first appeared in —
Lotus Leaves (1874)
Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays,
"An Encounter with an Interviewer" is a short-short story, likely dressed up a bit from some actual interviews that Mark Twain enjoyed after he'd become famous enough to become wearied of their frequency, but not so jaded as to prevent him from verbally tweaking the noses of pushy interviewers. So Twain has considerable fun at the interviewer's expense, in a manner that many of us may wish we could emulate so easily. Given Twain's ready wit, it's a neatly humorous sketch, although the interviewer is not so much instructed as bemused, at its end even dazed.
As often with Mark Twain, he casually drops in something that engages my imagination well beyond its context or the compass of the work at hand. Early on, he helpfully confesses to the interviewer:
"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."
Sometimes, when this idea recurs to me, I skim right over it; and yet other times it engages me in diversions of memory and contemplations of mentality. Such thoughtfulness is one of the underrated, even unexpected, virtues of Twain's homely presentations.
Then we get on to Aaron Burr's funeral, and what Twain thought of it.
Moral of the Interviewee's Tale (no spoilers here):
- Interviewers should not assume they are smarter than their subjects.
- It's an ill interview that affords no entertainment to someone.