An Encounter With An Interviewer by Mark Twain
The nervous, dapper, "peart" young man took the chair I offered
him, and said he was connected with the Daily Thunderstorm, and added:
"Hoping it's no harm, I've come to interview you."
"Come to what?"
"Ah! I see. Yes--yes. Um! Yes--yes."
I was not feeling bright that morning. Indeed, my powers seemed a
bit under a cloud. However, I went to the bookcase, and when I had
been looking six or seven minutes I found I was obliged to refer to
the young man. I said:
"How do you spell it?"
"Oh, my goodness! what do you want to spell it for?"
"I don't want to spell it; I want to see what it means."
"Well, this is astonishing, I must say. I can tell you what it
means, if you--if you--"
"Oh, all right! That will answer, and much obliged to you, too."
"In, in, ter, ter, inter--"
"Then you spell it with an h"
"Oh, that is what took me so long."
"Why, my dear sir, what did you propose to spell it with?"
"Well, I--I--hardly know. I had the Unabridged, and I was
ciphering around in the back end, hoping I might tree her among the
pictures. But it's a very old edition."
"Why, my friend, they wouldn't have a picture of it in even the
latest e-- My dear sir, I beg your pardon, I mean no harm in the
world, but you do not look as--as--intelligent as I had expected you
would. No harm-- I mean no harm at all."
"Oh, don't mention it! It has often been said, and by people who
would not flatter and who could have no inducement to flatter, that I
am quite remarkable in that way. Yes--yes; they always speak of it
"I can easily imagine it. But about this interview. You know it
is the custom, now, to interview any man who has become notorious."
"Indeed, I had not heard of it before. It must be very
interesting. What do you do it with?"
"Ah, well--well--well--this is disheartening. It ought to be done
with a club in some cases; but customarily it consists in the
interviewer asking questions and the interviewed answering them. It
is all the rage now. Will you let me ask you certain questions
calculated to bring out the salient points of your public and private
"Oh, with pleasure--with pleasure. I have a very bad memory, but I
hope you will not mind that. That is to say, it is an irregular
memory-- singularly irregular. Sometimes it goes in a gallop, and
then again it will be as much as a fortnight passing a given point.
This is a great grief to me."
"Oh, it is no matter, so you will try to do the best you can."
"I will. I will put my whole mind on it."
"Thanks. Are you ready to begin?"
Q. How old are you?
A. Nineteen, in June.
Q. Indeed. I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six.
Where were you born?
A. In Missouri.
Q. When did you begin to write?
A. In 1836.
Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?
A. I don't know. It does seem curious, somehow.
Q. It does, indeed. Whom do you consider the most remarkable man
you ever met?
A. Aaron Burr.
Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only
A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me
Q. Well, it was only a suggestion; nothing more. How did you
happen to meet Burr?
A. Well, I happened to be at his funeral one day, and he asked me
to make less noise, and--
Q. But, good heavens! if you were at his funeral, he must have
been dead, and if he was dead how could he care whether you made a
noise or not?
A. I don't know. He was always a particular kind of a man that
Q. Still, I don't understand it at all, You say he spoke to you,
and that he was dead.
A. I didn't say he was dead.
Q. But wasn't he dead?
A. Well, some said he was, some said he wasn't.
Q. What did you think?
A. Oh, it was none of my business! It wasn't any of my funeral.
Q. Did you-- However, we can never get this matter straight. Let
me ask about something else. What was the date of your birth?
A. Monday, October 31, 1693.
Q. What! Impossible! That would make you a hundred and eighty
years old. How do you account for that?
A. I don't account for it at all.
Q. But you said at first you were only nineteen, and now you make
yourself out to be one hundred and eighty. It is an awful
A. Why, have you noticed that? (Shaking hands.) Many a time it
has seemed to me like a discrepancy, but somehow I couldn't make up my
mind. How quick you notice a thing!
Q. Thank you for the compliment, as far as it goes. Had you, or
have you, any brothers or sisters?
A. Eh! I--I--I think so--yes--but I don't remember.
Q. Well, that is the most extraordinary statement I ever heard!
A. Why, what makes you think that?
Q. How could I think otherwise? Why, look here! Who is this a
picture of on the wall? Isn't that a brother of yours?
A. Oh, yes, yes, yes! Now you remind me of it; that was a brother
of mine. That's William--Bill we called him. Poor old Bill!
Q. Why? Is he dead, then?
A. Ah! well, I suppose so. We never could tell. There was a
great mystery about it.
Q. That is sad, very sad. He disappeared, then?
A. Well, yes, in a sort of general way. We buried him.
Q. Buried him! Buried him, without knowing whether he was dead or
A. Oh, no! Not that. He was dead enough.
Q. Well, I confess that I can't understand this. If you buried
him, and you knew he was dead
A. No! no! We only thought he was.
Q. Oh, I see! He came to life again?
A. I bet he didn't.
Q. Well, I never heard anything like this. Somebody was dead.
Somebody was buried. Now, where was the mystery?
A. Ah! that's just it! That's it exactly. You see, we were
twins-- defunct--and I--and we got mixed in the bathtub when we were
only two weeks old, and one of us was drowned. But we didn't know
which. Some think it was Bill. Some think it was me.
Q. Well, that is remarkable. What do you think?
A. Goodness knows! I would give whole worlds to know. This
solemn, this awful mystery has cast a gloom over my whole life. But I
will tell you a secret now, which I never have revealed to any
creature before. One of us had a peculiar mark--a large mole on the
back of his left hand; that was me. That child was the one that was
Q. Very well, then, I don't see that there is any mystery about
it, after all.
A. You don't? Well, I do. Anyway, I don't see how they could
ever have been such a blundering lot as to go and bury the wrong
child. But, 'sh! --don't mention it where the family can hear of it.
Heaven knows they have heartbreaking troubles enough without adding
Q. Well, I believe I have got material enough for the present, and
I am very much obliged to you for the pains you have taken. But I was
a good deal interested in that account of Aaron Burr's funeral. Would
you mind telling me what particular circumstance it was that made you
think Burr was such a remarkable man?
A. Oh! it was a mere trifle! Not one man in fifty would have
noticed it at all. When the sermon was over, and the procession all
ready to start for the cemetery, and the body all arranged nice in the
hearse, he said he wanted to take a last look at the scenery, and so
he got up and rode with the driver.
Then the young man reverently withdrew. He was very pleasant
company, and I was sorry to see him go.