At the Dinner to Benjamin B. Odell, Jr., March 23, 1901

By Mark Twain
From After Dinner Speeches at the Lotos Club, ed. John Elderkin, Chester S. Lord, and Charles W. Price (New York: Lotos Club, 1911).


I lately had the pleasure and the honor of visiting Governor Odell on matters of public business in his political home in the State House, in the bosom of his political family the Legislature, a family made up in the proportion of three Republicans for business to one Democrat for ornament and social elevation. I went up there without salary to plead against the reduction, the proposed reduction, of the citizen's liberties, and to vote against the Ramapo Bill in the Senate, if I could get a chance to enter upon the floor of the House, and to introduce a police bill. Not because they were running short of police bills. And if the Governor would promise to sign it, my bill would pass. I am privileged on the floor of the House anywhere in all the legislative bodies in the world, a thing that happened by accident rather than merit. I wanted to introduce that police bill. It seemed to me that it was a very good idea. Now it was not like any other police bill that has ever been introduced anywhere. There was a little self-interest in it. here and there, and my scheme was to have none but authors on the police. Well, for myself, I wanted to be the chief of police, not because I thought I was really qualified for the place, but because I was tired and wanted a rest. I wanted Mr. Howells for first deputy, not because Mr. Howells knows anything about those things, but because he was tired too. A lot of us authors are tired. And now that Mr. Depew has published speeches and other books, and has become an author, I wanted him for second deputy. Not because he is tired, because he is n't, but because he is one of those men who do all things well, and he could run the police business and I could take the salary! And, besides, more than that, he and I have a tie. Indeed. we are members of the celebrated Class of '53 of Yale, only he was there before I was. And another thing, he is a Missourian, like me. And in the Missourians there is no guile. And there is a nearer tie still. When I was born I was a member of a firm of twins. And one of them disappeared, and it has been borne in upon me of late that the personal resemblance between Depew and me, and the general handsome style and grace of form and figure and things of that sort, and activity of speech, and -- well, it proves to me that that long lost twin is here!

Well, I wanted -- I wanted Stedman, and Aldrich, and Brander Matthews, and Crawford, and Cable for the Broadway squad, and others for the Red Light district, and others still to take care of the pretty manicurists.

Now, that bill I drew myself. That was my dream; it was my hope; my ambition; but it failed like so many bright dreams in this disappointing world. Governor Odell would n't favor it. He said that authors were well enough in their place, but he said, "It would n't do for me to leave the city unprotected." Now, that remark was irrelevant. It was n't discreet. The very thing I was trying to do was to protect the city. He said the authors as police -- that it would be worse than Ramapo, but I can't agree with him. Ramapo is authorized to bring on a water famine -- authors never do that.

Well, I shall never forget to be grateful to the Legislature up there for the hospitalities extended to me and for the chance that I had to hear a reverend gentleman(*) speak from his impromptu speech which he read from type-written manuscript, and in which he did for me again what has been done so often before -- blasted my character -- what was left of it. He said that if I had my just deserts I would not be a guest there, I should be a guest somewhere else maybe, or be dangling from a lamp-post somewhere. He was telling about the last time that I broke jail -- and said that I carried off several pairs of boots belonging to other folks. This statement was a lie, only that; and he knew that perfectly well. He was there a guest in that place, and so was I; and he was so interested in drawing my character in the past -- although he came there to absolutely obliterate me before the people. He had n't anything personal against me, except that I was opposed to the political war, and he said I was a traitor and did n't go to fight in the Philippines. That does n't prove anything. That does n't prove a man is a traitor. Where's the evidence? There are seventy-five millions of us working our patriotism. He did the same thing himself. It would be an entirely different question if the country's life was in danger, its existence at stake; then -- that is one kind of patriotism -- we would all come forward and stand by the flag, and stop thinking about whether the nation was right or wrong; but when there is no question that the nation is in any way in danger, but only some little war away off, then it may be that on the question of politics the nation is divided, half-patriots and half-traitors, and no man can tell which from which.








All contents Copyright The Hannibal Courier-Post and GateHouse Media.