Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Doctor of Letters

“Now then, to me university degrees are unearned finds, and they bring the joy that belongs with property acquired in that way… It pleased me beyond measure when Yale made me a Master of Arts, because I didn’t know anything about art; I had another convulsion of pleasure when Yale made me a Doctor of Literature, because I was not competent to doctor anybody’s literature but my own, and couldn’t even keep my own in a healthy condition without my wife’s help.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, University of California Press, Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3: The Complete and Authoritative Edition,” by Mark Twain, October 15, 2015. (top) “Postage stamp with portrait of Mark Twain. The card is postmarked with a Bicentennial Station postmark at Hartford, CT 06101, on July 4, 1976. Information on the back reads: ‘Mark Twain – Samuel Langhorne Clemens – at the height of his fame as a literary figure. His genius was not only for humor and adventure: he was known also for his great humanity and vision. Still tremendously popular in America, his works are also translated into nearly every foreign language; he is the most read American author throughout the world.'” Image courtesy of Hartford Public Library, Hartford History Center, Dexter Press, “Mark Twain Bicentennial stamp,” 1976

“Tuesday morning, the twenty-second, was filled with addresses around campus expounding on Yale’s various roles in the world of the present. The afternoon offered football games, with a student dramatic performance later that included the singing of college songs, and an evening illumination of the campus to highlight scenes from Yale’s long history. Commemoration exercises were held in the Hyperion Theater Wednesday morning at 10:30 A.M. David Josiah Brewer, Justice of the United States Supreme Court, addressed the assembly, after which the honorary degrees were bestowed. Candidates on stage rose as their names were called and stood before the president of the university while he read each citation and conferred the appropriate honor. Marshals would then invest the gentlemen with the academic hood and usher him back to his seat. Later in the afternoon, guests were welcomed at a concert on campus by the Boston Symphony University Orchestra; and a farewell reception at University Hall at 5 P.M. concluded the festivities.

The list of degree honorees was impressive. The roll call rumbles solemnly down the page: professors, university presidents, the current secretary of state, a Shakespeare scholar, an artist, a bishop, an archbishop, each saluted with a single-sentence encapsulating the reason for the bestowal. Authors and editors hear their names called alphabetically. One by one they rise: Thomas Bailey Aldrich, George Washington Cable — until only at the third name do the proceedings suddenly leap from the page in noisy jubilation as a familiar figure stands (his trim build, his abundant white hair, his droopy mustache), the audience uniquely greeting the seven syllables of the name with loud cheers and sustained applause. ‘For whom…’ Arthur Twining Hadley begins; is Yale’s president ad-libbing, responding to the sudden happy clamor all around him in the theater, or has the written tribute anticipated what would happen when that particular name was sounded? The dry account of the proceedings records SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS, and President Hadley pronounces when he can: ‘For whom the universal acclaim which has just now been heard renders any assignment of reasons a work of supererogation, we confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Letters and admit you all its rights and privileges.’

A behooded Mark Twain is led back to his seat in a hall suddenly alive with good feeling as the names roll on…

The Reverend Joseph Hopkins Twichell, M.A., Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation, dear friend of more than thirty years… had written his onetime Hartford neighbor some weeks before: ‘I want you to understand, old fellow, that it will be in its intention’ — this conferring of the most exalted rank that an American institution of learning had at its bestowal — ‘the highest public compliment, and emphatically so in your case, for it will be tendered you by a corporation of gentlemen, the majority of whom do not at all agree with the views on important questions which you have lately promulgated in speech and in writing, and with which you are identified in the public mind.’ Of course the Yale Corporation acknowledged Mark Twain’s right to express his opinions, on the Philippines as on all else; but it was Mark Twain as man of letters, Samuel Langhorne Clemens as man of letters that Yale was saluting, not the social activist, the anti-imperialist gadfly.

Salute him Yale did, this much loved figure seated on stage in the Hyperion Theater as the names rumbled solemnly on through an October morning… “
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century,” by Philip McFarland, 2014

-Image courtesy of, The Library of Congress, “Men of New Haven in Cartoon,” author unknown, 1906

Mark Twain regarding Yale President Arthur Twining Hadley

“Now there’s a very remarkable man. I’ll never forget what he said about me, the day I was invited by Yale to come up and be given a degree. The great platform was filled with men to be honored. Our writer group was put somewhat upstage. Quite a few of the boys were there, Howells, Cable and other writers I knew; and as each was called down to receive his degree, President Hadley in a few words gave a most wonderful summing up of the character and achievements of each. As each came back, he’d whisper to me: ‘Sam, what will Hadley say about you and your dark and checkered career?’ They made me so nervous I couldn’t sit still. At last my turn came. Downstage I walked. When an official called the name of Samuel Clemens, the New Haven boys all rose to their feet and made quite a noise. When at last it was over, Hadley declared: ‘After this demonstration, anything I could say would be useless.’ Hooded and honored I came back without knowing what Hadley had meant to say. I was disappointed and so were the boys. But one of them told me, at the end of the ceremonies that day: ‘Sam, every speech that Hadley made was written ahead in a little book, which is in the hands of his secretary, that young woman over there.’ Eagerly I went to her and never have I flattered a female as I did that young woman that day. At last she let me see the book. As I turned the pages, every speech exactly as it had been spoken was there. Faster I turned them with feverish hands! And on the last page I read these lines: ‘Samuel Clemens. After this demonstration anything I could say would be useless.’”
-Excerpt courtesy of, Phillips Academy, Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, “The bridge; my own story,” by Ernest Poole, 1940

“Mark Twain in college cap and gown. S.L. Clemens.” -Image courtesy of the University of California at Riverside, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR / California Museum of Photography, published by Underwood & Underwood, creator and date unknown


Willing to be a Master of Arts.

“To be made a master of arts by your venerable college is an event of large size to me, and a distinction which gratifies me quite as much as if I deserved it. To be noticed in this way by the university would be pleasing to me at any time, but it is peculiarly so at this juncture… Ours is a useful trade, a worthy calling; that with all its lightness and frivolity it has one serious purpose, one aim, one specialty, and it is constant to it — the deriding of shams, the exposure of pretentious falsities, the laughing of stupid superstitions out of existence; and that whoso is by instinct engaged in this sort of warfare is the natural enemy of royalties, nobilities, privileges and all kindred swindles, and the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, The Hartford Courant, Mark Twain’s letter to Yale University President Timothy Dwight, reprinted, Friday, June 29, 1888

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