Mark Twain’s Speeches

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Author: Mark Twain  | Date: 1906

HENRY IRVING.

The Dramatic and Literary Society of London gave a welcome-home dinner to Sir Henry Irving at the Savoy Hotel, London, June 9, 1900. In proposing the toast of "The Drama" Mr. Clemens said:

I FIND my task a very easy one. I have been a dramatist for thirty years. I have had an ambition in all that time to overdo the work of the Spaniard who said he left behind him four hundred dramas when he died. I leave behind me four hundred and fifteen, and am not yet dead.

The greatest of all the arts is to write a drama. It is a most difficult thing. It requires the highest talent possible and the rarest gifts. No, there is another talent that ranks with it- for anybody can write a drama- I had four hundred of them- but to get one accepted requires real ability. And I have never had that felicity yet.

But human nature is so constructed, we are so persistent, that when we know that we are born to a thing we do not care what the world thinks about it. We go on exploiting that talent year after year, as I have done. I shall go on writing dramas, and some day the impossible may happen, but I am not looking for it.

In writing plays the chief thing is novelty. The world grows tired of solid forms in all the arts. I struck a new idea myself years ago. I was not surprised at it. I was always expecting it would happen. A person who has suffered disappointment for many years loses confidence, and I thought I had better make inquiries before I exploited my new idea of doing a drama in the form of a dream, so I wrote to a great authority on knowledge of all kinds, and asked him whether it was new.

I could depend upon him. He lived in my dear home in America- that dear home, dearer to me through taxes. He sent me a list of plays in which that old device had been used, and he said that there was also a modern lot. He travelled back to China and to a play dated two thousand six hundred years before the Christian era. He said he would follow it up with a list of the previous plays of the kind, and in his innocence would have carried them back to the Flood.

That is the most discouraging thing that has ever happened to me in my dramatic career. I have done a world of good in a silent and private way, and have furnished Sir Henry Irving with plays and plays and plays. What has he achieved through that influence? See where he stands now- on the summit of his art in two worlds- and it was I who put him there- that partly put him there.

I need not enlarge upon the influence the drama has exerted upon civilization. It has made good morals entertaining. I am to be followed by Mr. Pinero. I conceive that we stand at the head of the profession. He has not written as many plays as I have, but he has had that God-given talent, which I lack, of working them off on the manager. I couple his name with this toast, and add the hope that his influence will be supported in exercising his masterly handicraft in that great gift, and that he will long live to continue his fine work.

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Chicago: Mark Twain, "Henry Irving.," Mark Twain’s Speeches Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95XUE1W2VSPNCQI.

MLA: Twain, Mark. "Henry Irving." Mark Twain’s Speeches, Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95XUE1W2VSPNCQI.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'Henry Irving.' in Mark Twain’s Speeches. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95XUE1W2VSPNCQI.