Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/The Tragedy of Genius

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THE TRAGEDY OF GENIUS

On October 13, 1891, Mark Twain and I went together to the Berlin University to see the great Virchow lionized and almost deified by his fellow professors and by the students. Mark was much impressed and promised to give Virchow a good send-off in his correspondence. And on the way home he waxed almost sentimental, saying: "Virchow is seventy years old. In a little while he will either be dead or that great intellect of his will begin to deteriorate, and what a pity that would be!

"There was Emerson, who valued impressions and ideas above everything—in his way as great a man as Virchow and certainly a great benefactor of his countrymen. But Holmes told me that in the late seventies of his long life, facts counted no longer with Emerson, for his memory was gone. At Longfellow's funeral, which preceded his own by a few months only, Emerson walked up to the coffin twice, probably forgetting the second time that he had already gazed upon his late friend's face. When he had taken this last farewell, he came back to his seat and said to to the person nearest to him:

"'That dead man was a sweet and beautiful soul, but I have completely forgotten his name.'

"For myself," concluded Twain, "I have forgotten many a thing, but I will never forget that little speech of poor old Emerson. Sic transit gloria mundi—such is the way of the world, a free translation, I know, but highly applicable."