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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tom Swenson <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 13 Apr 2004 23:22:19 EDT
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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My heart is with you and your family during this rough time. Two

The Begum of Bengal--

"Many and many a year ago I gathered an incident from
     Dana's Two Years Before the Mast.  It was like this: There was a
     presumptuous little self-important skipper in a coasting sloop
     engaged in the dried-apple and kitchen-furniture trade, and he was
     always hailing every ship that came in sight.  He did it just to
     hear himself talk and to air his small grandeur.  One day a majestic
     Indiaman came plowing by with course on course of canvas towering
     into the sky, her decks and yards swarming with sailors, her hull
     burdened to the Plimsoll line with a rich freightage of precious
     spices, lading the breezes with gracious and mysterious odors of the
     Orient.  It was a noble spectacle, a sublime spectacle!  Of course
     the little skipper popped into the shrouds and squeaked out a hail,
     "Ship ahoy!  What ship is that?  And whence and whither?"  In a deep
     and thunderous bass the answer came back through the speaking-
     trumpet, "The Begum, of Bengal--142 days out from Canton--homeward
     bound!  What ship is that?"  Well, it just crushed that poor little
     creature's vanity flat, and he squeaked back most humbly, "Only the
     Mary Ann, fourteen hours out from Boston, bound for Kittery Point--
     with nothing to speak of!"  Oh, what an eloquent word that "only,"
     to express the depths of his humbleness!  That is just my case.
     During just one hour in the twenty-four--not more--I pause and
     reflect in the stillness of the night with the echoes of your
     English welcome still lingering in my ears, and then I am humble.
     Then I am properly meek, and for that little while I am only the
     Mary Ann, fourteen hours out, cargoed with vegetables and tinware;
     but during all the other twenty-three hours my vain self-complacency
     rides high on the white crests of your approval, and then I am a
     stately Indiaman, plowing the great seas under a cloud of canvas and
     laden with the kindest words that have ever been vouchsafed to any
     wandering alien in this world, I think; then my twenty-six fortunate
     days on this old mother soil seem to be multiplied by six, and I am
     the Begum, of Bengal, 142 days out from Canton--homeward bound!"

Second, this is the poem he wrote to his wife, Livy, February, 1904, when
was on her deathbed. He wasn't allowed to see her, but could write her...

Goodnight, Sweetheart, goodnight --
The stars are burning bright,
The snow is turning white,
Dim is the failing light,
Fast falls the glooming night, --
        All right!
        Sleep tight!

There was also a favorite poem of Twain's that he carried in his wallet, I
believe, by another writer. It concerned death, but as I remember it the
was very ponderous and overdone -- but if I happen on it, I will forward
that to
you as well.


Tom Swenson