Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark, Bismarck, Lincoln, and Darwin

MARK, BISMARCK, LINCOLN, AND DARWIN

I had been to see Bismarck to help boom Bryan for the Presidency, when that gentleman happened to get defeated for the Senate.

"And is old Bismarck still reading those trashy French novels?" inquired Mark.

"Much worse," I said.

"Started Paul de Kock over again?"

"Worse still. He is reading Mark Twain now."

"You don't say. Since when the reform?"

"Since his daughter-in-law, Herbert's wife, the little Countess Hoyos, gave him a set for Christmas."

"Hoyos, Hoyos. I met some people of that name in Italy."

"Your fair patroness hails from Trieste, or neighborhood."

"How do you know that Bismarck not only owns, but reads, my books?" demanded Mark.

"Because he asked me whether there are still steamer loads of Yankees going picnicking in Palestine with Mark Twain for a bear-leader. The old Prince told me he read 'Innocents Abroad' twice, and memorized the best things in it to relate to his grandchildren."

"Quite a compliment—I do wish Bismarck hadn't been such a rascal—in politics, I mean—for in private life he was quite a gentleman, I understand. And it is to laugh how, relying on that, de Blowitz worked the greatest of scoops during the Beriin Congress. Namely, about that worid-moving affair the 'London Times' for weeks could get no more or better news than, mayhap, the Brighton Enterprise. Finally de Blowitz, the Thunderer's international representative, lit upon a fourth-rate secretary in the German foreign office, who had an exceedingly broad appetite and a correspondingly narrow pocketbook. De Blowitz offered to pay for the secretary's luncheons, provided the young gentleman would exchange hats with him daily, the Berliner's chapeau concealing certain notes about goings on at the foreign office under the hat band. Agreed! By this ruse de Blowitz gathered the whole Berlin treaty piecemeal and was able to cable it from Brussels to London even before that famous document was read in the Congress."

Mark continued: "If Bismarck had been the ordinary small-minded statesman, he would have got on to de Blowitz's game before it was half finished, but being a gentleman, he saw nothing out of the way in the association of 'The Times' correspondent with one of his secretaries."

Mark was genuinely proud of Bismarck's partiality for his books, even if it came late in the day.

"Do you know," he once said, "that I gave Charles Darwin the strength to write some of his most famous and epoch-making volumes? How? I am told that, when the great scientist was utterly fagged out with study, investigation, and with the manifold experiments he was carrying on, he would read my 'Innocents' or 'Tom Sawyer' or, maybe a Harper Magazine story, for a half hour or an hour. Then he would go to work again and later was ready for bed. Only when this here Mark Twain had lulled his nerves into proper condition, Darwin wooed sleep, I am told, but I can't vouch for the truth of this story."

On another occasion Mark said: "I was born too late to help ease Lincoln's hours of worry. Ward Hill Lamon, whom we met in Berlin, told me more than once that Lincoln would have been a constant reader of my 'literature' if he had lived long enough to enjoy my books, and none knew Lincoln better than Lamon.

"And when my girls admonish me to behave in company, it always recalls the stories Lamon told me about old Abe's awkwardness.

"When Abe and he were riding circuit in Illinois, they carried their office in their hats, and Abe contracted the habit of pulling off his hat from the back so as not to spill any papers. That was all right on the circuit, but in the White House it looked undignified. So Mrs. Lincoln asked Lamon, a most courtly gentleman, to remonstrate with the President and teach him to take off his hat 'decently.' 'Decently' was the word she used, said Lamon. He continued:

"'I did my best during a night's smoker, Mr. Seward helping me, and the President proved a good enough scholar for any high-school of courtesy. Eight or ten times he took off his hat properly, without a reminder of any sort. Then, at the good-night, I tried him again. "Let's do it in the right courtly fashion," I said, doffing my chapeau like the Count of Monte Cristo.

"'Here goes,' said the President, reached his right hand back, and pulled off his stove-pipe in the old Illinois circuit style.'

"You see," concluded Mark, "it was no use trying to make a courtier of Lincoln. The same here."