mark dragged me across the street, saying:
"See those horses? That Kaiser is in there, making love to the Ambassador's wife. I don't want to meet him as he comes out or when he is thrown out, as he ought to be."
At that moment a very distinguished English-looking gentleman passed us in a cab, raising his hat to Mark.
"Do you know him?*' asked Mark.
"I have seen him in Fleet Street, I believe, but I don't know where to put him. As you know, my eyes don't travel far these days."
"Why," said Mark, "this is 'Labby' (Labouchere) of London 'Truth,' the Baron-maker. I call him that because he actually put hundreds of barons into the world, if not into the peerage—namely, when he acted as Secretary of the British Embassy in Paris and had the issuing of passports in hand. Suppose John Smith and Mary Smith, British subjects, toddled in and asked for their papers. Labby would look them over carefully and if their persons and address lent itself to the scheme, would make out the paper for 'Sir John' and 'Lady Mary.' Of course the people stuck to the title, acquired under the government seal, for the rest of their lives. Indeed, most of the Labby-created nobles by and by gained popular recognition as the real thing—baronets and baronesses. On Labby 's part it was all fun—burlesque pure and simple. Himself a noble by birth, he thought the nobility a stupid and useless institution these days, and if the prime minister—a commoner—could make dukes and princes, why could not he, Labby, at least make Sirs and Ladies? But of course when the government got wise to it, Labby got the sack. Just the same, he's the smartest Englishman I've met. By Jingo, I would like to hear his last words on this planet of ours even as I would like to have heard Heine's grand: 'Never mind my sins, God will forgive them. Forgiving is his business.'"
Of the pair of geniuses, Mark died first (April 21, 1910), and both left characteristic utterances. Mark said to his physician:
"Good-by. If we meet——"
Labouchere, shortly before his end, had been lectured by a sister or brother on the godless life he had led and had been assured that, if God didn't take pity on him, he would certainly go to a hot place. An hour or so after listening to these comforting remarks, Labouchere had what Twain called on another occasion a "fair wind for Paradise," i.e., he was dying and knew it. Now it happened that during the last half-minute of his life a spirit lamp in the next room exploded with a loud bang. Labouchere raised his head a bit and said feebly:
One more gasp and he was dead. How Mark would have enjoyed Labby's: "What, already?"