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The New York Times, April 11, 1879



Mark Twain was recently at a dinner of the Stanley Club in Paris, and being called upon for a speech, is thus reported by the Continental Gazette:

"Mr. Ryan said to me just now that I'd got to make a speech. I said to Mr. Ryan, 'The news came too late to save Roger McPherson.' It is sad to know that some things always come too late, and when I look around upon this brilliant assembly I feel disappointed to think what a nice speech I might have made, what fine topics I might have found in Paris to speak about among these historic monuments, the architecture of Paris, the towers of Notre Dame, the caves, and other ancient things. Then I might have said something about the objects of which Paris folks are fond - literature, art, medicine, [then taking a card from his vest pocket as if to take a glance at his notes,] and adultery. But the news came too late to save Roger McPherson! Perhaps you are not as well acquainted with McPherson as I am? Well, I'll explain who McPherson was. When we sailed from New York there came on board a man all haggard - a mere skeleton. He wasn't much of a man, he wasn't, and on the voyage we often heard him say to himself, "The news came too late to save Roger McPherson." I got interested, and I wanted to know about the man, so I asked him who was McPherson, and he said, 'I'm McPherson; but the news came too late to save Roger McPherson.' 'How too late?' I asked. 'About three weeks too late,' he replied; 'I'll tell you how it happened: A friend of mine died, and they told me I must take his body on the cars to his parents in Illinois. I said I'd do it, and they gave me a card with the address, and told me to go down to the depot and put it on a box I d find there, have the box put on the baggage car, and go right along with it to Illinois. I found the box all right, and nailed the card on it, and put it on the cars; then I went in the depot and got a sandwich. I was walking around, eating my sandwich, and I passed by the baggage room, and there was my box, with a young man walking around, looking at it, and he had a card in his hand. I felt like going up to that young man, and saying, 'Stranger, that's my corpse.' But I didn't. I walked on, ate my sandwich, and when I looked in again the young man was gone; but there was that card nailed right on that box. I went and looked on that card. It was directed to Colonel Jenkins, Cleveland, Ohio. So I looked in the car, and there was my box all right. Just before the train started, a man came into the baggage car and laid a lot of limburger cheese down on my box; he didn't know what was in my box, you know, and I didn't know what was in his paper, but I found out later. It was an awful cold night, and after we started, the baggage master came in. He was a nice fellow, Johnson was, and he said, 'A man would freeze to death, out there; I'll make it all right.' So he shut all the doors and all the windows, built a roaring coal fire in the stove; then he took turns fixing the car and poking the fire, till I began to smell something and feel uncomfortable, so I moved as far away from my corpse as I could, and Johnson says to me, 'A friend of yours? Did he die lately? This year, I mean.' Says I, 'I'll fix it;' so I opened a window, and we took turns breathing the fresh air. After a while Johnson said, 'Let's smoke, I think that'll fix it.' So we lit our cigars and puffed a bit, but we got so sick that we let 'em go out again - it didn't do any good. We tried the air again. Says Johnson, 'He's in no trance, is he? There's doubt about some people being dead, but there's no doubt about him, is there? What did he die of?' We stopped at a station, and when we started off again Johnson came in with a bottle of disinfector, and says, 'I've got something now that'll fix it.' So he sprinkled it all around, over the box, the limburger, and over everything, but it wouldn't do, the smells didn't mix well. Johnson said, 'Just think of it. We've all got to die, all got to come to this.' Then we thought we'd move the box to one end of the car, so we stooped over it; I took one end and he took the other, but we couldn't get it far. Johnson says, 'We'll freeze to death if we stay out on the platform; we'll die if we stay in here.' So we took hold of it again; but Johnson, he couldn't stand it, he fell right over. I dragged him out on the platform, and the cold air soon brought him to, and we went in the car to get warm. 'What are we going to do?' asked Johnson, and he looked ill. 'We are sure to have typhoid fever and half a dozen other fevers. We're pizened, we are!' At last we thought it was better to go out on the platform. In an hour and a half I was taken off that platform stiff, nearly frozen to death. They put me to bed, and I had all them fevers that Johnson spoke about. You see the thing worked on my mind. It didn't do me no good to learn, three weeks later, that there had been a mistake - that my corpse had gone to Colonel Jenkins, Cleveland, and that I'd taken his box of rifles for decent burial to Illinois. The news came too late to save Roger McPherson - about three weeks too late. Amid roars of applause, Mr. Twain closed by saying, 'When I'm not prepared to speak, I always apologize, and that's the reason I've told you so much about Roger McPherson."

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