This was a speech that Mark Train gave at a party given by the mayor of Liverpool in 1907, the day before he set sail back to the states. When he returned he gave the speech again at the famous Lotus Club in New York to thunderous applause.
I’m not sure the connection, I’ll have to check it out but the publisher of Mark Twain had a farm here in Clove Valley. The farm is still here, all the books in the library here went to the library at Vassar College when the original family sold the farm. I think the name was McKinney but I’ll report back after checking with the Union Vale Historical Society.
“Many and many a year ago I read an anecdote in Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. A frivolous little self-important captain of a coasting-sloop in the dried-apple and kitchen-furniture trade was always hailing every vessel that came in sight, just to hear himself talk and air his small grandeurs. One day a majestic Indiaman came ploughing by, with course on course of canvas towering into the sky, her decks and yards swarming with sailors, with macaws and monkeys and all manner of strange and romantic creatures populating her rigging, and thereto her freightage of precious spices lading the breeze with gracious and mysterious odors of the Orient. Of course, the little coaster-captain hopped into the shrouds and squeaked a hail: Ship ahoy! What ship is that, and whence and whither?’ In a deep and thunderous bass came the answer back, through a speaking-trumpet: The Begum of Bengal, a hundred and twenty-three days out from Canton — homeward bound! What ship is that?’ The little captain’s vanity was all crushed out of him, and most humbly he squeaked back: Only the Mary Ann, fourteen hours out from Boston, bound for Kittery Point with nothing to speak of!’ That eloquent word only’ expressed the deeps of his stricken humbleness.
And what is my case? During perhaps one hour in the twenty four — not more than that — I stop and reflect. Then I am humble then I am properly meek, and for that little time I am only the Mary Ann’ — fourteen hours out, and cargoed with vegetables and tin-ware: but all the other twenty-three my self-satisfaction rides high, and I am the stately Indiaman, plowing the great seas under a cloud of sail, and laden with a rich freightage of the kindest words that were ever spoken to a wandering alien, I think; my twenty-six crowded and fortunate days multiplied by five; and I am the Begum of Bengal, a hundred and twenty-three days out from Canton. Homeward bound!”
The audience sat spellbound, in almost painful silence, till it could restrain itself no longer; and when in rich, resonant, uplifted voice Mark Twain sang out the words: “I am the Begum of Bengal a hundred and twenty-three days out from Canton,” there burst forth a great cheer from one end of the room to the other. It seemed an inopportune cheer, and for a moment it upset the orator: yet it was felicitous in opportuneness. Slowly, after a long pause, came the last two words — like that curious, detached and high note on which a great piece of music suddenly ends — “Homeward bound.” Again there was a cheer: but this time it was lower; it was subdued it was the fitting echo to the beautiful words — with their double significance — the parting from a hospitable land, the return to the native land — wail and paean, paean and wail. Only a great litterateur could have conceived such a passage: only a great orator could have so delivered it.