The Vacation - Professor Pimbleton’s Yard Sale, Part Two
Part one ended with an introduction of the keynote speaker.
Many chairs were turned toward the main table at the north end of the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, tonight we are gathered here to honor one of our national treasures. He has made us laugh and made us think about who we are. Please give a hearty round of applause to the number one American man of letters, Samuel Clemens, better known to us as Mark Twain.
The crowd stood and applauded as he approached the podium.
“Governor McClellan, the New England Society, Ladies and Gentlemen and of course, Delmonico’s thank you. The New England Society tried to get "Buffalo Bill" Cody, as the keynote speaker. And made reference that my speaking fees were too high. But he is on a ship filled with buffalo and Indians heading toward England tonight.
We are a long way from Hannibal. For those of you who aspire to write, building a desirable setting can be as strong an addition as is any character. A lot of water flowed over the steamboat paddles to get here this evening. That is true for me, and I am sure it is true for you. I have had many jobs along the way. Mining was back breaking work. Those were hard times. Life on the Mississippi was a relaxing time in my life. The river spoke to my soul. I was the pilot of something so much bigger than myself. There was power in my hands steering along the river; the trick was to stay in the middle of the current. There was contentment with going with the flow. Evenings spent on the Mississippi, watching the lights of the Boroughs and villages float by, opened up vistas for me, that may not have presented themselves otherwise. The Civil War interrupted that career. So, after a couple of weeks with the confederates, I headed west.”
He paused, dug out a cigar, struck a match, holding the flame close, releasing a plume of smoke.
“My brother Orion was out in Nevada, far from the war. So, I climbed on a stagecoach and began roughing it. Let me tell you the prairie is not the Mississippi. Those people, those pioneering spirits that set out by foot, wagon and coach were as hardy a bunch as any that came before them. I owe a great debt to my brother Orion, working for him, I found I really did not like callouses on my hands and a constant ache in my back. We were born to have printer’s ink in our blood, not miner’s dust in our lungs. Or Union bullets in our bellies for that matter. Nevada was a sanctuary.
I met a fellow there, in Virginia City, named Artemus Ward, you may have heard of him. He encouraged me to submit some stories to the New York publishers. One of those publishers accepted one of my stories about a frog of all things. You can say my reputation leapt onto the national scene after that.
A little taste for money developed after that. A man makes a little money, he begins to think he is smarter than he really is. So, I traveled further west after leaving Nevada with some notoriety. Leaving had nothing to do with the challenges to duels I received by the husbands of the Sanitary Ball ladies. A valuable lesson was learned. Not everyone has as keen a sense of humor as myself. The Gold Hill Evening News blasted me for my actions. As my time with the Territorial Enterprise came to an end, my writing had reached a new level. I had arrived in Nevada as Samuel Clemens and left as Mark Twain.
Just a few years later, I met my first liberal. Her name Olivia Langdon and I tell you it took some doing for me to convince her to marry me. Let me tell you, it is those years in Hartford, Connecticut, that were the most pleasant years. We summered at Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York. Two well regarded American characters were created during those contented years. Both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were born and raised right here in the North. Oh, that is a secret, don’t say you heard it here.
There is a little Huck Finn in all of us. Do you dream of running away like Huck Finn and coasting down the river on a raft without a care? Or wearing a straw hat to block the sun and announcing that you are carefree and full of mischief? Some ladies took exception to Huck and Jim, as they floated down the river naked, on the raft. Their feet dangled in the water, and they spoke of all kinds of things. They lit their pipes as the raft floated along wherever the current chose to take them. On the raft they shared an equality, not found on the land.
That Tom Sawyer he represents the rebellious heart in all of us. Who amongst us does not want to talk the neighbor into painting our fence? Or resist with all our will to escape the grasp of Aunt Polly and the chores and the fitting into a society with only small places for our souls to play. That Tom, he struggled to escape the grip of conformity. That is for sure. He did it with a beguiling smile and with the romance of adventure.
Princeton and Yale have given me honors. I have not heard from Harvard. No offense to the New England Society. As a young man, I was only sure of one thing. Well, two things; first I would not become a Baptist. The other thing that was clear, was that I did not want to work. I set my sights on writing. I was torn, become a writer or a Congressman. It was the company that I would keep that decided the issue, so I became a writer.
What was I saying? – Oh, money. Money and enterprise. I made so much money not working that it occurred to me that maybe there was something to this notion of working. I mean everybody was doing it. If writers and Congressmen could do so well without so much as lifting a finger, what level of fortune could a working man attain?
Right I was, all the gains made by not working, were soon lost by going legitimate. It took a good many years for me to get back on my feet from the experience of working. It took years, but I repaid every cent of the money people lost when my businesses failed. Today, again, I am not working, owe no one and will be served a fine meal here tonight at Delmonico’s. My hat is off to those that work, it is a terrible burden and one which people can be very proud.”
He paused, struck a match, held the flame close to his cigar and waved out the flame.
“The New England Society is kind to give me this honor. I see here in the audience, the elite of New York society. I see ladies and gentlemen of means. I even see that a few Congressmen have snuck in for a free meal. Those that arrived hoping to learn something important or profound will leave merely amused. A night's entertainment provided in a beautiful setting.
If Tom or Huck were able to join us here tonight, they would think we had gone and become civilized. They would think there were no log cabins in the woods to run off and escape. They could believe that there was no longer a place for a cob pipe smoked in the open by the night's fire. They could believe that there was no longer a need for a raft carried on the current of the river. They could believe there was no longer a need to dangle their bare feet in the water and they would know we were poorer for it.
If Aunt Polly were here with us tonight, she would be thinking, I am sure glad I do not have to clean up after this crowd.
Ladies and gentlemen, oh, and I see Professor Pimbleton in the audience, I'll be right over. To the rest of you, thank you and good-night.”
Part One can be found here
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.