Mark Twain (1835–1910)
From Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, Other Travels
While in London in 1897, Mark Twain was commissioned by William Randolph Hearst to report for the San Francisco Examiner on the sixtieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne. Evoking historical detail reminiscent of passages in The Prince and the Pauper and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Twain compares the jubilee to his own original and imaginative account of the 1415 celebration following the English victory at Agincourt, and he also reflects on the rapid changes in the British Empire during the Victorian age.
The two-part coverage of the Diamond Jubilee appeared in the newspaper on June 20 and 23 and was reprinted in other Hearst papers shortly afterward. In 1910—the year of Twain’s death—the article was privately printed in a limited edition of 195 numbered books, and although it is not known whether this book version had Twain’s official sanction, a copy today can sell for several thousand dollars. The essay had not been readily available until this month, when it was included in the newly published Library of America volume of Mark Twain’s travel writings, and both parts are offered here for our readers’ enjoyment.
LONDON, JUNE 19.—So far as I can see, a procession has value in but two ways—as a show and as a symbol; its minor function being to delight the eye, its major one to compel thought, exalt the spirit, stir the heart and inflame the imagination. As a mere show, and meaningless—like a mardi-gras march—a magnificent procession is a sight worth a journey to see; as a symbol, the most colorless and unpicturesque procession, if it have a moving history back of it, is worth a thousand of it.
After the civil war ten regiments of bronzed New York veterans marched up Broadway in faded uniforms and bearing faded battle flags that were mere shot-riddled rags—and in each battalion as it swung by, one noted a great gap, an eloquent vacancy where had marched the comrades who had fallen and would march no more.
Always, as this procession advanced between the massed multitudes, its approach was welcomed by each block of people with a burst of proud and grateful enthusiasm—then the head of it passed and suddenly revealed these pathetic gaps and silence fell upon that block, for every man in it had choked up and could not get command of his voice and add it to the storm again for many minutes. That was the most moving and tremendous effect that I ever witnessed—those affecting silences falling between those hurricanes of worshiping enthusiasm. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!