Letters of the Century:America 1900-1999
Edited by Lisa Grunwald & Stephen J. Adler
Jason and I are reading this together in the evening before Gage goes to bed. I think it’s a good thing that he hear us both reading aloud. Usually just a letter or two, so it’s going to take a while to finish this 676 page chunkster. Instead of a review at the end I thought every month or so I’d post a letter that I liked.
July 19, 1901, Mark Twain to Edward Dimmit (this was a response to an invitation to attend Missouri’s 80th birthday celebration)
By an error in the plans, things go wrong end first in this world, and much precious time is lost and matters of urgent importance are fatally retarded. Invitations which a brisk young fellow should get, and which would transport him with joy, are delayed and impeded and obstructed until they are fifty years overdue when they reach him.
It happened again in this case.
When I was a boy in Missouri I was always on the lookout for invitations but they always miscarried and went wandering through the aisles of time; and now they are arriving when I am old and rheumatic and can’t travel and must lose my chance.
I have lost a world of delight through this matter of delaying invitations. Fifty years ago I would have gone eagerly across the world to help celebrate anything that might turn up. It would have made no difference to me what it was, so that I was there and allowed a chance to make noise.
The whole scheme of things is turned wrong end to. Life should begin with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages. As things are now, when in youth a dollar would bring a hundred pleasures, you can’t have it. When you are old, you get it and there is nothing worth buying with it then.
It’s the epitome of life, The first half of it consists of the capacity to enjoy without the chance; the last half consists of the chance without the capacity.
I am admonished in many ways that time is pushing me inexorably along. I am approaching the threshold of age; in 1977 I shall be 142. This is not time to be flitting about the earth. I must cease from the activities proper to youth and begin to take on the dignities and gravities and inertia proper to that season of honorable senility which is on its way and imminent as indicated above.
Yours is a great and memorable occasion, and as a son of Missouri I should hold it a high privilege to be there and share your just pride in the state’s achievements; but I must deny myself the indulgence , while thanking you earnestly for the prized honor you have done me in asking me to be present.
Very truly yours,