Mark Twain

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Mark Twain

Mark Twain Signed Photo from Savage Club Members - 1907

Portrait photograph boldly and clearly signed on the image, “Mark Twain”, 6 July 1907. The photograph is a marvelous head and shoulders image of the famed American author by Ernest H. Mills of Hampstead, 5.5″ x 7.75″ (visible portion), set in a mount bearing printed inscription “Mark Twain From his Brother Savages July 6th [19]07″ surrounded by printed signatures of more than 200 members of the Savage Club, 11″ x 14”. Both the image and the mount are in lamentable condition, with significant silvering to corners of image extending inward, moderate browning, with substantial tears and wear to mount. Still, only one of these has ever been seen at auction (Christie’s London in 2008) until this one emerged, and as it holds such prominence in Twain’s estimation, it remains an exceedingly rare and desirable photograph with outstanding association.

The Savage Club, founded in 1857, is a bohemian gentlemen’s club in London, “formed to supply the want which Dr Samuel Johnson and his friends experienced when they founded the Literary Club. A little band of authors, journalists and artists felt the need of a place of reunion where, in their hours of leisure, they might gather together and enjoy each other’s society, apart from the publicity of that which was known in Johnson’s time as the coffee house, and equally apart from the chilling splendour of the modern club.”


This portrait of Mr. Clemens, signed by all the members of the club attending the dinner, was presented to him, July 6, 1907, and his speech on that occasion opened with his appreciation of the gift: “I am very glad indeed to have that portrait … This is the best I have had, and I am glad to have your honored names on it.” This visit to England was also the occasion of Twain’s receiving a D.Litt. at Oxford University..

The Savage Club would inevitably want to entertain him on its own account, and their dinner of July 6th was a handsome, affair. He felt at home with the Savages, and put on his trademark white suit for the only time publicly in England. He wrote for them one of his reminiscent speeches, recalling his association with them on his first visit to London, thirty-seven years before. The speech, containing many of Twain’s wittiest observations on literature and camaraderie, reads in full:

I am very glad indeed to have that portrait. I think it is the best one that I have ever had, and there have been opportunities before to get a good photograph. I have sat to photographers twenty-two times to-day. Those sittings added to those that have preceded them since I have been in Europe—if we average at that rate—must have numbered one hundred to two hundred sittings. Out of all those there ought to be some good photographs. This is the best I have had, and I am glad to have your honored names on it. I did not know Harold Frederic personally, but I have heard a great deal about him, and nothing that was not pleasant and nothing except such things as lead a man to honor another man and to love him. I consider that it is a misfortune of mine that I have never had the luck to meet him, and if any book of mine read to him in his last hours made those hours easier for him and more comfortable, I am very glad and proud of that. I call to mind such a case many years ago of an English authoress, well known in her day, who wrote such beautiful child tales, touching and lovely in every possible way. In a little biographical sketch of her I found that her last hours were spent partly in reading a book of mine, until she was no longer able to read. That has always remained in my mind, and I have always cherished it as one of the good things of my life. I had read what she had written, and had loved her for what she had done. Stanley apparently carried a book of mine feloniously away to Africa, and I have not a doubt that it had a noble and uplifting influence there in the wilds of Africa—because on his previous journeys he never carried anything to read except Shakespeare and the Bible. I did not know of that circumstance. I did not know that he had carried a book of mine. I only noticed that when he came back he was a reformed man. I knew Stanley very well in those old days.

Stanley was the first man who ever reported a lecture of mine, and that was in St. Louis. When I was down there the next time to give the same lecture I was told to give them something fresh, as they had read that in the papers. I met Stanley here when he came back from that first expedition of his which closed with the finding of Livingstone. You remember how he would break out at the meetings of the British Association, and find fault with what people said, because Stanley had notions of his own, and could not contain them. They had to come out or break him up–and so he would go round and address geographical societies. He was always on the warpath in those days, and people always had to have Stanley contradicting their geography for them and improving it. But he always came back and sat drinking beer with me in the hotel up to two in the morning, and he was then one of the most civilized human beings that ever was.

I saw in a newspaper this evening a reference to an interview which appeared in one of the papers the other day, in which the interviewer said that I characterized Mr. Birrell’s speech the other day at the Pilgrims’ Club as “bully.” Now, if you will excuse me, I never use slang to an interviewer or anybody else. That distresses me. Whatever I said about Mr. Birrell’s speech was said in English, as good English as anybody uses. If I could not describe Mr. Birrell’s delightful speech without using slang I would not describe it at all. I would close my mouth and keep it closed, much as it would discomfort me.

Now that comes of interviewing a man in the first person, which is an altogether wrong way to interview him. It is entirely wrong because none of you, I, or anybody else, could interview a man—could listen to a man talking any length of time and then go off and reproduce that talk in the first person. It can’t be done. What results is merely that the interviewer gives the substance of what is said and puts it in his own language and puts it in your mouth. It will always be either better language than you use or worse, and in my case it is always worse. I have a great respect for the English language. I am one of its supporters, its promoters, its elevators. I don’t degrade it. A slip of the tongue would be the most that you would get from me. I have always tried hard and faithfully to improve my English and never to degrade it. I always try to use the best English to describe what I think and what I feel, or what I don’t feel and what I don’t think.

I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts. I don’t know anything that mars good literature so completely as too much truth. Facts contain a deal of poetry, but you can’t use too many of them without damaging your literature. I love all literature, and as long as I am a doctor of literature—I have suggested to you for twenty years I have been diligently trying to improve my own literature, and now, by virtue of the University of Oxford, I mean to doctor everybody else’s.

Now I think I ought to apologize for my clothes. At home I venture things that I am not permitted by my family to venture in foreign parts. I was instructed before I left home and ordered to refrain from white clothes in England. I meant to keep that command fair and clean, and I would have done it if I had been in the habit of obeying instructions, but I can’t invent a new process in life right away. I have not had white clothes on since I crossed the ocean until now.

In these three or four weeks I have grown so tired of gray and black that you have earned my gratitude in permitting me to come as I have. I wear white clothes in the depth of winter in my home, but I don’t go out in the streets in them. I don’t go out to attract too much attention. I like to attract some, and always I would like to be dressed so that I may be more conspicuous than anybody else.

If I had been an ancient Briton, I would not have contented myself with blue paint, but I would have bankrupted the rainbow. I so enjoy gay clothes in which women clothe themselves that it always grieves me when I go to the opera to see that, while women look like a flower-bed, the men are a few gray stumps among them in their black evening dress. These are two or three reasons why I wish to wear white clothes: When I find myself in assemblies like this, with everybody in black clothes, I know I possess something that is superior to everybody else’s. Clothes are never clean. You don’t know whether they are clean or not, because you can’t see.

Here or anywhere you must scour your head every two or three days or it is full of grit. Your clothes must collect just as much dirt as your hair. If you wear white clothes you are clean, and your cleaning bill gets so heavy that you have to take care. I am proud to say that I can wear a white suit of clothes without a blemish for three days. If you need any further instruction in the matter of clothes I shall be glad to give it to you. I hope I have convinced some of you that it is just as well to wear white clothes as any other kind. I do not want to boast. I only want to make you understand that you are not clean.

As to age, the fact that I am nearly seventy-two years old does not clearly indicate how old I am, because part of every day it is with me as with you, you try to describe your age, and you cannot do it. Sometimes you are only fifteen; sometimes you are twenty-five. It is very seldom in a day that I am seventy-two years old. I am older now sometimes than I was when I used to rob orchards; a thing which I would not do to-day—if the orchards were watched. I am so glad to be here to- night. I am so glad to renew with the Savages that now ancient time when I first sat with a company of this club in London in 1872. That is a long time ago. But I did stay with the Savages a night in London long ago, and as I had come into a very strange land, and was with friends, as I could see, that has always remained in my mind as a peculiarly blessed evening, since it brought me into contact with men of my own kind and my own feelings.

I am glad to be here, and to see you all again, because it is very likely that I shall not see you again. It is easier than I thought to come across the Atlantic. I have been received, as you know, in the most delightfully generous way in England ever since I came here. It keeps me choked up all the time. Everybody is so generous, and they do seem to give you such a hearty welcome. Nobody in the world can appreciate it higher than I do. It did not wait till I got to London, but when I came ashore at Tilbury the stevedores on the dock raised the first welcome—a good and hearty welcome from the men who do the heavy labor in the world, and save you and me having to do it. They are the men who with their hands build empires and make them prosper. It is because of them that the others are wealthy and can live in luxury. They received me with a “Hurrah!” that went to my heart. They are the men that build civilization, and without them no civilization can be built. So I came first to the authors and creators of civilization, and I blessedly end this happy meeting with the Savages who destroy it.

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