It was four years ago; but it will be four hundred before I forget
the wind of self-complacency that rose in me, and strained my
buttons when I marked the deference for me evoked in the faces of my
fellow-rabble, and noted, mingled with it, a puzzled and resentful
expression which said, as plainly as speech could have worded it:
“And who in the nation is the Herr Mark Twain UM GOTTESWILLEN?”
How many times in your life have you heard this boastful remark:
“I stood as close to him as I am to you; I could have put out my
hand and touched him.”
We have all heard it many and many a time. It was a proud
distinction to be able to say those words. It brought envy to
the speaker, a kind of glory; and he basked in it and was happy
through all his veins. And who was it he stood so close to?
The answer would cover all the grades. Sometimes it was a king;
sometimes it was a renowned highwayman; sometimes it was an unknown
man killed in an extraordinary way and made suddenly famous by it;
always it was a person who was for the moment the subject of public
interest of a village.
“I was there, and I saw it myself.” That is a common and
envy-compelling remark. It can refer to a battle; to a handing;
to a coronation; to the killing of Jumbo by the railway-train;
to the arrival of Jenny Lind at the Battery; to the meeting of the
President and Prince Henry; to the chase of a murderous maniac;
to the disaster in the tunnel; to the explosion in the subway;
to a remarkable dog-fight; to a village church struck by lightning.
It will be said, more or less causally, by everybody in America who has
seen Prince Henry do anything, or try to. The man who was absent
and didn’t see him to anything, will scoff. It is his privilege;
and he can make capital out of it, too; he will seem, even to himself,
to be different from other Americans, and better. As his opinion
of his superior Americanism grows, and swells, and concentrates
and coagulates, he will go further and try to belittle the distinction
of those that saw the Prince do things, and will spoil their pleasure
in it if he can. My life has been embittered by that kind of persons.
If you are able to tell of a special distinction that has fallen
to your lot, it gravels them; they cannot bear it; and they try
to make believe that the thing you took for a special distinction
was nothing of the kind and was meant in quite another way.
Once I was received in private audience by an emperor. Last week
I was telling a jealous person about it, and I could see him wince
under it, see him bite, see him suffer. I revealed the whole episode
to him with considerable elaboration and nice attention to detail.
When I was through, he asked me what had impressed me most.
“His Majesty’s delicacy. They told me to be sure and back
out from the presence, and find the door-knob as best I could;
it was not allowable to face around. Now the Emperor knew it would
be a difficult ordeal for me, because of lack of practice; and so,
when it was time to part, he turned, with exceeding delicacy,
and pretended to fumble with things on his desk, so I could get
out in my own way, without his seeing me.”
It went home! It was vitriol! I saw the envy and disgruntlement rise
in the man’s face; he couldn’t keep it down. I saw him try to fix
up something in his mind to take the bloom off that distinction.
I enjoyed that, for I judged that he had his work cut out for him.
He struggled along inwardly for quite a while; then he said,
with a manner of a person who has to say something and hasn’t anything
relevant to say:
“You said he had a handful of special-brand cigars on the table?”
“Yes; _I_ never said anything to match them.”
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