The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories

Author: Mark Twain

II. a Memorable Sitting.

And now took place that memorable sitting of the House which broke two records. It lasted the best part of two days and a night, surpassing by half an hour the longest sitting known to the world’s previous parliamentary history, and breaking the long-speech record with Dr. Lecher’s twelve-hour effort, the longest flow of unbroken talk that ever came out of one mouth since the world began.

At 8.45 on the evening of the 28th of October, when the House had been sitting a few minutes short of ten hours, Dr. Lecher was granted the floor. It was a good place for theatrical effects. I think that no other Senate House is so shapely as this one, or so richly and showily decorated. Its plan is that of an opera-house. Up toward the straight side of it—the stage side—rise a couple of terraces of desks for the ministry, and the official clerks or secretaries—terraces thirty feet long, and each supporting about half a dozen desks with spaces between them. Above these is the President’s terrace, against the wall. Along it are distributed the proper accommodations for the presiding officer and his assistants. The wall is of richly coloured marble highly polished, its paneled sweep relieved by fluted columns and pilasters of distinguished grace and dignity, which glow softly and frostily in the electric light. Around the spacious half-circle of the floor bends the great two-storied curve of the boxes, its frontage elaborately ornamented and sumptuously gilded. On the floor of the House the 425 desks radiate fanwise from the President’s tribune.

The galleries are crowded on this particular evening, for word has gone about that the Ausgleich is before the House; that the President, Ritter von Abrahamowicz, has been throttling the Rules; that the Opposition are in an inflammable state in consequence, and that the night session is likely to be of an exciting sort.

The gallery guests are fashionably dressed, and the finery of the women makes a bright and pretty show under the strong electric light. But down on the floor there is no costumery.

The deputies are dressed in day clothes; some of the clothes neat and trim, others not; there may be three members in evening dress, but not more. There are several Catholic priests in their long black gowns, and with crucifixes hanging from their necks. No member wears his hat. One may see by these details that the aspects are not those of an evening sitting of an English House of Commons, but rather those of a sitting of our House of Representatives.

In his high place sits the President, Abrahamowicz, object of the Opposition’s limitless hatred. He is sunk back in the depths of his armchair, and has his chin down. He brings the ends of his spread fingers together, in front of his breast, and reflectively taps them together, with the air of one who would like to begin business, but must wait, and be as patient as he can. It makes you think of Richelieu. Now and then he swings his head up to the left or to the right and answers something which some one has bent down to say to him. Then he taps his fingers again. He looks tired, and maybe a trifle harassed. He is a grayhaired, long, slender man, with a colourless long face, which, in repose, suggests a death-mask; but when not in repose is tossed and rippled by a turbulent smile which washes this way and that, and is not easy to keep up with—a pious smile, a holy smile, a saintly smile, a deprecating smile, a beseeching and supplicating smile; and when it is at work the large mouth opens, and the flexible lips crumple, and unfold, and crumple again, and move around in a genial and persuasive and angelic way, and expose large glimpses of the teeth; and that interrupts the sacredness of the smile and gives it momentarily a mixed worldly and political and satanic cast. It is a most interesting face to watch. And then the long hands and the body—they furnish great and frequent help to the face in the business of adding to the force of the statesman’s words.

To change the tense. At the time of which I have just been speaking the crowds in the galleries were gazing at the stage and the pit with rapt interest and expectancy. One half of the great fan of desks was in effect empty, vacant; in the other half several hundred members were bunched and jammed together as solidly as the bristles in a brush; and they also were waiting and expecting. Presently the Chair delivered this utterance:

’Dr. Lecher has the floor.’

Then burst out such another wild and frantic and deafening clamour as has not been heard on this planet since the last time the Comanches surprised a white settlement at night. Yells from the Left, counter-yells from the Right, explosions of yells from all sides at once, and all the air sawed and pawed and clawed and cloven by a writhing confusion of gesturing arms and hands. Out of the midst of this thunder and turmoil and tempest rose Dr. Lecher, serene and collected, and the providential length of his enabled his head to show out of it. He began his twelve-hour speech. At any rate, his lips could be seen to move, and that was evidence. On high sat the President, imploring order, with his long hands put together as in prayer, and his lips visibly but not hearably speaking. At intervals he grasped his bell and swung it up and down with vigour, adding its keen clamour to the storm weltering there below.

Dr. Lecher went on with his pantomime speech, contented, untroubled. Here and there and now and then powerful voices burst above the din, and delivered an ejaculation that was heard. Then the din ceased for a moment or two, and gave opportunity to hear what the Chair might answer; then the noise broke out again. Apparently the President was being charged with all sorts of illegal exercises of power in the interest of the Right (the Government side): among these, with arbitrarily closing an Order of Business before it was finished; with an unfair distribution of the right to the floor; with refusal of the floor, upon quibble and protest, to members entitled to it; with stopping a speaker’s speech upon quibble and protest; and with other transgressions of the Rules of the House. One of the interrupters who made himself heard was a young fellow of slight build and neat dress, who stood a little apart from the solid crowd and leaned negligently, with folded arms and feet crossed, against a desk. Trim and handsome; strong face and thin features; black hair roughed up; parsimonious moustache; resonant great voice, of good tone and pitch. It is Wolf, capable and hospitable with sword and pistol; fighter of the recent duel with Count Badeni, the head of the Government. He shot Badeni through the arm and then walked over in the politest way and inspected his game, shook hands, expressed regret, and all that. Out of him came early this thundering peal, audible above the storm:

’I demand the floor. I wish to offer a motion.’

In the sudden lull which followed, the President answered, ’Dr. Lecher has the floor.’

Wolf. ’I move the close of the sitting!’

P. ’Representative Lecher has the floor.’ [Stormy outburst from the Left—that is, the Opposition.]

Wolf. ’I demand the floor for the introduction of a formal notion. [Pause]. Mr. President, are you going to grant it, or not? [Crash of approval from the Left.] I will keep on demanding the floor till I get it.’

P. ’I call Representative Wolf to order. Dr. Lecher has the floor.’

Wolf. ’Mr. President, are you going to observe the Rules of this House?’ [Tempest of applause and confused ejaculations from the Left—a boom and roar which long endured, and stopped all business for the time being.]

Dr. von Pessler. ’By the Rules motions are in order, and the Chair must put them to vote.’

For answer the President (who is a Pole—I make this remark in passing) began to jangle his bell with energy at the moment that that wild pandemonium of voices broke out again.

Wolf (hearable above the storm). ’Mr. President, I demand the floor. We intend to find out, here and now, which is the hardest, a Pole’s skull or a German’s!’

This brought out a perfect cyclone of satisfaction from the Left. In the midst of it someone again moved an Adjournment. The President blandly answered that Dr. Lecher had the floor. Which was true; and he was speaking, too, calmly, earnestly, and argumentatively; and the official stenographers had left their places and were at his elbows taking down his words, he leaning and orating into their ears—a most curious and interesting scene.

Dr. von Pessler (to the Chair). ’Do not drive us to extremities!’

The tempest burst out again: yells of approval from the Left, catcalls and ironical laughter from the Right. At this point a new and most effective noise-maker was pressed into service. Each desk has an extension, consisting of a removable board eighteen inches long, six wide, and a half-inch thick. A member pulled one of these out and began to belabour the top of his desk with it. Instantly other members followed suit, and perhaps you can imagine the result. Of all conceivable rackets it is the most ear-splitting, intolerable, and altogether fiendish.

The persecuted President leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, clasped his hands in his lap, and a look of pathetic resignation crept over his long face. It is the way a country schoolmaster used to look in days long past when he had refused his school a holiday and it had risen against him in ill-mannered riot and violence and insurrection. Twice a motion to adjourn had been offered—a motion always in order in other Houses, and doubtless so in this one also. The President had refused to put these motions. By consequence, he was not in a pleasant place now, and was having a right hard time. Votes upon motions, whether carried or defeated, could make endless delay, and postpone the Ausgleich to next century.

In the midst of these sorrowful circumstances and this hurricane of yells and screams and satanic clatter of desk-boards, Representative Dr. Kronawetter unfeelingly reminds the Chair that a motion has been offered, and adds: ’Say yes, or no! What do you sit there for, and give no answer?’

P. ’After I have given a speaker the floor, I cannot give it to another. After Dr. Lecher is through, I will put your motion.’ [Storm of indignation from the Left.]

Wolf (to the Chair). ’Thunder and lightning! look at the Rule governing the case!’

Kronawetter. ’I move the close of the sitting! And I demand the ayes and noes!’

Dr. Lecher. ’Mr. President, have I the floor?’

P. ’You have the floor.’

Wolf (to the Chair, in a stentorian voice which cleaves its way through the storm). ’It is by such brutalities as these that you drive us to extremities! Are you waiting till someone shall throw into your face the word that shall describe what you are bringing about?[1] [Tempest of insulted fury from the Right.] Is that what you are waiting for, old Grayhead?’ [Long-continued clatter of desk-boards from the Left, with shouts of ’The vote! the vote!’ An ironical shout from the Right, ’Wolf is boss!’]

Wolf keeps on demanding the floor for his motion. At length—

P. ’ I call Representative Wolf to order! Your conduct is unheard of, sir! You forget that you are in a parliament; you must remember where you are, sir.’ [Applause from the Right. Dr. Lecher is still peacefully speaking, the stenographers listening at his lips.]

Wolf (banging on his desk with his desk-board). ’I demand the floor for my motion! I won’t stand this trampling of the Rules under foot—no, not if I die for it! I will never yield. You have got to stop me by force. Have I the floor?’

P. ’Representative Wolf, what kind of behaviour is this? I call you to order again. You should have some regard for your dignity.’

Dr. Lecher speaks on. Wolf turns upon him with an offensive innuendo.

Dr. Lecher. ’Mr. Wolf, I beg you to refrain from that sort of suggestions.’ [Storm of hand-clapping from the Right.]

This was applause from the enemy, for Lecher himself, like Wolf, was an Obstructionist.

Wolf growls to Lecher, ’You can scribble that applause in your album!’

P. ’Once more I call Representative Wolf to order! Do not forget that you are a Representative, sir!’

Wolf (slam-banging with his desk-board). ’I will force this matter! Are you going to grant me the floor, or not?’

And still the sergeant-at-arms did not appear. It was because there wasn’t any. It is a curious thing, but the Chair has no effectual means of compelling order.

After some more interruptions:

Wolf (banging with his board). ’I demand the floor. I will not yield!’

P. ’I have no recourse against Representative Wolf. In the presence of behaviour like this it is to be regretted that such is the case.’ [A shout from the Right, ’Throw him out!’]

It is true he had no effective recourse. He had an official called an ’Ordner,’ whose help he could invoke in desperate cases, but apparently the Ordner is only a persuader, not a compeller. Apparently he is a sergeant-at-arms who is not loaded; a good enough gun to look at, but not valuable for business.

For another twenty or thirty minutes Wolf went on banging with his board and demanding his rights; then at last the weary President threatened to summon the dread order-maker. But both his manner and his words were reluctant. Evidently it grieved him to have to resort to this dire extremity. He said to Wolf, ’If this goes on, I shall feel obliged to summon the Ordner, and beg him to restore order in the House.’

Wolf. ’I’d like to see you do it! Suppose you fetch in a few policemen too! [Great tumult.] Are you going to put my motion to adjourn, or not?’

Dr. Lecher continues his speech. Wolf accompanies him with his boardclatter.

The President despatches the Ordner, Dr. Lang (himself a deputy), on his order-restoring mission. Wolf, with his board uplifted for defence, confronts the Ordner with a remark which Boss Tweed might have translated into ’Now let’s see what you are going to do about it!’ [Noise and tumult all over the House.]

Wolf stands upon his rights, and says he will maintain them until he is killed in his tracks. Then he resumes his banging, the President jangles his bell and begs for order, and the rest of the House augments the racket the best it can.

Wolf. ’I require an adjournment, because I find myself personally threatened. [Laughter from the Right.] Not that I fear for myself; I am only anxious about what will happen to the man who touches me.’

The Ordner. ’I am not going to fight with you.’

Nothing came of the efforts of the angel of peace, and he presently melted out of the scene and disappeared. Wolf went on with his noise and with his demands that he be granted the floor, resting his board at intervals to discharge criticisms and epithets at the Chair. Once he reminded the Chairman of his violated promise to grant him (Wolf) the floor, and said, ’Whence I came, we call promise-breakers rascals!’ And he advised the Chairman to take his conscience to bed with him and use it as a pillow. Another time he said that the Chair was making itself ridiculous before all Europe. In fact, some of Wolf’s language was almost unparliamentary. By-and-by he struck the idea of beating out a tune with his board. Later he decided to stop asking for the floor, and to confer it upon himself. And so he and Dr. Lecher now spoke at the same time, and mingled their speeches with the other noises, and nobody heard either of them. Wolf rested himself now and then from speechmaking by reading, in his clarion voice, from a pamphlet.

I will explain that Dr. Lecher was not making a twelve-hour speech for pastime, but for an important purpose. It was the Government’s intention to push the Ausgleich through its preliminary stages in this one sitting (for which it was the Order of the Day), and then by vote refer it to a select committee. It was the Majority’s scheme—as charged by the Opposition—to drown debate upon the bill by pure noise—drown it out and stop it. The debate being thus ended, the vote upon the reference would follow—with victory for the Government. But into the Government’s calculations had not entered the possibility of a single-barrelled speech which should occupy the entire time-limit of the setting, and also get itself delivered in spite of all the noise. Goliath was not expecting David. But David was there; and during twelve hours he tranquilly pulled statistical, historical, and argumentative pebbles out of his scrip and slung them at the giant; and when he was done he was victor, and the day was saved.

In the English House an obstructionist has held the floor with Biblereadings and other outside matters; but Dr. Lecher could not have that restful and recuperative privilege—he must confine himself strictly to the subject before the House. More than once, when the President could not hear him because of the general tumult, he sent persons to listen and report as to whether the orator was speaking to the subject or not.

The subject was a peculiarly difficult one, and it would have troubled any other deputy to stick to it three hours without exhausting his ammunition, because it required a vast and intimate knowledge—detailed and particularised knowledge—of the commercial, railroading, financial, and international banking relations existing between two great sovereignties, Hungary and the Empire. But Dr. Lecher is President of the Board of Trade of his city of Brunn, and was master of the situation. His speech was not formally prepared. He had a few notes jotted down for his guidance; he had his facts in his head; his heard was in his work; and for twelve hours he stood there, undisturbed by the clamour around him, and with grace and ease and confidence poured out the riches of his mind, in closely reasoned arguments, clothed in eloquent and faultless phrasing.

He is a young man of thirty-seven. He is tall and well-proportioned, and has cultivated and fortified his muscle by mountain-climbing. If he were a little handsomer he would sufficiently reproduce for me the Chauncey Depew of the great New England dinner nights of some years ago; he has Depew’s charm of manner and graces of language and delivery.

There was but one way for Dr. Lecher to hold the floor—he must stay on his legs. If he should sit down to rest a moment, the floor would be taken from him by the enemy in the Chair. When he had been talking three or four hours he himself proposed an adjournment, in order that he might get some rest from his wearing labours; but he limited his motion with the condition that if it was lost he should be allowed to continue his speech, and if it was carried he should have the floor at the next sitting. Wolf was now appeased, and withdrew his own thousand-timesoffered motion, and Dr. Lecher’s was voted upon—and lost. So he went on speaking.

By one o’clock in the morning, excitement and noise-making had tired out nearly everybody but the orator. Gradually the seats of the Right underwent depopulation; the occupants had slipped out to the refreshmentrooms to eat and drink, or to the corridors to chat. Some one remarked that there was no longer a quorum present, and moved a call of the House. The Chair (Vice-President Dr. Kramarz) refused to put it to vote. There was a small dispute over the legality of this ruling, but the Chair held its ground.

The Left remained on the battle-field to support their champion. He went steadily on with his speech; and always it was strong, virile, felicitous, and to the point. He was earning applause, and this enabled his party to turn that fact to account. Now and then they applauded him a couple of minutes on a stretch, and during that time he could stop speaking and rest his voice without having the floor taken from him.

At a quarter to two a member of the Left demanded that Dr. Lecher be allowed a recess for rest, and said that the Chairman was ’heartless.’ Dr. Lecher himself asked for ten minutes. The Chair allowed him five. Before the time had run out Dr. Lecher was on his feet again.

Wolf burst out again with a motion to adjourn. Refused by the Chair. Wolf said the whole Parliament wasn’t worth a pinch of powder. The Chair retorted that that was true in a case where a single member was able to make all parliamentary business impossible. Dr. Lecher continued his speech.

The members of the Majority went out by detachments from time to time and took naps upon sofas in the reception-rooms; and also refreshed themselves with food and drink—in quantities nearly unbelievable—but the Minority stayed loyally by their champion. Some distinguished deputies of the Majority stayed by him too, compelled thereto by admiration of his great performance. When a man has been speaking eight hours, is it conceivable that he can still be interesting, still fascinating? When Dr. Lecher had been speaking eight hours he was still compactly surrounded by friends who would not leave him, and by foes (of all parties) who could not; and all hung enchanted and wondering upon his words, and all testified their admiration with constant and cordial outbursts of applause. Surely this was a triumph without precedent in history.

During the twelve-hour effort friends brought to the orator three glasses of wine, four cups of coffee, and one glass of beer—a most stingy reenforcement of his wasting tissues, but the hostile Chair would permit no addition to it. But, no matter, the Chair could not beat that man. He was a garrison holding a fort, and was not to be starved out.

When he had been speaking eight hours his pulse was 72; when he had spoken twelve, it was 100.

He finished his long speech in these terms, as nearly as a permissibly free translation can convey them:

’I will now hasten to close my examination of the subject. I conceive that we of the Left have made it clear to the honourable gentlemen of the other side of the House that we are stirred by no intemperate enthusiasm for this measure in its present shape...

’What we require, and shall fight for with all lawful weapons, is a formal, comprehensive, and definitive solution and settlement of these vexed matters. We desire the restoration of the earlier condition of things; the cancellation of all this incapable Government’s pernicious trades with Hungary; and then—release from the sorry burden of the Badeni ministry!

’I voice the hope—I know not if it will be fulfilled—I voice the deep and sincere and patriotic hope that the committee into whose hands this bill will eventually be committed will take its stand upon high ground, and will return the Ausgleich-Provisorium to this House in a form which shall make it the protector and promoter alike of the great interests involved and of the honour of our fatherland.’ After a pause, turning towards the Government benches: ’But in any case, gentlemen of the Majority, make sure of this: henceforth, as before, you find us at our post. The Germans of Austria will neither surrender nor die!’

Then burst a storm of applause which rose and fell, rose and fell, burst out again and again and again, explosion after explosion, hurricane after hurricane, with no apparent promise of ever coming to an end; and meantime the whole Left was surging and weltering about the champion, all bent upon wringing his hand and congratulating him and glorifying him.

Finally he got away, and went home and ate five loaves and twelve baskets of fish, read the morning papers, slept three hours, took a short drive, then returned to the House, and sat out the rest of the thirty-three-hour session.

To merely stand up in one spot twelve hours on a stretch is a feat which very few men could achieve; to add to the task the utterance of a hundred thousand words would be beyond the possibilities of the most of those few; to superimpose the requirement that the words should be put into the form of a compact, coherent, and symmetrical oration would probably rule out the rest of the few, bar Dr. Lecher.


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Chicago: Mark Twain, "II. A Memorable Sitting.," The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed August 22, 2019,

MLA: Twain, Mark. "II. A Memorable Sitting." The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 22 Aug. 2019.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'II. A Memorable Sitting.' in The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 August 2019, from