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Going Up in Smoke

Joe Holley

My recent foray into The Post's reporting on the waning days of Walt Whitman got me to thinking about the passing of other notables from days gone by. I looked up Mark Twain, who occasionally visited Washington and who was mentioned in The Post more than 400 times before his death at age 75 on April 21, 1910. He died of angina pectoris.

Twain's heart began to falter while he was vacationing iin Bermuda, but he assured friends that once he got back home to New England he would rally. "Give me a breath of Redding (Conn.) air once more, and this will pass," The Post quoted him as saying.

The April 22 newspaper account continued: "But it did not pass, and, tired of body and weary of spirit, the old warrior against shams and snobs said faintly to his nurses: 'Why do you fight to keep me alive? Two days of life are as good to me as four.'"

The Post noted that Twain had been an inveterate smoker his whole life but quoted his doctor as saying that he could not prove that "overindulgence in tobacco" caused his death. "Some constitutions seem immune from the effect of tobacco; this was one of them," Dr. Robert Halsey observed. The good doctor had insisted, though, that the irascible old writer cut back a bit -- from his daily allowance of 20 cigars and countless pipes to only four cigars.

By Joe Holley  |  February 26, 2008; 3:59 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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