Saturday, February 3, 2018

Mark Twain as Our Emissary

George Ade (1866–1944)
From The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Works

“Ade at Fourteen Reading Mark Twain — ‘I think I had read everything he ever wrote.’” Frontispiece illustration by American political cartoonist John T. McCutcheon (1870–1949), for George Ade’s One Afternoon with Mark Twain, 1939.
In July 1908 Mark Twain sent off a quick note to the editor and novelist William Dean Howells:
Thank you once more for introducing me to the incomparable Pink Marsh. I have been reading him again after this long interval, & my admiration of the book has overflowed all limits, all frontiers. . . . And for once—just this once—the illustrator is the peer of the writer.
He was rereading George Ade’s book, Pink Marsh, published a decade earlier. The title character, a black shoeshine boy, was one of several personalities created by Ade for his popular column, “Stories of the Streets and of the Town,” in the Chicago Record newspaper. John T. McCutcheon, a fellow Purdue University classmate and fraternity brother who would later become one of America’s best-known political cartoonists, provided illustrations for the series, which was reprinted in eight annual book collections during the 1890s.

Ade became nationally famous in 1899 with the publication of Fables in Slang, which was followed by More Fables (1900), Hand-Made Fables (1920), and similar volumes. He also wrote a number of musical comedies and blockbuster plays, including The College Widow, which spawned several national tours and film adaptations, made Ade a millionaire, and was parodied by the Marx Brothers as Horse Feathers. Although Ade is relatively unknown to readers today, the critic Luc Sante has described him as “a distant ancestor of Rocky and Bullwinkle” and a master of contemporary American vernacular who “wrote vividly about the middle of the country when it was up-and-coming, expectedly dowdy and unexpectedly modern—he stands right between Booth Tarkington and Ring Lardner.”

In 1941 Ade was elected the first president of the Mark Twain Society of America, which he and various colleagues had established two years earlier as the Mark Twain Society of Chicago. Toward the end of the national group’s first meeting, according to a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, “someone happened to remember the most potent question of the day: How well did George Ade know Mark Twain?” Although Ade had encountered Mark Twain on several social occasions (such as the revered author’s famous 70th birthday party at Delmonico’s), the newly elected president admitted that he “sat down and talked” with him only once. Ade then referred the audience to his 15-page booklet One Afternoon with Mark Twain (1939), which begins:
It was in the late summer or early autumn of 1902, as nearly as I can fix the date, when Dr. Clarence C. Rice, a long-time friend and traveling-companion of Mark Twain’s, came to me at my hotel in New York City and invited me to accompany him on a pilgrimage to the One and Only. Of course I accepted the invitation. Probably no person, then alive and gifted with a pair of movable legs, would have done otherwise. . . .

If I had known that I was never again to meet Mark Twain, I would have come provided with a handful of pencils and my pockets bulging with copy paper. I would have carefully recorded the date, the state of the weather—every word he spoke, every trifling detail of that pilgrimage to the shrine of this immortal American.
In his account Ade struggles to recall the details of that afternoon. After asking Ade how he ended up in New York, Mark Twain remarked that they “would have been born in adjacent states if the damned geographers had not maliciously thrust Illinois between Indiana and Missouri.” They discussed William Dean Howells, a mutual friend and the editor who “discovered” Ade. Mark Twain also mocked a friend who hoped to translate Ade’s Fables in Slang into French, saying, “She cannot possibly find any French equivalents for your specimens of American vernacular, but she is determine to make the effort and I am waiting until it is done so that I can watch some Frenchman go crazy while trying to read it.” And the famous author regaled his guests with tales from his past, nearly all of which Ade couldn’t remember. Ade exclaims with frustration: “Why can’t I recall more of the things he said!”

At the end of 1910, the year Mark Twain died, Ade published “Mark Twain as Our Emissary,” a tribute to his idol’s remarkable popularity both at home and abroad. We present it below as our Story of the Week selection, with a brief headnote by Shelley Fisher Fishkin that offers additional information about Ade.

Notes: Popular from the 1880s to the 1920s, Chautauquas (mentioned on page 122) were assemblies, often hosted in large tents, bringing lecturers, scholars, entertainers, and preachers to rural American communities. William Waldorf Astor, who for many years was the wealthiest man in America, moved with his family to England in 1891 and became a British subject in 1899. Ade uses the German words stube (room, lounge) and rathskeller (the cellar of a municipal building, often used as a beer hall) to refer mockingly to Mark Twain’s “headquarters” when living in Vienna. Edward Payson Roe and E.D.E.N. Southworth were two of the most popular American novelists of the latter half of the nineteenth century.

For over forty years, beginning in 1859, actor Joseph Jefferson (page 123) played Rip Van Winkle in productions across America and at the turn of the century even appeared as the character in several silent movies. Maud Adams became the highest paid stage performer in the nation after playing the title role in the 1905 Broadway production Peter Pan. The father of William Randolph Hearst, businessman George Hearst (page 124) was a U.S. Senator from California for five years, until his death in 1891. In 1832 Frances Trollope published Domestic Manners of the Americans, which was sharply critical of American religion, politics, and social mores. In 1839 British naval officer Frederick Marryat published Diary in America, which was similarly disdainful toward U.S. culture. The term Cook tourists was shorthand for vacationers who purchased tour packages of the type made popular by English travel agency Thomas Cook & Son.

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Mark Twain had a large following of admirers who came to regard themselves as his personal friends. Many of them he never met. Most of them never saw him. All of them felt a certain relationship and were flattered by it. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.