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Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Photo courtesy of John R

The following is from Mark Twain’s Autobiography (which is a beautiful book through-and-through. I am listening to it read by Bronson Pinchot, and I cannot recommend his reading sufficiently. The pacing, emphasis, tone are perfect). Susy was his daughter who died at age 24. When she was a teenager, she wrote a biography of her father:

Sept. 10, ’85.—”The other evening Clara and I brought down our new soap bubble water and we all blew soap bubles. Papa blew his soap bubles and filled them with tobacco smoke and as the light shone on then they took very beautiful opaline colors. Papa would hold them and then let us catch them in our hand and they felt delightful to the touch the mixture of the smoke and water had a singularly pleasant effect.” [Susy’s Biography]

It is human life. We are blown upon the world; we float buoyantly upon the summer air a little while, complacently showing off our grace of form and our dainty iridescent colors; then we vanish with a little puff, leaving nothing behind but a memory—and sometimes not even that. I suppose that at those solemn times when we wake in the deeps of the night and reflect, there is not one of us who is not willing to confess that he is really only a soap-bubble, and as little worth the making.

I remember those days of twenty-one years ago, and a certain pathos clings about them. Susy, with her manifold young charms and her iridescent mind, was as lovely a bubble as any we made that day—and as transitory. She passed, as they passed, in her youth and beauty, and nothing of her is left but a heartbreak and a memory. That long-vanished day came vividly back to me a few weeks ago when, for the first time in twenty-one years, I found myself again amusing a child with smoke-charged soap-bubbles.