Last night, I was so lucky to eat dinner at The Ground Round with none other than the great American humorist, Samuel Clemens, or as he is more commonly know, Mark Twain. I’ve always thought of Mark Twain as having been a most interesting fellow. The man seemed both witty and wise. He always struck me as one with a great sense of humor and as having an interesting life.
I picked Mr. Clemens up at the train station in Worcester at 5:30. He was wearing his trademark white linen suit and in his hand he held a cigar. We drove to the Ground Round on Route 9. As we entered the restaurant, people couldn’t help but look in our direction. It’s not every day that one sees a white haired man wearing a white linen suit. I’m not sure how many people actually knew it was Mark Twain. We got seated and ordered our dinners. Then our conversation began. After an evening of dining and conversing, I found out a great deal about this man.
Mark Twain is probably most widely recognized as a writer. His Adventures of Tom Sawyer , Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper are all American classics. Besides writing novels, he also wrote for journalistic publications. Some of his early works were published in newspapers. Newspapers and printing is where it seems Twain got his start. When he was 11 he left school, following the death of his father, and he became a printer.
Most people who have heard of Mark Twain are familiar with his experience on the Mississippi riverboats. It seems as though he hadn’t planned on working on the river, but began thinking about it while on his way to New Orleans, from where he was then going to head for South America in a plan to get rich by collecting coca. He said that he changed his mind and decided that he wanted to learn how to pilot a riverboat. Twain ended up piloting on the Mississippi from 1856 until the Civil War in 1861, when the river became closed to commercial traffic. Twain told me that his house in Hartford has some aspects of it that he had made to resemble a Mississippi riverboat. I think that it is quite obvious that he enjoyed his time on the river.
Twain liked to travel. He was from Missouri, and he traveled to the East, up and down the Mississippi, the West, Hawaii, and he made many trips to Europe. On one of his trips, a cruise to Europe and the Holy Land, he met his future wife’s brother. He happened to have a picture of his sister, and Twain fell in love. He met her after the voyage and they married a few years later.
As the night went on, Clemens told me of a more unhappy time in his life. The last 20 years he said that he was torn by contradictory feelings and beliefs. He also admitted to being a bit hypocritical. He told me how he wanted to have faith in God, but he doubted God’s existence. He admitted that even though he made attacks on those who were concerned with money, he himself devised many schemes to get rich quick, most of them, however, were failures. Clemens ended up being left deep in debt in 1893. He eventually regained his wealth from books and lectures over the next three years.
We finished our meals and the waitress brought our check. The total came to $21.95 not including the tip. We left the Ground Round and I took Samuel Clemens back to the train station. Later that night, I was sitting at my computer doing some work and pondering the mysteries of the universe, when all of a sudden, I was hit by a thought. “It’s 1999 and isn’t Samuel Clemens supposed to be dead?” I thought, “oh well, minor detail” and continued working and pondering.