Master Storyteller Memorialized On The Occasion Of His Death 100 Years Ago
April 18, 2010
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, "Mark Twain," died painlessly at his home here at 6:33 o'clock tonight of angina pectoris. He lapsed into coma at 3 o'clock this afternoon and never recovered consciousness. It was the end of a man worn out by grief and agony of body.
Yesterday was a bad day for the little knot of anxious watchers at the bedside. For hours the grey aquiline features lay moulded in the inertia of death, while the pulse sank lower and lower, but late at night Mark Twain passed from stupor into the first natural sleep he had known since he returned from Bermuda, and this morning he woke refreshed, even faintly cheerful and in full possession of all his faculties. He recognized his daughter, Clara, Mrs. Ossip Gabrilowitsch, spoke a word or two and feeling himself unequal to conversation, wrote out in pencil: —
"Give me my glasses." They were his last words. Laying them aside, he sank first into a reverie and later into final unconsciousness.
There was no thought at the time, however, that the end was so near. At 6 o'clock Dr. Robert Halsey, who had been continuously in attendance, said:—
"Mr. Clemens is not so strong at this hour as he was at the corresponding hour yesterday, but he has wonderful vitality and he may rally again." Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's biographer and literary executor, said to a caller who desired to inquire for Mr. Clemens, "I do not think you will have to call often." Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Loomis, who had come up from New York, to give their love in person, left Stormfield, Mr. Clemens's house, without seeing him, and heard of his death just as they were taking the train to New York, again.
Mrs. Loomis was Mr. Clemens's favorite niece and Mr. Loomis is vice-president of the Lackawanna railroad. Similarly Jarvis Langdon, a nephew, who had run up for the day, left even earlier and wholly uninformed. At the death bed were only Mr. Gabrilowitsch, her husband, Dr. Robert Halsey, Dr. Quintard, Albert Bigelow Paine, and two trained nurses. Restoratives — digitalis, strychnine and camphor — were administered but the patient failed to respond.
Oxygen was tried yesterday and the physicians explained that it was of no value, because the valvular action of the heart was not disordered. There was only an extreme and increasing debility accompanied by labored respiration. Although angina pectoris is characterized by severe pain and deep depression of spirits Mark Twain did not die in anguish. Sedatives soothed his pain but in his moments of consciousness the mental depression persisted. On the way up from Bermuda he said to Mr. Paine, who had been his constant companion in illness: "This is a bad job; we'll never pull through with it."
On shore once more and longing for the serenity of the New England hills, he took courage and said to those who noted his enfeeblement in sorrow: "Give me a breath of Redding air once more and this will pass." But it did not pass, and tired of body and weary of spirit the old warrior against sham and snobbery said faintly to his nurses: "Why do you fight to keep me alive? Two days of life are as good to me as four."
Mark Twain was for more than fifty years an inveterate smoker and the first conjecture of the layman will be that he weakened his heart by over indulgence in tobacco, but Dr. Halsey said tonight that he was unable to predicate that the angina pectoris from which the humorist died was in any way a sequel of nicotine poisoning. Yet it is true that after his illness began the doctors cut down Mark Twain's daily allowance of twenty cigars and countless pipes to four cigars a day.
No deprivation caused him more discomfort. He tried to smoke on the steamer returning from Bermuda and only gave it up because he was too feeble to draw on his pipe. Even on his death bed when he had passed the point of speech and was no longer certain that his ideas were lucid, he would wave an imaginary cigar and, smiling expel empty air from under his heavy moustache stained with smoke.
Where Mark Twain chose to spend his declining years was the first outpost of Methodicam in New England and it was among the hills of Redding that General Israel Putnam of Revolutionary fame mustered his sparse ranks. ...
Mark Twain first heard of it at the dinner given him on his seventieth birthday when a fellow guest who lived there mentioned its beauties and added that there was a vacant house adjoining his own.
"I think you may buy that old house for me," said Mr. Clemens.
Sherwood Place was the delectable name of that old house ... described by Albert Bigelow Paine "set on a fair hillside with such a green slope below, such a view outspread across the valley as made one catch his breath a little when he first turned to look at it. A trout stream flows through one of the meadows. There are apple trees and grey stone walls. The entrance to it is a winding, leafy lane."
Through these lanes the Innocent at Home loved to wander in his white flannels for homely gossip with the neighbors. They remember him best as one who above all things loved a good listener, for Mark Twain was a mighty talker, stored with fairy tales for the little maids he adored and plainer speech for masculine ears. It is a legend that he was vastly proud of his famous mop of white hair and used to spend the pains of a court lady in getting it to just the proper stage of artistic disarray.
Last summer the walks began to falter, last fall they ceased for good. The death of H.H. Rogers, a close friend, was a severe blow. The death of his daughter, Jean, who was seized with an attack of epilepsy last fall while in her bath, was an added blow from which he never recovered. It was then that the stabbing pains in the heart began. Mark Twain died as surely as it can be said of any man of a broken heart.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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