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    The Memorable Assassination

    by Mark Twain
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    Note.--The assassination of the Empress of Austria at
    Geneva, September 10, 1898, occurred during Mark Twain's Austrian
    residence. The news came to him at Kaltenleutgeben, a summer
    resort a little way out of Vienna. To his friend, the Rev. Jos.
    H. Twichell, he wrote:

    "That good and unoffending lady, the Empress, is killed by a
    madman, and I am living in the midst of world-history again. The
    Queen's Jubilee last year, the invasion of the Reichsrath by the
    police, and now this murder, which will still be talked of and
    described and painted a thousand a thousand years from now. To
    have a personal friend of the wearer of two crowns burst in at
    the gate in the deep dusk of the evening and say, in a voice
    broken with tears, 'My God! the Empress is murdered,' and fly
    toward her home before we can utter a question--why, it brings
    the giant event home to you, makes you a part of it and
    personally interested; it is as if your neighbor, Antony, should
    come flying and say, 'Caesar is butchered--the head of the world
    is fallen!'

    "Of course there is no talk but of this. The mourning is
    universal and genuine, the consternation is stupefying. The
    Austrian Empire is being draped with black. Vienna will be a
    spectacle to see by next Saturday, when the funeral cort'ege

    He was strongly moved by the tragedy, impelled to write
    concerning it. He prepared the article which follows, but did
    not offer it for publication, perhaps feeling that his own close
    association with the court circles at the moment prohibited this
    personal utterance. There appears no such reason for withholding
    its publication now.

    A. B. P.

    The more one thinks of the assassination, the more imposing
    and tremendous the event becomes. The destruction of a city is a
    large event, but it is one which repeats itself several times in
    a thousand years; the destruction of a third part of a nation by
    plague and famine is a large event, but it has happened several
    times in history; the murder of a king is a large event, but it
    has been frequent.

    The murder of an empress is the largest of all events. One
    must go back about two thousand years to find an instance to put
    with this one. The oldest family of unchallenged descent in
    Christendom lives in Rome and traces its line back seventeen
    hundred years, but no member of it has been present in the earth
    when an empress was murdered, until now. Many a time during
    these seventeen centuries members of that family have been
    startled with the news of extraordinary events--the destruction
    of cities, the fall of thrones, the murder of kings, the wreck of
    dynasties, the extinction of religions, the birth of new systems
    of government; and their descendants have been by to hear of it
    and talk about it when all these things were repeated once,
    twice, or a dozen times--but to even that family has come news at
    last which is not staled by use, has no duplicates in the long
    reach of its memory.

    It is an event which confers a curious distinction upon
    every individual now living in the world: he has stood alive and
    breathing in the presence of an event such as has not fallen
    within the experience of any traceable or untraceable ancestor of
    his for twenty centuries, and it is not likely to fall within the
    experience of any descendant of his for twenty more.

    Time has made some great changes since the Roman days. The
    murder of an empress then--even the assassination of Caesar
    himself--could not electrify the world as this murder has
    electrified it. For one reason, there was then not much of a
    world to electrify; it was a small world, as to known bulk, and
    it had rather a thin population, besides; and for another reason,
    the news traveled so slowly that its tremendous initial thrill
    wasted away, week by week and month by month, on the journey, and
    by the time it reached the remoter regions there was but little
    of it left. It was no longer a fresh event, it was a thing of
    the far past; it was not properly news, it was history. But the
    world is enormous now, and prodigiously populated--that is one
    change; and another is the lightning swiftness of the flight of
    tidings, good and bad. "The Empress is murdered!" When those
    amazing words struck upon my ear in this Austrian village last
    Saturday, three hours after the disaster, I knew that it was
    already old news in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, San
    Francisco, Japan, China, Melbourne, Cape Town, Bombay, Madras,
    Calcutta, and that the entire globe with a single voice, was
    cursing the perpetrator of it. Since the telegraph first began
    to stretch itself wider and wider about the earth, larger and
    increasingly larger areas of the world have, as time went on,
    received simultaneously the shock of a great calamity; but this
    is the first time in history that the entire surface of the globe
    has been swept in a single instant with the thrill of so gigantic
    an event.

    And who is the miracle-worker who has furnished to the world
    this spectacle? All the ironies are compacted in the answer. He
    is at the bottom of the human ladder, as the accepted estimates
    of degree and value go: a soiled and patched young loafer,
    without gifts, without talents, without education, without
    morals, without character, without any born charm or any acquired
    one that wins or beguiles or attracts; without a single grace of
    mind or heart or hand that any tramp or prostitute could envy
    him; an unfaithful private in the ranks, an incompetent stone-
    cutter, an inefficient lackey; in a word, a mangy, offensive,
    empty, unwashed, vulgar, gross, mephitic, timid, sneaking, human
    polecat. And it was within the privileges and powers of this
    sarcasm upon the human race to reach up--up--up--and strike from
    its far summit in the social skies the world's accepted ideal of
    Glory and Might and Splendor and Sacredness! It realizes to us
    what sorry shows and shadows we are. Without our clothes and our
    pedestals we are poor things and much of a size; our dignities
    are not real, our pomps are shams. At our best and stateliest we
    are not suns, as we pretended, and teach, and believe, but only
    candles; and any bummer can blow us out.

    And now we get realized to us once more another thing which
    we often forget--or try to: that no man has a wholly undiseased
    mind; that in one way or another all men are mad. Many are mad
    for money. When this madness is in a mild form it is harmless
    and the man passes for sane; but when it develops powerfully and
    takes possession of the man, it can make him cheat, rob, and
    kill; and when he has got his fortune and lost it again it can
    land him in the asylum or the suicide's coffin. Love is a
    madness; if thwarted it develops fast; it can grow to a frenzy of
    despair and make an otherwise sane and highly gifted prince, like
    Rudolph, throw away the crown of an empire and snuff out his own
    life. All the whole list of desires, predilections, aversions,
    ambitions, passions, cares, griefs, regrets, remorses, are
    incipient madness, and ready to grow, spread, and consume, when
    the occasion comes. There are no healthy minds, and nothing
    saves any man but accident--the accident of not having his malady
    put to the supreme test.

    One of the commonest forms of madness is the desire to be
    noticed, the pleasure derived from being noticed. Perhaps it is
    not merely common, but universal. In its mildest form it
    doubtless is universal. Every child is pleased at being noticed;
    many intolerable children put in their whole time in distressing
    and idiotic effort to attract the attention of visitors; boys are
    always "showing off"; apparently all men and women are glad and
    grateful when they find that they have done a thing which has
    lifted them for a moment out of obscurity and caused wondering
    talk. This common madness can develop, by nurture, into a hunger
    for notoriety in one, for fame in another. It is this madness
    for being noticed and talked about which has invented kingship
    and the thousand other dignities, and tricked them out with
    pretty and showy fineries; it has made kings pick one another's
    pockets, scramble for one another's crowns and estates, slaughter
    one another's subjects; it has raised up prize-fighters, and
    poets, and villages mayors, and little and big politicians, and
    big and little charity-founders, and bicycle champions, and
    banditti chiefs, and frontier desperadoes, and Napoleons.
    Anything to get notoriety; anything to set the village, or the
    township, or the city, or the State, or the nation, or the planet
    shouting, "Look--there he goes--that is the man!" And in five
    minutes' time, at no cost of brain, or labor, or genius this
    mangy Italian tramp has beaten them all, transcended them all,
    outstripped them all, for in time their names will perish; but by
    the friendly help of the insane newspapers and courts and kings
    and historians, his is safe and live and thunder in the world all
    down the ages as long as human speech shall endure! Oh, if it
    were not so tragic how ludicrous it would be!

    She was so blameless, the Empress; and so beautiful, in mind
    and heart, in person and spirit; and whether with a crown upon
    her head or without it and nameless, a grace to the human race,
    and almost a justification of its creation; WOULD be, indeed, but
    that the animal that struck her down re-establishes the doubt.

    In her character was every quality that in woman invites and
    engages respect, esteem, affection, and homage. Her tastes, her
    instincts, and her aspirations were all high and fine and all her
    life her heart and brain were busy with activities of a noble
    sort. She had had bitter griefs, but they did not sour her
    spirit, and she had had the highest honors in the world's gift,
    but she went her simple way unspoiled. She knew all ranks, and
    won them all, and made them her friends. An English fisherman's
    wife said, "When a body was in trouble she didn't send her help,
    she brought it herself." Crowns have adorned others, but she
    adorned her crowns.

    It was a swift celebrity the assassin achieved. And it is
    marked by some curious contrasts. At noon last, Saturday there
    was no one in the world who would have considered
    acquaintanceship with him a thing worth claiming or mentioning;
    no one would have been vain of such an acquaintanceship; the
    humblest honest boot-black would not have valued the fact that he
    had met him or seen him at some time or other; he was sunk in
    abysmal obscurity, he was away beneath the notice of the bottom
    grades of officialdom. Three hours later he was the one subject
    of conversation in the world, the gilded generals and admirals
    and governors were discussing him, all the kings and queens and
    emperors had put aside their other interests to talk about him.
    And wherever there was a man, at the summit of the world or the
    bottom of it, who by chance had at some time or other come across
    that creature, he remembered it with a secret satisfaction, and
    MENTIONED it--for it was a distinction, now! It brings human
    dignity pretty low, and for a moment the thing is not quite
    realizable--but it is perfectly true. If there is a king who can
    remember, now, that he once saw that creature in a time past, he
    has let that fact out, in a more or less studiedly casual and
    indifferent way, some dozens of times during the past week. For
    a king is merely human; the inside of him is exactly like the
    inside of any other person; and it is human to find satisfaction
    in being in a kind of personal way connected with amazing events.
    We are all privately vain of such a thing; we are all alike; a
    king is a king by accident; the reason the rest of us are not
    kings is merely due to another accident; we are all made out of
    the same clay, and it is a sufficient poor quality.

    Below the kings, these remarks are in the air these days; I
    know it well as if I were hearing them:

    THE COMMANDER: "He was in my army."

    THE GENERAL: "He was in my corps."

    THE COLONEL: "He was in my regiment. A brute. I remember
    him well."

    THE CAPTAIN: "He was in my company. A troublesome
    scoundrel. I remember him well."

    THE SERGEANT: "Did I know him? As well as I know you.
    Why, every morning I used to--" etc., etc.; a glad, long story,
    told to devouring ears.

    THE LANDLADY: "Many's the time he boarded with me. I can
    show you his very room, and the very bed he slept in. And the
    charcoal mark there on the wall--he made that. My little Johnny
    saw him do it with his own eyes. Didn't you, Johnny?"

    It is easy to see, by the papers, that the magistrate and
    the constables and the jailer treasure up the assassin's daily
    remarks and doings as precious things, and as wallowing this week
    in seas of blissful distinction. The interviewer, too; he tried
    to let on that he is not vain of his privilege of contact with
    this man whom few others are allowed to gaze upon, but he is
    human, like the rest, and can no more keep his vanity corked in
    than could you or I.

    Some think that this murder is a frenzied revolt against the
    criminal militarism which is impoverishing Europe and driving the
    starving poor mad. That has many crimes to answer for, but not
    this one, I think. One may not attribute to this man a generous
    indignation against the wrongs done the poor; one may not dignify
    him with a generous impulse of any kind. When he saw his
    photograph and said, "I shall be celebrated," he laid bare the
    impulse that prompted him. It was a mere hunger for notoriety.
    There is another confessed case of the kind which is as old as
    history--the burning of the temple of Ephesus.

    Among the inadequate attempts to account for the
    assassination we must concede high rank to the many which have
    described it as a "peculiarly brutal crime" and then added that
    it was "ordained from above." I think this verdict will not be
    popular "above." If the deed was ordained from above, there is
    no rational way of making this prisoner even partially
    responsible for it, and the Genevan court cannot condemn him
    without manifestly committing a crime. Logic is logic, and by
    disregarding its laws even the most pious and showy theologian
    may be beguiled into preferring charges which should not be
    ventured upon except in the shelter of plenty of lightning-rods.

    I witnessed the funeral procession, in company with friends,
    from the windows of the Krantz, Vienna's sumptuous new hotel. We
    came into town in the middle of the forenoon, and I went on foot
    from the station. Black flags hung down from all the houses; the
    aspects were Sunday-like; the crowds on the sidewalks were quiet
    and moved slowly; very few people were smoking; many ladies wore
    deep mourning, gentlemen were in black as a rule; carriages were
    speeding in all directions, with footmen and coachmen in black
    clothes and wearing black cocked hats; the shops were closed; in
    many windows were pictures of the Empress: as a beautiful young
    bride of seventeen; as a serene and majestic lady with added
    years; and finally in deep black and without ornaments--the
    costume she always wore after the tragic death of her son nine
    years ago, for her heart broke then, and life lost almost all its
    value for her. The people stood grouped before these pictures,
    and now and then one saw women and girls turn away wiping the
    tears from their eyes.

    In front of the Krantz is an open square; over the way was
    the church where the funeral services would be held. It is small
    and old and severely plain, plastered outside and whitewashed or
    painted, and with no ornament but a statue of a monk in a niche
    over the door, and above that a small black flag. But in its
    crypt lie several of the great dead of the House of Habsburg,
    among them Maria Theresa and Napoleon's son, the Duke of Reichstadt.
    Hereabouts was a Roman camp, once, and in it the Emperor Marcus
    Aurelius died a thousand years before the first Habsburg ruled
    in Vienna, which was six hundred years ago and more.

    The little church is packed in among great modern stores and
    houses, and the windows of them were full of people. Behind the
    vast plate-glass windows of the upper floors of the house on the
    corner one glimpsed terraced masses of fine-clothed men and
    women, dim and shimmery, like people under water. Under us the
    square was noiseless, but it was full of citizens; officials in
    fine uniforms were flitting about on errands, and in a doorstep
    sat a figure in the uttermost raggedness of poverty, the feet
    bare, the head bent humbly down; a youth of eighteen or twenty,
    he was, and through the field-glass one could see that he was
    tearing apart and munching riffraff that he had gathered
    somewhere. Blazing uniforms flashed by him, making a sparkling
    contrast with his drooping ruin of moldy rags, but he took not
    notice; he was not there to grieve for a nation's disaster; he
    had his own cares, and deeper. From two directions two long
    files of infantry came plowing through the pack and press in
    silence; there was a low, crisp order and the crowd vanished, the
    square save the sidewalks was empty, the private mourner was
    gone. Another order, the soldiers fell apart and enclosed the
    square in a double-ranked human fence. It was all so swift,
    noiseless, exact--like a beautifully ordered machine.

    It was noon, now. Two hours of stillness and waiting
    followed. Then carriages began to flow past and deliver the two
    and three hundred court personages and high nobilities privileged
    to enter the church. Then the square filled up; not with
    civilians, but with army and navy officers in showy and beautiful
    uniforms. They filled it compactly, leaving only a narrow
    carriage path in front of the church, but there was no civilian
    among them. And it was better so; dull clothes would have marred
    the radiant spectacle. In the jam in front of the church, on its
    steps, and on the sidewalk was a bunch of uniforms which made a
    blazing splotch of color--intense red, gold, and white--which
    dimmed the brilliancies around them; and opposite them on the
    other side of the path was a bunch of cascaded bright-green
    plumes above pale-blue shoulders which made another splotch of
    splendor emphatic and conspicuous in its glowing surroundings.
    It was a sea of flashing color all about, but these two groups
    were the high notes. The green plumes were worn by forty or
    fifty Austrian generals, the group opposite them were chiefly
    Knights of Malta and knights of a German order. The mass of
    heads in the square were covered by gilt helmets and by military
    caps roofed with a mirror-like gaze, and the movements of the
    wearers caused these things to catch the sun-rays, and the effect
    was fine to see--the square was like a garden of richly colored
    flowers with a multitude of blinding and flashing little suns
    distributed over it.

    Think of it--it was by command of that Italian loafer yonder
    on his imperial throne in the Geneva prison that this splendid
    multitude was assembled there; and the kings and emperors that
    were entering the church from a side street were there by his will.
    It is so strange, so unrealizable.

    At three o'clock the carriages were still streaming by in
    single file. At three-five a cardinal arrives with his
    attendants; later some bishops; then a number of archdeacons--all
    in striking colors that add to the show. At three-ten a
    procession of priests passed along, with crucifix. Another one,
    presently; after an interval, two more; at three-fifty another
    one--very long, with many crosses, gold-embroidered robes, and
    much white lace; also great pictured banners, at intervals,
    receding into the distance.

    A hum of tolling bells makes itself heard, but not sharply.
    At three-fifty-eight a waiting interval. Presently a long
    procession of gentlemen in evening dress comes in sight and
    approaches until it is near to the square, then falls back
    against the wall of soldiers at the sidewalk, and the white
    shirt-fronts show like snowflakes and are very conspicuous where
    so much warm color is all about.

    A waiting pause. At four-twelve the head of the funeral
    procession comes into view at last. First, a body of cavalry,
    four abreast, to widen the path. Next, a great body of lancers,
    in blue, with gilt helmets. Next, three six-horse mourning-
    coaches; outriders and coachmen in black, with cocked hats and
    white wigs. Next, troops in splendid uniforms, red, gold, and
    white, exceedingly showy.

    Now the multitude uncover. The soldiers present arms; there
    is a low rumble of drums; the sumptuous great hearse approaches,
    drawn at a walk by eight black horses plumed with black bunches
    of nodding ostrich feathers; the coffin is borne into the church,
    the doors are closed.

    The multitude cover their heads, and the rest of the
    procession moves by; first the Hungarian Guard in their
    indescribably brilliant and picturesque and beautiful uniform,
    inherited from the ages of barbaric splendor, and after them
    other mounted forces, a long and showy array.

    Then the shining crown in the square crumbled apart, a
    wrecked rainbow, and melted away in radiant streams, and in the
    turn of a wrist the three dirtiest and raggedest and cheerfulest
    little slum-girls in Austria were capering about in the spacious
    vacancy. It was a day of contrasts.

    Twice the Empress entered Vienna in state. The first time
    was in 1854, when she was a bride of seventeen, and then she rode
    in measureless pomp and with blare of music through a fluttering
    world of gay flags and decorations, down streets walled on both
    hands with a press of shouting and welcoming subjects; and the
    second time was last Wednesday, when she entered the city in her
    coffin and moved down the same streets in the dead of the night
    under swaying black flags, between packed human walls again; but
    everywhere was a deep stillness, now--a stillness emphasized,
    rather than broken, by the muffled hoofbeats of the long
    cavalcade over pavements cushioned with sand, and the low sobbing
    of gray-headed women who had witnessed the first entry forty-four
    years before, when she and they were young--and unaware!

    A character in Baron von Berger's recent fairy drama
    "Habsburg" tells about the first coming of the girlish Empress-
    Queen, and in his history draws a fine picture: I cannot make a
    close translation of it, but will try to convey the spirit of the

    I saw the stately pageant pass:
    In her high place I saw the Empress-Queen:
    I could not take my eyes away
    From that fair vision, spirit-like and pure,
    That rose serene, sublime, and figured to my sense
    A noble Alp far lighted in the blue,
    That in the flood of morning rends its veil of cloud
    And stands a dream of glory to the gaze
    Of them that in the Valley toil and plod.
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