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The Memorable Assassination
by [?]

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 marches.”

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.