I invited them to come over and spend the day and dine with me in the evening at Homburg. Mark Twain at that time had the reputation in England of being the greatest living wit and humorist. It soon spread over Homburg that he was in town and was to dine with me in the evening, and requests came pouring in to be invited. I kept enlarging my table at the Kursaal, with these requests, until the management said they could go no farther. I placed Mark Twain alongside Lady Cork, one of the most brilliant women in England. In the course of years of acquaintance I had met Mark Twain under many conditions. He was very uncertain in a social gathering. Sometimes he would be the life of the occasion and make it one to be long remembered, but generally he contributed nothing. At this dinner, whenever he showed the slightest sign of making a remark, there was dead silence, but the remark did not come. He had a charming time, and so did Lady Cork, but the rest of the company heard nothing from the great humorist, and they were greatly disappointed.
The next morning Mark Twain came down to the springs in his tramping-suit, which had fairly covered the continent. I introduced him to the Prince of Wales, and he was charmed with him in their hour of walk and talk. At dinner that evening the prince said to me: "I would have invited Mark Twain this evening, if I thought he had with him any dinner clothes."
"At my dinner last night," I said, "he met every conventional requirement."
"Then," continued the prince, "I would be much obliged if you would get him for dinner with me to-morrow evening."
It was very much the same company as had dined with the prince the night before. Again Twain was for a long time a complete disappointment. I knew scores of good things of his and tried my best to start him off, but without success. The prince, who was unusually adroit and tactful in drawing a distinguished guest out, also failed. When the dinner was over, however, and we had reached the cigars, Mark Twain started in telling a story in his most captivating way. His peculiar drawl, his habit in emphasizing the points by shaking his bushy hair, made him a dramatic narrator. He never had greater success. Even the veteran Mark himself was astonished at the uproarious laughter which greeted almost every sentence and was overwhelming when he closed.
There are millions of stories in the world, and several hundred of them good ones. No one knew more of them than Mark Twain, and yet out of this vast collection he selected the one which I had told the night before to the same company. The laughter and enjoyment were not at the story, but because the English had, as they thought, caught me in retailing to them from Mark Twain's repertoire one of his stories. It so happened that it was a story which I had heard as happening upon our railroad in one of my tours of inspection. I had told it in a speech, and it had been generally copied in the American newspapers. Mark Twain's reputation as the greatest living humorist caused that crowd to doubt the originality of my stories.
Mark had declined the cigars, but the prince was so delighted that he offered him one of the highly prized selection from his own case. This drew from him a story, which I have not seen in any of his books. I have read Mark Twain always with the greatest pleasure. His books of travel have been to me a source of endless interest, and his "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" is the best representation of the saint and heroine that I know.
When the prince offered him the cigar, Mark said: "No, prince, I never smoke. I have the reputation in Hartford, Conn., of furnishing at my entertainments the worst of cigars. When I was going abroad, and as I would be away for several years, I gave a reception and invited all my friends. I had the governor of the State of Connecticut and the judges of the highest courts, and the most distinguished members of the legislature. I had the leading clergymen and other citizens, and also the president and faculty of Yale University and Trinity College.