Sentimental memories of Hannibal were included in a speech Mark Twain gave Nov. 28, 1902, at the Metropolitan Club in New York, two days before his 67th birthday.
Local Mark Twain impersonator Jim Waddell gave Twain’s speech on Nov. 30 at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal. The audience was told that before Twain spoke to the crowd of 50 of the nation’s leaders, “Colonel” George Harvey led what later became known as a “roast.”
Among those present to hear Twain speak in 1902 were Speaker of the House Thomas Reed; Henry Rogers, leader of Standard Oil, who had personally handled Clemens’ financial affairs when he paid off his monumental debts; and William Dean Howells, who read his poem, “A Double-Barrelled Sonnet to Mark Twain.”
Waddell then gave Twain’s entire speech, which included response to the good-natured teasing of his friends. He said he had known “Mr. Secretary Hay - John Hay - and Tom Reed and the Rev. Twichell nearly 36 years.”
Twain said “Tom Reed said that my principal defect was inaccuracy of statement. Well, suppose that that is true. What’s the use of telling the truth all the time? I never tell the truth about Tom Reed - but that is his defect, truth. He speaks the truth always. Tom Reed has a good heart, and he has a good intellect, but he hasn’t any judgment.”
Later he said “A lot of accounts have been settled here tonight for me; I have held grudges against some of these people but they have all been wiped out by the very handsome compliments that have been paid me.”
He said Mr. Howells’ poem is admirable. “Howells has a peculiar gift for seeing the merits of people and he has always exhibited them in my favor.”
On another topic he said: “It was intimated by the Colonel that it is New England that makes New York and builds up this country and makes it great, overlooking the fact that there’s a lot of people here who came from elsewhere, like John Hay from away out West and Howells from Ohio, and St. Clair McKelway and me from Missouri, and we are doing what we can to build up New York a little - elevate it.
“Why, when I as living in that village of Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi, and Hay up in the town of Warsaw, also on the banks of the Mississippi River - it is an emotional bit of the Mississippi and when it is low water you have to climb up to it on a ladder and when it floods you have to hunt for it with a deep-sea lead - but it is a great and beautiful country. ... In that old time it was a paradise for simplicity - it was a simple, simple life, cheap but comfortable, and full of sweetness, and there was nothing of this rage of modern civilization there at all. It was a delectable land.”
Page 2 of 2 - Twain said he returned to Hannibal the previous June (in 1902) and met his schoolmate, John Briggs, “who I had not seen for more than 50 years.” The two of them went up on Holliday’s Hill, Twain said, where he described the view as they “looked out again over that magnificent panorama of the Mississippi River, sweeping along league after league, a level green paradise on one side, and retreating capes and promontories as far as you could see on the other, fading away in the soft, rich lights of the remote distance.
“I recognized then that I was seeing now the most enchanting river view the planet could furnish. I never knew it when I was a boy; it took an educated eye that had traveled over the globe to know and appreciate it.”
Near the end of his speech, he said, “There is one invisible guest here. A part of me is present; the larger part, the better part, is yonder at her home; that is my wife, and she has a good many personal friends here, and I think it won’t distress any one of them to know that, although she is going to be confined to that bed for many months to come from that nervous prostration, there is not any danger and she is coming along very well - and I think it quite appropriate that I should speak of her. ... She has been the best friend I have ever had.”
Responding to the comments made prior to his speech, he said. “I like all the speeches and the poetry, too. I wish I could return thanks in proper measure to you, gentlemen, who have spoken and violated your feelings to pay me compliments; some were merited and some you overlooked, it is true; and Colonel Harvey did slander every one of you and put things into my mouth that I never said, never thought of at all.”
He concluded, “And now, my wife and I, out of our single heart, return you our deepest and most grateful thanks, and yesterday was her birthday.”