Mark Twain on Being a Clown

Mark Twain on Being a Clown, by Robert Edmund Sherwood, from Here We Are Again

I have ridden in Venetian gondolas to the music of tinkling mandolins; shaken the hands of Queen Victoria and John L. Sullivan; and slept under the stars in the Grand Canyon and the Valley of the Yosemite. I would willingly forego the memory of them all, could I once again site outside a circus tent, with the stars twinkling overhead, and listen to Mark Twain tell of his experiences as a pilot on the Mississippi River steamboat.

Picture, if you can, a perfect night in June. Now and again the faint strains of “The Blue Danube Waltz” came to our ours, which told that the Hasselback Brothers were doing their double trapeze act; then the music would change to a lively gallop as Billy Sholes turned backward somersaults on a flying horse, whose broad back was well resined to prevent slipping.

There I sat entranced, listening to Mark’s stories, until the  boom of a gun warned me that Mademoiselle Zazel, the human projectile, had been catapulted from a canon into the outstretched arms of her assistant, hanging from a trapeze forty feet from her starting point. That was my cue for reappearance [as a clown] and I tore myself away, only to return at the first opportunity.

Mark Twain repeatedly confessed to me his ambition to become a clown. At first I thought he was joking; later I found he really was in earnest. I ridiculed the idea, and inquired of him why a man who could write such books as he, wanted to become a common clown.

“Well, Bob,” he replied, “I think it would be a very satisfying sensation when you come to a ripe old age, to feel and know that you had made people happy — children especially.”

At the time I had thought him sentimental; but since I have arrived at a sedate age, I have come to know that he had the true conception of life — making people happy. I would rather take a hundred hungry, ragged youngsters to the circus and fill them up with peanuts and lemonade, than attend a big banquet given to royalty.

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