Twins of Genius III
Bill Long 2/11/06
Cable and Twain Touring America
After Twain had lampooned three illustrious Boston "billows," as he called them, at the Whittier fete, Boston sought an opportunity to "get back" at Twain. Snippy and critical reviews of Huckleberry Finn in February/March 1885 in the Boston press provided that opportunity. Nevertheless, the press coverage of Twain and Cable's one-night show in Boston, on November 13, 1884, was respectful and even supportive. Though the Globe and the Post only mentioned the event in one brief paragraph, the Nov. 14 edition of the Transcript was rather effusive in its praise of Twain. It said:
"Mr. Clemens, who has not been seen on the platform in eight years, received a warm welcome as his frowzled* head appeared from the ante-room. He read selections from his new book, now in press, in which "Huckleberry Finn" again figures; narrated his struggles with the German language and its unreasonable genders, described his adventure with the young woman at Lucerne whom he pretended to know, and gave other samples of his odd humor."
[Oh-oh, looks like I have to write an essay or two on this and related words...].
For the rest of this essay I will quote from a few newspaper accounts that illustrate the nature of their joint program. The two I cite are from Providence, RI and Keokuk, IA. Cable and Twain held forth at the latter location because Twain's mother lived in Keokuk. The next (and concluding) essay will explore some of Twain's carping and critical attempts to undermine his partner, GW Cable.
The Program--Providence RI
Twain and Cable read in Providence on November 8. They were still feeling out their audiences and deciding on which selections to read (indeed, the program would be revamped over the Christmas break to allow Twain to focus more exclusively on the soon-to-be-released Huckleberry Finn), but the long coverage of their program in the Nov. 10 Daily Journal gives us a nice window into the evening. As the article says:
"Mr. Cable's selections were from "Dr. Sevier," and included scenes between Narcisse and Kate Riley, Narcisse and John Richling, when the Creole was mourning the death of Lady Byron and endeavoring to decide whether his obituary tribute should be poetic or prosaic in form, and the courtship of Kate Riley by the Italian Ristofalo. Mr. Cable was singularly successful, not only in tone and accent but in pose and gesture in depicting the widely different characters, the volatile Celtic widow, the sentimental Creole and the honest love of the pleading Italian of few plain words."
That is, one of the talents that Cable brought to the reading was his ability to imitate, nearly flawlessly, not only the Creole he heard as a youth but a variety of other characters and styles. The paper went on to say:
"It must certainly be regarded as a mark of talent little short of genius that a man of Mr. Cable's pursuits can so completely obliterate himself by conveying in rapid turns the whispers or hoarse commands of the spy, the husky croak of the negro guide, the terrified cry of the infant awakened by the shots of the sentries, and the agonizing wail of the mother riding for life and her husband's bedside, as to cause no rude shock in the listener."
Cable's talents also included singing, and he closed his part of the presentation with a Creole love song.
We get a glimpse into what one Boston paper called Twain's "oddball humor" when he first appeared on stage.
"Mr. Clemens ran his hand through his hair, and with a few humorous remarks about the programme, calling for something he hadn't at hand, proceeded to ignore it. He read the story of a reporter's attempt to interview him, in which he solemnly stated that either he or his twin brother was drowned in the bathtub in infancy, which was never known, and also the account of his experience as temporary editor of an agricultural weekly. An old sea captain's story was well told, and in conclusion Mr. Clemens narrated a ghost story about the woman with the golden arm, a story similar to one of Uncle Remus's..."
Twain and Cable then alternated, with Twain then narrating stories such as "The Tragic Tale of the Fishwife," which was about the confounding of gender in German nouns, as well as the "enthusiastic and visionary" projects of Col. Mulberry Sellers. He concluded with a recitation from "The Trying Situation." The newspaper article tells us, however, that Twain followed the program, or no program, at his whim.
In Keokuk, IA--January 14, 1885
One of the things to be aware of in the deep background to this tour, also, was that Twain had been trying since before he left to sign a literary contract with the dying Ulysses S. Grant (i.e., to publish Grant's work). Grant was writing his memoirs in his 66th St. home in NYC while Twain was on tour. That contract would finally be signed about the time Twain returned, and the posthumous publication of Grant's two-volume Personal Memoirs in Dec. 1885 became a literary smash hit both for Grant's estate and Twain's publishing house. It was not as if Twain was the only one vying for Grant's Memoirs. Grant had come perilously close, in Twain's estimation, to signing a contract with Century publishers, with whom he was collaborating to write four long essays on four crucial Civil War battles in which he was engaged. But these thoughts had to be laid aside on the tour.
They had changed the program by the time they arrived in Keokuk, at the southernmost tip of IA on the Mississippi River. It was the tenth stop after a two week Christmas break and the day after they spoke in Twain's home town of Hannibal, MO. While Cable would continue with his readings of Dr. Sevier and brilliant imitations, Twain focused more on readings/recitations from Huckleberry Finn. As the Keokuk Daily Gate City said, on January 15, 1885:
"he waded into an extract from his new book and caused many a laugh by his funny description of the discussion of the merits of and demerits of "King Sollermun" between the darkey Jim and Huckleberry Finn."
Well, I am out of space here, and not quite finished the Keokuk appearance. Let's see if I can finish everything in one more essay.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long