A New Text of Mark Twain’s After-Dinner Speech

An After-Dinner Speech by Mark Twain
Meridian, Issue 15, Spring/Summer 2005

Meridian has very bravely undertaken to present to the public for the first time anywhere a speech by Mark Twain he never gave, but in his most finely denunciatory style, rather like the famous letter to the gas company. Bravely, I say, in this time of tippy-tippy-toe-through-my-garden poesy.

Twain opens as though he were Dean Swift about to pull the rug out from under some dastardly heathenish swinism, but the Yankee is a hundred years on and won’t be tormenting a thing when he can dash it to bits right there on the spot. His theme is a college in Philadelphia endowed by its benefactor against sectarianism, and latterly taken over by a mob of the creatures, “cheats, hypocrites, shirkers of plain duty, traitors to a solemn trust, abusers of a dead man’s confidence; and... prosperous, respected, honored, courted in Philadelphia, and reverently referred to by the Philadelphia press.”

Naturally, Meridian is so excited and overjoyed by this discovery in the Special Collections of the U. of Va. Library, they stumble over some of the words, even though the two pages of facsimile taken from the evidently penciled manuscript are clear and easy enough to read (with some crossing-out and emendations).

“I was elevated last year by Yale University to a position [M.A. honoris causa] which seems to make me responsible for collegiate education in this country, and in fact in the world.” This is a major event for American letters, even if these days they just “love to stand there and smell.”