by Mark Twain
I have three or four curious incidents to tell about. They seem to
come under the head of what I named "Mental Telegraphy" in a paper
written seventeen years ago, and published long afterwards. --[The
paper entitled "Mental Telegraphy," which originally appeared in
Harper's Magazine for December, 1893, is included in the volume
entitled The American Claimant and Other Stories and Sketches.]
Several years ago I made a campaign on the platform with Mr. George
W. Cable. In Montreal we were honored with a reception. It began at
two in the afternoon in a long drawing-room in the Windsor Hotel. Mr.
Cable and I stood at one end of this room, and the ladies and
gentlemen entered it at the other end, crossed it at that end, then
came up the long left-hand side, shook hands with us, said a word or
two, and passed on, in the usual way. My sight is of the telescopic
sort, and I presently recognized a familiar face among the throng of
strangers drifting in at the distant door, and I said to myself, with
surprise and high gratification, "That is Mrs. R.; I had forgotten
that she was a Canadian." She had been a great friend of mine in
Carson City, Nevada, in the early days. I had not seen her or heard
of her for twenty years; I had not been thinking about her; there was
nothing to suggest her to me, nothing to bring her to my mind; in
fact, to me she had long ago ceased to exist, and had disappeared from
my consciousness. But I knew her instantly; and I saw her so clearly
that I was able to note some of the particulars of her dress, and did
note them, and they remained in my mind. I was impatient for her to
come. In the midst of the hand- shakings I snatched glimpses of her
and noted her progress with the slow- moving file across the end of
the room; then I saw her start up the side, and this gave me a full
front view of her face. I saw her last when she was within
twenty-five feet of me. For an hour I kept thinking she must still be
in the room somewhere and would come at last, but I was disappointed.
When I arrived in the lecture-hall that evening some one said:
"Come into the waiting-room; there's a friend of yours there who wants
to see you. You'll not be introduced--you are to do the recognizing
without help if you can."
I said to myself: "It is Mrs. R.; I shan't have any trouble."
There were perhaps ten ladies present, all seated. In the midst of
them was Mrs. R., as I had expected. She was dressed exactly as she
was when I had seen her in the afternoon. I went forward and shook
hands with her and called her by name, and said:
"I knew you the moment you appeared at the reception this
afternoon." She looked surprised, and said: "But I was not at the
reception. I have just arrived from Quebec, and have not been in town
It was my turn to be surprised now. I said: "I can't help it. I
give you my word of honor that it is as I say. I saw you at the
reception, and you were dressed precisely as you are now. When they
told me a moment ago that I should find a friend in this room, your
image rose before me, dress and all, just as I had seen you at the
Those are the facts. She was not at the reception at all, or
anywhere near it; but I saw her there nevertheless, and most clearly
and unmistakably. To that I could make oath. How is one to explain
this? I was not thinking of her at the time; had not thought of her
for years. But she had been thinking of me, no doubt; did her thoughts
flit through leagues of air to me, and bring with it that clear and
pleasant vision of herself? I think so. That was and remains my sole
experience in the matter of apparitions--I mean apparitions that come
when one is (ostensibly) awake. I could have been asleep for a
moment; the apparition could have been the creature of a dream.
Still, that is nothing to the point; the feature of interest is the
happening of the thing just at that time, instead of at an earlier or
later time, which is argument that its origin lay in
My next incident will be set aside by most persons as being merely
a "coincidence," I suppose. Years ago I used to think sometimes of
making a lecturing trip through the antipodes and the borders of the
Orient, but always gave up the idea, partly because of the great
length of the journey and partly because my wife could not well manage
to go with me. Towards the end of last January that idea, after an
interval of years, came suddenly into my head again--forcefully, too,
and without any apparent reason. Whence came it? What suggested it?
I will touch upon that presently.
I was at that time where I am now--in Paris. I wrote at once to
Henry M. Stanley (London), and asked him some questions about his
Australian lecture tour, and inquired who had conducted him and what
were the terms. After a day or two his answer came. It began:
"The lecture agent for Australia and New Zealand is par
excellence Mr. R. S. Smythe, of Melbourne."
He added his itinerary, terms, sea expenses, and some other
matters, and advised me to write Mr. Smythe, which I did--February 3d.
I began my letter by saying in substance that while he did not know
me personally we had a mutual friend in Stanley, and that would answer
for an introduction. Then I proposed my trip, and asked if he would
give me the same terms which he had given Stanley.
I mailed my letter to Mr. Smythe February 6th, and three days later
I got a letter from the selfsame Smythe, dated Melbourne, December
17th. I would as soon have expected to get a letter from the late
George Washington. The letter began somewhat as mine to him had
begun--with a self-introduction:
DEAR MR. CLEMENS,--It is so long since Archibald Forbes and I
spent that pleasant afternoon in your comfortable house at
Hartford that you have probably quite forgotten the occasion."
In the course of his letter this occurs:
"I am willing to give you" [here be named the terms which he
had given Stanley] "for an antipodean tour to last, say, three
Here was the single essential detail of my letter answered three
days after I had mailed my inquiry. I might have saved myself the
trouble and the postage--and a few years ago I would have done that
very thing, for I would have argued that my sudden and strong impulse
to write and ask some questions of a stranger on the under side of the
globe meant that the impulse came from that stranger, and that he
would answer my questions of his own motion if I would let him alone.
Mr. Smythe's letter probably passed under my nose on its way to
lose three weeks traveling to America and back, and gave me a whiff of
its contents as it went along. Letters often act like that. Instead
of the thought coming to you in an instant from Australia, the
(apparently) unsentient letter imparts it to you as it glides
invisibly past your elbow in the mail-bag.
Next incident. In the following month--March--I was in America. I
spent a Sunday at Irvington-on-the-Hudson with Mr. John Brisben
Walker, of the Cosmopolitan magazine. We came into New York next
morning, and went to the Century Club for luncheon. He said some
praiseful things about the character of the club and the orderly
serenity and pleasantness of its quarters, and asked if I had never
tried to acquire membership in it. I said I had not, and that New York
clubs were a continuous expense to the country members without being
of frequent use or benefit to them.
"And now I've got an idea!" said I. "There's the Lotos--the first
New York club I was ever a member of--my very earliest love in that
line. I have been a member of it for considerably more than twenty
years, yet have seldom had a chance to look in and see the boys. They
turn gray and grow old while I am not watching. And my dues go on. I
am going to Hartford this afternoon for a day or two, but as soon as I
get back I will go to John Elderkin very privately and say: 'Remember
the veteran and confer distinction upon him, for the sake of old
times. Make me an honorary member and abolish the tax. If you
haven't any such thing as honorary membership, all the better--create
it for my honor and glory.' That would be a great thing; I will go to
John Elderkin as soon as I get back from Hartford."
I took the last express that afternoon, first telegraphing Mr. F.
G. Whitmore to come and see me next day. When he came he asked: "Did
you get a letter from Mr. John Elderkin, secretary of the Lotos Club,
before you left New York?"
"Then it just missed you. If I had known you were coming I would
have kept it. It is beautiful, and will make you proud. The Board of
Directors, by unanimous vote, have made you a life member, and
squelched those dues; and, you are to be on hand and receive your
distinction on the night of the 30th, which is the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the founding of the club, and it will not surprise me
if they have some great times there."
What put the honorary membership in my head that day in the Century
Club? for I had never thought of it before. I don't know what brought
the thought to me at that particular time instead of earlier, but I am
well satisfied that it originated with the Board of Directors, and had
been on its way to my brain through the air ever since the moment that
saw their vote recorded.
Another incident. I was in Hartford two or three days as a guest
of the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell. I have held the rank of Honorary
Uncle to his children for a quarter of a century, and I went out with
him in the trolley-car to visit one of my nieces, who is at Miss
Porter's famous school in Farmington. The distance is eight or nine
miles. On the way, talking, I illustrated something with an anecdote.
This is the anecdote:
Two years and a half ago I and the family arrived at Milan on our
way to Rome, and stopped at the Continental. After dinner I went
below and took a seat in the stone-paved court, where the customary
lemon-trees stand in the customary tubs, and said to myself, "Now this
is comfort, comfort and repose, and nobody to disturb it; I do not
know anybody in Milan."
Then a young gentleman stepped up and shook hands, which damaged my
theory. He said, in substance:
"You won't remember me, Mr. Clemens, but I remember you very well.
I was a cadet at West Point when you and Rev. Joseph H. Twichell came
there some years ago and talked to us on a Hundredth Night. I am a
lieutenant in the regular army now, and my name is H. I am in Europe,
all alone, for a modest little tour; my regiment is in Arizona."
We became friendly and sociable, and in the course of the talk he
told me of an adventure which had befallen him--about to this effect:
"I was at Bellagio, stopping at the big hotel there, and ten days
ago I lost my letter of credit. I did not know what in the world to
do. I was a stranger; I knew no one in Europe; I hadn't a penny in my
pocket; I couldn't even send a telegram to London to get my lost
letter replaced; my hotel bill was a week old, and the presentation of
it imminent--so imminent that it could happen at any moment now. I
was so frightened that my wits seemed to leave me. I tramped and
tramped, back and forth, like a crazy person. If anybody approached
me I hurried away, for no matter what a person looked like, I took him
for the head waiter with the bill.
"I was at last in such a desperate state that I was ready to do any
wild thing that promised even the shadow of help, and so this is the
insane thing that I did. I saw a family lunching at a small table on
the veranda, and recognized their nationality--Americans--father,
mother, and several young daughters--young, tastefully dressed, and
pretty--the rule with our people. I went straight there in my
civilian costume, named my name, said I was a lieutenant in the army,
and told my story and asked for help.
"What do you suppose the gentleman did? But you would not guess in
twenty years. He took out a handful of gold coin and told me to help
myself--freely. That is what he did."
The next morning the lieutenant told me his new letter of credit
had arrived in the night, so we strolled to Cook's to draw money to
pay back the benefactor with. We got it, and then went strolling
through the great arcade. Presently he said, "Yonder they are; come
and be introduced." I was introduced to the parents and the young
ladies; then we separated, and I never saw him or them any m---
"Here we are at Farmington," said Twichell, interrupting.
We left the trolley-car and tramped through the mud a hundred yards
or so to the school, talking about the time we and Warner walked out
there years ago, and the pleasant time we had.
We had a visit with my niece in the parlor, then started for the
trolley again. Outside the house we encountered a double rank of
twenty or thirty of Miss Porter's young ladies arriving from a walk,
and we stood aside, ostensibly to let them have room to file past, but
really to look at them. Presently one of them stepped out of the rank
"You don't know me, Mr. Twichell; but I know your daughter, and
that gives me the privilege of shaking hands with you."
Then she put out her hand to me, and said:
"And I wish to shake hands with you too, Mr. Clemens. You don't
remember me, but you were introduced to me in the arcade in Milan two
years and a half ago by Lieutenant H."
What had put that story into my head after all that stretch of
time? Was it just the proximity of that young girl, or was it merely
an odd accident?